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Bill King, columnist for Houston Chronicle + Libertarian Candidate for President Gary Johnson & Penn Jillette discuss war on weed
Cultural Baggage / June 10, 2012
Broadcasting on the Drug Truth Network, this is Cultural Baggage.
“It’s not only inhumane, it is really fundamentally Un-American.”
“No more! Drug War!” “No more! Drug War!”
“No more! Drug War!” “No more! Drug War!”
DEAN BECKER: My Name is Dean Becker. I don’t condone or encourage the use of any drugs, legal or illegal. I report the unvarnished truth about the pharmaceutical, banking, prison and judicial nightmare that feeds on Eternal Drug War.
DEAN BECKER: Alright, thank you for joining us on this edition of Cultural Baggage. I am Dean Becker. We have with us, in studio, this week from the Houston Chronicle Mr. Bill King. You’ve read his articles, his columns over the years. Welcome, Bill.
BILL KING: Thank you. Nice to be here.
DEAN BECKER: Glad to have you with us. Bill, you are working for the Chronicle, a Hearst newspaper, and I’m not casting blames on you or anybody involved but it was the Hearst newspapers, back in the day, that Harry J. Anslinger would feed stories to Mr. Hearst. They would run stories talking about marijuana leads to insanity, criminality and death. But things have changed haven’t they?
BILL KING: That was a little before my time.
DEAN BECKER: [chuckles] I agree. Certainly your columns in the last few months have been quite the opposite of that – talking about the need for a reexamination of our drug policies, correct?
BILL KING: Correct.
DEAN BECKER: If you will, I’ve got a couple of them here that I brought with me. The first one says “Seeking middle ground in the fight against illegal drugs.” Would you kind of summarize what you said in that one, sir?
BILL KING: I start with the proposition that I think drug addiction is one of the great banes of human existence. I’ve got a lot of my friends who have struggled with that with their children so my goal is to reduce addiction. It doesn’t appear to me that the War on Drugs that we’ve been fighting for the past 40 years is really accomplishing that.
DEAN BECKER: No, I agree with you, sir. I’ll tell you what I’m going to adjust your mic here for a second while we do this.
Bill, the thing that I take away from your columns, you know, you write about social issues, community issues, all kinds of things that involve this “Mother Ship” city of the Drug Truth Network and I guess what comes to mind is we have, some might say, spent half a trillion, some say over a trillion dollars on this drug war and money that, perhaps, could have been used to provide for this same community. What is your thought there in so far as to money being squandered?
BILL KING: My career was really as a business man not as a journalist and so I tend to view things as a business man would look at it. In any business you’re in you look at the investment and the return and how cost-effective are your expenditures. There’s really no way to estimate how much we’ve spent on the drug war. There’s no real accounting for that but certainly it would be something approaching a trillion dollars.
There’s all sorts of ancillary costs to families that have costs as well. There’s been no real meaningful decline in accidental drug deaths, in addiction rates. We haven’t really gotten anything for that money. So just as a pure, cost effective analysis to me this is not money well invested.
DEAN BECKER: Again, reading from that column of yours, “Seeking middle ground in fight against illegal drugs,” you’re showing here:
“In contrast to the supply side of the drug equation, we pay much less attention to the demand side. Experts estimate that about 90 percent of anti-drug funding is devoted to interdiction and enforcement, leaving only 10 percent for prevention and treatment.”
And then I think you nail it right here when you say:
“Yet most experts also agree that prevention and treatment are more cost-effective in actually reducing drug abuse.”
That seems to be the more pertinent answer, doesn’t it?
BILL KING: Well, when you talk to the medical authorities that’s clearly what they say. The people that I talk to about this there’s sort of an interesting divide. You have people that have a vested interest in the law enforcement tend to promote interdiction and enforcement but when you talk to the doctors that deal with medicine of addiction day in and day out they clearly believe that prevention and treatment is a better expenditure.
