02/08/15 Doug McVay

Doug McVay Reports: We hear acting drug czar Michael Botticelli and the State Department's William Brownfield discuss drug policy, plus we talk with Sanho Tree of the Institute for Policy Studies.

Century of Lies
Sunday, February 8, 2015
Doug McVay
Drug War Facts
Download: Audio icon COL020815.mp3



FEBRUARY 8, 2015


DEAN BECKER: The failure of drug war is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors, and millions more now calling for decriminalization. Legalization. Let us investigate the Century Of Lies.

DOUG MCVAY: Hello and welcome to Century of Lies. I'm your host, Doug McVay, editor of Drug War Facts dot org. Century of Lies is a production of the Drug Truth Network, which comes to you through the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network and is supported by the generosity of the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy and of listeners like you.

Now, on with the show.

This week, the Senate Judiciary Committee finally approved the nomination of Michael Botticelli to be the next drug czar. The committee held a voice vote, there was no opposition, and now it goes to the full Senate. Botticelli could be confirmed as early as next week. This should end the speculation about why the Judiciary Committee dragged its heels for so long. It should, but it's not. I'm still curious, and I wonder whether there will be any lingering effect on policy. The Judiciary Committee after all is led by Charles Grassley, Republican senator from Iowa and a a zealous drug warrior. I think that Grassley and his fellow drug war hawks were disappointed in Botticelli's soft approach to drug control and they wanted to send a signal.

That actually brings us to the next story. On Friday, the Center for Strategic and International Studies held an event on US Drug Control at Home and Abroad. The featured guests were Michael Botticelli and Ambassador William Brownfield. Brownfield is the head of the state department's international narcotics and law enforcement agency, an office known affectionately as Drugs and Thugs. It was an interesting discussion, and not necessarily all in a good way.

Botticelli did say one very positive thing: that as a resident of the District of Columbia he supports home rule for DC. I used to live in DC, and I still believe that they deserve full rights of citizenship including a full slate of voting members in Congress and control over their own budget. He made his remarks in the context of DC's marijuana legalization law, stating that even though he disagreed with the law, as a citizen of DC, as the people had approved it through a ballot initiative, then he thought the results should be respected and the law should be allowed to be enacted. Some have decided to take that as an endorsement of legalization, and you've no doubt by now read articles about it. Far be it from me to accuse any of my fellow journalists, or fellow reformers, of taking comments out of context and sensationalizing and arguably misleading the public.

Then again, it does seem that my role is to be the one who bursts the balloons and takes away the punch bowl when the party gets out of hand, and I'm okeh with that. A quick media hit is not the same as real, lasting, progressive change. But I digress.

This rant started by talking about an event at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Friday. Rather than have me tell you about it, let's listen to some of it. The following segment starts with J. Stephen Morrison, an executive vice president at CSIS, asking a question of Botticelli, after he replies we get a response from Brownfield, then the event opens up for questions from the audience.

J. STEPHEN MORRISON: What more do you need, do you believe, in terms of tools or capacities, to carry forward the mission of your office, which is, which is so expansive in a way, and it has very high ambitions attached to it, and you're in the process of multiple transitions in terms of outlook and paradigms and partnerships. I mean, it's striking reading through all the policy materials that you've generated, it's a very dynamic environment that you're trying to shape in multiple places around this country. So, where you sit, what more – if you were to wish for an additional set of capacities and tools, what would those be?

MICHAEL BOTTICELLI: I've been in government so long, no one's really kind of given me a blank check before and said, what would you do? You know, I think, a couple things, and one I'll start with, continuing to change public perception, I think is a really big area, that one of the areas that we know why people don't seek treatment is that it's still riddled with shame and stigma. So one is, you know if I had my magic wand, it would be really changing how people with addiction are viewed.

J. STEPHEN MORRISON: Being able to communicate and mobilize, public opinion?

MICHAEL BOTTICELLI: I would love to see a more vibrant politically active recovery movement, in the same way that we've had movements in other areas that have changed public policy. So, you know, we, you know, people, and, and I think that's changing, and I think people are beginning to come together and really having a vibrant political movement around this because I do think that that becomes uh, really, uh, helpful.

