08/08/10 - Sanho Tree

Cultural Baggage Radio Show

Sanho Tree of Institute for Policy Studies regarding travel to Bolivia and Colombia + MJ Borden of Drug War Facts & Fox reporter for ending drug war?

Audio file


Cultural Baggage / August 08, 2010

Broadcasting on the Drug Truth Network, this is Cultural Baggage.

“It’s not only inhumane, it is really fundamentally Un-American.”

“No more! Drug War!” “No more! Drug War!” “No more! Drug War!” “No more! Drug War!”


My Name is Dean Becker. I don’t condone or encourage the use of any drugs, legal or illegal. I report the unvarnished truth about the pharmaceutical, banking, prison and judicial nightmare that feeds on Eternal Drug War.


This is Dean Becker. You know, business is very good in reporting on the Drug War. So, let’s jump right into it.

I realized the other day that it’s been almost four years since I made my trip to Bolivia with Witness for Peace and with our guest today. He’s a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington D.C. He just returned from another trip to Bolivia. I want to welcome Sanho Tree.

Sanho Tree: Thank you, Dean.

Dean Becker: Sanho, you travel to South America and Mexico on a fairly regular basis. I was wondering if you might tell me if there’s been any observable differences in Bolivia since that trip we took down there?

Sanho Tree: There certainly has been. When we were there, there was still a lot of conflict with the government and forced eradication and people were just beginning to be allowed to grow a small, regulated plot for traditional use. That guaranteed them some food security, some predictability for their future. They could then think about economic alternatives in diversifying the local economy down there, in terms of opening shops and restaurants and repair – auto repair and things like that.

Things have blossomed. The economy is doing well in Bolivia. There’s peace and the coca growers’ unions are actually working with the government, as well as the government’s Drug Czar’s office.

So, they are going after cocaine, but they are allowing traditional uses and cultivation of coca. So, it’s not ideal in terms of where drug reformers would like to go with it but in terms of allowing farmers to grow coca for traditional use, it’s fantastic.

There I visited a factory that is going to be opening soon that will begin to commercialize coca products, such as candies, sodas, flour, tea bags, that sort of thing. So, just seeing that was a tremendous advance.

Dean Becker: Now, Sanho, you mention that they’re going to commercialize or I guess, extrapolate the commercialization of the coca products, if you will.

I know that you speak often of the fact that when you land at La Paz, Bolivia up there at 13,000-14,000 feet, the oxygen leaves the plane when they open the door.

Sanho Tree: (laughs) Yes. At that altitude, it’s basically 2½ miles above sea level. There’s about 40% of the available oxygen that you would have at sea level. I still remember my first time landing at La Paz, being at the back of the plane and carrying my carry-on luggage to the front of the plane. I had to sit down.

It was that dramatic and just having coca candy available was terrific at the airport. You could just chew a candy or two and just begin to acclimate. Without it you basically suffer, at least a day, if not two or three days of extreme fatigue and headaches and altitude sickness, which is very, very unpleasant.

Dean Becker: I remember when we landed at La Paz. I was at the back of the plane and I was going to walk up to ask you, “What the heck’s wrong?” (laughs) The color was leaving my vision and I just had no strength whatsoever but you told me what we were enduring there.

Now, let’s talk about the commercialization. You’ve got some great pictures up on the web – What is it? Picasaweb? – that shows your travels, shows some pictures of these facilities where they’re going to be making coca drinks and candies and other edibles. Correct?

Sanho Tree: Their – the machinery is largely imported from China. It’s generic soda bottle machines and candy making machines and tea bagging machines and that sort of thing. So they have the assembly line all prepped and ready to go. They’re only going to be processing organic coca. So, it’s a big push now to get the local farmers to switch to organic production.

It was interesting talking to some of these farmers. They’re starting to learn or relearn what their ancestors used to do. In terms of pest control, they used to use smoke, for instance and that sort of thing. That also helps reduce some of the – they would otherwise be swamped with the farmers wanting to sell coca to this plant.

Yet, by specifying that they’re only taking organic, certified organic production that cuts down the amount of deluge of coca leaves that they would experience from local sellers and it will improve quality and it helps maintain a higher price for everybody.

So, it’s extraordinary because in Bolivia the coca growers are and have been for many years, unionized and highly organized, particularly in the Chophia region where we went. They have a long tradition of working together in a unionized structure and that stems from the fact that many of them used to be miners up in the mountains, before commodity prices collapsed and they were forced to migrate to the Chophia region.

