Cultural Baggage 8/17/04

(the "Roast" of Drug Czar John Walters)

Hosted by Dean Becker

Engineered by Steve Nolin

Transcript by Philip Guffy


(Intro) Dean: Broadcasting on the Drug Truth Network, this is Cultural Baggage.  (Music)  My name is Dean Becker.  Steve Nolin is our engineer.  We invite you to join us as we examine the Unvarnished Truth about the drug war.


Dean: This week the mothership of the Drug Truth Network is doing pledge drive, so we’re sending out this special edition to the affiliates about John Walters, the drug czar of the Americas.  (Music)


Walters: The line that’s been presented to Americans as well as Canadians is, marijuana is not a serious drug of abuse.  That’s not true.  You can’t be addicted to marijuana.  That’s not true.  That’s archaic views of what marijuana was left over from the Cheech and Chong movies of 70’s.  Today we have to not be subject to ‘Reefer Madness’ madness.


Dean: A couple of weeks ago, John Walters came to my hometown of Houston, Texas to talk about drugs, gangs, and violence.  Throughout his presentation, you could hear the calls of “Liar!” and “Are you a doctor?” emanating from the audience.


Walters: Most adults my age, most adults in the community simply think that marijuana is the soft drug.  Of the 7 million people we have to treat today, over 60% need that treatment because of their use and abuse of marijuana.  It is the single greatest cause of treatment needs in the United States today.  Nationally, more teenagers seek treatment for marijuana dependency than for all other illegal drugs combined.  And, for the last several years, more seek treatment for marijuana dependency as teenagers than alcohol, which did not use to be the case, despite our efforts against alcohol, its greater pervasiveness and the ambiguousness of society was a reason why we had more young people using.  This is not to denigrate the danger you see from meth, diversion of prescription pharmaceuticals, heroin, or cocaine.  But, when you look at the problem and deal with young people seriously, you look at the pathways to dependency and abuse.  We cannot rest with the old view that marijuana is somehow a gateway.  It’s a dead end for increasing percentages of teenagers today based on the kind of product it is today. 


In addition, it is a factor because these users are 17, 16, 18, 19.  The average age of first use of marijuana today, in many communities and the average nationally, is 13, 14 and many it’s 12, 11, and 10.  It’s not just a gateway.  It’s a dead end, and we have to educate ourselves and be clear with young people about what needs to be done both in the classroom and at home.  Young people get very confusing messages from our culture.  They believe, and I think you know this if you talk to them seriously, but despite what we tell them when they’re younger, that this is a dangerous thing they ought not to be involved in, that the dirty little secret about growing up in America as you get older and more aware is the culture expects you or accepts experimentation with dangerous addictive substances as part of coming of age in the United States.  That when they’re in a group of their peers, and someone starts using or expresses the desire to use, they will be the deviant if they say I think that’s wrong or I don’t want to.  We understand how this problem spreads.  When a young person breaks the boundary of prevention and starts to use, they do not do it secretly with their friends, they usually aggressively bring that behavior back to their friends, encouraging them to partake with them, to be part of a new experience.  It begins with what I call the lie, it’s fun, you can handle it, everybody does it.  Because if you think about addiction as a disease, we have to understand that what drug abuse is in the United States today, what addiction in the United States today is a pediatric onset disease.  It starts in childhood with young people who are asymptomatic, with people who are bringing back a behavior which they claim, by their own example, is not harmful because it doesn’t happen immediately.  But today, the short period from experimentation to more involved, dangerous and destructive behavior is narrower.  We need to both talk to young people about that, educate ourselves about that, work as a community to reinforce those…that information, and also work as a community to supervise and give healthy outlets as (unit.).  We’re trying to support some of those overall efforts in society with the media campaign leader DeLay referred to.  I’d like to close by showing you a couple of brief spots that we’ve done…some of you may have seen.  The campaign is divided into two parts: one, getting messages to adults about the importance that they have in their children’s lives, the other directly trying to educate young people about this danger and the danger to their friends.