You know, the second piece, and I do believe this, you know, we, one of the things that we have here in the United States and, you know we've shared that resource across the country, you know, we lead the world in research as it relates to good evidence-based programming, and I think we need to continue to focus on good evidence-based programs, particularly as it relates to this criminal justice health care intervention. I think we have, you know, emerging models, I think we have a good few things out there, but we need a better armanentarium to –

J. STEPHEN MORRISON: To make the case.

MICHAEL BOTTICELLI: To make the case, and also I think to hand to our law enforcement folks, and say here are some good things. You know, we have a few of those out there, you know, drug courts are great, but you know we don't want people having criminal records with that, drug market interventions are promising, I think we have some other promising practices out there that are building, but we need a better armanentarium I think, of, of how can we have a different criminal justice response to this issue. So those I think would be two things.

You know, resources are always important, and the other piece that I'll say, having done this work for a long time, the vast majority of treatment quite honestly has come from the public dollar, and private insurance needs to step up dramatically in terms of how they provide a good benefit package for people with substance use disorders.

J. STEPHEN MORRISON: Thank you. Bill, what would make your job easier in terms of additional capacities?

WILLIAM BROWNFIELD: Huh. Tripling my budget for, uh, for operation programs and activities overseas, and having a single coherent and consensus position by the United States of America in terms of our drug policy. Since neither one of those is very likely in the course perhaps of my entire lifetime, I would say, at the end of the day, what is most, what would be most useful for me in this area, would be an approach where there is some degree of consensus within the United States of America, that so long as we stay within these basic parameters, uh, we will be allowed and permitted to reach understandings and agreements to cooperate and engage bilaterally, regionally, and universally in drug control issues around the world.

I'm not sure we're going to get that either, but that is what I'm trying to do when I testify before Congress and meet with individual members, is to, to try to clarify as much as possible the general direction in which we are trying to go, so that this issue does not get caught up in, in the sort of political dialogue that, that does make it very difficult, uh, for us to get things done internationally.

J. STEPHEN MORRISON: Thank you. Thank you. Let's open, open up for some comments and questions, and we'll bundle these together. There's two gentlemen right in the middle here, we'll do – I guarantee you we'll get to everyone, just be patient. Yes please.

DAN RIFFLE: Sure, question –

J. STEPHEN MORRISON: Please identify yourself and be very succinct.

DAN RIFFLE: Dan Riffle, Marijuana Policy Project. Question for Mr. Botticelli. First of all, congratulations again on your nomination, it's exciting to see someone from the treatment world heading that office instead of, you know, the military, the law enforcement world. You've talked a lot about –

WILLIAM BROWNFIELD: All he said was nomination, Michael. Nomination.

DAN RIFFLE: In advance, congratulations in advance. You've talked a lot about the administration's position on marijuana and its continued opposition to legalization. Nevertheless the president has also said that it's important that Washington and Colorado and other states that choose to regulate marijuana are allowed to implement their laws and move forward with their laws and in fact the Justice Department has issued guidance to those states, what the ambassador mentioned about operating within parameters, saying that as long as these 8 enforcement priorities aren't being implicated then the Department of Justice will not intervene, and to this point they have not been implicated, CDC data shows that teen use has gone down actually in Colorado.

So my question is do you agree with the administration's position there that states should be allowed to determine their own marijuana laws, or would you prefer to see the federal government sort of impose federal law on all states, you know, prohibition of marijuana, even in states that would prefer a new approach.

J. STEPHEN MORRISON: Hold on this for one moment, what I would like to do is just bundle together three or four interventions, if that's okeh. Yes.

DAVID BORDEN: David Borden with StopTheDrugWar.org and the Drug War Chronicle newsletter. There's an issue that lies at the intersection of our cooperation internationally with other countries in drug enforcement on the one hand and human rights and criminal justice on the other hand. Not every country shares our human rights standards in criminal justice. We for example do not have the death penalty for drug offenses that don't involve violence, some countries do. There are international tensions right now following the execution in Indonesia of six convicted drug traffickers, with dozens more such executions by Indonesia on the way.

