Hosted by Dean Becker

Engineered by Philip Guffy

Transcript by Diana Hajer  

Guest:  Kevin Zeese, Common Sense for Drug Policy


(Audio Track) Intro – 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.


Dean:            Welcome to this edition of Cultural Baggage.  Our guest is Mr. Kevin Zeese, the president of Common Sense for Drug Policy.  Hello, Kevin.


Zeese:  How are you doing, Dean?  Good to be on the show with you.


Dean:   Well, thank you, sir, for joining us.  Kevin, I’m looking here at your website, and the news about medical marijuana – about the overall drug policy – is rather astounding, the change that has happened over the last few years.  You want to talk about that?


Zeese:  Well, I think the drug policy reform movement has come a long way from the early 80s until now.  We have made a lot of progress on the issue of medical marijuana, with voters – everywhere they have been asked – voting in favor of it.  And courts now, particularly the 9th Circuit out on the West Coast, ruling in favor of the rights of medical marijuana patients.  And we’ll soon see whether the U.S. Supreme Court agrees, because there is an important case that they will be ruling on soon; and that will really have a big impact on our next steps.  And you also see it in the treatment or incarceration issue.  I think more and more Americans, certainly a majority, recognize that treatment as an alternative to incarceration makes a lot more sense.  It’s more effective, and it costs less money.  And I think more and more Americans are getting embarrassed by the size of our prison population.  We have 25% of the world’s prisoners even though we only have 5% of the world’s population.  Too many people are behind bars; most of them are either addicted or have mental illness.  So it’s an embarrassment to the nation, and people are recognizing it.


Dean:   Kevin, back during the presidential campaign, it seemed like once a week I saw you on CNN or one of the channels.  You served as Ralph Nader’s press secretary?


Zeese:  That’s right.


Dean:   Did you have a chance to talk with any of the other candidates or staff about their drug policy?  The Democratic Party in particular.


Zeese:  Well, you know the drug issue was not a big issue in the presidential campaign; and I think that is one of the things the drug policy reform movement needs to work on.  I think we are pretty much taken for granted.  The Democrats think we have nowhere else to go; and, therefore, they don’t have to address our concerns.  And so, the drug policy issue barely came up during the campaign.  Ralph Nader, you can see on the website, laid out a very clear drug policy position.  He sent a letter to President Bush and copied Senator Kerry urging clemency for nonviolent drug offenders.  That would reduce our prison population significantly; and he still wants to pursue the issue in his non-campaign life, as well.  So he is about the best we could hope for for a presidential candidate; and yet the drug policy reform movement went out and campaigned for John Kerry, who has been a traditional drug warrior, and has been behind Plan Colombia.  In fact, when I met with John Kerry with Ralph – we had a meeting with Kerry – Ralph mentioned that I was one of the leaders of the drug policy reform movement, and Kerry then started talking about Plan Colombia.  So, that’s what he thinks about when he says “drug policy.”  Kerry did make some kind of wishy-washy statements about medical marijuana during the campaign, but nothing we could have held him to if he had gotten elected.  So I think the drug policy reform movement has got to not vote for candidates who want to put people in jail for drug offenses.  That has got to be the bottom line.  We’ve got to take that position, we’ve got to hold that position, and if a Democrat comes up and says, “you have nowhere else to go, and here is another wishy-washy statement to appease you,” we have to say that’s not good enough.  You can’t take us for granted.  We are going to let our constituents know that you favor the drug warrior’s very destructive policy that is doing great harm to our culture, our society, our justice system, our health system, and to our people.  And I think that’s what we have got to start to do – taking that kind of hardline position against anyone who supports the drug war.


Dean:   Kevin, you and I know this drug war runs on fear; and what I see across the country are all these hysterical, if you will, letters to the editor or editorials themselves talking about methamphetamine and how Sudafed is making it possible for the average Joe to make their own speed.  I guess my point I’m trying to make is, this represents less than 10% of the speed that is distributed in the United States.  Most of it comes from Mexico or major labs.  What are your thoughts in that regard?


Zeese:  Fear is definitely used well by the drug warriors to expand their bureaucracy, expand their power, expand their budget, and increase law enforcement activity.  I don’t know how we can get out of this where the more the drug war fails, the more resources and power they get.  You know, with most programs or businesses, if you fail, you go out of business.  If you fail, your budget gets cut, you try a new approach.  With the drug war, we just do more of the same.  And I don’t know – the methamphetamine problem, for example – we’ve dealt with crack, we’ve dealt with hardcore drugs for years, and we see that law enforcement is not the solution.  We need to really have a different approach.  And in fact, our cocaine policy trying to suppress cocaine coming from outside the United States is going to actually spur methamphetamine, which is a speed-like drug along with cocaine.  So you know, we do self-defeating policies and just keep repeating ourselves.  And that is the syndrome we have to break out of.  I think we, as reformers, have to say “the problem is prohibition.”  The problem is the approach we are taking.  Prohibition created crack; prohibition is creating the methamphetamine market; prohibition makes the problem worse.  We have got to end prohibition, that’s the solution.


