02/27/01 Charles McClelland

Cultural Baggage Radio Show


Audio file




FEBRUARY 27, 2015

DEAN BECKER: This is Cultural Baggage on the Drug Truth Network. I'm Dean Becker. I'm at the Houston Police Department headquarters with Charles A. McClelland, Jr., the police chief of Houston, Texas. How are you doing?

CHARLES A. MCCLELLAND, JR.: Doing great, Mr. Becker, how about yourself?

DEAN BECKER: Well chief, when last we talked, this show, Cultural Baggage, inspired a lot of media that quoted you in regards to racial disparity in the drug war, the futility of so many arrests for such little amounts of drugs, and especially your statement that the drug war's a miserable failure. That night, NBC agreed with your thoughts. Two days later Fox had a panel where all the participants agreed with you, and then the Houston Chronicle had two stories and a massive editorial all in alignment with your position: Wise Counsel, Congress should listen to what Police Chief Charles McLelland has to say.

Chief, have you had any additional questions in this regard from other media since our last interview, or, feedback within HPD or even from the District Attorney?

CHARLES A. MCCLELLAND, JR.: No. You know, certainly the District Attorney and I speak quite frequently on, you know, how we can do better and use our resources more wisely. Anecdotally, most police officers, you know, understand that we have precious resources and we need to use them wisely, and, but I haven't had a whole lot of feedback. There's been a few questions from other media, you know, wondering, uh, other police chiefs feel the same way, major city chiefs across the United Statse, what's their position on, you know, the drug war and small amounts of marijuana.

DEAN BECKER: And in that same regard, you recently this year attended a major conference with America's chiefs of police. Tell us some of the topics of discussion, how that went.

CHARLES A. MCCLELLAND, JR.: Well, it went well. You know, we deal – all of us who are chiefs of police in major metropolitan areas like Houston, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, we deal with the same major issues, obviously, when it comes to crime and, you know, the resources that we have to combat that and keep our cities safe. We all recognize that we do have to have some type of reform when it comes to certain types of crimes and small amounts of drugs such as marijuana.

That's why I personally support what the District Attorney is doing in regards to her pilot program and giving people a second chance. Also, there are bills pending in the state legislature to certainly make low levels of marijuana in a less penalty group than they are currently now.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. And that's right, sir, as I understand, it there are three bills in various states of progress. The decrim bill, which would lower, would levy a fine without need for incarceration, I think. A medical bill would allow sick folks, and a legalization outright which, you know, it was probably in the distant horizon for Texas to outright legalize but maybe not that long. Which of these options do you think would benefit the police department the best?

CHARLES A. MCCLELLAND, JR.: Well, I certainly support decriminalization and lowering of fines and penalties, no doubt about it, because there are many times that the arrest will take my officers longer and take them off the streets much longer than it will to process the paperwork and the person is usually back out on the street anyway before my officers finish.

Now, when it comes to legalization and medicinal purposes, that's just something that I know that won't be decided by law enforcement. That's got to be decided by the federal government and the medical community. And in my opinion, it's not going to get resolved before the federal government takes a firm position on whether marijuana is going to be legal, or if it continues to be illegal, what do you want law enforcement to do. You know? Otherwise, you're going to have a continuation of states trying to come up with their own resolution to the issue and have this big gray area when it comes to marijuana sales, manufacture, distribution, black market, all of this.

So, I was listening to an attorney the other day who has, you know, clients in Colorado and Washington state, and he came up with an interesting thought, and he said he has to advise his clients that if you get into the marijuana business in Colorado or Washington state, you have just self-incriminated yourself because if you get a permit to sell it, you're paying taxes, you're admitting that you're violating federal law and the federal government could come back and prosecute you at any time.

DEAN BECKER: Right. A new administration could kind of undo what Obama has done.


DEAN BECKER: Yes. That's scary. Chief, when last we met I gave you a copy of my book, To End The War On Drugs. I know you're a busy fellow but I hope you've had a chance to at least skim through it. Any stories that caught your attention?

CHARLES A. MCCLELLAND, JR.: Well, I skimmed through a few pages of it, and, you know, I certainly, you know, it was interesting where you said that many folks in law enforcement, especially at different levels of government, refuse to speak to you about the issue.


