05/06/20 Phil Smith

Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Phil Smith

Phillip Smith has been a drug policy journalist for the past two decades. He is the longtime author of the Drug War Chronicle, the online publication of the non-profit StopTheDrugWar.org, and has been the editor of AlterNet’s Drug Reporter since 2015. He was awarded the Drug Policy Alliance’s Edwin M. Brecher Award for Excellence in Media in 2013.

Audio file


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

Folks this week. We're going to have an extended conversation with the only reporter, I’m aware of who's been reporting on the drug war on a consistent basis longer than me. He's a good friend and Ally of mr. Phil Smith is with us. How you doing? Phil?

PHIL SMITH: Just fine and dandy Dean. How are you?

DEAN BECKER: I'm good, Phil, you know, I'm like many folks out of the feel kind of stir crazy at times. There's this pandemic is really shaken things up is it not

PHIL SMITH: it is indeed. It's shaking things up among big city police forces. It's shaking things up among the Global Drug trade. It's all kinds of crazy.

DEAN BECKER: It is indeed now, I'll know you've been reporting for alternet and for DRC.net and a lot of good folks over the years, but I ran into an article on Salon where you had a I think you're most recent publication now, I'll give the title to the folks out there listening as the global War on Drugs Fades away the only people who benefited were drug traffickers, that's now actually that's not your latest is it but let's talk about that anyway.

PHIL SMITH: It was actually an article that was a it was a review essay on two recent titles on the Global Drug trade. One of them is called Dope World which was a fascinating tale written by a Russian guy who grew up in London got busted went to prison in England and then became a journalist and he traveled around the world meeting all kinds of people, you know law enforcement, politicians, drug dealers, assassins, ran the gamut and what he can hand the author of the other book whose title escapes me right now. Both found was that despite the building and billions even trillions of dollars spent on the drug war over the past 40 years. The trade hasn't gone away. It is only gotten larger and more sophisticated and more ruthless and more violent.
So if we want a more ruthless and more violent and more sophisticated International illicit drug trade, we just need to keep doing what we've been doing.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah, again, we reach back to the old term the iron law of prohibition which indicates that the more the cops wage their War the more deadly it's going to get in the violence and in the nature of the drugs being sold, and that's that's really a main concern at this point, isn't it, that Fentanyl is getting into everything. It seems to be the the filler if you will for a lot of these drugs, right?

PHIL SMITH: Yeah. Well, it makes economic sense for illegal drug dealers to use fentanyl. It's highly concentrated highly powerful. It's a substitute for other opioids. It's cheap to make you don't need to have you know square miles of fields of opium poppy growing for months. You need a couple of days in a laboratory. One of the things I think the coronavirus pandemic is going to do is it's going to impel drug trafficking organizations to try to get closer to the source by this. I mean closer to the End Market, so I'm thinking it may not be too long before. We he busts of fentanyl labs in the United States as the cartel tried to move operations across the border to avoid having to deal with the Border.

DEAN BECKER: Well that kind of parallels what they've been doing and much of America certainly in the midwest, Kansas, Missouri. And otherwise where they have cartel members are players at least people I think brought into these organizations that have themselves set up as you know workers, but on the side, they're selling methamphetamine. They're selling quasi heroin laced with fentanyl and their enticing kids, you know I by that I mean people 30 and Unger- 30 and under to join in their efforts to help sell these Commodities and getting closer to the full profit. If you will rather than having too many middlemen your thought there Phil Smith.

PHIL SMITH: Yeah. Well the cartels are very efficient. They have turned their wholesale operations into extended retail operations across the United States. I mean, I have friends and family in rural, South Dakota. You want to get meth in rural South Dakota, you know some guy with a Hispanic name. I mean, I don't want to sound racist or anything, but that's that's the way it is.

DEAN BECKER: Well sure.