DEAN BECKER: Yes, sir. Now when we talk about drug addicts with doctors not police which is kind of what we were just saying. I guess the point being that even our drug czar is not a doctor, he’s not a scientist – he’s a former cop. It seems like the wrong guy to be in charge of making these type decisions. Your response, Bill King.
BILL KING: Well, you know, our society has fundamentally made a decision that we’re going to deal with the problem of addiction through the criminal justice system. I think that’s the premise that we need to stop and analyze because number 1 (as I previously said) it’s not effective. But also any doctor will tell you that once a person becomes addicted they really no longer have free will to use or not use the drug.
Our entire criminal justice system is based on the concept of free will that, “I’ve got the ability to make a decision to go down one or two paths.” The criminal justice system is designed to punish you for going down the wrong path and to encourage you to go down the right path.
But if that free will has been taken away from you because you are addicted to a drug then the whole paradigm with the criminal justice system doesn’t make any sense anymore.
So I think we have to stop and examine is the criminal justice system really the way we want to approach this or do we want to make this more of a medical issue. I think it’s also important to note what the doctors will tell you also is that most people become addicted in their teenage years. So if you can get to about age 25 without having an addiction very few people become after that age.
So I think we really need to be thinking a lot about how do we keep our young people from making those decisions in the first place. Again, I’m not sure the criminal justice system is the way to do that.
DEAN BECKER: You know, Bill, I agree with you that for many people the first hit of methamphetamine or heroin may be the only one necessary to lead them down that path. That does happen.
I would also say that there are those for whom a very strong use of cannabis or an occasional use of cocaine does not lead them to hell, so to speak. As an example I want to state our current president, Barack Obama, who was a Choomer. He and his buddies smoked a lot of pot. They did a few lines of cocaine once in a while. It did not stop him from having a successful career, a successful life.
The Drug Czar, some representatives of government tour the country saying that much of what you were just saying that this is a medical problem, needs to be dealt with in that fashion and, yet, they don’t change the number of dollars allocated for the two options. Your response, Bill King.
BILL KING: Well I think it’s dangerous to generalize about individuals or drugs. Every drug is different and its interaction in every person’s body is different. It’s just like alcohol. You know, a lot of people can safely drink alcohol and it’s not a problem. There’s some people that absolutely cannot drink it at all and as soon as they do they’re going to have a problem.
So I think we need to look at this in a lot more nuance fashion rather than trying to apply one solution to all people and all drugs.
DEAN BECKER: I think I heard today that we’re nearing the 40th anniversary of President Nixon being deposed (or however you’d say it) and Berstein or Woodward one of them…I saw a little mention of them on TV and one of them were talking about Nixon’s administration, as time unfolds, they learn more and more that it represented or resembled a criminal organization.
I guess it was while Nixon was president that the Shaffer Commission came forward with a recommendation to legalize marijuana, to treat it more like we do alcohol. Nixon threw it in the trash.
It’s been 40 years and we’re still fighting this same battle that should have been solved 40 years ago. Your response, Bill.
BILL KING: I think that Nixon’s background is Quaker. I’m sure the idea of drug use was an anathema to him so culturally a lot of this comes from that background. I grew up in a Baptist household. There was no alcohol available. Nobody in my household smoked and drugs was sort of a distant, scary thing.
So your sort of knee jerk reaction is to say, “We need to prevent this and how do we do that? Let’s pass a law against it.”
The problem is as well-intentioned as that may have been, it just hasn’t worked so we have to start looking at something else that will work. I’m not pro-drug. If it were up to me and I could wave a magic wand I’d like all drugs to disappear tomorrow. I think we’d be better off as a society. But, that’s not going to happen. So we got to figure out how we’re going to deal with this and minimize addiction.
DEAN BECKER: Bill, reading again from one of your columns here, you talk about:
“The U.S. is now leading the world in incarceration rate. At the start of the War on Drugs we had just over 100 per 100,000 Americans behind bars and today it’s more than 700 per 100,000.”
