10/20/17 Neal Woods

Drug Policy Alliance Conference: Neal Woods author of Good Cop Bad War and Dir of LEAP UK, Andre Hirsh & Maya Odarian of Caravan for Peace, Rick Steves of PBS fame,Sarah Gale of Zendo Project, Mike Margolis of Psymposia, Richard Van Wicker of LEAP US, Tony Poppa of DPA & Ira Glasser former head of ACLU

Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Friday, October 20, 2017
Neal Woods



OCTOBER 20, 2017


SAM: [coughs] Get outta here, Dewey!

DEWEY COX: What are y'all doin' in here?

SAM: We're smoking reefer and you don't want no part of this shit.

DEWEY COX: You're smoking *reefers*?

SAM: Yeah, 'course we are; can't you smell it?

DEWEY COX: [Dewey doesn't have a sense of smell] No, Sam. I can't.

FEMALE VOICE: Come on, Dewey! Join the party! [takes a hit off a joint]

SAM: No, Dewey, you don't want this. Get outta here!

DEWEY COX: You know what, I don't want no hangover. I can't get no hangover.

SAM: It doesn't give you a hangover!

DEWEY COX: Wha - I get addicted to it or something?

SAM: It's not habit-forming!

DEWEY COX: Oh, okay... well, I don't know... I don't want to overdose on it.

SAM: You can't OD on it!

DEWEY COX: It's not gonna make me wanna have sex, is it?

SAM: It makes sex even better!

DEWEY COX: Sounds kind of expensive.

SAM: It's the cheapest drug there is.


SAM: You don't want it!

DEWEY COX: I think I kinda want it.

SAM: Okay, but just this once. Come on in.

DEAN BECKER: That clip taken from the great movie "Walk Hard." This week we're reporting from Atlanta, the Drug Policy Alliance conference, 1,500 people from around the world trying to bring an end to the madness of drug war. I am Dean Becker, this is Cultural Baggage, let's just get started.

All right, it's Day One of the Drug Policy Alliance conference here in Atlanta, Georgia. I'm visiting the vendor tables, and I've come across my band of brothers in Law Enforcement Action Partnership, formerly Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, and sitting at the table is the author of Good Cop, Bad War, a gentleman who's been our guest on the Drug Truth Network before, Mister Neil Woods. How are you doing, sir?

NEIL WOODS: All right, how are you doing?

DEAN BECKER: I'm good. Neil, is this your first DPA conference, or ...?

NEIL WOODS: It is, yes, in fact it's my first time to the USA.

DEAN BECKER: Well, Neil, your first time in the US. What's your take, what are you seeing here, is there a chance for progress?

NEIL WOODS: I think the greatest chance of progress is the growing social movement led by law enforcement worldwide.


NEIL WOODS: It's difficult for me to commentate on what's going on here, but I can report, if you like, on the progress that's going on in Europe.

DEAN BECKER: Well, tell us about your experience, what gives you the credentials to speak in this regard?

NEIL WOODS: Well, I was a police officer of 23 years, and over 14 of those years I worked undercover. And that was entirely drugs operations, so my brief was to infiltrate organized crime groups, and gather evidence of conspiracy for drug dealing.


NEIL WOODS: Most of the time I went after heroin and crack cocaine suppliers.

DEAN BECKER: Right. And, you know, kind of, it's an echo of our founding president of LEAP, Mister Jack Cole, who had a very similar experience, trying to infiltrate drug gangs here in the US, and, well, I won't speak of what he determined from that time spent, but what did you perceive, what did you glean from that experience?

NEIL WOODS: Well, I went into the police with quite a gung-ho approach, not very respectful to people who use drugs particularly. But over time, the methods that I used in order to infiltrate those groups is to use emphathy, and actually manipulate problematic drug users to get the introductions.


NEIL WOODS: But I took the view that the end justified the means, you know, whatever problems I caused to those people was justified in order to catch the gangsters at the end of the operation. You know, sort of six months later, or however long it took. But what I observed over the years is that every passing year the gangsters got more violent, and I remember one operation in Northampton, this Birmingham organized crime group were taking over the town, and they were actually raping people as part of their intimidation, as part of their sort of, development of their, you know, their reputation of violence.



DEAN BECKER: Creating fear.

NEIL WOODS: Creating fear, yeah, absolutely. And so eventually, it took -- it actually took a long time for the penny to drop for me, but it -- eventually I realized that the reason organized crime is getting more and more violent every year was actually down to me, or rather not just me, lots of people like me.


NEIL WOODS: But I can take a fair share of my, the responsibility for it, because I was very much involved in the development of the tactics and training other officers. So all of that time, you know, and police are really good at catching drug dealers. We are, we're brilliant at it, but, the trouble is, there's always a pushback. It's an arms race with no chance of de-escalation.


NEIL WOODS: So over time, you have this sort of Darwinian, urban soup, you know, the most -- the most successful gangsters are the ones who can most successfully intimidate the communities in which they operate. And that's a direct response to policing. And I could see that quite tangibly and clearly from my experiences and what I was doing.

So eventually, I could look back at all those people I caused harm to, and I did cause harm to those people.


NEIL WOODS: You know, I caused people to get prison sentences, whereas they might have done and where they needed help. I caused all that harm to people, thinking that the end justified the means, but of course it didn't. It was futile, but in fact it was worse than futile. Policing drugs only causes harm, it causes harm to individuals, it causes harm to communities. And so once I'd come to that conclusion, it was quite a weighty -- it's quite a weighty conclusion, really.