PHIL SMITH: These are Mexican cartel Affiliated operations and there throughout the country and they're good at what they do highly motivated. Its profitable people are willing to take the risk of doing a possibly a few years in prison in return for the big money they can make. One of the interesting side effects of the pandemic is an apparent increase in wholesale meth prices in Mexico about a month ago. They jumped about three to four times. There doesn't appear to be any real shortage yet. So we have bizarre circumstances like DEA special agent in charge in San Diego complaining about the Mexican cartel Mexican cartels price gouging

DEAN BECKER: huh? All right. Well and then as that is preposterous as that sounds that that has been their motivation over the decades has it not to just wage the yeah to just make it where the price gets so high no one will be able to afford it because of their efforts and that hasn't panned out as it

PHIL SMITH: now, they're complaining about the high meth prices go figure. Well, I don't know you and I both think the DEA is sticking up for American methamphetamine consumer.

DEAN BECKER: Whoa, it goes kind of contrary to Trump wanting gas prices to go up and I don't know. It's


DEAN BECKER: It's I don't know man.

PHIL SMITH: Well, there are some other impacts of the pandemic that I want to talk about and some of them have to do with domestic drug war politics and the initiative process.


PHIL SMITH: at the beginning of this year. I wrote an article about eleven states where we were likely to be able to vote on marijuana reforms this year. But because of the pandemic that list is shrinking. In January, we had two states that all were already set to have it on the ballot. That's New Jersey where the legislature couldn't get it done in the capital. So they punted to the voters New Jersey will vote in November on marijuana legalization. South Dakota will also vote on marijuana legalization. They had all their signatures in long ago, but the pandemic has killed off efforts in Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, North Dakota are dead there still two other states that could get on the ballot. Arizona is looking pretty good. They had a huge number of signatures before the pandemic crunch hit and they will probably be able to get over the top. The other state is Montana. It's not looking so good. They are way behind in signature-gathering and they were just handed a Judicial defeat on Friday when a district court judge there denied their motion to allow electronic signature Gathering. Well, I know I doubt that. Montana is going to make it to the ballot. So it will if we're lucky we'll have three states to vote on marijuana legalization South Dakota, New Jersey and Arizona.

DEAN BECKER: and Phil I also want to underscore why those efforts were stifled I each week used to go before the court houses here in the Harris County Houston and hand out my cards which basically are you know proclaiming the drug war to be of no benefit of scam Etc and the fact is I can't I don't know when I will be able to do that again because people don't want to touch one another don't want to hold a card don't want and in your case like you're talking about they don't want to sign about it or pick up that pen. They don't want to have anything to do with touch anymore. And that's I don't know if the once again thank the damn covid, right?

PHIL SMITH: Yeah Coronavirus. This doesn't just kill people. It also kills drug policy reform initiatives.

DEAN BECKER: Yes it does now when I first started talking to you, I was bringing up an issue and I think this one was your most recent but I talked last week with Judge James P Gray about this and dr. Sunil Agarwal and the fact of the matter is because of this pandemic, it has given politicians state and local maybe a few Federal. But mostly local A New Perspective that these people that we lock up on minor drug charges minor any kind of charges. What in the hell are we doing that for and why are we crowding them all together? And I have a relative who is in the Lansing Prison in Kansas, and they now have some I think it's 750 prisoners with symptoms at least if not full blow coronavirus and there's just not a lot of benefit and keeping these people close together if there's no real rationale judge Gray talked about it being why are we doing this, If we're just mad at them? They haven't actually committed a crime of violence against anybody not even themselves. Why are we doing this? And that's that's changing some perspectives, isn't it? Phil?

PHIL SMITH: Absolutely beginning about a month ago. You started seeing phenomenon in big cities like Philadelphia and Baltimore and St. Louis and Chicago either police departments or local prosecutors signal day that they weren't going to arrest people for many small Time Crimes including drug possession, even including retail drug trafficking or prosecutors announced they would not prosecute these people if police bothered to arrest them. Um, so and that's what that's what's happened in these big cities in Philadelphia in Baltimore in Chicago in st. Louis in the Bay Area and belatedly in New York, New York City was a bit slow to get on that no arrests bandwagon, but when police officers started falling down dead, they re-evaluated their policies and then yeah, you know Prosecuting and jailing people for small time drug offenses this now let's sort of luxury that can't afford either in terms of Public Health or in terms of public order because we don't need our policemen to be home sick, you know dying don't need them to be out doing their jobs.

