06/17/16 Ethan Nadelmann

Ethan Nadelmann, Dir of Drug Policy Alliance speaks before US Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee: America's Insatiable Demand for Drugs - Examining Alternate Approaches, Phil Smith of Drug War Chronicle & Alternet + Ray Hill Nationally known gay rights advocate regarding the Orlando massacre.

Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Friday, June 17, 2016
Ethan Nadelmann
Drug Policy Alliance



JUNE 17, 2015


DEAN BECKER: Broadcasting on the Drug Truth Network, this is Cultural Baggage.

UNIDENTIFIED VOICE: It is not only inhumane, it is really fundamentally un-American.

CROWD: No more! Drug war! No More! Drug War! No More! Drug War!

DEAN BECKER: My name is Dean Becker. I don't condone or encourage the use of any drugs, legal or illegal. I report the unvarnished truth about the pharmaceutical, banking, prison, and judicial nightmare that feeds on eternal drug war.

Due to the horrible scenario in Orlando, we're going to deviate just a bit from our usual focus on the drug war. I thought it appropriate that we hear from the nationally known gay rights advocate, the founder of the Prison Show, and my mentor, Mr. Ray Hill.

RAY HILL: White people get shot and bombed, firebombed in their churches. Gay people get shot and firebombed in bars, because those are the only institutions they will let us have. What originally was created to be islands of refuge have become traps for hunters. It's ultimately part of a larger gestalt, and whatever needs to be done is -- Trump ain't got the answer. He wants to turn one form of hate into another form of hate. You know, it's not these people and all of a sudden he's embraced gay people after rejecting us until now, and said, I want to ally with the gay people so we can all go hate the Muslims. Well, hating the Muslims doesn't work, and doesn't answer any problems. Hate does not answer any problem that I can think of.

DEAN BECKER: It's, it seems that there's a lot of loose hate just floating around, looking for direction.

RAY HILL: Oh yes. Of course, the other thing that I did is explain to the community, wait a minute. We are not strangers to tragedies. In the early 80s, hundreds of people started dying, and they blamed it on us, and we did the noble and the mature thing, we took care of the sick and buried the dead, and educated the public so they too would not get sick and die. Created institutions that taught prevention and showed compassion and love for people, and the only people that were initial allies were the doctors, everybody else thought it was our fault. But we and the doctors knew the difference between human beings and viruses, and we reduced the number of newly infected people from 125,000 a year.

DEAN BECKER: Ray, I, you know, earlier mentioned, you know, there's this loose hate floating around, and I can recall, even in my high school years, and maybe the following years, that I --

RAY HILL: Well, that, that was all, you know, that wasn't even the same thing back then.

DEAN BECKER: No, it wasn't. There was no radical Islam --

RAY HILL: Back then, that was just run of the mill ignorance.


RAY HILL: Somebody was different and we all distrust and fear what's different. This is more vicious.

DEAN BECKER: Yes sir. Well, Ray, I don't know what to say. You know, I'm as hetero as it gets, but damn, I cried my eyes out. This is hatred that just must be stopped.

RAY HILL: Well Dean, this happened at 2 o'clock in the morning in Orlando, Florida. My phone rang at 2 o'clock in the morning, within an hour. I knew what was going on.


RAY HILL: And, so I got up and made coffee, got on the internet, and saw it dawning on the internet, and I've been responding to it since. Yesterday I was standing in the midst of a bunch of Imams and Muslims, saying let's not trade one form of hate for another, and trying to do my responsible part in my community, addressing this. And what bothers me most is the numbers are so large. The numbers are so large that it, we, it becomes a story about statistics instead of a story about human beings.

Ultimately, as me and the Imams, because after the press conference I talked to them, it becomes people who don't know one another worry too much about our differences. We need to mingle more. So, I invited all of those Muslims to come to Pride Week. Now they're going to walk up there with their turbans and their Muslim hats, and all of that, and gay people are just going to have to adapt. Because we have a responsibility of accepting them as well as they have a responsibility of accepting us. That street is as sure enough two way as you can get it.

DEAN BECKER: I thank you, sir. I wanted to share your thoughts with my audience, because I knew you'd be on top of this.

RAY HILL: Well, just the idea of mingling. And the same thing can be with the users of marijuana and other people. There was a wonderful NPR piece this morning about the only physical scientist in both houses of Congress. And what was his research on? Addiction to opioids. And what did he have to say with that, is we have been looking at addiction to opioids as if it were a moral issue and a criminal issue. It is not, never has been, there are some folks that are more affected than others, and we can identify them.

