04/26/09 - Tony Newman

Tony Newman of the Drug Policy Alliance on the overwhelming swing in stance for the media + Howard Wooldridge in the Washington Post & "most interesting man in the world"

Century of Lies
Sunday, April 26, 2009
Tony Newman
Drug Policy Alliance
Download: Audio icon COL_042609.mp3


Century of Lies, April 26, 2009

At first they ignore you
Then they laugh at you
Next, they will fight you
At last, you win.

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.

Welcome to this edition of Century of Lies. In just a couple of minutes we’ll have Tony Newman, of the Drug Policy Alliance online to talk about the plethora of positive coverage by major media. The positive personages of the population and as Gandhi’s words informed us, ‘We have now reversed the equation.’ We’re no longer fighting these drug warriors. We’re pretty much just having a good laugh, at their expense.

We’ll be talking about the op-ed that Ethan Nadelmann and Bill Piper of the Drug Policy Alliance had and today’s Washington Times. We’ll hear a report from the DPA’s Tony Papa about the repeal of certain aspects of the Rockefeller Drug Laws.

First, this is Teddy Woodard with, ‘I’m Not Criminal.’

{Go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7CDmLd10w8w for music video of, ‘I‘m Not Criminal‘}

There have been thousands of people who have spent perhaps a million years behind bars up in New York, because of the Rockefeller Drug Laws. But today, that scenario is changing. One of those who spent his years behind bars is Mr. Tony Papa, author of ‘15 to Life’ and who now works for the Drug Policy Alliance and he was there today to witness the Governor signing that bill.

Mr. Tony Papa: Well, it was just a surreal moment. I mean, I waited for many years, fighting these draconian laws. As you know, I served a 15 to life sentence under these laws. I went to prison in 1984. Got executive clemency from Governor George Pataki in 1997. Spent twelve years in prison, fought these laws when I came out, tooth and nail, and just this year, Governor Paterson, who was a Senator from Harlem, he always advocated for change.

So when he became Governor and then the Senate became democratic, joining the assembly, the stars aligned. But now, we took a different approach, hopefully, with the signing of these laws and I’m hoping many states follow us, reducing penalties for non-violent drug offences. So, I think it’s going to save a lot of lives and it’s going to save a lot of tax dollars.

Dean Becker: The fact is that Rockefeller was, kind of, the pioneer and many other states and even the federal government emulated those mandatory minimums and the draconian measures you spoke of. Yes, perhaps it is a harbinger of better days to come across America.

Mr. Tony Papa: I think right now, we should embrace these changes and set free those who are in prison under these harsh, unjust, mandatory minimum sentencing laws. This way those who are eligible for this judicial relief be reunited with their families and start productive lives as citizens of New York.

Some advocates might say, ‘Well these laws didn’t go far enough.’ But I think, from examining them, they threw/eliminated mandatory minimums and returned judicial instruction to low level drug offenders. That allocates over 70 million dollars to expand treatment and re-entry services. Expands drug courts, alternatives to incarceration. Allows about fifteen hundred people incarcerated for like low level, non-violent drug offences to apply retroactively for re-sentencing.

So, it is a major step in the right direction and I want to applaud Governor Paterson for being bold enough to take the leadership role in this and putting this together and finally creating this positive change, in these laws.

Dean Becker: Alright. That was Mr. Tony Papa with the Drug Policy Alliance. We also have with us, online right now, Mr. Tony Newman, with the Drug Policy Alliance. Hello, Tony.

Mr. Tony Newman: Thank you for having me on, Dean.

Dean Becker: Well, thank you for that. It was kind of neat to hear Tony talking about the signing of / the change to those Rockefeller Drug Laws, was it not?

Mr. Tony Newman: It was a very moving day. I was with Anthony Papa when we saw the Governor standing up with a couple dozen other elected officials. The Rockefeller Drug Laws, as you pointed out, that’s what really kicked off all of these mandatory minimums; these fifteen years to life sentences.