DEAN BECKER: Well, I'm looking at your the article there on Salon the one regarding big cities giving up on you know, locking up folks and and you reference this maybe even a bit dated at this time, but you reference 4000 New York Police Department officers have been infected with covid-19. Wow, that's such an impact such a depletion of hate capability of functioning for their Department, right?

PHIL SMITH: Yes, and you know, they are these are not people who are friends of drug users necessarily or even extremely Progressive, but they are looking at their departments and their operations and we can't keep going like this.

DEAN BECKER: Well, I just today saw a post about a gentleman was caught with some marijuana in New York by some plain clothes officers and I don't know why I honestly have no idea why they did this but they tackled him took him to the ground beat the crap out of him because he had some marijuana on him and and that just seems totally out of the just way out there. He thought yeah.

PHIL SMITH: I think the NYPD is agrees with you denied if I understand correctly. I think one of the officers involved has been fired already.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah, I mean, you know, they wasn't it New York where the gentleman was selling loose cigarettes and they smothered him to death. Priorities priorities have got to change that. I talked about the you know this situation it calls for a major reboot of everything at least a hell of a lot of things. You're thought there Phil.

PHIL SMITH: Dean, Yeah, I do call for a reboot and I want to go back to initiatives for a minute because there are things going on in a couple of states that really address that okay, and these are the drug decriminalization initiatives. There's one in Oregon. It preaches the same issues as all the other initiatives with the you know, the difficulties of signature-gathering but it's well positioned it already had it had as many raw signatures as it needs valid voter signatures. So it's in good shape and it continues to gather signatures online that would decriminalize drug possession in the state of Oregon for personal use amounts. It would also take money from marijuana tax revenues and put them into drug treatment. You know the title called of the drug treatment initiative, but to me the most important provision is the drug decriminalization where you're not arresting these people in the first place, right? And there are also next door to Oregon and Washington State. There's an initiative that is just cut off the ground. It also decriminalizing drugs. Now, this is real late in the game, but these people appear confident if the ACLU of Washington leading the effort these people appear confident that they can get the signatures they need in the month of June. So if we're lucky we will have to drug decriminalization initiatives on the ballot in November. If either one of those passes, that's a historic first for us. So that's kind of exciting. Well, it is also want to I also want to point out a couple of other initiatives also in Oregon. There's the psilocybin treatment initiative therapeutic psilocybin. It hasn't qualified for the ballot yet, but it like the decriminalization of looking good in terms of signature-gathering and will probably qualify and dr. Bronner's magic soaps just gave them a million bucks to help get on the ballot. So that should help. There was one other psilocybin decriminalization initiative that was in California, but it's dead, also killed by Coronavirus.

DEAN BECKER: Well the city of Oakland and Seattle if I'm not mistaken have some sort of a Citywide decrim bills in place. Do they not?

PHIL SMITH: Well, they don't have decrim, they do have is law enforcement assisted diversion. And that's pretty effectively decrypt that see if the cops catch you with drugs. They don't arrest you they point you to drug treatment.

DEAN BECKER: Kind of a Portugal scenario. Yeah. Yeah, you know I think back it's been a couple of years back you and I were in Portugal we got to see that Nationwide decriminalization thing in action or non-action. However, you want to say it and got to hear the words of dr. Gula their drugs Czar and if only our drugs are were is as accessible amenable open to discussion right indeed what's never been the case here?

