05/15/15 Bill Piper

Cultural Baggage Radio Show

Bill Piper of DPA re DEA Admin, Hannah Hetzer of DPA re Plan Colombia, Don E. Wirtshafter re synthetic drugs, DTN host on madness of drug war

Audio file


MAY 15, 2015


DEAN BECKER: The thrill is gone. B.B. King is dead at age 89. This is Dean Becker, this is the Cultural Baggage show. We'll feature an interview with Bill Piper of the Drug Policy Alliance, Don Wirtshafter, and Hannah Hetzer. First up, more music from the master of the blues.

B.B. KING [MUSIC]: Thrill is gone, thrill is gone away,
Thrill is gone, baby, thrill is gone away,
You done me wrong, baby,
Gonna be sorry someday.

Thrill is gone, thrill is gone away from me,
Thrill is gone, baby, thrill is gone away from me,
Although, I'll still live on
But so lonely I'll be ...

DON E. WIRTSHAFTER: Hi. I'm Don Wirtshafter, I'm a recovering attorney in Athens, Ohio.

DEAN BECKER: Donnie, the situation regarding these synthetic drugs is just getting worse, is it not?

DON WIRTSHAFTER: Well, I'm not sure if it's getting worse, or the publicity around it is getting worse. I see most of this as a purposeful effort by the Drug Enforcement Administration to create a new bogeyman to chase. They've worn out their old bogeyman and so they've latched onto synthetic drugs as being the salvation for their over-extended budgets.

DEAN BECKER: I concur with you, Donnie, I see it as just another reefer madness, another means to frighten people into believing the drug war to be necessary.

DON WIRTSHAFTER: That's correct. You know, several years ago they passed the analogue act, and then courts began to find it unconstitutional. We used to have a schedule of controlled substances that defined very closely what drug manufacturers could produce and what they couldn't produce. And things were either on the schedule or not. The DEA, with the analogue act, that was I think in 1984, appropriately, created fuzziness in the schedule. Not only are substances on the schedule but anything that looks like the substance could be on the schedule.

And, the DEA in recent years is using the synthetic drug scare to shock Congress and pressure Congress into giving them unlimited powers to declare things that nobody's really ever heard of scheduled, controlled substances. And this has put a crimp on legitimate manufacturers of drugs, but the real problem is, the crimp it puts on researchers. Well, these synthetic cannabinoids were made via researchers in the normal course of their studies, where they study the structural relationship between the things that effect our neurons in our brain. So they come up with things that look like cannabinoids, you know, the natural cannabinoids, and see how they work, how tightly they bind, and from this they can begin to draw what these receptors look like and how they operate.

And, so they, and this also more important here, all these scientists could not get the real cannabinoids to work with, so they had to create synthetic cannabinoids just to do lab studies on how the cannabinoid system works. And, so, these things were a matter of science, and then underground chemists began to read the research articles, and then these underground laboratories are producing them on the streets, and one thing about it is at the beginning, these drugs were pretty safe. They really did, they had a strong effect and there were problems with mixing things, some doses were way too strong and others weren't, and on and on, but generally they were fairly safe.

But by then those, it created a situation where there was a whole new series of drugs produced, and then those got banned and there's a whole new series of drugs produced and it's a cat-and-mouse game, that's only making the drugs more unsafe, and less tested, and it's -- I mean, there's a wealth of chemistry and chemists and information on the internet out there, and companies in China and all this, you know, trying to come up with something new, and it's always going to happen, it's always been there. But, I'm convinced that these laws are being put in place particularly right now just to increase the jurisdiction of the DEA to make anything a drug that they say is a drug. Oh this looks like that, it's a drug.

And, we're all in trouble, it's really going to shut down research. These tools that the researchers had to test these neurons and do all this work, now they can't even get the chemicals because they've all been declared scheduled controlled substances, and very few university laboratories are licensed to work with scheduled substances.

DEAN BECKER: And I would say this too, Don, that through this increased pressure from the DEA, they force people in the underground market to go to more dangerous, more unknown chemicals, and then sell those to the kids at the 7-11, right?

DON WIRTSHAFTER: Right. And yet, looking at it from the perspective of the corner store owner, too, a whole lot of them have gotten in trouble over the last few years, most of them, oh, middle-eastern-sounding names and origins, or Indian or Pakistani, it's really a lot of foreign store owners who are getting in trouble for having these substances in the store. The problem is, that these are coming into the store through legitimate distributors, they're paying for in the normal course of their business, getting receipts and all that stuff, and they don't know what's in these products, they don't know what's in the 5-hour energy drink they have next to the cash register, they don't know, they can't tell.

