08/02/09 - Arthur Benavie

Professor Arthur Benavie, author of "Drugs - America's Holy War" takes listener questions, live

Program: 
Century of Lies
Date: 
Sunday, August 2, 2009
Guest: 
Arthur Benavie
Organization: 
University of North Carolina
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Century of Lies, August 2, 2009

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.

It's time to face the inquisition!

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Dean Becker: Yes, my friends, you are listening to the Century of Lies. My name is Dean Becker. We do have Professor Arthur Benavie with us this day. He’s author of a great new book, “Drugs: America’s Holy War.” And, we are looking for your calls. Please, pick up the phone and call locally, 713 526 5738. If you are anywhere in North America, you can call toll free to 1 877 9 420 420.

It looks like Johnny is on line. Do you have a question for Professor Benavie?

Caller: Yes, I do. In the time that I ran first stop medical in a fire department in the 1980s, we have made, on average, five hundred calls a year and the majority of those first stop medical calls, I cannot once recall ever seeing anyone in a head on from smoking pot. It was always beer cans, beer bottles, liquor involved. So, I find it ironic that earlier tonight on CBS, on 60 Minutes, they featured a story where this prosecutor in New York was so vehement about this one individual who, understandably, he committed an atrocious crime by drinking and driving resulting in the death of several people in a head on collision. But she approached it as a charge of murder, which I understand, has never been done before.

So, the first question in my mind is how is it possible that these prosecutors will even entertain the notion that maybe they should be prosecuting the people that make beer? I would like to know, has your guest ever done an inventory of the attitude of all the prosecutors across the country as to who might be willing to take on such a project rather than go backwards in the prosecution of the people?

Dean Becker: Professor Benavie?

Arthur Benavie: I wasn’t able to hear that very well, can you…

Dean Becker: Well, I think he is asking why it is that, you know, alcohol vendors run free and their product is killing people and why nobody ever goes after them. Caller, thank you.

Caller: Thank you.

Arthur Benavie: I think that is a very good question. I think that that should be asked. You know, we had alcohol prohibition and it ended because it didn’t work. Now we have the drug war against other kinds of drugs so that is a very good question. I think it’s… what kind of answer can you have except that we have – it’s the reason for the drug war.

I think the basic answer to the question is that there are three basic reasons why we have a war against these drugs, against marijuana and methamphetamine and cocaine and all the rest of them. One reason is that drugs have been used in this country, historically, as a way of hitting at people that you are afraid of and hate. We started in the middle of the nineteenth century with the Chinese, okay, and then, in the beginning of the twentieth century with the Mexicans. So, it’s been our tradition to use the drug war to marginalize and oppress people that we don’t like. That is one thing.

Another reason for the drug war is the fact that an awful lot of people are feeding at the trough. I mean, law enforcement, for example, and various agencies of government and various private firms, pharmaceutical firms and so forth, they are all benefiting from the drug war.

The third reason, which is also a powerful motivation, is that you have got this religious view that anybody who uses these psychoactive drugs is a criminal, you know, and they should be punished. So you have got forces like that which keep this drug war growing and continuing. I think, really, I think that is really the answer to the caller’s question.

Dean Becker: Thank you, Professor and again, this brings to mind… I had a debate a couple of years back with Stan Furst, head of the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area and he said, I remember Jesus was drinking wine, not smoking a doobie and…

Arthur Benavie: Right, that’s an interesting…

Dean Becker: Well, this guy had all kinds of things. You know, he said the drug war is like taking out the garbage, it’s like mowing the lawn, you know. That is the nature of the beast for him. Well, let’s go ahead and bring in our next caller, Tom.

Arthur Benavie: And could you bring it up a little bit so that I can hear…

Caller: How are you doing tonight, Dean?

Dean Becker: Hi, Tom.

Caller: OK. As the professor was saying about who is feeding at the trough. April of 1938, one of the first big conferences that Mr. Anslinger had with his department was to announce that after great deal of research and great expense they had finally developed a method of testing for the minute traces of the active ingredient in industrial hemp. So, right from the very beginning, they were even admitting to themselves exactly what they were doing.

