11/20/19 Colleen Cowles

Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Colleen Cowles

Atty Colleen Cowles author of War On Us, Canadian barrister/professor Eugene Oscapella & Director of LEAP UK, author Neil Woods

Audio file



NOVEMBER 20, 2019

DEAN BECKER: Hi, folks. This is Dean Becker, the Reverend Most High, I am the host of Cultural Baggage. We have got another jam packed show for you from St. Louis.

FEMALE VOICE: I am Colleen Cowles, I am a mother and an attorney. The two roles have met in my writing a book entitled War on Us: How the War on Drugs and Myths about Addiction Have Created a War on All of Us.
DEAN BECKER: I think more and more people around the country and the world are beginning to see that perspective that you are presenting. Tell us what brought you to write that book.
COLLEEN COWLES: Largely it was due to frustration with the system and understanding that as an attorney I thought I had an idea of what was happening with the war on drugs with regard to the purpose and the impact. When we ended up dealing with it on an individual basis it was eye opening and it made me realize that even people that are within the system whether it be physicians, law enforcement, defense attorneys, parents; across the board everyone sees their small piece of it. There is no way until you are engulfed in it personally to understand the cascade effects that this war is creating. Once I started looking at that and started understanding that it is not just a small segment of people that are impacted but it is everyone. Everything from civil liberties to health, to parents having retirement funds wiped out trying to find treatment and help for them but paying fines and fees so that they are not thrown in jail and having their lives destroyed because they were picked up with a pill in their pocket or a joint.
DEAN BECKER: The ramifications and the continual oversight as well as the need for those fines and fees, urine tests, judges visits, and on down that line that in many cases stifles peoples’ ability to hold down a job to meet that requirement alone which is often a part of their sentence.
COLLEEN COWLES: Absolutely. One thing that we know about addiction now is that it is created and exacerbated by trauma and isolation. What have we done over the last 50 years in our war on drugs? We have created isolation and trauma and then we wonder why we have escalated the addiction epidemic. According to all of our government agencies we now have medications that will cut the risk of overdose in half. We have medications that will allow people who have struggled with addiction for a long time are now being properly treated and are ending up able to hold down jobs and get back to a normal life; and yet we deprive those people of those medications if they get picked up and end up in jail, prison, or on probation. A lot of our treatment facilities and our peer support groups either don’t allow or stigmatize use of those very medications that are best treatment modality that we have right now, and again, we wonder why it doesn’t work.
DEAN BECKER: To add to the premise that you just put forward, many times local government (judges, county commissioners) who think they know better try to quash that ability for folks to use those alternative medicines and insist they go “cold turkey” or nothing at all. Therefore these people wind up back out on the street and back in deeper trouble. What is your thought there please?
COLLEEN COWLES: I can tell you that law school did not qualify me to dictate what type of treatment a person should have. It is crazy to me as I have looked at the medical system the physicians now are so afraid of DEA raids or potential liability, or the possibility of being smeared for as overwriting prescriptions and perhaps some of them have; but the majority have not. So we are taking the power from the physician who has the medical training and the one-on-one relationship with the parent and stymying that relationship at the same time that we have given all of the power to people with backgrounds like mine in law who have no concept of medicine. The majority of people with addiction problems often have other health issues whether it is physical pain that they are self-medicating; whether it is psychological issues. These are complex matters and yet we have people with law degrees dictating what the treatment will be.
DEAN BECKER: Yes. So many times it is trauma or upbringing from abusive parents or an abusive situation leads people to fall in to that need to escape somehow through the use of drugs and a jail cell is just not going to fix that, is it?
