04/11/10 - Jeff Blackburn

Century of Lies

Jeff Blackburn, Dir of Innocence Project of Texas + Loretta Nall of Alabamians for Compassionate Care

Audio file

Century of Lies April 11, 2010

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

Hello, my friends. Welcome to this edition of Century of Lies. I am Dean Becker. Today, we’re going to have two live guests with us. We’re going to hear a little bit later, from Loretta Nall. She, the Activist Extraordinaire down in Alabama, who’s made amazing strides. We’ll get a chance to talk about that progress here, in a little bit. But first up, we’re going to bring in Jeff Blackburn. You may remember him as the Tulia Defense Attorney. He’s also gone on to found and work extensively with the Innocence Project of Texas. With that, let’s just go ahead and bring Jeff into the conversation.

Dean Becker: Hello, sir.

Mr. Jeff Blackburn: Hey, Dean. Thanks a lot for having me.

Dean Becker: Oh Jeff, thank you so much. I feel the dam is breaking. There’s water leaking through. It’s time to ratchet up our efforts. Your thoughts?

Mr. Jeff Blackburn: I couldn’t agree with you more. Anytime that you hear people say, ’That will never happen in Texas,’ it really means that it’s about to. I’m spending a lot of time in the Legislature, whether I like it or not. I’ve been down there for about three sessions in a row.

We started out with the Tulia legislation a few years ago and we were successful. We got some stuff done. We got a law passed that says you can’t arrest people on the uncorroborated word of a snitch. That was a minor advance. But significant for a lot, for several hundred people that were charged under the old law.

Then we’ve started spending a lot of time there. Trying to educate legislators on basic questions that affect the innocent. Incidentally, there’s no more innocent people in Texas prisons then victims of the drug war. I’m convinced that’s the overwhelming majority of these cases. There are lots of Tulia’s all over. But the result of that is, I think I’ve gotten a pretty decent ‘feel’ for what works and what doesn’t.

What’s lacking from the discussion right now in Austin, is the ability to connect republican financial conservatism to ending prohibition. No one’s really making that argument. Typically they just defer to police lobbies and police organizations, who are really the only people that truly have a stake in marijuana prohibition any more. Because they’re afraid of their jobs being cut back.

As long as those are the only people they listen to in Austin, it’s going to be hard to get a lot done. On the other hand, I think that they’re really ready to hear voices now, from sensible people with real experience in the Criminal Justice System who are pointing a way forward. I think that the time has really come, down there. I believe that within four more years, that’s two more legislative sessions, Texas will create a medical program.

Dean Becker: Let’s hope you’re right, Jeff. I’m hoping it’s even sooner. But I think you’re right that public officials are beginning to understand that they need to reassess what’s going on. I think I told you, but I’ll refresh this for the audience. In the last few weeks, I had one of the Chief Constables of Houston on. I had ‘thee’ Sheriff, Adrian Garcia.

I have scheduled the District Attorney Pat Lykos, for later this month. Beto O’Rourke, the El Paso City councilman. I’m hoping that he will be on here in a couple of weeks and bring in our former Mayor and current city councilman, Clarence Bradford. To talk council member to council member about that need for change. Because the City of El Paso is somewhat unique, at least in the extreme. Right? In what they’re enduing.

Mr. Jeff Blackburn: They’ve got better reason than anybody, to go crazy over the drug war. They’ve also got better reason than anybody, to learn some lessons from it’s total futility. You go across the river and there’s essentially just chaos and lawlessness over there. That’s the result of what? Prohibition. That’s prohibition gone crazy.

Dean Becker: Yeah.

Mr. Jeff Blackburn: I think that we’re going to see a lot of local initiatives in towns that are not necessarily part of the great ‘moronic unwashed‘. That is in large measure, a lot of the State of Texas. On the other hand, speaking as somebody who comes from that ‘great moronic unwashed’ part of the world, I come from Amarillo.