Dean Becker: Yeah. Tom…

Caller: Summarize that for me…

Dean Becker: Yeah. Tom, thank you for your call. Yeah, Professor, he was talking about from the very beginning, you know, they were trying to quantify or over exaggerate the harms and the possibility of even hemp, you know, being a danger.

Arthur Benavie: Well, our constitution and our declaration of independence are written on hemp, you know. And during the Second World War, it was hemp for victory was a big deal. So, tell me what is the question?

Dean Becker: Well, I think he was just making a comment, that it is based in hypocrisy, always has been, you know. I think that is the nature of his comment. OK. We do have a couple of lines open. Our number here, locally, is 713 526 5738. From across North America, you can call 1 877 9 420 420. Let’s go to Polly. Now, Polly, what city are you in?

Caller: I am in Conroe.

Dean Becker: Conroe. Do you have a question or comment?

Caller: I have a comment. Especially down here in Conroe where they’re really enforcing the drug laws and everybody is going to jail… For five years I legally obtained methadone, which I have been clean off four years, cold turkey, and I smoke marijuana. It calms my nerves. It helps with my eating – I am severely underweight among other things - and I have CPS now involved who’s threatening to take my children away and for years I used these hardcore drugs.
They never stepped in – it was so-called legalized, it was fine. When it tore my body apart and just from smoking marijuana they are ready to step in and take my children if I don’t come back with so many clean UA’s. I don’t even know how to begin to start to do my part in legalizing marijuana or helping and contributing to that law that just, I think it’s appalling.

Dean Becker: Yes, it is. I tell you what, Polly, hold on a sec. Were you able to hear that, Professor?

Arthur Benavie: I am sorry, no. I caught every other word but I couldn’t hear it all.

Dean Becker: OK.

Arthur Benavie: Could you summarize for me?

Dean Becker: Yes, sir. She’s talking about she was a long-term methadone user who has now been free for four years and that she has found…

Arthur Benavie: From methadone…

Dean Becker: From methadone.

Arthur Benavie: Wow that is very addictive.

Caller: I legally obtained it.

Dean Becker: Yes, but… what she is saying is that of late she preferred marijuana to help her eat, to stay healthier and yet now the state is trying to take her children away because of her use of marijuana. Your response, sir.

Arthur Benavie: Well, it’s barbaric – how else can you respond to that? You know, somebody needs it for their health, as many, many people do. As all the different scientific organizations say, it’s very valuable for health purposes – it’s better than the Marinol, in the sense that you can [ ] it and it’s got an anti-nausea element in it and so forth. So, what can you except to condemn it and to fight against it?

Dean Becker: Yeah, yeah. Well, Polly, thank you for your call.

Caller: Thank you.

Arthur Benavie: Very upsetting to hear that.

Dean Becker: Yes. Professor, I get calls like that several a week, emails people constrained by government one way or another – being forced to take a plea bargain and then getting sentenced to ten years when they were expecting probation… all that kind of thing… It just goes on and on and on.

Arthur Benavie: So, the government basically uses two arguments. They use the immoral argument, okay, and, of course, we are supposed to have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But, they also use the argument that this is risky. Now, think about that for a minute. You are doing something – actually most people who use these… all the hard drugs even – are not dependant on them. The majority, even with heroin, are not dependant on them. They deal with them very well and don’t have health problems – that’s just a fact.

Now, the point is does it make any sense to talk about the fact if somebody does something that involves some risk that they are a criminal? I mean look at all the things we do to the risky. I mean, football is risky, boxing is risky, mountain climbing is risky… These people, many of them are heroes. So, what kind of sense does it make for the government to constantly say, well marijuana is dangerous and this is dangerous – even though these things are not true, it doesn’t even make sense if they were true.

Dean Becker: Right. Think of how dangerous alcohol is, for that matter.

Arthur Benavie: Oh, absolutely! Alcohol is the only drug, as far as I know, that, for some reason - perhaps reducing your inhibitions -actually is connected with violence. There is no other drug, no other illegal drug - including crack - that is something that motivates people to be violent, believe it or not.

