09/13/15 Doug McVay

This week we hear more of that interview with Johann Hari, author of Chasing The Scream, and also from Molly Gill, Government Affairs Counsel for Families Against Mandatory Minimums.

Century of Lies
Sunday, September 13, 2015
Doug McVay
Drug War Facts
Download: Audio icon COL091315.mp3



SEPTEMBER 13, 2015


DEAN BECKER: 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.

DOUG MCVAY: Hello! And welcome to Century of Lies. I'm your host, Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org. Century of Lies is a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network.

Now, on with the show.

Well folks, before we get started, I have to make a quick correction from last week. We had a piece about Jeff Mizanskey, the man from Missouri who was recently released after serving more than 21 years in a state prison. It was a third offense, it was not, as I thought at the time, for actual sale of six pounds of marijuana. He was serving a sentence of life without parole for conspiracy to sell six pounds of marijuana. Pretty major difference. Unjust, in either case, life without parole, or even the 22 years which he served -- 21 years and several months, that is. But again, minor correction, that was actually a sentence of conspiracy to sell marijuana. My apologies for the inaccuracy, to you and especially to Mister Mizanskey. Now, on with the rest of the show.

I have to apologize for one more thing. Last week, I introduced a segment from an interview with Johann Hari, the author of Chasing the Scream. I was going to play in the segment where we discussed Bruce Alexander's Rat Park experiment. Instead, I put in the second half of that segment, which was a discussion about NIDA, Nora Volkow, and the whole brain disease theory of addiction. I meant to have both of those in there but didn't have enough time in the show, so I cut one instead of the other but I used the wrong introduction. Well, to make it up to you, I'm going to play in that segment from Johann Hari and our interview where he discusses the Rat Park theory, and Bruce Alexander's work from up in Canada.

JOHANN HARI: This is the thing, this thing about Rat Park and a lot of the implications and the other things that flow from it. It's the thing that most surprised me in the research for the book, because it tells us that the most basic ideas that we have about addiction are wrong. If you had said to me, four years ago, what causes, say, heroin addiction, I would have looked at you like you were a little bit stupid, and I would have said, well obviously heroin causes heroin addiction, that's a ridiculous question. Right? We think that if you and me and the first 20 people listening to this show, if we all used heroin together for 20 days, on day 21 we'd all be heroin addicts because, you know, there are chemical hooks in heroin that our bodies would start to physically need. And we'd have a ravenous craving for it, and that's what addiction is, that's certainly what I've believed, in fact that's what I thought I had witnessed with people I love.

First thing that alerted me to the fact there's something not right about this story is when it was explained to me, if I step out of this interview now and I get hit by a car, and I break my hip, I'll be taken to hospital and I'll be given a lot of a drug called dia-morphine for the pain. Dia-morphine is heroin, it's just a medical name for heroin. It's much stronger heroin than I could ever buy on the streets, because the stuff you buy from dealers is very heavily contaminated, only about thirty percent of it is actually heroin. Whereas obviously, the doctors, they give you 100 percent, the pure stuff. Anyone listening to this that's ever had a hip replacement operation, for example, has taken a lot of heroin. Now, loads of people in hospital near you are being given heroin the whole time. If what we think about addiction is right, what should happen to those people? Some of them at least should become addicts, right? This has been studied very carefully. It doesn't happen.

And yet, they're exposed to all the same chemical hooks as any addict you'll see on the street. And when I learned that, I just -- it was so weird, I didn't know what to do with it, and I only began to understand it when I went and interviewed the guy you mention, and spent a lot of time with, Professor Bruce Alexander, who's a professor of psychology in Vancouver who did this really important experiment. Bruce explained to me that the idea of addiction we have, the one that we were just talking about, comes in part from a series of experiments that were done earlier in the 20th century. They're really easy experiments, your listeners can do them at home if they're feeling a little bit sadistic. You get a rat and you put it in a cage, and you give it two water bottles: one is just water, and the other is water laced with either heroin or cocaine. If you do that, the rat will almost always prefer the drugged water, and almost always kills itself. You might remember the famous Partnership for Drug Free America advert that showed this and said something like, you know, it will happen to you.

