09/05/10 - Aaron Houston

Aaron Houston, Dir of Students for Sensible Drug Policy + Eric Sterling of Criminal Justice Policy Foundation & MJ Borden with Drug War Facts

Century of Lies
Sunday, September 5, 2010
Aaron Houston
Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP)
Download: Audio icon COL_090510.mp3



Century of Lies / September 05, 2010

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. My name is Dean Becker. Our guest for this program is Mr. Aaron Houston a gentleman who’s spent years walking the halls of Congress trying to sway our elected officials to change the marijuana laws on behalf of the Marijuana Policy Project but he’s now the Executive Director for Students for Sensible Drug Policy. I like to think of them as LEAP speakers in the making, so to speak, because they get it.

They understand that the whole of the Drug War is an abject failure. He’s also working with the good folks out in California on the “Just Say Now” campaign, trying to gather support the Prop 19 for the legalization of marijuana, out there in California. With that, let’s welcome our guest, Mr. Aaron Houston. Hello, sir.

Aaron Houston: Thank you very much for having me here, I really appreciate it.

Dean Becker: Well, Aaron, it’s good to have you on-air with us. You have, as I indicated, you’ve been prowling the halls of Congress for some years now. You’ve been trying to educate and sway the options of our elected officials, correct?

Aaron Houston: Sure, that is correct. Yeah, it’s been an uphill fight at times but the times are looking better now.

Dean Becker: Well, I admire you for your perseverance. I’ll say that.

Aaron Houston: (laughs) Thank you, very much.

Dean Becker: No, It’s necessary. It is – that they know that we’re for real, that we have people on the ground and that someday, somehow, eventually they’re feet are going to be held to the fire over all of this madness, don’t you think?

Aaron Houston: Well, that’s right and in my capacity as the only full time marijuana lobbyist on capitol hill for several years, for five years, I guess. I definitely came to see that my job was somewhat, partly like being a priest. In the sense that people were willing to tell me about either their marijuana use or their cousin’s marijuana use or their wife’s marijuana use or whatever it was but they didn’t feel comfortable talking about it.

Over the years, I’ve had this unique perspective of being able to see the shift in public opinion where more people are willing to talk about it. More people are willing to talk about it openly. I’m talking about from a member of Congress down to the just average Joe on the street.

People’s opinions are changing. They’re starting to see. It’s safe to talk about it. It’s actually safe to say that the Mexican drug cartels get 70% of their profits from marijuana sales alone. They’re active in 230 American cities that the cartels are controlling the distribution networks in 230 – more then 230 American cites at his point.

So, that’s why I am proud to be a part of Students for Sensible Drug Policy. It’s a – it really is a grassroots movement. It’s a national grassroots organization that’s working to end the Drug War, that working to legalize marijuana. So, it’s pretty exciting. I’d urge your listeners to check us out at ssdp.org or schoolsnotprisons.org.

Dean Becker: Yeah, Aaron, I look at it this way, of late, even your former boss, Rob Kampia was on with Judge Napolitano on FOX. Napolitano is starting to sound like a LEAP member. I mean, it’s really shifting isn’t it?

Aaron Houston: Oh, that’s absolutely right. I’m Sure. I actually think he’s probably been – he’s probably sounded that way for quite some time. He’s really been, I think, of the mind – it seems to me. He’s been of the mind that prohibition has not worked. It’s handed a monopoly to some brutal people and by the way, your previous guest brought up a number of interesting points, I thought.

One thing that I thought was interesting that he had said was that somehow the military is not as brutal as it used to be. I would take issue with that. I think that the military probably – or that his sources are saying that. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s some propaganda on the part of the Mexican military saying that.

I think we’ve seen a lot of human rights abuses on the south, southern side of the border because – in the name of the Drug war, in the name of the war on marijuana. What we’ve also seen is the near collapse of the Mexican state. The US – the listeners don’t have to take my word for it. They can listen to the word of the US Joint Forces Command, which in December of 2008 said, “Mexico bears consideration for rapid and sudden collapse” and that’s scary stuff when you’re talking about a State at our southwestern border.