COLLEEN COWLES: In fact sometimes the very trauma that we are talking about is a drug arrest for a minor drug possession case. We some support for the war on drugs from parents who are rationally fearful. I think that addiction destroys lives and families, but when that fear is based on a lot of fallacies out there where parents are told that they should let their children hit bottom. We are taking away the very advocates that typically would keep a system in check and instead telling them that they are somehow harming their children if they support those children.
DEAN BECKER: Colleen, we are here at the Drug Policy Alliance Reform ’19 Conference where you have a booth out here. These are the right people. What has been the response thus far?
COLLEEN COWLES: It has been a fantastic response. I have been speaking with people that are here from 40 different countries and I think we have exported the issues that we have created in our own country in to their countries. I have spoken with parents who have lost their children and others who have children in long term incarceration; yet there are other people who have self-medicated for medical issues that were not being dealt with properly or effectively with traditional medicine and ended up with criminal records that then compromise everything for them including career, housing, and everything that we do.
DEAN BECKER: Along with the loss of children too often.
COLLEEN COWLES: The cascade effect on families is just enormous and parents still sometimes blame themselves. There is no perfect world here but seeing a child compromised by a criminal record for a minor drug violation absolutely makes no sense.
DEAN BECKER: Luckily it is changing albeit slow, bloody, and ugly. I thought a very positive thing happened in the last week or so ago and that is that Oklahoma just released approximately 450 prisoners from their jails and most of them were minor drug charges and they anticipate releasing about 2,000 before the year is over. If Oklahoma can do this I think it is a good sign. What is your thought there, Colleen?
COLLEEN COWLES: I am heartened. My optimism or pessimism varies from day to day but we are definitely making progress. I think that more and more people are realizing that this really is a human rights violation and that it hasn’t done any good. When we look at the last 50 years, the United States alone has spent over a trillion dollars, we have the highest drug use, we have the highest addiction rates, the highest overdose rates, and the highest incarceration rates. So it doesn’t take a lot to look at it and realize that it has failed. It is time to do something different. Many of our policies are based on a time in history that we didn’t have the science in medicine that we have today. We are at the point where it is time to not be locking someone up because they didn’t have proper medical care. We should then take all of those dollars that we have wasted on prosecuting people and incarcerating people, keeping them under supervision and using those funds to provide proper medical care and to train physicians to deal with this crisis that we are in; but to use science and medicine to do it.
DEAN BECKER: No more racial screeds of paranoid delusions would be my hope. You mentioned over a trillion dollars spent here trying to stop the flow of drugs. What is seldom batched or accumulated is $300 - $500 billion per year going to terrorists if they are brave enough to grow flowers on a mountainside, to these barbarous cartels in Mexico, and to the thousands of gangs all around the U.S. that are selling very contaminated and deadly drugs to our children. Let’s call it $300 billion for the last fifty years; that is 15 trillion dollars that these criminals have made worldwide. No wonder they can afford to bribe our public officials and just keep this rolling. What are your closing thoughts, Colleen Cowles?
COLLEEN COWLES: I would agree wholeheartedly. When we look at not just the dollars but the human cost of what we are funding we haven’t been successful in stopping the supply of drugs. What we have done is shoved the provision of the supply to the drug cartels and what we have ended up with is tainted drugs. That is why we have an overdose epidemic.
DEAN BECKER: They don’t care how contaminated those drugs are as long as people buy them. Colleen, I wish you great success with your book. Tell us one more time the name of the book and perhaps the publisher where folks can learn more about the work you do.
COLLEEN COWLES: The book is on Amazon and our website is www.waronus.com, and the name of the book is, War on Us: How the War on Drugs and Myths about Addiction Have Created a War on All of Us.