A number of countries have recalled their ambassadors from there. The DEA opened a branch office in Jakarta in 2011, one of many such offices around the world. We cooperate with Indonesia, with China, with many countries that have the death penalty for drug offenses. So my question is, as we move forward on criminal justice reform in the US and seek to export that philosophy in our diplomatic relations, is reform also going to be operational in how we do enforcement and share intelligence, or is it only going be at the policy level, for example, are we asking countries that we work with in drug enforcement to give us assurances, what we contribute to them won't indirectly lead to executions for nonviolent offenses, and other such issues?

J. STEPHEN MORRISON: Thank you. Thank you. Are there other hands in the back here? Folks? Why don't we come up here and take these two gentlemen right here. Please.

HOWARD WOOLDRIDGE: Detective Howard Wooldridge, from LEAP, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. Mr. Botticelli. You said earlier in your remarks that law enforcement plays a key component. I started police work in 1974 and I've seen tsunamis of drugs come into this country, marijuana, LSD, then cocaine, then meth, ecstasy, and now heroin has doubled. And it is my experience as a police officer that we have been the mosquito in the butt of an elephant.

As you know, drugs today are cheaper, they're stronger, and quoting the DEA, drugs are readily available to America's youth. So my question is, why do you continue to have faith that my profession can have any impact on the drug trade, either nationally or internationally? These DTOs, the drug trafficking organizations, are the Al Capones of the 21st century, and I know the only way we took down Al Capone and the rest is obviously to end prohibition.

J. STEPHEN MORRISON: Thank you. This hand over here, and then we'll hear from you then we'll come back to our speakers.

ANDRE SEBUJO: Yes sir, my name is Andre Sebujo [sp?], and my, the company I work for is not involved in this, thing, but I'm also a partner of President Obama's Presidential Partners and a member of the, partner of the Human Rights Campaign. Now, my question is this: Domestic. In getting the cooperation of the US Congress to do the things that, to move toward that sweet spot you described, or what would make his life easier, leaving aside the probability of getting 67 votes, is this an issue in which the cooperation could be relatively bipartisan rather than split along party lines? An example is the Trans-Pacific Partnership where the president wil certainly need Republican cooperation.

J. STEPHEN MORRISON: Your question is?

ANDRE SEBUJO: Is, what is the probability, is this an issue, not probability, is this an issue that lends itself to Republican-Democratic –

J. STEPHEN MORRISON: Which issue are you talking about?

ANDRE SEBUJO: The issue of getting a consensus on US drug policy, to facilitate an effective approach to the international community through the United Nations.

J. STEPHEN MORRISON: Okeh. Michael, you want to start with some of the domestic oriented questions, then we'll come to Bill?

MICHAEL BOTTICELLI: Sure. So I think to your question in terms of, you know, what's our response here as kind of other states think about doing this, I would say two things. I would agree I think that many states are, uh, are very very interested in terms of what's happening in Colorado and Washington as they think about how they're going to move forward with this.

You know, I think you know, that, you know the Department of Justice as it relates to what they've issued with Colorado and Washington has, have, uh, have the same approach with Oregon and Alaska around this, and again I think our response with this is to continue to monitor what happens in Colorado and Washington, and in subsequent states, to see, one, kind of, is, if there needs to be a different response from the Department of Justice and from this administration, or to see if there are, and what that might be, does it need tighter regulations, or what are the possible options the Department of Justice can take if it looks as if that those criteria are not being met.

So, you know, I think that it's important to do that. You know, the president as it related to the Department, as it relates to the District I think was very clear, that the District should, uh, stick to its home rule. As a resident of the District, I might not agree about legalization, but I do agree with our own ability to spend our own money the way that we want to do that. So, you know I think it's going to be continually important as we go forward to watch what happens as, as this rolls out.

You know, I think to your question, you know it's been very interesting for me, to, you know, I come from the public health side and the demand reduction world, and quite honestly was not coming at this work from a kind of law-centric, uh, but you know one of the things that I've come to appreciate, and particularly is it relates to the heroin issue here, that there is a direct correlation between supply and demand that we can't ignore. Right? And the heroin situation here we have is a good example. Part of the reason that we're in this situation, not only do we have untreated addiction that we have to do a better job with, we need to do a better job at, you know, intervention, but because we have such a plentiful supply. And so we do have to focus on strategies that focus on getting the supply out of the communities.