Dean:   It’s so true.  Kevin, as I understand it, your organization issues a Drug War Facts every year or two to bring forward the truth about these drugs and this situation.  You want to talk about that?


Zeese:  Yes, that’s a document we are very proud of; and people can see it on the web at, Drug War Facts.  What we do is, we are regularly updating it on the web, so it’s a consistently up-to-date resource for activists; and if you work on this issue for 20 minutes a week or 20 hours a week, or if it’s your full-time job, Drug War Facts will make you a better advocate.  It will make you able to write a letter to the editor that’s fact based very quickly, or get on a radio show and ask a question of the drug czar that is fact based very quickly.  It just really makes you a much more in-depth advocate, and it’s a constant project.  And my colleague Doug McVay, who works in our Lancaster office, is always updating that. And then about once a year, we do a hard-cover copy.  You can get the hard-cover copy if you will write to us.  Just write:  Info at; that’s Info at Common Sense for Drug Policy,, and you can get a hard copy of the document.  What’s interesting is how it has grown over the years.  It gets bigger and bigger and bigger because we cover more and more subjects and there’s more and more misstatements of facts to respond to.  One thing that the drug warriors – when you are fighting against people who rely on fear to push their policy, you are constantly correcting the record.  And so Drug War Facts needs to be ongoing, ever expanding, dealing with the new lies of the drug warriors; so that the public and the media in particular can be well informed.  So we are pretty proud of that effort, and we hope people will use it by going to


Dean:   I want to inform the listeners that I depend on it when I prepare for speeches, debates, or letters that I’m doing because you want to be right.  We need to represent the truth in this matter, and through that we will win this thing.


Zeese:  Oh, no question.  I think the facts are – I think there’s a couple of things.  First, getting the facts right – the truth on our side – getting that out is critically important.  But secondly, we also have to deal with emotion.  And the drug warriors deal with fear.  We need to deal with the morality of this drug war.  We need to deal with the dishonesty of prohibition, the dishonesty of the people who push prohibition.  We have an emotional response, as well as a factual one.  So facts are half the issue, but not the whole issue; and that’s the mix that we need to pursue.  And we have got to be political.  That’s the next step.  You know, the drug policy movement may have made progress in the last decade or so getting more political as far as voter initiatives and voter referendums go, but now we need to get more political in terms of electoral politics.  And that means pushing elected representatives to support ending the drug war, ending prohibition, speaking out against prohibition.  If they don’t do that, then remove them from office, run candidates against them, support third-party independent candidates who take votes away from them, and deny them the office.  They need to recognize that we are a political force that must be satisfied, that must not be taken for granted; and we’re not going to get that way unless we step up and demand it. Demand is required.


Dean:   A moment ago, you talked about misstatements and so forth that are put forward by the government.  Our drug czar John Walters tours the nation saying marijuana is more dangerous than heroin and twice the threat of methamphetamines.


Zeese:  Isn’t that sad?


Dean:   It is sad.  And he’s outright lying to our children.


Zeese:  And the lie is not only about marijuana, but when you say marijuana is more dangerous than methamphetamines, and then a kid tries marijuana, finds it’s not what the drug czar said, and then is more likely to try methamphetamines.  Because if they lied about marijuana, they probably lied about methamphetamines, too.  So the drug czar is shooting the goal of reducing drug abuse in the foot.  He may not be shooting the goal of expanding the drug war.  You know, he’s doing great at expanding the drug war.  You know, lies and misstatements and fear do that; but by saying marijuana is more dangerous than methamphetamines, I think is easily misunderstood, and people will then just not trust what you are saying about more dangerous drugs.


Dean:   Let’s talk about the international aspect for a moment, the fact that the 35-year war in Colombia continues unabated; and now Afghanistan is growing perhaps 90% of the world’s opium, while under U.S. guidance.  What is going on?