DEAN BECKER: Prisoners - We want them to have self-worth - So we destroy their self-worth

We want them to be responsible - So we take away all responsibility

We want them to be positive and constructive - So we degrade them and make them useless

We want them to be trustworthy - So we put them where there is no trust.

We want them to quit exploiting us - So we put them where they exploit each other

We want them to take control of their lives and quit being a parasite on us - So we make them totally dependent on us

We want them to quit hanging around losers - So we put all the losers in the state under one roof

We want them to quit being the tough guy - So we put them where the tough guy is respected

We want them to be non-violent - So we put them where violence is all around them

We want them to be kind and loving people - So we subject them to hatred and cruelty

-Judge Dennis A. Challeen

MALE VOICE: My name is Eugene Oscapella, I am a lawyer in Ottawa, Canada. I teach drug policy at the University of Ottawa in the Department of Criminology, and I have been active in the drug policy movement for about 30 years now.
DEAN BECKER: Long time listeners to the Drug Truth Network are probably familiar with Eugene. He has been on our show a half dozen or more times over the years.
Eugene, you have been at this longer than I and you have a better perspective to answer my question. It seems like it is getting better. What is your thought?
EUGENE OSCAPELLA: It is getting better. Thirty years ago when you started talking about drug regulation or legalization as they sometimes call it, people would scream at you and call you insane. They don’t do that anymore. It began to shift about ten years ago where people started to realize that they current system cannot be made to work. Thirty years ago people thought it was just a matter of more police, more prisons, cracking down and they now realize that it doesn’t work. Collectively, the reform movement has succeeded in getting people to realize that the current system is unworkable so now they are starting to ask them important question which is what do we replace the current system with? People are starting to ask questions and we see that in Canada and elsewhere. You have got municipal councils, boards of health, and medical officers of health saying that we need to decriminalize drugs and set up more health based programs. It is changing and this is now a part of the normal political discourse which was near impossible to do 10-15 years ago.
DEAN BECKER: Back when I started doing this 18 years ago many of the guests would not use the word legalization; they used the “L” word to stand in because they didn’t want to say it out loud. Now we have people of great stature beginning to speak more boldly. I know that in the U.K., David Nutt was a very prominent –
EUGENE OSCAPELLA: David Nutt was the head of the anti-drug coordination unit and he came out and said that prohibition was a failure and he was essentially pushed out. I think he was also probably wanting to go because he felt he was tired of enforcing policies that he knew did not work and were actually counterproductive.
DEAN BECKER: They had the opening plenary here at the Drug Policy Alliance conference and they listed a bunch of people in memoriam. One of those people was Kofi Annan –
EUGENE OSCAPELLA: He was the former secretary general and one of the leading voices on the Global Commission on Drug Policy that came out in 2011 and said that prohibition is a failure. Politicians have to stop pretending that it works. Forget about using it for your political advantage and start looking at the evidence to start moving away to other models for dealing with drugs.
DEAN BECKER: -- You are located there in Canada and I see signs of progress along with a failure to fully function in regard to marijuana. While it is legal in some states, there are more laws against marijuana than before it was made legal. Can you explain that to me?
EUGENE OSCAPELLA: Unfortunately we have multiple jurisdictions in Canada so we have the federal law that regulates the production and licensing of cannabis and then we have ten provinces and three territories where each of them has the right to make laws on places of consumption, who does the retail distribution, ages of use, and things like that. There are quite a variety of laws across the country. We also have the method of distribution; is the retail going to be private sellers or is it going to be a state run board as is done with the liquor control in some provinces. There are quite a variety of legislative models and they are still working their way out. It is going to work out over time and I am confident in that. Eventually we will have a system that works but there are a lot of growing pains along the way.
DEAN BECKER: The U.S. can’t declare themselves holier than thou. I went to Oklahoma last month where they have now made medical marijuana legal and anyone can go to a doctor and tell them you want a recommendation. You don’t even have to have a horrible malady to get that. Approximately 100,000 people now have marijuana recommendations and there are thousands of dispensaries with every little town having at least one; and the police have bent to the will of the people. Most of the problems of marijuana prohibition are disappearing in Oklahoma yet in my state of Texas just across the Red River, if you grow six plants you are going to jail and possibly for years. You cannot get a doctor’s recommendation no matter how sick you may be. It seems like United States, but certainly not united policies, that is for sure.
