05/21/24 Drug Prohibition is Way Stupid

Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Sanho Tree
Doug McVay
Institute for Policy Studies

We are joined by two guests, DTN reporter Doug McVay and Sanho Tree of the Institute for Policy Studies in DC. Topics range from graduation season, drug education, the hypocrisy of drug war advocates, international drug war scrapes in Mexico, Colombia, Afghanistan, around the world.  

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10/17/22 Sanho Tree

Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Sanho Tree
Institute for Policy Studies

Sanho Tree is a Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and has been Director of its Drug Policy Project since 1998. A former military and diplomatic historian, his current work encompasses the reform of both international and domestic drug policies by promoting alternatives to the failed prohibitionist model. In recent years the project has focused on ending the damage caused by the drug wars in Colombia, Bolivia, Mexico, Afghanistan, and the Philippines. Establishing humane and sustainable alternatives to the drug war fits into the IPS mandate as one of the major contemporary social justice issues at home and abroad.

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07/15/20 Sanho Tree

Century of Lies
Sanho Tree
Drug War Facts

This week on Century: Sanho Tree, director of the Drug Policy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies, talks about “COVID, Modernity, Lifeways & Drug Use.” His talk was part of an IPS webinar series entitled “Progressive Politics and the Time of Pandemic" and comes to us courtesy of the Institute for Policy Studies.

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The failure of drug war is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors, and millions more. Now calling for decriminalization, legalization. The end of prohibition led us to investigate a century of lies.
Hello, welcome to century of lies. I'm your host. Doug McVay SanJo tree is the director of the drug policy project at the Institute for policy studies. He gave a presentation recently on COVID modernity Lifeways and drug use as part of an IPS webinars series entitled progressive politics in the time of pandemic. We're going to hear portions of that on today's show.
Uh, there's nothing quite like, uh, having your, your life and your world come to a crashing halt for several months to really ponder, um, the meanings of, of, of Lifeways and maternity and how we got to be here and what is normal. And, uh, so I want to talk about drugs from that perspective, uh, and I'm going to do so by, uh, talking about a number of, of different stories then yes, that will, uh, at the very end I will tie together and if I fail to do so, please remind me. But, uh, one of the reasons front policy's been so baffling, uh, and so difficult to reform and, and to, to fix, um, is that we don't really, uh, situate the problem, uh, properly historically, but also, uh, it is one of the most interdisciplinary problems I've ever studIED. And I used it world war two historian.
Right. And what were two was pretty interesting interdisciplinary. It was very complicated. Uh, but it, there was a lot of clarity in terms of who the good guys and bad guys quote unquote were. Uh, and, uh, so when you talking about drugs, however, you're talking about an incredible supply chain that affects millions of people around the world from, uh, peasant farmers to, uh, noodles, to the traffickers, to dealers, to money launderers, uh, to, uh, all these different, uh, people. And, uh, and so you have to know a little bit about each of these things to get the big picture. And the big picture is, is hard to explain to policy makers because, um, our bloodborne establishment, both in terms of the bureaucracies involved, but also the congressional committees that do oversight and appropriations for these things, as well as the universities that train, uh, these bureaucrats, uh, and other academics are, are very much, uh, as well as the, you know, the, the journalist who covers they're also, you know, beat journalists or they specialize in certain aspects of this.
Uh, but there are so many different silos that it's difficult to, uh, get a top down overview. And when you begin to do that, but the whole thing starts to look quite insane. Right. And so, uh, what I want to do is try to break down some of those silos and, and talk about, uh, how we got here. Um, and as historian, I'm going to talk about the past first, before I talk about the present. Uh, and so, you know, whose job is it to, to make sense of all these different things? Stop the drugs, ours job, because we put that office in the white house and we politicized the, uh, uh, the, the national, uh, office of drug policy control. It's situated in the white house. So it's become a partisan issue as well. But let me start by telling you a story about, uh, how we got here in this hemisphere.
Let's start with the basics, um, out, uh, 15 years ago, or so I was asked to give a talk at a Boulder high school. Um, and it's a kind of an alternative high school in a sense that the students looked at your bio and, uh, they looked at the different things you've done. And then they come up with a title for your talk that you have to speak to it. Uh, and so these high school students being teenagers, uh, came up with a rather unique title for me to speak to. It was about sex drugs and international relations. And I thought, Oh Lord, how am I going to tie all of these things together? Um, and it, of course, Don, I made the last minute how to bring it together. And if you ask the question, well, how did we end up here in this hemisphere, the Western hemisphere, most of us store non-indigenous, um, and it actually has to do with, uh, how's back to drugs.
Um, when Columbus went sailing across the ocean, uh, what was, what was his purpose? What was his objective? Why, why they do that take undertaking this very risky voyage? Um, it wasn't, uh, gold and the search for lands and, and, you know, uh, you know, Christian crusaders, primarily, it was for spices, right? And so why spices, why were spices so valuable back then? Uh, it wasn't just because the food in Europe was bland and boring, which it was pretty much at the time. Uh, but, uh, each of these new spices, um, whether it's cinnamon or clove or nutmeg or any of these things, whatever it's new and exotic came from somewhere else. And this is how we think about drugs in our society, right? Drugs are what other cultures do. They're foreign they're alien. And, and we imbue these substances, uh, with offensive alien properties.
Uh, we imagine they're associated with, and back in the day, when Columbus went looking for these splices, these drugs, these new drugs, uh, had a word of mouth reputation, they were thought of as drugs, uh, because, uh, all these exotic new spices were thought to, you know, um, how do I put this delicately put lead in your pencil? Right? Uh, it was the Viagra of the day, uh, and of course, uh, aphrodisiacs are mostly working the head anyway. Uh, and so people were willing to pay a lot of money for these things. And, uh, so I guess you could make the argument that half the world's got colonized, because a bunch of old white men in Europe, couldn't get it up. And thus kids, you have the linkage of sex, drugs, and international relations. Uh, I'm being facetious here, but, but, but you get my point that these things have a deep roots.
Speaker 3
And if you take a look at the past five years,
A hundred years of colonization and development in this Western hemisphere, uh, it becomes apparent just how profound, um, the role of drugs and, and what are thought to be perceived as drugs at the time, uh, what the role they played in the development of this hemisphere, fat for a good 400 years of that first period. Uh, they drove the development in many ways of this hemisphere when we're talking about crops like, uh, uh, you know, uh, sugar. Well, we get run from, uh, sugar was an incredibly valuable commodity and sugar is a drug. Um, if you don't believe me, try giving it up for two weeks. And at the time of the, uh, uh, American revolution, the Island of Barbados was worth more to the British empire from the 13 colonies in North America, simply because of the profitability of sugar. And of course, run that came along with it, but also things like coffee, uh, tea, tobacco, and spices, just take tobacco, right.
Uh, what would the United States look like today? Uh, what would Virginia or North Carolina or Kentucky look like today if we never had tobacco? Um, that was the backbone of, of, of, uh, much of the economy in nearly two years of these colonies, uh, and, uh, sugar, uh, you know, was a horrendous, uh, commodity. Um, if you look at what it took to produce that sugar, and by that, I mean, it took in slate in it. So that Europeans went to an entirely different continent to kidnap and enslaved Africans to come and work on plantations in the new world to generate these, these profits that make these European empires very, very wealthy and creating some of the banking fortunes, uh, that played a role later on in history. But, uh, the conditions in the, in the, uh, uh, certain plantations in the Caribbean, uh, were just off the charts horrific compared to, well, there's no point in comparing pain and suffering, but it was an order of magnitude different. And, and, uh, and so throughout this history, uh, drugs or things that were proceeding drugs, played a big role in how we got here and how we live our lives today, and who has power, who has land, um, and access to capital. Um, much of this has passed on generationally. Uh, so if you're, if you're talking about black lives matter today, a lot of that, uh, is, is, is generational wealth that was never passed along because it was stolen from, uh, people of color, particularly African Americans.
Speaker 3
Uh, and, uh, in, in all this,
It comes back later on in the drug policy. We'll get to that. Um, but so I just wanna give you a sense of, of, of some of the timescales we're talking about here. We'll talk a little bit about my own, uh, background. I'm a Chinese American. I was born in Taiwan and came to this country at the age of four, but my father, uh, and my mother were from mainland China. And, uh, they left and moved to Taiwan. I fled to Taiwan in 1949 during the revolution, but a few years ago, uh, about a dozen years or so, my father, uh, went back to our ancestral village in China, and he brought back a digital copy of our family's scrolls, the family tree, so to speak no pun intended. Uh, and I knew it went back a few generations. I had no idea I was not prepared for how far it went back.
Um, and we believe, uh, it's hard to beat them the old script, and they use a different calendar system, but we believe it goes back at least 26 generations approximately to the year six 37 the other day. Um, and when I think about all of those generations that came before me and the lives that they led, um, and I don't want to romanticize it because to be a, and there were some farmers in rural China, right. And to be a peasant farmer in rural China was not easy, especially if you're a woman in world, uh, as a peasant, but their Lifeways were very predictable and sustainable over many generations each, you know, and when I think about the last generation, my generation, um, I live a life that is completely alien to all of those, all of my ancestors that came before me, the energy resources I consume, uh, probably exceed all the energy resources my ancestors have ever used simply because I live a modern lifestyle.
I traveled a lot. Um, the food that I eat comes from halfway around the world very often. Uh, we have a very globalized world that my ancestors could never have envisioned much less learn to navigate. Um, and navigating this new reality is very, very, very important. Um, but in, in China, uh, and it's not unusual to have these long family trees because it's Confucian society, uh, and not the romanticized Confucius either, but it was Confucius lay down a formula for a super stable society to stable in many ways. And that's why China suffered for, for so long. Uh, but, uh, it was predictable and sustainable. Um, and we've since gotten rid of that, uh, particularly during the cultural revolution in China. And we haven't really replaced it with new values and new ways of living and being, and understanding our roles in this world. Right.
Uh, and this is a theme I'll come back to over and over again. Um, and so that's kind of, uh, you know, my, my family background, um, but let's take a look at more recent history. Uh, let's look at some commodities, for instance, uh, corn, a simple commodity what's the spec what's porn got to do with drugs other than corn alcohol? Well, uh, back in the mid nineties, uh, there was a big, uh, debate over the North American free trade agreement. It was ultimately passed a lot of us mourn a lot of the downfalls, the pitfalls of that agreement, but it was passed and the technocrats, however, who engineered this free trade agreement in Mexico city and Ottawa in Washington, D C very often, they basically, uh, their shoes, uh, never got dirty, right? They, they, they, they live and work in marble buildings and these technocrats just thought, well, uh, let's talk about efficiency. We fetishized efficiency. And, uh, American said, look, we can produce corn on an industrial scale in the Midwest through mechanized, industrial agriculture, uh, big agribusiness. And we can ship that corn, uh, to Mexico, thereby freeing up your farmers, uh, and your cool in Mexico can then develop a, with a industrialization, et cetera, et cetera,
Speaker 4
These types of crafts. However, uh, I don't think really understood what they were capturing with, uh, the Lifeways they were tampering with. So if you look at just one commodity of corn, uh, and how that played a role in anchoring a world, Mexican agrarian life or so many generations, uh, and including pre-Colombian times, right, corn was so central to people's Lifeways, it was a gift from the gods. It was, uh, your, your, your, your songs, your rituals, your holidays, or festivals, your feasts all revolved around the planting cycle. And that kind of kept the community together. It gave them a purpose and understanding of their role in the world and how to navigate that. And suddenly, uh, we flood that society with cheap, uh, North American corn, uh, from the United States. And suddenly he's thinking about torn asunder from the land, uh, and the crop that kept them rooted and stable for so many generations.
And they were thrust into a and many of them. And I'm oversimplifying this argument, uh, for the sake of argument, just as an illustration. This is not a direct line, and I'm not saying everyone went through this experience, but many of those people was suddenly pointed thunder from the land that had given them, you know, stability for, for so long and progressed into a brand new reality of concrete steel petroleum Silicon, uh, into an urban Lifeway, uh, very often going to kill the doors, the, the sweat shops, the factories along the border areas, uh, and other sources of employment. But suddenly you have rural people migrating to urban areas, and the technocrats would never asked themselves, how are we going? Who's going to teach them how to raise children in this new environment. Who's going to teach the next generation, what kind of values, songs, traditions, uh, that would route the next generation.
Our, our Lifeways are evolving so quickly now that, um, one generation doesn't understand what the next generation is going through. And that's always been a complaint, right? You could go back to Socrates complaining about the young, but in these days, we, we, we we've moved that evolution of the warp speed. And it's, it's always been hard to raise children under any circumstances, but now, especially right, because parents really don't know what the new technologies and the new environments, uh, that, that young people are going through. And so suddenly you've got this migration of rural people into, uh, into an urban reality. They don't know how to navigate both parents. Uh, very often are working. Now, who's going to raise the children. What songs will they teach them values? What traditions, what, uh, you know, and, and, and, and with both parents working, what are the influences on this next generation?
And, and unfortunately, if you're at the bottom of the exclusionary society, uh, in the ways that, you know, urban folk have always kind of looked down on rural folk, um, you know, city, mouse, country mouse, you know, you've heard the fables forever, but suddenly these kids don't have, uh, a God a guide, uh, to teach them how to navigate this new reality. And they're often excluded from a lot of things, but who's offering them a ticket out. Uh, and here's where the drugs come in. A lot of times the gangs and the Narcos will offer them, um, instant respect. If you have a gun, uh, you've got social mobility, you got cash for the first time. Um, you can gate people, you can go out and you can do all these things, um, rather than work as your, uh, parents did in sweat shops. Uh, and, uh, and so, you know, we'd have this inexhaustible reservoir.
It seems of, of, of people who would rather live as a, as a, as a King for a couple of years, and as a popper for 70 years, um, and attention must be paid to such people, right? Um, so this is a, it boomerang that took a quarter century to come back and hit us, but Mexico, uh, since president Calderon waged and launched it as disastrous drug war back in 2006, uh, by, you know, taking the beginnings of a turf war and, uh, uh, and just beating the hornet's nest to the point where now there are hundreds of thousands of deaths as a result of that policy, uh, over 200,000, at least. And they stopped counting a long time ago because it's 200 dis-aggregate who was killed over common crime versus drug crime, versus all these other things, et cetera.
We're listening to Sanho tree director of the drug policy project at the Institute for policy studies, speaking on COVID modernity Lifeways and drug use. This is century of lies. I'm your host, Doug McVeigh. Now let's hear some more from San Jose tree.
And so I think that the government of China has much to look forward to in terms of, um, uh, problems coming down, the line that traditional Lifeways had been severed, and we've all evolved new ones at Lightspeed, uh, without really giving thought to how they're going to fit in society and, and teach them how to, how could he be in this world? Uh, what is normal anymore, right? And this is what COVID, and this lockdown has got me thinking about is normal. And how do we find our place in society? How do we belong? Um, if, if, if, if four months in lockdown hasn't caused you to have some reflection about these things, I don't know what will, uh, maybe this thought what's, let's see, we look around the world. And again, when we see this world of, of concrete steel petroleum Silicon, uh, in my artificial background, this is a Stanley Kubrick.
The is my interior designer from 2001 space Odyssey. Anyway, this new mold of, of, of, of, uh, concrete steel, petroleum, Silicon, uh, that, uh, uh, and we think it's normal. We think it could only have been this way, right? This is how society was meant to evolve. Uh, but this wasn't inevitable. This was a result of choices that we made for failed to make asses in society, because we've privatized and deregulated all these, uh, sectors of our economy. So that the market now decides for us, what's going to, what's going to take place next rather than policy makers, uh, and the market doesn't really care about your, your children or grandchildren, uh, and, and their values and their, uh, the environment that are going to inherit. Um, put another way that the elders at the Iroquois Confederation had a saying, um, uh, we also stole, uh, in part our idea of a constitution, your voice, um, their elders were very wise and they would ask the study, simple question, how will the decisions we take today affect the seventh generation down the line?
That's I think good longterm thinking perhaps too long for a lot of people in the West these days. Uh, but, but I think it's a, it's a good way to approach the world, but whose job is it in our society to talk about, uh, these questions, right? Um, we are in fact, just making stuff as we go along, we're building new life ways without really much thought, put another way. Uh, I'm talking to you via an iPad. Uh, I'm very much addicted to my iPhone and my Twitter way too much, but 20 years ago, did anyone talk to Steve jobs? Did he ask anyone? It's just a good thing to unleash in the world? Um, I get a lot of benefit from it, but I also see a lot of problems as a result of this that we never thought through initially. Right. Uh, and I would, uh, I would even argue that Google and Facebook and Suscipe, and their subsidiary corporations have done more harm to this planet, um, than Goldman Sachs could ever dream of, um, simply because of, uh, what we're stuck with today in terms of Trump, in terms of Nazis, in terms of, uh, new realities that are being crafted with Q and on, on the internet, right?
People are going reality, shopping on the internet in ways that are their ancestors could never have dreamt off 50 years ago. If you were a, a Neo Nazi or a John Birch society member Navy, you got your, your monthly, uh, newspaper in the snail mail. Uh, but if you went down to your local bar, uh, and started, uh, you know, spout is validating your, your philosophy, you might get punched out fairly quickly, right? But today you can go online and find hundreds of thousands of people who will tell you that you're normal, that this is the right way to think that we've crafted new realities that are, and have nothing to do with reality anymore. And so, as a society, it becomes very difficult to have a rational discourse about public policy. If we can't agree on what constitutes a baseline for reality, that's a big problem now.
So we have not just Trumpism, but we have Bolsa narrow. We have Putin, we have all these things that a lot of this was done through social media, right. And it was a powerful tool, uh, that evolved probably from a lot of these technologies, like the iPhone, iPad and others. Uh, anyway, we didn't, we didn't really didn't think this through, right. And I'm not saying we shouldn't have these things. I'm just saying that, you know, it'd be nice if we had some room to think about these things. And so there's an old African proverb that says the last one to recognize the assistance of water is the fish because the fish is swimming through the water, right? And so we are the fish swimming through modernity, and we don't recognize that it's a fact that this is a reality that we created either intentionally or unintentionally, and we have the power and capacity to change the future trajectory of our society. Uh, but only if we take those decisions, that decision making back, uh, from, uh, the free market and from others who are unelected or who care only about short term, uh, objectives. Um,
If you look at our, how this intersects with our political system and solving complex problems, we have global warming be it drug policy. We have politicians that think in terms of two, four or six year election cycles, right? And once you're elected, your first concern is getting reelected. So you don't want to rock the boat too much. Um, so, uh, we can't look to them for longterm thinking and longterm solutions. Um, if you dare talk about, you know, planning even five years into the future, Fox news will call you a socialist, uh, our corporations think in terms of quarterly numbers, if you don't make your numbers or stock will tank, they'll be taken over your NOLA no longer be extent, and you'll be irrelevant, right? So who's job is it to look out for the interests of the seventh generation or even the next generation yet unborn.
Uh, we don't have elders in our society the way our ancestors did. Um, they revered elders for good reason because they'd been on this planet for many, many decades. And they've seen me to hubris and the impact of, of, of change on their local communities and societies. And so they can see trouble coming from around the corner, a mile away, uh, in ways our, our young technocrats don't, and there's a lot of hubris involved and the grease trying to teach patients about that thousands of years ago, but the joke is on us, cause you don't really get it until you get it. And by the time you get it, it's too late. Put another way. There's an old saying that, um, good judgment comes from experience and experience comes from bad judgment. In other words, uh, we learn from making mistakes and it's important to, uh, it's not wrong to make a mistake, but it's important to learn from them to acknowledge them and then to evolve.
And so, uh, at the intersections of, of all these problems, and I think you're beginning to see the complexity of, of, of, uh, uh, how drugs fit into this, right. Um, people either turn to these substances through, uh, in search of, of, of, of solutions or insight and drums, particularly, uh, hallucinogens or entheogens, uh, are very useful candy. They're useful for offering tremendous insight. And in many ways could help heal our society, but also people who use drugs to escape that reality because they don't feel like they fit into this modernity, this world, that they had no role in creating and don't know how to navigate no one ever bothered pitching them. And you're just thrown into this and we're making this up as we go along and we're doing a very bad job of it, I would argue. And so, uh, we do a lot of scapegoating now with the drugs and say, aha, this is the problem.
We're listening to Sanho tree director of the drug policy project at the Institute for policy studies, speaking on COVID maternity Lifeways and drug use. This is century of lies. I'm your host, Doug McVeigh. There was a Q and a at the end. I had the good fortune to get in the first question. So here it is.
So here's one from, uh, Doug Mick Bay. It was announced this week that the state of Oregon will be voting on a ballot measure this November to decriminalize simple possession of most illegal drugs. You support broad decriminalization generally. And do you think it's a measure that could have an impact on broader drug policy debate? Uh, great question. Uh, I absolutely support it. The idea that we would incarcerate people for these problems, um, really solves nothing. Uh, and that, uh, it's also, uh, you know, an individual Liberty cognitive Liberty aspect of this. Um, I'm not a, uh, economic libertarian, but I'm a civil libertarian. And in that sense, uh, we give too much power to the state that a level of control, right? If you look at the, uh, uh, the, the, the founding, uh, the founders of the nation and the constitution, where in the constitution, because to give the right the government to, uh, kick down your bedroom door, to arrest you and throw you into prison for something that you do be your body absent harm to others.
If there's no one else involved, if you grew your own drugs or whatever, and you're only doing it to yourself, where does the state get the right to, to intervene at such an intimate level, uh, and to destroy your life? Basically, if you're doing that, um, that, uh, if the state is allowed to do that, and we get the drug war through our mother's milk, right, we get it from birth in our society. Uh, and so we assume these are normal state powers. They're not because for the state can intervene in such an intimate level, um, into your own Corpus. Um, what is the stop, the state from intervening, uh, in terms of sexual freedoms, reproductive rights, um, you know, if, if we're in the constitution, does it give the right to state, but the state to decide what you do to your lungs, to your mouth, to your stomach, to your brain, to any of your orifices, absent and harm to others. Uh, and should they be able to destroy your life? Uh, as a result, if you don't have the sovereignty of your own Corpus, you really don't have anything at all, right? That's the most intimate and basic level.
You just heard Sanho tree director of the drug policy project at the Institute for policy studies, speaking on COVID maternity Lifeways and drug use. His talk was part of an IPS webinars series, entitled progressive politics, and the time of pandemic, other installments in that series. And the full video of this presentation are available through the IPS and on their YouTube channel. And that's it for this week. Thank you for joining us. You have been listening to century of lies where a production of the drug truth network for the Pacifica foundation radio network on the web of drug I'm your host, Doug McVeigh editor of drug war The executive producer of the drug truth network is Dean Becker. Be sure to check out Dean's new video project Becker's buds. You can find The drug truth network has a Facebook page. Please give it a like drug war faxes on Facebook to give its page a like, and share it with friends. Remember, knowledge is power. You can follow me on Twitter. I'm Mac Doug McVeigh. And of course also at drug policy facts, we'll be back in a week with 30 more minutes of news and information about drug policy reform and the failed war on drugs. This is Doug McVeigh saying so long, so long for the drug truth network. This is Doug McVay asking you to examine our policy of drug prohibition. The century of lies, drug truth network programs, our conduct, the James J. Baker third Institute for public policy.