Zeese:  The international scene is a complicated one for a long time; and the problem is that every time we have tried an approach of interdiction or eradication, we have actually made the problem worse.  This has been going on since Nixon.  I mean, I can recall one of my early mentors in this business was Ralph Selerno, who was an organized crime police officer from New York involved in the French Connection heroin case back in the 1960s.  He said that when they were fighting the French Connection, they were told that if we break the French Connection, Turkish heroin processed in France, distributed in New York, that we would end the heroin problem.  That’s what they were told.  They did break the French Connection, and in fact, the heroin problem got worse because what happened was Mexico filled the void.  President Nixon – when he did Operation Intercept in the late 1960s early 1970s, which was a program on the Mexican border to essentially militarize the Mexican border searching one out of three vehicles going across it.  The result of that was a short-term reduction of availability in marijuana, but that resulted in an immediate increase in prescription drug abuse; and then within three months, there was a marijuana glut.  Why?  Because the marijuana traffickers who had been using cars and trucks realized they could use planes and boats and commerce and people.  And so suddenly, now we have not only cars and trucks, but planes and boats and cars and commerce and people.  So a whole other series of methods of smuggling marijuana and heroin into the country was created in reaction to Operation Intercept.  If you go to the late 1970s and Jimmy Carter, spraying herbicides in Mexico to try to destroy the marijuana and poppy crop, the marijuana crop moved north and south.  We created the U.S. marijuana market as the result of the reaction to paraquat in Mexico; and we created the Colombian marijuana market, spurred that market to expand.  So we had new sources of marijuana and then what happened was President Reagan comes in, and there was marijuana coming in from Colombia through Florida.  They would fly a plane up – a small plane up – drop a bail of marijuana in the ocean; a boat would come pick it up and bring it to shore.  These big square groupers of marijuana would wash up on shore sometimes, and there would be a marijuana party on the beach.  It was just an embarrassment, and as a result President Reagan brought the military in because they were good at catching slow boats and planes.  But then what happened, of course, was the Colombians switched to cocaine, which was easier to hide, smaller, put it into commerce, easier to smuggle, and we had the cocaine growth of the 80s.  So you can see every step of the way, and you can keep that going up through Clinton and through President Bush the first, and through the current President Bush.  Every step of the way you see interdiction and eradication programs make the problems worse, because they are not dealing with the fundamental problem.  The fundamental problem is that drug abuse is a social and health problem with economic consequences.  The solution to social, health, and economic problems are not the military and not the police and not prisons.  Social, health, and economic consequences are handled by social and health and economic programs.  That means having social services to deal with the underlying causes of addiction.  That means making treatment available like any other health service; and that means undermining the economics of the drug trade by regulated sales of some of these drugs.  For example, in Switzerland they have now heroin clinics.  They call them heroin-assisted treatment where people go to a clinic, buy the heroin at the clinic, and use it at the clinic.  What they found was not only did it help that individual addict to reduce illegal drug use, to reduce crime, homelessness, unemployment – but also reduced the market.  Because if you take one heavy drug user out of the market you are usually taking one drug dealer out of the market, because heavy drug users fund their addiction by selling drugs.  So by solving that one addict’s problem, you reduce the drug trade significantly.  So now we are seeing trials, talk about a trial of heroin clinics in Canada.  In Holland they are doing it, in Germany they are talking about it.  So we are starting to see it spread, and it needs to come to the United States as well.  We need to move toward a regulated market, bring drugs within the law, get real control of them, and end this approach of prohibition and criminalization and denial of drug treatment.  That doesn’t work.  It makes the problem worse, and the alternatives are less expensive and more effective.  We just have to have the courage to recognize that we can take a new approach and succeed.


Dean:   Now, Kevin, I feel that my job – I’m very proud of the fact that we have 25 affiliates in the U.S. and Canada that air the Drug Truth Network program.


Zeese:  That’s great.


Dean:   And I feel that my – it has always been my job, but I’m going to try to say this openly to everyone listening.  My job is to educate the choir to sing solos; and to do that, they need that education.  They need that understanding, that truth, with which they can step forward.  And there is no one who can refute this.  Let’s talk again about your website and how they might learn to sing those solos.


Zeese:  Yeah, I think that we all have two responsibilities as activists.  One is when you talk to people who are already convinced to get them active and singing more loudly, whether as solo or part of the choir, singing more loudly.  Secondly is to talk to people who are not convinced and to – through facts and moral clarity – to convince them that ending the drug war is the most sensible option.  Those are our two tasks when we talk about education. The choir, and the need to be convinced.  What we have in our website, the Drug War Facts, is I think the most important as far as getting people …


Dean:   Yes, give them the website for that, Kevin.