DEAN BECKER: Neil, what you speak of there, the ramifications of the policing into the drug crimes, it can be extrapolated and expanded enormously if you look at Guatemala, Honduras, and even Mexico, where there are these cartels, there are these barbarians, if you will, that rule cities, that, you know, claim it as their own territory, and too often are in cahoots with law enforcement and other public officials, to just run rampant. Your thought in that regard, sir.

NEIL WOODS: Yeah, well, I have a very specific example, which I write about, amongst other things, in the book. And I had an undercover operation in Nottingham, and it had been running for quite a few months, and I finally got introduced to this gangster I was after, but he worked for a bigger gangster, called Colin Gunn. You can google this guy, he's an absolute notorious person from Nottingham.

And, four and a half months into this operation, two of my support staff went off sick, so I was introduced to two new people in the morning, and one of them, fine, shook his hand, no problem. The next one, I shook his hand and the hairs went up in the back of my neck.

DEAN BECKER: You knew something.

NEIL WOODS: I knew something was off, I just knew, and you know, when you've been working undercover for several months, you, your senses are fairly fine tuned. So I objected to him being part of my team. So he was, he was, you know, the boss of the operation said, yeah, fine, no problem, we'll get rid of him. It turns out, my instinct saved my life, because Colin Gunn had been letting everybody know in the city that if he ever caught an undercover cop, they'd be kidnapped and tortured to death. This was the kind of backdrop that we were working in.


NEIL WOODS: But it turned out, when he was brought down 12 months later, that this person I instinctively took exception to was an employee of Colin Gunn. He'd been paid to join the police. And he'd been in the police for seven years. He was receiving two thousand pounds a month on top of his police wages, plus bonuses for good information. And he'd provided murder -- information which had led to murders.

So, in the -- at the conclusion of that operation, there was a debrief with the senior covert police in the UK, and the attitude amongst those senior police was universally the same: they said, well, but see, look, of course this happens, we know this happens. With this much money involved, how can this not happen?

And, you know, I've done a study of police intelligence in the UK and internationally as part of my work, and I can say categorically that the only way the police can be corrupted in that way is with the amount of money involved in the drugs trade, because it's not just the amount of money that's involved, it's how the police causes the monopolization of organized crime, because police tend -- they are good at catching drug dealers, but they catch the low-hanging fruit more than others, which just makes the monopolies grow. They take advantage of those gaps in the market, and that concentrates the wealth, which causes the corruption.

So back to your question about Mexico, and other places like that.


NEIL WOODS: You know, we're very smug in our stable democracies, we think we are so safe.


NEIL WOODS: But, you should -- we must remember, we are the thin end of the same wedge. It is inevitable and we are going in the same direction.

DEAN BECKER: Yep. Well, friends, we've been speaking with Mister Neil Woods, he's author of Good Cop, Bad War: My Undercover Life Inside Britain's Biggest Drug Gangs. And he's also president of LEAP UK, which is still known by Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

NEIL WOODS: At the moment.

DEAN BECKER: Any closing thoughts? Maybe a website, anything like that?

NEIL WOODS: Yes. Well, interestingly, the book has just been optioned for TV drama.


NEIL WOODS: By a company that makes lots of things for the BBC, so, hopefully people can look out for that, or get it, or have a look at the book to see what it's going to be about.


NEIL WOODS: But, yes, the website for LEAP UK is www.UKLEAP.org. And, really interestingly, we have a podcast which is doing wonderfully well internationally, and that's called Stop And Search.

DEAN BECKER: Kicking in the door,
Kicking in the door,
We shall bring salvation
Kicking in the door.

All right, it's still Day One here at the DPA conference. I'm speaking with Andrés Hirsch Soler, he's based in Mexico City. I'm also speaking with Amaya Ordorica, she's also from Mexico City, a couple of my fellow travelers on the Caravan For Peace, Justice, And Dignity, we toured with Mister Javier Sacilia, hit 28 cities in the US, about 7,000 miles we traveled trying to clarify and explain the situation in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, many other countries wherein this drug war violence has just run rampant. Andres, is it getting any better?

ANDRÉS HIRSCH SOLER: I don't think so. Like, we are listening and knowing from our context, things are getting only harder in the global south, but also here in the United States, the big picture is, like, really black and obscure. Yeah.

DEAN BECKER: Well, and your thought, Amaya.

AMAYA ORDORICA: Well, I think definitely Trump as president puts everything kind of in a different, I think, rhythm than we were seeing changes going forward in the United States, and as it was spoken in the plenary, it feels like things are going to go backwards, really fast, as, I mean, mainly in the US, but also the US exports this policy. And also in Mexico, we're seeing a very hard push forward to continue militarizing the drug war strategy, and that has resulted already in eleven years of human rights violations, and we think it will only get worse if the militarized security strategy keeps being sustained by the drug war.

DEAN BECKER: It is my understanding that in Mexico, anywhere, US included, that it is the money which enables the corruption, which too often involves law enforcement, prosecutors, public officials, and allows the quote "belief" in this drug war to continue. Your response, there, please.

AMAYA ORDORICA: Well, corruption, because of drug -- illegal drug money, is very complex, at least in Mexico, because it can be both, like, isolated corrupted officials, but also there are complete governmental structures on local levels that aren't corrupted by, as much as they are already a part of criminal organizations who are dedicated to drug -- illegal drug production and distribution, so, it's not as much as these isolated figures are actors who are receiving money on their own, but, there's a governmental structure that is operating in complete reliance and complicity with drug cartels, at some local levels.