PHIL SMITH: I don't count as it ought to be decent at any time in the foreseeable future now maybe if we can do administratively angle in the white house next year.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah, no, I hear you man. No, I wanted to come back to one thing. You know, we were talking earlier about local police and District Attorney's of wanting to ease up on arresting people on not arresting people for minor amounts of drugs. And we had that situation here in Houston where the DA and the police chief were calling for releasing lots of people out of the jails because they didn't want the overcrowding as I understand it. There are more Staff members now at the Harris County jail with covid then there are prisoners and it's just such a squandering but the governor stepped in and said not on my watch they've been debating on it. There have been some people released on some minor charges, but there are still we have some 8,000 people in our jail during this pandemic and it's just not not the way to go your thoughts there Phil.

PHIL SMITH: Well, I'm in total agreement with you Dean, Uhm, we have so many people in prison in jails that don't need to be there. I mean in most places in most jails most people are there not because they've been convicted of a crime but because they can't do bail. Yeah, and they're not significant Public Safety threats most of them. And there's no reason for us to be holding all these people in jail and prison at any time let alone in the midst of this pandemic,

DEAN BECKER: right, Well friends we've been speaking with. Mr. Philip Smith. He's a drug policy journalist for the past two decades. I think he's got a year or two on me and so far as reporting on the drug war. He's the longtime author of the drug war Chronicle the online publication of the nonprofit stopthedrugwar.org, and he has been the editor of alternates drug reporter since 2015 I was there when he was awarded the drug policy Alliance’s Edwin M Brecker award for excellence in media still a bit jealous of that one, but use your deserved it, Phil your closing. Well, yes I have and I do appreciate that. But Phil we win. We're not going to stop we seek that interview with that drugs are don't me with the attorney general with a governor with somebody whose policy whose mandate propels this drugwarfacts.org. We'd love the opportunity to chop them at the knees. Wouldn't we?

PHIL SMITH: Absolutely these people need to justify their policies not hide behind cheap political rhetoric. And really face up to the truth of what they're doing and the Damage they're doing what about harm reduction. We need to end the drug war to reduce the harm of prohibition and those harms our multivariate.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah massive. I was talked about it. We Empower terrorists cartels and gangs. We ensure more overdose deaths and we make sure that children still have the easiest access because high schools are still the best place to find.
Drugs in America. It's just outrageous, isn't it?

PHIL SMITH: Well, there's just too much money to be made if from drug prohibition and our system of drug prohibition rewards the smartest the wiliest in the most ruthless. It's like a system designed to produce exactly the outcomes We don't want.

DEAN BECKEER: Yeah. Well, that's true, Well Phil what's on your agenda? What's your next reporting going to be?

PHIL SMITH: Well, I continue I'll tell you what I want. I'd look into Dean is how the pandemic is affecting drug users in big cities. I had really haven't studied that yet. And I you know, I don't know the degree to which they're just disruptions and Supply. I mentioned earlier the increase in wholesale meth prices in Mexico. I wonder how much impact that it's having on users in the United States. I was wondering about the impact on the availability of Harm Reduction services for drug users. I mean to the degree that those are reduced because of the pandemic. That's scary.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. Well, I had a gentleman with Houston harm reduction Coalition on recently and he was talking about how they've had to suspend their their visits for needle exchange and otherwise limit their interaction with the people out there that need naloxone Etc. And it's probably leading to more medical complications. If not more needless deaths. It's the iron law of prohibition. It's just another it really is.

PHIL SMITH: Well, you know that holds true for the population at large in this time of the pandemic, you know, people are going to the hospital because they’re scared of you being infected. Yeah, definitely sit at home after having a stroke or having a heart attack and get much worse and it's even worse for you know hardcore drug using populations that already have a lot of these comorbidities and are seeing reduced access to Services as well as probably reduced access to their drugs at higher prices.

DEAN BECKER: Well, I have seen some other indication, you know, we were talking about the Enlightenment and so far as maybe getting people out of jail, but there's also been some progress. I think that some of the facilities that support those that are addicted that are been giving supplies of Suboxone and other substitute drugs for opium products for people to take home to not force them to have to get out on the streets each day or twice a day to come to their facilities. That's that's some positives, isn't it?