So, there’s a lot of discipline there. They understand that each family should be allowed to grow a regulated amount and that you shouldn’t grow much more than your neighbors because then it hurts the regulatory process. They voluntarily – very often – they will eradicate before the anti-narcotic units show up and it maintains a stable price for everyone.

Dean Becker: Now, Sanho, as I recall, the plot of land is called a “cato”?

Sanho Tree: Correct.

Dean Becker: And how big an area is that?

Sanho Tree: That’s about forty meters by forty meters. There is some discussion about adapting that for local conditions. For example, if you live on very hilly terrain, you might get a little more leeway in terms of how much you can grow or if you have very poor soils, you might be able to get a little bit of an exemption. So, there has to be some fine-tuning in any kind of regulatory process.

What was really encouraging, was visiting the offices of the organization called UDESTRO, which does the coca rationalization or coca regulation. To see farmers who’ve traveled a fairly long way to come and register their plots of land in an orderly way and see them map this stuff on these plotters and maps.

They can tall you exactly who owns which plot of coca. They can monitor where the leaf ends up. It’s a system that is working. Certainly, there are glitches and things that they need to iron out, but it’s overall working.

It’s such a contrast for instance with visiting places in rural Columbia, for instance, where the mayor’s office and government offices are largely empty because no one goes because they know they won’t get justice and things don’t work.

But here you have farmers actually traveling long distances to register their plots of land. So, regulation can work.

Dean Becker: We are speaking to Mr. Sanho Tree. He’s a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington D.C. He travels to South America, observing the situations in the various countries.

Now, you also toured Columbia in the past year, did you not?

Sanho Tree: Yes.

Dean Becker: Tell us about that trip please.

Sanho Tree: Well, the eradication continues. It’s forced eradication. It is to the extent that the Drug Warriors claim any kind of success in planned Columbia. They succeed in pushing that balloon into Peru.

So, now there is going to be more emphasis on forced eradication in Peru. There was already a clash, I believe last week, where a farmer was killed. That sort of stuff is likely to increase.

Under prohibition, the best you can achieve is to make it some other country’s problem. That’s not to say that Columbians have solved their problems by any means. There’s still a lot of eradication and violence and certainly a lot of drug trafficking.

They may have reduced some of the acreage of coca cultivation but on the other hand the farmers the traffickers have compensated by having more –developing more efficient ways of coca extraction and cultivation. So, they need less land to produce the same amount of cocaine.

So, it’s been a dismal failure and it’s caused a lot of social problems domestically.

Dean Becker: Now, we hear that –certain publications indicate the Columbia is a great success and that the money that we have invested there has quashed the drug trade and so forth. From what you are saying, that’s just not true. It may have decreased the amount of violence in the cities. Is that a fair assumption?

Sanho Tree: Yes. In terms of the kidnappings by the gorillas and that sort of thing and bombings and such, that has gotten better but not from a counter-narcotics standpoint. That’s from a counter-insurgency and domestic security standpoint.

I certainly wouldn’t begrudge any Columbian with an increase in personal safety but part of the way they did that was to collaborate with right-wing paramilitary death squads. So, they were able to do the real dirty work that the government wasn’t able to do directly.

Now we’re talking about very serious massacres, extrajudicial killings, tens of thousands of civilians being killed. The paramilitary death squads, they killed so many people, at one point they actually built ovens to dispose of the bodies.

The mass graves just weren’t sufficient. They were being stumbled upon by journalists and local people and were causing controversies. So they actually built ovens –

Dean Becker: To dispose of –

Sanho Tree: So, I don’t call that a success.

Dean Becker: No, sir. Ok, once again speaking to Sanho Tree of the Institute for Policy Studies. Now, Sanho, I want to jump back to the situation in Bolivia for just a second here. Now, so what you’re saying is, they’re going to put the coca back in the cola. Am I correct?

Sanho Tree: (laughs) Yes. There are already local brands that do that. The Bolivian government has begun the process of appealing to the UN to take coca leaf off the list of prohibited substances. It’s going to be a time consuming process but hopefully they will eventually succeed.

Coca is not cocaine. It’s like comparing coffee beans to methamphetamines. It’s a world of difference.

That coca in it’s natural state is such a mild stimulant and has so many beneficial properties but the ignorance internationally is so high in regards to this that there’s a steep educational curve for the general public, I believe.

