05/10/09 - Eric Sterling

Eric Sterling, president of Criminal Justice Policy Foundation discusses mandatory minimums + Professor Jeffrey Miron & former drug czar John Walters on CNN + Abolitionists Moment

Century of Lies
Sunday, May 10, 2009
Eric Sterling
Criminal Justice Policy Foundation
Download: Audio icon COL_051009.mp3


Century of Lies, May 10, 2009

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.

Here in just a moment, we’ll have with us, Mr. Eric Sterling, President of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation. Hang with us. Here is a Drug Truth Network Editorial and we’ll be right back with Mr. Eric Sterling.

Ladies and Gentlemen, this is the Abolitionists’ Moment.

The drug war monster, must die. We must drag this horrendous beast out into the public arena. We must strip it, of it’s supposed honors, tear down it’s leaders, or their feigned morals and intellectual failings. We must slit the monster’s throat, drain every drop of it’s blood into the sewer.

We must immolate the body of quasi religious evidence, to a charred ash. We must then place the remains into a deep, dark hole. Fill it with concrete. On top of this pit of shame and corruption, we must place an enormous monument to warn future generations, of the folly of prohibition.

Please, do your part to end the madness of drug war. Visit endprohibition.org

Do it, for the children.

Welcome to this edition of the Century of Lies show. In just one moment, we’re going to bring in our guest, Mr. Eric Sterling, but I want to quote an article from the San Francisco Chronicle that, I think, brings this all in focus.

“When Congress passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act in 1986, Proponents boasted that stiff mandatory minimum sentences would be bad news for major drug traffickers. Ha. Over time, drug kingpins learned that they had little to fear from the law - especially if they were dealing crack cocaine.“

Dean Becker: With that, let’s bring in our guest, Mr. Eric Sterling. Hello, Sir.

Mr. Eric Sterling: Good evening, Dean.

Dean Becker: Eric, I think it important that we recognize that we have clawed our way up this mountain-side and we are now, I think, at the pinnacle of understanding. At least to those who have eyes and eyes. Am I right?

Mr. Eric Sterling: No. I don’t think we’re at the pinnacle. I think we have an enormous amount of work, still, ahead of us. I think we may be at a, what climbers sometimes call a ‘false summit’. There’s a great deal of attention being paid right now, to the violence in Mexico, as a consequence to prohibition.

But tomorrow, I’m going to be testifying before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights of the House of Commons of the Parliament of Canada. They are in the middle of considering a bill to create mandatory minimum sentences, for drug offences in Canada and there are many people arguing the same kinds of things now, that were being argued back in 1986, as you mentioned. I think there is still a great deal of work to be done.

Dean Becker: Let’s talk about, why they’re calling upon you. You were on hand when the United States crafted their ‘mandatory minimum’ laws as well. Right?

Mr. Eric Sterling: From 1979 until 1989, I was council to the Judiciary Committee at the US House of Representatives and I was the attorney principally responsible for drugs, as well as gun control, money laundering, organized crime and pornography, among other issues.

In 1986, after Len Bias died (the basketball star who had just signed with the Boston Celtics), the House democrats, led by speaker Tip O’Neal (from Boston), organized an effort to deal with the drug crisis in a ’congress wide’ extravaganza and I was the attorney who wrote the mandatory minimums, as well as many other provisions that were included in that 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act .

Dean Becker: Let’s talk about that. This piece, from the San Francisco Chronicle, is addressing what has happened, subsequent to that law. What has happened, Eric?

Mr. Eric Sterling: What has happened is, you could sort of point to a couple of things. One of the things that happens is, is that drug use rates have changed, completely without regard to the law. Drug use doesn’t follow the law, it follows social fashion and social issues and is no more predictable than hair length or skirt length or necktie width. It’s a social phenomenon that does not simply respond to what Congress does. The other part of it is, that there has been an enormous increase in the number of people who’ve been prosecuted and gone to prison.