I know Tony spent twelve years behind bars and ever since he got out of jail, he’s been fighting against these laws and it took a lot of work and a few things came together for us. We have a budget crisis in New York as well as around the country and people realize, we just can’t keep spending $45,000 to keep someone in a cage, with a drug problem.

With the democrats, took over the Senate and the assembly and made Governor Paterson as the Governor and all these things became together and even with that, it was a lot of work and we needed the activists who have been fighting this for years, Russell Simmons, the hip-hop activist, came out and was a part of it. All these pieces came together and we were finally able to have another big chip away at the Rockefeller Drug Laws.

Dean Becker: Yes, indeed. Tony, tell the folks about the… I want to get into all the news stories. All the op-eds and all the positives that are coming forward about the need to end this ‘fiasco’ of drug war. But first, tell the folks about the nature of your work with the Drug Policy Alliance.

Mr. Tony Newman: I’ve been at the Drug Policy Alliance for nine years. We think the war on drugs is not working. We need alternatives. We need a public health approach to substance abuse problems and Dean, as you said, there’s so much stuff going on, I’ve been here nine years. I’ve never seen so much kind of momentum and dialog and things happening, all over the place.

There’s a lot of opportunities right now, out of D.C. Bill Piper heads up our D.C. office with work on the federal level and he said he’s never felt the kind of energy that’s coming out of D.C. right now. I’m sure your listeners may know Jim Webb, the senator from Virginia. They’re saying, ’Look. We’re having prison overcrowding crisis. We need to look at this issue. We need to put all our options on the table. We need to talk about how to get out of this.’

Then we have offices in California and you can see things happening that we’ve never seen before. The Assemblyman, Tom Ammiano putting the legislation saying, ‘It is time to tax and regulate marijuana, both as a way to kind of; instead of spending billions of dollars enforcing these laws that have no impact and don’t work, let’s use those billions of dollars to help the state, to help fund treatment, to deal with all the violence that comes from/out of prohibition.

So from the state level, to the federal level, through the media, we see people talking about things in a way that we’ve never seen before.

Dean Becker: Exactly right and I wanted to tie in a thought. The prison overcrowding, in California, has come back to bite them in the butt, because I hear that in Contra Costa County, that the DA is no longer going to prosecute people for less then a gram of coke or half gram of heroin, five tablets of ecstasy. No longer going to bust people for petty theft, burglary, shoplifting; because they don’t have the police, the manpower and the money to do it anymore. It’s crazy what we’ve done. What have we wrought? Now, your thoughts on that.

Mr. Tony Newman: Well, you know, it’s sad. I’m a Californian. I actually grew up in California and I was living in California when they were doing these ‘Three strikes and You’re Out’ laws. I remember, they built twenty-one prisons in the time they built one University and I was starting to get active: I was telling a friend of mine, I’ve been doing media work for about fifteen years, and I was telling my friend, ’We have to do something about all of these prison issues,’ and he said, ’Look, you want to do something about the prisons? You got to change the drug laws. That’s why everyone’s behind bars.’

In California, like you said, there’s a total budget crisis. They’re laying off workers. They’re saying, there’s no money for health care, no money for education and it’s because of all these prisons and what we have in California, there’s no doubt that in New York that was one of the major factors to changing these laws and so, I think a lot of these states, it’s one silver lining in economic crisis, it’s people realize we cannot afford to put all these people in cages, who have drug problems. So, that’s definitely one piece.

Also being from California, I’m sure many of you and you’re in Houston and Texas, you know the violence that is coming out of Mexico right now is… seventy-five hundred people died in the last year and a half because of drug prohibition. That’s a… five thousand people in the last year.

That’s more than all the American’s who’ve died in Iraq since the war began and everyone who’s lived there knows that it’s not the marijuana plant that is causing people to go out and shoot each other or any of that bunk. It’s because of prohibition that makes these plants worth more than gold and people are going to be willing to kill each other over the right to make some money. So anyway, those are two of the major factors.

The violence in Mexico that is totally out of control, all these budget crisis’ that are happening in states where they have to lay off Teachers and close Hospitals… those are two of the major factors that are causing a dialog to happen, that I haven’t seen in the last nine years.