Dean Becker: Yes, so true. OK. Well, the phone bank is starting to fill up. Thank you for those calls. Our number is 713 526 5738 and across North America you can call in toll free to 1 877 9 420 420. Lets’ go to Art on line two.

Caller: Hi. I don’t know if this fits exactly but I want to lay out my problem. I have been trying to gather everything I can about pot because I am parent of a wonderful sixteen year old boy that went from not doing pot at all – or whatever you want to call it, marijuana, cannabis – to doing it on the weekends to the doing it every day. All his friends do it all the time. Again, he is sixteen.

You all have a whole legion of – people are just fanatical about loving pot and how crazy the police are and how crazy the laws are… He has become a rebel, you know, and very defiant and I don’t know… There is a real kind doctor that doesn’t live very far from us and he says, well, you know, if you smoke anything that’s – you are really doing damage and, of course, he is so dependant on it. He truly is. He can’t seem to get off for more than a week and I again, if he does, all his friends don’t hang out with him, cause that is all they do. So, I am very concerned, that’s all.

Dean Becker: Well, Art, I appreciate that and I want to say first off, the first words out of your mouth, he’s sixteen. That is the half of it. The second part is that the rebellious nature of his response to the police – again that is a sixteen year old thing and it’s also kind of logical given the fact that marijuana is indeed safer than alcohol. Your thoughts, Professor Benavie.

Arthur Benavie: Well, you know that I am familiar with a lot of young people. I teach – I have taught for several years a seminar on the drug war for freshman at the University of North Carolina and in Chapel Hill. I see, for example, the power of the forbidden fruit. These are eighteen year old – a little bit older than that, but I think, to some extent, young people are one of the – I have heard, I have had students say, you know, if this thing weren’t illegal, if this thing weren’t illegal I wouldn’t be very interested in it.

In Holland, for example, where it is basically legal, in effect. According to the experts over there, they have made it boring. So, part of the motivation is precisely what you said – this rebelliousness and this forbidden fruit. I have never had children, but it is scary, though, for somebody but, I don’t think the answer is to treat somebody like a criminal. The point is, we should emphasize the public health and work at that…

Caller: I think that I can understand medical marijuana but, you know, the kids latch on to the medical marijuana and then again, this dependency – they do it so frequent like – heck yeah I did alcohol every couple weeks, you know a little bit. But they just do it all the time, so…

Arthur Benavie: But, the point is, that the young people get it anyway. And it causes them to get it even more because there is this forbidden fruit side to it. I mean, that is forbidden fruit aspect to it.

Dean Becker: Yes, Art, thank you for your call. I want to just throw my two cents in here, too. You mentioned that in Amsterdam it is actually, you know, more…

Arthur Benavie: They smoke less than we do…

Dean Becker: Yes, it’s more…

Arthur Benavie: The rate of consumption is less than ours for all drugs including marijuana.

Dean Becker: And in California where medical marijuana most prevalent, the use by youngsters has actually gone down because it has lost that rebellious nature. It’s hard to feel rebellious when you are smoking grandma’s medicine.

Arthur Benavie: That’s right.

Dean Becker: OK. Let’s go ahead and go – who is up next… Dale on line three, you are on the air.

Caller: Yeah, this is Dale. I wanted to mainly inform you, I have got a complete story about it. The main problem is the whole judicial system itself. They run everything. I am from Conroe also, Conroe, Texas. The girl, that lady before was absolutely correct on everything she said. They use their kids in every way possible to instigate it, plant stuff, threaten them… just anything.

Dean Becker: Yeah.

Caller: They use the whole thing. I mean, these people up here are completely criminal. Criminal justice, you know, that covers them pretty good.

Dean Becker: Put a comment in between those two words and you have got it exactly.

Caller: One thing that I am not sure that you all are aware of… I am doing a twelve year sentence right now for drugs. I am still on it. When you get out on parole, they don’t allow you to get food stamps. You talk about instigating crime… some of those people don’t have anything to eat.

