06/19/11 Pete Shumlin

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40 Years of Drug War conference, featuring Vt. Gov Pete Shumlin, From DPA Ethan Nadelmann and Tony Papa + Sonia Sohn of "The Wire" + song "No Knock Raid" & Terry Nelson reports for LEAP

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Century of Lies Transcript June 19, 2011

The failure of drug war is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors and millions more now calling for decriminalization, legalization, the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century of Lies.


DEAN BECKER: Today, we recognize 40 years of futile, flailing, official drug war. Thank you, Tricky Dick. Drummed out of office, and he had his tactics; they’re still in place. Today, we’re gonna tune into a recent press conference put together by the Drug Policy Alliance, who’s standing in support of the recent Global Commission on Drugs Report.


ETHAN NADELMANN: I’m Ethan Nadelmann, the Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance, and I wanted to welcome all of you—both those of you in the audience, and those of you listening on the phones—to the press conference. Celebrating—if I can put that into quotes—the 40th anniversary of Nixon’s declaring war on drugs.

Now he didn’t actually use those words 40 years ago, he spoke about drug abuses, America’s Public Enemy Number 1, and the need for an all-out strategy, and he only used the language of the war on drugs later. But that truly marks the period at which we initiated a policy in this country that has cost 1 trillion dollars; the best estimate is that it has incarcerated millions and given tens of millions of criminal records, that has resulted in incredible levels of suffering and addiction, overdose, disease, AIDS, Hepatitis C and death in the U.S. and around the world.

It’s also sort of given honor to the notion of hypocrisy of dealing with drugs in our society and with our children. It’s resulted in the devastations you see in Mexico, in Central America, in Colombia, in Afghanistan, and around the world. And we think that the time is coming where this is beginning to change.

Now this is not just a day of memory. It’s not just a day of noting this; it’s the week, it’s the month, and it’s the year. We are incredibly fortunate, a few weeks ago with the Global Commission on Drug Policy. That was a press conference at the Waldorf Astoria with former Presidents, Richard Branson, and it just rocked. I’m sure you all saw it; it hit the global media all around the world. The reaction from editorial boards, elected officials, has been nothing short of remarkable.

Today is just one of a number of press conferences. Tomorrow, the Institute for the Black World will be having a press conference on the same subject with Reverend Jesse Jackson. Two days ago, the organization LEAP, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, held its own event. SSDP, Students for Solid, Sensible Drug Policy are hosting events all around the country. There are local activist events happening across the country as well. Editorials, media, elected officials, statements in Congress, are all happening as well.

Now in putting to you this conference, part of what we were expecting to have were members of Congress sitting here, but in fact they’re voting as we speak. Jared Polis, we think will show up later. John Conyers was supposed to be here; couldn’t be here. Barbara Lee, we have an aid of hers right here. Maxine Waters wanted to be here, but she’s gotta vote at this time. Senator Webb, I asked him to be here, but he’s also in the thick of it with things on the Armed Services Committee.

So the first person I wanna ask to speak is somebody who could not be here, but there are not that many sitting elected officials at this level speaking out against the War on Drugs. One of those is a Governor, and he’s a governor who’s spoken on behalf of medical marijuana and decriminalization, who’s advocated for harm reduction, who’s playing a national leadership role in reducing recidivism. So I’monna put over the mics and call in Governor Pete Shumlin, from Vermont. Governor?

PETE SHUMLIN: Well, thanks so much. And to the organizer of this event, I applaud you. There is no question on the 40th anniversary of the War on Drugs that we have to acknowledge as a nation and certainly as a governor of a small state, it has failed us miserably.

And one of my challenges—and I know the other 49 governors share the same challenge—is that we all have budgets, state budgets, that are out of balance. We’ve been working hard to balance our budgets in tough times when our constituents on average are making the same money they were making 10 years ago.

The second biggest area of growth in my state budget – and I suspect this is true across the country – is corrections. I have taken over a state that has been tough on crime, but not smart on crime. And it’s the smart part that we’re getting wrong. It’s directly related to the War on Drugs and our approach as a nation to drugs.

Here’s my story: in our small state, we have watched our corrections spending double in the last decade. We can’t build prisons fast enough; we now ship our Vermont prisoners to Kentucky. And we also know that 60%--this is an extraordinary number—but 60% of them end up back in the correction system within 3 years of being released, at the cost of $47,000 a year on average to lock them up. Now, what are we doing wrong?

