CULTURAL BAGGAGE 10/19/04
Hosted b y Dean Becker
Engineered by Steve Nolin
Guests: Dr. Tom O’Connell
(Audio Track) Intro – My name is Dean Becker; Steve Nolin is our engineer. We invite you to join us as we examine the unvarnished truth about the drug war.
Dean: Freedom is on the march, not to be stopped within our generation. Pre-emption – our salvation. Baghdad insurgents, mostly homeboys and illegal combatants, wear U.S. insignia. Love is hate and hate is love. Fear – grand master of the march, trespassed, released and unopposed, reinforced by charlatans, we are exposed. Fear mongers come each day knocking – out to make a score. Be afraid, be so afraid. Just a 100 billion more. They say there’s another crises looming, but listen very carefully and you’ll hear our weapons booming. Aerospace and airplanes, Bradley, Colt, and Grumman. GE, NBC, and don’t forget your Hummer. To top it off, the fear of going nowhere. Gas lines and bread lines, no job, no bank account, no shelter for the television. Bandar Bush, Chevron’s legion of millionaires. Texaco, not for Texas or the U.S. anymore. Freedom is on the march. Welcome to this edition of Cultural Baggage. My name is Dean Becker and today we are going to have a special program. You’ll be hearing from Dr. Tom O’Connell, who is conducting a study of hundreds of medical marijuana patients, and we’ll hear from Howard Wooldridge of the Law Enforcement Against Prohibition organization. They are at LEAP.cc. And with the election fast approaching, we’re going to take a special look at the situation – wherein the war on terror is nothing more than the war on drugs with afterburners. You will hear several editorials during this show, as well, including this one:
The damnedest thing – I encounter about 5% of the population which refuses to see that the drug war is the largest fraud ever perpetrated. Their biggest fear is that even if we manage to basically control the distribution of drugs to only adults, that we will then have many adults – to include the worrier I’m speaking of – that will dabble and then become trapped by heroin or cocaine. I tell them I have tried all drugs, that tobacco is by far the most addicting, and that nearly 20 years ago, I quit my near-nemesis of alcohol. I point out that each day it is necessary that I drive past perhaps 100 outlets dispensing these drugs. The warriors are worried about little Johnny and poor Suzy, but most of all they worry about their own proclivity to use. Marijuana especially scares the hell out of these people – mostly former pot smokers, at least. They are so afraid they might wind up an alley-way junky that they are perfectly willing to lock up me and you and untold generations of our children to protect themselves from themselves. Weasel-faced, selfish, cowardly, ignorant bastards – all. Next up, Poppygate.
Poppygate, bizarre news about the U.S. policy on controlling heroin, featuring Glenn Greenway: “The L.A. Times reports that Afghanistan’s opium crop is set to break all records this year, surging past the peak levels under Taliban rule. It adds that the U.S. and UN officials are becoming concerned about the growing drug trade in Iraq. In Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, the number of overdoses has doubled in the last 5 years, according to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. Never more than 100 before 1999, last year there were 229 such deaths reported. Meanwhile
in Washington, the Chairman of the House International Relations Committee, Representative Henry J. Hyde, continues to press the administration for military action against the Afghan drug trade. Doug Bandow, Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute and former special assistant to President Reagan, disagrees. In a recent editorial he argues that because the poppy traders are often American allies, then the eradication effort would backfire, endangering U.S. troops and the war on terror. This is Glenn Greenway, reporting for the Drug Truth Network.”
Dean: We’re proud to have with us at this time on Cultural Baggage, Dr. Tom O’Connell; and he is conducting a study on medical marijuana patients and their history. Welcome, Dr. O’Connell.
O’Connell: Hi, Dean, how are you?
Dean: If you would tell the folks a bit about your history as a doctor, the work you have done in the past, and what brought you to this point.
O’Connell: I was a working thoracic, or chest, surgeon – first in the U.S. Army until 1971, and then from ‘71 to about ‘99 in the San Francisco Bay area. And during that time, I didn’t have much interest in drug policy. I was too busy. When I started to slow down around 1994, I became interested in drug policy and happened to attend a national convention in Santa Monica in ’95, which really opened my eyes to the evils of the drug war. And so as I was slowing down in practice, I devoted more of my time. It also coincided with my discovery of the personal computer. So I had a tool for learning about drug policy and for interacting with other so-called activists, and by ‘97 I found myself editing a drug policy news letter devoted to news and opinion pieces published in the world’s newspapers and magazines. And I sort of burned out on that, and I left that practice in ‘99. And by 2001 when I gave up my newsletter-editing job, I was recruited to screen patients who wanted to use pot medically in California under the provision of so-called proposition 215. So I started doing that in local clubs, so-called “buyers clubs,” which were a very convenient way for patients to link up with doctors willing to talk to them about pot. And so that exposed me to literally a steady stream of people who had one thing in common – they were all pot smokers, and had been for quite a while. And it wasn’t long before I realized that this was an unparalleled research opportunity of the type that’s pretty much not available. It became available through 215. I started seeing patients the end of November 2001, and I figured out what I am doing now by the end of June, and I had the tools in place to start doing it by July 2002.