Arthur Benavie: That is exactly right and in fact there are all kinds… This country is very different from the European countries and Canada and so forth – all the other industrial countries. Those countries emphasize – they focus on public health. They don’t – they keep the drug users – the consumers – they keep them away from the criminal justice system and their whole emphasis is on reintegrating people into society when they really do have trouble with drugs.

Whereas, in our country, as this gentleman said, they have all kinds of barriers to people being reintegrated and he is right that he is talking about the fact that he can’t get… I mean, when you have – when you are serving time, for example, or you have been convicted of a drug violation, according to the 1998 Higher Education Act, you know, you’re education benefits are cut off. And according to the welfare act of 1996, you lose your public assistance for the rest of your life. And you can have your driver’s license taken and so forth.

Notice, we do everything we can in this country to prevent people from being – becoming normal citizens once they have had a drug conviction and do you know that one more point… that according to federal law, when you serve time, the average time that people serve in the federal penitentiary for breaking a drug law is seventy-five and a half months. Do you know what the average time for a violent felony is? Sixty-three months.

Dean Becker: Yeah, they have not got it hooked up right, do they? OK, once again, we are speaking with Professor Arthur Benavie. He is the author of a great book, “Drugs: America’s Holy War.” We are taking your calls. Our number locally: 713 526 5738 or you can call toll free across North America if you go to 1 877 9 420 420. Let’s go to Daniel on line two. Oh, not just yet. OK. Professor, they are picking up the next call. You have over the years, I think you are about my age - I am 60 are you somewhere near that?

Arthur Benavie: Somewhere near that.

Dean Becker: OK and you have seen the changes, I mean, from the 60s through the 70s. It has ratcheted up like a just a machine – it has just become its own monster. I think, right?

Arthur Benavie: Are you talking about the war on drugs?

Dean Becker: Yes. OK. We do have Daniel with us on line two. Do you have a question for the professor? Daniel? OK, no Daniel. Can we go to Marty on line three? Hello, Marty.

Caller: Hi Professor. First off I want to say I am glad you guys are on the air and a lot of people need to hear what you are saying because the mysteries about marijuana, you know, are far fetched and it is a very big problem that people don’t know the truth about it.

I was wondering your opinion on the difference between decriminalization and legalization and also what would the revenues be if it was legalized and taxed – like what would be the amount of money we could put into health care and roads and health, public services and all that? But I think that would be interesting for people to hear what the actual revenues would be if it was legalized and taxed.

Dean Becker: OK. Sure, Marty…

Arthur Benavie: Decriminalization is very different than having some kind of controlled, regulated legalization. Decriminalization means that you take the criminal penalties off of the consumer but the criminal penalties remain on the drug cartels. Now, the minute you have that kind of situation, then the minute you are preventing the drug cartels, you are raising – you are causing the drug cartels to have enormous profits – even if we decriminalized it because you are fighting them in terms of providing these products.

When you do that, and basically you force them into the black market, the development occurs of these drug cartels and you have incredible profit mark ups. Let me give you one example. Right now, for example, we don’t have decriminalization but we do have enormous mark ups – profit mark ups for these drug cartels. For example, if you bought a kilo – 2.2 pounds of cocaine in Columbia, for example, it would run you about forty-five hundred dollars. When it gets to the streets of the United States, it is four hundred fifty thousand dollars. So, that is a tax-free mark up for these drug cartels. How can law enforcement stand up to a motivation like that?

So, my point is this: decriminalization is not going to solve this problem because you will not have dried up the market for the drug cartels. They will still have these enormous profit margins. The only way to dry it up and look at the violence that is going on in Mexico, for example, between these drug cartels and the government and the public. The only way to dry it up is to have controlled, regulated legalization.

Now, the amount of money we would make, as I think I mentioned – we would save forty-four billion dollars a year right now, according to our best estimate. This is a very recent estimate from enforcement costs – that includes the cost of warehousing prisoners. It does not include the benefits, in terms of income generating and in terms of tax revenues from the six hundred plus thousand people who are serving time for the non-violent offense of violating the drug laws. That number now is six hundred thirteen thousand. It’s gone up since – in the last five or six years, even.

