12/11/19 Ira Glasser

Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Jessie Dunleavy

Ira Glasser, ACLU Dir (Ret), Drug Policy Alliance co founder & Jessie Dunleavy author Cover My Dreams in Ink + DTN Editorial

Audio file



DECEMBER 11, 2019

DEAN BECKER: I am Dean Becker, your host. Our goal for this program is to expose the fraud, misdirection, and the liars who support the drug war which empowers our terrorist enemies, enriches barbarous cartels, and gives reason for existence to tens of thousands of violent U.S. gangs who profit by selling contaminated drugs to our children. This is Cultural Baggage.

Hi friends. I am Dean Becker, the Reverend Most High. Thank you for joining us on this edition of Cultural Baggage. Today’s show will feature an editorial from yours truly. We are going to have an interview with a young lady up in Maryland who is standing tall for ending prohibition, but first up I have got this interview with a gentleman who has been very involved in drug reform for a very long time.

MALE VOICE: Ira Glasser. Yes, I am fully retired although some would consider that a joke but I have no job. I am not employed. I am the Chair and have been the Chair of the board for over 20 years of the Drug Policy Alliance. That is just of course an episodic job; you do things from time to time but it’s not some place you go every day.

DEAN BECKER: Ira, I would like for you to take us back. Even before I got involved with this you have been at this for decades. Let me see if I got this right, there was probably another organization name before but it was the Drug Policy Foundation before it was the Alliance, right? What was before that, Sir?

IRA GLASSER: Well I was the Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union for some 23 years and before that I was the Executive Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union which was the New York branch of the ACLU. The ACLU deals with a wide variety of issues including free speech, privacy, racial discrimination, women’s rights, reproductive freedom, immigration rights and a great many issues. I got involved first with the issue of drug prohibition back in the late 60s when New York State was putting people away under Civil Commitment Laws where people who were having trouble with drugs were basically arrested and put in what they called a hospital but you could not leave.

DEAN BECKER: Was it mental treatment they were considering?

IRA GLASSER: Well it’s hard to know what they were doing. They claimed that what they were doing was treating people for drugs against their will but what they were doing was committing them in the same way that mental hospitals did. When that Civil Commitment Program didn’t work they passed the infamous Rockefeller Drug Laws which is what really launched the drug war all over the country and it became a model for mandatory minimum sentencing and harsh prison sentences for possession of small amounts for personal use.

DEAN BECKER: Led to three strikes and asset forfeiture.

IRA GLASSER: That’s right. I actually testified against those laws in Albany as the head of the New York Civil Liberties Union back in 1973 and actually testified for the legalization of heroin and treating problem users as a health problem which of course was not well received by the New York State Legislator in 1973. So I go back a long ways with this problem and I didn’t realize this when we first got in to this issue but then I began to see that as harsh as prohibition laws were; they were not uniformly applied. I began to see that this was a racial injustice problem as much as it was a civil liberties problem and that insofar as racial injustice was a big part of the ACLUs agenda that drew me and us more deeply in to the issue than before. I became head of the National ACLU in the late 70s and sometime after that in the 80s I was able to get some funding to start a Drug Policy Reform project. I hired a couple of lawyers and we worked on a number of issues including driving while black issues which was the practice of stopping blacks disproportionately on the highway to search their cars for drugs, and urine testing which had become a big deal in those years. It was a relatively small part of the ACLUs work but it was something that I was very interested in as I thought it involved enormous issues that were of concern to the ACLU around privacy, around Fourth Amendment and illegal searches, racial discrimination and just the sheer intervention in the liberty of people to put what they wanted in to their own bodies. While some people used problematically it always seemed to me that was the same thing that was true of alcohol or overeating. You would want to deal with severe alcoholics in some way but not by putting them in jail and there was never any reason to deal with people who were just having a glass of wine every night with dinner. In the field of drugs other than alcohol it seemed to me that there was a severe hysterical incarceration for long periods of time and it extended to people who were not using problematically, who the analogy would be that they were having a glass of wine at night with a meal but if they smoked a joint in the same way that they had a glass of wine – bang! They became subject to severe criminal penalties. So by the mid-80s, the ACLU was starting to spend more time and energy on these issues.