04/01/20 Nicholas Eyle

Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Nicholas Eyle
Sanho Tree

Nicholas Eyle a pioneering drug reformer has passed away, tribute segment from 2004 + Sanho Tree a Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and Director of its Drug Policy Project since 1998

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Cultural Baggage




Hi folks, this is Dean Becker. The Reverend most high we're going to have a two-parter, Cultural Baggage coming up for you. First off we're going to do a recap from 2004 features the thoughts of Mr. Nicholas Eyle, drug reform Pioneer who passed away a week ago, and we'll follow that up with an interview from Sanho Tree with the institute for policy studies. You'll also get to hear some of the early thoughts I had and some of the directions we’ve taken and be able to realize some of the results that we've accomplished via these Drug Truth Network radio programs.

Broadcasting from the Gulag city of planet Earth. This is Cultural Baggage, the unvarnished Truth about the Drug war. My name is Dean Becker. Steve Nolan is our engineer and our guests, Nicholas Eyle will be with us here in just a few moments. But first I just want to talk to you about something I did today actually went to the city council and started project Housterdam and we talked about it briefly here on the show projects Housterdam, basically says we're going to educate our elected officials our mayor and our city council with the Ultimate Gold start starting with one incremental change and that is to stop arresting people for marijuana, don't you think it's kind of silly that we do that what we've done with these urine test. My friends is create a real and valid if you will Gateway Theory, what we've done is tell the kids and anybody actually out there doing marijuana that no, no no don't do that. You must do heroin to be a good citizen here in these United States. And why do I say that? Well, basically it deals with the fact that we and I mean all of us that includes you my friend, we perpetuate the system. That says well, we're going to test people for drugs and you know, what marijuana stays in your system for 30 days or more sometimes; whereas if I was a heroin addict I could do it today and day after tomorrow. I could pass a test with flying colors. I wouldn't even need to go buy any of that Kidney Ranch, you know, it's that obvious my friends that we've been snookered. It's time to take back the ground that belongs to, to us this common sense and reason, you know, that is ours. We the people and all that if you know what I'm saying, Steve, do we have Nick Eyle online? All right. Hey, are you there Nicky?

NICHOLAS EYLE: I am Dean. How are you?

DEAN BECKER: I'm well, sir a little the bedraggled through the day here, but the doing well think we're making some progress and I hear you and are scheduled guests Cliff Thornton or making some progress up there tonight. Tell us what you're doing.

NICHOLAS EYLE: Absolutely Syracuse is I'm calling from Syracuse, New York. Or you're calling me or whatever it is. I'm talking from Syracuse New York and Syracuse New York is a test Market has been for years. It's a sort of typical Rust Belt North East City, about a little under half a million people in the general area around here and we have a very interesting situation a few months ago a couple of months ago the city auditor after oh, six months of working closely with Reconsider on this put out a report looking at the amount of police department resources devoted to enforcing drug prohibition and the numbers are high and he issued the report recommending that the numbers are disproportionate; that their activities actually serve to increase a lot of the crime and violence and tensions in the neighborhood and the city should look seriously as decriminalizing drugs and giving the police better tasks to perform and he recommended that the Common Council hold hearings on this. At about the same time. We have a situation where the mayor invited the feds in to prosecute some people that they claimed were in a gang, selling Marijuana, and they used- they asked feds to come in and use the RICO statutes racketeering, influenced corrupt organization laws. And these young men many of whom are guilty by association, are being prosecuted in face, perhaps life imprisonment for many of them for basically marijuana sales and some of them even for being you know, the cousin of marijuana sales. Or something like that.

DEAN BECKER: It's just outrageous, isn't it

NICHOLAS EYLE: It is outrageous, and we always came together at the same time and the community is very upset about these Rico prosecutions and there's a wonderful Minister here in town, recently thet, the group has organized the community and held meetings. The meetings are growing like crazy and numbers and we recently, the common Council has agreed to hold those hearings in May.

DEAN BECKER: Well as you know, the regular listeners hear the Cultural Baggage, are aware of a very strong similar instance last week. We had George Martorano on here man, who's as he says is going on 22 years of imprisonment for marijuana possession. I mean, it was over a ton, but he's been in there for over 22- over 21 years and he has life without possibility of parole and you know, it's just insane that way, you know murderers, rapists, my god, serial killers probably get out in this time

NICHOLAS EYLE: No, they definitely do but you know, the mandatory sentence is the long sentences. It's a terrible thing, but this is to my knowledge and I may be wrong if anybody knows of any other instances call me but to my knowledge, this is the first time that a city government in the person of the city auditor and the common Council have taken a look at this and said, you know, we have schools closing we have, have I seen issues we need job training. We had, we need after-school programs. We need all sorts of things. There's no money for any of that. But come time to arrest people. Well, all of a sudden there's millions of dollars around to arrest everybody that's committed a crime. And this is the first time that a city has said. Hey, we need to look at this because we can't afford this. The homicide rate is skyrocketing in this town, crime is increasing and the only remedy seems to be reactive. We’ll go and arrest people when they commit a crime. There's nothing spent on anything preventative.

DEAN BECKER: I listened to some of the Congressional investigations went on I think a week and a half ago. And basically they were saying that yes, their policy does support Osama Bin Laden, but let's just, you know, throw more money into it, you know with the three dollar Heroin on East Coast, I understand. Osama Bin Laden still making millions and yet they want to do everything they can to subsidize his effort. Right?

NICHOLAS EYLE:Yeah, they seem the first of all I think most of that heroin money that they're talking about the heroin from there. I think mostly goes to Afghanistan. I mean to Europe

DEAN BECKER: well that may well be

NICHOLAS EYLE: an so I think it's a sort of Little Less Direct than they're making it sound, but you know, what's interesting. They always say it's drug profits that are funding terrorism, but I don't think there's money from Merck or from Sandoz or Bear or any of that drug money that's going into funding Al-Qaeda. I think it's illegal drug money. In other words money generated by the black market by prohibition that's funding those people

DEAN BECKER: so true, Nick I tell you what we have here in Houston, you know, the scheduled breaking the chains conference. I don't know if you or any of the folks from reconsider gonna be able to make it but it portends to be a major event for this city, which so desperately needs to change the policy your thoughts in that regard. Have you been to any of the prior breaking the chains conferences?

NICHOLAS EYLE: Well, I not, I personally have not but I've heard other people who have and it's a very good thing, it, it's in you know, these are all important issues and it would be I'd like to share these things have all happened in Syracuse very recently and I would love to share some of what's going on here with people so that this can be replicated. I think this can happen around the country people, you know, this is a time when cities are operating on very tight budget. Well it sure everybody knows that their cities financially stressed at the moment. This is the time to question what They're spending their money on...

DEAN BECKER: we're going to close out this segment on Nicholas Eyle, with the words of his son Max-

quote The work my father did in the field of drug policy was some of his proudest and it remained the subject that he spoke most passionately about for the rest of his life the idea that people continue to be incarcerated for voluntarily putting a substance into their bodies always struck him as the height of absurdity if my dad had a single Mantra it would be Prohibition Doesn't work. Thank you Nicholas Eyle.

AUDIO CLIP: It's time to play name that drop by its side effects responsible for countless overdose deaths uncounted diseases International graph greed and Corruption stilted science and immense unchristian moral postulations of fiction, as fact time's up and this drug is the United States immoral improper bigoted unscientific and plain Effing evil addiction to drugwar, all approved by the FDA absolved by the American Medical Association and persecuted by Congress, the cops and in obeyence to the needs of the bankers, the pharmaceutical houses and the international drug cartels- 550 billion dollars a year can be very addicting. Place 12 Monkeys in a room, place a ladder in the middle of the room hang a bunch of bananas from the ceiling over the ladder leave the room and watch through a two-way mirror when the first monkey starts climbing the ladder seeking bananas, whack the monkey with a broomstick, whack additional monkeys as necessary to prevent them from reaching the bananas, continue this effort until the monkeys again stopping one another from climbing the ladder remove one of the original Twelve Monkeys and replace with a monkey who has never been whacked with a broom, watch as the original monkeys keep the Newbie from climbing the ladder. Replace The original monkeys one by one, watch as a room full of unwacked monkeys keep one another from the ladder and the bananas, even though none of them know the original reason to refrain observe the perfect example of the mechanism of Drug war and action.

DEAN BECKER: Next up. We're going to speak with a Fellow at The Institute for policy studies there in Washington DC. He's been a director of its drug policy project for well 22 years. There's now a former military and diplomatic historian, his current work in compasses the reform of both International and domestic drug policies and without a want to welcome my long-term friend. The guy I toured Bolivia with back long ago. Mr. Sanho Tree, Hello Sanho

SANHO TREE: hi Dean good to be with you.

DEAN BECKER: it's good to hear your voice. Oh, we just played a tribute to Nicholas, long-term drug reform member who passed away earlier this month and you knew Nicholas did you not?

SANHO TREE: Yeah. I had the privilege of meeting ended up in Syracuse years ago great bunch of activists up there, you know the backbone of the drug Reform movement for so many years that helped get us where we are today. Its a tragic loss.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah a real Pioneer wasn't he? I agree. Well Sanho, there's news happening. I want to first take this quote and I don't know some say it's not actual, and some say it is but there's a quote. I want to share here quote. The Latin American drug cartels have stretched their tentacles much deeper into our lives than most people believe it's possible, they are calling the shots at all levels of government. And that's a quote from former director of the CIA, one William Colby and whether it's true, it's accurate or not it there's a lot of Truth in that thought. Am I right?

SANHO TREE: Well, Colby, Colby died a long time ago. So he’s talking historically but no, I don't think the cartels such so-called cartels have that kind of influence. Drug prohibition. However is an equal opportunity corruptor. And in that sense. Yeah, there's lots of corruption both inside the US government and foreign governments police forces all around the world. It's the function of prohibition. There's too much Black Market money here.

DEAN BECKER: well just less than a week ago. I think it was the New York Times came out with the headline. The Venezuelan leader, Maduro is charged in the United States with the drug trafficking. That's the president current president of Venezuela. Am I right?

SANHO TREE: Yeah, you know, I don't know what they hope to accomplish by this the last time I recall something similar was back in 1989 when the u.s. Invaded Panama to reboot Manuel Noriega for drug accusations. Yeah, You know it took to go after heads of state for complicity and every with drugs, but you got to take out a lot of governments in this world not the least of which would be like Honduras which the U.S. Is making nice with right. Now. The president of Honduras, you know is under, in a lot of trouble and being investigated you're talking about a lot of governments in Latin America West Africa with all these Transit zones, you know, when you have consume- consumers in the Northern Hemisphere and lucrative markets and you have these Transit company countries in between the drugs. They're going to even find a lot of rent Seekers popping up looking for ways to get their share.

DEAN BECKER: Well in the and then I thought what am I looking at here? I'm looking at the ICE. The government's ICE website. They're talking now, about this is from two days ago 15 current former. Venezuelan officials are now charged with narco-terrorism corruption drug trafficking and and, other criminal charges now maybe what William Colby said about corrupting government didn't apply in the United States thoroughly, but it seems to be- more widespread in Central and South America. Am I right?

SANHO TREE: Oh, yeah, it's not just Venezuela governed by any means whatsoever. If you list if you have produced a list of Colombian high-level officials that have been corrupted by drug trafficking during the same time period they're accusing Venezuela of, We would be invading Colombia by that standard, right?


SANHO TREE: it's just ridiculous to point out Maduro like this. It also makes things very awkward in terms of the possibility of any kind of peaceful political resolution because now they, you know, the the regime has no motivation to bargain or find a peaceful transition because they know they'll have a nice jail cell waiting for them in Miami.


SANHO TREE: It's kind of like how Donald Trump is himself into a porter right? He has to run for re-election. Otherwise the moment he's out of office he’s gonna face so many prosecutions and lawsuits. His life won't be worth living anymore. So ironically both leaders are kind of locked himself as well.

DEAN BECKER: And it's it underscores what you and I and and Nicky, have been saying over these decades that there is really no benefit to this. It is corruption, corruption runs the drug war am I right?

SANHO TREE: Yeah, it's not even about the drug war. It's not even about drugs verily the back bureaucrats looking for something. You know, they got a job to do. They get paid to do it on the other hand. You got elements of the government perfectly happy to look the other way. So during the Reagan Administration for instance, the the Iran-Contra crisis, Oliver North as you know, Fox News darling look the other way and had absolutely no problem working with drug traffickers to fund the contras in Nicaragua to overthrow the government in the 80s you can go to the module hadean and and Afghanistan. When would when the u.s. Is trying to you know, kick the Soviets out of Afghanistan and the 80s. They worked perfectly well drug traffickers back in Southeast Asia during the you know, the Indochina War Vietnam War the u.s. CIA in Laos and other places work hand-in-glove with drug traffickers and it's not because necessarily that the CIA is necessarily wants to go chemically and play people around the world because the prodrugs know it's because this is one of the easiest ways to raise lots of money off the books. Right? So we have a government and a custom cookie had a constitution that says, you know, the Congress only Congress has the power of the purse, and if Congress tells the administration whether it's Reagan or Trump or whoever you can't do something it's very tempting for them as Reagan did to go off the books to raise money externally by working with traffic or selling missiles to Iran. Hey, this is what Ronald Reagan did

DEAN BECKER: Right sure. Well, this brings to mind. There's a movie. I can't think of the name of it at the moment. It stars Tom Cruise as an airplane pilot flying drugs from Colombia through Nicaraguan laundering money, ferrying troops and weapons Etc all under the direction of the CIA and there was a lot of Truth in that movie. Am I right?