DEAN BECKER: And, that's pretty hard to beat. I mean, even here, we have, you know, senators, and cops, and others, that are caught being involved in the drug trade in one fashion or another, and, you know, we talk about what is -- what is sufficient to justify a change, what would make that change, and all of these things are, you know, anecdotal, they're -- but the fact that they are in fact part of the process, no matter how small, would tend to indicate that, what I'm saying is, there's just no reason to keep believing in the drug war. Your thought, there.

ANDRÉS HIRSCH SOLER: Yeah. I think this idea, it's that the war on drugs is not a failure, it's a total success for their own interests, to the elite, the elite, yeah, interests, because they are working to militarize all the territories, to make this strategy, to make territorial control, to take our natural resources and our power of the work, the hand --


ANDRÉS HIRSCH SOLER: The workers, yeah. The work of the people. And to make the system that can make social control in the -- in complete populations, with, like, the same logic, building the internal enemy of, in every country, like, it's not the same picture that, thirty years ago, it's like that now, the war on drugs and the war on terrorism, it's building the context to invade and to apply the imperialistic strategy in our region.

DEAN BECKER: Well, I hear that in Afghanistan, those farmers spend, you know, countless hours tending the opium poppies, and they scrape that resin off, and it -- they sell it for six cents a gram, but by the time that heroin makes it to the US, that price is way way way inflated, and these days, you don't even know if it's really heroin in the bag. It's a direct result of prohibition, this increased number of overdose deaths. Your thought there, Amaya.

AMAYA ORDORICA: Well, I think that prohibition also allows for this products -- final products to be so expensive, but also what we're seeing is that it's very much like legal businesses, also. I mean, we have in Mexico farmers who are going on strikes, and who are stopping production, because they're making cents off of producing what is being sold at hundreds of dollars. So, and that happens in legal businesses, too, it happens with corn, it happens with beans, it happens, and those are products that we get at the supermarket every day.

So, I think the thing is that illegal markets are very free markets, with very few state regulations, and so they regulate through violence, while legal markets have these state regulations that allow them to work as -- with these state regulations but have the same kind of abuses when it comes to workers on the lowest levels of the production chains.

So, the drug war has to, as Michelle Alexander spoke about in the plenary, has to allow us to question capitalism, and question this economic model, because it's actually gaining off of it, and it's, in many ways it's reproducing what happens in the legal market also. And, that -- if we have -- we have to be able to see those comparisons, also.

DEAN BECKER: You know, I mentioned we traveled with Javier Sicilia. I understand he's gone back, he's now a professor in Mexico again, but, what I did, you mentioned a situation where they're discovering a mass grave. Do you want to talk about that, Andres?

ANDRÉS HIRSCH SOLER: Yeah, in the past few years, the searching for the people that have been disappeared, forced disappeared, has taken the path to search to clandestine graves and public graves, and then, we have realized that a lot of the country is full of bodies that nobody knows that are there, inside of the earth, and then there are appearing a lot of these public graves, like, hundreds of bodies inside of the earth, and they have been hidden there.

And that was the particular one in Jojutla, in Morelos, but there are other efforts made in the north of the country, in Sinaloa, in Chihuahua, also in the coast, in Vera Cruz, but there is also, it was motivated because of the violence in Guerrero, with the Ayotzinapa case, and all the other families that begin to search for their families in the earth, but maybe without life, you know, but also, they are pressing a lot to these groups and to the government to allow to the disappeared people that are still alive to come back to their homes.

DEAN BECKER: It occurs to me that, you know, I've heard the stories of the disappeared in Mexico, and Guatemala, and elsewhere over the years, and, are they covering this well, or is it just kind of an occasional mention of this? How is it being presented to the public?

AMAYA ORDORICA: Well, the first disappearance of the 43 students of Ayotzinapa kind of brought the topic of enforced disappearances to the table, where you couldn't look away, but it was also very focalized on these 43 students, when official numbers say there are over 30,000 people who are missing, who are disappeared in Mexico in the last 10 years, which is probably a lot less than the real number, because those are just the ones that people have reported, but 90 percent of crimes aren't reported by people to the police, so that just kind of gives us a possible proportion of what could be not reported, and regarding disappearances, and that amount is not present, I think, as present as it should be, even thought the fact that the families are going out and looking and searching literally in the ground for their loved ones has shaken things up a little bit.

It's been three years since the disappearance of the 43 students, and today, we might have the approval of a general law about disappearance and enforced disappearance in Mexico, and that would be a huge result of this movement. Far from enough, but, I think that it's lost the weight that it should have, and it's been focalized on specific cases, and I know people are -- tend to relate more to stories than to big numbers, but sometimes when we forget that those stories are accompanied by these huge numbers, and that story is replicated 30,000 times, that's when it kind of has to hit a different level of indignation that I don't think that's happening.

ANDRÉS HIRSCH SOLER: To give an idea of that, Juan Carlos Trujillo, a social leader that we work with, and the son of María Herrera, he says that every day, fourteen people are disappeared in Mexico, and it's not only for the political repression, not only the market interests that make that disappeared, because it's also the luck. If you are in the incorrect place and incorrect time, you can be a victim of that.

DEAN BECKER: Sure. One last question. I don't know how true this is, but I've read indications that in Mexico, the solution of murders, or the non-solution of murders, is in the 90 percentile rate, that it's rare that someone gets accused or convicted.