Your response. Your thought there, sir.
BILL KING: There’s a couple of things there. One, of course, it is phenomenally expensive to incarcerate people. It is also disconcerting to me as the “lighthouse for liberty and freedom” in our world that our incarceration rate is now much higher than any other country in the world. I mean places like China and Russia or Iran that are military dictatorships – we have more of our citizens in jail on a pro-rated basis than those countries do. There’s something wrong with that.
The reason we do is we decided to lock up people that use drugs. I just don’t think that makes any sense.
The other thing is there is a tremendous human cost associated with this that we tend to overlook. I’ve been involved some with the Methodist church in restorative justice ministries and what prison does to people that go there is really a tragedy. When these fellows get out they generally can’t find a job. It’s very hard for them to even rent an apartment anyplace. We really have put the mark of Kane on these people who have been to prison now and a lot of them were there for nothing more than using drugs. They should have been dealt with as a medical problem, in my opinion, rather than a criminal justice problem.
DEAN BECKER: So true. We’re speaking with Bill King, a columnist for the Houston Chronicle.
Bill, I think about the squandering of focus and effort. I use the phrase the drug war was the pipe dream of men who died generations ago. It’s modern day adherence are still smoking that dream pipe.
What we have to do is allow this discussion to happen because so many people if you want to bring this subject forward immediately think that you are wanting people to use drugs. But that’s not my case and I know it’s not yours. Your thought there, sir.
BILL KING: I think we’ve got to separate how you feel about the drug war from how you feel about drugs because, like I’ve said here several times, I’m not an advocate for using drugs, don’t like them, don’t use them, never have used them other than an occasional glass of wine. I wish they’d all go away tomorrow.
I’ve got a lot of friends of mine that have suffered through especially their children becoming addicted. I know what a heartbreak that is. You see these young people’s lives that are completely ruined and wasted. But the fact of the matter is that the War on Drugs and the criminalization of drugs makes those families lives more difficult. The less likely, frankly, that their kids are ever going to recover from that.
What I want to do is…let’s do something that’s effective and something that’s humane at the same time.
DEAN BECKER: Bill, looking at the third one…the fourth one, I’m not sure. You write about “The fundamental principles for drug policy reform.” We’ve kind of talked about the first goal of the policy should be to reduce drug abuse and addiction. The second one here really catches my attention because I am a firm believer that however drugs are decrim-ed, regulated, whatever – we have to put up a bigger barrier to prevent children from gaining access. That if you legalize it for adults anybody that sells it to children, heck, double the current incarceration for that type of sale. Your thought there, Bill.
BILL KING: Again, what the doctors will tell you about this (the medical people who deal in this area) is that by far the overwhelming majority – I’m talking about 90+ % of addicts become addicted when they’re teenagers.
The problem is that when you’re a teenager, as we all very well remember, you’re decision making processes are not always the best. So for a young person to making a decision about whether they are going to begin using a drug or not – most teenagers, or at least many teenagers, are simply not prepared emotionally or mentally to make that decision. So we’re going to have to make that decision for them by keeping them from doing it.
What concerns me about the current system is that we have given criminal enterprises a real economic incentive to go out and try to get kids to use drugs because if you can get a kid to make that bad decision before they’re fully developed emotionally and mentally and they get addicted then you take away the ability. If you can get that kid on up to the early 20s, generally, what the doctors tell me is they will not become addicted after that.
So, for every person we can get that will take a customer away from the drug dealers…right now, the way this dynamic has worked out, we’ve given the drug dealers a tremendous incentive to try to addict our young people because that’s their customers for the future so they’re just building an inventory and that’s a real concern.
DEAN BECKER: The fact of the matter is you’ve got that youngster 15 to 20 and he gets heavy into drugs he’s going to begin selling drugs to his peers, to others about that same age and it’s a horror that we inflict on ourselves.