In 1986, when we wrote the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, the federal prison population was thirty-six thousand people. It’s two hundred-three thousand people today and more than half of them are there on drug charges. The population that we are now incarcerating on drug charges, has increased astronomically. However, the price of drugs has gone down and the purity of drugs, on the street, has increased. There have been some temporary increases in the price, but the long term trend has been down and that means that the drug traffickers have become more efficient in getting a better product to the American consumer.

We still have today, about the same number of crack users that we had when we first started to measure crack use in the late 1980’s. There has been a decline in drug use since the ’80’s, but that decline stopped. It’s actually gone up and down in waves. Drug use went down in the late ‘80’s until about ‘92, at the end of the first Bush administration. Then it went up for about five or six years and then it started declining again, but on a much slower pace.

Even today, drug use rates are greater than they the early ‘80’s and so, we have not dramatically changed the demand. The supply is better than it use to be, but the clust to the American society has gone up, dramatically.

Dean Becker: Quoting again, from that piece from the San Francisco Chronicle, they’re quoting you. They say, “If you look at the average sentence imposed on low level offenders and the amount of the crack cocaine involved in those cases, then compare that to the average sentence given to the high level offenders and the amount of powder cocaine involved in those cases, you’ll find that the low level offenders are being punished three hundred times more severely than the ’kingpins’. What else does that tell us, Eric?

Mr. Eric Sterling: It tells us that there’s not a whole lot of logic in how these laws are being enforced. That is, there’s not a logic in terms of ‘law enforcement’ terms that made; there’s a different logic. The logic is, career advancement. If you are a US attorney, drug cases are one way for you to ‘get attention’, on the local news media and lay the groundwork for being nominated to be a ’federal’ judge or to enter into a political campaign for public office.

The pathetic kinds of cases that are being brought, in law enforcement terms, are a scandal. I’ll just give you one example from 2006, this is data from the Sentencing Commission in New Hampshire, ‘The average weight of the ’crack cocaine’ cases, is 2.3 grams.’ That’s about the weight of a nickel, or a couple of nickels. None of those cases belong in Federal court, because only federal investigators have the resources to go internationally to do international money laundering investigations, to use the resources of the CIA.

They should be working on people who bring cocaine into the country by the ton; and a ton in a million grams. So, scores and scores of small cases; two thirds of all federal cases involve less than 25 grams. That’s less than an ounce. That’s a very, very small quantity, compared to a ton of cocaine which comes in a modest size shipment. A big shipment would be ten or fifteen tons of cocaine.

The government is not going after those people. What happens then, is when they occasionally go after people who are identified as ’higher level traffickers’, the sentences that they get, compared to sentences that the street level dealers get; if you talk about months in prison for a gram of cocaine, it’s a three hundred times longer sentence, for those low level offenders.

It also coincidentally happens to be the fact, that eighty percent of those ‘low level’ crack offenders are black. So what we’re doing is, we’re putting a high proportion of people of color away. Only one out of four of all ‘federal’ drug defendants are white, in a country that’s eighty percent white. This tells us, we’re not simply focusing on high level offenders, we’re focusing on low level offenders and I’m talking about the ‘federal’ level. I’m not talking about states, here.

The federal cases should be the most important cases and if you believe in prohibition, if you believe in the war on drugs, it’s clear that the resources are being wasted. If you have another sense about why these resources are being done this way, you recognize it’s not about really effectively taking down the cartels that are threatening the government in Mexico and Columbia, but it’s simply about advancing one’s political career and keeping the money flowing.

Dean Becker: Exactly. My friend, we’re speaking with Mr. Eric Sterling, President of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, based in Washington D.C.

Eric, I want to correct something. That quote I did awhile ago, was actually from the Washington Post, talking about the low level offenders and from that same reporting, I want to quote. This is Senate Majority Whip ‘Richard’ Durbin, “These racial disparities profoundly undermine trust in our criminal justice system and have a deeply corrosive effect on the relationship between law enforcement and minority communities.” Let’s talk about that, Eric.