It would cause a humanitarian and national security crisis if that were to occur. The Mexican military has absolutely no hold on it. They are torturing people on the southern side of the border all over the place and that’s why they have not been able to get a handle on this.

Dean, I think it’s also worth pointing out that on this side of the border, we talk about the Mexican War as a “Drug War”, not recognizing the fact that in Afghanistan and Iraq it’s actually not as violent as the kind of activity that we see on the part of the cartels in Juarez and other places.
The spectacular nature of the violence it’s simply astonishing. So, we really need to talk about this as a war. It is a war. It’s just not a Drug War and calling it a “Drug War” really harkens back to exactly the sort of sentiment that’s embodied in the clip you played by Nixon.

Nixon started this propaganda war, forty years ago now and sanitized this mess by calling it a “Drug War” rather than what it really is. It’s a war on the American people and it’s a war on the Mexican people.

Dean Becker: It is indeed. It’s becoming more obvious and glaring to more and more folks. The fiscal fiasco that’s ongoing in the US and around the world is bringing people back to where – I want to share something with you.

Today, I had a gentleman knock on the door. He was out, handing out brochures for a state representative running for office, the democratic candidate. I had a good talk with him and said, “Well, look, if she wants to get some air time and wants to talk about the Drug War, have her get in touch with me.”

I guess the point I’m trying to make here is that he got it. He understood it. I think a lot of people know the facts about the Drug War. They just never assemble it and look at it as a whole as to what is really going on. Your thoughts?

Aaron Houston: Well, I think that’s absolutely right. I think that it’s hard to question something when it’s force feed to you from the very earliest ages of your life. We’ve all been part of being – we’ve been part of this machine by going to the schools and being part of the D.A.R.E. program. That’s why SSDP has daregeneration.org.

We have a blog that’s actually named after that because really it’s a generation of people who were fed propaganda and who are saying, “No more. Not in our names. No more war in our names, in this way of fighting against the American people, throwing them in jail, ruining families and ruining lives.” It’s too much. So, absolutely, it’s part of a massive – it really is part of an effort that goes back decades. We see it in various iterations and varying degrees of seriousness.

During the Clinton years, the Administration, the White House – the Clinton White House actually – pressured the networks, the major networks, like NBC and CBS, pressured them to put anti-drug messages into – in fact, coerced them economically – into putting anti-drug messages into their programming.

So, they were required to submit their scripts to the White House or to the Administration somehow before they aired their shows. So, absolutely, I think people don’t know this stuff because these are some of the best kept secrets in the world because a lot of people benefit from the Drug War.

Dean Becker: I’ve heard a lot of talk. People around the world, in Mexico, Colombia and other nations are looking at what’s going on in California where they have this Prop 19, that’s going to be on the ballot this fall. Where an adult can posses one ounce, can grow twenty-five square feet, I think it is, of their own weed.

People in Mexico are saying, “Look, if California legalizes it, we should legalize it.” It is like a bellwether, a stepping stone so to speak. Your thoughts?

Aaron Houston: Well, California is the eighth largest economy in the world. It obviously is a leader in the country in terms of social change and social reform. Many social efforts have been born out of California. So, it wouldn’t be surprising that the world’s eyes are on us.

I don’t think it has as much to do with California’s role as a leader in social change as it has to do with desperateness of other countries – the absolute desperation on the part of other countries to see our lives change because after all, our laws are not costing the blood of Americans, as much as they are costing the blood and the lives of 28,000 Mexicans dead since 2006, when this war began.

Dean Becker: Well, sure and there are always those battles that break out. Indonesia had their time where, I think, they were arresting and killing thousands of what they called “meth addicts”, just a couple of months back.

