11/09/14 Steve Downing

Cultural Baggage Radio Show

Steve Downing, LEAP speaker, former Dep Police Chief of Los Angeles + Stephen Gutwillig, Ethan Nadelmann, Peter Zuckerman, Taylor Bickford & Dr. Malik Burnett

Audio file


Cultural Baggage / November 9, 2014

DEAN BECKER: Okeh, okeh, Republicans rule, and Democrats drool. I get it, I guess it's true. But from my perspective what is even more important is that Prohibition has lost its luster. Change is happening all across America. A bit later we'll hear from a teleconference in that regard put together by the Drug Policy Alliance, but first up:

DEAN BECKER: All right, it's been quite some time since I've had our next guest on the airwaves with me. He's a gentleman who traveled with us for much of the Caravan for Peace, Justice & Dignity back in 2012, he's the former deputy police chief of Los Angeles and a good friend. I want to welcome, hey, Steve Downing, how you doing?

STEPHEN DOWNING: Hi Dean, how are you doing, good to talk to you.

DEAN BECKER: Steve, this election that happened this week, it was good for the Republicans but it was good for ending drug war more importantly, wasn't it?

STEPHEN DOWNING: You know what, I said, the most significant even in Florida, even though Florida didn't pass their marijuana law, they had 58% of the vote. Anywhere else in the country it would have been a landslide, and it was a landslide in Florida only it didn't pass only because their constitution requires 60%. But everywhere else that it passed, it passed with big numbers, with probably the exception of Alaska, that was a little bit close there. But what was really significant about this whole thing -- and in California we had Proposition 47, which has to do with turning a lot of drug offenses into misdemeanors from felonies.

To me, this entire election as it surrounded drug reform and prison reform sent a resounding message to two institutions: law enforcement and our legislative representatives in the various states who continue to refuse to pass legislation, who continue to force the people to go through the initiative process. Most importantly, law enforcement has received a major signal that the people no longer believe what they say.

They have used scare tactics for so long, but our education of the communities, one by one – Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, DPA, NORML, all of the drug reform organizations, have gone out and educated the public. The public is now sophisticated, they see that law enforcement decisions are not evidence-based, but come from mythology, they come from the Harry Anslingers of the world – that sociopath that needed a budget and got it by mythmaking.

And the public has caught up to that. Law enforcement has a big job to do now. They have to re-establish the trust of the communities or they're going to worthless in the arena of public safety. People have to believe in law enforcement for us to have safe communities, and they've hurt that, they've hurt it a great deal.

DEAN BECKER: Steve, I have to agree with you, and, you know, it wasn't exactly a drug story, what happened in Ferguson, but it was an unfolding of this situation I think you're talking about, this distrust of law enforcement that's come about because of the decades of, I'll say, well, corrupt law enforcement, too often, getting into the drug arena. It just led to this escalation there in Ferguson.

STEPHEN DOWNING: You know, Dean, it very well may be that the shooting in Ferguson was justified. It very well may be that it was. It very well may be that the officer reasonably feared for his life, and the facts will establish that. But what was clear in Ferguson is that law enforcement, that officer on the street that stopped this guy, there was no reservoir of good will, and law enforcement has to have the community behind them.

At the same time that this situation happened in Ferguson, a similar situation – an officer, a white officer involved in shooting a young black man, occurred in Los Angeles. Many many questions from the community, just like in Ferguson. The only difference was that Los Angeles had a reservoir of good will. The civil rights leaders, the religious leaders, the community leaders, instead of going to the streets – and they did go to the streets in an orderly fashion, and they were supervised in an orderly, non-escalating fashion, and the chief of police knew the leadership in the community, the captions from the divisions knew the leadership in the community, and they knew they could talk to one another and they came together.

And when they came together in Los Angeles, the chief of police said “I'm going to expedite this investigation, I'm going to be completely open and transparent with this investigation, and I'm going make transparent all the facts,” and they believed him. And the reason they believed him is because over the years, the LAPD has built up a reservoir of good will. And if you have a crisis, whether you're a private company, or you're a public institution, or a police department, if you don't have a reservoir of good will – you're always going to have a crisis. Law enforcement, that's the nature of law enforcement, a crisis is going to happen.

But when you deal with that crisis, to start with you must have a reservoir of good will. If it's not there, you're going to have Ferguson. If it's there, you're going to have LA. Now, Ferguson's first response was to roll out a military presence greater than that used in Fallujah, greater than that used in the Middle East. We've had soldiers tell us that. That is not law enforcement, that is not local law enforcement, that's a military over-reaction, that's a demonstration that the police have no rapport, no reservoir of good will with their community.