I’m based in Amarillo. I travel all over the state. But I live here. I have a law practice here. It was in Amarillo we got a twelve minute not-guilty, about a year and a half ago. On, as far as we could tell, the first Medical Marijuana defense case.

Dean Becker: In Texas?

Mr. Jeff Blackburn: In Texas, and it wasn’t an accident. I think if these cases are put properly… What I see actually, is an old fashion Civil Rights campaign, with multiple pressures happening. Number one is political action by folks like, the people that listen to your show. They’re organized and can put some pressure on people in the (legislature).

Number two, some upper level education and lobbying on, with a plan. A business plan that makes sense. That can actually make the state money, in Austin. In three, if we could coordinate a series of legal attacks in courtrooms all over the state and start turning jury sentiment around, which I think is already there. This is a prime example.

It’s just like the Innocence work we do. It’s a prime example of the huge gap that exists between what normal people really believe and what some of the criminal justice types, like the Court of Criminal Appeals and Rick Perry and some of those people, believe. There’s a huge, huge space in-between those two points of view.

Dean Becker: Yeah. I wanted to underscore what you were saying about positive interpretation, by the public. This has been ten years ago, in 2000. Zogby preformed a poll here in Texas, to determine who was in favor of Medical Marijuana. At that time, it was seventy-five percent. I’m sure it’s up another five or ten percent, since that poll was taken.

They also determined that those taking the poll and thinking that we should change the laws, also believed that seventy-five percent of people disagreed with them. What it is, is a conflict of perception that people don’t realize that their allies; likeminded folks, are out there in the vast majority. Yet, people are so afraid of urine tests and the stigma and name calling that could result from speaking this truth, that it just continues on. Your thoughts, Jeff?

Mr. Jeff Blackburn: I think gradually, we’re going to see more and more people willing to step up and tell the truth about this. It’s going to be very hard for awhile, to get any officials over. I think the main thing is, that people have got to understand. That to make something like this work, it’s going to require organization, some money and a lot of patients.

Because you’re not going to get officials to support this perspective overnight. You’re going to get some officials to say, ’Hey, I agree with you. But…’ Then there’s million ‘buts’. ‘But it’ll ruin me politically in my town, if I do that’. This is going to be for people in places like Travis County. OK?

Dean Becker: Alright.

Mr. Jeff Blackburn: You’re just not going to be willing to do that. Because as we’ve learned with the Innocence work, elected officials are the last people to come over. What you’ve got to do, is start some dialoging with them. I hate that idea, that phrase actually. ‘Oh, let’s have a dialog with them.’ But we really do. We have to, on some upper level; funded upper political level, which I don’t think we have in Texas, begin that kind of discussion with people that can make a difference, in Austin.

That doesn’t mean having demonstrations or that sort of thing. It means having a real, organized conversation and a real presence down there. On that level; on the upper crust level. Then again, I think that we’ve got to be patient and if we can start turning some jury verdicts around in a very deliberate way…

This is all ‘pie in the sky’ right now. ’Cause nobody out there’s doing it. I can’t do it. Nobody can do this by themselves. But I think that if we would reach a new level of organization and communication, sort of in the left, or the anti-prohibition middle you, we could do it. It’s waiting to happen. It is overripe for a coalition of forces to come forward and make a push and make this happen.

Dean Becker: I met with our DA Lykos a couple of weeks back. To, at that higher level, open the subject. Actually it was the DA, her general council, the county attorney and three bureau chiefs, were in that room with me and I felt that was some pretty good audience to share this with and I asked them, “Do you know where these drug laws came from?” “Do you know they were created from racial screeds?” “That they’re still implemented with a lot of racial bias?” and everybody’s kind of nodding their head.

They fail to incorporate that knowledge, into what they’re carrying forward. I don’t know what I’m quite saying here. But it’s like they fail to look at it. Perhaps they choose not to look at it. But they’re beginning to be forced to look at it. Your thoughts?

Mr. Jeff Blackburn: They look at it. The problem is not them understanding it. Everyone ’gets’ it.