Dean: That brings us to this point. You are preparing some essays to be used in a book, Self Medication and the Closed Mind: A Folly Unmasked. Let’s talk about that.
O’Connell: They represent the distillation of information that I have gathered, and so it’s the beginning of a book. I still have to write the book. Because what I have learned, it’s a repudiation of Federal drug policy. It’s a monstrous and destructive fraud. I knew it was going into this, but I didn’t have the details. And what this opportunity to interact with thousands of patients has allowed me to do is to gather the necessary details, and then understand how they have been able to pull this off for nearly a hundred years.
Dean: Now, per our prior discussions, we have talked about the fact that in many ways I have been the “average” user that you speak of – those who self-medicate. Let’s talk about those people.
O’Connell: Well, basically I was seeing people of all ages, both genders, all different backgrounds, ranging from poor to affluent, from well-educated to high school dropouts, and from different ethnicities. And what I discovered was that not only were they all pot smokers, so they all shared that – but they shared a lot of other characteristics which weren’t obvious, wouldn’t be obvious to most other people, and weren’t even obvious to them at the time. Because remember, people who smoke pot on a regular basis are forced to do so in secrecy. They have to hide their habit as much as they can from employers, neighbors, even family members. So this was a so-called hidden population, and the opportunity to see a steady stream of them and ask them all the same questions is what yielded this information.
Dean: Well, let’s talk about that “average” user then.
O’Connell: Well, the first thing I learned was that everybody who was smoking pot on a regular basis – well, I say “everybody” – nearly everybody – had tried it first in junior high or high school and either stayed with it as a regular thing or had returned to it after a gap of months or years after trying it. The other thing that they all had in common was they had all tried alcohol, every one of them, almost without exception. And they had tried alcohol by getting drunk, and usually getting sick, sometimes in that same interval. The third thing they shared – 95% of them shared – was that they had tried cigarettes. So people who have tried pot, you can say, have also tried tobacco and alcohol. So they have that in common. Another drug that a large percentage of them have tried and which comes as a surprise to many is psilocybin, or so-called “magic mushrooms or ‘shrooms.” These are also illegal agents, but there is no publicity around them. There is no huge market because there are many different ways to acquire ‘shrooms, either free or from friends or a network. But there is no big criminal market for ‘shrooms. But yet, that was the next most common drug. White people who smoke pot on a regular basis – 90% of them have tried ‘shrooms. They have also sampled or tried or initiated multiple other street drugs and psychedelics at significantly higher rates than the national average. We have these national averages from anonymous surveys conducted under government auspices, pretty faithfully since the late ‘70s. They are so-called monitoring the future. They are all patterned on monitoring the future and have since been extended and co-opted and developed by the Federal government, by an alphabet soup of Federal government agencies. But basically, they are intensive surveys of 8th graders, 5th graders, 12th graders that are conducted annually; and they ask basic questions about what drugs their survey populations have tried and usage patterns ranging from last week, last month, and last year. So that serves as a reference standard against which my data could be compared.
Dean: Let’s talk about the data. The fact is the government counts the fact that we need additional study and then …
O’Connell: Well see, they have assiduously avoided studying not only cannabis or pot itself, but they have especially avoided any study of users. Users are demonized as deviants, criminals, sickos, people in need of treatment, addicts, whatever – but not a research subject. Not somebody you turn to for information. So here they are – busy telling us about people that they have never allowed anyone to study and have made the study of them almost impossible. That touches on the first absurdity of the war on drugs and especially the intellectual background for the war on drugs. They are making assertions about a population that, number one, they can’t identify. The only way they identify users is through arresting them. We know that they focus on certain communities and certain age groups to arrest. For example, I can tell you that there a lot of chronic pot users out there between the ages or 40 and 58 who are rarely arrested, and usually the only time they are arrested is if they are growing it, or they are medical marijuana patients who have identified themselves to their local police so that they made themselves targets for arrest. But in general, they aren’t looking to arrest 40- and 50-year-old pot users. They are looking at high school kids and young – older juveniles and young adults under 25. So they are the bulk of the arrestees in any given year. And yet, we are now arresting three quarters of a million people every year all over the United States for some marijuana-related offense. It’s become the major focus of the drug war.
Dean: Okay, we are going to take our midpoint break. We’ll come back with more of our discussion with Dr. Tom O’Connell, and we’ll hear from Howard Wooldridge from Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.