Dean Becker: Alright. Once again we’re speaking with Mr. Tony Newman of the Drug Policy Alliance. And speaking of the Drug Policy Alliance, in today’s Washington Times Newspaper, the bold headline: Should the US Decriminalize Marijuana? This was written by two of your associates, Mr. Ethan Nadelmann and Bill Piper and it just shows the exposure; the willingness to talk about this need for change, once again. Does it not, Tony?

Mr. Tony Newman: It’s interesting. Ethan and Bill Piper, as you’ve said, in the Washington Times, it’s there in the Capitol, they’re talking about this issue. But it’s not only the Washington Times. A couple weeks ago, I was; in one week, I saw over a dozen Columnists’, from the left, right and center, saying it is either time to debate legalizing drugs, or coming straight out and saying it is time to put all options on the table and let’s end this madness.

We have Joe Klein in Time Magazine talking about it. We have people in the libertarian on the more conservative whether it’s Debra Saunders of the San Francisco Chronicle, Steve Chatman of the Chicago Tribune. We have Neil Pierce, a syndicated columnist for Washington Post. We have Lenard Pitts of the Miami Herald, he became a syndicated columnist.

It was almost like every single day he saw three or four voices saying, ‘It is time to end this madness,’ and I’ve never experienced it so much where it’s, like you were saying earlier, it’s almost people who are ‘backing up’ the drug war and the status quo, they’re on the defensive. Look at what they’ve been doing this for forty years. We lead the world in incarcerations. We have violence happening in Mexico and also in many communities in this country. Drugs are as available as they have ever been. Go to any High school, go to any corner and you can get drugs easily. So we are now finding ourselves saying, ’Look. We know that this doesn’t work. We need to have alternatives.’ There are common sense things that we can do and I believe the tide is changing.

Dean Becker: I want to read just a quick quote from the Washington Times piece by Ethan and Bill, from this paragraph. “The only long term solution to the cartel related murders in Mexico, is to legalize the other illegal drugs we overlooked when we repealed prohibition in 1933,” and it’s that logic that I talk about at my LEAP presentations.

Usually Lions Clubs, I say something to the effect, ’I’m the one who wants to put a bullet in Osama Bin Laden’s fattest cash cow. I’m the one who wants to destroy these cartels. I’m the one who wants to eliminate the reason for most of these violent street gangs that prowl our neighborhoods, it is those drug warriors that want this to last forever.’ We do own this. It is time to laugh at them. Isn’t it?

Mr. Tony Newman: It’s funny. I’ve been doing this for nine years, with the Drug Policy Alliance. I’ve always been a little frustrated. To me, it makes so much sense. Look. When alcohol was illegal, people still drank. But, we had Al Capone. We had shoot-outs in the streets and now that we got rid of alcohol prohibition, yeah, there’s still some people who have problems with alcohol, but no one’s shooting each other over a Budweiser. You know what I’m saying? You can go and get it.

It seems so obvious to me that we should all be destined, because in Mexico… it’s like, ‘Look, it’s not the plant, it’s because it’s illegal. But I’ve been very frustrated for a lot of these years. I feel like it hasn’t been broken through. That people still, when they see the violence or the crime, they somehow associate it with the drugs and not the prohibition. But almost, I would say, in the last six months, I almost feel like the tide is changing and I think because of what’s happening in Mexico. I think enough; more and more voices are starting to say it.

Interestingly, it’s not only, I’m mentioning columnists’ and all this stuff, you also see around the world, three former presidents of Latin… Mexico, Columbia and Brazil. Three former presidents came out with a major report in February saying, “Look, the war on drugs is totally failing. We need to decriminalize marijuana. We need to put all options on the table and that had a huge impact around the world.

That just happened only in February. We have, as I mentioned, Jim Webb now saying, “We need to put all options on the table. The prisons are overcrowded and it’s not working. We’re sitting here, not only is it from some of these elected officials, who in culturally we now see, I don’t know if your listeners saw the Family Guy, the animated cartoon…

Dean Becker: Big bag of weed.