This is what we’re doing wrong. Most of them are in on drug and narcotics-related offenses. We also know that when they’re released, we don’t do the prevention to keep them from going back into the system. What we need to do is stop wasting billions and billions of dollars on a failed drug policy and instead rewrite our criminal codes to make sense—number 1. But number 2, and most importantly, spend our dollars where we’re actually getting fewer people from drug addiction, not promote and enhance the problem by locking them up with violent offenders, where they learn how to be really good criminals.

So, as a governor, I can tell you this is big for us. It’s about money; it’s about balancing budgets. It’s also about being a state that treats people with a disease with compassion, with hope, with dignity. I just wanna say we need to be much smarter on crime, and if we can do that together as a nation, we will all win. And we will have a much more productive society.


DEAN BECKER: Once again, that was Vermont Governor Pete Shumlin speaking at a Drug Policy Alliance Conference in recognition of the 40-year anniversary of the War on Drugs.


ETHAN NADELMANN: Tony Papa, who has been a leader on Rockefeller drug law reform, who has been a stalwart advocate at the Drug Policy Alliance.


TONY PAPA: The 40th anniversary. I’m not here to celebrate it. I’m here to embrace it for what it is: a complete failure; a failure that has imprisoned hundreds of thousands of individuals, waste billions of dollars of tax money. And for what? Complete failure.

I was a first-time non-violent drug offender that made the biggest mistake of my life in 1985, when I brought up an envelope of 4 ounces of cocaine from the Bronx to Mt. Vernon for $500. I walked into a police sting operation. 20 police officers came out of nowhere, placed me under arrest. I did everything I could do wrong, and I was sentenced to two 15-to-life sentences. I went to Sing-Sing Correctional Facility, where I spent 12 years of my 15-to-life sentence before Governor George Pataki granted clemency.

When I came out, I was on a mission: to save the people that I left behind. So I started working the fight, the Rockefeller drug laws in New York State, the laws that put me and many others away. I joined alliances with the Drug Policy Alliance. We worked together to change the law—these laws. And it took about 8 years, and finally we got a meaningful reform.

So, for all of you today that are here, I wanna thank you for joining in on our fight to change the War on Drugs, and maybe walk hand-in-hand with us on common ground to make meaningful reform of the drug laws in the United States. Thank you.


DEAN BECKER: Once again, that was Tony Papa. Governor Shumlin of Vermont had to leave the conference, but before he did, here are some closing comments.


PETE SHUMLIN: You—We can proceed at our own peril, which is a willingness by government leaders and elected officials, to have the conversation about how other countries are dealing with this problem better than we are. Almost every other developed country in the world has a better al—drug and alcohol-related disease, and yet we just sit here blindly and keep trying to convince ourselves that if we throw more money at a failed war on drugs, somehow something’s gonna change.

Well, all I can say is I don’t know exactly what works and what doesn’t; as Governor, I’m not an expert on this. But I find it astonishing that after 40 years of a failed policy that has cost tax payers billions and billions of dollars, that is locking up people with diseases that need to be treated instead of teaching them to be hardened criminals and combining them with hardened criminals, we’re gonna continue to fail. And we need to be willing to have that conversation: what works, what doesn’t work, why are we failing so miserably?


DEAN BECKER: After the Governor left the podium, it gave Ethan Nadelmann a chance to share a few more thoughts.


ETHAN NADELMANN: But what’s also important about what the Global Commission did—I encourage you to read that report. They spoke about the need to support controlled experiments in legalization, especially of cannabis. No group of this distinction has ever said that before. They spoke of the need to apply harm reduction principles, not just to the people who use drugs, but also to the people involved in the production, and the low-level sale, and the low-level transport of these drugs. That’s never been said.

They spoke about the need to inject human rights principles when assembling drug-control conventions and not to automatically assume that any drug-control imperative would trump a human rights need. They spoke specifically about the need to move forward with things like safer injection sites, and heroin maintenance trials, which have proven successful throughout Europe and Canada; but which still somehow, the government cannot talk about it in the United States, and where government-funded scientists have to jump through hoops in order to come up with some sort of rationalization for why they’re not doing it here.

They spoke of the need to break the taboo and open the debate. And when you have former President Cardoso of Brazil and Gaviria of Colombia, and Zedillo of Mexico—all who retired with reputations intact and in wonderful shape. When you have former Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who’s been known as both a leader but as a man with great caution, and who looks at what’s going on in West Africa right now, with the growth of illegal drug trafficking and corruption and crime, and fears that what’s going on in Africa could very shortly begin to look like what’s happening in Mexico, in Central America, and other parts. And him signing on to these bold conclusions; that was remarkable.