So, and then, of course, we could raise the estimate if we use the tax rate and we had this legalization of these drugs, of all these street drugs. If we used a tax rate that was comparable to what we use on alcohol and tobacco, we could raise thirty-three billion dollars a year and if you want, I can tell you all the wonderful things we could do with that, including health care for people that have problems with drugs.

Dean Becker: Exactly, and we would free those policemen up to go after the violent felons.

Arthur Benavie: Absolutely, that is crucial. I mean, the police are overwhelmed. I mean, they spend a lot – there’s… that’s another thing that is not counted when you ask what is the cost of the drug war. The police have to spend, as I describe in the book, the police have to spend several days just to get some young kid convicted. You have several police that spend time and they could be out in the street catching real criminals.

Dean Becker: Exactly. Alright, well, let’s go to Eric on line 5. Hello, Eric, you are on the air.

Caller: Hey, Dean, how are you, sir?

Dean Becker: I am good! You have a question or concern?

Caller: I have a two-parter. Here is the question: do you think that a lot of the, you know, late sixties folks that went to the hills of California that ultimately started growing marijuana and then now, California and states like that seem to be leading the way in the charge for medical marijuana.

Here is my question: do you think it was the acts of those people defiantly growing marijuana that made – that cleared the path for medical marijuana and then if so, what quality of medical marijuana do you think we can grow in this region?

Dean Becker: OK.

Arthur Benavie: Would you summarize that for me?

Dean Becker: OK. Well, he is saying – he is asking was it the – I’ll say the courage of the people in California that went up there and started growing marijuana and was it their impetus that helped bring about the movement towards medical marijuana and…

Arthur Benavie: I would say that’s right. I think they put that sort of pressure and that is what we need right now.

Dean Becker: Yeah, I consider those people to be patriots, myself. Many of them don’t want it to be legalized because they want to make those enormous four thousand dollar a pound profits but… And I’ll answer the second part, Professor. He asked what kind of cannabis…

Caller: What quality marijuana can we grow- medical marijauan to be grown here I southern Texas?

Dean Becker: And I’ll answer that one. Before I got into radio, I was grower. I grew it up to twenty-six feet tall up near Hempstead, Texas and it was a fine product and I was selling it for thirty five dollars an ounce, not three hundred and fifty as is currently going on. But, Eric, thank you for your call. We have got time for one more caller. Ken on line two – your question.

Caller: Hey buddy I have a comment regarding the decriminalization. I just don’t think it’s a good idea. I personally have used it in 1976, north of Houston, little town called Porter, Texas. My life, if it wasn’t for the US Navy I don’t know where I would be. Drinking and using hardcore, right wing death squad hell bent for leather for partying back in the 80s – the downers and all that.

I mean, it took a lot – there is a lot of grief and a lot of pain. Halfway houses, treatments in the course of now sucking on the teat of the United States government but that is OK. Nineteen years sober and I just think it’s not really the right thing. I mean, life is hard enough and I survived it barely with the IV stuff and all that – staying up for two or three weeks, I mean it’s hell man and I just don’t see how it’s really a good thing. I mean, we’re Americans and we need to be proud of that and be proud of our strict laws.

Dean Becker: OK, alright, Ken, thank you for your call. I want to thank all the people who called in. Professor, I don’t know how much you got to hear there but I wanted to kind of answer that briefly.

Arthur Benavie: Go ahead. The first time [ ] your answer I couldn’t hear.

Dean Becker: Well, he was saying that he thinks the drug war is a good thing. That it is doing something good, but the fact is these drugs are running rampant as it is. They are cheaper, purer and more freely available to our kids than ever before…

Arthur Benavie: Absolutely…

Dean Becker: And, uh, it’s not performing. It’s uh…

Arthur Benavie: They are contaminated. You know, we have contaminated drugs coming into the market. Uh, people - one of the main reasons people die when they inject drugs is because they don’t know what the potency is. If I gave you an ibuprofen and you didn’t know whether it was four thousand grams or forty grams, you know, you would be pretty scared.