Mr. Eric Sterling: Senator Durbin’s remarks were from a hearing a couple of weeks ago, on the crack cocaine problem. Senator Durbin, at that time, was chairing the Sub-Committee on Crime and Drugs. This was a tremendously important hearing, to look at the problem. It was at that hearing that the Obama administration says that they, ‘Want to do away with the disparity that exists in federal law, between crack cocaine and powder cocaine.’

At that hearing, the former head of DEA, former republican congressman Asa Hutchinson from Arkansas said that, ‘These laws are wrong,’ that they ’Distort law enforcement priorities by encouraging the focus on low level offenders.’ This is a Sub-Committee that’s going to be turned over to new democratic Senator Arlen Specter, from Pennsylvania and it’s not clear then, because he’s been a supporter of mandatory sentencing in the past, how Washington may change the politics of this.

But, Durbin’s point, not only does it underline; excuse me. The point in the article you’re quoting, by Courtland Milloy, one of the award winning columnists’ at the Washington Post. Milloy said, “Not only does this undermine respect for the law in minority communities, but for all communities because of the racial disparity.”

I think that it’s important to recognize; many people have focused for many, many years on the racial disparity, in the way in which the cocaine laws have been prosecuted and I think that people could tell, the point I was trying to make is that, what’s perhaps just as serious a problem, no matter where you stand on the political spectrum regarding drugs, if you believe that federal cases should be important cases, than it’s clear that the resources are being wasted on low level offenders, that it could be done by the states.

If you have any confidence that prohibition is a meaningful or effective strategy, you should be insisting that there’s a change in the way in which the laws are being enforced. To simply focus on low level offenders, is completely unjust and completely ineffective.

Dean Becker: Eric, as President of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, one of your main focus points, I guess, is to educate and, I think like me, to motivate people to understand what’s before our eyes and to do something about it. Is that a fair assumption?

Mr. Eric Sterling: Yes.

Dean Becker: If you would, let’s talk about Criminal Justice Policy Foundation and talk about how people can get on board. How they can ’do their part’.

Mr. Eric Sterling: A lot of my work in advice and consultation with other organizations. We’re not a mass membership organization. I’m not trying to get membership the way KPFT is trying to get people tonight, to call and pledge, to call (713)526-5738 and contribute to the support of KPFT, so it can stay on the air. I don’t have to do that.

A lot of what we do, is to provide information to support groups like Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, the Drug Policy Alliance, the Marijuana Policy Project, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, Drug Sense, the Drug Reform Coordination Network.

If your listener’s want to get good information about the drug problem and the reform of drug laws, I think, aside from listening to Cultural Baggage and Century of Lies, on the internet, the best source is the Drug War Chronicle, available on the website stopthedrugwar.org. We provide support for that. That’s an excellent weekly summary. Is that the kind of thing you’re talking about?

Dean Becker: It is exactly and I think that’s the point, that all of these organizations you’re speaking of, call upon you for your expertise because you were there. You spent your time in the trenches and you know the mechanics.

Mr. Eric Sterling: It’s beyond; I hope people sort of recognize (the people I work with) that it’s not simply my experience now, of more than twenty years, working for the Congress. I’ve been thinking about these reform issues since at least 1976, when I testified for marijuana decriminalization before the Pennsylvania legislature, when I was still a law student, over thirty-three years ago.

The challenge of framing these issues of thinking about the political tactics, I’m privileged to be able to work with groups like Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Americans for Safe Access and the Families Against Mandatory Minimums Foundation. Those are all groups that are looking at aspects of, how our drug policy is failing the American people, wasting our money and wasting the human lives.

It’s something I know personally. I have a first cousin who was a drug addict who got hepatitis. He died many years ago. I know people in my family who’ve had; who’re drug addicts. This is something that affects many families, but they are not helped by the prohibition approach. They are not helped by making sure that the drugs, that are sold to the American people, are contaminated; of uncertain purity; of uncertain strength. They’re not helped by stigma that keeps them outside the medical community.