CHARLES A. MCCLELLAND, JR.: I thought that was interesting, especially when in the state of Texas, and I can only speak from my position, but, we've got to address this some kind of way. And I'm certainly glad that in Texas, you know, you have someone at the county level, the district attorney is looking at disparate, you know, impact on young men of color when it comes to small amounts of marijuana, or either young people in general when it comes to small amounts of marijuana.

And also at the sate level, when our state legislature, as, you know, conservative as this state is, that they see that many folks who certainly would be better served with some type of drug treatment, and diverting those resources from jails and prisons and bed space to the areas of rehabilitation if that's what folks want, may be better served. Just that discussion tells me that we've moved a little bit.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. I think there is this sense that movement is necessary, I think at all levels, how to get there maybe is the question. Chief, yesterday it became legal to possess small amounts of cannabis in Alaska. As of today, they decrimmed marijuna in Jamaica. And as of tomorrow it will become legal to have up to an ounce of marijuana in Washington, DC. This kind of speaks to what we're talking about, that, that progress is moving around the country. My question, my thought here was, any idea on when you think it might be legal in Texas?

CHARLES A. MCCLELLAND, JR.: I don't think it's going to be legal any time soon in Texas. I think that the penalties will be lowered, and it will be decriminalized to some extent, but I don't see it being legal in this legislative session, I don't. I certainly don't have a crystal ball to predict that. Because states are still struggling, the federal government has to take the lead, and many states just don't want to go down that road, and if the experiment doesn't work out, try to reverse it.

Now, I guess, you know, fortunately or unfortunately, being in law enforcement, I'm part of the executive branch of government. They don't let me to decide, you know, sometimes they don't ask my opinion, sometimes they really don't care what I think. But, I'm certainly here to enforce the law, and I expect every other police officer in the Houston Police Department to do the same. And, it's no different from the complex issue of immigration. If the federal government wants local law enforcement to enforce the law, then they've got to bring clarity to the issue. You know? They've got to decide one way or the other, you can't have it both ways.

DEAN BECKER: Chief, I just returned from an International Cannabis Business Conference out in San Francisco. And of course out there, lots of people making lots of money growing, curing, making cookies, other edibles, doing all kinds of stuff that, they've now seen that the black market share out there continues to shrink as the prices continue to drop because it's driving, you know, more out of the market. Now, San Francisco and Oakland kind of started all this a few decades ago when they made marijuana arrests the lowest law enforcement priority. Is there any chance we could do something like that here?

CHARLES A. MCCLELLAND, JR.: Well, you know, I have to follow whatever law is on the books in Texas, and, you know, when it comes to federal law, and certainly – Harris County is one of the few counties in the United States to where, my officers can't decide, you know, what charges when it comes to a county charge for possession of marijuana, you know, that they file. Every charge that we bring forth must be screened by an assistant district attorney.

So a police officer on his or her own just can't just go file charges on someone. They've got to present their probable cause or whatever evidence that they have to a screening district attorney and then it's decided. Many many times, charges are rejected, and, you know, we release people. Other times they accept the case. So, we have a good system that is not left up to the officer on the street that's making the arrest, you know, what charges ultimately will be accepted.

DEAN BECKER: All right. Well, chief, I think that at the intersection between police and the people there exists a distrust that has come to life and continues to grow because of our nation's policy of drug prohibition. Let me explain. Through the use of snitches, and wiretaps, no-knock warrants, SWAT-style tactics over small amounts of drugs, I think that people are many times justified in no longer trusting the cop on the corner to protect them and their children. We need to reverse that position, that adversarial stance, kind of return to the days when the cop on the corner was to be trusted. Your thoughts about that distrust that the drug war has presented us.

CHARLES A. MCCLELLAND, JR.: Well, you know, I don't, I can only speak here locally in Houston and the community feedback that I get and my interaction with the community. You know, I do think that those who believe that, you know, relationships have been damaged by the war on drugs are certainly in the minority. Most folks in the community here trust, respect, and support the Houston Police Department. They do. Otherwise we couldn't do our job.