SANHO TREE: Yeah. Yeah the Barry Seal story. Yes made in America or something like that.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah came out a few years ago.

SANHO TREE: The Berry Seal story is a little bit harder to pin down. I think there's a lot of Truth there. It goes back a long ways and you run into a lot of a conspiracy, you know dead ends or or circles if you will sure, but certainly there was no problem with the CIA looking the other way because it official memorandum of understanding by the by William French Smith the Attorney General of Ronald Reagan to William Casey, between Casey and William Kent Smith. Casey was head of the CIA under Ronald Reagan explicitly stating, you know during the during the 1980s when they were working with the contrast that you know, the CIA must report all kinds of criminal activities. Like if you encounter people that are engaged in money laundering and kidnapping extortion all these other things you have to list all these things but not drugs explicitly carved out drugs.

DEAN BECKER: Mmm boy. Wonder why? Yeah, and yeah, and there was a gentleman journalist Gary Webb who covered that story pretty much he was discounted and eventually they say he killed himself with two bullets to the head or something. I there's a lot of noise and confusion back in that era was there not

SANHO TREE: Yes, it's a tragic story Gary Webb was a friend of mine. He did very good work. He published a series of articles in the San Jose Mercury News in the mid-nineties basically outlining a lot of what the CIA did in Central America in the 80s. What's the drug traffickers? And he published a book on that called Dark Alliance, which was great, it is well researched for, you know, he was a careful journalist. Unfortunately some local activists in Los Angeles and other places. These want was activist is as conspiracy mongers. The those one by Mike Ruppert use one band, you know, he's kind of like an Alex Jones type of when it comes to the drug policy.


SANHO TREE: coming up with all these Fantastical conspiracy theories grand grand grand conspiracy involving everybody every major figure under the sun and he took everyone's work and blew it completely out of proportion so that some people were convinced that not a single pill or joint or Rock got sold in Los Angeles without the cia's express permission. And you know, how do you explain to people that the CIA doesn't know where or what South Central is and doesn't care. It just had a war that it wanted to fight in Congress wouldn't give him the money and so one way they did it was like working with drug traffickers. Allowing them to smuggle drugs in exchange for money that they would use to buy buy guns for The Mercenaries.

DEAN BECKER: I had the privilege to interview Ricky Williams of the main benefactor if you will of that cocaine, who helped as I say to start crack cocaine here in these United States, he made millions of dollars and then got busted but he eventually got out and you know has written a book about his exploits as well. But there's a lot of Truth involved in what we're saying here isn't there.

SANHO TREE: Yeah, if you don’t know people about the ploy, I would recommend reading Alfred McCoy a great historian written about the politics of heroin in Southeast Asia another other pieces about the drug war and Corruption

DEAN BECKER: now, let me let me ask you this. We're speaking with Sanho Tree. He's a fellow with the institute for policy studies there in Washington DC now sanho we have in these United States this situation. Now this coronavirus it's got everybody just frightened hanging out at home and afraid of the the unknown threat. What is it? But Trump calls it the the invisible threat I think he calls it

SANHO TREE: invisible enemy

DEAN BECKER: Thank you for the our war president. And I feel that it is distracting people in a way and a good way perhaps from the drug war. We're talking about letting prisoners out of jails and prisons to prevent a worse, you know pandemic within behind the bars and it's given us a New Perspective a new look at this drug war. Would you agree with that, that thought please.

SANHO TREE: Oh, yeah, absolutely in terms of what you know, what our priorities are in terms of what people consider essential Services, right?


SANHO TREE: liquor stores and you recall, you know, the British Navy for three centuries issued run ration to their Sailors to help endure the boredom and hardships of Life at Sea, right because they couldn't keep them. Yeah.


SANHO TREE: otherwise, I'm gonna be stuck in a miserable condition. And today I think you know, you could make a good argument that marijuana stores to the extent they they practice social, you know, physical distancing are actually helping more people stay at home because they're you know, not to get off the couch

DEAN BECKER: sure helps to while away those hours indeed

SANHO TREE: Liquor stores, very important aspect a lot of people don't realize that, that alcohol withdrawal can lead to death if you're seriously dependent on alcohol. And so this idea that you know, we should just have these moralists coming in as we should shut down the liquor stores as well. That's that's very very dangerous. In fact, in the states where there's a high rate of alcohol consumption. There have been I was just reading last night several suicides because the liquor stores are closed and people are returning to all kinds of dangerous substitutes, you know, because they're locked in they got nothing to do and they got the untreated dependency issues and anxiety and traumas are trying to self-medicate. That won't end well,

DEAN BECKER: but you dropped a word there that's been I don't know. I've been trying to bring Focus to bear on moralism, on what is moral about the drug war. What do we get back? What is the benefit? Why does it exist and it is my contention that it began a hundred years ago by um moralists, excuse me, some charlatans pretending to be moralists, who convince people that it was for the public good to begin to whittle away at our rights. Would you respond to that thought please, Sanho Tree?

SANHO TREE: you know, I think there's there's stuff to be addressed about Taxation and black markets Etc. But the idea of policing people's bodies is something that is profoundly disturbing to me as a civil libertarian. I'm not a economic libertarian, but I'm a civil libertarian. We in this country get the drug war through our mother's milk, right? We think that the state, we just assume the government has these rights to do these things to us? But where in the constitution does it give the police the federal government the right to kick in your bedroom door to slap you in handcuffs and prosecute you and put you into prison for things that you do to your own body, absent harm to anyone else. If you're not endangering children, if you're not driving, if you're not causing a public nuisance. Where does the government get the right to prosecute you and the punish you for what you do to your own body? Because if you don't control your own lungs, your own veins, your own mouth, your own stomach, your own orifices, your nostrils. What do you own? Right? And if the government can invade you at such an intimate level that carries over into Reproductive Rights, into sexual minorities and sexual rights. We must never give the government that kind of power unless there's an Overwhelming Public Health, you know crisis like that quarantines in this current age where it was the greater societies at risk. If you're a super setter, you want to go out for instance. Well with the drug war is not like that.

DEAN BECKER: No, it's not it and again folks. We've been speaking with mr. Sanho Tree. He's a fellow with the institute for policy studies in Washington DC. I;m gonna give you 30 seconds or a minute here to close out. Maybe share your website.

SANHO TREE: Sure. My website is and best way to keep in touch with me is on Twitter my hashtag my handle is just @sanhotree.

DEAN BECKER: Real good real good Sanho, I hope it's all captured well, but excellent thoughts. I've appreciate your time.

SANHO TREE: Thank you. Alright for me,

DEAN BECKER: I take it I am the Reverend Dean Becker of the Drug Truth Network standing and the river of Reform, baptizing drug Warriors to the unvarnished truth.

Well, that's it. I want to thank Nicholas Eyle, for being the Pioneer that he was. I want to thank Sanho Tree for being the Pioneer that he is and I want to thank you for listening to Cultural Baggage here on the Drug Truth Network. And again, I remind you because of prohibition, You just don't know what's in that bag. Please be careful. To the Drug Truth Network listeners around the world, this is Dean Becker for Cultural Baggage and the unvarnished truth. Cultural Baggage is a production of the Pacifica Radio Network archives are permanently stored at the James A Baker III Institute for public policy and we are all still tap dancing on the edge of an abyss.

02/12/20 Sanho Tree

Century of Lies
Sanho Tree

This week on Century of Lies we're joined by Sanho Tree, Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and Director of the IPS Drug Policy Project.

Audio file



FEBRUARY 12, 2020

DEAN BECKER: The failure of the Drug War is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors, and millions more now calling for decriminalization, legalization and the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century of Lies.

DOUG MCVAY: Hello and welcome to Century of Lies. I am your host, Doug McVay, Editor of

Sanho Tree is a Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and he has been the Director of the IPS Drug Policy Project since 1998. A former military and diplomatic historian, his current work encompasses the reform of both international and domestic drug policies by promoting alternatives to the failed prohibitionist model.

In recent years the project has focused on ending the damage caused by the drug wars in Colombia, Bolivia, Mexico, Afghanistan, and the Philippines establishing humane and sustainable alternatives to the drug war. It fits in to the IPS Mandate as one of the major contemporary social justice issues at home and abroad. It is such a pleasure to have a friend of mine and the program, Sanho Tree on the line. Sanho, how the heck are you doing?

SANHO TREE: Doing great, Doug. It is great to be with you.

DOUG MCVAY: You were in the UK at Windsor Castle not long ago and I am trying hard not to be jealous to collaborate with our good friends at Transform Drug Policy on a report that has just been issued entitled, ‘Challenges For A World Where Drugs are Legally Regulated’. What is this report about?

SANHO TREE: We gathered and retreated to Windsor Castle as one does. It was actually hosted by St. George’s House, which is a think tank based at Windsor Castle and it was founded by the Duke of Edenborough, Prince Phillip, back in the 60s. They convene big international gatherings on complex issues to spur interdisciplinary discussions. It was an absolutely fascinating meeting. We had people from all different aspects of drug policies representing users, farmers, people who are studying the synthetic markets, cannabis experts, treatment, harm reduction – and all its various dimensions. We were able to get together and talk about the future. We are so busy putting out fires of today that we don’t really give thought to what comes next. I think that was one of the shortcomings of cannabis legalization, for instance. The corporate capture kind of took many of us by surprise. Not that it happened, but the pace of it all and that was a big issue that came up in these discussions. More importantly though I think it got us to an understanding from all of these different perspectives that drug policy isn’t really about the drugs themselves; it is about everything that feeds in to the drug policy. It is about poverty, despair, alienation, public health, corporate capture and all of these things and it was nice to have that space to talk across disciplines and give each other heads up about what is approaching on our fronts as well as things we have to deal with urgently and where we need more coordination. I think it was a great interdisciplinary discussion and it was particularly important because drug policy reform is the most interdisciplinary issue I have ever worked on. Keep in mind that I used to be a World War II historian back in the 90s. Fighting a global world war is a pretty complicated interdisciplinary because there are so many things to balance; but drug policy is even more complicated in my opinion because unlike World War II, it’s less black and white, with a lot of different variables involved and we don’t give enough time to really think about these questions.

DOUG MCVAY: That is fascinating. I was speaking to a sociology professor named Kerwin Kaye recently who authored a book on drug courts entitled, Enforcing Freedom Drug Courts, Therapeutic Communities, and the Intimacies of the State. One of the points that he makes is that in some of these drug courts it is not so much about the drugs that they are taking, in fact whether they are using the drugs problematically or not is beside the point. For a lot of these it is about the drug culture and getting the person to stop whatever it is that they associate with drug culture lifestyle.

SANHO TREE: Yeah. Compliance – you will comply.

DOUG MCVAY: Yes. So that is standard as far as drug policy is concerned.

SANHO TREE: Yes. In fact, one of my favorite partner organization in the Philippine’s called NoBox Transitions and they do harm reduction. NoBox sounds like no box, or thinking outside of the box. If you look at the drug war and how so much of this works bureaucratically and it’s about lots of individuals who get paid to not understand the nature of the problem and to tick off the right boxes. How many people go through this treatment protocol or do Zumba exercises passes for a lot treatment in the Philippines. It is also about meeting quotas and hitting numbers so you can get paid and get more appropriations the next cycle. It really has nothing to do with the individuals or building a health society. It is the banality of evil in many ways.

DOUG MCVAY: I wanted to ask you more about Windsor and I especially wanted to track down this rumor that you helped convince a certain Ginger to drop everything and bring his new wife to North America, but we don’t have time to go in to that. Let’s instead transition to something you just mentioned and that is the Philippines. They are still a dictatorship and Duterte is still in power. It is a litany of horror. What is happening over there, can you give us an update?

SANHO TREE: I was just there in October on a speaking tour in Manila and some of the outlining islands.

DOUG MCVAY: They let you in to the country?

SANHO TREE: Yes. You know 100 million people live in the Philippines and for most of them life goes on day to day even though by many estimates they have killed 20,000 – 30,000 people in this drug war. If you are middle class or above you can live around it. It is like explaining Jim Crowe and lynchings in the United States in the 50s and 60s. It happened a lot but lots of white people lived oblivious lives. This is kind of what is happening in the Philippines because they are killing primarily the poorest of the poor. If you don’t go to those neighborhoods it is easy to look the other way. Nonetheless, there were lots of people who had enough of this killing and they’ve mobilized so there was good response this time. I think it has built in the past three years, but Duterte still remains very popular in the Philippines. He is the kind of autocrat dictator that has very populist policies because he talks about violence, brutality, and toughness in a very Trumpian way and it is easy for his followers to relate to – if you don’t like someone then beat them up and get tough with them – it has nothing to do with solving problems. That has been the key to Duterte’s success, or as I like to say, my opponent says there are no easy answers and I say he is not looking hard enough. That is the secret of Duterte, and that is why Trump is popular because these demigods’ present very simple and very simplistic solutions to very complex problems that just are not sustainable.

DOUG MCVAY: People love action movies and tough guys and it doesn’t matter if he is the good guy or the bad guy. It scares me to think that it does feel like what we are doing in this.

SANHO TREE: Manny Pacaio the famous boxer is a Philippine and right wing senator who supports these tough policies as well so it is a very primal, fascistic urge that when you have enough social problems and you can scapegoat all of them successfully on to the desired demographics it is a potent tool. This is one of the reasons I focus on the Philippines and increasingly Brazil where you have another right wing authoritarian president who has talked admiringly of the Philippine drug control model, i.e., death squads, and he boasts that he is going to kill even more people than President Duterte. It is a very dangerous tool to allow these right wing populists to have because drugs are an easy thing to scapegoat.

DOUG MCVAY: Speaking of right wing populists and out of control regimes, let’s go to Columbia for a moment. How has the peace process been going? Not well as I understand.

SANHO TREE: It is very disturbing and something that we have been warning about for years leading up to the peace process. The state has to be ready and willing to fill the vacuum once the FARC guerillas, who have been fighting the state for 50 years now – lay down their weapons, because they were going to leave a terrible vacuum in much of the countryside. If the state didn’t move in with good governance, investment, and development other forces would fill that vacuum be it land barons, cattle barons, or people wanting African Palm plantations, or coca, etc. People have taken over these spaces that have been vacated by the guerrillas and many of them are criminal groups. The death rate for community leaders and social justice activists who are working for human rights to defend indigenous rights and peasant farmers is at a rate that I have not seen since the height of the war.

Peace is not all it’s cracked up to be, especially when they didn’t prepare sufficiently for that peace. A lot of criminal groups are building that vacuum and nature abhors a vacuum.

DOUG MCVAY: It seems to be a constant problem in that we don’t want to look at what happens next.

DOUG MCVAY: Let’s get this done. Yes, but what happens next? Don’t worry about that. Let’s just get this done. Let’s legalize weed, don’t worry about the rest of it. We will sort out the details later. Let’s just stop this conflict. Let’s not worry about what happens later.

SANHO TREE: It is all short-term thinking and they want rapid results because they want to run for elections and they want to say that they got this done, and they got peace deals signed. If they didn’t invest the peace afterwards you are going to lose this so-called peace and end up with problems that are just as bad. One of the things that has happened is that coca cultivation has increased sharply back to the 2001 levels when we first began this planned Colombia disaster. It shows that more than a dozen years of intense spraying with powerful broad spectrum herbicides doesn’t work. The moment you let up people resume what they were doing because you haven’t dealt with the reasons they were doing it to begin with, which has everything to do with abandonment by the state and their lack of investment, economic alternatives, and infrastructure and they thought they could repress this problem away without investing in the people behind it. We have now come full circle. I first got involved in Colombia in January 2001, just before the first U.S. funded planned Colombia assistance started hitting the ground there. They sprayed millions of acres of the second-most biodiverse county in the world from 2001 until 2015 using crop dusters trying to eradicate the coca crop and it didn’t work; the most they ever got were temporary reductions. By 2015, the World Health Organization linked the main chemical they were using which is Glyphosate (brand name is Round Up from Monsanto) to cancer so the Colombian government stopped the aerial fumigation campaign in 2015 because it was untested and dangerous to spray this stuff on people. Due to the failed peace deal and the resumption of coca cultivation, the numbers are rising again quite sharply. The Trump Administration and the right wing Colombian government are both talking about resuming aerial fumigation and the Trump Administration doesn’t care and doesn’t have the attention span to deal with any of this stuff. They just want it to be the hardest, toughest, most vicious way and that is what they are doing.

One thing we have learned about the spraying program is that unless you deal with the basic problems at hand for these pheasant farmers who are most deeply affected you destroy their livelihoods. Aerial spraying destroys their food security because they don’t know how they are going to feed their family in the coming days and months. They live in remote areas where coca was the only thing that allowed them to survive and that is the one crop they know how to grow. They have ready and willing buyers and it is easy to transport as it doesn’t require lots of roads and infrastructure like fruits and vegetables would. So this almost guarantees that they are going to replant and grow more coca because they are forced with food insecurity and it is the only thing they can do. Lather, rinse, repeat.

DOUG MCVAY: Again folks we are speaking with Sanho Tree who is a Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and Director of its IPS Drug Policy Project. You are listening to Century of Lies. I am your host, Doug McVay.

Just a couple of lefty liberals whining about things like underlying causes or the consequences of our inactions and the unintended results. Action movie style, just go in and break stuff. This is obviously what works; that is how we got our President.

We figured out in this country that Glyphosate is scary and people are talking about Round Up in fearful tones. People would go nuts if they thought that we were going to do aerial spraying of Round Up on crops some place in the Midwest. Farmers would be up in arms! It would be horrible.