It’s time to play “Name That Drug By Its Side Effects”: Used to reduce sensitivity to pain; induces a feeling of calm and well-being; no debilitating physiological effects; however, preoccupation with acquisition could lead to malnutrition and an increased risk of disease. Time’s up. The answer: opium. Less addicting than tobacco and 80% of which comes from the U.S. protectorate of Afghanistan.
“Even though blacks are about 15% of the drug users, they are 38% of those arrested for drugs and 58% of those convicted for drugs. Sixty five percent of all the blacks in Federal prison are there on drug sentences. The war on drugs is not about protecting our kids from drugs, fighting the drug traffickers, but it is to maintain white privilege in American society, and must be ended.”
Dean: Eric Sterling, President, Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, CJPF.org.
Okay, you are listening to Cultural Baggage on the Drug Truth Network and Pacifica radio. My name is Dean Becker, and we’re going to continue with the discussion I had with Dr. Tom O’Connell who is conducting this study of medical marijuana patients in the state of California. Dr. O’Connell, there are some within the reform organizations that say you are saying too much. That you are talking about the fact that many of these pot smokers have done other drugs and that it somehow would validate the “gateway theory.”
O’Connell: The gateway theory is interesting. I didn’t do a lot of intensive reading of my own on the so-called “gateway theory” until after I had assembled a lot of this information. It was facilitated by the publication two years ago of a 300 and some odd page book, ironically sponsored by NIDA. A multi-authored compendium of gateway research carried out between the mid ‘70s and the present time. And one of the most interesting studies to me was reading where the “gateway” term originated. The first government-allowed access to pot smokers for research purposes really occurred in the mid ‘70s. Prior to that, Harry Anslinger had essentially shut down any private attempts at drug research, or research that could be related to drug policy. So it wasn’t until he had left the scene and Richard Nixon essentially picked up the cudgels on behalf of drug prohibition that we had NIDA. NIDA was created and they could no longer lie about it. The lies of one man were not enough to cover the whole subject of drug use, so they needed a scientific organization.
Dean: NIDA, that’s …
O’Connell: NIDA was the National Institute of Drug Abuse, which has really functioned like a drug policy commissar ever since. They have got total control because they fund 85% of drug studies. By that, I mean not pharmaceutical drugs. They essentially define the terms and they pass on the protocols which are funded, so they can handle the direction these studies have to take. Frankly, the sociologists and psychologists who populate drug policy reform have been members of those communities for years. And that’s why I think they have a lot of trouble. They see what I’ve tried to tell them as heresy. And I think that’s a normal response to unexpected information. I think that the more intellectually honest ones will, over time, be forced to recognize that the system under which they developed their original opinions was badly flawed. Drug policy reform is going to require – as it needs to be done someday – is going to require repudiation of a lot of nonsense which has been promulgated not by just the government, but by our academic institutions – whole disciplines under government direction. Why? Because the government has been the one paying for research for so long. They have the last literally 60 years, since the end of World War II, to use their power of the purse to control information and to control beliefs. Beliefs are rooted in perceptions, and the perceptions are of the information that has been allowed. In restricted areas, this has been a very effective tool.
Dean: Well, is not the reason behind that, the money – the fact that there are so many of these institutions that you speak of whose main source of income is the drug war?
O’Connell: You know, we live in a competitive, capitalistic economy, and the goal is money, and success is defined by money. And unfortunately, that principle has risen to the top in the modern United States. Anybody who thinks that politics aren’t controlled by money hasn’t been living in this country for the last 30 years. So basically, the politicians who are elected know exactly who and what their election was enabled by, and they are forced to serve those masters. I don’t know how to change that system. But I can certainly point out the flaws in the so-called science or research base that has led to and enables Federally-sponsored drug prohibition. Drug prohibition is a top-heavy, top-down policy. You won’t find any politicians, any elected politicians at the Federal level, who will even speak against drug policy, let alone vote against it. So this is a problem that can only be corrected from the grass roots up.
Dean: I want to thank Dr. Tom O’Connell for taking the time for that interview. It’s important that we all keep in mind that there is really not that much to be afraid of. The drug war is a sham. We will be right back with Officer Howard Wooldridge of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, but next up, another editorial:
Crazy like a fox, network exec, fear, paranoia and division – that’s what the Bush junta exudes from every pore. Despite the fact that they were on watch, despite the fact that they have screwed the pooch numerous times on live TV, despite the fact they have squandered hundreds of billions of our tax dollars, despite the fact they have no plan to extricate us from this fiasco in Iraq, they claim fear – huge, hulking fear – to be our salvation.
Let’s visit with our good friend, Howard Wooldridge of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. Howard, the mechanisms of the drug war are becoming more obvious and ugly, I think, as each day passes. You want to talk about how you see the drug war here in the U.S.