Dean Becker: Yeah.

Mr. Jeff Blackburn: I mean, even Rick Perry understands that the drug war doesn’t work and that it’s stupid to criminalize marijuana. Even he gets that. I really believe that.

Dean Becker: Yeah?

Mr. Jeff Blackburn: But then the question becomes, “What am I going to do about it? I’ve got all these {fill in the blank} cops, judges, prosecutors, whatever. I’ve got this huge group of politically powerful constituents who could screw me. Who have really based ‘begetting of a living’ on this stupid legal structure. There’s a lot of people like that.

Criminal Justice politics in Texas and the Criminal Justice system in Texas got hijacked by some real right-wing maniacs, years ago and we’re just now seeing the elimination of a few of them in local races. Like Harris County, Dallas County and so forth. But in general, the ‘norm’ amongst these people is to have politics somewhere to the right of Attila the Hun.

Dean Becker: Yeah.

Mr. Jeff Blackburn: They feel like they could never go wrong with that. A moderate official feels like they’ve got to please ‘those’ folks.

Dean Becker: Jeff, I felt a little warmth when I was sitting with the DA and her staff. She’s coming on the show at the end of this month. So this it part of the ‘crack in the dam’ that I was talking about earlier.

Mr. Jeff Blackburn: It is. It’s very important.

Dean Becker: The thing I was stressing to her and her staff was, that they alone are not responsible for this. The Sheriff alone is not responsible for this. The Legislature alone is not responsible for this. But all of them are responsible for continuing this failed policy.

Mr. Jeff Blackburn: The thing that makes me the most optimistic, is the fact that they’re running out of money.

Dean Becker: Yeah.

Mr. Jeff Blackburn: If you’re running out of money, this seems like a less and less intelligent way to spend what you’ve got.

Dean Becker: Right. Jeff, I don’t want to short you on this. I want folks to know a little bit more about the Texas Justice Project. Tell them about the work you do.

Mr. Jeff Blackmore: Oh, thanks. It’s pretty simple, really. It sound simple. The works kind of complicated. We get innocent guys out of prison. We started it in Lubbock. We’ve grown this project. Now it has nine schools all over the state. Including in Houston and South Texas College of Law. Several groups in Dallas and some other ones scattered all over.

We get letters. We get about three hundred letters a week, on average. Of guys that are in prison, saying they don’t belong there. We treat them all as right as we can. Give them some dignity. Afford them a little respect and we look into cases that we can look into, and we get people out. The most recent big case that we’ve done is the Tim Cole Posthumous Exoneration. That lead to the creation of the Tim Cole Compensation Act and also the Time Cole Advisory Panel on Wrongful Convictions.

These are little starts. But they’re big in symbolic value, little in practical terms. Although the Compensation Act has changed the lives of a whole lot of people in Texas, that have been wrongfully imprisoned. We did that. We’re very proud of that. That was my case. That was our case, that the students worked on. Another big campaign they we’re on, is against ‘junk science’.

We published a report a few months ago that we revealed at a press conference in Houston, on the use of dogs by cops, in the so-called scent line-up cases. We think there’s going to be a lot of spill-over from what we’ve learned from them. We’ve relied on some experts and a lot of big shots in the field, to discredit not only this guy out of Fort Bend County that was going around lying about whether people committed crimes or not, backing his word up with a dog. But there’s been a lot of spill-over into the use of drug dogs. Especially in highway stops. Forfeiture abuse is another area we’re looking at.

Overall, we get people out of prison. But we’re also trying to change the political environment that put them there to begin with. It’s a pretty big undertaking. We’ve got some great lawyers and great people involved with our projects. So, that’s the long answer and I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to take up too much time.

Dean Becker: No. That’s fine. Jeff, last week we had Scott Bullock from Justice Institute.

Mr. Jeff Blackburn: Yeah. A friend of mine.