SANHO TREE: Yes, and the version we’re spraying down in Colombia is a super concentrated version of Round Up that you can’t get commercially in the United States. Monsanto even has its own warning labels that say do not expose to the eyes as it can cause permanent eye damage and yet we are spraying this stuff without warning creating gas clouds over farmers, children, and the environment and lots of people are ending up sick as a result of this. It is a completely unsustainable way to control drugs.

We won’t face the reality of this in the United States and we think it is somehow their problem when in fact the policy of prohibition is what is making all of this possible. Without prohibition these farmers are growing minimally processed agricultural and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) commodities that cost pennies per dose to manufacture. There should not be huge profits involved in this economy at all. This is a policy decision and from that stems all of this violence, destruction, displacement, and calamity because we create value where there shouldn’t be much at all.

DOUG MCVAY: Let’s get back to that report that you were involved in at What was that title again?

SANHO TREE: It is called “Challenges For A World Where Drugs Are Legally Regulated”.

DOUG MCVAY: What kind of positives can we pull from this and are there some solutions? Can you throw us a ray of hope?

SANHO TREE: We actually thought through a lot of this in terms of what are some guide posts and general principles we should adhere to as well as some caveats. It was rare to get in a space to talk about as Obama said, the fierce things of now and the problems we face now. We were able to look a decade or two in to the future. It is about understanding that drugs aren’t just about drugs. It is connected to some of the other economic and cultural issues that we face. We had to balance that with individual liberty so we had people from the Adam Smith Institute there as well as Lefty’s so it was a good cross cutting discussion. We spent a lot of time talking about corporate capture and learning the lessons from marijuana legalization in the United States. We had some very good people who are involved in regulatory stuff such as Shaleen Title, for instance. We also looked at farmers and were these votes come from and how do we talk about that in a more encompassing way so we had Kathryn Ledebur who is the Director of the Andean Information Network in Bolivia present as well. There were people there doing harm reduction services and direct services. It is very rare to get all of those different factors in the same room to talk and focus on common issues.

DOUG MCVAY: Again folks, we are speaking with Sanho Tree from the Institute for Policy Studies. The drug czar released the National Drug Control Strategy they didn’t use the words ‘harm reduction’, but they actually mentioned syringe service programs three different times in the whole policy, which was mostly in respect to intervention and referral to treatment. I wasn’t going to ask you about that – I am just mentioning it as a side thing so that listeners can know that there was a National Drug Control Policy issued in February and we will be talking about that in a later show. They still have a drug czar! Until they released this policy I wasn’t sure if James Carroll and the ONDCP were still around. You are in D.C., what is up with ONDCP?

SANHO TREE: That is a good question. It is absolutely shocking, right? I didn’t read this year’s report but I read last year’s report. This year has been tied up in the middle of impeachment. Last year’s report came out two years late and was 20 pages long I believe, whereas in the past it was 100 – 120 pages. Here they were trying to justify this enormous budget two years late, which is one of the things that they are required to do by law, and they couldn’t get it done on time. I don’t know how many pages this year’s report was but it seems like there is nobody home, let alone a drug czar. It is a weird situation in Washington where everyone is ‘Acting’.


SANHO TREE: Acting Defense Secretary, Acting Chief of Staff, Acting this and that because no one can get confirmed and Trump doesn’t care, as he likes to keep weak institutions so he can exercise power himself and often very corruptly. When you don’t empower these bureaucrats there is no coordination going on. No one wants to stick their neck out and say anything for fear that they might get the President’s attention and he will Tweet something completely contradicting them or setting them off in a new direction. It doesn’t really serve their interest to raise their heads which allows for some interesting things. Sometimes you get individual bureaucrats who are trying to do the right thing and it gets them some space and quiet time to try to advance some things but there is also a lot of crazy stuff going on. A lot of it is there to please their dear leader North Carolinian style. They make it gratuitously sadistic to please Trump and this is no way to formulate policy. We used to have long, protracted periods of interagency consultations to coordinate things because a lot of these issues are very cross cutting and you would get different agencies to sign off on things because someone might raise a red flag here or there in order to coordinate some of these things but that is not happening these days it seems. People are just hunkered down and we are governing by tweet and tantrum more than data, hearings, logic or any kind of recent process. This can’t sustain itself very long.

DOUG MCVAY: We can but hope. Now we are getting close to the end of the show so I do want to ask about one other thing that is coming up real soon. February 17, 2020 is the 1st Intercessional Meeting of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs. Their 63rd Session actually starts March 2nd through the 6th in Vienna, Austria.

I loved when I was travelling around doing these things but I was getting a carbon footprint like a charcoal Sasquatch, and that’s not good. I am kind of glad that I can just watch the webcast, on the other hand, so little actually happens. How useful are these things?

SANHO TREE: (LAUGHTER) I haven’t been in a few years. This is important stuff and it’s very deep in the weeds with a lot of it best done by lawyers haggling over commas and minute wording changes, but those wording changes can have big impacts down the line. It is about as fascinating as watching paint dry or chewing concrete for breakfast. Thank God you are monitoring this stuff remotely and others are actually going there but it is a tough slog. However, it is important for people to realize small wording changes are how big changes happen and it can take years to roll down the line. As an example, you see little changes in a Secretary General’s speech, for instance when they start using terms like ‘harm reduction’, or they hint at regulation or decriminalization and the next thing you know it shows up in some consensus draft of some agency of the U.N., then several agencies of the U.N. start to sign off on that language. It could be a couple of years down the line but that becomes the conventional wisdom in U.N. documents. Eventually world leaders’ start reading these documents and it becomes kind of a global conventional wisdom. At this point, all 32 agencies and programs of the United Nations last year came out in support of decriminalization of simple drug possession, which is radical. It was a general consensus by all of the U.N. agencies and programs and the U.N. represents Member States which includes governments around the world. Maybe a lot of these governments don’t recognize this is what has happened but it has happened and eventually these things do become part of the common discourse and that is how change happens. I am glad that you and others monitor what is happening at the CND, but it can take years for the language to percolate in to meaningful change but this is how it starts and it is very important so I don’t want to diminish the valuable work and investment people make in this field. It is just not something that I want to spend my time doing. I will give you a stark example, when I first started in drug policy in 1998, it was the U.N.s UNGASS global meeting and one of the slogan’s they used was ‘A drug-free world, we can do it’. So they are aiming for a drug-free world and that language was so ridiculous and got so much pushback that within a decade it became anathema to even hint that you would support such a crazy objective. When the next drug czar, Dr. Costa was in office, an Irish journalist confronted him about the use of the term ‘drug-free world’. Dr. Costa said that nowhere in any document will you ever find us using that phrase and that it was a ridiculous statement. When the journalist showed him the actual publication coming from the drug czar’s office where they did use that phrase he was appalled. The fact that it became a toxic phrase within ten years that even the drug czar would not be caught dead using it tells you something pretty powerful. This was conventional wisdom 20 years ago and now it is viewed as laughable. These changes do happen.

Again folks, you are listening to Century of Lies, I am your host, Doug McVay. We have been in conversation with my good friend Sanho Tree who is a Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and is also the Director of its IPS Drug Policy Project. Sanho, thank you so much for all of your time my friend. It was good talking with you.

SANHO TREE: My pleasure, Doug.

DOUG MCVAY: And that is it for this week. I want to thank you for joining us.

You have been listening to Century of Lies we are a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network. You can find us on the web at: I have been your host, Doug McVay, Editor of

The Executive Producer of the Drug Truth Network is Dean Becker. The Drug Truth Network has a Facebook page, please give it a like. Drug War Facts is on Facebook as well, give its page a like and share it with friends.

You can follow me on Twitter: @DougMcVay, and @drugpolicyfacts. We will be back in a week with 30 more minutes of news and information about drug policy reform and the failed war on drugs. This is Doug McVay saying so long!

For the Drug Truth Network this is Doug McVay asking you to examine our policy of drug prohibition, the Century of Lies. Drug Truth Network programs are archived at the James A. Baker, III Institute for Public Policy.

08/21/19 Sanho Tree

Century of Lies
Sanho Tree
Institute for Policy Studies

This week on Century of Lies, part two of our conversation with Sanho Tree, Director of the Drug Policy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies, plus a report on the Colombian peace process.

Audio file



SEPTEMBER 21, 2019

DEAN BECKER: The failure of drug war is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors, and millions more now calling for decriminalization, legalization – the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century of Lies.

DOUG McVEY: Hello and welcome to Century of Lies. I am your host, Doug McVey, Editor of

Today we are gonna start off with Part Two of my conversation with Sanho Tree. Sanho is the Director of The Drug Policy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC. There was actually a hearing at the Irish Parliament that a Committee of the Iractis held on the situation in Columbia, the peace process there. A couple of trade union representatives (high officials), came in to talk and one of the messages that stood out most is that Columbia is the most dangerous place in the world right now to be a union organizer.

SANHO TREE: Yeah. It’s another common thread –being an environmental defender these days to protect the environment – it used to be that Brazil was the most dangerous place, right? It still is incredibly dangerous, President Bolsonar is fascist and is basically declaring war on indigenous peoples and is vowing to open up the Amazon and will basically bulldoze it. He only sees commercial development as being the only reasonable thing to do with the Amazon and of course, those are the lungs of the earth, incredibly sensitive and vital environmental areas are gonna be deforested now. Just this month the Philippines actually surpassed Brazil as being the most dangerous place to be an environmental defender, so large agra-businesses are taking over land and the people who are protesting are the ones being targeted now. It’s no coincidence these are all right-wing governments and you’ve got a lot of social defenders being targeted. They need our help and our solidarity right now.

DOUG MCVEY: God, and of course, people can find out more by following you and there’s also the Washington office on Latin America and The Latin American Working Group. There are a few good organizations – some trade union groups that are also – I think Human Rights Watch has some good things happening. The NGOs are active, that’s’ the good part. The NGOs are the targets now.

SANHO TREE: The NGOs are active; the government isn’t very active. We don’t really have a foreign policy in the State Department, we have Trump’s tantrums and a lot of people just hunkering down trying not to get noticed, or do anything really. It’s just madness in Washington these days. You used to have these formal mechanisms of policy formation and you have inter-agency coordination, and you work out the bugs, and you cross your T’s and dot your I’s, and look at all the different interactions and how its gonna ripple effect. None of that these days. It’s whatever the President wants and they can overturn policy that took years to develop and turn it over in an afternoon with a tweet. It’s extremely demoralizing for people in government who are actually trying to do good things – they are just basically trying to survive at this point. The pettiness with which this White House will reach down in to the bureaucracy and punish people it views as disloyal to the President is frightening, in fact the JAG – the military prosecutors who prosecuted the NAVY Seal for war crimes in Afghanistan a few months ago, Trump has ordered that they not get the commendations. So they are being punished for actually prosecuting a NAVY Seal who committed war crimes. Just think about that. They did their jobs and for that Trump is punishing them.

DOUG MCVEY: Well that’s a good segway to get back to the United States. We’ve seen how bad things can get in the Philippines and we’re watching the civil war that is supposed to be ending – not ending

So let’s get back to the U.S. Now of course we’ve had a kinder, gentler drug war these past few years. The opioid overdose crisis has resulted in more people understanding that getting Naloxone in to the hands of not just first responders but also friends and family and people who use opioids themselves is a smart thing to do and that’s been happening. We’ve had people pushing the idea – people fighting hard for the idea of supervised injection facilities and safe consumption facilities around the country. More and more talking openly about the need for those, so that’s a good thing.


DOUG MCVEY: Yeah, it is --


DOUG MCVEY: --and we had a Drug Czar candidate the first one, Tom Moreno, the former Representative from Pennsylvania whose bright idea it was to convert prisons and jails in to inpatient treatment facilities. The guards just wouldn’t have badges and that’s pretty much the only change and you know, as bad as that was you at least knew that there was still a kinder, gentler – the democrats and the liberals would – and I was talking to you before this, one of the candidates, Andrew Yang, I was looking through his drug policy platform and one thing that stood out was mandatory 3-day stays in a facility for all overdose victims so that they can be convinced to go in to treatment.


DOUG MCVEY: Because the one thing that’s certainly gonna get you to go in for medical care when you’ve had an overdose is the notion that you’re going to be locked away – but it won’t be called a jail. They’ll convert it.


DOUG MCVEY: Yeah. They won’t have badges. That’s how you can tell. This is just – and there is that, but we seem to have changed because we have an effective treatment for opioid use disorder because we have the protocols and know how to use methadone, we know how to use buprenorphine and they are actually pretty successful and we’re talking more and more about the need for heroin assisted treatment because we need to go there—


DOUG MCVEY: We’re just so different than the meth fear – the meth hysteria from a few years back, a decade or so back or the crack hysteria from the 80s. So much different, but they’re also different drugs. There’s stimulants and we don’t have substitution treatment. We don’t have the maintenance treatment because even though there’s research showing that it works – Dextramphetamine – John Grabowsky down in Texas, brilliant guy. Anyway, even though there is some research showing it works for some reason, we won’t do it. Of course now we’re seeing more meth in the state of Oregon and various other places. We’re seeing a return of meth, we’re hearing about more cocaine out there and I am gonna say it until it actually happens, which unfortunately won’t be too much longer; there are chemists out there working on what is called Caphanones and those are stimulants. They are going to make some that have the up – the rush of the methamphetamine with the sort of smooth appeal of the cocaine. It’ll be a designer drug, it’ll be scary powerful and people will die. Anyway.

SANHO TREE: (UNINTELLIGABLE). Side effects and consequences, yeah. We don’t know about these things. This is precisely –

DOUG MCVEY: So what do you think about (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of America, my friend?

SANHO TREE: This is precisely why I am glad they haven’t debated drug policy in the Presidential Debate’s yet. When you have two dozen candidates and each one gets sixty seconds it’s very difficult to talk about complex policy proposals. Later on when you narrow down the number of candidates and you might get 3-4 minutes, then maybe you can have a slightly more substantive session. You really get the amount of time necessary to really flush out these alternatives. For instance, they can talk about methadone and Bupanorphine, but they’re not gonna talk about Safe Supply Movement – #SafeSupply, check it out. What they are doing in British Columbia for instance, where doctors can prescribe Hydromorphone or Dilaudid to people with opioid use disorders, so that they’re not forced to go out into the street and play Fentanyl roulette. That’s like a no brainer to me. We know how to prevent people from dying from unintentional Fentanyl overdose and we’re not doing it. It sends the wrong moral message I guess, to keep people alive. That is the implication, right? If you’re a politician who doesn’t support it that at some level – and you know its gonna lead to more deaths, then you’ve got to think that the wages of sin ought to be death and that will somehow send the right message, which is the old standby rational for a lot of this stuff.

If it’s your child or someone that you love who overdoses at a festival or something because you didn’t have pill-checking, drug testing. If you oppose these basic kinds of basic harm reduction measures than I think as a politician you are basically supporting a randomized death penalty – that someone else’s loved one should pay the price and that somehow that’s gonna send a message to the rest of the world to not do this? It doesn’t work, it hasn’t worked and they are just killing people for no good reason.

DOUG MCVEY: Throw us a ray of sunshine. Jesus. This is depressing.

SANHO TREE: (LAUGHTER). I am an optimist. As a former historian, my heroes are the people who worked in the civil rights movement in the 40s and 50s. Less so the 60s. My heroes were the suffragettes working a century ago in the turn of the 1900s. Back when people thought the odds were so stacked against you that you’ll never see these kinds of changes in your lifetime, and yet, within a generation – within a dozen years people have seen tremendous change. It is possible – so we mustn’t lose sight of that. Hell, we went through alcohol prohibition and then repealed –


SANHO TREE: --all within one generation. In hindsight, the only thing that’s inevitable is change itself and sometimes it’s even for the better.

DOUG MCVEY: As a great man once said, “Perspective – use it, or lose it”. Right?


DOUG MCVEY: Again, we are speaking with Sanho Tree, he is the Director of the Drug Policy Project at The Institute for Policy Studies. He’s a military historian and a writer and a researcher and a brilliant – brilliant person who is so involved in so many things. We must make sure that people know where to follow you on social media so give them that stuff.

SANHO TREE: My Twitter handle is: @sanhotree, or you can go to my website at:

DOUG MCVEY: And there you go. Actually there’s a lot of stuff at the IPS website that go well beyond drug policy and they’ve been talking about drug policy for a very long time. Liberals thought that this is an issue they wouldn’t touch but they knew there were some conservatives who would talk about marijuana and maybe some other stuff. You know Buckley was out there doing his thing, and the conservatives thought this was an issue they didn’t want to touch but they knew there were some liberals out there who were talking this kind of stuff, but it was hard to find. I don’t know maybe it’s because it seems so counterintuitive. The conservative support is something that people know about more. We just think of the Democrats as being scared and spineless and running away, and the fact that IPS, which is very, very proudly progressive – more on the left. Would it be fair to call it a left?


DOUG MCVEY: Okay. Thank you. Left is still right and right is still wrong.


DOUG MCVEY: The fact that an institution like IPS has been involved in that for some years I think is terrific. I wish more people realized that. Like I say, its – credit where it’s due.

SANHO TREE: Thank you. We’ve been around 54 years now. It’s been quite a ride. If you haven’t been involved in politics yet, this is the time to do it. If you’re angry that they haven’t impeached Trump and your local member or congress has not supported impeachment yet – ask yourself, have you contacted them? Have you called them? Have you written them? They’re not mind readers and if you haven’t contacted them then perhaps you are part of the problem as well. There are a lot of us thinking similar things out there in the world but we are all atomized unless we start acting together, and only then can we actually produce some change.

DOUG MCVEY: And with that – Sanho, thank you so much for all of your time. Thank you so much for your time and for all that you do. God bless you.

SANHO TREE: My pleasure.

DOUG MCVEY: That was my conversation with Sanho Tree, Director of The Drug Policy Project at The Institute for Policy studies. They are a think-tank based in Washington, D.C.

NIXON: America’s Public Enemy #1 in the United States is drug abuse. In order to fight and defeat this enemy, it is necessary to wage a new all-out offensive. I have asked the congress to provide the legislative authority and the funds to fuel this kind of an offensive.

DOUG MCVEY: You’re listening to Century of Lies. I am your host, Doug McVey, Editor of

Now the top of that interview I mentioned a discussion that had been held at the Iractus at the Irish Parliament on the Columbian peace process with a joint committee on foreign affairs and trade and defense. We are gonna hear now from the conclusion of that discussion.