When Richard Branson, who’s long been sympathetic, finally says, “I wanna step out and I wanna speak out, and put the resources of my operation behind it,” that was significant. When the former Foreign Minister of Norway, Thorvald Stoltenberg, who’s son is the current Prime Minister, and who’s an enormously distinguished and respected member of the Norwegian political establishment in an area—in a region of the world which is traditionally very cautious and conservative—when he stepped out, it was front-page news throughout Norway and I believe the rest of Scandinavia as well.

The former German Drug Czar reluctantly but nonetheless saying, “I have been an advocate for harm-reduction innovation.” We saw the intellectuals like Carlos Fuentes. We see Mario Vargas Llosa, the Peruvian novelist who ran for President, also stepping out and joining out. And when they do it, then you see the Vicente Fox, the other former President of Mexico saying, “I agree. Legalization is the way to go.” And his former Foreign Minister, Jorge Castaneda, saying the exact same thing.

You see President Calderón of Mexico—very reluctantly, but nonetheless—saying, “Yes we need a debate on legalization.” And in Colombia, you see the current President of Colombia, Santos, whose popularity ratings in Colombia are even greater than those of his predecessor, President Uribe. And he—lemme put it a bit crassly, but significantly—is speaking out of both sides of his mouth in a way I truly admire in a politician.

He is saying the sorts of lip-service about the Drug War—and oh my god if Proposition 19 wins, then that—why are people dying in Colombia? The sorts of things the U.S. Government needs to hear to be reassured and to not put un—sordid pressures on him. But at the same time, he’s hosting a summit of Latin-American leaders to say, “What do we do if Prop 19 wins?” back in October. He’s saying that maybe we’re at a tipping point. He appears to be talking to other leaders, and looking for opportunities to move this issue forward.

So the potential for other very distinguished leaders and ex-leaders to step out is becoming greater all the time. All the time.

So generational change should be in our favor, but it is not inevitably the case. What it means is that we have to be smarter and better and more effective than our predecessors were. What it means is that we have to never take victory for granted; that we need to understand that we have no choice but to continue to move forward and be creative about this stuff.

It means that we have to build alliances, not just within the Drug Policy Reform movement but beyond and across the political spectrum. It’s important when Ben Jealous of the NAACP stands up with Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform. It’s important when a new right-wing coalition, Right-on Crime, including Newt Gingrich and Grover Norquist and David Keene of the American Conservative Union, and Marc Levin from Texas playing the pivotal role, stand up in saying, “Enough is enough.”

When Chuck Colson is organizing prayer breakfasts in Washington for conservative Republicans, and they’re saying, “We need to reduce incarceration in America.” When brave leaders like Pat Nolan, are playing pivotal roles in trying to move forward crack powder reform legislation; it’s these sorts of bi-partisan coalitions without which we cannot win.

Now we know Republicans and tax-cutters say, “We don’t want to invest in drug treatment.” But the truth of the matter is that even Gary Johnson, one of the most Libertarian politicians in America, ended up increasing funding for drug treatment in the state of New Mexico by 50%, because he saw the cost-benefits of doing that. That putting the money there was better than putting it into incarceration.

It means it’s incumbent upon us in this era of gross fiscal deficits, to be able to make our arguments in dollars and cents terms; to show how incarcerating people, giving people life-long criminal records, is not the way to go. That we have to pull back and roll back incarcerations, stop wasting the money there. And that the cost-beneficial thing is to invest in people’s lives and their futures. To understand that the number 1 predictor in America of a young person landing up behind bars is having a parent behind bars.

Yes, Americans like to consume a lot of drugs, but so do a lot of other countries. And it’s a myth that America consumes dramatically more illegal drugs than nations do as well. It’s a myth that we have dramatically more non-violent crime than other countries do.

What we do instead, is rely on incarceration as a crutch. We are faster to put people behind bars. We keep them there longer, and once they’re out, we treat them as second and third-class citizens for longer than anybody else does.

What has driven this more than anything else has been the War on Drugs. To go from 50,000 people behind bars on a drug charge in 1980 to half a million people today, to be locking up as many people on a drug charge in America today as we locked up for everything in 1980. To be locking up as many people in America today as all—on drug charges, as Western Europe locks up for everything—and they have 100 million more people than we do—that is not right. That is not smart; that is not the way to go.