In the 70s, Professor Alexander comes along and looks at this experiment, and thought, well hang on a minute. We're putting these rats in an empty cage, they've got nothing to do except take this drug. Let's do this differently. So Professor Alexander built a really different cage that, as you say, he called Rat Park, which is basically like paradise for rats. Anything a rat could want in life, it's got in this cage. It's got loads of colored balls, it's got loads of cheese, it's got loads of friends, it can have loads of sex. And it's got both the water bottles, the normal water and the drugged water. This is the fascinating thing: in Rat Park, they don't like the drugged water. They almost never use it. None of them ever use it compulsively. None of them overdose. So bear in mind, we're going from almost a hundred percent compulsive use and overdose when they're in the isolated cages, to no overdose when they're in the happy, connected cages.

There's loads of things that flow from this and loads of human examples I can talk about if you like, but, this really prompts, I think, a different way of thinking about addiction and there's lots of evidence for this but I'll give you the kind of headline summary, which is that, this guy called Peter Cohen, who's a professor in Amsterdam who talks about this, he says that we shouldn't talk about addiction, we should talk about bonding. Human beings, like rats, are social creatures, and we have an innate need to bond and connect, and when we're happy and healthy, we'll bond and connect with each other. But if you can't do that, because you're isolated or traumatized or beaten down by life, you will bond and connect with something that gives you some sense of relief, and some sense of not being present with your pain. That might be gambling, that might be pornography, that might be alcohol. It might be cocaine. But you will bond with something, because that's our nature.

There's another -- I'll give you just one more human example. At the same time as Rat Park, there was a very big human experiment into this principle happening. It was called the Vietnam War. In Vietnam, a really high proportion of American soldiers were using a whole load of heroin, and if you look at the news reports from the time, there's this real panic, because they think, my god, we're going to have hundreds of thousands of junkies on the streets of the United States when the war ends. These addicts, they were followed home, they were studied very carefully, and it turned out overwhelmingly, 95 percent of them just stopped. They didn't go to rehab, they didn't, you know, go into terrible withdrawal, they just stopped. Now, if you believe the old theory of addiction, that it's all about chemical hooks, that makes absolutely no sense. They'd been exposed to the same chemical hooks as any addict on the street, but if you understand Professor Alexander's theory of addiction, it makes perfect sense. You know?

If you're taken out of a hellish, pestilential jungle, where you don't want to be, and you could die at any moment, and you're put back in your, you know, nice life in Wichita, Kansas, with your friends and your family, well that's the equivalent of being taken out of that first cage and being put into the second cage. And so of course, you want to be present in your life, and you don't want to be out of it.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Johann Hari, journalist and author of the book Chasing The Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs. Audio was courtesy of radio station K-B-O-O F-M, a community public radio station located in Portland, Oregon. You can find out more about Johann and Chasing the Scream at the book's website, which is ChasingTheScream.com.

You're listening to Century of Lies, a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

It is my honor to have as a guest Molly Gill. She's the Government Affairs Counsel for Families Against Mandatory Minimums, or FAMM. Could you tell the listeners a bit about FAMM?

MOLLY GILL: Sure. Families Against Mandatory Minimums was started in 1991 by a woman named Julie Stewart. Julie was working at the Cato Institute in Washington, DC, and got a piece of bad news from across the country in Washington state, where her brother was facing a possible prison sentence for his first and only offense, which was growing marijuana in his garage. And Julie went home and helped her brother through the court process, and he ultimately pleaded guilty, and went to court for his sentencing and the judge looked at him and said, you know, you're a first time offender, this was a nonviolent crime, there were no guns involved in this offense, and I really feel like what you need is a two-year prison sentence as sort of a wake-up call to, you know, get your life on track, but my hands are tied, unfortunately I have to send you to prison for five years without parole because of a federal mandatory minimum sentencing law.