We’re gonna hear Senator Paul Gavin, he’s a labor party member of the Irish Senate – the Shanderan. Then we’ll hear from Mariella Cohan, she is Senior International Officer with the Trades Union Congress.

SEN. PAUL GAVIN: Thanks indeed and thanks for allowing me, I am a guest here this morning as well. I want to pay tribute to Justice for Columbia. I was fortunate enough to be part of their most recent delegation. I want to pay particular tribute to the Force Trade Union because it’s so significant with the support that your union is giving to this civil society organization. They really are punching at a very high level because one of the most significant things from our visit was the fact that the Columbian government felt to need to meet with us at the end of the week and I thought that was very significant and in its own way, very positive. I want to share just very briefly if I may, Chair, a couple of the quotes because we did meet a whole range of people from trade unions, socially (UNINTELLIGIBLE) elitists. A very week, actually, because it is such a beautiful country but the level of oppression there is quite shocking, frankly.

One of the human rights defenders said to me directly, “we’re witnessing a genocide of social trade union leaders and human rights defenders”, and that is a shocking statement to hear. Perhaps a service statement was Ada Avella, who is a Member of Parliament for the Patrific Union Priority. She’s like myself, a lifelong trade unionist. She said, “There aren’t so many trade unionists killed lately, but then there aren’t so many of us left”. What an absolutely shocking statement to make. I was disturbed by what Mariella told us in terms of the new restrictions on visiting the transition zones because we visited Tierra Grata in the northeast of Columbia in the La Paz District. We could see firsthand that the potential is here to deliver something significantly economically in terms of independence but it just isn’t happening for lack of support and it was disturbing when we raised it with the government in that meeting at the end of the week. Effectively we were met with denial and I found that disappointing. The other thing is I was supposed to speak with an Irish Republican – I didn’t hear the language of a peace process from the government ministers and I found that particularly disturbing. We were firsthand witnesses and yet we were told that we were effectively – the word ‘lies’ was used a number of times and I just didn’t hear that language that we would expect from a peace process and indeed what we would hear from our own peace process despite the challenges from time to time. Perhaps the most moving part of the mission was to visit Cahbio, a town in north Corka because what we saw there in a community setting was pictures on the wall of local community leaders who had been murdered in the last couple of years – young men. Many of the members of the Fenswa Grove Agricultural Trade Union – and it I have to say, I won’t name the Irish company – but this community setting was surrounded by property owned by an Irish company and they said to us that the Power Ministries were using the land to come out in the dark to attack and kill the people and as an Irishman, I found that particularly disturbing.

We had a very positive meeting with Allison Milson and one of the things she did commit to do was to go and visit that mine and if I may be so bold as to suggest that a further activist committee might be just to write to the Ambassador to ask her about that visit – has it taken place and what are her reviews on it because as my colleague Shaun said – and by the way, Shaun sends his apologies – he had to go to Parliament. We as a country should not be importing “blood” coal. I did note that in a recent response to Tom Ishter, it indicated he would have a further look at this and I really hope he does because it’s very much not in keeping with a lot of the very good work and fairness that’s been done by Ireland.

I want to just finish by asking a couple of questions. The first is, you mentioned the local elections in October and that was a big topic when we were over there. How can these elections be free and fair – or how free and fair are they likely to be given that we met people and you have mentioned it yourself, telling us that they’ve been threatened. Their lives are being threatened. Very hard to run an election when people’s lives are being threatened and again, as a number of people have said it just struck me that there’s a vacuum where the defense of leaders should be. There’s a gaping vacuum, and again, I have to say particularly the representatives at the Justice Department and the police. There just seems to be a denial and yet the facts are there – the facts are in in terms of that.

That leads on to the second question and it’s a difficult question and perhaps I am asking for an opinion but in terms of the (UNINTELLIGBLE) members being killed by right wing public para-militaries. These para-militaries are writing with impunity that’s very clear. The question I want to ask is, are they also acting in collusion with the state?

I think that is it, Chair, I just want to thank Justice for Columbia for giving me the opportunity to go out there. I really do hope that our Irish government really does speak with a strong, loud voice and I would acknowledge the work of Ed McGilmore’s role, by the way, in relation to this issue because I have to say, just on a personal human level I found it deeply shocking to meet people as relatives of killed and this is – the number of deaths are increasing. The number of deaths have been increasing since the Peace Process was signed. Very hard to keep the Peace Process going when one side are being slaughtered. Thank you.


CHAIR: Thanks, Mariella.

MARIELLA COHAN: On the delegations I would just add to that it should be in fact FOR status for supporting the peace monitor delegations. One feature of the delegations is they are meeting everyone, you know? I would recognize the government for having engaged with those delegations at the Embassy in London and the Minister’s meeting at the highest level. That’s been incredibly valued that there has been that engagement and I think it gives credibility to the delegation that they are meeting with everyone. The HEP, The UN, The institutions, the parties and in terms of the environment and I think there are concerns around the extractive industries and the impact that is having on the environment – you heard about the mine and licenses be given respecting the indigenous land in Afro Columbian land that’s constitutionally provided for the respect for those lands. There are campaigns around fracking as well and obviously the concern around the possible fumigation of crops with Glyphosate, which is incredibly toxic. So there are concerns around the environment.

On the elections – I think obviously having international observers would be incredibly important but one of the concerns sometimes is the observers come just a day before and the problem in Columbia isn’t just about the day of the election. It’s about what happens before the election. It’s about the violence and intimidation that comes in the build up to an election and as I said, the MOE, and in our consent through their report, The Electoral Observer Mission, they released a report at the end of May saying that since last October, five mayoral candidates and two aspiring councilmembers were amongst the 75 registered political assassinations and that 37 political activists had survived assassination attempts. I think the elections come in a context of what has happened before and I think there needs to be attention put on that issue and maybe some monitoring at this stage, obviously, for the FARC – it’s the first time they’ll be participating in our collections and they’ll be quite exposed so that’s going to be very difficult. I am not sure, I think the EU has sent observations before in elections previously so it would be important to see what kind of monitoring can take place and obviously the UN mission has a mandate for the political (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to verify the political reincorporation at the FARC so they will be monitoring this situation as well.

In terms of the collusion I would say all the different killings of the members of the FARC obviously vary and in some cases it has been directly the Army – like the case of DeMarc Torres I mentioned – other cases. It’s been BLN, paramilitary groups may be linked to dissidence as well so it’s very complex and it does depend on the region as well. Some of them would be clearly politically motivated, others would be not sure what the reasons would be. I think the importance is about where there has been the state involvement for those to be brought to justice. I think the whole (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of paramilitaries – in the peace agreement there is a special investigative unit that is supposed to be set up to dismantle and investigate the paramilitaries. There was a hug back and forth with the formal attorney general over this unit because the whole point of the unit was to be completely autonomous and it had to then be created under the attorney general’s office because of his opposition to it and it would be important to support that unit to have its autonomy to actually investigate and dismantle that paramilitary groups and also to look at the political – there was supposed to be kind of a pact – a political pact across the country in terms of taking violence out of politics. In terms of changing the hate and the HOP has a role there in terms of the reconciliation as well. One key feature of the agreement is that it’s comprehensive and it’s interlinked and if you start chipping away and taking bits other bits don’t work, so you have to implement it as a whole. If FARC members don’t have legal guarantees than why would they offer the truth? So there’s all these kind of questions that need to be – the government needs to see the agreement as a whole.

Just to reiterate what Kevin said in terms of hosting both parties, we think any opportunity for signatories to the agreement to be recognized as such and to give their views would be really valuable.


CHAIR: I just noticed when I was over there that President Dukais is on record as supporting Nacasio Martinez to be the new head of the Army. This is a man accused of serious human rights abuses. Again, it’s a very disturbing message to be sending I just wonder if you have any views on that.

MARIELLA COHAN: Yeah, there have been concerns. There was a New York Times report in May that highlighted that there was a return to the combat kind of a pressure on soldiers to report wins in combat and that obviously in the past those incentives under the Reedly Administration have led to the execution scandal where thousands of civilians were murdered by soldiers and presented as if they were guerillas killed in combat and received promotions and bonuses and rewards, so there was a big scandal around this piece.

I understand the Minister of Defense took back some of those orders and reformed some of them but there are still some there that are concerning. This particular General had been implicated in some of those crimes so there was a lot of concern that he was being promoted and actually the opposition parties tried to block that in the congress. It is very concerning and the whole kind of doctrine within the military of the internal enemy and the enemy of the state is something that was discussed a lot. During the piece it talks about having to change the culture and the Army becoming protective of the people.

DOUG MCVEY: That was a portion of a debate before the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs in Trade and Defense of the Irish Parliament, the ARACTUS. You heard Senator Paul Gavin, he’s a Labor Party Member of the Irish Senate, and Mariella Cohen, and she’s a Senior International Officer with the Trades Union Congress. They were discussing the Columbian Peace Process.

Well that’s it for this week. I want to thank you for joining us. You have been listening to Century of Lies, we are a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network – on the web at I have been your host, Doug McVey, Editor of

Drug Truth Network programs are available by podcast. The URLs to subscribe are on the network homepage at The Drug Truth Network has a Facebook page, please give it a like. Drug War Facts is on Facebook, too, give it a like and share it with friends. You can follow me on Twitter I am: @dougmcvey, and of course also @drugpolicyfacts. We’ll be back in a week with 30 more minutes of news and information about drug policy reform and the failed war on drugs. For now, for the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVey saying so long.

08/14/19 Sanho Tree

Century of Lies
Sanho Tree
Institute for Policy Studies

This week on Century of Lies, part one of our conversation with Sanho Tree, Director of the Drug Policy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies. Sanho talks with Doug about the presidential race, the rise of the authoritarian right, the drug war in the Philippines, and much more.

Audio file



SEPTEMBER 14, 2019

DEAN BECKER: The failure of drug war is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors, and millions more now calling for decriminalization, legalization – the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century of Lies.

DOUG McVEY: Hello and welcome to Century of Lies. I am your host, Doug McVey, Editor of

We’ve got a good show for you this week, let’s get to it.

SANHO TREE: I am Sanho Tree, Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C.

DOUG MCVEY: Sanho, I haven’t talked to you for a while. There is so much going on out there in the world it’s tough to narrow it all down. Our listeners may be aware that there is a presidential race coming up in a little over a year. The candidates on the democratic side are fighting to become the nominee.

For the most part, drug policy has been conspicuously absent from these debates – from this election. We’ll talk about weed, we may talk a little bit about marijuana at one level if their forced – but that is it. But that is it! 70,000 overdose deaths in the year in the number of opiate – Anyway. What’s going on?

SANHO TREE: It’s electoral politics as usual. Drug policy – the democrats are generally in favor of either legalization or decriminalization so that’s the fight. It’s not really something that they are going to go in to a slugfest over as an election issue when they are generally on the decrim/legalization side.

It was interesting however when Michael Moore was on Seth Myers show this week – or it may have been last week – but in that he talked about the politics in Michigan and how Trump won it by less than 10,000 votes or something and how the 2018 election had legalization on the ballot so in the midterms, they had the best turnout ever, especially amongst the young people. He has made a quick pitch for putting these things on the ballot in other states. This is what Carl Rove – you know, George Bush’s evil genius strategist – did in 2004, he put the anti-gay marriage initiatives on a bunch of state ballots right before the election and it helped put Bush over the top. When that election was – it was John Kennedy’s election to lose basically. The Iraq war was so unpopular, but it worked for the republicans. It looks like if the democrats can get enough interesting ballot initiatives especially marijuana legalization on key ballots that could really help boost turnout.

This is going to be a turnout election – it’s hard to model this one because it’s so unusual. A lot of the conventional analysts are going with the old tried and true polling methods and the Trump campaign is supposedly pioneering a different turnout model where they can micro-micro target people down to the individual level using Facebook, and probably some Russian assistance as well but they know exactly now who they think they need to turn out who haven’t voted before. It’s going to be a very close election – or a very interesting election to watch.

DOUG MCVEY: Interesting. Serious question – the news is still filled with stories about the overdose crisis, the numbers of people dying. We are now seeing that indicators – the indicators that I have been pointing out for the last couple of years – it sucks some times to be right – that show that there has been a trend toward increasing stimulant use whether its methamphetamine or amphetamine or cocaine. We are seeing more of that now, even in the overdose figures. Presidential race – 70,000 people dying from various kinds of controlled substances in a year – why is it off the radar?

SANHO TREE In some ways I am kind of glad that it is off the radar because this is not the best forum in which to talk about very complex problems, especially ones that have fairly counterintuitive solutions. It does not mix well with sound bite politics in the middle of a campaign. Historically, this is where we’ve gotten really bad legislation because politicians think people will only understand or remember easy answers and with drug prohibition, the easy answer is usually the wrong answer. What you don’t want is for candidates to get in to an easy bidding war because you only have 60 seconds or whatever before the moderators cut you off. It’s hard to really talk about different models of drug control or harm reduction in that kind of space so it turns in to a bidding war of who is going to be more restrictive, who is going to arrest more people. Joe Biden, once again, said I want to jail those pharmaceutical industries that sold us the opioids as though you can just jail your way out of every problem. It doesn’t lend itself to thoughtful solutions unfortunately. It’s such an important issue – but we need to have a better format in which to discuss these things I think.

DOUG MCVEY: Then of course Biden has experience with that exact thing having been an architect to the 1986 and the 1988 drug bills, speaking of bidding wars. My God.

SANHO TREE: And here I think that is a good distinction to make. This is where drug policy is coming up in the presidential debates and it’s about the past, it’s about people’s records as prosecutors and as drug warriors. I think that’s an entirely valid debate. It’s a good one to have right now and it really does show some distinctions between the various candidates. Biden of course being the architect of the modern drug war in many ways and Kamala Harris has a long history as a prosecutor as does Amy Klovachar, and it’s good to hold these people to account because for so many decades, the conventional politics was that you couldn’t go wrong being a prosecutor and then going for higher office and you could usually brag about how many people you’ve put away. Now we have seen the results of mass incarceration and the war on drugs and now it’s not so fashionable and they’re nervous about talking and defending their histories visa vie the drug war and I think that’s a good thing.

DOUG MCVEY: I agree. I think that the real uncomfortable part is when it starts going beyond just the drug war – I mean we have had the last four years – its Eric Garner and Michael Brown and Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland and so many people – it’s too many to name, we wouldn’t have time in the show. The horrible levels of brutality and violence that we put up with by police – at some point you have to say that the prosecutors are implicit in this. They are condoning this. There is a legal term for this – they are suborning this violence and brutality. They are suborning the lies which police regularly do on the stand in the course of their investigations. They lie, they fudge, and they make stuff up. It’s not a pleasant thing to say – it hurts, but it’s true. I think those fundamental questions – I think that’s one of the reasons why all we are hearing about Kamala Harris is she said she listened to Tupac when she was Howard, but he wasn’t recording back then.

Honestly? That’s the level – oh dear God! How about we talk about what did she do when the police murder Oscar Grant in Oakland on that New Year’s Eve night/ New Year’s Day morning. How about we talk about what she did with any of the corrupt police officers and any of the other officials in the state of California or while she was the district attorney in San Francisco, and on the other hand, how much did she just have to put up with.

Prosecutors know that those cops are lying. They know that they are boing told a line of stuff but hey, you are gonna get the conviction – it’s the only way to get the conviction.

SANHO TREE I think it’s time that we have hit a tipping point in many ways where people are fed up with conventional prosecutors and I will be very blunt, I have a biased against prosecutors when they run for office because historically it has always been seen as a stepping stone to a higher office. You’ve had lots of these local prosecutors racking up as many notches on their belts as they can thinking that it’s an easy sell at election time, but now as people are waking up to the fact that it’s their family members and friends and neighbors who are being locked up for all kinds of ridiculous crimes that they see the excesses of this and I for one, presume prosecutors are not good candidates unless they demonstrate that they’re actively trying to reform the system like Larry Krasner in Philadelphia, now that’s a great model for a prosecutor – one that you could be proud of but historically these other prosecutors thought they could just score some wins and that’s the mentality that is so troubling. When you are a prosecutor it’s all about winning. Scaring a suspect in to the straight and narrow is not a win – you have to win. It all becomes half measures are no win. So how do you get a win? You throw everything at the defendant whether they deserve it or not because your objective is now to win at all costs – to put that notch in your belt. What’s best for the community, what’s best for the offender – these things don’t factor in when it comes .to this game mentality. They literally turn it in to a game they have to win but they lose sight of the fact that these are human beings. They come from communities; there are families associated with this and getting your 100% win by throwing the book at someone is not the same as justice or helping a community or repairing harms that have been done. We need to rethink the way prosecutors behave in this country and how we elect them.

DOUG MCVEY: We are listening to an interview with Sanho Tree, he is the Director of the Drug Policy Project at The Institute for Policy Studies. You can find out more about Sanho by going to his website: You can also follow him on Twitter: @sanhotree. We will have more from him in just a moment. You are listening to Century of Lies, I am your host, Doug McVey, Editor of

Seattle Hempfest is August 16, 17 and 18 this year. For the first time in many years I am unable to attend which hurts. It is the thrill and joy of my life to be associated with Hempfest and I just wish I could be up there this year but too much stuff piled up. I hope they have a great time. Here are some sounds from a previous Hempfest:

DOUG MCVEY: Three days of Hempfest and we are talking about food and well you would. Aside from getting hungry – I went to the Iowa State Fair every year when I was a kid because I lived in central Iowa and that is pretty much the highlight of my year, which tells you a lot about Iowa, and the midway with all that food and all these (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and there is more food than five Iowa State Fair’s.

MALE VOICE: You can get a chicken and waffle cone here. They’ll put some chicken in a waffle cone and then you can just walk around with maple sauce and whatnot. They also have the deep fried peanut butter and jelly sandwich is still here. The mini donuts place is still here. I haven’t seen the chocolate strawberry people in a while, but there’s pork buns – everything from pork buns to soul food. You can get anything you want here – it’s just one of the best festivals in the world. That’s how I feel about it.