Dean: So then the drug czar played a couple of those one minute pieces, you’ve seen them, that tries to equate use of marijuana with funding Osama bin Laden and so forth.  Then he closed his speech with this little bit here before he answered questions from the audience.


Walters: This is no more than our effort to try and provide some support for what you do as a community.  Let me close by thanking you for what you and the people leading this community do every day because we know you save the lives, you put back together those who are hurting and sick and we couldn’t ask for better partners we try to be true to what you’re doing and be supportive of that common effort. 


Dean: In that these lies of John Walters are quite horrifying and depressing, I think it appropriate that we play a little marijuana music.  More horror in a minute.


(Audio track) “What if God Smoked Cannabis”


Dean: I would rather imagine that he inhaled at least once.  Anyway, the horror, the horror.  Following Walter’s speech, they allowed for questions from the audience and my good friend, John, tried to set forth some ground rules for the further discussion. 


John: Let us try to be civil.  Let us try to talk with integrity and let’s talk about protecting our children from drugs.  There are a lot of people who have very opposing views – very strong views and if we can do that, maybe we can get somewhere tonight.  The problem, as I see it, in this country, is not the fact that drugs are here; they have always been here.  The problem is prohibition.  We tried it with alcohol.  All we did was make Al Capone, literally, a billionaire.  Every year there are tens of thousands of children who arte not only taking drugs, they are involved in the business of drugs as couriers and as sales and as lookouts.  My rhetorical question to you is: when was the last time you were served a beer by a 13-year-old in a bar.  That’s ridiculous.  The very image is silly and the reason is our country has decided that alcohol is bad thing but if it is regulated, controlled, and kept from our children it is harder for them to get.  Now household surveys across the country, for years, have shown that it is harder for children to get alcohol than it is to get pot.  The reason is any pusher will sell anything to anybody.  But a person who is a businessman, who has to pay taxes, who has an establishment, who can be held accountable by the men in blue, he will not serve children or he will strive not to.  Isn’t this analogy perfectly legitimate for something like marijuana?  Can’t we decide that you don’t’… even if you don’t like marijuana, even if you don’t like what it does to people.  Yes it turns people into lazy couch-potatoes, but, A, does putting them in prison actually solve the problem or just brutalize them and does prohibition do anything more than make tens of millions of Americans criminals?  Does it make anything more than the people who deal it rich and does it occasionally make for that tragic situation where bystanders are killed over, A, either the commerce in this incredibly lucrative business or in accidental police shoot outs where, unfortunately, the police make mistakes.  Could you please comment on that Mr. Walters? (Applause)


Walters: This is the argument about well shouldn’t we just legalize drugs because the prohibition is worse than the problem.  I think it’s based on a couple of false assumptions.  Let me just deal with those.  First, it is true that recently we’ve had greater problems with marijuana in causing treatment need for young people, but alcohol is the second and in some ways in some communities the largest cause of treatment need among substances of abuse.  Our effort to control alcohol – and the country’s had a disagreement over time.  No question about it.  We’ve allowed it, we’ve tried to control it, we’ve allowed it, we’ve tried to control access by young people.  We weren’t very good at that.  We aren’t very good at controlling access of cigarettes to young people, either.  And as a result, while I understand what your saying is prohibition makes it worse, but, again, the slides I showed you is 19 million Americans use an illegal drug once a month or more frequently, almost 40 to 50 million smoke cigarettes once a month or more frequently, and almost 120 million use alcohol once a month or more frequently.  You have to assume that the ending of this would approach greater use.  We would allow it. It would be more widespread.  What would the country look like if instead of as bad as 19 million users are, we had forty or a hundred million users?  As I said, also, marijuana is not a peripheral problem of abuse.  Of the 7 million people we have to treat, over 60% are dependent upon marijuana.  In addition, yes the crime that’s involved with this is serious, but the presumption that many people tell people that they want to have legalized – I’m not saying you did this, you may have heard this from somebody else – that our jails and prisons are full of those people who are simply drug users, there’s no reality to that claim.  The increase in the prison population, which we all regret because we love our freedom, the increase in the prison population largely, the largest section is state prison system, has been fed by violent crime.  The contribution that drugs makes to crime, and dealers do make a lot of contributions to crime, but the single biggest contribution that drugs makes to crime is the behavior that it’s catalytic in in causing violence and abuse.  80% of our child abuse and endangerment cases involve a parent or guardian who is a substance abuser.  Alcohol is a considerable factor in exactly same way.  But, to make an argument that because we already have a problem containing something that we have, for better or worse, decided to contain, we ought to un-contain all the other problems given what we see about marijuana, is, I believe, not responsible and certainly not supported by the vast majority of the population.  And finally, if the argument is that a lot of people go to jail because they are simply possessing drugs, that’s also, I know, a frequently repeated so therefore considered to be a factual statement, claim.  Think of it this way, nobody likes in law enforcement, and nobody, in any serious way, locks up kids, nobody makes a career out of slam-dunking a 15-year-old with a baggie of marijuana in their jeans, but we do have serious problems of crime and abuse, and we do have young people at younger and younger ages with addiction that get involved in crime and come into juvenile drug courts and in that case, those drug courts try to get them assessed and get them treatment.  The criminal justice system has done things you can be proud of as an American in taking people who are sick, primarily, and not a violent threat and getting them the help tat they need and helping to see that they take advantage of that help.