The fact is, there was a period of time where we were encouraging store owners to have products tested, and there was a lab in North Carolina that was doing this testing, then the DEA came in and raided that lab, got the names of all the store owners, and the DEA came in and raided the lab saying that since it's a schedule one lab, it cannot take in samples from them because they're not schedule one and therefore there's no way the stores can even tell what's in the products that they buy, but some of these store owners are losing their stores, they're losing everything they have, because some small-town prosecutor decides he wants to get in on this publicity bonanza that the DEA has created around these synthetic chemicals.

Very little actual information on this, there's no real research on how these things effect humans. I've never tried it, but I study it a lot, I find the whole thing fascinating, but from the beginning I was convinced the whole issue was generated on purpose to increase the DEA's jurisdiction. And that's pretty much it.

DEAN BECKER [MUSIC]: The DEA's the joker, the FDA's the joke,
The joke is on the USA so why not take a toke.

The following ad appeared this week in the Washington, DC newspaper The Hill: Help wanted: DEA seeks new leader. The Drug Enforcement Administration is seeking a new chief to prolong the failed war on drugs. The ideal candidate should have at least 10 years' experience turning a blind eye to scandal and corruption, be adept at undermining the bill of rights, and have a firm and unwavering commitment to the status quo. You must also be a self-starter, as this position comes with little Congressional oversight. We are a proud organization with a great company culture and a competitive benefits package. Perks include wasting billions of taxpayer dollars at your discretion, and great vacation opportunities.

Primary areas of responsibility: mass incarceration, you will fill US prisons with people for nonviolent drug offenses, disproportionately people of color. You will ensure that as many people as possible receive felony convictions so they can be discriminated against in employment, housing, public benefits, and denied the right to vote. Police state tactics: You will spy on virtually all Americans without a warrant, systematically fabricate investigations to rob defendants of their right to a fair trial, seize people's property even if they're never charged or convicted of any crime, and violently burst into thousands of homes in paramilitary no-knock raids. A lack of respect for the Fourth Amendment is crucial to this position. Obstruction of science: you will block marijuana research at every turn, and ignore established science. We prefer applicants without a scientific background. Subverting democracy: you will trample on states' rights, undermine the sovereignty of other nations, and increase prohibition-related violence. Undermining human rights: you will work closely with foreign police agencies that torture and kill suspects, and provide assistance to foreign governments that execute nonviolent drug offenders. Only qualified applicants need apply.

Now, the DEA is seeking a new leader, in fact one may have already been found, I think, and here to tell us more about it, from the Drug Policy Alliance, is their Director of National Affairs, Mr. Bill Piper. Bill, the fact is, apparently they have a new leader selected to head up the DEA. They have a new drug czar in the works if you will, a Mr. Chuck Rosenberg, former FBI agent. What's your thoughts on him, sir?

BILL PIPER: Well, we don't know much about him at the moment. He comes from the FBI, and before that he was a US Attorney, so we don't have high hopes that he's going to be a reformer. There's been a little news on how he has a long history of prosecuting people harshly for crack cocaine offenses, you know, even though there, you know, has been a very big disparity for so long. You know, we're not overly optimistic. On the other hand, you know, the FBI is an agency that has its things together a little bit better than the DEA, they're much more in tune with what the Obama administration is doing, probably more likely to take orders. One of the biggest problems that we had with the former director, Michele Leonhart, is that she just basically ran a rogue agency, they kind of defied the Obama administration at every step, so we're hopeful that this replacement, which at the moment is just a, you know, a temporary replacement until they find someone more permanent, so you know, we're cautiously optimistic that he'll be better than Michele Leonhart, but that's a pretty low bar.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. Yeah, she was a very, extremely low bar to replace. But the fact of the matter is one would hope that given the circumstance, the situation she created, and the fact that drug reform has actually brought forward a lot of great truths that are being recognized, not universally but more widely, there's hope there, right?

BILL PIPER: Yeah, there is hope, and you know it's important I think to keep in mind that, that, you know, one of the most important things to remember is that, you know, we really just need the DEA to get out of the way, and to do nothing, you know, to stop blocking research and to stop badmouthing the administration on marijuana, sentencing reform, and other things, so even if this new DEA head, you know, isn't a reformer, as long as he's not standing in the way, that's a benefit.

DEAN BECKER: We see indications, even in Texas, by gosh, they had 11 bills dealing with marijuana and hemp, and none of them got anywhere, but it's a sign that the discussion is being open more broadly, right?