In the late 80s I heard of this organization called the Drug Policy Foundation which was a small organization in Washington and I send one of my assistants from the ACLU to a conference that they were running in 1988 and she came back and said that there were 200 people there which seemed like a lot to us at the time in terms of people who were opposed to the drug war because in those days even in the ACLU it was a hard sell as I remember. I was a head of the organization and I had a hard time convincing other people that this was an important issue for us. She suggested that the following year I go to the conference and I was too busy on lots of other issues at that time and resisted but I finally did go in 1989 and I have been to every DPF/DPA conference ever since for 30 years. I then got on to the board of the Drug Policy Foundation and that is where I met Ethan Nadelmann at one of those conferences.

I originally met Ethan who was then teaching politics at Princeton and he and I had both been invited to speak at the Drug Policy Foundation conference and eventually both ended up on the board there. Sometime later he left Princeton and was funded by George Soros to start the Linda Smith Center, which was kind of an institute to study the problem of the drug war within the Open Society Institute which was Soros’s organization. I was still the head of the ACLU but on the side I was chairing the Drug Policy Foundation Board at that time which was still very tiny and didn’t really do very much except run these national conferences every year at which people who have similar ideas could get together and try to figure out what to do about this problem. Eventually what happened is that Ethan brought the Linda Smith Institute out of the Soros Foundation and we merged it with the Drug Policy Foundation in to the organization that we then called Drug Policy Alliance which was in 2000 so it was about 19 years ago and that became the Drug Policy Alliance that we have today. Ethan continued as its Founding Director for 17 years and I continued as a Chairman of the Board and that brings us up to the present.

DEAN BECKER: Wonderful, Sir. Thank you for that. I appreciate it and I am sure a lot of folks will as well just to understand the beginnings because this has become a very powerful movement not just within the DPA but the ideas being brought forward are being extrapolated, embraced, and shared around the world. Mexico is wanting to legalize, Canada is going wacky, and Great Britain is getting noisy about it.

IRA GLASSER: Even in the United States now when you think of the period that I was just describing and how blanketed this country was with harsh prohibition and incarceration and how few the people were that came to those conferences back then – a couple hundred if not all white, mostly marijuana users themselves who wanted the freedom to not face criminal prosecution because of it. Now in the movement you have 1,500 people coming to these conferences and they are people of color, people from all of 40 different countries, you have marijuana being legalized for medical in 11 states and the progress that has been made given how short a time it was when you talk about 20 – 30 years it is a long time in your life individually but it is not a long time in terms of the development of social programs. When you think of how many years drug prohibition has existed which is over a century and thinking you are going to change that in 20 – 30 years completely is illusory but the progress that has been made is enormous and the progress that we still have to make is also enormous. Having made as much progress as we did there is reason to hope and reason to believe that we can make more progress still and get out from under the brutality and the injustices of the drug war.

DEAN BECKER: Mr. Ira Glasser. Thank you, Sir.

IRA GLASSER: Thank you.

It’s time to play Name That Drug By its Side Effects. Permanent damage to the liver, eyes, bone marrow, heart and blood vessels, convulsions, impaired mental function, neurological damage, kidney damage, irregular heartbeat, unbearable stress, sudden sniffing death. Times Up! Lucy, Gasoline. There is a vending machine in your neighborhood.

DEAN BECKER: About 21 years ago I wrote the second best Letter to the Editor which is where I began. I educated myself on the harms and the history of the drug war and I began challenging the logic of all of this madness. We have another individual who has picked up that gauntlet and run with it quite well I must say. She had an Op Ed in the Capital Gazette up in Annapolis, Maryland and the topic of her Op Ed was drug policy, racism drives mass incarceration in the United States. With that I want to welcome Jessie Dunleavy. Hello, Jessie.


DEAN BECKER: Thank you for being with us, Jessie. You have a pretty good history of these Op Ed’s and Letters to the Editor expressing similar concerns, do you not?


DEAN BECKER: I know a bit about this but tell the listeners what got you started, what gave you the impetus?

JESSIE DUNLEAVY: I don’t always put this out front but my son died of a drug overdose in April 2017 and if I had known then what I know now things might have gone differently. So I can’t look backwards but I am dedicated to helping others overcome the horrors of addiction and the horrors of the way that it is handled in this country.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, Ma’am. I thank you for that heartfelt honesty which is hard to talk about some times. There are others who are picking up that situation and running with it as well but it is recognizing that it is the futility and the ineptitude of this drug war that causes many of these overdose deaths. Am I right?

JESSIE DUNLEAVY: I believe that every death is a policy failure and I know that sounds extreme but if it isn’t one reason it’s another. There are just so many facets of the way that we handle this problem and every single way that we have implemented has actually made it worse. For one thing, prohibition does not work.