You know, if I think about effective public health strategies, for a long time, if you think about tobacco, unfortunately I'm still a smoker, but it's harder and harder to find a place to buy a pack of cigarettes these days, and it makes one think about using those drugs, so you know, getting bad stuff out of the community has been an effective public health strategy for a long long time so I do think that law enforcement has a key role to play, not only in getting bad stuff out of our communities and working with the criminal organizations, you know, I think it, it will have, it does have a synergistic effect as it relates to demand reduction.

You know, the other piece, and I think you know this is, you know, we do want to give law enforcement a different set of skills and practices, to be able to not rely solely on arrest and incarceration as they approach people with addictive disorders. So I think it's really important for us to continue to focus on those kinds of interventions.

J. STEPHEN MORRISON: Bill, can you talk about the issue that David raised, with respect to death penalty and also the –

WILLIAM BROWNFIELD: The human rights intersection with counter-narcotics, yeah. I mean, here is the way would, I suppose I would frame the issue. International relations, foreign relations, foreign policy, are the intersection of lots of different issues: human rights and democracy issues, law enforcement or counter-narcotics issues, trade and commercial issues, economic issues, security issues, terrorism issues. At the end of the day, our relations with any individual country are a combination of all of those and we, from our perspective as a government, as a nation, and as a people, try to develop some sort of balance in each individual case as to what is most important and what is not.

And obviously, if all nations of the world were to determine not to have relations with any country that maintains a death penalty – well actually my job would become much easier, due to the fact that we would have no relations with no other country in the world. At the end of the day our job again is to, is to figure, what are the priorities among those? Is it right for us to have a liaison, law enforcement relationship with a nation that in fact applies the death penalty in matters such as drug trafficking, where we would not apply that penalty?

From my perspective, I would address that question by saying, why do we want the liaison relationship? What do we get out of it, in terms of, are we protecting the American people, is it accomplishing something, is it getting a larger, or feeding a larger objective, for example, having a relationship with the largest, most populous Muslim country in the world which does not have a significant extremist issue? How do we balance that against legitimate, proper and correct human rights concerns and considerations and come up with a conclusion?

And, as is practically always the case in the hard issues, the conclusion will not be accepted or agreed to by everyone. It will at the end of the day be one that has perhaps the largest non-majority accepting or agreeing with it. And may I wrap up on the bipartisan issue? Brother, I would love to think that we could find something, uh, in this matter that in fact does generate a bipartisan support. My only comment, and I've been in this government business now for 36 years, this is a policy that is now under some degree of change and adjustment, and my own experience of the past 36 years is, that is a time when it's rather difficult to find bipartisan agreement because things are changing, and that is the most difficult time from my experience to get everyone to come together and agree. I hope I'm wrong, we'll find out.


DOUG MCVAY: That was from a discussion at the Center for Strategic and International Studies featuring Obama administration officials Michael Botticelli of the Office of National Drug Control Policy and William Brownfield of the State Department. The segment included Botticelli's comments on marijuana legalization in the District. If you only read about those comments online you may not have recognized them.

Now we only have a few minutes left, so in the remaining time, let's hear from a good friend of the program, and a very good friend of mine, one of the brightest people in drug policy reform, Sanho Tree of the Institute for Policy Studies. Sanho and I spoke immediately after that event at CSIS, I wanted to get his thoughts about it among other things. We talked for about an hour, it was a really good, wide-ranging discussion and we will hear more of it next week. Meanwhile however, here's this:

I thought it was interesting. I thought, I, I saw a lot of people getting frustrated with Brownfield as he avoided, uh, saying anything other than Change is too hard, so let's just keep from rocking the boat. Uh, what did you think, what did you think of this thing?

SANHO TREE: Well, nothing terribly new under the sun, but it was good to see him, or hear him, uh, you know, just put a little more meat on the bones, on the skeleton of what he's said thus far. And, you know on the one hand he's incredibly frustrating, and annoying to listen to. I was in a group of, I was at a colleague's office and we were all watching it online, because we'd just finished a meeting, and a number of people commented, I get a headache listening to this guy talk. Everyone just busted out laughing, because it's true, he, uh – anyway.

He's a cross between Mr. Rogers, he's got that condescending, you know, he talks down to you like Mr. Rogers, but he's got the personality of Major Frank Burns from MASH, and resembles him a lot, too. Sot that's the guy that's representing the United States of America in these international bodies, when it comes to drug policy. So, people can hear him, and that's a bit embarrassing as a US citizen. But he did talk about some of the realpolitik of what he's up against, not that he, I think, not that he really wants to change a lot of this very much.