Wooldridge: Yes, I agree with your analysis, Dean. The drug warriors are getting more desperate, putting out more and more bad information to straight-forward lies. That’s the bad news. The good news is that as I have criss-crossed the country this year in my Chevy truck instead of my horse, I have been receiving wonderful feedback from Rotary’s, Kiwanis, Lions, regular folks, that this policy is a failure, that we need to change it, and we want to hear some new ideas. And that is what I have seen in the 7 years I have been in the drug reform movement, is the willingness of people across America to at least listen now to new ideas.
Dean: Right, and I think there is even a new batch – if you will – of people who are willing to stand up and stand beside you and say these same things.
Wooldridge: Right, I’m down here right now looking at Miami Biscayne Bay. I just attended the National Penal Officers – Police Officers Association meeting, and talked to dozens and dozens of Hispanic officers from across the country; and the ones I was talking to overwhelmingly were in favor of changing drug policy, of ending most, if not all, of the concept of the war on drugs. And my fellow colleagues in law enforcement police work know this is not only a failure, but it has gotten too many people hurt and killed that don’t need to be; and they were very willing to listen to the message of “end prohibition now.”
Dean: You speak of these conferences that you attend. This is not the first. There were a couple of others earlier this year?
Wooldridge: Correct. We received some funding from Eric Sterling’s people and we have attended seven conferences this year. All the way from Seattle, Washington, with the National Sheriff’s Association down here to Miami, and the NOBLE conference. That’s the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement in Dallas. We have gone to seven of these things, and their response has been pretty much across the board, tremendous response, positive response from our colleagues in law enforcement that we need to get rid of this drug war – if you have a drug problem, see a doctor at a clinic, not a police officer in a prison.
Dean: There are many members of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition who joined us on the Drug Truth Network, be they mayors of Vancouver, present wardens, former prosecutors, judges, etc. It’s becoming more acceptable to look at this truth and to speak, is it not?
Wooldridge: It certainly is, Dean. That’s just another encouraging sign that although most of us are still retired, we’re having some courageous individuals like one of the wardens down in Huntsville …
Dean: Richard Watkins.
Wooldridge: Law enforcement who is now a member of LEAP and a speaker of LEAP. And Chief Oliver, of Detroit PD, speaking out as an active-duty chief of a major city, saying this is something we need to get rid of. So although mostly still retired, there are a number of courageous individuals who have come out in favor of this, while being on active duty.
Dean: With this coming election, it’s kind of a flip of the coin. Neither one of these candidates speak in regards to the drug war much at all. What can we do insofar as our local candidates, insofar as getting them to address this terrible situation?
Wooldridge: You’re right, it’s almost impossible. The politicians do not want to talk about this, and their standard response is the same old trilogy of “education, treatment, and incarceration.” Which has, of course, failed for the last three or four years of drug war. The only thing that the politicians are going to respond to is when you, your listeners, call or send an email to their state senator, state representatives, and say “I don’t want to build more prisons. Figure it out.” Something really simplistic like that. But just let them know, please do not build more prisons; because when I talked to an aide to Governor Perry – for your Texas listeners – that aide told me, the aide to Governor Perry on criminal justice matters, that the governor is already proposing to build more prisons in Texas as opposed to changing drug laws.
Dean: Well, there is bound to be a better day, and thanks to the efforts of folks like you, hopefully, it will come sooner.
Wooldridge: Well, we’re going to try. And as I think I told you last time, I am going to take Misty across America next year from LA to New York City, 3700 miles, 7 months in the saddle, to gain publicity and help educate Americans to this cause. We are all working hard at this Dean, and I am seriously full of optimism that we’re only talking a matter of 8 to 10 years. I know it’s a long time, but 8 to 10 years, and this will be over with.
Dean: Okay, that was Howard Wooldridge, a long-time police officer and member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. Their website: LEAP.cc. Earlier, during the Poppygate Report, Glenn Greenway was talking about the rise of heroin deaths up in the Northeast, but my friends, it is happening all over America. This next story comes out of Austin from the Associated Press. Heroin-related deaths on the increase in Austin. Tracey Crossett graduated high school early, had a new car, a new boyfriend, and planned to study music in college. She was 17 when her father found her dead at home on Easter Sunday. The needle laying next to her on the floor. Austin police commander Harold Piatt said, “The heroin being sold on the street is too strong for some people to take and when you shoot it into your arm, it’s too late.” Steve Crossett, a toxicologist, said “The overall rise in deaths suggest Austin may have an influx of stronger heroin from other parts of the world.” The mechanisms of drug prohibition put in place by the U.S. government and the Colombian cartels made sure that Tracy Crossett didn’t know what was in that bag. Please, be careful.
For the Drug Truth Network, and on behalf of my technical producer Steve Nolin, this is Dean Becker for Cultural Baggage, the unvarnished truth. This show is produced at Pacifica studios of KPFT, Houston. Tap dancing on the edge of an abyss.