Next up in that column, “All drugs are not the same.” We’ve been talking about that. I still occasionally use cannabis because for me it’s much safer than alcohol - just like they say in Colorado where they’re trying to get a law passed under that heading, if you will.
Alcohol, to me, was a terrible problem. It complicated my life horribly. I went to AA. It is necessary sometimes to seek the help from others. It is necessary to get a new focus before moving forward. I did find AA to be helpful but once they found out I was still using cannabis they told me that wasn’t allowed and so I quit but still what they taught me, what they shared with me did enable to go these 26 years without drinking.
Last section in that column was “Invest in research” If ever there was a need – that’s it. Go ahead, sir.
BILL KING: One great thing about writing the column, especially writing a series like a frequently do, is that I get a lot of feedback from readers. After the first column I wrote I got contacted by a doctor out of Baylor that’s worked in the addiction area for 30+ years. He asked me to go to lunch and to share some of his experiences with me. One of the things that I learned in that conversation is that they’ve made some real progress in what they call vaccines for drugs. There’s actually, as I understand it, I’m not, by no means, an expert in this area, but, as I understand it there are currently drugs that block the effect of alcohol and cocaine in your body. But you have to take them every day so an addict is not likely to do that.
What they are working on is you would go in and get your cocaine vaccination and it would basically block cocaine from interacting with your brain for the rest of your life. They believe that they may be pretty close to that.
I’m a bit believer in technology solves a lot of these problems. So, given the costs of drug addiction, how much we’re spending both on interdiction, the lost opportunity cost of people’s lives that are ruined by it, it’s almost impossible to imagine an investment that’s too high making technology that might end the problem once and for all.
DEAN BECKER: Bill, I’m all for technology. I have grave reservations about science, about medicine these days with every product on TV that solves a small problem you’ve got 16 other potential, more dangerous problems perhaps.
Secondarily, I don’t know, given that circumstance, I’m leery of anything that would take away pleasure from one function or ability of the brain to perhaps destroy sensibility of other areas of the brain. I don’t know. It reminds me a little bit of that scene in “Clockwork Orange”, I guess….
BILL KING: Well, you know, there’s always unintended consequences of anything. You never know how these things will ultimately work out. But I don’t think that means you stop trying.
I’m certainly going to make sure my kids get Polio vaccinations. Who knows…20, 30 or 50 years from now this problem may be completely solved. But given between this and diabetes which are the two big health problems in America right now – addiction and diabetes – if somehow we could medically solve those problems, the cost savings to the country would just be enormous.
DEAN BECKER: We’ve got just a few minutes left. Friends, we’re speaking with Mr. Bill King, columnist for the Houston Chronicle. Bill, I caught a story a week or 10 days ago that the new managing editor, Steve Proctor, is going to be coming in couple days, right?
I find it interesting. I’ve got a quick story with you. A week ago I heard an announcer with the Astros game. He was in Los Angeles and he smelled the warm smell of colitis rising through the air. Colitis is pot, right? Which is so normal in California. It’s any and everywhere.
Steve, well, I’ll say this, the San Francisco Chronicle was very much in favor of medical marijuana, common sense, perhaps taking a new look at this much the same as your columns have been. Can we expect different things on the horizon?
BILL KING: I don’t know. In my column is completely independent of the editorial board and I quite frequently take different positions than they do. So I don’t know where their editorial policy is headed.
I think most people who will actually stop and think about this problem for a little bit as opposed to a sort of knee jerk reaction to it. I’ve noticed like even my own parents…and, like I said, I grew up in a Baptist household – very anti-drinking, smoking, anything to do with drugs whatsoever. I’ve noticed a change in their attitude in the last 10 years. It, again, comes from them seeing the experiences of their friends’ children and grandchildren have struggled with addiction and how the current system just doesn’t work.