Jamaica had a hundred people dead in a skirmish over trying to capture one of their drug lords. It’s a situation. I like to describe it like this; the cartels have the phrase, “¿Plata o plomo?” Meaning, “Do you want the silver or the lead?”

Aaron Houston: That’s right.

Dean Becker: The United States through their offers, to say, Bolivia, “We offer you ten million dollars if you participate in this controlled substances situation or we’ll put you on the bad actors list and won’t trade with you if you don’t.”

It’s the silver or the lead, even there. You thoughts?

Aaron Houston: Well, that’s right it is after all. This certainly came to mind when I was listening to your last guest. The Zetas, one of the more violent groups in the cartels – in the overall structure of their cartels – receive training from the United States. So, it’s not like this stuff is – it’s not like this stuff is foreign to us. Unfortunately, we trained some of these guys to do what they do and they do it very well.

It was United States funded efforts that trained the Zetas, who are a paramilitary group, former Special Forces, Mexican Special Forces, probably some United States special forces even, possibly and they are very good at terrorizing the population. This kind of stuff has been exported and it creates a big problem for us and what we really need to do is not fund these sort of outrageous attempts that are interfering in other governments and trying to export our terrible policies around the world.

We’ve exported a failed policy of marijuana prohibition and drug prohibition around the world. It simply has not worked. It’s cost a lot of lives in Afghanistan when up until last year, the Unites States had a policy where eradication of poppy plants.

Nobody wants to see a great supply of heroin in the streets of the United States but the fact is that when you have US marines and DEA personnel going into those fields in Afghanistan and eradicating them they are wiping out the only livelihood that the people there have even known.

So, it’s not surprising that the populace is going to turn on us and kill our folks when that happens. So, don’t take my word for it. Again, you can ask the Special Forces folks coming back from there how well that eradication policy has worked.

Unfortunately, the new UN Drug Czar nominee, Uri Fedotov from Russia has publicly disagreed with out Marine’s stance on their stopping that failed policy of eradication. He wants to see that continued. Again, another failed exported policy of the United States. It’s great that the United States is not doing it anymore but it shows how hard these things are to reverse once the cat is out of the bag.

Dean Becker: Yeah, exactly. Once again we’re speaking to Aaron Houston, now with the Students for Sensible Drug Policy. We’ve got just a few minutes left here. Aaron, I want to get back to the nitty-gritty. What motivates you? Why we do, what we do.

Aaron Houston: Sure.

Dean Becker: We’re needing 1% of the population to just do their part and this would be over. Wouldn’t it?

Aaron Houston: Well, I think that’s right. I think what we’re starting to see though is a percolation to the surface of the emotions about this Drug War coming out. I think that people are starting to see that it doesn’t work. I think people have known for a long time that it doesn’t work, let me say, instead.

People are starting to get emboldened to speak out about that, finally because really what we have had for forty years is a culture of silence. There has been a silent majority out there supporting marijuana legalization for a long, long time. The reason it is not been legal and the reason that we haven’t been able to legalize it is because there has been a culture of silence around it.

There’s a culture of fear that says if you even talk about it in certain cases that you may be labeled a criminal and that’s starting to change finally. We’re starting to see some real debate on it. The day after SSDP launched the “Just Say Now” campaign along with Firedoglake we saw the Mexican President, Felipe Calderón, say that he would like to see a real debate on this issue. He doesn’t want to just see it in Mexico. He says he wants to see the debate happen in the United States because he acknowledges that it would be useless for Mexico to legalize drugs on their own. It doesn’t make any difference if Mexico does and the United States doesn’t.

The United States needs to legalize marijuana right away. We need to tax and regulate marijuana right away to take away 70% of the drug cartels profits and to take away their business in 230 American cities.

Dean Becker: Alright, once again friends, we’ve been speaking with Mr. Aaron Houston. We’ve got about ten seconds left, please share your websites with the listeners.