AMAYA ORDORICA: Yeah. Impunity in Mexico is in 99 percent of cases, in both human rights violations and serious crimes. So, there is impunity in almost a hundred percent of the cases, which also adds to the situation, where there is the drug market violence, and there is the state violence, and there is political violence, but then, there's also just a state where anybody can disappear someone or kill someone or commit an act of violence, knowing that the amount of impunity kind of creates like a safety blanket for crimes and human rights violations to be committed.

And in that context, for example, the assassination of women has gone up to seven women assassinated a day in the country, and that has to do with the general situation of violence, but also with the amount of impunity regarding violence, where violence against women as an example can grow and be kind of like a, I don't know, like, a perfect environment for these other types of violence to also expand, so it's kind of contagious. You know?

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. I, kind of reminds me of that situation in El Paso ten, twelve, fifteen years ago, where every day, women were just disappearing like mad. The situation you described kind of reminds me of what I'm hearing about what's going in the Philippines, where if you think somebody is a drug user you can kill them with basic impunity.

ANDRÉS HIRSCH SOLER: Yeah. I think it's a little different, because in the Philippines they have, like, the instruction to do that. They are allowed to do that. In Mexico, it's more I think that something that nobody cares. It's like, anything happens, there is, if there is a comparison, if you kill somebody in Paris, you have one of one hundred possibilities that you get caught -- no. Yeah, to get free. To don't get caught. And the exact opposite it's in Mexico, there is no reaction of the authorities, unless they want to persecute you.

DEAN BECKER: All right. Well, is there a website you guys might want to share with the listeners?

AMAYA ORDORICA: Yeah, it's REVERDESER.org, that's reverdeser.org.

DANNY DALTON: Corruption charges. Corruption? Corruption is government intrusion into market efficiencies in the form of regulation. Ask Milton Friedman, he got a goddamned Nobel Prize. We have laws against it precisely so we can get away with it. Corruption is our protection. Corruption keeps us safe and warm. Corruption is why you and I are prancing around in here instead of fighting over scraps of meat out in the street. Corruption is why we win.

DEAN BECKER: That clip from the movie Syriana.

Here we are with Mister Rick Steves. You've seen him on PBS and elsewhere, a man who travels the world, a man who has given the drug war a great deal of examination, a man whose opinions I think we should all value. How are you doing, Rick?

RICK STEVES: I'm doing very well, thank you.

DEAN BECKER: Rick, watching your shows over the years, I've seen you explore the drug laws a bit, have expressed thoughts about the, I don't know, countries like Germany and Switzerland and others who have a more, I don't even know the right word, it just --

RICK STEVES: Pragmatic.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah, okeh.

RICK STEVES: Compassionate. Productive.


RICK STEVES: Well, the deal is, we all have, all societies have struggles with drug abuse and problems relating to the consumption of drugs, and different societies deal with those problems differently, and we should just compare notes. We can learn from each other. They can learn from us, we can learn from them. I think in general in the United States we're a little more moralistic, and in Europe they're a little more pragmatic, and I'm all about pragmatic harm reduction rather than just say no moralism and incarceration.

I got involved in this initially because I just, first of all, it's a racist kind of war on drugs, when you think of, you know, poor people and people of color being locked up and rich white guys not being locked up, and in Europe, they just don't lock people up for smoking pot. I mean, they've got their enforcement of their laws and so on, but, it's just amazing how expensive and inhumane and tragic this war on marijuana is in our country, and the irony is it's not even effective. In America we smoke more pot per capita than they do in the Netherlands, which is one of the most loose places in Europe when it comes to marijuana, and we can just learn from each other.

So, I've been focusing on marijuana. We're at a DPA convention here so it's about drugs in general, but I'm sort of -- my mission is to talk a little bit of European style sensibility here in the United States so we can get smart about our war on marijuana.

DEAN BECKER: The changes happening, there are states legalizing one after another now, there's representatives and senators and whoever stepping forward, daring to share the knowledge that they've heretofore been afraid to express. Your thought in that regard, Rick.

RICK STEVES: Yeah. When I started at this, it was pretty much, I think, probably considered by almost all politicians to be political suicide if you talked about being smart on drugs rather than being hard on drugs. And, thank god today politicians are realizing that, hey, the truth is on the side of the progressive people when it comes to drug policy, and, in most markets, a politician I think can talk pragmatic harm reduction when it comes to drug policy, and not have it be endangering his ability to get re-elected. Of course, I would suppose in some districts you'd have to be more careful than others, but, I know I've got a lot of friends who are elected officials, and right now it's much easier to talk drug reform than it was before.

But I think it's interesting. I think the people are ahead of the politicians in this area, and that's probably why the first states to legalize marijuana were all initiative states, because the initiative process is designed so political hot potatoes can be dealt with without politicians lose -- putting their career at risk. And now, we've, I think we're about exhausting the initiative states and we're going into the statehouses. So, and now, there's a track record. I was just in Massachusetts and Maine, talking the common sense of legalizing marijuana, and a lot of the politicians there were talking like it was 2010. No. It's 2017. We've had marijuana not only legal but retail sales have been going on for several years in places like Washington state and Colorado, Oregon and Alaska and so on, and we have a track record.

It's not a hunch. When we legalized marijuana in Washington state, it was a hunch that teen use would not go up, DUIs would not go up, crime would not go up. The only thing that would go up would be tax revenue, and the enjoyment of civil liberties, and now, four years later, we know that when you legalize marijuana smartly, use does not spike up, crime certainly doesn't go up, DUIs don't go up. In Washington state, I just was talking to our governor, and he's just thankful he's not arresting thousands of people needlessly every year. He can redirect that law enforcement resources to something much more important.