DOUG MCVEY: I agree and aside from the food there is also all the vendors. It’s a dozen Shakedown Streets rolled in to one.

MALE VOICE: It’s if Shakedown Street was two miles long with better music.

DOUG MCVEY: Geeze, much better.

MALE VOICE: Fewer drum circles

DOUG MCVEY: (LAUGHTER). That’s the other thing that I was missing and I am so glad of it, too.

MALE VOICE: And no nitrous.

DOUG MCVEY: This is true. You know, fewer people than I have in years past. I mean occasionally you would hear people trying to sell joints once – once so far, and that’s been about it

MALE VOICE: What weed?

DOUG MCVEY: It was joints. Yeah.

MALE VOICE: Oh yeah. I mean you could still find them. There’s a couple of cats – they usually stick to the outskirts of the park now so you can pick it up on your way in or whatnot. The underground economy is still pretty good – the underground cannabis scene is actually still pretty interesting. I was just out at Eyeshot Island and a lot of those guys, they are still underground. This stick to underground. They don’t like any of this dispensary weed or this recreational weed. They find it overproduced and uncared for and not always cured correctly and sometimes flushed badly. There’s a lot of challenges in creating it. I think that a lot of people think that you just buy a license, open a farm and start growing good weed, and that is not how it goes, man. Weed is like craft beer. It’s like a good wine. It’s like Air loom tomatoes, you still have to take care and put love in your product to have anything viable in a lot of these legal states. Everybody is just thinking bigger is necessarily better and you’re just – I almost cussed – you’re just messing up the prices for everybody. You’re costing yourself money and you’re costing other people money and I don’t think it is necessarily the way to go.

DOUG MCVEY: That was Ngao Bealum, my good friend the comedian. He’s up there at Seattle Hempfest on the 16th, 17th, and 18th. He’ll be emceeing on stages. He will be doing a set – he will be doing all kinds of stuff and by gosh, I do miss him. I hope he does well – I hope that the whole thing goes well for everyone. Have a great time up there in Seattle the 16th, 17th, and 18th of August. Find out more at

Now let’s get back to that conversation with Sanho Tree, Director of the Drug Policy Project at The Institute for Policy Studies.

Talk to me about what’s happening in the Philippines. Give folks an idea of how bad it has been just in case we have new listeners who haven’t heard yet.

SANHO TREE: Its bloody, it’s awful. This is one of the dictators that Trump admires a great deal, President Dutuarte – Rodrigo Dutuarte of the Philippines.

He came in to the office about six months before Trump won his election and he has pioneered a lot of the fascist, authoritarian tactics that Trump adopts 6-12 months later, so it’s really worth following the Philippines to see because Dutuarte has really pioneered a lot of the Trump nastiness in terms of smashing through checks and balances, political norms, battering those things down, locking up his opposition. The most prominent Senator, Lyla Deleema who criticized his drug war since he came in to office was jailed on trumped up drug charges. She is awaiting trial, she has been held for about two years now. He has only been in office for two and a half years. So she has been behind bars! So when Trump says lock her up; Dutuarte has already done that and he’s gone after other politicians and journalists trying to silence them with fabricated charges and technicalities, any excuse to lock people up. That is how he is trying to silence his critics.

The UN Human Rights Commission voted about three weeks ago to block a formal investigation in to the human rights situation in the Philippines and of course President Dutuarte and his Foreign Secretary condemned this. This said they were not going to go along with it – they won’t cooperate – whatever that means. I don’t know if that means they are turning them away at the airport or they just don’t meet with them, or provide data but the UN voted to investigate because it’s gotten that serious. There’s been about 27,000 – 30,000 people killed by some estimates, over the past two and a half years under Dutuarte’s drug war. Police will confer, but I think 6,600 or so have been investigated as drug related killings, but the rest are under investigation. They are a poor country these things will never be finalized or investigated because I don’t think the police have an interest in doing that because it’s largely the police and the people that are hiring or working with that are doing the killings. We have these very murky numbers but tens of thousands of people have died basically. Killed either by death squads or by police in shoot outs, and they always say they were resisting arrest therefore we had to shoot them. So these investigations constantly turn up. Suspects who have been shot dead, but they have handcuff marks around their wrists meaning that they were probably handcuffed and the police excuse that they reached for a gun and were about to shoot us so we had to shoot them rarely holds up. They often plant a gun with no serial number next to the person they’ve killed. Very often it will be a left handed shooter, and they will plant the gun by the right hand. They’ve even been caught on CCTV dragging young people off to their deaths.

It’s not a mystery who is doing the killing for the most part in the Philippine’s and yet President Dutuarte still remains popular although he’s losing support amongst the poor because those are the only people he is killing basically. He still has majority support and it does not bode well for the rest of the world. Especially if societies haven’t been through a lot of drug reform, they still have these old stereotypes in their head about drugs and drug users it’s very easy for rightwing authoritarians to demagogue this issue and so that is how President Dutuarte has been able to do this. Basically it’s based on a series of monstrous, monstrous lies by the president.

It’s a highly networked Facebook nation – not so much Twitter, but everyone’s on Facebook and it allows him to bypass a lot of traditional media; fact checkers, so to speak. You see this in Brazil. President Bulsonaro, when he won his campaign last year it said that he won it through WhatsApp, the messaging app owned by Facebook. That allowed him to communicate his lies directly to voters and bypass the fact checkers. These are dangerous things. Dutuarte for instance, repeated one of the most heinous lies that if you smoke Shaboo, which is what they call meth in the Philippines – if you smoke meth for more than six months your brain will shrink to the size of a babies brain. I have had people tell me it will shrink to the size of a walnut and therefore they are a poor country. There is no treatment available when you’ve done that much damage – therefore we have to kill these people. So you will see interviews with average citizens off the street and police and other officials saying matter-of-factly, yeah, we have to kill them. There is nothing we can do. So there’s a basic lack of information fueled by a mountain of lies and unfortunately it has taken hold amongst the people and it’s not unreasonable for them to buy in to these easy answers. In Central America, for instance, where there’s so much bloodshed from gang violence and often drug prohibition fueled violence, you would think people would be tired of the drug war but if you’re a working class person trying to survive, you don’t have time to read The Economist every night and look at the counterintuitive nature of drug prohibition. What you see, however, is lots of blood. If it bleeds, it leads. That gets the headlines, it gets the front page gory photos in the newspaper and people see lots of drugs and violence and they want it to stop.

It’s understandable that people would fall for an easy answer. If drugs are bad – why not have a war on drugs. This is what this country had to grapple with for decades and it took us that long to realize, oh, wait a minute – it’s kind of counterintuitive that the more you fight the war on drugs the more valuable they become and it drives more people in to this economy, etc., etc., and prohibition is fueling a lot of this mess. That hasn’t reached the Philippines – that kind of messaging, or many parts of the world for that matter so people do fall for easy answers. I think a lot of authoritarian politicians realize this – this is one of those easy areas to appeal to people at a visceral, gut level of revulsion and hatred. So when you see Trump talking about infestation and vermin in Baltimore, he’s using language going straight back to the Nazi’s and their propaganda. In fact, one of the most vial propaganda films of all time is called The Eternal Jew put out by the Nazi’s that explicitly uses images of rats and vermin and dehumanization of Jews to link all of these things together and so you see that being used by Trump against immigrants. He’s appealing – as are many of these authoritarians and fascist around the world – appealing to visceral emotions. These are some of the most primal hatreds and biases that humans possess before what we would call civilization happened. Your primal fear is of the neighboring tribe at the other side of the valley. They don’t worship the same gods as we do, they’re not as hygienic and clean as we do, they poop near the water source or they have bad habits, or they steal. These are the oldest stereotypes of the ‘other’. As we became civilized and came together and realized that you can live in a community and shared values, etc., and you wouldn’t kill each other or steal from each other. We are going backwards and these authoritarians are pushing these very primal buttons about the ‘other’. So what they say about immigrants, what they say about drug users, what they say about Jews – they are able to dehumanize human beings at a very primal level. It’s the opposite of civilization is where Trump and these authoritarians are taking us.

Unfortunately it works. You can mobilize people through hatred and fear much more easily than rational discourse if the conditions are right and we are seeing that in Hungary, we are seeing that in the Philippines, in Brazil, and other countries and I am very, very fearful. This messaging works – it gets traction, and the right wing is on the march. No one thought this was possible a decade ago. People thought if you go that racist, that primal surely enough educated people will rise up and it will backfire, but as Donald Trump has shown us, you can’t go too low. We’ll see if his turn out model works or not, I sincerely hope it doesn’t. It is a very dangerous time politically.

DOUG MCVEY: I just hope that we end up in the same concentration camp – at least somebody to talk to.


DOUG MCVEY: There’s a handful of things – I mentioned the rise of stimulants and of you’ve been working doing policy analysis and actually doing visits down to Columbia for a very long time. I don’t know if you’ve been down there lately but one of the people I would talk to about what’s going on down there. I have heard reports about increased cocaine production in South America. I have also heard some real problems with implementation of the peace process, that mostly the government is simply – dragging its feet isn’t the right way to put it – they are standing firmly and unwilling to move. Nothing is dragging.


DOUG MCVEY: How are things going in Columbia and should we be worried about that?

SANHO TREE: Yeah. The killings are – especially in the former Guerilla controlled areas – are staggering. The number of killings by various armed groups that has filled a vacuum so when the FARC Guerilla’s finally laid down their weapons after five decades of civil war in Columbia – the longest running civil war on this hemisphere – when they finally put down their weapons people cheered but we warned, even before the demobilization that if the state did not fill the vacuum and take over those areas that previously occupied by the Guerillas and with legitimacy build infrastructure so that farmers have other options rather than growing coca – and do all of the things necessary to fill that vacuum left when the Guerilla’s put down their weapons and demobilized then others would fill that vacuum and that is exactly what has happened. You have organized criminal groups, you have former rightwing paramilitary death squads that are now operating as drug gangs, and you even have some Guerilla factions that refuse to put down their weapons and are now trafficking drugs and growing coca in these regions. It’s a free for all. You have got people interested in land grabs so big farmers or agra-business or well-cut gold mining, emerald mining, people are just invading these territories, many of which are environmentally extremely fragile. A lot of these are indigenous territories or belong to peasant farmers but it’s easy to grab land unfortunately when you don’t have rule of law, when you don’t have state security forces to enforce those laws so that’s what is happening. The social and human rights defenders in these regions are the ones being targeted. The ones who are raising their voices to say there is something going – bad things are happening, we need help. Those are the ones being assassinated and its many, many dozens in the past year.

DOUG MCVEY: That was part of my conversation with Sanho Tree, Director of the Drug Policy Project at The Institute for Policy Studies, and he is a good friend. Its good talking to him. We will have more from him on next week’s show. For now though, that’s it. I want to thank you for joining us. You have been listening to Century of Lies, we are a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network – on the web at I have been your host, Doug McVey, Editor of

Drug Truth Network programs are available by podcast. The URLs to subscribe are on the network homepage at The Drug Truth Network has a Facebook page, please give it a like. Drug War Facts is on Facebook, too, give it a like and share it with friends. You can follow me on Twitter I am: @dougmcvey, and of course also @drugpolicyfacts. We’ll be back in a week with 30 more minutes of news and information about drug policy reform and the failed war on drugs. For now, for the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVey saying so long.

02/13/18 Sanho Tree

Century of Lies
Sanho Tree
Institute For Policy Studies

This week we talk with guest Sanho Tree, longtime drug policy reformer and Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, about White House drug policy, harm reduction, Kamala Harris, and Joe Biden.

Audio file



February 13, 2019

DEAN BECKER: The failure of drug war is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors, and millions more now calling for decriminalization, legalization, the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century Of Lies.

DOUG MCVAY: Hello, and welcome to Century of Lies. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of

This week, we're going to hear parts of my interview with Sanho Tree. He's a Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and a good friend. Let's get to it.

Sanho Tree is the Director of the Drug Policy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies, and is a longtime -- you're a national security expert, a military historian, you've been working on drug policy for a little over twenty years now.

Recently, the Office of National Drug Control Policy, you know, the Drug Czar's office, finally released a new National Drug Control Strategy. I mean, I have it here on my screen, and really, it's, I mean, anybody, if you have five minutes, anybody could read the damn thing. There are 20 pages.

These things used to have like 150, 200 pages. they actually used to produce statistics and data, I mean, that was one of the reasons for ONDCP existing. Twenty pages. So have you had a chance to take a look at the 20 pages from the administration?

SANHO TREE: Well, I figure they're a year late in producing it, I'll take a year to read it. Not that it matters anymore, because, yeah, once upon a time these things did matter. It kind of set doctrine and direction.

But, as with anything in this Trump administration, policy is whatever the last tweet the president sent out, and he could reverse it on a dime. And so it's driving his bureaucracies crazy, to undermine people who are -- not to say they're doing good work, but, you know, a lot of -- traditionally, when you roll out a big policy, you have all this inter-agency coordination, you know, everyone weighs in.

It takes months if not years to coordinate this stuff, and then you have a roll-out. With the Trump administration, they do all this work and then Trump just changes his mind in a tweet, and, you know, a year's work goes up in smoke, and it's completely demoralizing for his bureaucracy that he's in charge of, that he's supposed to be leading.

And he wonders why people leak all the time. It's because they're pulling their hair out. There is no policy in this country, except what the king says it is.

DOUG MCVAY: Well, one of the things that is a policy is that he wants to build a stupid fence down at the border. Wall, fence -- it's a fence. You've spoken about this quite a bit, in fact I had a bit of your webinar on the show not long ago. But, could you give folks the quick and dirty version, why is the wall not going to work?

SANHO TREE: It's bronze age technology, basically, and humans have had, you know, thousands of years to develop countermeasures to walls, starting in the Middle Ages. Even back then, they were tunneling underneath the wall to cause it to cave in around castles.

There's catapults, there's, you know, and then, Trump says he doesn't want a solid wall anymore, it's going to be big, beautiful slats, as we have now, because the Border Patrol wants to be able to see what's on the other side.

And when you have four inch slats with four inch gaps, traffickers switch to three and a half inch wide packaging, and you can literally pass it through the wall. So when you think that a dose of fentanyl is a couple of grains of sand's worth of fentanyl, that's a lot of drugs you could pass through that wall over its 2,000 mile length, or however long Trump wants to build it.

So, there's also underground, the tunnels, there's submarines, there's ultralights, there's drones, there's every manner of way to to get around this wall. Plus, the most, the most overwhelming way by which drugs come into this country from Mexico is through legal ports of entry, not through these desert areas.

And so, why would they even bother going out and doing these risky things out in the desert, when they already have a good thing going through these checkpoints.

DOUG MCVAY: Because, yeah, the fence is just a stupid idea, but I wanted to talk about it for a minute just because it is a thing. One of the --

SANHO TREE: And we're just a couple of days away from the next shutdown, let's be clear about that. Trump has threatened it, and he's actually serious about doing it again, despite the fact his own party is just pulling their hair out saying don't do this.

DOUG MCVAY: This is true, as we record, we do not have a new budget, there's not a new continuing resolution, and so we're faced with the possibility of another federal shutdown. Again. It doesn't stop the DEA, doesn't stop the US Attorneys, but it does seem to -- but it certainly puts a crimp in a lot of other stuff.

Speaking of US Attorneys, before we even talk about the person who's about to be the new Attorney General, confirmed by the Judiciary Committee without much fuss, unfortunately.

Over on the east coast, up in Philadelphia, there's been an effort to establish supervised consumption sites, these sanitary injection sites, overdose prevention sites, hell, there's a lot of different names for them.

They've been hoping to do that in Philadelphia, and moving closer, there are a lot of cities around the country where they've been making some effort.

Some US Attorneys have spoken up and said hey, you can't do this, this is illegal. Recently, the US Attorney in Philly -- the US Attorney for Eastern Pennsylvania actually filed a lawsuit seeking to stop Safehouse from becoming a supervised consumption facility, and asking for a judicial opinion to say that these SCSs, these supervised consumption sites, are federally illegal.

Now, back in the Obama administration, we had two different drug czars attend a Harm Reduction Coalition conference, one in 2012, one in 2014. One of them, Kerlikowske, only sent a DVD, but still, they spoke up and were present at the Harm Reduction Coalition. Could you speak for a moment about the dramatic change in drug policy that we're actually seeing?

SANHO TREE: Well, it reflects the change at the top. So we've gone from, you know, a somewhat evidence driven policy under Obama to a visceral driven policy under Trump. And it's whatever his gut feeling is, whatever his gut tells him, what is popular with his rightwing base.

And so he's talked openly about, you know, mass murder, admiring President Duterte's drug war in the Philippines, and saying we've got to get tough, we've got to, you know, start killing people.

And his policies are going to start killing people. So I think, you know, what we have now is a policy of harm maximization, not harm reduction. They're -- not only are they clamping down on opioid prescriptions for people who are already dependent on these opioids, and then -- thus pushing them into the black market, into the underground market.

It is increasing harm and risk to people in life threatening ways, and it's something that, you know, that's red meat for Fox News and for that gut-level analysis, quote unquote analysis. But it's actually extremely dangerous, and harmful.

DOUG MCVAY: I mentioned the US Attorney's office. Of course, we now have a new Attorney General, or rather, at the time of this recording we're going to have a new attorney general. He's been confirmed by the Judiciary Committee, now we're just left with a pro forma vote of the Senate. It's a majority Republican, won't be a surprise, our next Attorney General will be William Pelham Barr.

The Eighties are coming back. Any thoughts about our new Attorney General?

SANHO TREE: Yeah, I mean, it's a real throwback. He literally was the Attorney General for H. W. Bush for less than a year, and he comes from that old school drug war thinking of being tough is the solution, and he doesn't have a problem with mass incarceration. He's been Mister Tough Guy.

However, he's bound by current realities, which have caught up to him. So he supports, he says, the Cole Memo, set under the Obama administration. So he says he wouldn't go and prosecute marijuana businesses that have complied with that thus far.

But he -- that's partly an acknowledgement to the political reality of what's coming up in 2020. So, not only are the public opinion polls dramatically different, so, twenty years ago it was less than 38 percent or something in favor of legalization, now it's 66 percent.