Dean Becker: Yes. Earlier this week there was a hearing here, or a presentation of some kind. Dealing with the fact that a car salesman has sold a car to a gentleman who gave him five hundred down, was suppose to make payments. The gentleman who bought the car was arrested. His car was confiscated. When the seller tried to get his car back from the county, the county said, ‘You should have had pre-knowledge that this gentleman was a DWI candidate and not have sold him that car.’

Mr. Jeff Blackburn: Yeah.

Dean Becker: How preposterous can it get?

Mr. Jeff Blackburn: It’s going to get more preposterous and here’s what I predict, in fact. Just in case any of us are starting to feel all warm and fuzzy about how good the government is and that it might change it’s mind? They are desperate for money. They will start prosecuting more and more penny-anti misdemeanors and they will start trying to grab more people’s stuff. Because they need the money.

Dean Becker: Yeah.

Mr. Jeff Blackburn: They need it badly.

Dean Becker: They do, indeed. I like to tell folks like this, ‘For every drug user sent to prison, another teacher gets a pink slip.’

Mr. Jeff Blackburn: That’s right.

Dean Becker: It’s just crazy. It’s just crazy. I tell you what, friends. We’re going to take a short little break. When we come back we’re going to have Miss Loretta Nall, from the State of Alabama and the three of us will combine forces and thoughts in this regard. We’ll be back in about two minutes.

{howling winds}

The winds of prohibition howl
As the irrational maelstrom blows.
Pipe-dreaming warriors raise their eternal chant
Dancing for rain in the deluge of a ‘drug war’ hurricane.


Mr. Chairman: Mr. Robinson,

Mr. Robinson: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Representative Todd, I want to commend you for bringing this and as you were saying, start with in your opening statement. It brought back a lot of memories. Unless your people have gone through this and had relatives that are dying of cancer and taking chemotherapy and radiation and all that, you just don’t understand.

I come from a rural county and years ago, I guess we were proactive and we were ahead of the law, only as to what we did there. If a family member would come in, talk with Sheriff, the District Attorney and the Judge, the Sheriff would provide the marijuana for ’em. We’ve been doing that. We did do that. I’m not quite sure if it’s going on now. Because it makes too much common sense.

Alright. That audio was taken from a video produced in the Alabama legislature, during a hearing about Medical Marijuana. Here to tell us more about it is the head of Alabamians for Compassionate Care, Miss Loretta Nall. Hello, Loretta.

Miss Loretta Nall: Hey, Dean. Thanks for having me on. The more I hear that clip and watch it, the less I can believe it. But…

Dean Becker: Exactly.

Miss Loretta Nall: …it actually happened. Yes.

Dean Becker: That was a legislator in the Alabama State House, talking about, ’How for years, they’ve been taking marijuana out of the Sheriff’s storage locker and giving it to legitimate patients. Right?

Miss Loretta Nall: That’s exactly right. One of the most astounding things about that whole committee hearing was that particular legislator, Mr. John Robinson from Scottsboro, Alabama. Anybody out there wants to give him a campaign contribution, send it on in. ‘Cause need people like that in the legislature.

This is the sixth year that we’ve had the Compassionate Care Act, and before the Judiciary Committee. Every year you may get comments from a few of them. The ones that opposed it, really wouldn’t say much. Ones that support it, would just kind of vote yes. In our polling of the legislature, we go through every year and talk to each one and try and see where they are, ’If you come around, can I get you more information?’

This guy never once indicated to any of us, that he was this big of… That’s what we call a champion, in the legislature. Not just a supporter. But this guy is obviously a champion. At least for the medical use of marijuana and we did not know. He came in that room and there were probably about a hundred people in there and most of them were our Compassionate Care members that came down for the hearing and he set the whole tone for the debate, that he framed it. He set the course of action and he set the tone.

Then the ones who are usually pretty adamantly opposed to us with, they’d spout all their, ’What about the children?’ and that kind of stuff. We didn’t hear a single word about, ’What about the children?’ on Wednesday. We heard, ’How are we going to keep it from confusing Law Enforcement?’ ’How are people going to get it?’ ’I’m still opposed to it. But I’m not going to kill the bill.’ Which anyone of them could have done.