Dean Becker: Now, Sanho, as I recall in our travels a few years back in Bolivia, everyone we met from the justice minister to the Christian minister, the prison guards and the prisoners were all chewing coca. It was not creating one problem at all, was it?

Sanho Tree: No, not at all. In fact, I have these old photos of the anti-narcotics military police units battling coca growers and eradicating their fields and they’re all chewing coca at the same time, right?

(laughs) So much of this has been forced upon them by previous the US governments.

Dean Becker: It’s amazing and I am still amazed. I have pictures of our trip to the coca warehouse where there were literally tons and tons of it being sifted and sorted and packaged. The United States is so off base by disallowing the use of coca. It might help some of these that are using cocaine, to step down from that harder drug. Your thought?

Sanho Tree: Yes, it is quite possible but it has all these other beneficial properties as well. It is a great diet aid, for instance. Chewing coca leaves fights hunger in a very mild way. We have such an obesity problem in this country that it’s a real shame that it’s not available for at least that purpose.

It’s also a mild stimulant. I personally would prefer an afternoon chewing of coca then of having coffee because the coffee, if I consume it at this late hour, will keep me up at night.

Dean Becker: Right, whereas the coca wears off. Right?

Sanho Tree: Yes and it’s got all kinds of nutrition in terms of protein and vitamins and potassium and that sort of thing.

Dean Becker: I recall when we were driving back to La Paz, nearing the end of our journey down there in Bolivia that several of the passengers made it a point to sit up front with the bus driver and make sure he had a good wad of coca in his check because we were driving past cliffs that I guess were thousands of feet drops, if he were to mess up. Right?

Sanho Tree: Yes, but those winding roads through the Andes mountains can be a little jarring, if you’re not used to them. Our driver, of course, was quite professional but it is very common to see drivers chewing. They’ll have a big bag of coca leaves on the dashboard and it keeps them alert and good for them.

Dean Becker: You know as I recall –

Sanho Tree: If the US really wants to help, by the way, with curbing dangerous activities in Bolivia. It’s not the drugs they should worry about as much as the drunk driving. I think the US Narcotic Affairs Section should help out by giving breathalyzers to the local police because drunk driving is – people just don’t have that mentality, that you do in other countries, where it’s a real taboo but that’s the biggest danger.

Dean Becker: The situation in Mexico is rather dire. I think everybody is realizing that at this point. What is not recognized – or noted properly, I believe – in the major media is that several past Presidents of Latin nations have come out in favor of legalization and there’s even some indications that the current President Calderón of Mexico is at least considering it. Your thoughts there?

Sanho Tree: Yes. In fact, in today’s issue of The Guardian newspaper in London, there’s a good story about President Calderón saying that there needs to be a debate about legalization. Of course, he covered his rear end and said, “Look, it’s not my personal position but it’s a fundamental part of the debate and we need to have that debate”.

So, he’s kind of caught in the same pickle that Obama is in terms of gay marriage, right? They both get it. I’m sure they both support it privately but they can’t say it publicly because of political reasons. So, that’s the problem.

Dean Becker: And that’s all the more reason for hopefully the commission that the US Congress and the Senate, led by Senator Webb, want to investigate our whole criminal justice system. Right down to the Drug War itself. Your response there, please.

Sanho Tree: I think the Webb Commission is going to be an important step in reevaluating the way we look at this problem but I think far more fundamental and earthshaking, I think, will be Prop 19, if it passes in California. That will have huge repercussions internationally as well as domestically, I think.

It will force the Obama Administration, much as the court ruling on gay marriage will force the issue. They will have to take a position and what can they do really? Even if, even if Obama wanted to fight this, what could he possibly do?

The California law enforcement would have to follow the state constitution, which Prop 19 would amend and the federal government doesn’t have enough forces to impose it’s will on California. So what could he do then?

Could he federalize the California National Guard and send them in the way Eisenhower used then to integrate the schools in Little Rock? That’s ridiculous. That’s not going to happen. So I think that forces the issue and the international community will be looking at this as well.

Dean Becker: Now that bring to mind that there is that UN Convention on narcotics which kind of binds all the drug laws around the world together but it does allow for nations to step away from it, I think, to give a six-month resignation or something, right?

Sanho Tree: Yes. When you consider the US is one of the main movers behind the international Drug War, it’s going to be very embarrassing when your politically most important state, with fifty-five votes in the Electoral College, decides that marijuana prohibition should end.