EUGENE OSCAPELLA: Fortunately in Canada, our drug laws are all federal in the sense that the criminalization of drugs is all a federal law so once we got rid of the criminalization at the federal level, which opened up the way for the various provinces to regulate it. We don’t have the issue of multiple jurisdictions that have criminal law powers in Canada so it was easier for us in that sense, but that is just the difference in our constitutional structure that has enabled us to do that.
DEAN BECKER: Once again we are speaking with Mr. Eugene Oscapella, he is a professor there in Canada. I understand that your classes have gotten larger and maybe younger. Tell us about the immature concepts that they are bringing to your class that you didn’t encounter before.
EUGENE OSCAPELLA: My students are now younger because they have made my class available to a younger population of students and they don’t necessarily have the level of maturity or the level of analytical capacity that older students have. Drug policy isn’t about root learning, it is about critical thinking so we need students who have the ability to use critical thinking which they tend to develop that as they go through a secondary education. I prefer to be dealing with older students because you can deal with some of the critical analytical issues a bit more easily.
DEAN BECKER: What am I leaving out? What do you think my listeners would like to know about Canada and your perceptions about the drug war?
EUGENE OSCAPELLA: We just had a federal election in Canada and we now have a liberal minority government with liberal being the formal name of the Liberal party and not necessarily a political philosophy and it is being supported by other minority parties but all of these parties are in favor of drug policy reform. These minority parties may actually force the liberal government to become even more progressive on other drug policies beyond cannabis perhaps even moving toward the Portugal model of calling for decriminalization of all drugs with a more health-based approach. I am actually quite positive about the prospect for further reform in the country but we have a significant opioid crisis in Canada, too. It is not proportionately as bad as it is in the U.S., but it is still bad. Those are problems we haven’t solved yet and those are huge problems.
DEAN BECKER: Eugene, is there a website where folks can gain more information and can learn more about the work you do?
EUGENE OSCAPELLA: Well the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition has actually got the best website in the country with regard to that. Folks can type that in the search engine and find them that way. Thank you, Dean.
DEAN BECKER: Thank you for taking time out to speak with me.
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DEAN BECKER: We are still here in St. Louis at the Drug Policy Alliance Reform ’19 Conference and I am here with Mr. Neil Woods, a gentleman with decades of experience as a law enforcement officer and now is the Director of Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP) in the U.K. How are you doing, Neil?
NEIL WOODS: I am doing okay. How are you doing, Dean?
DEAN BECKER: I am quite well, sir. First off, what is your impression of this conference?
NEIL WOODS: Well it is just as vibrant as the last one. There are lots of great people here all talking about reform which is really good, and the venue is fantastic.
DEAN BECKER: Tell me about progress in the U.K. I read the Guardian, I see signs of awareness of a need for change. Do you see any changes on the horizon?
NEIL WOODS: Well the U.K. is in a state of self-harm at the moment with Brexit; it is a nightmare. It has been a real struggle the last couple of years finding the bandwidth and the media to talk about this kind of thing but we have had huge amounts of success behind the scenes. Bear in mind that the U.K. has the worst drug laws in Europe with the highest drug deaths and it is a disaster. Behind the scenes, LEAP is meeting with politicians across the political spectrum to the extent that this year I actually spoke at the national annual conferences of both the SNP (Scottish National Party), the National Labor Party, and the Conservative Party. We have the left and the right ears of the politicians and we are speaking at the conferences and if you had told me that we would be doing this three years ago I would have laughed at you. Behind the scenes we are gathering alliances and changing things more rapidly than I expected.
DEAN BECKER: Things are beginning to pick up speed?
NEIL WOODS: Quite definitely. The Labor Drug Policy Reform Group which is a group designed to change the internal policy of the Labor Party and they have held events all over the U.K., and I have spoken alongside perhaps ten different labor members of parliament this year and you could not have said that three years ago, you couldn’t have even imagined it. Being at the heart of the conservative conference and meeting the people bucking reform there was quite exciting.
DEAN BECKER: You mentioned something a while ago about having the worst drug laws and maybe the worst problems. That is not a coincidence is it?
NEIL WOODS: No. One is quite clearly the cause of the other and we have regressed. In 2016 we passed this awful law called The New Psychoactive Substances Act, and that piece of legislation actually bans imaginary drugs.