Dean:  I’m giving you much of this discussion because I want to give somewhat of a fair shot to John Walters even though he refuses to give me any shot at his assertions.  I’ll have more about that as we close out the program but right now it’s time to play “Name that Drug”.  Good Luck.

(Audio Track)

Host:  It’s time to play “Name that Drug by its Side Effects!”  Blistering or peeling skin, swelling of eyelids, throat and lips, blurred vision and yellowing of eyes, black tarry stools, vomit that looks like coffee grounds.  Times up, the answer, Celebrex, another FDA approved product.

Kid:  O. K., let’s say drug prohibition does support terrorism

Old Man:  And murder

Kid:  And murder

Old Man:  Torture

Kid:  And torture

Old Man:  Corruption, bribery

Kid:  And whatever

Old Man:  What’s your point?

Kid:  Change the law.

Old Man:  I gotchya, make it cheap, more available, everywhere like soda or cheesy puffs

Kid:  Exactly

Old Man:  Cocaine at the playground, crack stands at the Laundromat, heroin at the mini mart, like that?

Kid:  Face it old man, that’s what we’ve got now!

Host: To learn more, visit the Marijuana Policy Project (

Dean:  I don’t know about you but I didn’t hear any direct response from John Walters to my friend John’s assertions.  US Representative Tom DeLay had been the one who sponsored this seminar on drugs, crime and violence and here he doesn’t respond to my friend John’s question either.

DeLay:  And I might just answer your analogy.  I, I don’t agree with your analogy.  Uh, uh alcohol is every day…children are having access to alcohol easier every day as the days go by.  The age of drinking is lowering because alcohol is more accessible to our children and the number one killer; the number one killer of our children is drinking and driving.  Uh, and, and uh, so there is an impact to the use of these, these uh, uh, uhm substances and it has a very real impact on the lives of our children and our society.

Dean:  So I want to put my two cents worth into this discussion if you will.  Each year here in the US we arrest 1.6 million of our fellow citizens for little baggies they are carrying around in their pocket.  Over 700,000 of those arrests are for the possession of marijuana.  A recent guest on the cultural baggage show was Warden Richard Watkins of the Holiday Prison Unit and here is what he had to say:

Watkins:  Prohibition has not worked.  I mean our prisons are getting more filled each day.  We have people who are incarcerated that don’t need to be incarcerated because of the prohibition and this so called war on drugs is…it would be funny if it were not so serious.

Dean:  In your experience, what percentage of prisoners come in either for having had drugs in their possession or stealing to support a drug habit?