You know the UN may be upset about this. The drug warriors in Washington may be upset about this but it reminds me of Joseph Stalin after World War II. He was making some moves in the Adriatic Sea and one of his advisors said, “Sir, I think the Pope may be upset about that” and Stalin quips, “Well, how many divisions does the Pope have?” (laughs)

Well, that’s the question here in California. How many forces would it take to reimpose the Drug War on cannabis?

Dean Becker: It would seem rather futile to even attempt that, I think.

Sanho Tree: All these Latin American countries saying, “Look, every year you certify us in this unilateral, arrogant, drug certification process and your most popular state decides it wants to legalize marijuana? You don’t have the right to judge us anymore, if you don’t even have that kind of consensus at home”.

Dean Becker: It kind of parallels the “silver or the lead” because we give them the “silver or the lead” of de-certification, if you will. It’s a common portion of the Drag War isn’t it?

Sanho Tree: Yes and it’s backfiring in a lot of countries where the Drug War is so unpopular. Even President Calderón, who is one of our staunchest allies in the Drug War comes out today and says we have to talk about – have to debate legalization.

Dean Becker: That’s the key to it all isn’t it? Because once you debate it, once you get all of the facts known, there’s no way to continue to believe that it’s possible to win the “war on drugs”, right?

Sanho Tree: Well, Yes, for people who follow the debate. Unfortunately, a lot of the general public will pay more attention to soap operas, sex scandals and that sort of thing than they do politics and policy. So, for many of them the knee-jerk, simple-minded solution of “drugs are bad, of course we need a war on drugs”, it does sell to a lot of people.

When you think about the healthcare reform in this country and what the simplistic, ridiculous messages that went out and were swallowed hook, line and sinker by so many people. That “Obamacare” was socialism and was going to destroy the country and well, the sky hasn’t fallen, yet. (laughs)

Dean Becker: Ok, friends, once again we’ve been speaking to Sanho Tree, a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington D.C.

Sanho, I want to thank you very much for taking time to share your thoughts with our listeners. Please share you website, as well.

Sanho Tree: It’s www.ips-dc.org and you can follow me on Twitter at @sanhotree.


(Game show music)

It’s time to play: Name That Drug By It’s Side Effects

Dizziness, dry mouth, rash, increased appetite, fatigue, respiratory infection, vomiting, coughing, incontinence, constipation, fever, tremors, anxiety, increased saliva, muscle stiffness, abdominal pain and death for the elderly.


Time’s up!

The answer: Rispiridol for Schizophrenia. Not for Dementia or Alzheimer’s as was recommended via tens of millions in kickbacks from Johnson & Johnson to nursing homes, who also make the stinky, liver killing compound Tylenol.


Mary Jane Borden: Hello Drug Policy Aficionados, I’m Mary Jane Borden, editor of Drug War Facts.

The question for this week asks: Does the decriminalization of drugs work?

Glenn Greenwald of the Cato Institute addressed this question in the 2009 White paper, Drugs Decriminalization in Portugal: Lessons for Creating Fair and Succesful Drug Policy.

On July 1st 2001, Portugal removed penal sanctions for the private use of illicit substances. Under this framework, drugs denoted “illegal” remain so, particularly for trafficking but a person caught with a small quantity for personal use would be evaluated by a local commission to explore with the processor the need for treatment and recovery.

As, Greenwald noted, “The number of acute drug-related deaths increased [...] more than tenfold from 1989 to 1999, reaching a total of almost 400 by 1999.”

However, after Decriminalization, the total number of drug related deaths decreased to 290 in 2006 and 314 in 2007. Contrast this to the United Kingdom, where 2069 drug related deaths occurred in 2007. In 2006, 38,396 persons died in the United States of drug-induced causes.

Further, during the 2007, 2008 timeframe an estimated 12% of Portuguese citizens ages 14 to 64 said that they used an illegal drug at least once in their lives. That percentage equaled about 36% in England and about 47% in the United States.

Greenwald concluded, “None of the fears promulgated by opponents of Portuguese decriminalization has come to fruition, whereas many of the benefits predicted by drug policymakers from instituting a decriminalization regime have been realized. While drug addiction, usage, and associated pathologies continue to skyrocket in many EU [countries], those problems—in virtually every relevant category—have been either contained or measurably improved within Portugal since 2001.”

These facts and others like them can be found in the Portugal, United Kingdom, Causes of Death and Drug Usages chapters of Drug War Facts at www.drugwarfacts.org. If you have a question for which you need facts please email it to me at: mjborden@drugwarfacts.org.