Aaron Houston: Yes, please, if people liked what they’ve heard, please log on to our website and check us out, ssdp.org and schoolsnotprisons.org.

Dean Becker: Alright, Aaron Houston, we’ll talk to you soon.

Aaron Houston: Thank you, sir.

Dean Becker: Alright.


Here’s some good advice. Whether you are angry or it’s to lower your criminal sentence or it’s for money, snitching is just plain wrong.

Upset Person: Next time I see that son of a bitch smoking a joint, I’m going to have his ass busted.

(Police Sirens)

Police Officer: You’re under arrest! Put your hands – put you hands behind your back. Stop struggling!

Not only will you hurt the arrestee. You will hurt his family, any organizations he belongs to and in the long run you will hurt yourself.

Traitors, liars, cowards, snitches.

Tony Serif : We swim in a sea of snitches nowadays!

That last quote was from the noted San Francisco Attorney, Tony Serif.


Speaking of the situation in Mexico, here to talk about it is the Director of the Criminal Justice Foundation and who writes a regular blog at justiceanddrugs.blogspot.com, Mr. Eric Sterling.

Eric Sterling: Hi, Dean.

Dean Becker: Eric, the situation in Mexico is becoming outrageous. It’s beyond outrageous. I’m lacking words to describe what’s going on down there. You had a recent column dealing with that situation. Do you want to outline it for the listeners?

Eric Sterling: Actually, I was simply forwarding an analysis by George Freedman who is a principal at stratfor.com, which provides research and information primarily to business clients. His piece looked at the question of whether or not Mexico is a failed state, which some commentators, such a former Drug Czar, Barry McCaffrey, has suggested.

Friedman essentially says look, the violence that we’re seeing is a tragic cost that Mexico is enduring but it’s not really a threat to the Mexican heartland, which is south of the border quite a bit. The population centers and industry are all south of the border and that the result of the drug trade from the United States is that something on the order of thirty-two billion dollars in profits come into Mexico and they largely stay in Mexico for investment. Therefore, this is an enormously useful thing on balance, the illegal drug trade by virtue of it’s economic benefit to Mexico.

In effect, Mexico is sort of having to accommodate this. The loss of life is a price. He writes then about what the situation is for the United States with Mexico being culturally and economically out most important neighbor. This poses a very, very real challenge to the United States.

He says, here are the choices. We can accept the status quo and in many respects America has accepted this status quo for some number of years. It could try to figure out how to reduce drug demand but we’ve been very unsuccessful in doing that. There really isn’t the political will to ratchet up punishment or change – increase the invasions of privacy that might tend to accomplish that.

Third, it could legalize drugs. Essentially he dismisses that which is largely a political question or that the United States would intervene into Mexico in some way to force the government, the Mexican banking system, the police and the military to do something about it and he suspects that’s in some way what might happen.

He doesn’t discuss the enormous price that that would create. I think undermining US/Mexican relations and perhaps relations throughout the hemisphere. What is sad is that in his paper, he does not discuss the politics around legalization and sometimes I think his conclusion – if he’s only writing in the short term may be correct, but in the long term he’s wrong. The United States is going to legalize drugs and there are signs all throughout the county, throughout the media, throughout the political spectrum that this is the direction in which we’re moving.

Dean Becker: I would anticipate that as you said, the fourth option, moving into Mexico, that’s to become more ruthless than the cartels, more barbaric than these bad actors. What’s your thoughts? What is his intent or his idea in regards to moving into Mexico.

Eric Sterling: What I suspect is, interventions that might attempt to put more pressure on Mexican financial institutions and banks, to try to purge the money that’s coming from the drug trafficking organizations into them, to try to perhaps influence Mexican elections, to use American political and economic power to try to create a more effective strategy in the part of the Mexican government to deal with these organizations.