And, we're generating literally hundreds of millions of dollars a year in tax revenue, not because more people are smoking pot, but because we're taking the money away from a, what was a thriving black market, and now we're making that black market become a highly regulated and highly taxed legal market. And what's not to like about that? You're taking all that money away that used to be enriching and empowering gangs and organized crime, and today it's being put to good use, earmarked for different important purposes within our state budget.

Even, I don't care if they use it for roads. Just, let's get the black market out of there and make it a taxed and regulated legal market, and then people don't get locked up for smoking pot. It employs people, and we can enjoy recreational marijuana.

DEAN BECKER: All right. There you have it friends, from Mister Rick Steves. Is there a website you might want to share, Rich?

RICK STEVES: Oh, I would just say, you know, anybody who's going to Europe can find me online, Rick Steves anything, but if you want to know more about marijuana, google Rick Steves marijuana and listen to my talks, you'll learn more about marijuana than you ever thought you'd know. And don't complain about things, get on board with some of these great organizations that are fighting to end the American war on drugs. I'm a board member of NORML, and we're at a DPA convention right now, and there's MPP, Marijuana Policy Project, and there's just lots of groups that do good stuff. The ACLU. It's just important for people to stop yelling at the TV and get involved, and let's make a difference together. The truth is on our side. Happy travels.

TOMMY CHONG: Hey, this is Tommy Chong for the Cultural Baggage show, telling everybody out there: don't let free speech go up in smoke, man.

SARA GAEL: Hi. My name is Sara Gael, and I'm the director of the Zendo Project, and we are a psychedelic harm reduction peer counseling community outreach program, and what we do is we go to events and festivals all over the world and we provide a safe space and specialized care for people who are having difficult or challenging psychedelic experiences, or just difficult emotional experiences, emotional or psychological experiences, and we go to about ten events a year, and we also provide training and education on how to support people using the principles and practices that we use in the Zendo.

So we provide training and education for law enforcement, for emergency -- for mental health workers, and for medical personnel, and security as well. So we've worked with different safety departments, and in training them, tools to de-escalate difficult psychedelic experiences.

DEAN BECKER: And what's too often misconstrued is that these people experiencing these episodes are violent, or potentially violent, and perhaps too much force is used by law enforcement, unjustified force from law enforcement. Your thoughts.

SARA GAEL: Yeah, so, when people use all substances, psychedelics included, you know, subconscious things can come to the surface, and past traumas can come to the surface, and memories and physical sensations. And it can be a scary process for people sometimes, and people can have experiences like ego dissolution where they really don't have a sense or awareness of their boundaries. And difficult emotions can come up, and one of those difficult emotions might be anger. And so sometimes anger can then turn to aggression, and aggression can sometimes turn to violence.

But when someone who is either angry or aggressive is met with more aggression, then that escalates a situation. But if someone is met who is in that place of difficult -- if it is in a state of anger or aggression, if they're met with certain tools and understanding and compassion along with safe boundaries, so it's possible to hold boundaries without coming at someone with aggression, then you have an opportunity to de-escalate the situation, and avoid further traumatization. So the ways in which people often, or the ways in which these situations have traditionally been handled, is coming from a place no of malice, but really misunderstanding as well as stigma around psychedelics.

So, you know, officers, medical professionals, we've grown up in this society where there's this stigma and there's misunderstanding because there's not -- because since drugs -- because of prohibition, there's not education around different substances, and how they affect the emotional and mental system of individuals, so when you don't understand something you become afraid of it. So most of the time when people are treating these situations with aggression, it's because there's misunderstanding and there's stigma behind it, behind drug use, right?

And so, our aim is to educate and help different people understand, everyone in society as well as people who specialize in emergency crisis work, help people understand how psychedelics affect the systems so that they can be better prepared to deal with those situations.

DEAN BECKER: Well, and I think what I was trying to lead to a while ago is that there is kind of a preconceived notion that's been handed down within law enforcement and others about the potential danger of drug users, which helps to escalate from the -- potentially escalate these situations.

SARA GAEL: Yeah, definitely, so, I mean, you do have situations where people might be on drugs and not aggressive, or not angry, and if someone is dealing with that person, then there's a chance to escalate situations as well. So, I think that both are true. Yes, psychedelics and substances can bring up aggression, that does happen, but there can be situation -- and then the way that people respond to that can further escalate. But then there can also just be situations where, yeah, people are on a substance and so people immediately assume that the situation is dangerous, and they need to come in there with, you know, be prepared for a dangerous situation, yeah.

DEAN BECKER: Well, if folks would like to learn more, please point them towards your website, maybe some closing thoughts.

SARA GAEL: Yeah, absolutely. So, our website is ZendoProject.org, and we are part of MAPS, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. And we are completely donor funded, and so you can go to our website, you can learn more about trainings, you can learn more about volunteering, as well as if you're interested in donating.

And, yeah, we just really want to get this information out into the world and really want to inspire people to start similar initiatives in their communities. And, yeah, provide education and direct service to different communities worldwide.

DEAN BECKER: All right, once again that was Sara Gael, she's director of harm reduction at the Zendo Project. Sara, thank you so much.

SARA GAEL: Thank you.

MIKE MARGOLIES: Yeah, hi, so, I'm Mike Margolies, and my organization's called Psymposia. That's Psymposia with a silent p in the beginning, psymposia. Kind of like psychedelic, and that's because our -- a lot of our work is around psychedelics, but also increasingly in the broader drug policy reform and harm reduction movements as well, at the intersection of these.