Watkins:  I heard figures as late as yesterday that come closer to 90% but I would suspect and I don’t have the firm figures on this because I don’t think the figures are actually being kept…I would suspect that somewhere over 80% of offenders who come in to our Texas prisons come because directly of drug violations or other violations that have been precipitated through their drug use and their need for drugs.

Dean:  Here is part of a speech I gave to the Houston City Council following the Drug Czar’s visit to our town as well as the day that Emily Reilly, the City Council Woman and former Mayor of Santa Cruz spoke to them on behalf of medical marijuana.

I want to start with a bit of history lesson.  In the early 1920’s and culminating in 1937 with the Federal Marijuana Tax Act, a propaganda war was waged primarily by one man, our nation’s first drug czar, Harry J. Anslinger.  Now up until that point in time, cannabis was legal, available over the counter and economically priced.  You could buy hash candy bars, highly potent cannabis and refined tinctures of cannabis.  There were no drug gangs, there was no drug gang violence, few overdose deaths and very few children using drugs.  Hemp was grown in the back forty.  Cannabis medicines were used by humans and livestock alike.  Mr. Anslinger told Congress and the American people there was a new threat, a menace that would lead our children to insanity, criminality and death.  Saying it came from South of the border, he named this threat marijuana.  Through a comprehensive media attack through the Hearst newspapers and movies like “Reefer Madness” and “The Terrible Truth” the people were convinced that marijuana must be banned never realizing that Anslinger was talking about the hemp and cannabis they had grown and used for generations.  Last Thursday the current reigning Drug Czar, John Walters was in town to talk about kids, drugs and gangs.  He told us that marijuana is now twice the danger of heroin, in fact the most dangerous drug problem in our nation.  Walters says marijuana has become so powerful and potent that we can no longer call it marijuana. Hemp, cannabis, marijuana and now the drug formerly known as marijuana and I am asking all of you to please investigate the truth of this matter.  Sometimes snake oil salesmen wear thousand dollar suits and live in Washington, DC.  Every day, doctors over at MD Anderson hospital, and I hear this on a weekly basis from the patients and the doctors, the doctors have to recommend, they have to whisper to these patients that if you want to live, find yourself some marijuana.  And I think this is something that should be of great concern to this city council.  It is something that should be made available cheaply and easily to these people who need it so desperately and who are forbidden by threat of prison to do so. 

Drug Warrior John:

Walters:  The people like George Soros who is a uh, uh, and several other people who have funded campaigns to change state laws to legalize drugs…they believe we will have a better society if more people have access to drugs.

Audience Member:  Medical Marijuana

Walters:  Let me finish.  I thought we had some ground rules from your friend over here.  Uhm, what young people are led to believe is not only that this is acceptable that but there is something about kind of showing your independence from authority that is now tied up with drug use for many of them.  Now we can, you can have some arguments about, about whether there are trends and this and that but the claim that this is not dangerous, the claim that we are locking up kids who are simply guilty of possession, the claim that because you called a couple of your friends who say that “my marijuana is the same as it always been” that that is the same as multi year scientific research analyzing uh, uh, uhm, seized data

Audience Member:  Are you a scientist or a doctor?

Walters:  No but I am responsible for talking to scientists and doctors.  But also look, here is the fundamental lie, here is the fundamental lie that I point out to you.  Go to the legalizer  websites, go to the website for High Times magazine.  It’s clear that the people who use marijuana believe it’s more potent, they are marketing higher varieties.  They are telling you how to find the more potent varieties.  So the people who advocate this that want to claim, “oh no, no, no, we believe it’s all the same” it’s belied by the very culture that is “we have and you should look for the following characteristics to find higher potency marijuana”.  And the government does these surveys in a systematic way so that we can have data.

Dean:  What’s better, two hits of hydro or two joints of Mexican?  Next at the seminar came a girl who claimed to be a high school student and try though she might she just couldn’t bring herself to actually cry.  Here is her testimony.