Something on the order of, I guess, a couple of thousand of those who’ve been killed in Mexico are police, law enforcement and the military. I think one of the things that we see are these tremendous numbers who are being killed in Mexico. To a large extent we assume that these are people who are innocent – and many of them are. It’s hard to judge to what extent that’s going on.

The thing you have to recognize is that if you are working in the drug business for somebody in Mexico. You can’t really resign. You can’t really quit. Your knowledge about how the organization works and who the individuals are, is information that can be used by law enforcement.

Once your loyalty to an organization is suspect – and your loyalty is suspect when you quit. You now are perceived as a threat. It’s not like an ordinary business where if you quit and go to work for a competitor, you’ve signed a legal agreement of confidentiality, which is enforceable and you can be sued if you violate the confidentially agreement.

By the same token, in the drug business, you can’t really fire somebody who’s non-performing, who’s an unsatisfactory employee without them becoming again, a risk of taking information to law enforcement or to your competitors in a very violent way.

So, the kinds of problems that might exist in an American business, where someone is fired or someone quits, in the drug trafficking business, those become deadly circumstances. What’s very hard is to figure out how many of these people who’ve been killed in the last three or four years are being killed because they were in the drug business. They were allies of one drug trafficking organization or another and to what extent this is true then of the law enforcement and political figures who are also involved. It’s very hard to know.

Dean Becker: Alright, once again, we’ve been speaking with Eric Sterling. He’s President of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation. He writes a blogspot, justiceanddrugs and you can check out his website at CJPF.org


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

The question for this week asks: How is marijuana’s potency determined?

The World Drug Report 2009 states, “the amount of THC in a cannabis sample is generally used as a measure for cannabis potency”. As described in that report, “the secretion of THC is most abundant in the flowering heads and surrounding leaves. The amount of resin secreted is influenced by the environmental conditions during growth, the sex of the plant and time of harvest.”

The report also notes that, “Most data on cannabis potency are derived from the analysis of seized marijuana samples. This means that these samples need to be representative of the entire seizure so that inferences and extrapolations can be made.”

As described in a 2004 report for the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and [Drug] Addiction, “data on THC content of cannabis products in the USA have been collected by Dr. ElSohly for many years as part of the University of Mississippi Potency Monitoring Project. Samples were submitted by law enforcement agencies and it is assumed that they are representative of the market.”

To assist data analysis details concerning the aforementioned environmental conditions, the type of cannabis and the size of the plant canopy, if known accompanies the seized samples to a lab at the University of Mississippi School pharmacy. Here they are put through a series of chemical tests to determine their THC percentage – as well as percentages of the cannabinoids, CBD, CBN and CBC.

One of their recent reports read, “as of March 15th 2009, the project has analyzed and compiled data on 65,247 cannabis, 1,365 hashish and 476 hash oil samples”. That’s since the project’s inception.

These facts and others like them can be found in the Marijuana chapter 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.


Alright, I want to thank Mary Jane Borden. I want to thank Aaron Houston. I want to thank you for listening. I just wanted to let you know that next week, we’ll be reporting live from Portland, Oregon. We going to be attending the NORML Conference up there, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. I understand they’re going to have former New Mexico Governor, Gary Johnson, speaking there as well as Rick Steves, the travel host. You’ve seen him on PBS a lot.

We’re also going to go – they’ve got a big fair called the “Hempstock”. We’re going to be there and I’ve also been invited to appear on KPOV which is one of the Drug Truth Network stations, while I’m up there. They’re big fans of the 420 Reports and they want to get a live interview with yours truly. I’m really looking forward to that.

We’re up to ninety-one stations that carry one or more of our programs. I’m hoping that you feel more educated, more emboldened, more ready to do your part to end the madness of this prohibition.

As always, I remind you, there’s no truth, justice, logic, scientific fact, no medical data and no reason for this Drug War to exist. We’ve been duped. It’s possible that the drug lords run both sides of this equation. 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 Pacifica Studios at KPFT, Houston.

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

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