And Julie and her brother and her family were just sort of stunned that the judge had no power to do what he thought was right in the case, and instead had to do what bureaucrats in Washington, DC were telling him to do, even those people in Washington knew nothing about her brother or his situation or his case. And Julie then realized that actually tens of thousands of people every year were facing sentences just like the one her brother received, and sometimes for far, far longer, including all the way up to life without parole for drug offenses. So Julie started FAMM to restore some flexibility in sentencing, and to get rid of these mandatory sentencing laws, and for the last 25 years we've been working with Congress and various states around the country, and seeing some success in that effort.

DOUG MCVAY: You have been doing some terrific work, and it's -- yeah, it's very necessary work, too. A lot of people think that prisons are places where we put bad people, actually it's -- well, it's places where we put people who get caught up in one thing or another. It's interesting, the fact that her brother was arrested for marijuana cultivation in a state where marijuana is now legal.

MOLLY GILL: It's pretty ironic.

DOUG MCVAY: Ironic is putting it mildly. So, now, give us some of the history. Mandatory minimums have been around since the -- well, for drug offenses in particular, since the 1980s, am I remembering correctly, '83, '84?

MOLLY GILL: Right, yeah. I mean, really we can blame all of this on college basketball. Back in 1986, a young college basketball star named Len Bias got drafted by the Boston Celtics. He was very excited, he was going to be the next Michael Jordan and he went out and celebrated, and sadly overdosed on powder cocaine and died. The next morning, it was national headlines. Senator [sic] Tip O'Neill flew down from Massachusetts, distraught now that the Celtics wouldn't get this star, and started giving speeches on the Senate floor, saying about how this crack cocaine menace was the scourge of urban life and killing our children, and to crack down on drug use and scare people off of using these drugs we needed to create long mandatory prison sentences.

And with very little study or reflection or data collection, and really not knowing what they were doing, two weeks -- actually not even two weeks, just a few days before an election in 1986, Congress created the mandatory minimum drug sentencing laws that now apply in our federal court system. And states shortly thereafter followed suit and passed their own state laws that carried mandatory minimum sentences, most often for drug offenses. They also often commonly applied to gun possession offenses, whether or not that offense involves violence or injury to another person, and really since 1986, it has just been a sort of one-way ratcheting up, of up-up-up, that's the direction our sentences have gone.

And so now, today, the average drug sentence is nine years in federal prison, which is twice as long as it used to be back in 1980, and, you know, it's no surprise that when you require judges to send lots of people to prison, and keep them there for a very long time, your prisons fill up, you have to build new prisons, your prisons get overcrowded, your federal Justice Department budget starts to feel the pressure of all of these high prison costs, and has to start skimming money off of other justice priorities, like FBI agents and prosecutors and victim services and funding for state and local law enforcement and crime prevention programs. And before you know it, you end up where we are today, which is a federal prison system that is at 130 percent of its capacity, very overcrowded, which is dangerous for prisoners, dangerous for the guards and correctional staff who work there.

We have a prison system that is consuming a third of the Justice Department's budget, which as I mentioned means that we can't spend that money on things that might actually do more to keep the community safe from violent offenders. And we have a situation too where we have the world's largest prison population. We have 2.3 million Americans behind bars. So we have this mass incarceration problem, this prison overcrowding problem. These are not accidents. They all go back to these very conscious choices we made in the 1980s to crack down on drug crimes and frankly to crack down really hard.

DOUG MCVAY: The idea was that judges, well, they have too much discretion and we can't trust these people who are highly trained and with a great deal of experience to be harsh enough, so we'll tie their hands and force them to give sentences that are outrageous and inappropriate. What we did, though, was to transfer discretion into the hands of the prosecutors. Could you speak to me for a moment about how prosecutors have been using this discretion, and in particular things like conspiracy charges. I mean, in a couple of examples you gave, the people -- I mean, they did at one level or another actually sometimes, you know, touch the drugs, they were actually in contact. But that's not really necessary for a conspiracy offense, am I right?