JESSIE DUNLEAVY: I don’t know why we didn’t figure that out after we had our alcohol experience which just gave rise to organized crime and corruption and people drinking more dangerous drinks than they had beforehand so we learned from that but we don’t seem anywhere close to learning from it now. What is interesting is I pointed out in the Op Ed yesterday that we have the highest incarceration rate in the world by a lot but what is really said is that we also have the highest overdose fatalities by a lot. Those two pieces of information right there should tell you that we need to look closely at what we are doing and why and whether or not saving lives is really the objective behind their policies.

DEAN BECKER: As you well know, back in the 20s they thought there were going to get rid of the snake oil salesman and they were going to clean this all up and take better control of the situation but what they did was make sure that only snake oil salesman are selling this stuff now. Right?

JESSIE DUNLEAVY: Sure. Before prohibition people used to drink more beer and wine and you couldn’t get it anymore during prohibition so you drank hard liquor that was questionable including bathtub gin or whatever it was and it was a much more dangerous substance. All we did was take away something that most people were using without incident and created a problem that gave rise to organized crime and money being made on the backs of people who just were continuing to live the way that they always had. Before that there were drug addicts as well – I try not to use the word addict because I think our language has also worked against this stigma or it has created this stigma that works against our policies so I think we have to be careful there. Nevertheless, there were people addicted to drugs before we banned them in 1914 or whatever it was and yet they weren’t dying because the substances were not as lethal. Our policies now have paved the way for fentanyl.

DEAN BECKER: As well as Carfentanyl which is even a hundred times stronger than fentanyl. Once again folks we are speaking with Jessie Dunleavy, she is up there in Maryland and she is an extraordinary letter and Op Ed writer. Over the last couple of years you have been given this mandate.

JESSIE DUNLEAVY: Yes, I have taken on the cause and joined forces with a lot of good people and I have learned a lot. It has been a crash course but once you get in to it and start to read and interact with people who have been on this mission for years it just makes sense. It doesn’t take somebody who has a deep intellect to just understand that we have to back up and rethink some of the ways that we have created this problem. For one thing, people who use drugs are human beings. They deserve respect, they deserve healthcare. They are not the enemy. I think back to when I was a kid and we dehumanized whatever country we were at war with, and when you dehumanize then it is okay to kill and we have dehumanized drug users. People often respond to me on one Op Ed I wrote and one time I received one from a guy who said to let the addicts die.


JESSIE DUNLEAVY: I didn’t respond to him but unfortunately he is not alone in that.

DEAN BECKER: I must admit that I used to write a lot of letters to the editor and get printed but I think now that I am on radio it takes away that man in the street thing if you will and I rarely get any coverage these days but I do battle online on the Houston Chronicle and I also run in to the folks who think that the addicts are better off dead or that they should go to the Philippines –

JESSIE DUNLEAVY: They chose this so let them suffer the consequences and all of those short sided kinds of statements that are just indicative of a lack of understanding. For one thing even if you don’t have a soft spot for human rights we have taken away productivity and taxes because most people who suffer from addiction do recover. Years ago they recovered and a lot of them recover on their own without treatment; they just simply outgrow it. Most recover whether or not they need treatment and they go on to lead productive lives and therefore they pay taxes, they take care of their families and their productivity is important to our country. We are losing people now before they have had the chance to recover because of fentanyl and why do we have fentanyl? Because the DEA is blocking the supply in every way they can from China or over our southern border and as they’ve blocked those big incoming shipments the drug cartels are smart. They are now smuggling in smaller amounts but with higher potency. I am not saying that that law was devised to create the fentanyl problem but that has been the side effect of it.

DEAN BECKER: That is the iron law of prohibition. It worked in prohibition as you said earlier; folks were drinking more beer and wine but it was easier back in the 20s to smuggle hard liquor and make that profit.

JESSIE DUNLEAVY: Exactly. There are a lot of analogies there and that is why it is surprising. Other countries have done so much more with harm reduction but because of our stigma we don’t want to do that and our legislators don’t want to take a stand including the ones who understand intellectually that it would help. They are reluctant to take a stand because their constituents wouldn’t support it and that is because of stigma but it is impossible to divorce stigma from the fact that we criminalize a drug user. We call alcoholics lushes not junkies. We say they need treatment, not cells.

DEAN BECKER: A little intervention perhaps to get them on the right track but they don’t need to be thrown in a cage.

JESSIE DUNLEAVY: No. Incarcerating a person with addiction not only is inhumane, it is stupid.