DEAN BECKER: I am the Reverend Dean Becker of the Drug Truth Network, standing in the river of reform, baptizing drug warriors to the unvarnished truth. DrugTruth.net.

One of the longest serving, if you will, reporters for the Drug Truth Network has gone off and, well, accomplished much beyond what we have done here, and that is my good friend, Mr. Phil Smith. How are you, Phil?

PHIL SMITH: Fine and dandy, Dean, how are you?

DEAN BECKER: I'm good. I, you know, we had that horrible shooting the other day, but the progress in the drug war seems to be gaining traction, I think, as we speak. Your thought there, sir.

PHIL SMITH: Well, we are making progress, but at the same time, there's still a whole lot of drug war going on, in and out, every day, you know, 24/7, 365 days a year. Just a couple of weeks ago I wrote a story about all the drug war killings in May, there were 7 of them. These are people who died as a direct result of police engaged in drug law enforcement activities. You know, not everyone who gets killed by the cops in the drug war is an innocent victim, let's make that clear off the bat. Of the seven who were killed in May, four were armed. Two of them were actually engaged in shootouts with the police, so, you know, it's kind of hard to cry too much over people who get in shootouts with the police and get killed.

But two more of the people who were killed in May were people who were killed after police said they attempted to run them over in their vehicles. I'm always skeptical of these stories, there's typically no surveillance video, or no witnesses to the police accounts. And it always strikes me that these guys who are allegedly trying to run over police might just as easily be merely trying to get away. That said, they're still dead.

Now, there was one story I didn't get in my list of May drug war killings, and that's because the police in Tulsa, Oklahoma, didn't release any information on it until some newspaper saw documents for a search warrant related to this death. And that's the killing of a guy named Ollie Lee Brooks. He was a poor, elderly, homeless black guy, and what went down in his case was, he had managed to scrape up enough money to buy some crack and get a room at the Motel 8 in East Tulsa. And he was sitting there minding his own business, doing his drug of choice in his motel room, when police knocked on his door, opened the door, saw drug paraphernalia, attempted to arrest him, got into a scuffle, with no body cameras of course, and tased him repeatedly, and he died.

Now that's bad enough, but what makes this really irritating, and makes it in my view an example of race and class bias, predatory policing, is the reason the cops were at the motel in the first place. They weren't there to investigate complaints. They were there because they were looking for people who had outstanding, well, warrants for their arrest. So that's -- so, we've got cops in Tulsa, they're going around to motels and hotels checking guest lists against lists of people wanted for warrants, or at least they're doing that at some motels and hotels. There aren't any reports of police running warrant checks at the Tulsa Hilton or the Tulsa Marriott. And so what happened, when they came across Ollie Brooks' name, they found a warrant for him for a 1991 DUI open container charge that was never prosecuted. It was a $642 warrant, but it went up to more than $800 after $201 in collection fees were added in 2012.

Also, Brooks had had several run-ins with the law since then, you know, never been picked up on that warrant. He'd even gone to prison. The warrant was never served. But, the cops in Tulsa found it and used that as an excuse to go to his room, and now he's dead.

And I just want to read one comment that was made in the comment section of the Tulsa World in the original story about this. Here's one reader that wrote in and said, I knew this man as Richard. He slept behind a dumpster at 61st and Sheridan several years ago when I worked for my parents business, the Custard King frozen custard stand. I used to give him free custard and talk to him. I actually even bought him a pair of shoes and some clothes one time. He's a pretty nice guy. This is very sad news indeed, and serves as a warning that police have no hesitation about shocking the hell out of you and killing you. I was told he had just gotten out of the hospital a few weeks ago with a heart condition. My father talked with him recently, he would occasionally stop by their business. I'm totally shocked because I never knew him as a violent guy, he just frequented our area sometimes. He told us he had a son, which he helped with tree work sometimes. He was always very friendly to us. And now he's dead.

And this really gets to me, I mean, this is an old guy, you know, living, staying in a crappy motel, doing a few drugs in his room, minding his own business. And the cops decide they need to serve a warrant that's more than 20 years old for a charge that doesn't exist anymore. And now he's dead. Of course, this is a story that gets no play anywhere, barely got a beep in Tulsa. This is the kind of thing that goes on every day, as long as we continue to enforce drug prohibition. And it's looking better for marijuana in general, but, you know, we still have all these other drugs that people choose to use, and the drug war against them isn't slowing down at all.