Now, there are many folks that have seen that, you know, the lives of the children, grandchildren, have certainly been altered by low-level drug arrests, low-level drug incarcerations, and because of those poor decisions and our current laws, there's folks that now are in such a state of flux that they can't find employment, you know, those things, and, you know, it's continuing to have negative effects on their lives, no doubt about that.

But, when it comes to spying, you know, no-knock, all of these other tactics that have been used by law enforcement agencies across the country, I will say this, that all of our operations and, you know, investigative techniques and tools, we make sure that they are certainly consistent with the Fourth Amendment, that we don't violate anyone's constitutional rights, and in those cases where it's necessary, or required, and even some cases when it's not required, we seek some type of judicial review or a warrant.

DEAN BECKER: Well, and chief, I don't think I was specifically pointing at HPD so much as there are stories breaking around the country of cops throwing, you know, flash-bang grenades in baby's cribs, and this kind of stuff, that, turns off a lot of people.


DEAN BECKER: Chief, you and District Attorney Anderson, Sheriff Garcia, and I guess the constables have tried out a new plan to write a ticket for cannabis possession, for, as best as I can determine, about one out of every five pot busts. Has this helped with jail overcrowding?

CHARLES A. MCCLELLAND, JR.: Well, we're not issuing citations as of yet. But what we're doing is, folks that have two ounces or less, or, they don't have to be incarcerated. You know, they have to agree to community service and submit to a plan, watch a video on drug rehabilitation. And, if they agree to that, then their arrest is expunged, they have no criminal record. But we don't actually issue a citation at this point. Now, some of the bills in Texas that are pending will allow us to do so. You know?

DEAN BECKER: Well, and there has been that one on the books, it was House Bill 2391, it was for under four ounces if I recall, which allowed for just the writing of a ticket. Why has that not been embraced?

CHARLES A. MCCLELLAND, JR.: Because it's up to the county district attorney to actually institute that policy. Even though the state law will allow it, but it still has a proviso in the law that it requires approval of the local district attorney. So, that's what prevents, you know, us from doing it at this particular time.

DEAN BECKER: Chief, last month I called the Washington, DC, schedulers if you will, for the administrators of the Drug Enforcement Administration, that was Michele Leonhart, and then Michael Botticelli at the Office of National Drug Control Policy. You touched on this a while ago. I've been calling these offices, of the ONDCP and the DEA, several tiems a year for well over ten years now, and this go around ONDCP called back later to tell me that, well for the umpteenth time, they can't carve out 15 minutes this year to do an interview with me, and the DEA, well they haven't called back. You touched on it, but, their lack of transparency, their unwillingness to talk to a member of the press, that almost seems unconstitutional, illegal, just plain wrong to me. Your thoughts, sir.

CHARLES A. MCCLELLAND, JR.: Well, it's not illegal or unconstitutional. Well, you know, I don't want to criticize or comment on any other agencies' position or their policies, I don't know what type of restrictions that, you know, they're operating under, or what type of edict that they may have from, you know, folks at the highest level of federal government.

But I do know that I have a responsibility as a representative of the Houston Police Department, and, you know, listening to the community and how it affects us here locally. What can we do better to make sure that we're using our resources wisely, making sure that we're trying to keep our community safe at the same time, and also give folks a second chance. You know, that's my position.

Because there are folks in the community, too, that feel that we're not strict enough on any type of drug possession, because there's some people that tell me that folks who possess small or low level amounts of marijuana are the ones that break into their homes and cars, and stand on the street corners, that presents a crime and disorder problem in their neighborhood. So there are certainly people out there in our community that want me to just drive through and swoop those folks up and just bring them on down here to police headquarters with me.

DEAN BECKER: Once again you're listening to Cultural Baggage on the Drug Truth Network. We're speaking to Charles A. McClelland, Jr., the police chief of Houston, Texas. Uh, Chief, I know that we're going to have to wrap up here soon, but earlier this month I saw on CBS This Morning the new US Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, said, quote, we have some preliminary data showing that for certain medical conditions and symptoms, that marijuana can be helpful, and I think that we should have to use that data to drive policy making, end quote. Now chief, there's a chorus of voices that's growing louder every day, and the caliber of those officials joining in is getting pretty hard to ignore, isn't it?