We heard some things from one legislator who proposed taxing it. It sounded more like he was talking about legalization, but couched in the terms of medical use. But he’s like, ’We really need the money right now.’ and ’We’re willing to look at anything.’ I don’t really agree with the tax on Medical Marijuana, because it’s medicine for sick people. But he said, ‘We could look at something like that.’ ’It would be a lot easier to get through.’

Representative Robinson, who said those comments about getting it for people from the Sheriff, has a background in Law Enforcement. Right off the bat, you would kind of expect someone like that to be against you. But he apparently is right there with us and we are very happy about that.

Dean Becker: Alright, my friends. This is the Century of Lies show. My name is Dean Becker. We have with us online, that was Loretta Nall. We also have Attorney Jeff Blackburn of the Innocence Project. I wanted to say something here. That I’ve been thinking about this.

It was basically ten years ago that I first met Jeff during the March on Austin, for the Texas Journey for Justice. Which featured the wives and children of those that were incarcerated from the Tulia fiasco Along with a lot of Medical Marijuana users from around Texas, that went there and marched on the State House.

That was the day that I became a reformer. That was the day I realized the validity and I found the courage to speak. I’ve been picturing this for a day or so here. That it’s much like that movie, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and everybody’s visualizing and trying to create and craft ways of thinking of Devils Tower in Wyoming. I think the drug reformers have had this mind set. Have had a vision of a better way. Of a place they want to get to, that would be a better place for all of us. Your response first, Jeff.

Mr. Jeff Blackburn: First of all, I think it’s pretty cool you’ve got Loretta on. Hey Loretta, incidentally.

Miss Loretta Nall: Hi, Jeff.

Mr. Jeff Blackburn: Hey. Because I know a lot of legalizers and medical folks and lawyers that work for these people, in all kinds of places. Frankly, when I hear somebody in Seattle telling me about what a ‘tough row they’ve got to hoe’, {chuckling} we don’t take it very seriously. OK?

Miss Loretta Nall: Yeah.

Mr. Jeff Blackburn: Or in New Mexico. I know a lot of folks that made this happen in (New) Mexico. It didn’t come easy. But still. It’s like, ’Come on. It’s New Mexico.’ Now, in Alabama and Texas and Mississippi, these… I mean, we are the ‘moron crescent’. You know? {chuckles - in studio} That’s my affectionate name for our part of the world. Texas is the big fat handle of that crescent.

Miss Loretta Nall: I love it. {laughter still abounds - in studio}

Mr. Jeff Blackburn: But I actually believe in Loretta. Here you are, maintaining this struggle over and over again. I do this thing in the courts about three quarters of the time and then some legislative work, the rest of it. Now, mainly on behalf of the Innocence Project, with just sort of criminal justice JIT issues, generally. But I also do legalization cases and medical cases in the court room.

I ought to tell you. What you all are doing out there, just by us holding steady and doing this, is pretty huge and deserves a little bit of recognition of us and these other people, in these ‘hard as hell’ states. But I think you’re making great progress out there and I think we’re going to make it out here, too.

I really sense that, this is what we were talking about earlier, that there is change in the air. It’s all because somebody someplace was willing to just say, ’Hell, I don’t care what the other people think. This is right and this is what I’m going to do‘, Dean. That’s what’s motivated you. I know that. I’ve known you now, for a long time.

Dean Becker: Yeah. Jeff, originally I was afraid of the door getting kicked in by the cartels or the cops. But now, I’m going after the ’bail bond’ situation and I’m more worried about the judges’ ‘lackeys’ coming through the door, to be honest with you now. But I reference that on my shows. Because if anything happens, at least the world will know what I was up to.

Here in Houston, we’re a hundred and forty times more likely to hold someone in jail, rather than grant them a PR bond, than they are in Austin. That just doesn’t seem like equal justice, to me. Your thoughts, Jeff?