DEAN BECKER: Well, and we have the kids that, the young people afraid of having to take a urine test at school, at work, whatever, and they're using these synthetics, which are, turns out, even more deadly than the recreational drugs that were already in place.

PHIL SMITH: Right. That's especially true of synthetic cannabinoids, you know, what we call fake pot. You know, we all know that no one has ever in history overdosed on marijuana. But some of these, this stuff that gets sold as fake pot, these synthetic cannabinoids, can and do kill people. And people are using that because they don't want to get caught for pot.

DEAN BECKER: And of course, they want to increase the penalties now for the synthetics. I hear even fentanyl now, they're using to quote cut the heroin, it's even more deadly than the heroin, and the fact of the matter is they now want to increase mandatory minimums and automatic sentences for people that have the fentanyl or sell the fentanyl.

PHIL SMITH: Well, you'll be happy to know, Dean, that an effort to do just that was defeated either today or yesterday. It was an effort by Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire to add that as an amendment to some appropriations bill, I forget which one now, but that amendment lost. So there will be no increased mandatory minimums on fentanyl, at least for now.

DEAN BECKER: Well, that's music, then, I'm glad to hear that, because we've got enough people in jail, and enough complications to millions of lives from those sentences.

PHIL SMITH: In a way, it's interesting that you mention fentanyl. That is, it's an unusual substance. It was very rare, I mean, it's used for terminal cancer patients, typically in a patch form. But what's happened in recent years is both Chinese chemical companies and Mexican drug cartels have figured out they can make a fortune manufacturing fentanyl themselves. And so now, we're seeing massive shipments of it coming, I mean, across the Pacific and coming up across the Mexican border. So, what still has me confused is why they're cutting heroin with it. I mean, why do you cut a weaker substance with a stronger substance? Why don't you just sell the stronger substance? I don't know enough heroin dealers to answer that question, maybe it's because people are loyal to their heroin. But, you know, if it were me, if I were a junkie, and I had the choice between buying pure fentanyl and heroin cut with fentanyl, I'd be going for the pure thing.

DEAN BECKER: At least you would know the quality of what you're dealing with.

PHIL SMITH: Well, that's another problem with this, and that's why a lot of people are overdosing on fentanyl, because it is cut with heroin, and sometimes it's even formed into fake oxycontin tablets. So people think they're taking a certain quantity of oxycontin, and they're actually taking an unknown quantity of fentanyl, and then they're dead.

DEAN BECKER: This drug war's so, so insane, so absurd.

PHIL SMITH: And it is absurd, because, you know, while these opiates are potentially lethal, they don't have to be lethal. I was just reading a book, it was a short history, it's called Shooting Up: A Short History Of Drugs And War. And one of the chapters was about the Finnish Army fighting the Soviet -- the Red Army when they invaded Finland in 1941 as part of World War Two. And the Finns really fought off the Russians quite well, and they were out of their minds on heroin. They were using heroin like aspirin, I mean literally using heroin like aspirin. They had, they didn't have aspirin. They had heroin. They had little, like, 5-milligram tablets of it, and if they had an ache, they took heroin. If they got wounded, they took heroin. If they had to go fight the Russians out in the cold, they took heroin. And they didn't have a lot of people overdosing and dying, but they did manage to fend off the Russians for quite a while.

DEAN BECKER: Well, that reminds me of back in, I don't know, it was 1903, 1906, Bayer invented heroin, put it on the grocer's shelf at the very same price as Bayer aspirin. And because the dosage was so small, it wasn't killing anybody, it was the drug war that just ratcheted all of this up and brought us heroin injection and snorting it up your nose.

PHIL SMITH: And it was also marketed as a cure for morphine addiction. Go figure.

DEAN BECKER: Well, there's nothing logical to this drug war at all. Friends, we've been talking with Mr. Phil Smith of the Drug War Chronicle and StopTheDrugWar.org. Phil, any closing thoughts you'd like to share with the audience?

PHIL SMITH: Well, I remain optimistic, even though progress is slow, we are making progress. One thing I may have mentioned to you before when I, last time I talked to you, when we discussed the different response to the current opiate epidemic, as opposed to previous ones. And a lot of people are saying, oh, well, it's because white people are doing it this time. You know, there may be an element of truth to that, but I also think that devalues all the work that people have done for the past 20 years trying to rein in this drug war, and trying to come up with more sensible and compassionate policies. I think that effort has paid off to some degree, and the kinder, gentler approach to this current opiate epidemic is evidence of that. So, I think we are making progress.