DEAN BECKER: Once again, that was Ethan Nadelmann speaking at a conference recognizing 40 years of drug war. Next up…


ETHAN NADELMANN: Sonia Sohn from the Wire has really been willing to step out on this issue. She’s working with colleagues like David Simon and Ed Burns, who have bravely stepped out and who called out the Attorney General on this just recently.

SONIA SOHN: You know, I’ve chosen to speak out on this issue on behalf of the myriad of women, children, families and communities who have been grossly affected by the ills of the War on Drugs. Those whose voices cannot be heard in this room of esteemable folks because their station in society does not allow them access to a megaphone which will hear their cries of pain and injustice.

When incarceration is chosen as the primary solution to America’s increasing drug crime challenges, families are dismantled. Which, in turn, create great harm to our nation’s most precious resource, it’s children.

Mass incarceration leaves a gaping hole in our society that results in adults not getting the treatment and proper support services needed to heal from the wounding that has led to unhealthy drug use and/or drug crimes. These adults then become walking, wounded parents, trying to guide children, who themselves are caught up in the grips of a community in crisis and a family that is ill-equipped to help them navigate the complex social structures and challenges within their families and communities.

In the end, kicking adults to the curb and into the prison system becomes another knot in the tangled root of the ill-effects suffered by all, from the tactics implemented in the War on Drugs.

A better use of those resources would be to treat problematic drug use and drug crime as a public health issue. Creating a true, social safety net that combines better access to treatment, a guilt-free approach to healing, after-care support services which include access to quality educational enrichment resources, and job-training that results in the acquisition of a job that enables people to earn a living wage, as well as access to alternative health therapies and healthy living strategies is the only real solution.

This 40-year war on drugs has complicated an already complex situation that is now ripping up the very fabric of what this nation is: its people. Although it is a collective of individuals that make up the whole of this country, we are not a faceless mass, lumped together only by the way we vote or the color of our skin, or by the communities in which we live. We are people; living, breathing, feeling, thinking individuals who are all simply doing the best we can with the hand that the good lord has dealt to each and every one of us.

We are strong, we are wise, we are creative. But we are also very fragile, emotional creatures who experience pain and joy, gain and loss. And the full effects of our own personal triumphs and failures and each of us has to live with those consequences, good or bad. And only our maker can truly right our wrongs and bring justice and equanimity to the fractured society in which we live.

So, I ask not that we make this a case for condoning or denouncing those whose lives have led them to a place where drug-related issues have affected them and their families to such a great degree. I only ask that we embrace humanity as a whole and rise to our highest ideals as a people and children of a greater God to find ways to care for those of us who have hit upon troubling times. To erect policies that show that our government was built on a foundation of love and freedom and compassion for all. And our ability to find solutions that embrace those ideals as opposed to the callous, “Lock ‘em up and throw away the key” strategies of the past.

See, tough love only works if the love portion of that phrase is activated. See, this is one of the fundamental questions we as a people must begin to answer in our efforts to improve the effectiveness of government and the quality of life in our country today. I also ask that we not let this moment simply be a criticism and a denunciation of the War on Drugs, but that we also use this as an opportunity to engage in a collective effort to confront the challenges of problematic drug use in America, and create a workable solution using the intellect, access and creative thinking of concerned citizens who represent all sides of this issue.

Without a doubt, I believe that there’re individuals working within the government today who agree with the approach of considering problematic drug use and drug crime as a health issue. I have recently volunteered to work with the Department of Justice on the new Drug Endangered Children Initiative, which I believe is a step in the right direction in terms of how government needs to become involved in designing a compassionate solution to these problems.

In embracing the government’s recent, small efforts to begin considering addressing the challenges related to drug crime as a health issue, it is my hope that a greater attempt to develop changes in drug policy will follow.

Ultimately, what this moment in the history of this issue is all about, is speaking out and letting our government know that we all recognize the complexities of this issue, and wish not to dwell on the mistakes of the past. Instead, we as a nation, wish to focus all our efforts on creating solutions together that do not include inhumane words such as, “War” and “Incarceration.” And we’d rather replace those words with a language of love and compassion that centers on words such as, “healing” and “transformation.” That is what the promise of this nation holds for all of us.