Mr. Tony Newman: …they had a whole…

Dean Becker: It was about a big bag of weed. Yes, Sir.

Mr. Tony Newman: …they had the whole thing, so we’re seeing in on cartoons. People may have seen, Bill Morris had David Simon, the creator of the Wire on a week or so ago and he laid it out beautifully about how much the war on drugs is not working. We see Michael Phelps, the bong hit, heard around the world, when that happened.

Interestingly enough, it wasn’t what happened from that. Kellogg’s took more heat that Michael Phelps did. They’ve said, ’We’re going to drop you as a sponsor,’ and Kellogg’s lost more points over that than they did over the peanut butter scare. So, it’s like what we see.

So, it’s not only from presidents of Latin American countries, from Jim Webb and some elected officials out of D.C. Culturally we see whether it’s the Family Guy, the Wire, Michael Phelps - how that all played out. There is a growing, growing momentum that say’s, ‘Look. This is not working. We have to end this madness.’

Drugs have been around for a thousand years. They’re around today. They’re going to be around in the future. We have to figure out how to minimize the harms that come from both drugs but also more importantly, the harms from prohibition.

Dean Becker: You betcha, you betcha. My friends, we’re talking with Mr. Tony Newman with the Drug Policy Alliance. I’m just going to give a quick re-count. A couple of these are a little bit old. April 12th Financial Times: A Criminally Stupid War On Drugs in the US. April 20th Denver Post: Cheap high. Cocaine Prices Still Falling.

Mr. Tony Newman: We have the Economist, recently came out saying, ‘Let’s legalize all drugs.’ The New York Times, last week said, ‘The growing momentum is a major story about all the momentous happenings that’s challenging it’s stuff. As I mentioned before, within two weeks ago we had fifteen different columnists’ and journalists’ around the country, talking about this. It’s making it from the late night TV to the comedy shows to everyone else.

Everyone knows this is not working and now’s the time. People should really… April 20 just happened and we had people; there’s the tragedy of the drug war and there’s also the culture and people enjoying it and good times and people were celebrating 420 and being with their friends and having a good time. Both things are real.

Some people enjoy using, whether it’s marijuana or a bottle of wine or whatever it is, being around with friends, but there’s also a lot of terrible consequences that happen because of our drug war. People are separated from their families or people are kicked out of public housing because they have a drug arrest, or they lose some of their benefits.

We need to merge those things. We need all those people who had their enjoyment on April 20th to get involved and pressure their elected officials and say, ‘We can not go on like this.’ We need those forces to come together.

Dean Becker: I think that’s the point, Tony. That’s what compels you and me to do the work we do. I mean, you and I and thousands of other activists/reformers have educated these politicians enough that in the current circumstance, they’re now more willing to go in this direction.

But those officials, those representatives will move that much faster if the people who are listening now, will dare to take the few minutes to write a fifty word letter and contact their legislator and send it to their newspaper editors and to dare to speak that truth in public. Because it’s over, except this confusion. Am I right, Tony?

Mr. Tony Newman: Dean, I agree with you. The funny thing is, the elected officials; the whole thing. If the people lead, the leaders will follow. They’ve been so afraid to do anything, because they think it’s going to hurt them.

Ironically, the people that have stepped out and are doing something, when Government Paterson signed that legislation to end the Rockefeller Drug Laws, he didn’t take hits from it. He got applause and congratulations and kudos from people like that. When Tom Ammiano introduced this legislation in California, to tax and regulate marijuana, he didn’t get ridiculed. Actually he got dozens of very supportive stories.

Jim Webb, when he came out saying, you know our senator from Virginia saying, “The war on drugs, we need to look at this and see the roll as having over-incarceration.’ I’ve been following the media. There were a couple dozen major stories in the Washington Post, national media, all giving him props and giving him kudos.

