07/17/15 Terry Nelson

Cultural Baggage Radio Show

Terry Nelson, a LEAP speaker with more than 30 years in service to the US Govt as a customs, border and air interdiction officer + Presidents Obama & Clinton, Seattle Sheriff Urquhart & Fed Judge Nancy Gertner

Audio file


JULY 17, 2015


DEAN BECKER: Broadcasting on the Drug Truth Network, this is Cultural Baggage.

DR. G. ALAN ROBISON: It is not only inhumane, it is really fundamentally un-American.

CROWD: 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.

All right, my friends, thank you for being with us on this edition of Cultural Baggage. This past week has been I think the most exciting, productive, and -- week in quite some time, dealing with the subject of drug law, drug war, situations revolving around this eternal prohibition on certain select plant and plant products. We have with us today a gentleman I think who can answer many questions about that news. He has more than 30 years serving the US government, as a customs, border, and air interdiction officer. I think he retired as a GS-13, the equivalent of a bird colonel. He's been a guest on this program more than 200 times. And with that, I want to welcome my brother in Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, Mr. Terry Nelson. How are you, sir?

TERRY NELSON: I'm well, Dean. Thanks for having me.

DEAN BECKER: Well, Terry, this has been one heck of a week as far as drug news, hasn't it?

TERRY NELSON: I, it's one of the best weeks that I've ever seen, especially towards the, the work towards reforming our criminal justice system, which of course is, it's seriously broken and way overdue of reforming of it. So yeah, it's been a great week, and of course, then the drug war, just showed its other hiccup which is pretty standard, with Joaquin Guzman, Shorty Guzman getting out of prison again.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. Yeah, and, you know, who knows how he got out, I don't know if he actually used the tunnel, I figure he put on a military uniform and walked out the front door, and the tunnel was just to protect those who helped him to escape. I don't know. But, there was so many parallels, I had Don Winslow, author of The Cartel, on last week, and it was almost, you know, just a parallel course. In that book, the top dog in Mexico, in essence, got himself arrested to take a vacation so to speak, and then planned his own escape, and, you know, it's amazing that parallel.

Now, Terry, you served our government down in the Caribbean, Central and South America. What do you think, does it make any difference whether Chapo's behind prison, prison doors or not?

TERRY NELSON: Well, the best way to answer that is if the, if the CEO of FedEx or UPS got put in jail tomorrow, would FedEx or UPS cease to exist? So no, it makes no difference if you take out the top man, someone just replaces him, and it's pretty obvious that he was still the top man even inside prison, because, why else would they have broke him out? You know, so, it's a pretty big mess down there. Of course, now, in Mexico now, there's just basically two cartels control the whole country. The Sinaloa Cartel the northern part, or well 17 states out of the 31 states in Mexico, and the recently, or the newer cartel, the Jalisco New Generation cartel controls the southern part of Mexico. And of course there's still many, many smaller ones around.

But the two, those are the two biggest now, and so, Shorty is back in power, or back in control of his Sinaloa cartel, which is the most powerful one in Mexico of course. And, it's a very, very large number of people, he has, allegedly, they've arrested about a hundred thousand of his soldiers so far, but I think he probably has at least a hundred thousand still working, working the streets for him, so he's a pretty powerful man.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah, you know, the Ferrar wars, back, well, when we were younger, the US had the draft, it was the way to get people to enroll in the service, but down there in Mexico they have a more unique way now, they join up or die, or your family dies, so it's fairly easy to recruit, what do you think about that?

TERRY NELSON: Well, if you're speaking of the cartels, yeah, it's, they don't have any trouble finding recruits because, you know, the recruiters drive around in big fancy pickup trucks and five, seven hundred dollar cowboy hats, throwing money around, and they got the best looking women with them, and, I mean, the correrros, the songs they sing of them as heroes in Mexico, because they spit in the face of the Mexican government, which was what many in Mexico would like to do.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. Yeah. Well, considering that, how well they're doing, so would I, but what the heck. Now, let's talk about some of the other news. I think the first positive thing that broke was President Obama pardoned 46 nonviolent drug war criminals, and I say hooray, I applaud him, but that is a molecule on the drop in the bucket, is it not?