DEAN BECKER: Friends, once again, we are speaking with Mr. Steve Downing, a board member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, former deputy police chief of Los Angeles. Now Steve, I want to kind of change gears here a bit. You have been, in the past you were a producer/writer for MacGuyver, other TV shows, and you and our good friend Sam Sabzehzar traveled across the country with the Caravan of Peace & Justice a couple of years back, and there's a movie being produced. Tell us a little bit about it, please.

STEPHEN DOWNING: Sure, yeah. Sam Sabzehzar who's a great reporter and videographer accompanied us, as you know, because – there's only two people that hit every city that we hit, and that was Sam Sabzehzar and Dean Becker, you two guys were there from beginning to end. I started with you at the border, and hit San Diego and LA, then I bailed for a couple of cities then I rejoined you in Atlanta. Sam brought his camera, you brought your audio equipment, and you recorded the oral histories of the 120-odd people who were victims of the drug war that crossed the border that LEAP led across the United States.

They in two big buses and LEAP in what we called our LEAPmobile, a black & white SUV that looked like a police car only it said “End The War On Drugs,” it had flashers, it was a great car, it was a great look. To me, one of the most significant things, on our back window we said “End the war on drugs. Save our children,” and as we drove across the United States, literally 95% of the traffic on the highways gave us the thumbs up. America believes that the war on drugs is a failure, and the Caravan of Peace was to demonstrate to the American public what this war has done to people in other countries: 70,000 murdered, 20,000 disappeared, and the 120 people on these buses all had a story of loss to tell of people, their loved ones, dead, murdered, or disappeared as a result of the drug war and the corruption engendered by the drug war in Mexico.

So, we did 23 cities and ended up in Washington, DC. Sam made a deal with all the videographers across the country for open source on everything they shot, and so he has about million gigabytes, or terabytes, or whatever you call it of video, and raised enough money to do post-production. Then we went back and shot film narratives from many of the LEAP members, including yourself and me.

That helps us glue this whole thing together and tell the story of LEAP and tell the story of the caravan, and we're in the process of polishing that baby off now, and hopefully it will be a finished product in December and distributed to the world so we can make one more dent in the war on drugs and find one more way of getting out of this.

DEAN BECKER: You mentioned, as we were traveling across the country up to 95% of the people would honk and wave and were with us, and I think that in the last couple of years in particular, more and more politicians, more and more newspapers, broadcasters, people at every level are starting to recognize this futility. Would you agree sir?

STEPHEN DOWNING: I totally agree, and like I said earlier, they're also recognizing the mythmakers for what they are, and that's mythmakers and not accomplished professionals who abide by the concept of evidence-based policy-making. People are seeing that. We don't have enough politicians that are seeing it like I said because we don't have the politicians implementing the will of the people from the legislatures, like they should be doing, and I hope that that begins now, with this demonstration across the country of drug reform and prison reform.

DEAN BECKER: The means for change is at hand, and what we need to do is just speak a little louder, stand a little taller, and just have this truth be recognized. It's there now, isn't it?

STEPHEN DOWNING: It is there now. I think that we're at the tipping point, and the reason that we're at the tipping point is because we have the truth on our side. And when law enforcement and our political representatives embrace that truth, we will have crossed the Rubicon. We will be there and we will remove the harm from our communities that the drug war has imposed. And we'll dry up the gangs and cartels, and we'll have a better society.

DEAN BECKER: Indeed. Well, all right friends, once again, we've been speaking with Steve Downing, on the board of directors for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a good friend to drug reform, and my traveling buddy on the Caravan for Peace. Closing thoughts there, Steve.

STEPHEN DOWNING: My closing thoughts are that I think that you have a great radio program. I think that you have made an enormous contribution to ending the war on drugs. I think that your book is probably the best book on the subject because it has a personal impact, it tells personal stories, it provides the kind of insight that truly convinces people that the drug war is wrong, and ending the drug war is right. So my final thoughts are to thank you for all you've done, Dean, I am just very very proud to be associated with you.

DEAN BECKER: Ah, Steve, well thank you very much. Well friends, once again, Steve Downing, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, out there on the web, please check it out: L E A P dot C C (www.leap.cc).

DEAN BECKER: It's time to play “Name That Drug By Its Side Effects”. Physical stimulation, appetite suppression, the prevention of altitude sickness through increased oxygen supply. Time's up! The answer, as is so obvious in the lives of millions of Bolivians: Coca. Mother coca.

DEAN BECKER: On the heels of Tuesday's election the Drug Policy Alliance held a teleconference with some major players and some major understanding of what just happened. Here to tell us more about it is the Deputy Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance, Mr. Stephen Gutwillig.