Mr. Jeff Blackburn: I think you really said it best earlier, ‘You’ve got to have a vision going in‘. Loretta, you’ve had that. There’ve been plenty of times that everybody kind of abandoned you and I just wanted to return to that. You’ve got to have some vision and some idea. You got to be ready to say, ‘Everybody else is probably wrong on this.’ ‘Or, maybe I’m wrong. But I don’t really care.’ Then you just stick with it and you keep doing it and eventually start, more and more people come around. Because their fear is dropping away.

Right now, we have a situation where a lot of people are afraid politically, to come forward. That’s OK. There’re other things they can do. But at the same time, how many people are smoking weed everyday and don’t give a contribution; don’t come out and do anything. Because they figure somebody else is going to get this law changed. That’s the biggest problem we have. Everybody assumes somebody else is going to do it.

The real truth is, somebody else is going to have to do it. What I think we’ve got to do in Texas, is start believing we can do it. Which we’ve been kind of short in supply of that kind of belief, and then make a real effort. I think we can get it done. That’s what I meant about that multi-problem thing. Go to the courts. Try some of these cases. Get jury verdicts. Then in the meanwhile, make a real upper level effort and make a business pitch to these guys in the legislature. They listen to that stuff.

You go, ’Look, your State’s going broke.’ ’You’re wasting a lot of money on prohibition here.’ ‘What? You want to keep building jails? To house, what? Kids smoking weed?’

Dean Becker: Yeah.

Miss Loretta Nall: That’s exactly right. I’ve been pushing that angle in Alabama. My own start was maybe a little different than yours and Deans. I had a helicopter raid come ‘out of the blue’ one day, when I wasn’t growing marijuana. I’ve never grown it. I smoke a lot of it. I’m not against it. In Alabama, one plant is a three year mandatory minimum and we have our prison systems running at over two hundred percent capacity and then I got crammed in there like sardines.

That’s when I started fighting back. They came. I wrote a letter. I ran them off. They didn’t have a warrant. Wrote a letter. They used the letter to get a warrant, to come into my house. A letter to the Editor of the Birmingham News and then they got DHR involved and started trying to tinker with my kids. For any decent mother, that just makes war. We were on the warpath now, and I took it.

I’ve written letters. At least when I started here, it was only me. Nobody else was really writing letters about drug policy. Nobody was doing anything. There was no Medical Marijuana legislation. It takes a little while to overcome peoples fear, referring to what Jeff said a few minutes ago, that people are afraid. We have probably about fifty or sixty people in Alabama right now, that are able and willing to show up at the State House. We have a lot more that write letters and call.

So we have some people behind the scene that aren’t quite ready to out front yet. But you’re right. You have to keep that vision.

Dean Becker: Oh, yeah.

Miss Loretta Nall: You have to have the vision, or you’re not going to go anywhere.

Dean Becker: I have to interrupt here. I’m going to give you each ten seconds. Website signoff for the listeners. Loretta first.

Miss Loretta Nall: alcompassionate-care.com

Dean Becker: Thank you, Loretta. Jeff, a website. Point folks towards.

Mr. Jeff Blackburn: Sure. www.ipoftexas.org

Dean Becker: Loretta Nall, Jeff Blackburn, thank you so much. We’re going to have to do this again soon. My friends, I want to alert you to the fact, next week we’ll be reporting from San Hose, California on a Psychedelic Science Conference. We’ve got a lot of great guests lined up for you, here in the near future.

As always, I remind you. There is no truth, justice, logic. The drug war is a sham. Please do your part to end the madness. Visit our website. endprohibition.org

Prohibido, istac evilesco!

For the Drug Truth Network this is Dean Becker, asking you to examine our policy of Drug Prohibition.

The Century of Lies.

This show produced at the Pacifica studios of KPFT, Houston

Transcript provided by: C. Assenberg of www.marijuanafactorfiction.org