BILL PIPER: Yeah. I mean, you have marijuana legalization and medical marijuana moving forward in Texas and other states, you have syringe exchange, making sterile needles available to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS, it's now legal in Indiana and Kentucky and it's passed the House in Texas, so we see a lot of conservative states beginning to look at drug policy reform and, you know, you have talked about in your show and written about, you know, in your book, that drug policy reform is a bipartisan issue, and one of the most important things I think President Obama has done is basically nothing. You know, the states are moving forward with legalization and he hasn't stopped them, and that's really all we're looking for the DEA to do, is just to let, you know, give the states some breathing room, and say, doing nothing else but that, you know, drug policy reform will move forward on its on.

DEAN BECKER: And I look at it this way, that there are fewer and fewer naysayers, less politicians, less cops, though we did have the sheriffs' association in Texas said it was 100 percent against any change to our laws. I think often that's, you know, a blanket statement without really taking a poll of every member. It's just a belief system, that just needs to be destroyed, isn't it?

BILL PIPER: Yeah. I mean, I think that as more and more people come out for ending marijuana prohibition and ending drug prohibition more broadly, we're going to see more and more people come out, and I think that a lot of people who believe it are just too afraid and that's especially the case in law enforcement, people worried about being fired, not being, not being promoted, and as you know from LEAP, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, and other groups, you know, some of the fiercest critics of the drug war are those who were charged with fighting it, and now realize that not only is it not winnable, it's doing more harm than good, so I think even law enforcement will eventually come around. Maybe not everyone, but enough for us to win.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. Well, all right, folks, once again we've been speaking with Mr. Bill Piper, Director of National Affairs with the Drug Policy Alliance, and if you want to educate yourself and be prepared to talk with and sway the opinions of your elected officials, you can get the info you need on their website, which is DrugPolicy.org. Any closing thoughts, there, Bill?

BILL PIPER: The only thing I would say is I encourage people to join our email list and join the email list of other drug policy organizations, and to take action and write their policymakers. Even if they don't think that their elected representatives are going to do anything good, we're finding that more and more these days, elected officials are doing the right thing.

PERSON IMITATING SACHA BAREN COHEN'S CHARACTER BORAT: Hello, my name is Borat. I am back from Kazakhstan, where my retarded brother Bilo is now president. He learned how to make billions by growing flowers. He is great success. Please don't legalize drugs, or I will be executed.

DEAN BECKER: Seems like 2015 has brought us a shift in focus, insofar as this drug war, not just in the United States but around the world, and there's some breaking news out of Colombia, and here to tell us more about it is Hannah Hetzer, she's the Policy Manager of the Americas for the Drug Policy Alliance. Hannah, what's going on down there?

HANNAH HETZER: So, this is a really exciting week in Colombia. The president has just announced that they're going to end the decades-long aerial spraying program on illicit crop cultivation, so basically Colombia, the coca leaf, which is then used to make cocaine, grows in abundance in Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia, it's a natural crop down there, and low-income farmers have for a long time been cultivating it, both for ancestral uses and non-drug purposes, and also to funnel into the black market because it's a viable livelihood when there aren't many other, other means of making a living right there.

And what Colombia, the Colombian government has done for a long time with the help of the US government is spray Glyphosate, which is a herbicide, from planes onto these coca crops, fumigating dozens and hundreds and thousands of hectares of coca fields with this herbicide, and for a long time Colombian communities that have lived in those areas have complained about adverse health and environmental effects of this program, they've pointed to skin diseases and irritations, and miscarriages, and a whole slew of problems in addition to contaminating drinking water and environmental impacts.

But, it has, the government hasn't listened to those claims from the communities for a long time, but two weeks ago the research arm of the World Health Organization came out and said that Glyphosate is likely carcinogenic to human beings, which made the Minister of Health of Colombia say, you know what, we should put a halt on this program because even if it's potentially damaging to our communities, we can't be doing that. And then everyone was waiting for what the president was going to say, and he finally announced that he's going to ask his national drug council to stop the program and they took that decision yesterday, so it ends two decades of this unfair program that had been sprayed on communities, and Colombia had been the only country in the world until yesterday that continued to use this method. Afghanistan stopped its program in 2007, and that left Colombia the only country in the world. So it's really good news for the cultivators, for the communities that live in those areas, and for kind of an end to one other piece of the drug war, which is this ridiculous and unrealistic spraying program that's damaging to a lot of people.

DEAN BECKER: Well, there you have it, my friends, Hannah Hetzer, policy manager of the Americas at the Drug Policy Alliance. Their website, DrugPolicy.org.

It's time to play Name That Drug By Its Side Effects! Agitation, paranoia, hallucinations, face chomping, lip eating, heart devouring, brain slurping, ecstasy, suicidality, zombieism. Time’s up! The answer, according to law enforcement, from some crazy-ass chemist somewhere: mephedrone, otherwise known as bath salts.

The following segment features yours truly, and it was recorded at the Seattle Hempfest.