It was a long time ago that we fundamentally made a mistake in defining the drug problem as a criminal justice problem, for which police chiefs’ were the expert. Rather than a medical problem, for which doctors and psychiatrists’ and social worker’s and public health official’s, were the experts. So that, when we talk about drug policy in the Congress , police chiefs’ have more weight than doctor’s and that’s completely backwards and it’s unfortunate because we had miss-defined. We defined improperly what the problem was and assigned it to the wrong set of experts.

Dean Becker: Alright. Eric, I thank you so much for taking time to be with us, here on Century of Lies. Your website is cjpf.org …

Mr. Eric Sterling: Yes.

Dean Becker: …and folks, tune in there. There’s much information he has to share and as always Eric, we call upon you and I appreciate you being with us.

Mr. Eric Sterling: Thank you, Dean. Your work is so very, very important. Not only to the people of Houston, but to the whole country; the more than fifty different radio stations that carry your broadcasts.

(to the tune of: Bringing in the Sheaves)

Kickin’ in the door,
Kickin’ in the door,
We shall bring Salvation,
Kickin’ in the door.

(to the tune of : 500 Miles Away from Home)

A hundred years, A hundred years,
A hundred years, A hundred years,
You can hear the drug war blow,
A hundred years.

The insane are in charge of the asylum
The fox, in charge of grading the hens
The cartels need drug war to make their billions
And Obama says, ’Let’s do the same thing again.’

Oh, what will it take, to motivate?
To examine this century of lies?
What will it take, to motivate
You to speak of what’s before your eyes?

Alright my friends, here in a couple of weeks, we hope to have with us on the Century of Lies, Professor Jeffrey A. Miron. You’ve seen his economic analysis of the drug war and he’s author of a brand new book that will be hitting the shelves here in a just couple of weeks, “Drug War Crimes: The Consequences of Prohibition”, and here he is on CNN having a dialog, if not a debate, with the former drug czar, John Walters.

“The president himself doubts the positive economic impact of legalization.”
Obama: “I don’t think that is a good strategy to, grow our economy.”

“But the drum beat to consider it, is growing. Tom Forman, CNN - Washington.”

Anderson Cooper: So, what do you think? Would making marijuana legal help our economy. Send us a text message with your question to 94553. The message has to start with the letters ac, then a space, then your name and question and if you don’t include ac first with a space, we’re not going to get the text.

Anderson Cooper: Let’s talk about the issue right now. Joining us tonight, Jeffrey Miron, a senior economics lecturer at Harvard University. He’s for legalization and against it, John Walters, executive Vice-President of the Hudson Institute. He’s also the former drug czar under President George W. Bush.

John, people want to see marijuana legalized, say it’s not as addictive as other drugs are, that it doesn’t increase violence. By some estimates, legalizing it could bring you up to seven billion of income a year, to the government. You don’t buy that?

John Walters: Well, I don’t think the fact sustain that. I mean, the fact is that marijuana is the single biggest cause of treatment need among the illegal drugs in America based upon some of the same studies you’ve talked about.

You just ran an earlier piece in this show about violence in Chicago and the killing of kids that are students in elementary school and middle school and high school. Police made the point, drugs are a factor in this. Guns, violence and out of control behavior that’s fueled and made worse, by drugs.

I mean, we already have too many people who suffer from dependency and addiction. Having more people who use, only makes that worse and would the country be better instead if fourteen million users, as you talked about in the set up piece, if you had 20/30/40/50 million users?

Anderson Cooper : Jeffrey, what about that? Would legalizing marijuana increase violence?

Jeffrey Miron: Absolutely not. There’s not a shred of evidence or any good reason to think that legalizing marijuana would increase violence. Just the opposite. Most of the violence we associate with marijuana is because, when you force a trade underground, people in that trade resolve their disputes with guns, rather than with lawyers and advertising; the things that people do in legal industries.

So it’s prohibition that’s creating the violence. Not marijuana creating the violence. It’s just completely preposterous, to suggest that marijuana use causes violence.

Anderson Cooper: John, what about the economic argument thought that this would, help our economies?