I’ll try to answer your question in an upcoming show. So, remember when you need facts about drugs and drug policy you can get the facts at Drug War Facts.


(romantic music)

We don’t know much, you and I
Trust and obey and then we wonder… why.


For years, I was the only voice in the broadcast media calling the Drug War a charade but this comes to us from FOX:

FOX Anchorman: One drug made a priority forty years ago when Nixon made it one of his top priorities.

President Nixon: We must wage what I have called “Total War” against public enemy number one in the United States: the problem of dangerous drugs.

FOX Anchorman: Another brilliant Nixon idea. Since that time, this government has spent well over one trillion dollars fighting it and by all accounts, losing the war. Despite years of public awareness campaigns, like this one, from the 1980s:

PSA: This is drugs. (sound of egg frying)
This is your brain on drugs. (continuing sound of frying/sizzling)
Any questions? (sizzling sound continues…)

FOX Anchorman: Yeah, I still have a lot of questions. Anyway, fourteen states have legalized medical marijuana with fifteen others considering similar laws.

If pot were legal, it would pull in somewhere between ten and fourteen billion dollars a year. With law enforcement locking up thousands every year on pot charges, a new movement is on underway to legalize pot.

It’s called, “Just Say Now” and includes a new website and a get-out-the-vote effort to change marijuana laws. Bruce Fein is on the advisory board of “Just Say Now” and that might surprise you.

Bruce served as Associate Deputy Attorney General under President Ronald Reagan and he’s currently an attorney and author of The American Empire: Before the Fall. Bruce, why have you joined the effort to legalize marijuana?

Bruce Fein: Well, there’s an adverse to the proverb, “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it” but if it is broken then you need to try and fix it. I think, at best, you can describe the last forty years and over a trillion dollars as an incomplete success.

We see the marijuana trade fueling the drug cartels in Mexico. The incidents of drugs, really, has not been dented. What we need to do is keep the federal government involved with regard to policing the borders but offering the state the opportunity to decide for themselves how to regulate tax and control marijuana use.

It’s a state’s issue. The federal government shouldn’t be involved in policing what states decide to do within their own borders. It may well be that the best remedy for denting those drug cartels and the takeover of scores of cities in the United States by thugs from Mexico.

If the states have this regulatory power, they would be entitled to regulate how marijuana is produced, how it’s distributed to try and make certain it was through legal channels. Now many will say, “Why are you dropping the line at marijuana? Then you’re going to go to cocaine and then you’re going to go to heroin and all of these other exotic drugs”.

Well, that’s not a sensible argument. They’re our ability to a draw line, just like we drew lines at one time about alcohol. You can draw lines at marijuana and don’t have to go further. You can draw the line at same-sex marriage and not go to polygamy.

We think that after forty years, of a spectacular failure and a trillion dollars, it’s time to let the states experiment with their own controls, learn from that basis and end what I consider squandering federal resources on things that ought to be devoted to more national security issues.

FOX Anchorman: Bruce, your position, legalizing marijuana isn’t it actually deeply conservative because it is getting the government out of our lives and stop wasting billions of dollars?

Bruce Fein: Well, it’s in the same sense that repealing prohibition was conservative as well. It got the government out of the lives and even perhaps scrutinizing the use of wine as part of the sacraments and things of that sort, even if there was an exception in the Prohibition Amendment.

Certainly, it’s trying to scale back, the role – the size of the federal government to a proper scope and limited to what its constitutional duties and obligations are. It’s going to yield, I think, a vastly improved landscape than what we’ve got at present.

Where you have states trying to experiment, the federal government making it criminal anyway and their being a total Twilight Zone with regard to the effort to try to find a regulatory regime that improves on the disaster of the current situation.

FOX Anchorman: Yup, Bruce Fein, an excellent argument and a conservative argument. Thank you so much.

Bruce Fein: Thank you.

FOX Anchorman: So what’s my take on this? War on drugs, are you kidding me? By the way, what is the last nonsense war we won? The war on terror? We were supposed to stop all the terror attacks for whatever reason, in whatever country, forever?


Well, just how long do you want the drug war to last? I say that’s just way too long. Please do your part to end the madness and as always I remind you, 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. This show produced at the Pacifica studios of KPFT, Houston.

Drug Truth Network programs are archived at the James A. Baker III Institute for Policy Studies.

Transcript provided by: Ayn Morgan of www.eigengraupress.com

Tap dancing… on the edge… of an abyss.