MOLLY GILL: No, it really isn't. The story of Mandy Martinson is a good example of this. Mandy was dating a drug offender. She was addicted to methamphetamine, a terrible addiction. The boyfriend moved in with her, he kept his drugs and guns at her house. She never actually touched the drugs except to use them. She never sold them to other people, and she was not using the guns, or really involved with the guns, they were pretty much his guns that he kept at her place. And when he was convicted, he was already, already had a prior drug offense, was a well-known trafficker in the area that had been under investigation for months. And he was on parole for another offense, and so they came over to arrest him, arrested her as well. She was held accountable for the entire quantity of drugs found in the house as well as the two handguns. She would not plead guilty, they were accusing her of selling drugs, and possessing a gun while doing it, and she said, I didn't sell drugs and those guns were my boyfriend's guns, and she really, you know, believed that she was not involved in this conspiracy the way they were saying that she was, and she made the choice to go to trial.

And, what most people in this country don't know is that going to trial is one of the worst possible choices you can make, and prosecutors are not happy when people go to trial. Right now in this country, most criminal cases do not end in a trial. We like to think it's all Law & Order, but the reality is that 97 percent of all criminal defendants plead guilty in this country, whether or not they're facing a mandatory minimum. And Mandy made the decision to go to trial, and she was charged with, as I said, a drug offense as well as a gun offense for possessing a gun. And she got the 10-year mandatory minimum for the drugs, and she got an additional five year mandatory minimum for possessing the gun. She ended up getting 15 years in federal prison, it was her first and only conviction.

The boyfriend, shows how much power prosecutors have as well, that the boyfriend ended up pleading guilty, and since he was the guy running this whole thing he had a lot of information to share with prosecutors, and the -- in addition to the safety valve, the other way to get out of a mandatory minimum is to snitch, and to provide information to prosecutors that will help them go after other people. And that's exactly what the boyfriend did. He testified against Mandy, and ultimately he was also facing a 15 year mandatory minimum, but he got a break because he cooperated, and he ultimately got a 12 year prison sentence while Mandy got more time than him, she got 15 years.

So, one of the -- I mean, prosecutors essentially now have total control over sentencing if there's a mandatory minimum involved, because they decide what to charge you with, how many charges to bring, and whether the information you provide, if you decide to play ball, is sufficient to be considered cooperation and sufficient to get you out of a mandatory minimum. So, you're absolutely right. We used to trust judges to do sentencing, and now we trust prosecutors. And the problem with that is that judges do everything in the open. Everything happens in a courtroom. It happens on the record. When a judge is sentencing you, he has to say why, everybody knows what the judge is thinking, and the judge gets to explain. If the judge gets it wrong, the prosecutors can appeal, and the judge's decision can be reversed, and that all happens in an open courtroom.

Prosecutors don't do anything in the open. Prosecutors decide what to charge you with, and how many charges to bring, behind closed doors in a private office, with no one looking over their shoulder to ask, are you charging too harshly? Does this person really need to be charged this way? And then when it comes to cooperation time, the prosecutors hear the information, again behind closed doors, with no one looking over their shoulder, and they decide who gets, who has provided the best information and who should get a break. Now, that should be really frightening to us. The most powerful person in the courtroom is not, as most of us think, the judge. It is in fact the prosecutor.

And we have seen some pretty disturbing trends of what we call the "trial penalty" in particular, which is, you know, when you go into court, you know, and you've been charged with some crimes, the prosecutor says, you know, here's how this is going to work: you can plead guilty and I'll, you know, give you a break, and ask the judge to give you a shorter sentence. But if you go to trial, I'm going to charge you with three more charges, and guess what? They all carry mandatory minimum sentences. And so you're going to be looking at twice as much time if you go to trial and you don't plead guilty. And so, as I said, 97 percent of people in this country end up pleading guilty. And we really have to stop and ask at some point whether that's healthy for a justice system, where basically nobody goes to trial, and where prosecutors wield this very frightening amount of power and wield it in secret.