TERRY NELSON: It is, but it set the stage for what's, I saw today that John Boehner even came out for reforming the criminal justice reform, it was on the Huffington Post today, so the, the house of cards is falling, I think, and what the president did by going to El Reno there in Oklahoma yesterday, it just, it just sets the stage for, well, what's going to happen. Of course, we have to remember, Jim Webb was calling for this about ten years ago, and you know, calling for complete, total criminal justice reform in America, blue-ribbon panel to study it. So I think we're going to have it, I think we're really going to have a serious discussion about it, and I believe it will happen.

DEAN BECKER: All right. Terry, bear with me one second, I have this one minute clip of President Obama in the El Reno correctional facility.

This is President Barack Obama speaking after he toured the El Reno Federal Correctional Institution in Oklahoma:

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: This is -- the United States accounts for five percent of the world's population, we account for twenty five percent of the world's inmates. And, that represents a huge surge since 1980. A primary driver of this mass incarceration phenomenon is our drug laws, our mandatory minimum sentencing around drug laws, and, we have to consider whether this is the smartest way for us to both control crime and rehabilitate individuals. This is costing taxpayers across America 80 billion dollars a year, and as I said on Tuesday, there are people who need to be in prison, and I don't have tolerance for violent criminals, many of them may have made mistakes, but we need to keep our communities safe.

On the other hand, when we're looking at nonviolent offenders, most of them growing up in environments in which drug traffic is common, where many of their family members may have been involved in the drug trade, we have to reconsider whether 20-year, 30-year, life sentences, for nonviolent crimes, is the best way for us to solve these problems.

DEAN BECKER: All right. Terry, I hope you were able to hear that. And he's making many of the points that you and I have hundreds of LEAP speakers have been making over the years, is he not?

TERRY NELSON: Yeah, I, that's my speech for about the last ten years now.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. Yeah.`

TERRY NELSON: Of course, it's the hamster wheel. When you put the, one of the parents in jail, and then, you know, the kid then gets in trouble, he follows his father, brother, sister in, into prison as well. You know, it's a hamster wheel, we've got to stop it and, I believe we'll make some progress now. I'm going to keep my fingers crossed, but I think we may be on the road to seeing major change within the next couple of years.

DEAN BECKER: Well, absolutely right. And, you know, other politicians -- Rand Paul, his, Ron Paul certainly was, Barney Frank, many others have over the years decried this war on drugs, have stood boldly and pointed out its harms, et cetera, and we want to do this other track here, because there's another politician who is kind of reneging on what he had said before, and let's play that track please.

In Philadelphia, at the NAACP convention, this is former President Bill Clinton, regretting having signed our nation's draconian drug laws:

FORMER PRESIDENT WILLIAM CLINTON: Now I signed a bill that made the problem worse, and I want to admit it. And, most of these people are in prison under state law, but the federal law set a trend, and that was overdone, we were wrong about that. That percentage of it, we were wrong about.

So the good news is, we had the biggest drop in crime in history and the first eight-year decline in crime in history, the bad news is we had a lot of people who were essentially non -- locked up who were minor actors, for way too long. The larger problem is the one President Obama is now trying to address, that of people who just have sentences that cannot be justified by their length compared to what they did. And that's important.

DEAN BECKER: All right. Again, we're speaking with Mr. Terry Nelson, of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. Terry, well, your response to Bill Clinton's words.

TERRY NELSON: Well, yeah, I agree with him completely, and kudos to him for saying he made a mistake. If more of our politicians would admit that this tough on crime stuff that they did didn't make a darned bit of difference, it just ruined a bunch of people's lives, if they would come out and admit that. You know, one of the most important things of being a man is being able to say, Hey, I made a mistake, I was wrong, you know, and just admitting it and getting on down the road. It's when you just refuse to say that you were wrong, that things really get bad. So I'm glad that he came out and said it. Jimmy Carter said basically the same thing, and, you know, it's just out there now. People are talking about it, it's in the headlines, and the news, every day, more and more states are and countries around the world are fighting back against the United Nations treaties, so we're making a heck of a lot of progress this year.

DEAN BECKER: I agree with you, Terry. And I think about, you know, the 45 million arrests, the trillion dollars squandered in trying to enforce these laws, the 10 trillion that has flowed into the pockets of terrorists, cartels, gangs, street corner vendors, it's hard not to latch onto this potential gain in our economy, in our environment, and just the way we treat one another, if we can just get rid of this stigma. Drug users, many of them need help, but not all of them, and we just kind of have to focus on that issue, don't we?