So, these elected officials who were so afraid, I believe when they start stepping out and saying, ’We support medical marijuana. We support treatment instead of incarceration. We want to reduce HIV by having clean syringes, so we don’t have to spread HIV.’ They think that they’re going to; they’ve been timid because they think they’re going to get punished. They’re backwards on it. If they step out like that, they’re actually going to be rewarded.

Dean Becker: They’re going to get the votes. You betcha. A couple other stories. I just want to touch on here. Yesterday, Wall Street Journal, there was a two parter. I don’t have the ’end prohibition’ side of it, but there was the flip side from John P. Walters - ‘To Legalize or Not’ and just a quick quote from him.

“Drug abuse is by nature, in the laws of organic chemistry that govern this disease, incompatible with freedom and civil society. Drug abuse make human life solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short. A special version of Hobb’s hell in our own families in the deepest sense. This is why failure is not an option.” It is the policy that creates most of these horrors that he’s speaking of. It’s just crazy, isn’t it?

Mr. Tony Newman: People use substances for both joy and pain. There’s a lot of pain in this world. One thing that I feel very close to my heart, I believe that a lot of the people who are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, they’re suffering from Post Traumatic Stress. When they come back home, try to imagine what it’s like being shot at and having friends of yours killed or having to kill other people. That’s a very traumatic experience. We’ve seen that a lot of people suffer from Post Traumatic Stress and what happens when people are in that pain? A lot of people self medicate.

The idea that you are going to now take those people and put them in a cage because they have a drug problem, is totally irrational, inhumane and so there is some darkness and sadness from drug use. There’s also other people, other times where you have very good times, very enjoyable times and I’m sure many listeners enjoy having a couple vodka soda’s or beers after work or enjoy smoking a little bit.

So it’s like, people do use substances both for joy, for pain. Some people have good experiences with it, sometimes people have bad experiences with it. But the idea that we’re going to try to like, lock-up people, we’re going to try to criminalize it. We’re going to try to pretend that we can make it go away, is a total joke. They’ve been fighting this war for forty years. John Walters’ been fighting this war for forty years in front of the war on drugs.

Three quarters of the high school students will try alcohol and marijuana before they graduate. It’s still in every single community around. You can go to any neighborhood. So totally ineffective, what they are trying to do. But, with the drug use still being around, we now have, like you said in California, in Texas, in many states, over-incarceration, we can’t afford to pay our bills, we have all that violence going on. So, then we get none of the benefits from all their cracking down and all the consequences, all the terrible consequences from their policies.

Dean Becker: Exactly. Now, we’ve got just a minute or two left here, Tony. I want to first bring up; this is in today’s New York Times Sunday magazine. They’re talking about the cartels down in Columbia. ‘Built forty-five submarines last year and they’re building, probably, seventy this year and if we, I don’t know, sink their submarine fleet, they’ll come up with something else, folks. They have tens of billions of dollars with which to bribe and corrupt and bring these drugs North. It’s never going to stop until…

Mr. Tony Newman: Hey, Dean. Think about this. Our friend, Tony Papa, who spent twelve years behind bars, people shouldn’t… you know he was set up. Someone offered him $500 to drop off an envelope for a friend. He was set up. He ended up doing it. He was short on cash. He ended up doing it. It was a set-up sting. He ended up spending twelve years behind bars, on that.

You know what? When he was in prison, he said you could get any single drug you want. Could you imagine? You can’t even keep a drug out of a maximum security prison and we think we’re going to keep drugs out of this border? It is totally an insane thing. We have to figure out how we’re going to live in our society with these drugs, reduce the harms from there.

Alcohol is a perfect example. A lot of people have good experience with it and also some people have very terrible experiences with it. If someone has a hard experience with it, you want to get them help, you want to encourage them, go to AA, do whatever you need to do. You want to help people. But when you try to make it illegal, all we have is Al Capone and the violence.

We know that that didn’t work and I’m sad that it’s taken us forty plus years to realize that what we’re doing now isn’t working but I have optimism. I think from the economic crisis and us not being able to do it, to all the violence that’s happening, the prohibition in Mexico. I hope that the tide is changing and our elected officials are starting to realize, ’You know what?’