If you are family in crisis and you have an addiction problem – the current system just does not work for you.
DEAN BECKER: Right. Well, Bill, is there a website you’d like to share with the listeners? A closing comment?
BILL KING: I’ve got a website, http://billkinghouston.com and http://billkingblog.com where I put up a lot of this information. The Houston Chronicle has a website of all my previous columns. You can go to the editorial section of their website and click on columnist and I’m listed there and all of my columns are listed there.
Every Thursday my column comes out. My email address is at the very end of the column so you’re welcome to write me and tell me how I got it wrong.
DEAN BECKER: Well, alright, in appreciation. Once again, we’ve been speaking with Mr. Bill King, columnist for the Houston Chronicle. The Chronicle’s website, by the way, is http://chron.com. Thank you, Bill..
BILL KING: You bet.
It’s time to play: "Name That Drug - By It’s Side Effects!"
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Time’s up! The answer, from Axiron from Cirunum, Inc. Axiron for muscle gain and boners.
DEAN BECKER: On a recent addition of Fox News Redeye magician Penn Jillette and Libertarian Presidential nominee, Gary Johnson weighed in on New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo proposal to cut the penalty of public possession of marijuana.
ANDY LEVY: Last year New York cops made about 50,000 arrests for low-level possession. Most stemming from the city’s controversial “stop and frisk” policy which the mayor maintains has made the city much safer.
On Monday Governor Cuomo discussed complications that arise.
ANDREW CUOMO: During the stop and frisk the police officer says turn out your pockets. The marijuana is now in public view. It just went from a violation to a crime. The effect of a criminal conviction on a young person can alter the trajectory of your entire life.
ANDY LEVY: Governor, you released a statement endorsing Cuomo’s proposal that it doesn’t really solve the problem.
GARY JOHNSON: "I've always advocated legalizing marijuana because decriminalizing turns its back on half of the problem which is the market place. Look, if they decriminalize pot, it just makes it in my opinion a lot easier for law enforcement to focus on those who are selling it. If you look at the profile of individuals in federal prison, the majority are those who have sold small amount of drugs on numerous occasions and have been caught, mandatory sentencing. So, you know, positive step, but legalize it. Let's tax it and let's regulate it."
ANDY LEVY: That will put you out of business, Remi, though, because all your clients are criminals.
REMI SPENCER: I don’t think that’s true because we can all agree that there’s a big difference between a college student that gets caught with a little bit of marijuana in the park one day and the person that’s going around the world putting people in danger getting all the drugs and distributing them throughout the country.
PENN JUILLETE: But if it’s legal then coming off the black market then it’s no longer profitable. The problem is created by it being illegal.
REMI SPENCER: I’m all for decriminalizing small drug possession. But I think it’s going to be a long time before we see that.
PENN JUILLETE: Why?
REMI SPENCER: Because for so many reasons but the primary reason …
PENN JUILLETE: The only person I know who doesn’t smoke pot is me.
REMI SPENCER: I think it’s a better positive first step in this office to decriminalize drugs because of the amount of time and resources it takes law enforcement and prosecutors in our judiciary to prosecute this really petty theft, as Governor Cuomo said, can really affect a good person’s life. It can change the direction of their life.
PENN JUILLETE: Yes, if Obama would have been busted he wouldn’t be president.
GARY JOHNSON: There’s a formula to the news, too, where every night we have the largest drug bust and then we go from the largest drug bust to the kingpin headquarters which is a double wide trailer. There is a formula and it’s just crazy.
ANDY LEVY: You know what’s crazy is when you talk to people in law enforcement, the people that deal with this every day, they agree. I don’t know anybody…
PENN JUILLETE: Who is against it?
ANDY LEVY: You know what it is? It’s a generational thing. I think politicians are afraid to lose votes because there’s like people in their 60s and 70s who go, “Not on my watch! I saw what those kids did on the happy juice back in the 70s. I saw the movies they made.”