TERRY NELSON: Well, of course, yeah, in the beginning of the drug war we demonized the enemy, which makes it easier to kill them or incarcerate them and treat them like animals. And it just, it was the wrong thing to do. It was the wrong way to treat American citizens, for the wrong reasons, and so, but now we're waking up and we're realizing that it hasn't helped us, it's hurt our country. I saw also that President Obama called for removing Check The Box from employment, so you'd no longer have to check the box that you've been arrested for drug crime. All these things are important steps, because if you can't get hired, you can't get a job, you're going to go back into crime, that's pretty common knowledge there, about 63 percent recidivism rate for criminals. So yeah, we're making progress.

To my knowledge the only major corporation in America right now that's stopped Check The Box is Target out of Minneapolis, Minnesota. But more of them will come on line with the President calling for it, I think more of the big businesses will stop asking you if you're been arrested. And people can be able to get jobs again, because you're certainly not a threat to the economic status of the company, you're not going to steal from them if you were arrested for selling a few grams on a street corner, that basically ruins your life. So I'm just, I'm excited about this last week, it's really been a great week for me.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. No, I'm with you, Terry, it's, puts a smile on your face, there's hope on the horizon, which is always good. Now, Terry, I think about when, you know, you and I give talks at Rotary Clubs, Lions Clubs, whoever we're visiting with, they get it more and more now, and I guess what I'm aiming at here is that I think near or a real majority of Americans are now for doing something. Maybe they don't want to legalize drugs because they haven't thought it through, but they know what we're doing is not working. Am I right?

TERRY NELSON: Well, 74 percent of the American public thinks the drug war is a total failure, and you know, 52, 57 percent depending on which one you want to believe, believe that drugs should, that cannabis should be legalized. It's still a big fight for the other drugs, but they come at it from the same premise. You know, if you want to put Shorty Guzman out of business, legalize drugs and he's out of business. Well, he'd go on into some other business, but he won't be smuggling in and corrupting officials and killing people, one would hope. He doesn't have to fight as hard to keep his turf, you know, if he's got market share, he's got market share.

So, I think, you know, I keep repeating myself, but I think we've, we may have turned a corner, and the American people are fed up with it. And when I give speeches to these groups, I think the turning point was when the soccer moms started to come over and ask these questions, and they got on board, because we always said if we can get the soccer moms on board, we could win this. We could end this war on drugs, and now, since groups like RAMP, Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition out of Houston are doing excellent work, calling it to attention to the Republican Party, and we're just making great headway, then, I'm excited.

DEAN BECKER: Well, same here, Terry. All right, well I tell you what, when, you know, we look at that crystal ball, I think even in Texas, within two years, they are going to have to at least begin to really make some drug law changes. They pretended they were doing something this last session, wrote a medical marijuana law that required a doctor's prescription, which of course no doctor's ever going to do because they would lose their license, but I think the, I don't know, the truth of this matter is being exposed, and even Texas Republicans are going to move on this soon. Your thoughts, sir.

TERRY NELSON: I agree with you a hundred percent. But, you know, several years ago the governor signed a law that said anything under four ounces, you could just write a ticket for. But the cops didn't do it, because they've been trained to demonize these people, they want to put them in jail and they want to seize their goods and take their money from them, basically steal their money. But, I saw in Houston that the prosecutor down there said he's not going to do it anymore, just fed up with it, and Dallas is pretty much the same way. Some of the smaller cities are still, you know, hanging in there, but if the big cities stop doing it, and you just start writing tickets, initially start writing tickets and fining people if you catch them with stuff, then people are going to quit, they're going to quit breaking into your homes, you know, shooting your dogs and shooting your kids by mistake, over a small amount of drugs, that's got to stop, and I believe that will stop.

DEAN BECKER: Well, the situation in Houston is not as good as you may have heard, they still take you downtown, they still check your record, they still tow your car, but if you've been nice in the past, well then you might get that ticket and be asked to come back to court next Wednesday. But in general, still 9 out of 10 people are getting arrested and thrown in jail. And it brings to mind, and I harp on this a lot, but the fact of the matter is, here in Harris County, Houston, the bail bondsmen are the main contributors to the re-election of these judges, who don't grant PR bonds like they do in Austin, in Austin it's 95 percent, here it's 5 percent. Tells you a little bit about the politics in this town.