STEPHEN GUTWILLIG: And as you know, voters across the country yesterday approved a sweeping array of ballot measures to reform marijuana laws and the criminal justice system, accelerating unprecedented momentum to legalize marijuana and end the wider drug war. In addition to strong victories for marijuana legalization measures in Oregon, Alaska, and the District of Columbia, voters also approved municipal initiatives in dozens of local races in Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, and New Mexico, where they lowered marijuana possession penalties or supported future statewide marijuana legalization measures.

And finally voters in California and New Jersey approved groundbreaking criminal justice reforms that have substantial national implications. So to begin, I'm going to welcome Ethan Nadelmann, the founder and executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. Ethan?

ETHAN NADELMANN: Okeh thanks Steven. Not only was it an extraordinary day it was an extraordinary sweep of victories across the country. Let me just speak very frankly about the process of this, and there are concerns and our hopes and where this is going forward. The first is that the state, where these initiatives pop up, physically involves an ongoing discussion and dialogue between local activists, who oftentimes provide the initiative for doing these things, and national organizations that then make a judgment about whether to provide assistance on drafting and polling and funding and campaigning.

And so, all of these initiatives more or less resulted through that process. I'll say that going into 2014 many of us looking at this from the national level many of us were very wary of putting anything on the ballot in 2014 especially on marijuana legalization, because young people are, you know, so rarely show up in comparable numbers as they do in presidential election years. But the polling was strong, we moved forward, we got very nervous toward the end, we knew that win or lose we were still going to move forward with the same strategy in 2016, but it was going to be much better to go into 2016 with the wind at our back rather than the wind in our face.

And what happened in Oregon and Alaska, with these significant victories, even when many people were assuming that we were going to go down in defeat because of low youth turn-out, something good happened there. Whether it meant that these initiatives being on the ballot turned out young people in greater numbers, or whether it was just other people stepping up, we don't know as yet.

All we know is that winning these initiatives in a non-election year gives us a great sense of confidence moving forward. I'd say that in respect to medical marijuana, having substantial majorities in both Guam, which opened the morning with an initiative victory there, and in Florida, which technically did not constitute a victory because Florida is the only state in the country that requires 60% of the vote to win, but getting close to 58% in Florida counts as a major national victory, the size of that majority is going resonate throughout the south and in Capitol Hill. So I feel bad for folks in Florida who won't get to implement it, but bottom-line is: major victory.

In terms of sentencing reform, the sentencing reform initiative in California together with the bail reform victory in New Jersey really show that the public is increasingly willing to support measures that reduce the prison population so long as they ensure public safety. It also suggests that the power of the prison-industrial complex in the United States, while still enormous, is receding, it is receding. Going forward to 2016, I'm sure I see California as playing an anchor role in a national effort to legalize marijuana in a growing number of other states. I can well imagine that medical marijuana will pop up in a few of the remaining initiative states, maybe Arkansas, maybe Ohio, maybe elsewhere.

I think on sentencing reform, a whole range of activists around the country are now going to be looking at ways to move forward significant sentencing reform in those states where the legislature is unable or unwilling to reflect the will of the people on this issue. I also can imagine that the presidential elections and the primary battles in 2015 and 2016 are going to be influenced by these results.

One thing that we showed was that, even in a year when the Democrats get resoundingly trounced by the Republicans, all of our issues, all of our ballot measures, prevailed, and that shows that even though drug policy reform, marijuana legalization, and sentencing reform are oftentimes seen as liberal, progressive issues, in fact there's significant bipartisan support, significant support from the center and even conservatives for moving forward in this direction.

So I'd say very much that 2014 shows that drug policy reform, sentencing reform, marijuana legalization, has truly come of age in national politics and it's virtually impossible that this momentum is going to be reversed in coming years. I'll stop there.

STEPHEN GUTWILLIG: Thank you very much, Ethan. Well, our next speaker will be Peter Zuckerman, spokesperson for the Measure 91 campaign in Oregon.

PETER ZUCKERMAN: Yesterday I thought this campaign was going to be a squeaker, that we might win or lose by about a dozen votes, the polls were very different, they were all over the place, and I was worried that a loss would mean a slowdown in the momentum, that people would be able to say that the victories in previous states were just demographic flukes.

It really felt like a make-it-or-break-it time for the movement. And then when the numbers started coming out, we were just so startled, we were blown away, we won big, I mean close to 10 points. The data is still coming out but what we've seen so far is that we didn't just win with young voters but we won with early voters who tend to be more conservative and older, and we won in counties where we could have never imagined we would win, counties like Clackamas and Clatsop County, where they tend to be much more conservative.

And we saw that our measure really drew people out, we really got a lot of votes, a lot more than most of the other issues on the ballot. And so, what I think it shows is that opinion has changed, it has changed decisively. That voters here saw Washington, and they saw Colorado, and they saw it as a success. The fear tactics of our opposition did not resonate with voters, and people are increasingly coming to understand that treating marijuana as a crime has failed, that it's time for a better approach forward.