GARY JOHNSON: We’re on a tipping point on this issue and the tipping point is going to be Colorado, I think. It’s on the ballot in Colorado. It’s to regulate marijuana like alcohol. Colorado, highest percentage of pot smokers on a per capita basis of any state in the country.
PENN JUILLETE: Is that true?
GARY JOHNSON: Yeah. And years ago they voted to decriminalize marijuana in Denver on a campaign based on marijuana being safer than alcohol. So I think that Colorado might actually be the tipping point. I say tipping point. First domino…50 dominoes to fall.
PENN JUILLETE: But can’t the federal government override that?
GARY JOHNSON: They sure can but that was the downfall when it came to the prohibition of alcohol. My understanding is that New York said, “Hey, we’re not going to enforce federal alcohol prohibition anymore. If you want to do it, you can.”
Well, I think that will be the same phenomena.
PENN JUILLETE: Well, that will be cool.
ANDY LEVY: I know that some people will disagree with me but I do not believe in the Trojan horse of this medical marijuana thing.
PENN JUILLETE: Nor do I.
GARY JOHNSON: One hundred million Americans have smoked pot and but for the wrong set of circumstances (and I’m one of them) they’re all behind bars.
PENN JUILLETE: Would that be cool…everyone behind bars except me …. Yeah, that’s the world I want to live in.
ANDY LEVY: Something tells me you’re the sickest person of all…
PENN JUILLETE: But, you know, the other thing is we can’t even drugs out of prison so no matter how draconian a system you have there’s still drugs in prison. So even if we lived all on the prison system there’d still be drugs all over the place. You can’t fight it.
[bagpipe music, amazing grace]
Ladies and Gentlemen. This is the Abolitionists moment. We must stand. We must speak. We must demand an end to the madness of drug war. This 94 year old prohibition of non-Fortune 500 drugs, must be brought to an end.
This prohibition has no basis, no dignity, no embrace of reality, no reason to exist. As the Abolitionists’ stand against slavery and alcohol prohibition, so too must we stand for truth and reality, itself.
Do your part. Join forces with other Abolitionists. Please visit, endprohibition.org. Do it, for the children.
We are the DEA
Doing God’s work every day.
We’ll even prohibition
So someday we’ll get up and judge
Hey, boy, what’s that you smokin’?!
Put your hands up!
DEAN BECKER: Ah, yes, put your hands up. Put your hands up, folks. Well, good things are happening in New York. They might stop arresting people for weed but I bet they don’t stop their “stop and frisk”. I bet they keep doing that and that’ll wind up in the U.S. Congress, I think.
I want to thank Bill King, our guest, columnist from the Houston Chronicle. I thought that was a good discussion.
As always, I remind you, because of prohibition…well, I got 10 seconds. You should do something. You should help end this madness. But, because of prohibition - you don’t know what’s in that bag. Please, be careful.
DEAN BECKER: To the Drug Truth Network listeners around the world, this is Dean Becker for Cultural Baggage and the Unvarnished Truth.
This show produced at the Pacifica Studios of KPFT Houston.
Tap dancing… on the edge… of an abyss.
Transcript provided by: Jo-D Harrison of www.DrugSense.org
The James A Baker Institute
Sun - Kim Ogg, candidate for DA of Houston: no jail, no bail, no record for pot if elected 2/2
Sat - Kim Ogg, candidate for DA of Houston: no jail, no bail, no record for pot if elected 1/2
Fri - Texas Representative Beto O'Rourke on failure of drug war to protect anything let alone the children
Thu - New York Times Editorial: Repeal Prohibition Again 2/2 from ABC
Wed - New York Times Editorial: Repeal Prohibition Again 1/2 from ABC
Tue - Texas Representative Beto O'Rourke on Press Conference in D.C. To End The War On Drugs
Mon: Texas Representative Beto O'Rourke on forthcoming "Summer Reading Assignment" for all US officials