Our work is two areas. We have in person live events, and we have a digital magazine at Psymposia.com. And, so, yeah, through our live events and the magazine, we're covering personal experiences, personal stories, with psychedelics and other psychoactives, so not only covering like the latest data and research, which we cover as well with interviews with these researchers, but we actually get into personal, first hand accounts of 'this is what happened to me while I was tripping, this is what I heard, this is the life change I made.'

And we do a lot of -- we host a lot of events where people get on the stage and tell these stories, and we also feature these types of stories in our magazine. And then we also feature conversations, in both of those forums, as well. So the in person, we'll grab a group of experts and put them in the center of the room to talk on the nuance of an issue like, say, microdosing, we did last weekend a conversation on this hosted by comedian Duncan Trussell.

Or, within our magazine, we've had a conversational series around issues like -- the social issues around this, like coming out of the psychedelic closet, should you, and what are the implications of that, and really getting to the nuances of the social issues around psychedelics and drug reform.

DEAN BECKER: Okeh, and as I understand, you've worked with Law Enforcement Action Partnership, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, to bring focus to bear as well, have you not?

MIKE MARGOLIES: Yeah, that's right. So, actually, so, again, at the moment I'm living out of a backpack, but my base you could say is Baltimore, so I've worked with Neill a few times. We've interviewed him for the magazine, and then this summer we had an event with Neill where we had a conversation around addiction and the drug war. It was really nice, well, powerful, well-received, and following the conversation with Neill and a couple of others, we actually had personal stories again, and in this case, not psychedelic stories, but stories of people's recovery from heroin addiction, and we had, so we had a really nice conversation with Neill around how the drug war is, well, not helping people with addiction but in fact doing the exact opposite. So yeah, we've partnered with Neill and LEAP a few times.

DEAN BECKER: Okeh, once again, we've been speaking with Mister Mike Margolies with Psymposia. That website again please.

MIKE MARGOLIES: Yeah, it's Psymposia.com, that's Psmposia.com.

DEAN BECKER: For more than 172 years, what organization has been responsible for educating more US presidential candidates than any other? Skull and Bones, purveyors of fine opium products since 1832.

I'm here speaking with Mister Richard Van Winkler, he's now superintendent of the Cheshire County Department of Corrections. He's a speaker for LEAP, and he's here with us today in Atlanta at the Drug Policy Alliance conference. Richard, what's your take, what's happening here?

RICHARD VAN WINKLER: Well, you know, the first conference that I came to, Dean, was back in New Orleans, I think that was back in 2007.


RICHARD VAN WINKLER: And, you know, I remember back in 2007 I was the chief law enforcement officer attending a remarkable conference, wondering how could this possibly make a difference? And I really never thought that in my lifetime I would really see any remarkable movement on any kind of drug policy reform. And I'm, you know, I'm happy to report that, you know, now, that we're here at another conference that a lot has happened in the last several years.


RICHARD VAN WINKLER: Many, many states have legalized marijuana for recreational purposes, even more for medical purposes. We're at a point now where politicians are feeling the nudge from society, that they can no longer ignore this. That, you know, the population is ahead of the politicians on this issue, and they need to start paying closer attention, and I think they're getting that message.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah, I think even in Texas, my local officials, the DA in particular, decided to stop arresting people for under four ounces of marijuana. That was a major development, that's 12,000 arrests that will not happen each year.

RICHARD VAN WINKLER: Did you ever think that would happen, in 2007?

DEAN BECKER: That's always been my goal, Richard, you'd know that.

RICHARD VAN WINKLER: Yeah, of course, but did you think it would really happen? I mean --

DEAN BECKER: Ah, not that quickly, perhaps. But it was -- and I'm proud of this, it was through my interviews of the police chief, the sheriff, and the district attorney, and they all heard each other say that we're doing it wrong, we need to stop doing this.


DEAN BECKER: And then they determined they should stop doing it.


DEAN BECKER: And, you know, it's opening the dialogue. I think that helped bring advancement. Your thought there, sir.

RICHARD VAN WINKLER: My experience is that the dialogue needs to be more open. You know, years ago I went to Washington, DC, with Howard Wooldridge, and watched him work, who's an amazing man, by the way, if you've never seen him work, he's absolutely incredible. And what was interesting is, about your question on dialogue, is every single person in Congress, or their senior aides, that he would talk to about drug policy reform, they would say, we get it. We agree with you. We agree that this is a terrible thing, we're not contesting anything that you're saying here, and Howard would say, that's terrific, would you sponsor a bill? And all of them said, if you can bring us a bill with six other names on it, we'll be happy to sign on.

I don't know what the magic number was with six that day, but there were more than one that said we need at least six people and we'll sign on to that particular legislation. So when you're talking about dialogue, I'm curious as to why politics is so powerfully gets in the way of people's personal convictions.


RICHARD VAN WINKLER: I don't understand that.

DEAN BECKER: I had much the same situation this past spring, summer, the state legislators in Austin, Texas, were considering marijuana bill this that and the other, and I talked to several representatives, a couple of senators, and behind closed doors, there is no argument. There is no, you know, no pushback whatsoever.


DEAN BECKER: And yet when it comes time to vote on the house floor or whatever, their knowledge, their, if I dare say, their -- I can't find the word, their intellect, is left aside to vote with the crowd, or vote against the bill. It's -- don't know how else to say it, they know this truth.

RICHARD VAN WINKLER: Sometimes I wonder if, you know, they tell us what we want to hear in order to get us out of their office. Right? And they're -- so they're not a person who is of great integrity in that sense.