They know. They’re smart enough. They know what’s right but they’ve been timid because they think it’s going to hurt them at the ballot box. We need all of our listeners. We need everyone who knows this is madness to reward our elected officials when they’re courageous and punish them if they do stupid things and we need to end this madness.

Dean Becker: Thank you, Mr. Tony Newman. Your website is drugpolicy.org, correct?

Mr. Tony Newman: Please come check us out at www.drugpolicy.org. Get involved. There’s so much happening. Dean mentioned a dozen different stories, a dozen different things happening. That was in the last couple of weeks. Every week I promise you’ll see more.

Dean Becker: Alright. Tony Newman, thank you so much.

Washington Post Reporter: Imagine if your job were to convince every single member of congress to legalize drugs.

That’s what Howard Wooldridge is doing. He’s the chief lobbyist for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. LEAP for short. Howard is a cowboy. He’s a retired police officer and he spends his days on Capitol Hill lobbying congress to essentially legalize drugs or as he puts it, end the prohibition of drugs.

We spent the day with Howard on Capitol Hill and he showed us just exactly what he does.

Howard Wooldridge: I challenge each office to say, ‘Tell me the advantages. Tell me the positive outcome. Something good about this war on drugs / modern prohibition, which is so fantastic it overwhelms the negative consequences of funding the Taliban. Causes mass amounts of felony crime. It’s causing the mess in Mexico. It’s got nine hundred thousand teenagers employed today as drug dealers, who are shot and killed on a regular basis. You want to save our children? Legalize drugs.

My role, here in DC, for LEAP, is to educate the congress. ‘Good Afternoon. I met with Erin Welty last week. He had a question. I have some answers for him, today. Would he be handy for two minutes?’ I’ve always had a very good fifteen minute meeting. This particular office was very concerned about the illegal entry issue. They would like to see both taken care of, but I explained to him that it’s the lesser of two evils.

Which is more important to this particular office? Stopping illegal immigration or keeping marijuana prohibition going? Now, finally, after three years, the issue’s gaining traction and people are asking questions as opposed to just being dismissed and then saying, ’Thanks for coming in and don’t let the door hit you in the butt.’

But as we see now, for over ten years with Dr. Ron Paul, in a conservative, republican district in South Central Texas, he’s elected with 65% and 70% of the vote and the voters know he wants to end prohibition. So I think once politician’s figure out this is a winner issue, they will then come faster onto our side.

That was our good friend, Howard Wooldridge, of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. Their website: http://www.leap.cc. That audio was taken from a video that was on the Washington Post titled, Lone Ranger Rides Again.

Because of his enormous intake of drugs, the DEA keeps him on the payroll.

He once purchased the worlds supply of crack and turned it back into cocaine.

The air he exhales is psychedelic.

He is the most interesting man in the world.

I don’t always do drugs, but when I do, I prefer marijuana.
Stay informed, my friends.

Alright, my friends. I want to thank Tony Newman once again and I do urge you to visit their website, which is drugpolicy.org. They’re one of the forerunners in getting things done and it’s time to show your support. It’s time to get informed. It’s time to do your part and, as Tony said, to help end the madness of this drug war. It’s arrested thirty-nine million Americans, I’m now informed. It’s cost us over a trillion dollars. It’s given ten trillion dollars to the terrorists, cartels and gangs. It has done nothing to stop our children from having the easy access. Access which, as Tony says, is most available at the High Schools.

We have to stop doing what we’re doing, find a better way. Find a way to educate, motivate and carry on in a better fashion. Again I remind you, there is no truth, justice, logic, scientific fact, medical data, no reason for this drug war to exist. We’ve been duped. Please visit our website, endprohibition.org

Prohibido istac evilesco.

For the Drug Truth Network this is Dean Becker, asking you to examine our policy of Drug Prohibition.

The Century of Lies.

This show produced at the Pacifica studios of KPFT, Houston

Transcript provided by: C. Assenberg of www.marijuanafactorfiction.org