TERRY NELSON: Well, yeah, it's, Houston's been a Republican stronghold for, since Christ as a corporal, whereas Austin is a little more liberal. More than a little more liberal, but, you know, different kind of people, different -- younger people there, people that aren't afraid to think outside the box, and they're not trapped in the old 40-year propaganda information wars that have just warped people's thinking on stuff.

DEAN BECKER: Right. Well, Terry, I tell you what, we're going to have to do this again. This makes 220 times at least that you've been on here. I wasn't able to dig back in the archives enough to find more, ran out of time before I came to the studio, but any closing thoughts you'd like to relay to the audience, you know, little pep talk, get them going?

TERRY NELSON: I just want the audience to start, sit up, take notice, and get out and vote. Call your congressman, talk to them, write them letters, send them emails. Let them know that you're tired of this, and that you're going to vote against them if they don't support it, because they will listen to that. But, you talk to politicians and I was down in Austin here a while back, and the guy said well my constituents don't want me to do it. And I said well I don't believe that's a true statement. Maybe the ones that vote don't want you to do it, but, so, the younger people and the people that want this change, you're going to have to get out there and vote.

You're going to have to raise Cain, so they know they have to fear you, and then, they will do your bidding. But as long as you're not voting then they don't have to worry about you because they're getting voted in by the rightwingers, they don't have to worry about you because you're not voting. You've got to get out and you've got to vote, you've got to make your voice heard. And I say that to high school groups and everything else, you've got to make your voice heard, and that's your one way of doing it, and the other ways are to send letters and make telephone calls and go by the offices and bang on the desks and say, this has to stop, this has to stop. And then, you'll get their attention and they will worry about it, they're going to lose votes.

DEAN BECKER: There you go, Terry. Well said, my friend. I thank you, once again, we are both speakers for a group called Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, on the web at LEAP.cc.

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The following segment comes to us courtesy of Canada's CBC. It features an interview with Sheriff John Urquhart of Seattle, King County, Washington.

RICK CLUFF: Well, that was the sound of people cheering as Seattle's first legal recreational marijuana store opened one year ago today. Now over that past year there have been more than a quarter of a billion dollars in sales, 250 million dollars in sales, which results in 70 million dollars in taxes generated for local and state governments. It was a major change in drug policy and it meant a shift in approaching police as well. John Urquhart is the sheriff for King County in Washington state and joins us now to talk about this past year from a law enforcement standpoint.

Being the sheriff of Washington's biggest county, which includes the cities of Seattle and Tacoma, what were the major challenges that your officers faced in adapting to the new laws of marijuana suddenly being a newly legalized substance?

SHERIFF JOHN URQUHART: Well, really there was nothing to adopt to, it was an honor. I guess my biggest challenge was letting my officers know that, well, it's a little bit -- it's a different ball game now, don't worry about it. But from a crime standpoint, from an enforcement standpoint, obviously there was nothing to enforce anymore. And the sky didn't fall, that's what's most interesting, is, it was kind of business as usual. So no big deal.

RICK CLUFF: One of the major concerns though about legalization here in Vancouver and across the country is that, if we legalized pot for recreational use it might lead to increasing youth access to marijuana. How closely were your officers watching for that.

JOHN URQUHART: Well, that just hasn't happened. All the studies that have been done have shown that actually marijuana use among high school students in Washington state and across the country is down. Now, with the tax revenue that's going to be coming in, and I think it's just a drop in the bucket so far, we'll be able to devote some of that money to education. Really that's the key is educating our young people that this is not something you want to do. But the legalization of marijuana per se has not increased youth, the use of marijuana by our youth.

RICK CLUFF: Being a guy who's been enforcing the law for a number of years, what were your expectations as you, as this law changed?

JOHN URQUHART: Well, I was the only sheriff in Washington state, the only police chief in Washington state to actually support the legalization of marijuana, at least openly. You know, I've been a police officer for 40 years and a good part of that I was a drug enforcement officer. I arrested lots and lots of people for every single drug imaginable, and took them to jail and got convictions. But what I learned during that period of time is the war on drugs hasn't worked. And more than that, it's been an abject failure, and we have to try, we had to try something different. And the citizens of the state of Washington decided they wanted to legalize marijuana.