So there's a demographic shift in the country, but also a third of the Senate seats are up for reelection in 2020, including seats in Arizona, Colorado, Maine, Alaska, states where Republican Senators are going to have to defend their seats, and where they have legal marijuana.

And, you know, other state that are, you know, where marijuana is polling rather well, that Republican continue to have to hang onto those seats. And so Democrats need three or four seats to take back control of the Senate, for people like Cory Gardner in Colorado, this is a very big deal, and he needs security to make sure that the federal government isn't going to invade his state to overturn what the people of Colorado have already decided.

DOUG MCVAY: It's going to be interesting. I mean, we're going to hear a lot of -- we're going to get lip service, we're going to get a lot of pandering, and we may actually see some legislation, too. I mean, it's -- it feels like they're being forced. But this, it's safe.

You're listening to Century of Lies. I'm your host, Doug McVay. We're listening to an interview with Sanho Tree, he's a Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, a drug policy reformer, as well as a national security expert and military historian.

So, there's an election in another two years, and at -- last time I checked, there were nine people who have announced that they are either running or considering running for the Democratic nomination.

What should be we be asking, if people get a chance to ask one of these candidates, what should they be asking them?

SANHO TREE: Well, that's a good question.

DOUG MCVAY: Thank you.

SANHO TREE: Let me think about this.

DOUG MCVAY: I try, that's this -- but, I mean, I'm not trying to put you on the spot, it's more a question of, like, I mean, for instance, we talked about harm reduction a minute ago, and the US Attorney in Philadelphia who is filing suit to stop the supervised consumption site that they're trying to put up there.

How can we get these candidates to make a good, positive statement about harm reduction? What kind of -- how should we be phrasing those sorts of questions?

SANHO TREE: I think, you know, it's important to put the value on human life, on keeping people alive, and healthy, regardless of whether they're using or not using. If you believe that their lives have value, then our end goal should be keeping those people healthy and alive, to the point where, when they perhaps are ready to give up using, then they're still alive and haven't contracted some, you know, terminal disease or overdosed already.

And to ask these politicians, who does it really help, at this point, to crack down on prescribers? For people who have long term issues and have been using these opioids for a long time, to suddenly get them, to force them to taper off or to stop using because you have some moral agenda that you think, you know, you want to make a point at their expense?

Which pushes them into the illicit markets, where they have to play Russian Roulette with fentanyl laced drugs, and where, you know, they once had access to a supply of legally prescribed drugs of known purity and dosage, to throw them into the, you know, the tender arms of the underground markets, where you don't know what you're getting and people really can die, very, very quickly that way.

How does that help people? And I think politicians need to come up with those kinds of answers. While they're prosecuting in Philadelphia at the federal level, look at Canada. they're going the opposite direction, at least in Vancouver, right?

So, not only do they have prescription heroin maintenance for, I think, up to fifty patients because of the paperwork involved, they have to cap it, it's too cumbersome, but fifty people are able to get pharmaceutical grade heroin from, imported from Switzerland, instead of being forced to go out and hunt on the streets for, you know, who knows what to inject.

And other patients who can't get into that program are now being able to receive prescription hydromorphone, or dilaudid, for a lot of injection drug users who've used heroin for a long time, they find that it produces very much the same or similar effect, and so it's been very -- shown to be very effective.

And so here, the state is allowing people to get, you know, pharmaceutical grade drugs of known dosage and purity, so that they can at least stay alive during these very dangerous times.

DOUG MCVAY: Indeed, and I -- as far as the supervised consumption sites, those have been springing up, and overdose prevention sites, which are, you know, basically a little more barebones, those have been springing up all across the nation of Canada. But you're right, as far as the heroin and injectable hydromorphone -- glad you caught that one.

There was an excellent, the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recently held an excellent two-day public workshop on opioids and the, and opioid prescribing and harm reduction, treatment, and in fact I've played some of the audio from that on the show. It's -- it has just been, I mean, there's a lot of great stuff out there.

There's a lot of great information. It scares me that it won't go anywhere. You know, I mean, we've got -- the drug strategy comes out, it's 20 pages. The Bureau of Justice Statistics is, you know, it just, it's later and later, their reports come out later and later, they don't have as much information.

They've stopped -- they do this survey, the National Criminal Victimization Surveys. This year, they put in once again some information about the offender, the race of the offender as well as race of the victim. They took that out for several years, which was interesting, because when you looked at the data, you saw that in terms of sheer numbers, white men committed more crimes, more violent crimes, than any other population group.

We're not, I mean, it's, when you get into the arrests and the prosecutions and the imprisonment, those, you know, those numbers aren't reflected. But, anyway, they finally started putting that back in, which is great.

But more and more. The CDC, I haven't seen a Hep C surveillance for a year or so. They're a little behind on some of the other, on some of the other surveillances, the HIV/AIDS. On the other hand, they're putting out a lot of information before it's really even final on overdose deaths, on opioid related deaths and overdose deaths.

It worries me. There's this great information coming out, but it, you know, will it ever see the light of day. I guess we can -- I guess we just have to keep trying, right? Sorry, I just went onto a little bit of a rant there.

SANHO TREE: There, I mean, there is no adult supervision in this government anymore. You'd think, you know, at the secretarial level, at least, you know, they might take some interest in conflicting stuff coming out, or not coming out, or being produced or not being produced. That doesn't even matter anymore.

I mean, you've got these comic book characters, from Rick Perry to Ben Carson, in charge of these agencies. It's unthinkably laughable. You know, if someone had predicted this three years ago, you would have been laughed out of the room. And that is who's running our government now.

DOUG MCVAY: Recently, Joe Biden was in the news expressing regret for his role in the, well, in creating the drug war, the modern drug war, and all these bad laws. He expressed regret. He did that about a decade ago, too, he expressed regret, said that they were well intentioned but had been misinformed.

If only they had known. If only, Sanho, if only they had known. I, I can't, the words. Just, what do you think of his expression of regret?

SANHO TREE: I think he needs to spend the next, the rest of his days expressing that regret, and undoing the horrors that he's caused. He was not just a bystander, he wasn't just going with the flow, he was one of the architects, one of the, you know, greatest cheerleaders of the modern war on drugs, and so he has special responsibility.

And it's not going to, you know, just saying you have some regrets is not going to cut it, not by a longshot. We have a number of former prosecutors, for instance, running now, that also have a lot of explaining to do, that you can't go by this, play the old school '90s playbook of being tough on drugs and thinking, you know, that's how you keep your nose clean and advance in politics.

Well, guess what? Justice has caught up with you now, and you've got some explaining to do. So for former prosecutors like Klobuchar or Harris, they also have some explaining to do. Just this morning, Kamala Harris was on a radio show and laughingly said, oh yes, of course, I smoked pot and I support legalization. You know, times have changed, all this, you know, stuff.

Well, she didn't support legalization when it was up for -- on the ballot initiative in California in 2016, and when she ran for reelection in 2014, for Attorney General, her opponent came out for legalization and her reaction to that was to literally laugh and say, well, he's entitled to his opinions, and mock him for his position.

And now we learn that she's, you know, supposedly been supporting legalization all along, or that she certainly smoked it, and enjoyed it. So she's got some more explaining to do. I mean, it's certainly not going to be amusing to the people who are behind bars because of her prosecutions.

DOUG MCVAY: See, and that's just it, we have, I mean, it feels like all someone has to do is say something that isn't stupid about marijuana and suddenly, you know, and suddenly they can be forgiven for all kinds of wrongs.

SANHO TREE: Yeah, and I also think activists really need to take the DA races very seriously. You know, those prosecutors matter, and they're not all awful. Most of them are, they're mostly not my friends, but there are some very good ones that need to be held up.

And we, you know, activists need to know that this is another way to really undo a lot of the harms of the drug war at the local level. So Philadelphia, for instance, not the federal prosecutors clamping down on the safe injection sites, but at the state level, Larry Krassner, or at the local level Larry Krassner has been a tremendous leader in terms of undoing the drug war.

Suffolk County, Massachusetts, is another place. So these races do matter, and all too often people leave that, you know, those names on the ballot, you know, they don't check them either way because they haven't really researched who to vote for. They're thinking it doesn't matter.

But if you do get a good prosecutor running for office, it's important to support them.

DOUG MCVAY: Of course, folks, I'm speaking with Sanho Tree, he's the director of the Drug Policy Program at the Institute for Policy Studies, he's a longtime activist and social justice activist, civil libertarian, national security historian, military historian. You have done so much cool stuff.

SANHO TREE: Or I can't keep a steady job. Either way.

DOUG MCVAY: More than twenty years doing this thing, so that's not too bad.

How much use do you get from your background, the national security studies and military history? How much use is that in this drug policy field that you're in?

SANHO TREE: It's actually tremendously helpful. You know, I've had everything, a career in human rights and military diplomatic history, investigative journalism, all these things come together when you're talking about the war on drugs, particularly the international war on drugs.

This is one of the most interdisciplinary issues I've ever encountered, and that means understanding how the different pieces fit together, and one of the reasons our government and our politicians and bureaucrats haven't been able to, you know, address and implement effective drug policies is that it's -- it cuts across so many different bureaucratic silos that have enormous budgets, and they're only focused on what they're doing.

So, the drug eradication people only care about wiping out, how many hectares can you eradicate? The interdiction people only care about how many kilos can you stop? The, you know, and so on and so forth. And so there, very often they're working at cross purposes, and there's no one whose job it is to look at this from, you know, forty thousand feet and look down on it, saying, wait a minute, this is insane.

But if you look at it from the ground level of all these different bureaucracies, they're doing what's in their interests, to secure their budgets, and meet their very limited, narrow goals for the next appropriations cycle.

And so, studying institutions and how bureaucracies work is key to understanding how the drug war works, and if you ever want to stop it, you need to tackle it from that kind of altitude. Right?

And you would think the drug czar's office would be, you know, someone to look at this from the 40,000 foot level, but when Joe Biden and others helped create the drug czar's office originally, they put it in the White House. It's the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

So instead of, you know, removing it from politics and giving it some, a marginal degree of independence to really assess this thing without fear of political repercussions, they put it in the White House, so it becomes one of the most polarized aspects of White House operations.

Looking soft on drugs is something every administration has tried to avoid. And so that gets in the way of reasonable and evidence based policies, very often.

DOUG MCVAY: There was a, of course, which committee would be, would have oversight. The -- back when the thing was created, there was actually a little bit of a tussle between Biden in Judiciary and Glenn over in Government Affairs. Made more sense to me to have it in Government Affairs, because then you would have that, like, whole government kind of, you would be in position to break down silos and to actually take that forty thousand foot view.

But instead, Biden, who was the champion of this stupid office and of the stupid drug czar thing, Biden made it happen, made it stay in Judiciary. Judiciary, which meant that it was going to come from a law enforcement, criminal justice perspective. I mean, that's what they do.

SANHO TREE: Exactly. You want a big stick or a bigger stick? Those are the options. And, you know, when, I remember back in 2001 or 2002, I worked with Senator Paul Wellstone's office. This was at the beginning of Plan Colombia, and, you know, every study has shown that it's, you get far more bang for the buck if you fund treatment and prevention domestically than if you do -- try to eradicate drugs at the source.

And that was well understood. Study after study had shown that. And so we tried to get some of that money moved from the Foreign Operations account into Health and Human Services, where it could actually do some good in terms of prevention.

And you run into, instantly, the bureaucratic nightmare. First of all, no subcommittee of Congress, or committee, wants to reduce their budget. Ever. And they certainly don't want to give it to a different committee or subcommittee. And so you can reprogram some of that money in Foreign Operations, away from drug eradication, for instance, and into international tuberculosis or HIV prevention. You can do some of that here and there.

But to get it into domestic treatment, even though we all know that's where it needs to go? Is almost impossible. It's an incredibly heavy lift to work across committees, and across bureaucratic silos like that.

There's too much money involved and no one wants to give any of it up.

DOUG MCVAY: And that's where the big problem is. Like I say, it's the -- we need to start forcing law enforcement to just, okeh, prove it. Why should we think that, why should we believe that any of these programs, why should we believe that more police will help? Why?

Sounds -- just because it sounds like it should? I mean, hey, how do we --

SANHO TREE: Well, if you look at it from their perspective, again, bureaucratically, they're doing something very clever. All right? It's a win win for them. So if drug use rates start to, you know, go down a little bit, they say, ah ha, we've finally found the right formula, now let's ramp up our funding. If it goes the other direction, and people start using more drugs, they say, oh no, we have to redouble our effort, now let's really ramp up our funding.

This is how we built this incredibly huge drug war bureaucracy and squandered more than a trillion dollars in my lifetime on this problem.

President Duque, the new rightwing president of Colombia, has said that he wants to restart the aerial eradication of coca plants, this time possibly using drones. So, new and improved, with drones this time, which, you know, number one, there are lots of guns in the area, after five decades of civil war, so it will be a good opportunity for skeet shooting.

But you can't chemically eradicate your way out of this problem. You can't coerce farmers into not being hungry. You can't ignore the fact that they don't have, you know, the basic elements that we take for granted in terms of ever wanting to produce legal crops, or switching over to other types of crops.

You can't just make that happen overnight, at gunpoint, without investing in these communities. And that's what they're not doing. Next week, President Duque's coming to Washington, and, you know, the first lady of the United States is going to meet with the first lady of Colombia to talk about drugs.

I don't know what they're going to accomplish. They're not going to eradicate drugs at the source, but they can eradicate their respective husband's incredibly backwards policies, that would have much more effect.

DOUG MCVAY: That was my interview with Sanho Tree, he's a Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies where he directs their Drug Policy Project. He is also a military historian and national security expert, as well as a long time drug policy reformer.

And for now, that's it. I want to thank you for joining us. You have been listening to Century of Lies. We're a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at I’m your host Doug McVay, editor of

The executive producer of the Drug Truth Network is Dean Becker. Drug Truth Network programs, including this show, Century of Lies, as well as the flagship show of the Drug Truth Network, Cultural Baggage, and of course our daily 420 Drug War News segments, are all available by podcast. The URLs to subscribe are on the network home page at

The Drug Truth Network has a Facebook page, please give it a like. Drug War Facts is on Facebook too, give its page a like and share it with friends. Remember: Knowledge is power.

You can follow me on Twitter, I'm @DougMcVay and of course also @DrugPolicyFacts.

We'll be back in a week with thirty more minutes of news and information about drug policy reform and the failed war on drugs. For now, for the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay saying so long. So long!

For the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay asking you to examine our policy of drug prohibition: the century of lies. Drug Truth Network programs archived at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.

01/16/19 Sanho Tree

Century of Lies
Sanho Tree

This week, we hear from the DPA's Michael Collins about opposition to the nomination of William Barr as US Attorney General, from IPS's Sanho Tree about the folly of a border "wall," and from Compassionate Oregon's Anthony Taylor about the state of marijuana legalization.

Audio file



JANUARY 16, 2019

DEAN BECKER: The failure of drug war is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors, and millions more now calling for decriminalization, legalization, the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century Of Lies.

DOUG MCVAY: Hello, and welcome to Century of Lies. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of

We’re going to hear about how marijuana legalization is, and isn’t, working, and we’re going to hear about the border wall that’s been proposed by the current president, but first:

As I’m recording these words, William Barr is on the first day of his Senate confirmation hearing. Barr was nominated to be the new US Attorney General. He previously served as attorney general under George H. W. Bush.

Several organization working on drug policy reform, civil rights, and social justice have issued statements opposing Barr’s nomination. Some of those groups, including the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and the Drug Policy Alliance, held a news teleconference on the nomination on January Tenth. We’re going to hear parts of that news conference now.

Michael Collins is director at the Drug Policy Alliance's Office of National Affairs, in Washington, D.C., where he works with Congress on a wide variety of drug policy issues including drug war spending, syringe access funding, appropriations, and Latin America. Michael was on that teleconference. Let’s hear from him now.

MICHAEL COLLINS: Hi everyone, this is Michael Collins. Great to be in the call. Drug Policy Alliance is the leading organization fighting to end the war on drugs.

After the nightmare we had with Jeff Sessions as Attorney General, many of us felt that we couldn't go much lower, but William Barr certainly gives Jeff Sessions a run for his money in terms of his desire to pursue the war on drugs.

With Sessions, we faced challenges to marijuana legalization, sentencing reform, and an incarceration-only approach to an overdose crisis that is demonstrably a public health issue.

Our fear is that we will have the same problems with Barr. This is someone who was Attorney General during the expansion of the war on drugs in the early '90s, pushed to build prisons, and is partly responsible for the mass incarceration mess we have today.

It's very unlikely that he's changed his mind since the 1990s, not only because he signed onto a letter in 2015 opposing a modest sentencing reform bill, the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, in which he claimed, quote, "our system of justice is not broken," unquote.

The most frustrating thing is that many advocates, ourselves included, spent a lot of time and energy passing a criminal justice reform bill, the First Step Act, which Trump signed into law in late December last year. Much of that legislation has to be implemented by the Attorney General, and putting Barr in that position raises questions about whether this administration ever really cared about criminal justice reform.

This is like if President Obama passed healthcare reform, then appointed Ted Cruz as Secretary of HHS. The fox will be guarding the henhouse, and that's a real problem.

On overdose issues, the consensus politically has been that we need a public health approach to this crisis, yet Barr is someone who has the same mindset as Sessions, and is likely to pursue the same failed drug war strategies of locking up drug users and pushing for tough sentences that do nothing to reduce overdose deaths, and serve only to increase the prison population, usually through the incarceration of people of color.

Indeed, William Barr's daughter, Mary Daly, is currently the point person on opioid prosecutions at the Department of Justice, and she has stressed the importance of, quote, "aggressive enforcement," unquote, when it comes to the overdose crisis. It's also very Trumpian to have the father and daughter working at the same agency.

In a 2001 interview, Barr also seemed to call for the extrajudicial killing of drug traffickers. Here's the quote, open quote: "Using the military in drugs was always under discussion. I personally was of the view it was a national security problem. I personally likened it to terrorism. I believe you can use law enforcement to some extent, particularly in the US, but the best thing to do is not to extradite Pablo Escobar and bring him to the United States and try him. That's not the most effective way of destroying that organization." Close quote.