Zeese:  It’s, is the Drug War Facts book; but our website is our initials for the organization Common Sense for Drug Policy,  And what you see on the website is a constant exploration of current events in the news.  What is happening now – you know, pain control for doctors is a very hot issue.  Patients in serious pain have a hard time getting treatment.  It’s an incredible abuse by the DEA and how they deal with many medical doctors, and so that is an issue we are currently focusing on.  But you will see every current issue, really, discussed in depth.  We also have on the website a couple of other things.  One, we have an advertising campaign that we run in a half a dozen or so weekly news periodicals. We run these advertisements in the most conservative, the most progressive, libertarian, across the political spectrum.  And what you will see in those ads is a way for you to take an issue and encapsulate it into sound bites, into a short message.  So whatever issue you are concerned about, whether it’s pain control, whether it’s medical marijuana, lack of research on marijuana.  You know, whatever the issue is, we have a nice summarized encapsulated message that you can use to sharpen your message just by reviewing those ads.  We also have on the website the national effective drug control strategy.  What that is is an overall vision for an alternative drug strategy based on public health.  That is based on less of a law enforcement approach, with law enforcement at the fringes and not at the center.  At the center, it needs to be public health; and law enforcement’s role would be something like when there is driving under the influence, or using drugs at work or those kinds of things.  Then you can have a responsibility of the employer or, in other cases, law enforcement.  But law enforcement right now is the center, and it should be at the fringes of drug control.


Dean:   Once again, I want to remind the listeners we have been talking with Kevin Zeese, the president of Common Sense for Drug Policy.  You can learn more, as Kevin said, at their website at  Kevin, any closing thoughts?


Zeese:  Yes, I hope people – this is a hard time, I know, with so many other political issues from the response to 9/11 and the Iraq war.  We are going in so many wrong directions at once in our country.  But the drug war is one constant problem.  It’s been a problem for presidents since Nixon.  It’s a misdirection that has a track record of obvious failure, and I think that public opinion is switching to our side.  We’re seeing it in polls.  We’re seeing it in results of the ballot box when we have referendums on the ballot.  So I just hope that people recognize that there is hope with this issue.  There is an opportunity to really make change, and hope is the key to organizing people.  They need to have a sense that they can actually have an impact.  And I think we can do that with drug policy.  So I hope people get involved and get informed and get active and get their friends and neighbors active as well.  There’s lots of organizations doing great work.  If you come to our website at, we have links to many of the best organizations, so we can lead you into finding the organization that you can work best with.


Dean:   Kevin Zeese, I thank you, sir.


Zeese:  Thanks a lot for having me on.


Dean:   You bet, bye-bye.


Zeese:  Bye-bye.


Dean:   Next up, we hear from several reporters and reformers in the U.S. and Canada.  But first, can you name that drug?


It’s time to play “Name That Drug By Its Side Effects”:  dizziness, fast heart beat, hyperglycemia, blurred vision, drowsiness, dry mouth, increased urination, loss of appetite, nausea, stomach aches, tiredness, trouble breathing, unusual thirst, vomiting, hypoglycemia, cold sweats, confusion, nervousness, shakiness, weakness, irritability, tremors, abdominal bloating, dehydration, bloody diarrhea, anxiety, confusion, delirium, convulsions, irregular heartbeat, fever, trembling, twitching, overextending the body with heals bent backwards, psychiatric disorders requiring electric shock therapy.  Time’s up.  The answer:  caffeine – coffee, mocha, cava, java, Joe.  Good to the last drop.


Speaker 1:  Okay, let’s say drug prohibition does support terrorism.

Speaker 2:  And murder.

Speaker 1:  And murder.

Speaker 2:  Torture.

Speaker 1:  And torture.

Speaker 2:  Corruption and bribery.

Speaker 1:  And whatever.

Speaker 2:  What’s your point?

Speaker 1:  Change the law.

Speaker 2:  I got you.  Make it cheap, more available everywhere, like soda or cheesy puffs.

Speaker 1:  Exactly.  Cocaine at the playground; crack stands at the Laundromat; heroin at the mini mart.

Speaker 2:  Like that?  Face it old man, that’s what we’ve got now.

Speaker 1:  To learn more, visit the Marijuana Policy Project,


Dean:   This is part of a discussion I had with Richard Cowan from Vancouver, British Columbia, and


            I want to ask your opinion of a scenario that has developed here in the U.S.  We have had the government putting billions of dollars worth of advertising against mostly marijuana on the airways, but then not making it known that it’s the government that is producing this propaganda.  Your thoughts on that.