PHIL SMITH: Yeah. I think I think it was a federal agency. I believe it was the FDA that loosened up the rules on methadone. So people didn't have to go Doctor so often and they could take it home with them. That's a good thing. Hopefully once the pandemic he's has this increased access to methadone and other opioid treatment drugs does not give reduced. Once again

DEAN BECKER: well, yeah, that's that is a would be a good positive. Well Phil

PHIL SMITH: I take lessons we can learn from this. The police are warning that they don't have to arrest drug users. The FDA is learning that they don't have to be so tight on methadone the what we need to worry about insuring it is not going backwards. I mean we were actually gaining some ground here in some ways. Yeah, we don't want to retreat afterwards

DEAN BECKER well, and there is then the hope the hope that that it catches on that it that it sticks, So to speak that people realize that well we didn't have to arrest these people and it didn't create more harm and they didn't harm themselves or anyone else and the world continues. Your closing thoughts there Phil Smith.

PHIL SMITH: Well the world continues and so does the struggle, we keep fighting, we fight the pandemic we fight drug prohibition. We want a better world. We're going to keep working on it.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. Well the Phil share a couple of your website's folks in it folks need to read your words need to glean the the information you're bringing forward.

PHIL SMITH: Yeah. Well, you can find my stuff on www. Stop stopthedrugwar.org.
That's the drug war Chronicle and I also write primarily for alternate but also for salon and some other Publications Citizen truth and some others pick up my stuff. You can go to alternate dot org and look for articles by the drug reporter. That's me.

DEAN BECKER: Okay. Well Phil, let's hope the doll this shakes out soon. If at all possible, I'd known see it coming exactly, but it's not easy.

PHIL SMITH: Looking at a few more years of This crap.

DEAN BECKER: I know I know I got some are fair that I had to cancel on Southwest. It's going to expire in December. Hope to hell I get to use it. That's

PHIL SMITH: I don't know. I know you aren't being a cheap if you want to get on the plane.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. Well, I had my age. I'm not really jumping at the at the chance to be honest with

PHIL SMITH: me. I'm on five acres in Rural, Oregon. I'm worried about now is getting my clones in the ground. It's planting time right now. I get bored? I just got driving up in the mountains and there's no one there.


PHIL SMITH: kind of nice.

DEAN BECKER: It's all right, Well again friends we must speak with my good friend. Mr. Phil Smith Phil. I wish you good luck. I hope to see you soon. Just some kind of way.

PHIL SMITH: Well somehow some way it's usually at these conferences. I don't know how many conferences we're going to have already missed the Psychedelic Liberty Summit. Actually, I didn't miss it. I watched it on my computer when virtual instead of live.

DEAN BECKER: Well and for me, it was the Americans for safe access that was going to happen in late March and into April and that's the one they are fair got canceled on because they had to cancel the conference and you know will persevere. We'll keep reporting won't we?

PHIL SMITH: That's right. I'm going to be here for the duration.

DEAN BECKER: Alright, once again Phil Smith. Thank you, sir.

PHIL SMITH: Thank you.

DEAN SMITH: The drug czars have for decades told us marijuana is illegal because it's harmful.
Some of the most dangerous drugs aren't on the street. They're under your sink household products kids sniff to get high protect your kids. Tell them never to sniff inhalants because the first time can kill a message from the partnership for a drug-free, Texas and America, the partnership for a drug-free America is an enormous fraudulent Enterprise. But in this one instance, they did get it right. It's time to play name that drug by its side effects permanent damage to the liver eyes bone marrow heart and blood vessels convulsions impaired mental function neurological damage, Kidney damage irregular heartbeats unbearable stress sudden snipping depth times up the answer Lucy gasoline. There's a vending Machine in your neighborhood.

Dr. Leo Sigurosa. I'm the chairman of the council for scientific Affairs for the Texas Medical Association. We definitely encourage additional Research into the use of medicinal marijuana.

DEAN BECKER: What will it take to motivate?
Please visit drugtruth.net. All right. Once again, I want to thank mr. Phil Smith for his Decades of reporting on the drug war. Be sure to check out DRC net. And once again, I want to remind you that because of prohibition. You 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 of 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.