Dean Becker: No, this is true. And I wanted to say this. I am almost at twenty five years without a drop of alcohol and the world is much better with me smoking a little pot than it is with me being a regular drinker, I want to tell you. Folks, we are just about out of time.

We have been speaking with Professor Arthur Benavie. I urge you to get his book. It is “Drugs: America’s Holy War.” It is a necessity in order to help understand and then begin to change these laws. The book is “Drugs: America’s Holy War.” Ten seconds please, professor. What would you like to say?

Arthur Benavie: I’m sorry…

Dean Becker: How would you like to sign off, sir?

Arthur Benavie: I would like to sign off by saying that I think the benefits in terms of health and in terms of crime, in terms of erosion of civil liberties would be enormous if we had the state and local governments take over the control of these drugs from the mobs. And I think that if people had some kind of legal access the states could decide how, the localities could decide how - but some kind of legal access to these drugs if they want it. You would dry up these violent, mob controlled drug cartels.

Dean Becker: Alright. Professor Benavie, thank you very much.

Arthur Benavie: It was a pleasure.

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OK and we’ll be back here in just a minute to sign off but first, this message about the Seattle Hemp Fest.

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It’s that time of year again. The Seattle Hemp Fest is fast approaching and here to tell us about it is the executive director, Mr. Vivian McPeet. Vivian, what is happening this year at the hemp fest?

Vivian McPeet: Well, we have got a whole lot going on. We have got a great festival put together for you all with hundreds of vendors and arts, foods, crafts, and informational vendors. We have got about seventy bands playing and about ninety-six of the best speakers on the subject of cannabis and drug policy reform, man. We are looking forward to people coming down checking it out.

Seattle Hempfest is August 15th and 16th. It is at Elliot Bay and Myrtle Edwards parks. At pier seventy, on the waterfront, downtown Seattle about a block and from any two blocks past the Space Needle.

We have some great music lined up this year. We had seven hundred bands submit this year. And we listened to twenty-one hundred songs. Let’s see. Some of the notable acts. Folk You, which is Willie Nelson and Arlo Guthrie’s daughters. They are playing on this kind of country-western folk Americana day on a [ ] stage on Sunday. We have got the most downloaded band from myspace. A band called Potent. Man, these guys are just so hot. It is one of my favorite bands.

We have got a couple of large orchestras. We have an eleven piece brass band playing on the main stage at three o clock on Saturday. That’s going to be really cool. We have got Oregon Country Fair, uh, Stalwart and Goddess. Alice de Michelie. Got the wiley one with his incredible song, green. We are really psyched about all the great music.

We also brought in our sixth stage this year – a comedy stage. We are going to have comedian and actor Rick Overton headlining that stage. And we have moved some of our infrastructure north. We have taken the whole two parks a mile point three long this year. So, we kind of branched out.

We just really want to thank all the attendees over the years who have come out and they get it. We know increase the peace and put the unity in the community. And really just be a demonstration against the laws and also a demonstration that the cannabis community can come together responsibly and peacefully, year after year. Basically just show the world that we are not a threat. You know, we have got the executive directors of NORML, Marijuana Policy Project, folks from LEAP, folks from the whole California scene.

We have a big hemposium tent. A hundred by forty foot tent where we have panel discussions, presentations, keynote speakers. So that’s going to be cool. That’s where a lot of the best educational information takes place. Basically just want people to come down and enjoy what we hope is going to be a beautiful sunny day in the park.

Once again we have been speaking with Mr. Vivian McPeet, executive director of the Seattle Hempfest. Vivian, point them to your website.

Yeah. Anybody wants to get more information on anything: vendors, sponsors, volunteering, et cetera, you can go to hempfest.org. People can also hook us up on the myspace and that’s myspace.com/seattlehempfest.

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Hope you have enjoyed today’s program. Be sure to join us next week our guest will be – I didn’t write it down. There is no reason for this drug war to exist. We have been duped. Please do your part to end the madness. Please visit our website, endprohibiton.org.

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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.