RICHARD VAN WINKLER: I mean, if you really don't believe it, then tell us you don't believe it. Right?


RICHARD VAN WINKLER: Right. Dale Carnegie said, you know, an objection is a request for more information. That's what he said.


RICHARD VAN WINKLER: And when a politicians gives me an objection, as a speaker on behalf of Law Enforcement Action Partnership, I want to give them more information so that they can make an informed decision and sound public policy. I don't want to be -- I don't want them to tell me what I want to hear so that I leave their office and then they become stagnant and do nothing, that doesn't help America at all.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah, I look at it this way, that we have in Texas no provision for a ballot measure to, you know, vote on legal marijuana or anything, because the state legislature back in about '79 put forward a bill that denied that right to all Texans for any reason whatsoever because there was the thought that they were going to ask for a ballot measure for marijuana.

I use the phrase, these people in power made their bones through this policy, and they dare not back down now for fear of being shown as off-base, and requiring the arrest of millions of people for no reason whatsoever.

RICHARD VAN WINKLER: I'm optimistic. My optimism is cautious over the next few years, but I'm optimistic about the future, because if we can come as far as we did since 2007, and we look ahead, I think that every effort that we make towards reform is good effort.


RICHARD VAN WINKLER: I think every politician that acknowledges that reform is required is going to have a better future, and a longer future, in politics. And my sense is that people will have an awakening soon, and that will be reflected in our elections.

DEAN BECKER: Well, the good hope for Texas is that US Congressman Beto O'Rourke, who's now running for Ted Cruz's Senate seat, wins. Beto wrote a book calling for the legalization of marijuana. There is a change afoot, is there not?

RICHARD VAN WINKLER: I certainly hope so. Hence my optimism, you know?

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. Yeah.

RICHARD VAN WINKLER: I've seen the change over the years, I hope that change continues. I don't want this to be a pendulum swing. I think Americans deserve better than that.

DEAN BECKER: All right. Once again, we've been speaking with Mister Richard Van Winkler, he's superintendent, Cheshire County Department of Corrections. Folks, there are good people who know this truth and are willing to say it openly and publicly. Richard's one of those. I thank you, sir.

RICHARD VAN WINKLER: Thank you, Dean, and thank you to your listeners for another great show. Thanks for all you do for us.

VOICEOVER: This is your drug czar. Do not listen to the Drug Truth Network. It's evil. Pure evil.

DEAN BECKER: Okeh, still Day One here at the Drug Policy Alliance conference. I'm proud to be standing here next to one of my allies in the DPA, Mister Tony Papa, and he's an artist. You should see some of his work. We're standing here before some of it right now. Tony, tell us about this display here, what is this?

TONY PAPA: This is an actual cell, and in the cell, I've locked up Jeff Sessions and President Trump, on a roll of toilet paper, and it represents, you know, the struggle we have with the war on drugs. Sessions wants to bring back the '70s, the '80s, lock them up throw away the key mentality, mandatory minimum sentencing, lock up low-level offenders, and it's a big mistake. So I use my art as a tool to, you know, fight the war on drugs and challenge what Sessions is doing.

This particular piece is an actual replica of a cell, and it contains, you know, pieces that remind us about the atrocities of the war on drugs: broken families, represented by the dolls, the handcuffs, lock them up mentalities, the letters from prisoners. And again I have my art here, I have works of art that I did while -- when I was in prison, at Sing Sing, sentenced to a fifteen to life sentence under the Rockefeller Drug Laws, and I created these works of art.

And this installation is called The Drug War, and it has fourteen pieces of art. This is mostly works on paper, but a few paintings, and it's my barbed wire series. Monet had haystacks as a repetitive motif, I have barbed wire. So in these paintings, and drawings, you'll see that sometimes, the barbed wire was small, that's when I was having a good day in prison, and sometimes it loomed large, where the prison overpowered me.

DEAN BECKER: Well, Tony, let me ask you a quick question. These are perspectives that you were able to observe, looking out windows or maybe from a day room, something like that?

TONY PAPA: Right. Well, a lot -- I wanted, I used to draw from my cell, but we didn't -- I didn't have a window, so I actually painted a window in my cell. But then when I got transferred after eight years and went to Honor Block, then I got to paint the beauty of the Hudson River, and you see a lot of this work, I have the Hudson River, and we were surrounded by it, so it was like the beauty of the Hudson juxtaposed against the pathos of imprisonment, like a double-edged sword.

Here I was in prison, maximum security, doing 15 to life, yet you could look out and boats pass by, you know, with people surfing and waving to you, and you know, it was like amazing, because, you know, you were still in prison. This piece is called The Kiss. It's about the prison industrial complex, money raised from local, state, federal levels and the business of imprisonment. And we have overviews of the prison, then you have my poetry paintings, where I did drawings and basically when I was waiting for parole, my thoughts, or people executed in the electric chair, or people searching, guards searching my cells.

DEAN BECKER: Now, Tony, this last one here I'm looking at, I think this is done after you got out of prison, I would think.


DEAN BECKER: But it's a display, I don't know, a dozen hypodermic syringes across, and --

TONY PAPA: It's about overdose.

DEAN BECKER: About overdose, which has become, hell, a massive problem in America these days.

TONY PAPA: This is an issue that's in the news, now it's compounded by Sessions once again, I said, like before, he wants to bring back the old war on drugs, mandatory minimum sentencing, now they went one -- even further, with people, let's say sell drugs to somebody, like heroin, and then somebody overdoses, now they can charge them with murder. So this is, you know, getting really ridiculous.