Audience Member:  Um you were talking about um prevention programs here in the um the Fort Bend ISD.  Well, have the Fort Bend ISD been implementing that in the schools?  Because I have friends that are smoking marijuana in school during lunch, o.k. and then coming to class high and doing whatever because I’m a student and I’m kind of scared if they are going to do that now what if half the student body is smoking pot in class, is it going to move to that, am I going to be, do I feel, am I going to have the security, I know we have officers in schools, but if half the student body is going to be, ok, if there are five students in my class that are high coming to chemistry, I mean, what can we expect?

Dean:  So a few minutes later it was my turn at the microphone to ask the Drug Czar to be a guest on my radio shows.  That was my question.  But at that very moment, Congressman Tom DeLay took the podium and said the meeting was closed.  So I then walked over and tried to speak to the Drug Czar as he sat in the chair for a moment.  But his agents gathered around him, all with earpieces behind their ears and bulging coats, you know the type, and they prevented me from talking to the man.  I offered my business card, none of the agents would take it, the Drug Czar stood up, his agents gathered around him and he left the building looking much like John Gotti leaving a play.

For three years now I’ve tried to get the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the Drug Czar or even the Attorney General to come on this show and explain to us the need for an eternal war on our own people and of course you haven’t heard them as of yet.

Here’s a summary of some e-mail exchange I did with the Office of National Drug Control Policy over the last few weeks.  I’ve done this about a dozen times before but this time I started on July 23rd.  This was addressed to the Drug Czar, John Walters, care of his press secretary, Jennifer deVallance of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.  Subject:  Times up for the Drug War.  I’m having a difficult time in getting an interview with anyone dedicated to further enforcement of the drug prohibition laws.  I understand that you see great harms in marijuana, more so than with heroin or cocaine.  At a time when many are calling for reform of all of these laws, more especially so in regards to marijuana, will you, Mr. Walters or your designate from the ONDCP please make yourself available for up to a half hour to discuss the recent Reuters release which indicates that according to you, Mr. Walters, the "more potent pot of today" has become a major threat to our society?  I told them how our programs air on 14 stations in the US and Canada to include Houston, San Francisco, Boulder, Knoxville and Eugene, Oregon.  I told them I may not have the clout of Limbaugh or the listenership of Hannity but my shows are among the top draws for scientists, doctors and lawyers looking for the latest information about the mechanisms of the drug war.  I told them my guests have included Milton Friedman, a Nobel Laureate, Congressman John Conyers and the CEO of GW Pharmaceuticals, Dr. Geoffrey Guy.  We have interviewed well over 100 politicians, scientists, district attorneys, authors, policemen, former DEA agents, wardens, doctors, prisoners, patients and providers.  I offered them six different ways they could participate, a live debate between Mr. Walters and an associate and me and an associate or if not “team vs. team” then just Mr. Walters and I, if not live then a debate as described above recorded, if not a debate or live then a prerecorded discussion between myself and Mr. Walters.  Failing that I would send a list of questions in advance with no follow up questions, a simple recorded Q&A and lastly if no recording was to be done I would send some questions via e-mail for them to answer. I told them my audience and I would await their word.  On August 2nd I sent them additional e-mails to include this plea that “we both want to get these drugs out of the hands of criminals, lets share our thoughts with my listeners” On August 3rd I said the day we regulate the distribution of these drugs to adults is the day we destroy Osama’s profits in Afghan opium.  I asked them to define their parameters that I would respect them and invite them and their experts back for further discussions.  On August 3rd I heard from Jennifer and she said “while we will be unable to accommodate your request we wish well in your future endeavors”.  I closed the correspondence by stating “Your organization’s silence in defending the drug war speaks volumes”.  Next week’s guest, Dr. Claudia Jensen who is also a professor at USC who prescribes medical marijuana to children with ADD.

I close today’s show by stating that because of the lies of men like John Walters, you don’t know what’s in that bag.  Please be careful.

For the drug truth network and on behalf of my technical producer Steve Nolin, this is Dean Becker for Cultural Baggage, the Unvarnished Truth.  This show is produced at Pacifica Studios of KPFT, Houston.