My conclusion here is that he's advocating for extrajudicial killings, which is deeply troubling, especially given that Trump himself has already called for the death penalty for people who sell drugs like fentanyl.

The last thing I'll say is that Sessions was given an easy ride by Republicans during his Senate confirmation process. It was early in the Trump administration, he was a former Senator, so he got no tough questions from Republicans.

He then had very public spats with Senator Grassley over his opposition to criminal justice reform, Senator Gardner of Colorado fought with him about his position on marijuana legalization, even before -- even though we knew before the hearing that Jeff Sessions held these odious positions.

Our hope is that in these hearings, Senate Republicans step up and hold Barr accountable on these and other issues, rather than giving him a free pass. They have a Constitutional obligation to advise and consent, and they should take that role seriously this time around. Thank you.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Michael Collins, director at the Drug Policy Alliance’s Office of National Affairs, speaking on a news teleconference with representatives from several other social justice and civil rights organizations. They were discussing their opposition to the nomination of William Barr as the next US Attorney General.

Barr is a horrible choice for attorney general, but the Republican majority is determined to push this nomination down our throats, so there is a chance that by the time you hear me speak these words, dear listener. Barr may already have the job. God save the republic.

If those votes haven't been taken, please contact your Senators. Tell them to oppose the nomination of William Barr.

You are listening to Century of Lies. I’m your host Doug McVay, editor of

Let’s stick with the current administration for a bit. Unless you’ve been hiding in a cave for the past few years -- and if there's a vacancy in a nearby cave please let me know -- you will know that the person currently occupying the Oval Office has proclaimed his wish that we should build a border fence between the US and Mexico. A wall. Donnie’s Folly.

It really is a fence, whatever you want to call it, but this administration, reality … Where was I? Ah yes. Donnie’s Folly, the border wall. The fence.

A lot of people are skeptical about this idea, and for very good reasons. Leaving aside the more basic question of whether this idea will ever be more than a jingoistic rallying cry, it just won’t stop anything. In particular, it’s not going to stop the flow of drugs, guns, and money over that border.

It’s a bad, dumb idea, and we’re going to hear from Sanho Tree about just how bad an idea it is. Sanho Tree is a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and is the director of their Drug Policy Project.

He is a longtime social justice and drug policy reform advocate, he's a good friend of the program, and Sanho is also one of my very best friends. He presented a webinar recently on the border wall and the drug war. We’re going to hear a portion of that now. Here’s Sanho.

SANHO TREE: On the issue of drug policy, Donald Trump, of course, has argued for a wall, that's why we're having a shutdown right now, but it's important to remember where this wall idea came from, and why it's so absurd that we're having the shutdown right now.

It's important to remember that the wall, the concept of build a wall, came as a mnemonic device to help Donald Trump remember to talk about the issue of immigration. Specifically, his advisers were worried that he wouldn't include immigration among his talking points, so they said, this is between Steve Bannon, Sam Nunberg, and one of his other staffers.

Anyway, Josh Green, the journalist at Business Week, first published this in his book Devil's Bargain. This came out in 2017. Last week, you might recall the New York Times did a similar story about the origins of the Trump wall, but it's important to give credit where it's due, so this comes from his book Devil's Bargain.

So it's Roger Stone, Steve Bannon, and Sam Nunberg, talking about the idea of a wall. At first, Donald Trump kind of didn't go for the idea, he didn't think it was that good, but then he tested it out at an audience in Iowa, and people went nuts for it. And then he embellished it, we're going to make Mexico pay for it.

The more racism, more humiliation heaped on top of that, becomes a very popular talking point during his campaign, and so he pledged this hundreds of times, both on twitter and live in front of audiences, that he's going to build this wall and Mexico's going to pay for it.

Well, his mouth is writing checks that Congress can't possibly cash, or appropriate. And so, we are now at this level of a shutdown.

But it's important to put into context what is actually happening at the border, that there is no crisis at the border. If you look at apprehension rates of immigrants, migrants, they're at record lows or near record lows, they're literally back down to about 1970 levels today.

And so, where's this crisis coming from? It's largely a political tool by the administration. At the same time, we've had border patrol personnel ramped up, and so, the situation is as well controlled as it's ever been.

But again, we have these racist talking points from the administration. So, when they talk about a border wall, we already have hundreds of miles of fencing, and Trump now wants to build more fencing.

Originally he said it would be a solid concrete wall, thirty feet tall. And then Border Patrol convinced him that we need some transparency, we need to be able to see if people are amassing on the other side. So it's got to be a semi-transparent wall, with slats.

So, Trump a month or two ago began talking about slats. It's going to be a slatted wall. Which is what we currently have, by the way. But, what's the problem with slats?

Well, number one, you can't build a solid wall in the middle of the desert, for instance. Google desert flash flood, if you're not familiar with the power of water and what happens when you have basically a really tsunami in the middle of the desert, when it hits an immovable object like a wall, solid wall. You can imagine what kind of destruction that would wreak on a wall.

And also, you don't want sand building up on one side of it and creating a giant sand dune. You could just walk over the wall, kind of defeats the purpose of a wall. So therefore you've got slats.

And, as soon as you put up these slats, well, we've got four inch gaps in the wall. That's enough to stop people from crossing through the wall, but traffickers adapted fairly quickly. When you have a four inch gap in your wall, what's the first countermeasure they came up with? Create three and three-quarter inch drug size packages you can literally pass through the wall.

Now, you might not be able to pass tons and tons of drugs through the wall that way, it's not that efficient. But we're in an era of the fentanyl crisis, and fentanyl is far more compact than heroin. This is a semi-problematic graphic, but it gives you a rough sense of the power of these drugs.

So, if fentanyl -- if morphine is one dose, heroin is twice as powerful as morphine, fentanyl is about fifty times more powerful than heroin, or a hundred times more powerful than morphine. And then carfentanyl, which is elephant tranquilizer, it's not used for humans, but it's also turning up in our heroin supply. That's far, far, far more potent than anything, so that's -- we're talking about tiny, tiny, you know, amounts of drugs that are necessary to produce the same effect.

So, when you have a dose of fentanyl being about the equivalent of a couple of grains of sand, and you have four inch gaps in the wall, that wall is not up the task of stopping that flow of drugs.

But let's forget about fentanyl, let's say this wall, you know, was built. Well, again, the traffickers came up with early countermeasures to that as well. Number one, they started driving up the wall with ramps, off the back of these trucks, literally driving over the wall.

And then, they've gone back to, again, a wall is basically bronze age technology, right? My people are Chinese-American, we have a long history with walls, and it's easy to develop countermeasures. So for the bronze age technology, traffickers adapted Roman era technology: catapults, or technically it's a trebuchet, but it can fling giant packages of drugs over that wall.

And here's one that was found last year, it was literally bolted onto the wall itself. So what they do is they pull the string, and down comes the arm. They put the drug package there then literally chuck it across the wall.

But, they've also innovated. You've probably seen t-shirt cannons at sports stadiums or events, where they shoot out these, you know, t-shirts and goodies for the audience. Drug traffickers adapted that technology as well, so we have air, compressed air cannon mounted on the back of pickup trucks that can pull up to the wall and launch bales over the wall.

But, since we're talking about Donald Trump and his issues, size matters, and yes, you can make it much bigger. So this cannon here can launch, you know, hundred pound bales. And this literally comes out of the sunroof of a van, and uses compressed air, and you can launch very large payloads over that wall.

But, it's not just going over the wall, it's going under the wall. So unless Trump wants to build a wall up to a hundred feet deep, because that's how deep some of those people's tunnels are, they're never going to stop this problem.

We've discovered more than a hundred of them along the southwest border. They criss-cross our dual cities, that are on both sides of that fence. And, they only need to be a few kilometers or a few hundred yards long. They're very sophisticated, a lot of them have electricity, rail systems, ventilation, elevators, all kinds of sophisticated technologies.

Here's one with a concealed rail system there. And again, they can move lots, lots of packages, not just drugs, but they can also move materials south of the border. So, returning they can send guns, ammunition, repatriate cash, which is difficult to smuggle. Dogs are actually trained to sniff for cash going the other way.

So, those tunnels can work in both directions, they can work 24/7, once they're open. In fact, there was a tunnel found in Tijuana a couple of years ago, they raided just before it opened, and they found forty tons of marijuana on the Mexican side waiting to come over. So we're talking about a lot of volume.

Now, compare that to Trump's claim for a need for a desert wall along our entire border. Migrants are not carrying drug packages, you know, that's not what's fueling our crisis. We're talking about moving drugs at the tonnage -- the ton level, not the kilo level.

And so, you can imagine a migrant being forced by a coyote, a smuggler, to carry their water supply, their worldly possessions. How much more drugs can you possibly carry on your back in a very perilous journey that people don't want to make to begin with. And in these remote border areas, you can't carry enough water to get you across.

And so, unless we're talking about stopping tons of drugs, this is not an equation that's going to matter. And it's certainly not warranted, the five billion Trump is asking for, the twenty-five billion that it will actually cost if he builds a wall. Some estimates have gone as high as seventy billion dollars for a wall.

And so, again, the countermeasures are too easy for drug traffickers to get around the wall. Here's one of a very sophisticated tunnel. Nice work here with the masonry. I think Trump would approve of the construction quality of this wall. But, it's got a nice rail system, electricity, lighting, ventilation, all that stuff.

But it's not just the land routes. There's always been the sea route. Right now, most of it is being smuggled from Central and South America up to Mexico, or to Guatemala and then through the border. But there's no reason they can't use it in the Atlantic and other places as well.

And these technologies have been around for a long time. So in the old days, they used to use, smugglers would use fishing boats, and they might throw a few kilos of drugs underneath a shipment of fish or something smelly.

But we got better at detecting that and inspecting those cargoes, so they went to faster speedboats, cigarette boats that could outrun the old Coast Guard speedboats. Then we got faster Coast Guard speedboats, we gave them helicopters with fifty caliber machine guns that shoot through engine blocks, and different ways of stopping those boats.

And then the traffickers, the past two decades, or more, actually, have been using semi-submersibles. These are not full submarines. They stay mostly underwater, about ninety percent underwater, and you can see the conning tower staying above. That's how they navigate and get air.

These can carry up to twelve tons of drugs per run, and they're difficult to detect. During the day they'll usually stay motionless, sometimes they'll throw a tarp over themselves to blend in with the water, and they travel by night. As one DEA agent put it, you try finding something the size of a log floating in the Pacific Ocean. It's very, very difficult.

Nonetheless, we've gotten better at detecting boats. You know, detect the conning towers, and interdict some of these shipments. Very rare, but it does happen.

And so we've captured some of these. The Colombian military, the Colombian Navy has captured some of these semi-submersibles. You see the size of this thing, made out of fiberglass, these are custom made by drug traffickers. They hire very good engineers to do the construction.

And in more recent years, they've actually gone and built proper submarines that can actually dive up to fifty feet underwater. This is a very troubling development, but it shows you how much money they have at their disposal and how much these drugs are worth.

Which warrants an explanation. These drugs aren't worth very much money to begin with. When we're talking about the war on drugs, and all these various different substances, whether it's marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamines, heroin, these are basically minimally processed agricultural and chemical commodities that cost pennies to produce in a free market in the real world.

There's no reason these drugs should be so expensive, but it's our policies of prohibition, the war on drugs, that make these drugs so valuable. And one of the ways it does that is through us splitting the risk premium that drug traffickers can charge.

So, as our drug warriors get tougher and tougher every year as they vow, you know, we'll get them this time, we'll double the sentences, we'll, you know, put more patrols out. Well, the higher the risk to an individual drug trafficker, the higher the risk premium they can charge the next person down that smuggling chain.

And so this commodity starts at a very low value in South America and by the time it reaches the United States, it's snowballing in value. And the more difficult the border crossing, the more dangerous to the trafficker, the higher the prison sentence they may have to serve, or the higher the likelihood they'll get killed or caught, then the higher they can charge the next person in the smuggling chain.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Sanho Tree, a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and the director of their Drug Policy Project. He was presenting a webinar on the drug war and the proposed US-Mexico border wall. If you are on twitter, you should be following Sanho, he is @SanhoTree.

You’re listening to Century of Lies, I’m your host Doug McVay, editor of and @DougMcVay on Twitter.

We just have time for this last segment. I was talking about marijuana recently with a good friend of mine, Anthony Taylor. Anthony is a long time drug policy reformer, marijuana legalizer, and medical marijuana patient advocate. He is a co-founder of Compassionate Oregon and works as their legislative liaison. We spoke recently about marijuana legalization and how it’s been working in Oregon, and about Compassionate Oregon’s plans for this upcoming legislative session. So let’s hear part of that conversation.

ANTHONY TAYLOR: There's an oversupply, which means prices are way down, which helps the patient in the long run. The problem is, none of these patients can find growers anymore, so they can't get their cannabis for free, so they're forced into these stores or into the black market to get their product.

The stores are very expensive. I mean, you go into a store and you buy a half gram cartridge right now, it costs you fifty bucks. The patient can't afford that if they're blowing through a couple of those every couple of days.

Patients can't afford a syringe -- a one gram syringe of RSO [Rick Simpson Oil] that's sixty or seventy dollars, and they're using one of those a day. So the regulatory structure that's been put in place is not serving the patients very well.

There's lots of stuff available, but if you're buying it in the stores, it's out of the price range for most patients. Fifty-three percent of all our patients qualify for a reduced fee on their cards. So you can see that the problems facing the patients are not so much related to access, but cost.

And then the final aspect of what patients have to deal with that the guy stopping in on a Friday night to pick up his ounce for the weekend is never going to even think about, because he's never had to go to the doctor with THC in his system, where a patient that's using cannabis every day has THC in their system at levels that most consumers would never have, and they can suffer discrimination at the hands of the standardized medical care community, and that's the biggest problem facing patients.

Patients that are drug tested for illegal substances, patients that are fired for having illegal substances in their system, patients that are suffering chronic pain, whose doctors tell them no they cannot have an opioid because they have a medical marijuana card. Patients that want to be daycare providers that can't even apply for a daycare provider certificate because they have a medical marijuana card. These are issues facing patients that are never addressed in any of the legalization conversations.

As we saw in 2015, when the legislature came in, the first thing they started doing was trying to ratchet down the amount of cannabis being produced by the OMMP [Oregon Medical Marijuana Program] growers because at that time, the first year that OLCC [Oregon Liquor Control Commission] growers harvested, they harvested 1.5 million pounds of wet cannabis, that turned into several hundred thousand pounds of cannabis, and we're all talking about that, but what we're not talking about is at the same time, the medical growers were producing virtually the same amount of cannabis.

That has been ratcheted down now, and that of course affects patients, but if a patient can't find a grower, or the growers won't do it because it's too expensive or the rules are too burdensome or change too often, you've got a situation where now the state has to step in and figure out how to subsidize the cost of these medicines for these patients.

Well, one of the first things that our organization, my organization, Compassionate Oregon, is trying to do is address the oversupply issue by allowing the OMMP growers to transfer out to any patient that they have a personal agreement with. Right now, they're only allowed to transfer to patients that are actually registered at the grow site.

The Oregon Liquor Control Commission does not have that requirement. It should be the same for the medical growers. This will help bring down some of those inventory levels.

The other thing we're trying to do is, through subsidization, give relief to those medical growers for the annual METRC user fees, and for some relief in the purchase of the state certified scales that are required to be part of that system.

Other things we're trying to do is expand the list of attending physician that can sign an attending physician statement to qualify for Oregon Medical Marijuana card, as well as eliminating the petitioning process for getting a condition added and allowing the doctors the ability to recommend cannabis and to qualify for a patient card for something that's not on the list.

One other thing we're trying to get done, this is a trickier one, and it's a huge lift, is to exempt medical patients and growers from the restrictions on outdoor cultivation within city limits in cities like Grants Pass and Medford.

Right now, patients cannot -- nobody, no one can cultivate cannabis outside within those city limits, and that's an unfair burden on patients. So we're going to try and -- we're going to see what we can do there.

And that's about it. I think the, you know, the report out of the Cannabis Commission goes directly to the chairs of the Judiciary and Health Care committees, and we have gotten support from all of those chairs. Take a look at it and I know that Senate Judiciary is very interested in introducing the one for creating the revenue and some of the other issues that the Cannabis Commission has recommended, so, it's going to be a busy session for Compassionate Oregon.

It's going to be a very busy and opportune session for patients. So that's one thing I would say is, patients stay -- really stay in touch with what's going on in the legislature, because bills are starting to come out already, and, you know, we'll see what our -- how ours come out, and if you like them, support them and make sure that your representatives, your own representatives and senators, are aware of your concerns and to support or not support.

So, the Oregon Cannabis Commission can be followed through the Oregon Health Authority website. There's a direct link to the Commission, all the typical stuff, the agendas, the meetings, minutes, all that sort of stuff, can be found there, who's on the Commission, you know, what their agendas are and all that sort of stuff.

And so, that's the best place to find it. And we're going to be, some of our recommendations out of our report, that was required, that will be submitted sometime to the legislature here in the next couple of weeks, outlines our recommendations, provides the subcommittee reports as well as the general recommendations, and some of those, I think, will pretty easily become legislation or amendments to existing legislation.

So, that's a place to follow the Cannabis Commission, is at the Oregon Health Authority website.

DOUG MCVAY: That was a conversation with Anthony Taylor, co-founder and legislative liaison at Compassionate Oregon, a medical marijuana patient advocacy organization. We were talking about the state of legal marijuana in Oregon and Compassionate Oregon’s plans for the upcoming legislative session.

And that’s it for this week. Thank you for joining us. You have been listening to Century of Lies. We're a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at I’m your host Doug McVay, editor of

The executive producer of the Drug Truth Network is Dean Becker. Drug Truth Network programs, including this show, Century of Lies, as well as the flagship show of the Drug Truth Network, Cultural Baggage, and of course our daily 420 Drug War News segments, are all available by podcast. The URLs to subscribe are on the network home page at

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We'll be back in a week with thirty more minutes of news and information about drug policy reform and the failed war on drugs. For now, for the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay saying so long. So long!

For the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay asking you to examine our policy of drug prohibition: the century of lies. Drug Truth Network programs archived at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.