DEAN BECKER: What? Tell me about those.
NEIL WOODS: The just couldn’t quite get prohibition enough so they had to ban all future possible drugs; so basically that legislation bans the sale of any psychoactive substance whatsoever with the exemption of tobacco, alcohol, and caffeine written in to the legislation. It is the most brutal and nonsensical law. They didn’t exempt sugar so theoretically if someone is having a chocolate bar in my mind they are breaking the law.
DEAN BECKER: The whole premise, the fundamentals, the planks of the platform, the belief in prohibition is all just conjecture that some magical day in the future we will solve the drug problems if we just arrest enough people. I realize I am preaching but it just seems preposterous that we keep believing this to be worthy of continuing forever.
NEIL WOODS: It is nonsense and it is the definition of insanity, continuing to do the same thing over and over and expecting different results. It is not staying the same; it is significantly worse and policing the drug market is actually what causes the violence. A favorite topic of mine is the fact that it actually causes the corruption because the police get rid of the competition for organized crime groups, thinning out the market place which creates monopolies and those monopolies then have a greater share of the market value and they are more able to use that market value to corrupt the system. So wherever the politicians or police say let’s get tougher and arrest more people; what they are doing is super heating the corruption and making it worse.
DEAN BECKER: The situation that happened just a few days ago south of Arizona and Mexico where nine members of a Mormon family were killed because potentially they were observed as a cartel caravan shows how illogical this is and how it is never going to pan out, right?
NEIL WOODS: Absolutely. The stigma, the suspicion, the violence has all been created by the drug laws that were meant to prevent it so it is the most counterintuitive nightmare that we obviously need to keep fighting to end but what I should say is that we have had great success. We have worked very closely with all of the reform groups in the U.K. and we are a very good, working family of people. I know there are lots of people here in the U.S.A. who also work closely with LEAP, but what I have observed here is the possibility that some people could make even more use of LEAP here in the U.S.A, because what we are best at really in my view is adding value to the work of others. Say for example an institution like Anyone’s Child, or Families for Sensible Drug Policy – any of these wonderful groups can stand up and say something in a platform and some people will listen; but if you have got a member of LEAP standing next to you, there will be a lot more people listening and you have much more of the chance of a journalist taking an interest as well. I would just encourage anyone to please use LEAP, we are here to help facilitate your good work and help spread the word.
DEAN BECKER: I would be remiss if I didn’t bring forward the fact that you have written a couple of great books that point folks in the right direction and get them working in support of change. Can you tell us a little bit about those books?
NEIL WOODS: The first one is called, Good Cop, Bad War and it is a memoir of my time working undercover which I did over the space of 14 years. I infiltrated drug dealing gangs which goes on a lot here in the U.S.A., but it was quite new when I started in the U.K., so that book charts my journey and my change of mind, so to speak. There is actually a first episode script for that to be dramatized which has just been commissioned by the BBC. If they like that commission then they will commission the whole series. So if it gets made keep an eye out on BBC America because the BBC tend to export drama all over the place.
DEAN BECKER: I look forward to it and I hope it does show up on our television screens.
NEIL WOODS: I will let you know if it happens, Dean.
DEAN BECKER: Okay. The second book you wrote with Mr. Raphael?
NEIL WOODS: Yes. It was myself and JS Rafaeli, who is a journalist and historian as well as a great friend of mine. He is a brilliant man. We researched the history of British drug policy which sounds rather dry but what we did was break it in to first person narratives and interviewed people so that each story in the book is interesting and exciting. It might be about British drug policy but one of the biggest characters in it is the United States of America, because the British had no problem with drugs until the United States forced drug prohibition on the UK with its aggressive foreign policy. Drug prohibition is actually a very un-British thing which we are able to show in the book. An American perspective on reading that book is that most people find it interesting.
DEAN BECKER: All right. Is there a website so that folks can learn more about the work that you guys are doing?
NEIL WOODS: Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP U.K.)
DEAN BECKER: It is time to close it out. Please visit www.drugtruth.net. Remember that because of prohibition you don’t know what is in that bag. Please be careful.

Cultural Baggage is a production of the Pacifica Radio Network, archives are currently stored at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy, and we are all still tap dancing on the edge of an abyss.