And, I also want to say, hey, we're going to have five or six more states legalize marijuana in November. I'm looking at California, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Arizona, maybe Michigan, if they can actually get on the ballot. They're in a big fight to do that right now. So, we have a ways to go, but we're making progress and we need to stay strong and stay focused, and eyes ahead. You can read me at two different places, folks. I do serious drug policy related stuff at the Drug War Chronicle, that's www.StopTheDrugWar.org, and I do serious drug policy related stuff and a lot more fun stuff at Alternet, and that's Alternet.org/drugs. Check them out.

DEAN BECKER: It's time to play Name That Drug By Its Side Effects. Physical stimulation, appetite suppression, the prevention of altitude sickness through increased oxygen supply. Time's up! The answer, as is so obvious in the lives of millions of Bolivians: coca. Mother coca.

The following segment was recorded earlier this week in Washington, DC. It's from the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. The focus on America's insatiable demand for drugs: examining alternative approaches.

SENATOR RON JOHNSON: Our next witness is Dr. Ethan Nadelmann. Dr. Nadelmann is the founder and executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, the leading organization in the US promoting alternatives to the war on drugs. Dr. Nadelmann.

ETHAN NADELMANN: Well, thank you, Senator Johnson, for initiating this roundtable and for inviting me. I've been waiting for the opportunity for a long time to share some of my thoughts with members of the US Senate.

Let me just be frank. I fundamentally believe that the war on drugs in this country and around the world has been a monumental disaster. It's been a disaster in public health terms, it's been a disaster in public safety terms, it's been a disaster in fiscal terms, it's been a disaster in human rights terms. Right? I appreciate your bringing up the analogy to alcohol prohibition before, because, you know, you look back at alcohol prohibition. Something led the nation to embrace the 18th Amendment back then, was the notion that alcohol was a horrific drug, causing immense devastation in this country, and what have you. And people embarked upon the experiment of national prohibition.

What happened? We saw Al Capone and rising levels of organized crime, we saw all sorts of violence and bootleggers at the borders with Canada and Mexico and all around the country. We saw overflowing jail cells and courthouses. We saw hundreds of thousands of Americans being blinded and poisoned and killed by bad bootleg liquor, liquor that was more dangerous because it was illegal. We saw people talking about, you know, nullifying elements of the Bill of Rights of the US Constitution. We saw levels of corruption that were unparalleled in many parts of the country. You know, we saw Chicago and other towns essentially taken over by the narcotraffickers of the day, the alcohol bootleggers. And we saw a rising level of cynicism and disregard for the law.

You know what else we saw? We didn't see any reduction in alcohol consumption. At the beginning it looked like it was going to drive down alcohol use, but by the end of alcohol prohibition, alcohol use was as high, at the end of alcohol prohibition, as it had been at the beginning. And the major switch was that people had shifted from beer and wine to hard liquor, oftentimes underground hard liquor that was more dangerous. That's when the country came to its senses and said enough of this, we're repealing alcohol prohibition.

At the same time, many countries in Europe that were flirting with prohibition, they looked at us, they saw Al Capone, they saw all the money going down the drain, all the failures, all the hypocrisy, they said, we're not going to do that. We're going to crack down on booze with higher taxes, and tougher licensing restrictions, and public education campaigns. You know what happened in Europe with that? Without prohibiting alcohol, they drove down alcohol use, and alcohol abuse, further than we did at the beginning of alcohol prohibition in the United States. And rather than putting billions of pounds or guilders or whatever it might be into the hands of traffickers and gangsters, they put it into government treasuries. Seems to me that was the better approach then. There's a lot to be learned.

Fast forward to right now. Drug prohibition has been a monumental disaster. You mentioned, you know, what's going on in Mexico and places like that, Afghanistan, what's going down in Colombia, parts of Central America. They are like Al Capone and Chicago times fifty. It's a result of a failed prohibitionist policy.

Then you look at what's happened in American prisons. What are we? Less than 5 percent of the world's population but almost 25 percent of the world's incarcerated populations. The highest rate of incarceration in the history of democratic societies. A rate of incarcerating black people in this country that puts South Africa during apartheid or the Soviet gulags to shame. It's nothing to be proud of, and it turned out to be remarkably ineffective in dealing with the problems of drug abuse.