DEAN BECKER: I have tried to boil it down to just a couple of perspectives; that the drug war is evil, stupid, illogical, and there is nobody willing to come on my radio show to defend it because in essence there is no real –

JESSIE DUNLEAVY: I don’t know how you would defend it because it failed to thwart the thriving underground market. It has failed to prevent the demand for drugs. It has failed to reduce the overdose deaths. It has failed to help people in need. We have been fighting it since what, the 70s?

DEAN BECKER: Well since 1914 with the Harrison Act, but it has escalated over the decades.

JESSIE DUNLEAVY: Since it was declared a war on drugs and it has been a trillion plus dollars that have gone toward it for absolutely no productive outcome and now we have the DEA involved in healthcare.

DEAN BECKER: Right. A lot of cops in charge of medical dispensaries.

JESSIE DUNLEAVY: Oh yeah. They are cutting down prescription drugs for chronic pain sufferers so those people are turning to street drugs or suicide in too many cases. It is a tragedy and it didn’t have the big effect on the overdose crisis in the first place.

DEAN BECKER: Jessie, it is totally an upside down situation. I think they know that. There are still too many people making their billions from treatment, urine testing, private prisons –

JESSIE DUNLEAVY: The commissary contracts for being incarcerated, it’s really sad.

DEAN BECKER: There you go. Not to mention the --

JESSIE DUNLEAVY: I know – I have firsthand experience with that.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, I still do. I have got two of my youngsters in prisons in two different states because they are young and got caught up in the black market – the world’s largest multi level marketing organization was just too tempting.

JESSIE DUNLEAVY: Yes, and young people’s judgement isn’t always what it evolves to be and so we do need to usher them along carefully but not by giving them records and therefore increasing the challenges they face getting employment and being productive.


JESSIE DUNLEAVY: It’s just really sad.

DEAN BECKER: Credit, housing, a job – all of the things that are hampered by that record. Jessie Dunleavy I want to thank you and give you the chance to close us out with a website where folks can learn more about your writings and the work you do.

JESSIE DUNLEAVY: www.jessiedunleavy.com is my website and I did write a memoir that is due out in May.

What will it take to motivate. Please visit www.drugtruth.net.

President Trump and his cabinet, most senators and representatives both state and federal, most judges, cops, and guards know the drug war is stupid, illogical and in fact quite insane yet they lack the courage, the acumen and the knowledge to be primed and ready for battle so they continue to draw their paychecks and catch the news each night about the world’s first eternal war – their war. I am ashamed of these politicians who prefer this eternal war of cartel violence in Mexico and elsewhere who prefer street corner shootouts by violent U.S. gangs, and who also prefer overdose deaths near 70,000 every year, 500 billion dollars a year greases a lot of wheels and ensures that even if we wiped out every cartel head and every member the next day corn farmers would jump of their tractors and leap at the chance to get their share of this drug trade cash flow. The fallacy and the politician’s ignorant belief that it is possible to destroy the law of supply and demand. It is what gives these ignorant servants of the cartel the nerve to slog down this same stupid and bloody road forever and ever as the U.S. approaches the 50 millionth arrest for drug possession. Perhaps it is time to consider the idea of drug prohibition. Each year terrorists in Afghanistan, Iran, and elsewhere make billions of dollars growing cannabis and opium flowers. Each year barbarous cartels in Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, and elsewhere make tens of billions of dollars selling impure fentanyl, heroin, cocaine, meth, and marijuana to the world. In doing so these cartels kill tens of thousands raping, murdering, and pillaging driving thousands of frightened citizens to seek shelter in the United States. Each year the thousands of U.S. violent gangs make about 100 billion dollars enticing our children to lives of crime and or addiction to their drugs that are now more available and deadlier than ever before. For a century legislators, prosecutors, and cops have claimed the moral high ground claiming the drug users are bad people, untrustworthy of respect and in affect, unconditionally exterminable and better off dead. We all know there is no benefit to this damned drug war – none.
DEAN BECKER: I am Dean Becker, the Reverend Most High, and keeper of the moral high ground in the drug war. Please challenge me: dean@drugtruth.net.
That is about all we can squeeze in. Once again I want to thank Ira Glasser for his decades of service and I want to thank Jessie Dunleavy for her commitment to educate the ignorant and motivate the reluctant.
Again, I remind you that because of prohibition you don’t know what is in that bag. Please be careful.

To the Drug Truth Network listeners around the world, this is Dean Becker for Cultural Baggage and the unvarnished truth. Cultural Baggage is a production of the Pacifica Radio Network, archives are permanently stored at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy, and we are all still tap dancing on the edge of an abyss.