We incarcerated an entire generation of African-Americans based on our marijuana laws. That had to change. And it did. And in King County alone, the legalization passed at 63 percent, statewide at about 55 percent. The citizens have spoken, and it's time for us, the police, to listen. And I think we've done that, and as I said, the sky hasn't fallen, the DUI arrests have not gone up, youth is not using marijuana at an increased rate, it's been a yawner, no big deal.

RICK CLUFF: But, John, recreational marijuana, it's still illegal from a federal aspect in the United States, so did you and your forces come into any conflict with federal law enforcement officials over this?

JOHN URQUHART: No open conflict. The federal government through the Department of Justice, basically, has said well, you know, we don't really like this, but we see the handwriting on the wall, and as long as you do, being the state of Washington, do certain things, we will keep hands off. And some of those things were making sure that marijuana is not sold to young people, people under the age of 21, that we shut down shops that aren't properly legal, aren't licensed like they should be under the law, that we enforce DUI statutes -- those types of things, which are just common sense and what we were going to do anyway. I think the federal government blinked, you know, they figured out that the citizens have made their choice, and that's what they're going to do. And of course this is spreading across the country. Washington, DC, of all places, now has legalized or at least decriminalized marijuana. That's a huge shift.

RICK CLUFF: Sheriff, what advice would you have for law enforcement officials here, and politicians here in Canada who might be concerned about the possible future of the legalization of recreational marijuana might mean?

JOHN URQUHART: Listen to your people. Listen to the citizens of British Columbia. They're usually a lot smarter than we are, they're smarter than the politicians and they're smarter than the cops. Listen, you know, make your views known, but don't get the attitude that, we're the cops and you're not, don't tell us how to do our job, that's a situation that's occurred with police officers forever, and that's got to change. Just listen, and it will all be fine.

JUDGE NANCY GERTNER: My name is Nancy Gertner, and for 17 years I was a judge of the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts. During those 17 years I sentenced over 500 people to sentences of which 80 percent I believe were unfair, and disproportionate. I left the bench in 2011 to join the Harvard faculty and to write, and to write about those stories, and to write about how it came to pass that we were, that I was obliged to sentence people to terms that frankly made no sense under any philosophy, and the theory or retribution, any theory of social change. So my big idea is, it takes a cue from the World War Two, post-World War Two period, from the Marshall Plan. The Marshall Plan was unique because it set out not to punish those who had been defeated, and sow the seeds of future rebellion and future rage, but to rebuild, to look to the future, and not to the past.

Another version which is not quite as successful is obviously post-Civil War reconstruction, which as we know was not as successful, but still the idea was not to punish, but to rebuild. Well, we finished a war, or we should be finishing a war. We finished a war on drugs, and although we were not remotely the victors of that war, we need a big idea in order to deal with those who were its victims. We need a plan to reconstruct neighborhoods, not countries, to be sure. We need a plan to stop punishing, as, which is all that we have done in the past, and to start rebuilding.

What do I mean by a failed war on drugs? This is a war that I saw destroyed lives, eliminated a generation of African-American men, covered our racism in ostensibly neutral guidelines and mandatory minimums which were only applied or largely applied to African-American men; created an inter-generational problem, although I didn't, wasn't on the bench long enough to see this, we know that the sons and daughters of the people we sentenced are in trouble and are in trouble with the criminal justice system; fostered domestic violence, because an entire generation of men were eliminated from these communities, and eliminated, fundamentally eliminated their political participation. Again, we were not destroying cities as we did in, leveling cities as we did in World War Two with bombs, but with prosecution, prisons, and punishment. My Marshall Plan. My book. My effort to reconstruct the lives that I had a role in undermining.

DEAN BECKER: All right. We're wrapping it up here. I want to share with you, I ask this question everywhere, I post it everywhere: What is the benefit of drug war? And of course there's nothing for the average Joe, but what it does, it protects the market share and place of the privileged and promoted legal drugs: alcohol, caffeine, tobacco, sugar, pharmaceuticals. It provides the police with easy powers to stop, search, arrest, and interrogate, and it was used to extrapolate the war on terrors. Third, it successfully attracts much-needed funding for police, armed services, and security services. It provides excellent opportunities for significant additional resources for police state through the seizure of assets. It provides excellent business opportunities for the ever-burgeoning penal-industrial complex. The list goes on and on, we'll have to do it next week.

As always I remind you, because of prohibition, you 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. Cultural Baggage is a production of the Pacifica Radio Network. Archives are permanently stored at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.

And we are all still tap dancing on the edge of an abyss...