DOUG MCVAY: That again was an interview with Molly Gill, she is the Government Affairs Counsel for Families Against Mandatory Minimums. Now that Congress is back in session, they will once again be considering legislation to reform the mandatory minimum sentencing laws, the sentencing guidelines, which we have here in the United States.

And now finally: the Drug Truth Network's Executive Producer Dean Becker has been working for quite some time to get an interview with one person in particular, the person who occupies the office of the director of national drug control policy, our drug czar. It seems that our drug czar, much like Nora Volkow, only really wants to talk to people who are friendly. He doesn't want to talk to someone who's going to challenge what they have to say, who's going to maybe point out some of the contradictions in their positions. Who's going to ask them tough questions. They like softballs, they don't want to play hardball. We'd like to have the opportunity to have a frank and open discussion and exchange of views and opinions, and to get some answers to the questions that we have. Well, here's a little something from Dean.

DEAN BECKER: The following is a Drug Truth Network editorial. I was a cop, decades ago. I pinned on that badge, strapped on my weapon, and swore to uphold the constitution of these United States. My experience in law enforcement, 66 years of living, and my 15 years of investigating this eternal drug war, allows me to speak on the deaths by and of policemen. I'm against it. Flat out, no way, no how, nowhere.

However, since I strapped on that old .38 revolver, much has changed. I learned judo and disarming tactics, and was taught to deal equally with all encounters -- black, white, young, old, drunk, senile, or deranged. The word most often proffered as a solution to any problem was respect. In the decades since I took off the badge, much has changed: new levels of fear, loathing, true paranoid mannerisms have been taught, and continually reinforced to police by academy instructors, law enforcement videos and magazines, and reinforced daily if not quite validated via media coverage of America's war on the confused, delusional, or even handicapped citizens of the United States.

But since I left law enforcement, two now boogeymen have emerged to frighten the American people: drugs and terror. Two wars crafted from ignorance and bigotry, destined to last til the end of time. These wars have devastated huge chunks of our constitution, and basic rights, and freedom, all the while giving more reach and allowance to our police to police, maim, and murder innocent civilians who made the mistake of reaching for their wallet, answering their phone, opening their front door, or raising their hands over their head. The answer to this problem lies in changing law enforcement attitudes. Most black people are peace-loving individuals, worthy of respect by police at every encounter. Most Mexicans and chicanos don't carry a switchblade, do not deal drugs, and are worthy of respect. Very few Asians are terrorists, their clothing may be unusual, but they are certainly worthy of law enforcement respect. The only good hippie is not a dead hippie, long hair and weird clothes, tattoos and piercings, are a sign of individuality, and worthy of respect.

Until law enforcement begins to once again treat citizens how they would like to be treated, I am certain the death toll will continue to rise on both sides with about 40 or 50 US citizens being killed for every cop that gets gunned down. The solution: end the war on drugs, end the war of terror. Neither one can ever be won, they can only be lost on a daily basis on the city streets of America.

DOUG MCVAY: That again was Dean Becker, he's the executive producer of the Drug Truth Network and the host of Cultural Baggage.

For now, that's all the time we have. Thank you for listening. This is Century Of Lies, a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

Century Of Lies is heard at 420Radio.org on Mondays at 11am and 11pm, Saturdays at 4am, all times are pacific. We're heard on time4hemp.com on Wednesdays between 1 and 2pm pacific along with our sister program Cultural Baggage. And we're on The Detour Talk Network at thedetour.us on Tuesdays at 8:30pm.

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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!

For the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay asking you to examine our policy of drug prohibition: the century of lies. Drug Truth Network programs archived at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.