STEPHEN GUTWILLIG: Excellent, thank you very much, Peter. Our next speaker, Taylor Bickford, spokesperson for Measure Two in Alaska.

TAYLOR BICKFORD: Thank you. I think it's probably safe to say that everyone on this call viewed Alaska as the biggest question mark heading into election day, and I would say that internally, here in the state, we felt very uncertain as well. The measure itself enjoyed pretty wide public support in the early stages of the campaign but what we saw, at least according to the polls, was that support started to dip in the summer and through the fall, and it appeared that the biggest dip at least initially was amongst conservative voters in the state.

I think one of the really exciting developments from the results last night is that we've now legalized marijuana in a red state. So we knew in Alaska that our path to victory depended on a certain percentage of conservative voters, and over the course of the campaign we saw those numbers dip, but based on what we're seeing from the results so far and obviously there's more analysis that needs to be done, it looks like we were successful at consolidating our base amongst conservatives. I'll point out a few things that are interesting.

Our measures actually received more votes than Alaska's next senator, and a Republican, Dan Sullivan, we received more votes than the gubernatorial winner, and we've received more votes than Don Young, who just won his re-election as a Republican. So I think that Ethan's point early on in the call that this issue has transcended your traditional ideological partisan boundaries is absolutely true, we saw that happen in Alaska. A couple other things I think are worth noting, there was a concerted effort amongst the opposition up here to try to rally voters in rural, primarily Alaska Native parts of the state, to oppose the measure.

And they were successful in some parts of rural Alaska but if you look at the map which breaks down the results, which we're still analyzing, what's totally clear is that rural Alaska by and large voted in support of the measure, in places like the Northwest Arctic Borough, in Kotzebue, in the Nome region in northwestern Alaska, throughout the interior of Alaska which is predominantly rural and Alaska Native.

These are communities that are living with the incredibly negative impacts of alcohol abuse and I think very much viewed this ballot measure as providing a safer alternative to alcohol, which of course was one of the big messages of the campaign.

So we couldn't be more thrilled, this is an issue that has been on the minds of Alaskans really since statehood, we have a long history with marijuana, and what we saw last night is that a majority of Alaskans, like a majority of Americans, believe that marijuana prohibition has failed, that it's time for a more sensible approach, and we're looking forward to working with the state, the legislature, and the regulatory bodies to put together a regulatory structure, along with Washington, Colorado, Oregon and DC that can really serve as a model for the rest of the country.

STEPHEN GUTWILLIG: Our next speaker is Dr. Malik Burnett, policy manager with Drug Policy Alliance and a spokesperson for Initiative 71 in Washington, DC.

DR. MALIK BURNETT: Thanks so much Steven. Last night, voters in the District of Columbia sided overwhelmingly with ending the failed policy of marijuana prohibition by voting for Initiative 71, 69.4% to 30.6%. What makes this marijuana legalization effort unique in DC is that the campaign was run squarely around the issue of racial and social justice. This is a first in the history of the movement and is largely why the initiative garnered endorsements from groups such as the local NAACP, faith leaders, the DC National Organization for Women, and all the major labor unions. What's even more interesting is that if you look at the data from last night's election you'll see that in the District's African-American communities, support for the initiative jumped dramatically.

This population was polling around 37% in 2013, around 56% in advance of the election, and last night the support from those communities was around 63%. Additionally the initiative won in 142 out of 143 precincts in the District of Columbia, setting the high-water mark for a legalization ballot initiative to date. Given the success of the initiative, the DC Council now has a clear mandate to develop a tax and regulate system for the sale of marijuana in the District of Columbia.

Here again we will work with the Council to ensure that the structure for this tax and regulate system is one that is intentional about restoring the communities that are most harmed by the war on drugs. I'll turn quickly to Congress. Much has been made in the press about the prospect of Congressional intervention in this issue. This is largely overblown.

The reality is that there has been significant bipartisan movement for drug policy reform in the House and the Senate over the past legislative session. The House Republicans have voted on five separate occasions in support of marijuana reform, cutting funding from the DEA and Treasury's interference in states that reform their marijuana laws and to support hemp production.

There has been significant movement on criminal justice reform at the Senate level, in fact Senator Rand Paul, the ranking member of the Senate committee overseeing DC affairs, has stated publicly that he doesn't think that the federal government should interfere with DC's right to legalize marijuana.

DEAN BECKER: You can hear much more from that DPA teleconference on this week's 420 Drug War News and as always I remind you, because of Prohibition, you don't know what's in that bag. Please, be careful.