And during this time of great national suffering, we must all rise to not only be heard, but to activate within ourselves our highest ideals, and spread them by taking social actions that support those ideals. Only then will our country be on a road of true transformation and healing that is independent of the quagmire that government consistently gets bogged down in, while the people suffer at the hands of politicians who are blinded by the splinters of the broken system under which they serve.

I would like to end by saying that I have taken this stance because my duty as an American citizen is to live in a way that supports the idea that this country is founded on the principle that all power belongs to the people. And the government which is only invested in creating and maintaining a system that is truly of the people, by the people and for the people. This ideal is what we must all remember and without fail, consistently challenge our government to uphold. Thank you.



DEAN BECKER: Once again, that was Sonia Sohn from The Wire, speaking at a Drug Policy Alliance Conference in recognition of 40 years of drug war. Turns out, Congresswoman Barbara Lee did show up. We’ll have her thoughts on this week’s 4:20 reports.

Here to close us out is a gentleman with more than 30 years experience serving the U.S. government as a customs, border and air interdiction officer, talking about the failure, the futility of this drug war.


TERRY NELSON: This is Terry Nelson speaking on behalf of LEAP, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. Mr. Drug Czar, your policies are not working. Your prescription drug policies are not working, as more and more people abuse prescription drugs. Your prohibition of cannabis is not working, as more and more people are smoking cannabis. In fact, none of your goals have ever been met, and none of your plans have ever been achieved.

I was in D.C. for a LEAP press conference on 6/14/11 to commemorate the 40th year of prohibition, where we members of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition walked to your office to present you with our findings on the drug war, and you didn’t receive advanced notice. You did not even have the courtesy to meet us in person. Instead, you sent an Admin Assistant to take our report. I was insulted as the former ranking member of DHS, and a former drug warrior, that you did not show us the professional courtesy to deny us in person. Mr. Norm Stamper, former Chief of Police in Seattle—the man you replaced in that position—was with us, and you did not show him the courtesy of showing in person.

Perhaps this insult to former colleagues of yours causes you no issue. But it makes me think that you have closed your mind and refuse to accept anything but the propaganda that your office puts out. Courtesy is not dead, and people that are devoted their lives to public service at a minimum deserve 2 minutes of your time.

The arrogance displayed by you and other government officials is alarming. Do you no longer serve the public? Our report is fair, and gives credit where it is due. It also points out the failures of the policy. The report issued by the Global Commission on Drugs was dropped aside by your office as if the members of the commission were just misguided. Some of the smartest people in the world were part of that commission, and you dismissed them.

Prohibition simply has not worked, and four decades of implementation proves that it is the wrong approach to deal with health problems. Prohibition of alcohol actually caused more people to consume alcohol just as drug prohibition has caused more people to consume drugs. Just as the government association with pharmaceutical companies has caused the increase in prescription drug use.

When advertisements for prescription drugs was allowed, Big Pharm made millions, and politicians received millions in donations to their campaigns. Both Democrats and Republicans benefited from this. A much more humane approach is to scrap prohibitionist policies and implementing a national system of education on the harms that some substances can cause.

We only have to remember that the only success we’ve had in eliminating of a dangerous substance is the reduction of cigarette usage in the past 20 years by almost 50%; and we did not have to incarcerate millions of people to accomplish it. And it was all done through education and peer pressure. The same will work with the substances now prohibited by law.

Stay safe. This is Terry Nelson of LEAP, www.LEAP.cc, signing off.


DEAN BECKER: Thanks, Terry. And as always, I remind you to visit our website, endprohibition.org. The song to close it out, is “No-Knock Raid” by Lindy. Check it out on Youtube, the video of actual SWAT raids will blow you away.

And today, the revelation. Prohibido istac evilesco means, “Prohibition is evil!”



LINDY: [Singing over sounds of SWAT raids] This is a war, and this is your fate. We are the face of your new police state. We are the law, and we’ve got the guns, statutory power, mandatory minimums. We are the SWAT. We’re here for your pot, and all the cash that you’ve got. We are adrenaline junkies, taking orders from the czar. It’s a no-knock raid. Don’t be afraid. Paramilitary police state on parade. It’s a no-knock raid. Don’t be afraid. You do the time for your victimless crime. And it’s a no-knock raid. It’s a no-knock raid. Don’t be afraid. Paramilitary police state on parade. Flash bang on the ground. Don’t hear a sound. And it’s a no-knock raid. It’s a no-knock raid. Don’t be afraid.

[Sound of guns firing]

Dean Becker Wants YOU to Call the Drug Czar