But even if he did want to change it, there are things in place that have to be changed. Lining up, you know, two-thirds of the Senate, basically, or sixty votes, 61 votes. It's not going to be easy in the Senate. And then to get two-thirds of the other countries in the world to agree to some of these wording changes would also be, you know, a challenge. But other countries can, you know, can withdraw from the treaties and re-accede with provisions, but to change the international drug control regime – I mean, drug warriors are good at putting in backstops to make sure nothing gets undone behind them, right? They've had many decades to make sure that their careers and budgets are defended.

Even Botticelli, by law, the drug czar, you know, cannot endorse legalization, as Congress put into the Authorization back in 1998. I think that's still in effect. But, you know, talk about the First Amendment, Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, and yet there it is. But he is, you know, in some ways he's like the left shark of US foreign policy, he's just out of synch with the American people, with the rest of the world.

And he does complain about, you know, he answers to Congress, that's who he's got to testify in front of to get his budget. But Congress isn't the American people, with regard to drug policy, right? For Congress, they have other considerations: they care about getting re-elected, they care about avoiding controversy, they care about avoiding third-rail political issues. That has nothing to do with the will of the people, that's just the way Congress is. So, you know, he makes a mistake when he tries to conflate the American people with the will of Congress.

Similarly, when he talks about the United Nations conventions and all these different signatories around the world, most countries of the world, just about all countries, but the UN doesn't represent the people of the world, it represents the governments of the world, it represents regimes, and that is different from the people, so we need to acknowledge that from the start. And that makes it challenging to change things because politicians care about their own set of interests rather than the direct will of the people.

I think that the Prime Minister of Luxembourg, Jean-Claude Junker, put it very well, he was talking about a different controversial issue at home, but he said look, we all know what needs to be done, we just don't know how to get re-elected after we've done it. But that's their problem, right? That's not saying that's the will of the people, that's just the nature of politicians, and governments.

DOUG MCVAY: Well and it's – and yes, and it's bureaucrats too. Mr. Rogers plus Frank Burns, and for the anglophiles like myself, he's, you throw in with Brownfield a touch of Sir Humphrey. Because he's the, uh their – they had a stereotype of the civil service bureaucrat that abhorred change, that opposed change wherever possible because change meant danger, and uh, unless change somehow meant increasing power, which is okeh. But the whole – you know, I mean, I kept thinking back to the series Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister, because the uh, the way he sort of seemed to be offended by the idea that he had to be there defending what he was currently doing, and then, the defense was basically well, that's how it is and change is really hard. Ah, ridiculous.

SANHO TREE: Sir Humphrey I think is the perfect analogy. I mean that's a, that's a great series, everyone should go and rent it and watch it online. It's probably one of the best comedies about politics ever written, the writing is so beautiful on that show.

DOUG MCVAY: And it was very true to life, the co-creators basically took a number of civil servants and MPs and some other politicians out for very long liquid lunches and after a few bottles of wine, people were really forthcoming with how things really operate. And, uh –

SANHO TREE: Well, it's kind of like that old Upton Sinclair quote, you know, the great muck-raking journalist from the last century. He said it's difficult to get a man to understand the nature of a problem when his salary depends on him not understanding it. And so, drug warriors are really good at not understanding things deliberately, whether they actually believe that or not, they have their script down pretty well.

DOUG MCVAY: That was a very short portion of a much longer conversation that I had with Sanho Tree, a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC, and director of their drug policy program. We should have more from that interview in the next week or two. For now, however, we are out of time. You have been listening to Century of Lies, I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of Drug War Facts. Thank you for joining us.

Recordings of this show and past shows can be found at the website drug truth dot net. While you're there check out our other programs and subscribe to our podcasts. Follow me on Twitter, where I'm @DrugPolicyFacts and @DougMcVay. The Drug Truth Network is on Facebook, be sure to give its page a Like. Drug War Facts on facebook too, give it a like and share it with friends.

We'll be back next week with more news and commentary on the drug war and this Century Of Lies. For now, for the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay saying so long. So long!

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