John Walters: Well first, let’s talk about the violence. Studies have now shown 60/70/80 percent of the people who are arrested for violent crime, have drugs in their body. One of the most prevalent drugs they have in their body, is marijuana.

There is a fear that people who smoke marijuana are kind of cute Cheech and Chong characters, from old time movies. In fact, it’s a source of agitation. It’s a source of impaired judgment. It’s a source of, in some cases, making people who’s behavior is already erratic, get very erratic. So, the greater potency has something to do with that.

The revenue you would get from having tens of millions of more marijuana users is going to be offset by the cost it is to society. The cost not only in addiction treatment, but also the lost productivity of those individuals, the damage it does to families.

Think of it this way. Many of our families have experience with this. They have loved ones who have had, suffered from substance abuse. Many of them from marijuana dependency. Many poly-drug dependency, that started with marijuana. Many alcoholism and marijuana. How many of those families think America or their family or their community would be better off with more of that?

Anderson Cooper: Jeffrey, what do you think?

Jeffrey Miron: The key assumption being made by Mr. Walters, is just completely not supported by the evidence, is that legalizing it would lead to some dramatic increase in use. The evidence suggests that there would be, at best, modest increases in use and those increases that would occur, would be from responsible moderate users, just as we observe with legal alcohol.

For alcohol, we have a huge range of potency. The vast majority of people don’t consume extremely potent forms of alcohol and they don’t do the less potent ones to excess. The vast majority use responsibly. That’s exactly what we should expect and what the evidence suggests would be true of marijuana.

Anderson Cooper: John, we’ve got a text question from John, in Pennsylvania. He asks, “Won’t legalizing marijuana get petty offenders out of our already crowded jail system?”

John Walters: Well in fact, there is a… that possession offenders are a big part of the jail system. In fact, there’s 0.3% of those in state prisons. The largest prison population are there for simple possession of marijuana. Most people are there for violent crimes. Drugs and violence do fit together but, let me go back to the professors point about, there won’t be more use.

In California, where medical marijuana’s been used as a sort of wedge issue, a kind of phony effort to try to say that, ‘Oh, it’s only going to go to people that are sick.’ It’s not going to people who are sick. In fact, in San Francisco as has been reported in the news, there are now more marijuana dispensaries then there are Starbucks, in downtown San Francisco. Uh, that’s more use under a regime that’s already halfway disassembled.

If you took the lid off all together, there are a hundred million people who drink alcohol once a month or more frequently and there are about thirteen million who are needing treatment, for alcoholism. There are twenty million who use an illegal drug, most of them use marijuana once a month or more frequently and a third of them, need treatment.

Anderson Cooper: We’re almost out of time. I want to give Jeffrey the chance to respond to that. Jeff?

Jeffrey Miron: The bare fact that these medical marijuana dispensaries may be dispensing widely to people who are using for reasons other than medicinal, is undoubtedly valid. But if there’s been an increase in use, then where’s the surge in violence?

California’s just as peaceful and just as normal a place as has been for a long time, despite this alleged surge, in use, from the medicinal marijuana. So that doesn’t support the claims being made by the prohibitionists’ in any way, shape or form.

Anderson Cooper: We do have to end it there, I’m sorry. A fascinating debate and one we want to continue having. John Walters, appreciate your time and Jeffrey Miron, as well. Thank you.

Hello. My name a Borat. I am back from Kasikstan, where my retarded brother Billo is now President. He learned how to make billions by growing flowers. Is great success.

Please don’t legalize drugs, or I will be execute.

Be sure to join us in the coming weeks. We’ll have Harvard Professor Jeffrey Miron, who you just heard in the debate with John Walters, talking about his new book, “Drug War Crimes”.

We’ll also hear from David Rosenbloom, the new head of CASA. The publicity machine for the government, insofar as this drug war and as always, I remind you, there is no truth, justice, logic, scientific fact, medical data, in fact, no reason for this drug war to exist. The drug lords run both sides of this equation.

Please do your part to help end the madness of drug war and 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