Cowan:  Basically, the problem with police state propaganda is it is so pervasive in the United States.  The fact that the government is doing it – they are hiding that fact that they are the source.  But I don’t get as disturbed by that as the whole thing of the drug education – that the government collaborates with and funds semiprivate groups that profiteer off the drug war.  I mean that is part of a much, much bigger problem.  The fact is that prohibitionist propaganda is itself a huge multimillion dollar a year industry, and a lot of groups that are anti-drug or drug education groups are in fact prohibitionist propaganda organizations.  Their principle focus is marijuana.  They really quite often ignore everything else and, of course, in the process lie about marijuana to justify more of the same.


Dean:            Poppygate, bizarre news on U.S. policy on controlling heroin, featuring Glenn Greenway.


            Greenway:  This week well-known U.S. conservative commentator Robert Novak wrote that, “Afghanistan, portrayed as a victory in the U.S. war against terror, is a disaster in the war against drugs.”  U.S.-occupied Afghanistan now produces about 90% of the world’s opium; and last year set a new record for poppy cultivation.  Last November the U.S. announced that it will spend $780 million dollars this year in an attempt to eradicate the crop.  However, in an open letter sent to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice this week, more than 38 agencies including CARE and OXFAM have criticized the U.S. plan to eradicate Afghan opium fields as a threat to the nation’s stability.  The executive director of the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime called this week for international aid to Afghanistan to be ended if drug production does not stop.  His suggestion was promptly rejected by Afghan officials.  This is Glenn Greenway, reporting for the Drug Truth Network.”


Dean:   This is part of a discussion I had with Dr. Todd Mikuriya, the Berkley, California, medical marijuana doctor.


Mikuriya:  The situation is that more and more local governments are facing the issue of how to cope with and regulate or relate to cannabis centers, because there are a couple of realities that nobody wants to confront or talk about.  It’s a cash business and it’s an effective and safe medicine, or safer and more effective than the so-called mainstream medications.  And with recent revelations, with the Vioxx and Celebrex and other supposedly effective medications that are now found to be potentially dangerous, cannabis is becoming even more important as a first-line tool for the management of chronic illness.


Francis:  My fellow Americans, it is my somber duty to report to you that the 4th amendment has died.  The right of the people to remain secure in their person, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated and no warrant shall be issued but upon probable cause has been an obstruction to law enforcement officers attempting to rid the streets of drug criminal scum since the conception of the drug war, but not anymore.  On Monday, January 24, 2005, in a 6-2 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that drug sniffing dogs can be used at routine traffic stops even if officers have no reason to suspect that they may be carrying narcotics without having to bother with showing probable cause.  Law enforcement can now fight the war on drugs more effectively.  The ruling sets a precedent that drug dog searches aren’t searches at all.  And so, drug dogs in mall parking lots, drug dogs on street corners, drug dog searches coming to a location near you.  Welcome to the new “drug free America.” To serve your people, you must learn to trust them.  This has been Winston Francis, with the official government truth.


Nolin:  Britain is not going to pot, but on the other side of the world, Australia is turning upside down.  It seems that after showing some sense about the draconian laws regarding cannabis, the storm troopers are back on the attack.  According to the Australian Broadcasting Company, the Health Minister Kim McGinty said letting anyone off with a caution is unacceptable.  That’s not good enough.  “We need to bring home to the people the consequences of their cannabis use,” he said.  Now I know there are some side effects associated with using this plant, as there are with any mind-altering substance, but I have never seen the plant throw you in jail.  That would be a consequence of prohibition use, which also has its side effects of corruption of the soul and murder.  It’s too bad they didn’t read their own government’s 1994 report, Legislative Options for Cannabis.  “Australia experiences more harm, we conclude, from maintaining the cannabis prohibition policy than it experiences from the use of the drug.”  While they don’t endorse free availability, there is a middle ground to be had.  Let’s hope that cooler heads will prevail, because we should only jail people we are afraid of and not the ones we are mad at.  This is Steve Nolin for the Drug Truth Network. 


Dean:   A couple of quick program notes.  First, I want to welcome our newest affiliate.  This makes 25.  People of Lexington, Kentucky, hear us now on WRFL.  I want to say “Hi” to all of my new friends up there in Lexington.  Our guests next week will be several members of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition,; and as always, because of drug prohibition I remind you, you don’t know what’s in that bag.  Please, be careful.



            For the Drug Truth Network, and our affiliates in the U.S. and Canada, this is Dean Becker for Cultural Baggage, the unvarnished truth.  This show is produced at the Pacifica Studios of KPFT, Houston.  Tap dancing on the edge of an abyss.