Then you look at the public health side. You know, no one, HIV started to spread among injecting drug users back in the 1980s. Those countries, not just Australia and the Netherlands, but Margaret Thatcher's Britain decided that needle exchange programs were the right thing to do. They succeeded in keeping their HIV rates among injecting drug users under 5 percent. In America, we said no way, no way, no way, and we ended up killing a hundred to two hundred thousand people in this country, not just injecting drug users, but their lovers and their kids. That was a disaster as well.

So, I think that this war on drugs is just served this country so poorly. I think what happened is, we developed an addiction. It was an addiction to drug war thinking, drug war ideology, and drug war policies. And right now, finally, thankfully, the country is finally in recovery from the drug war addiction of our past. Now that said, in making the analogy to alcohol prohibition, I think it applies mightily to the issue of marijuana prohibition. And if I'd been coaching that seven year old who asked you that question that day that you spoke in that school, I would have said, you know, senator, let me tell you something -- during, marijuana, I don't see any evidence that the marijuana laws are preventing young people from getting it, or any evidence it's preventing older people from getting it. All I see is evidence that it's putting a lot of people in jail and costing the government a lot of money. Do you still support a marijuana prohibition policy, knowing that it's been totally ineffective?

But with the other drugs, I think this is the way to think about it, and I'm going to conclude my comments with this. I think the best drug policy, what it tries to do is, it starts with the understanding that there's never been a drug free society, more or less in human history, and there's never going to be a drug free society. If anything, we're going to see more drugs, legal, illegal, in between, gray market, in the future, from pharmaceutical companies, underground manufacturers, you name it. Therefore, our challenge is not to try to keep drugs at bay, to build a wall or a moat between this country and others, between our schools and what have you. That's failed. The evidence is in. What we have to do is accept the fact, sadly, that drugs are here to stay, and that our great challenge is to learn how to live with them, so they cause the least possible harm and in some cases the greatest possible good.

Therefore, think about drug policy in the two following ways. The first is that the optimal drug policy should try to do two things. It should seek to reduce the negative consequences of drug use, the death, the disease, the crime, and the suffering, the devastation of families and individuals and communities. It should seek to reduce the harms of drugs. And secondly, it must seek to reduce the harms of government policies, to reduce the mass incarceration and the drug gangs out abroad, and all of the negative health consequences and violations of civil liberties and human rights. The optimal drug policy is the one that most successfully reduces both the harms of drugs and the harms of government policies.

And the second frame, and I'll finish with this. I think it's helpful, because all change essentially is incremental in these areas and most others, is to think about our options as a rate along the spectrum, from the most punitive drug policies on the one hand, the Saudi Arabia, Singapore, you know, Malaysia, cut off your hands, execute you, lock them up, drug test you without cause and throw you into what are called treatment camps that are really prisons. All the way down to the most free market, Milton Friedman-esque, you know, policies with no restrictions except, you know, to keep kids away. The way we need to think about drug policy is moving down this spectrum, from the highly punitive over-reliance on the criminal law and the criminal justice institutions, moving incrementally, step by step, down this spectrum, but stopping short at the point at which going any further would actually entail real risk to public health or public safety.

And it means being driven by the evidence, of the sort that Dr. McDonald just made reference to. When the evidence shows that mandatory minimum sentences are not having an effective deterrent impact, then it's time to reform or repeal those. When the evidence shows that marijuana has useful medical purposes, it's time to acknowledge that. When the evidence shows that providing sterile syringes to injecting drug users through pharmacies and needle exchange programs reduces the spread of HIV AIDS and hepatitis C without increasing drug use, it's time to do that. When the evidence shows that methadone maintenance and buprenorphine maintenance are successful in reducing the harms of addiction and helping people get their lives together, it's time to do that. When the evidence shows that heroin maintenance and safe injection sites reduce all sorts of harms and produce a net benefit, it's time to do that.

With marijuana legalization, we'll see. My judgment is that the net benefits of moving in the direction of the sensible regulation of marijuana exceed the risks. That's a judgment and we'll see how that works out, but I think that the evidence overwhelmingly suggests the right way to go. With the other drugs, we need to move towards the decriminalization public health approach, and focus, and this is what I'll do in my comments later, on reducing the demand and the magnitude for demand of these drugs. So long as there is a demand, there will be a supply. Pouring money into supply just pushes it from one place to another, like trying to bang down on mercury or step down on a balloon. It's about reducing demand in ways that are driven by the evidence and respect for basic human decency. Thank you.

DEAN BECKER: This is Dean Becker saying thanks for joining us on this edition of Cultural Baggage. And again, as always, I remind you, because of prohibition you don't know what's in that bag, please be careful.