I am a former law enforcement official as well, I worked for the US government guarding nuclear weapons, mostly. I've strapped on the gun, wore the badge, swore to uphold the Constitution. I'm still trying to uphold the Constitution. If I may reiterate a bit about LEAP, I think we're now approaching 9,000 members worldwide. We're current and former police officers, police chiefs, wardens, prosecutors, judges, a few senators, members of the European Parliament, the former attorney general of Colombia. I also produce 9 radio programs each week about the harms of the drug war: seven three-minute pieces I call the 420 Drug War News, two half hour shows, Cultural Baggage, Century of Lies. I interview these same judges, congressmen, wardens, authors, scientists, doctors, any and everybody willing to talk about the subject. We're currently on more than 50 radio stations in the US and Canada. I think Bellingham is the closest one to here that carries our shows.

And, what is the objective of LEAP? We want to curtail death, disease, crime, and addiction. Complications, spin-off, blowback, that are higher, not because drugs exist, but because the drug prohibition exists. It creates all these problems that these people in authority: the DEA that wants to build a bigger jail, the Congressmen that want to build more prisons. They use this blowback, and say Oh my god, people are making this methamphetamine, they're using Drano and batteries and ammonia to make this crap, and they're selling it to our kids. Well, why are these people making it? Because of prohibition. And why are they selling it to their kids? Because of prohibition. And why are people dying and getting the diseases? Because of prohibition.

There is no justification for this drug war. Aspirin and Tylenol kill more people than all hard drugs combined. We've been duped. We've been fed a bag of lies, we have eaten this quasi-religious bull-crap for nigh onto 93 years, and who do we go to for an opinion, if there's a drug bust or little Johnny dies on the street corner, who do they go to? The district attorney for his opinion. Who do they go to? You know, the police chief, they go to these people who want to perpetuate this forever because it's how they make their mortgage payments. Now much of what I say, I think most LEAP members would agree with me, but I am saying this is my opinion, because I think the drug lords run both sides of this equation.

Over the lifetime of this drug war, we've given one trillion dollars, a trillion dollars, I'll tell you how much money that is here in a minute, it's hard to envision, but a trillion dollars to law enforcement. Stop that flow, protect little Johnny, keep our neighborhoods safe, and of course it's gotten worse and worse and worse, but over that same 92 year timeframe, we've given ten trillion dollars to the terrorists, to the dangerous cartels, and we've created the reason for which most of these violent street gangs exist, through this drug war. It's the reason children have access. It's, it's the problem itself, but they use it as justification, to ask for more money, whether they succeed, whether they fail, they always need more money. A lot of damn money wasted, it could be built on our infrastructure, could be going towards health, services for the people of this nation. We've flushed a trillion dollars down the toilet.

Now you take the trillion we've given to law enforcement, you take the ten trillion we've given to the criminals, and you start loading it onto trains, freight cars, 62 feet long, eight feet wide, ten feet high, you can get about nine billion dollars in a freight car. Hundred dollar bills. But if you take the money we've wasted on this drug war and you fill that train, it's nine miles long. Full of hundred dollar bills that we have wasted in this effort. Now, I am all for medical marijuana, I am a medical marijuana patient, I am a religious sacramental cannabis minister, I'm a former cop, I do the radio, I stand before the people of power in my home town, Houston, the gulag filling station of planet earth. We send more people to prison than most of the other states in this nation. Our jails are overflowing, people sleeping on the floors, our prisons are overcrowded, they're shipping them to other states, and why? Because they might be black or Hispanic, they might have an empty bag or an empty pipe, but they're the moral leaders. Think they're doing god's work by robbing our community of these dollars?

And the focus of the police effort, our violent crime rate is rising, why? Because they're chasing down high school Harry for a bag of some plant product. We have to stand up for truth, for reality, what is before our eyes. We have to become full citizens of this nation. We have to participate. We have to demand a change, we have to no longer believe in their quasi-religion of drug war. I want to claim the moral high ground, I want to stop funding Osama Bin Laden, I want to destroy the cartels. I want to eliminate the violent gangs that plague our neighborhood and entice our children to lives of crime and addiction. Why do these people exist, why do they have their power? Because of the US policy of drug prohibition. You are the answer, the day we stand en masse and we write those letters to the editor, they can't print all of them, but they can damn sure read them. They can understand your concern, your knowledge, your awareness of this problem, and that you're no longer going to take this madness.

Indeed. The drug war empowers terrorists, cartels, and gangs, forking over more than a billion dollars a day so that they'll continue selling drugs to our children. Such ultra-madness. What is the benefit?

As always, I remind you that because of prohibition you don't know what's in that bag. Please be careful, and thank you, Mr. King.