CHARLES A. MCCLELLAND, JR.: Well, I think it goes back to the point that I made earlier. As a representative and a member of law enforcement, ultimately, this decision on marijuana, whether it has any medicinal purposes, is going to be decided by the medical community and the federal government. I don't think law enforcement is going to have a voice in it, when it comes to the medical issue. Obviously we have no expertise in this, it's not our area of specificity. So, I don't think that, no one in the debate is going to come to law enforcement and ask us what we believe and what we think when it comes to medicinal marijuana. They just don't.

DEAN BECKER: But, there are those who present their side around the country, trying to bluster and maintain this. Not you, but there are other law enforcement that do. Uh, I was going to bring this up. Back in 1993, Bill Clinton's surgeon general, Joycelyn Elders, spoke about the potential benefits of drug legalization when she said, quote, I do feel we'd markedly reduce our crime rate if drugs were legalized, end quote. Your response, chief, will legalization help eliminate gang and cartel violence along with diminished break-ins by those stealing to afford a black market habit?

CHARLES A. MCCLELLAND, JR.: Well, I'm not sure about that. I just don't think that when it comes to crime and reduction of crime, that any one variable is that simplistic that it will allow something, it will make other things go away and solve all our problems. I just don't know, and I think that, you know, in some of those states that have decided to allow marijuana legalization for possession, sales, distribution, only time will tell, so, history is going to be, you know, the best judgment obtained for that question.

DEAN BECKER: Fair enough. All right, Chief, I've got two more questions. Even as we speak, over at M.D. Anderson Medical Center, right next to Rice University, doctors and scientists are testing cannabis drugs on children with epilepsy and cancer. And that just kind of shows it's time for, well, people at every level to rethink our marijuana laws, don't you think?

CHARLES A. MCCLELLAND, JR.: Well, I certainly don't know what M.D. Anderson is doing over there when it comes to treatment of cancer and epilepsy. I do know that M.D. Anderson is certainly a great medical institution in this city and in this country. You know, again, when it comes to the medical arena, I just don't think that that is law enforcement's purview, and you've got to leave that question to the experts. I wouldn't expect anyone, any doctor over at M.D. Anderson to talk about crime and marijuana, because it's not their area of specificity.

DEAN BECKER: Well, true, good point. All right, chief, last question, as we wrap up, and I'm hoping to do this again in May, I want to share a quote. Quote, if a law is unjust, a man is not only right to disobey it, he is obligated to do so, end quote. Now that's from Thomas Jefferson. Now, chief, I have, I think it's a soul-deep understanding of the failure of these drug laws derived from tens of thousands of hours of work with the Drug Truth Network, the James A. Baker III Institute, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, and with the publishing of my book, To End The War On Drugs. Sir, I feel a deep obligation to my fellow man to publicly challenge these laws in the very near future, and perhaps others will join me. Your response to that thought, and any closing thoughts, Chief McClelland.

CHARLES A. MCCLELLAND, JR.: Well, you know, I guess, the only closing thoughts that I have, when it comes to, you know, laws that are unjust or where the people feel that they're unjust, they need to work hard to get them changed, because again, the executive branch of government, we're not allowed to make any laws, we're not allowed to determine people's punishment, determine people's guilt or innocence, we're not allowed to judge.

Certainly, and I understand and know the quote about Thomas Jefferson, and certainly, if something is unconstitutional, and I think that's what Mr. Jefferson was referring to in that vein, and it was the same philosophy that folks in the civil rights era was, there was certain laws that were unconstitutional, but, and they participated in civil disobedience, trying to get those laws changed. That's what we have to do as a country, as a community, that any time people that feel like the law is unjust, then you must rise up, in our democracy and go through that process, but law enforcement can't do it for you. We're not in that position.

DEAN BECKER: Okeh. All right, chief, once again we've been speaking with the police chief of Houston, Texas, Charles A. McClelland, Jr. Chief, my hat is off to you, sir, I respect the work you're doing and the truth you're bringing forward, and I'm sure the whole community thanks you.

CHARLES A. MCCLELLAND, JR.: All right, well thank you very much, Mr. Becker, I really appreciate it.