This last piece here is a piece I took an interest, and Luke, a guy who owned a dispensary, Scarmozza, and in 2006, he decided to do a music video called Businessman, and basically he wrote me a couple of years ago for help with his clemency, and he got -- did the video, and in it, he says, "go fuck the feds," and three weeks later, they raided the dispensary, and him and his partner got 20 years apiece. Did ten years, and they applied for clemency, we wrote a letter of support, DPA, and his partner actually got clemency from Obama but he did not, and the reason why I think he didn't get it was because he made this music video called Businessman, and he regrets it.

He has a fourteen year old daughter, and I'm trying to help him get exposure to the case so this piece called Martyr Or Drug Dealer has his story in it. That's what I do with my art, I use it to try to save other people's lives in some way. A letter project, where prisoners, I have thousands of letters from prisoners telling me their story and then I try to get it in the media, that's what I do at DPA. So it's about saving lives and, you know, using art as a vehicle is a great way to go.

DEAN BECKER: Well, Tony, is there a separate website or a link on the Drug Policy Alliance where folks can learn more about your work and the art?

TONY PAPA: Well, you can go to my personal website, 15tolife.com, and you could see my art, my activism, and you could see -- read about my new book, called This Side Of Freedom: Life After Clemency, about my 20 years of freedom. I became the first person actually in New York state history to get clemency in 1996 and then recently last year Governor Cuomo gave me a full pardon, so I'm the first person in history to get, in New York state, to get clemency and a pardon.

DEAN BECKER: A hundred years, a hundred years,
A hundred years, a hundred years.
You can hear the drug war blow,
A hundred years.

Okeh, I'm here at the DPA conference, it's still Day One, I'm with Mister Ira Glasser, former head of the ACLU, one of the founding members and a staunch ally of the Drug Policy Alliance. How are you doing, sir?

IRA GLASSER: I'm good, I'm good, it's exciting to be here.

DEAN BECKER: We've got people from around the world, we've got folks enthusiastic about making change. Your summation of this conference, please.

IRA GLASSER: Well, you know, I started going to these conferences when I was still at the ACLU, oh, I don't know, 30 years ago in the late '80s, when it was a predecessor organization, the Drug Policy Foundation, which was before the Drug Policy Alliance, but the Drug Policy Alliance ended up merging and becoming the successor to the Drug Policy Foundation. And in those days, there were maybe 150 people at these conferences, and it was all white vanilla. You know?

I mean, there were -- it was not that there weren't people in the room who were suffering from repressive drug laws, but they were mostly, you know, white stoners who wanted to smoke marijuana, and that was a legitimate enough issue by itself, but, I always knew, from my work at the ACLU, that the primary victims of our repressive drug laws were black and brown folks, who were the ones who were getting arrested and persecuted and prosecuted and imprisoned, and for excessively long sentences, and that was during the time in the '80s when the prison population was exploding, primarily because of the expansion of the imprisonment of nonviolent drug offenders.

And they weren't in the room. And it took a long time to get them there, in part because the movement itself was so insular and small at the time that they had no connection to the folks who were not like them, who were suffering, but it was also because black leadership, if you went into the churches and you tried to talk about this problem, you got your head handed to you. Black leadership saw drugs as the problem, they didn't see drug laws as the problem. They didn't see the expansion of police discretionary authority as the problem. It took a long time for whites in the movement to become sensitive to the people outside the movement who were the main victims of drug laws.

And, it took time for black leadership to begin to understand why the drug laws were so repressive, and such an instrument of racism. So, you know, when we first started talking about that problem, back, you know, 30 years ago in the room, I never really thought too many people, if anybody, really understood what we were saying. But now, you look at it today, and there's 1,500 people here from thirty or forty countries, black, brown, yellow, white, including people who were formerly incarcerated, and the victims, the major victims of repressive drug laws are in the room now and in the movement, and speaking for the movement, and leading the movement.

And that change, to me, is the most significant thing that's happened over the thirty years that I've been going to these conferences, and the major reason I think why the problem is getting resolved in a different way than anybody thought possible thirty years ago.

DEAN BECKER: Right. The rousing ovation for this morning's plenary speaker, Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow, it's resonating, isn't it, Ira?

IRA GLASSER: It is. It is, and, you know, there's two things about that, I mean, you could have got up there and made that speech thirty years ago and it wouldn't have resonated. But also, there was nobody like Michelle Alexander saying stuff like that. There were some white folks saying stuff like that, I was saying a little bit of that kind of stuff at the ACLU, but it -- there was no black leadership that was emerging, saying that stuff, and there were -- and it was not resonating with the, really, the segregated audience that was the heart of drug policy reform in those days.

So that's the most thrilling difference and the most thrilling change, for me, looking back over the years, that this has been going on.

DEAN BECKER: All right. There you have it from Mister Ira Glasser. Thank you, sir.

IRA GLASSER: Thank you.

DEAN BECKER: All right, friends, there you have it. That's about all we can crowd in for this week. Rest assured we'll have much more from this Drug Policy Alliance conference. And I would urge you to check out our website, check out the Century Of Lies show, where my ally, fellow reporter Doug McVay was also in attendance at this conference and he has some great shows to share with you there as well. Please check it out, DrugTruth.net.

And again, I remind you, because of prohibition you really don't know what's in that bag. Please, be careful.

To the Drug Truth Network listeners around the world, this is Dean Becker for Cultural Baggage and the unvarnished truth. This show produced at the Pacifica Studios of KPFT Houston. Tap dancing on the edge of an abyss .....