01/16/15 Howard Wooldridge

Cultural Baggage Radio Show

Howard Wooldridge, former cop and founding member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, Ethan Nadelmann of DPA, Houston's Mayor & police chief + Wash Post report on asset forfeiture

Audio file


JANUARY 16, 2015


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

UNIDENTIFIED VOICE: 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, we've got a great show lined up for you. I want to start this off with a thought that Eric Holder took the drug war out and hung it by its neck today. It's still alive, it's still alive and begging for compassion, but, uh, it has no movement other than its mouth.

You know, I don't know how else to say this but, we own the moral high ground. We own the financial high ground. We own every aspect of this drug war. You know, here in the home town of the Drug Truth Network, and we're still new to this drive time slot. By the way my name is Dean Becker, host of Cultural Baggage. We began these broadcasts in October of 2001, this is Cultural Baggage edition number 695. In three or four weeks, we anticipate another visit to our studio of the police chief of Houston, Charles A. McLelland, Jr. I just visited the chief yesterday, and he continues to show great acumen regarding the failure of this drug war.

In two weeks, our guest will be – and let me see if I can get this right – Johann Hari, the author of Chasing The Scream, the first and last days of the war on drugs, and next week our main guest will be Gregg Gladden, former head of the ACLU of Texas and a fellow panelist with yours truly on a forthcoming panel at a NORML event here in Houston. This week, our guest is one of the founding members of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a man whose job it is to travel each workday through the halls of the US Congress to educate them to the fact the drug war is a failure and fiasco, and certainly that its continuation is not in our nation's best interest. Former officer Howard Wooldridge, welcome to Cultural Baggage, Howard. How you doing?

HOWARD WOOLDRIDGE: It's good to be with you.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah, Howard, you heard about what Eric Holder did today, did you sir?

HOWARD WOOLDRIDGE: I did not, today was my stay-at-home day to do paperwork. What happened?

DEAN BECKER: Well, this is from the Washington Post. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. on Friday barred local and state police from using federal law to seize cash, cars and other property without evidence that a crime occurred. Holder’s action represents the most sweeping check on police power to confiscate personal property since the seizures began three years [sic] ago as part of the war on drugs. They're saying since 2008, local and state police agencies have made more than 55,000 seizures of cash and property worth $3 billion under a civil asset forfeiture program the Justice Department called Equitable Sharing. That's a major blow to the, uh, law enforcement, is it not?

HOWARD WOOLDRIDGE: It is certainly going to be a big dent in their budget, Dean. Local, state, and federal, my information is, every year what we are seizing, stealing, whatever you want to call it, north of $6 billion, and the, uh, the uh, the program where it's shared, because many states have passed laws, which are good, which says that if you find cash from a drug situation, it's turned over to the, the local government, as opposed to the police getting it directly.

But through this program that's been out there now for many years, if you bring in a DEA agent in the middle of the night to take the, say $50,000, then it becomes a federal case and then, when the money is returned, 70 percent to these local police, they actually get to keep it. So this has been a highway robbery incentive for local police officers to go out there and look for cash, and sadly this distorts our priorities and so now we're more interested in busting somebody for selling marijuana than catching a pedophile, per detectives who are still on the job.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. Yeah. If you educate yourself a bit more you can help in a mercy killing of this degenerate beast. Now as I said our guest is Howard Wooldridge of uh, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. Now Howard, tell us a bit about LEAP, if you will.

HOWARD WOOLDRIDGE: Well, LEAP was founded by five of us back in the spring of 2002. It's now comprised of police officers, judges, prosecutors, anyone who's been part of the system of arresting and putting people in jail, or their probation officers after, once they get out. We are dedicated to the macro concept of saying, if one day you have a drug problem, see a doctor, not a judge. The police, the criminal justice system should not be involved in people having a personal drug problem. That's for families, that's for friends to take care of, the government has no role here in terms of someone with a personal addiction issue.

And we know that the, the drug war, drug prohibition have been the most destructive, dysfunctional, and immoral policy, immoral policy since slavery and Jim Crow. After many long years of this, I've been doing this now coming on 18 years, LEAP's been out there now for almost 13, we are seeing light at the end of the tunnel but there's of course still some good distance to go.

DEAN BECKER: Exactly right. You know, I have, uh, I don't think he'd mind me saying this, made friends with the police chief here in Houston. I spent a little while with him yesterday talking about his next trip here, and I think eventually he'll probably join us in LEAP because he sees the failing in this, he's not afraid to say as much, and he kind of represents a new group of officials and authorities around the country that are beginning to speak more boldly, that are beginning to challenge this logic of drug war, am I right?

HOWARD WOOLDRIDGE: That's, that's correct, Dean. As you know I've been the, the voice for LEAP in the halls of Congress as an advocate and lobbyist. We saw a year and a half ago the sheriff of King County, which is Seattle, Washington, testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee about the failure of policy, how it is never going to work, and the rational approach to drugs should be via the medical community, not law enforcement. So yeah, this is, this is happening, as we speak, more and more, even active duty police officers are speaking out. And this, this – the days are numbered, it's just a question of how fast we can push this thing into the history books, that's why we still need people to support every which way the voices and the people who are on the front lines, making a difference every day.

DEAN BECKER: Thank you, Howard Wooldridge. You know, it occurs to me, you know, that we, the Drug Truth Network and this program, uh, Cultural Baggage, is making a difference, because over the past few months we've had interviews with the sheriff, the mayor, the police chief, uh, and all of them saying it's time for a change, speaking rather boldly if you will. This is a bit of my interview with the police chief.

Last month, when he was a guest on this program, I asked the police chief of Houston, Charles A. McLelland, his thoughts on the drug war and medical marijuana.

CHARLES MCLELLAND: You know, obviously I'm not a medical doctor, but there is growing research that show it may have, uh, legitimate purposes to decrease people's seizures, epilepsy, we've always heard about people with glaucoma, those type things, and if it does, the FDA needs to move. You know? And people can go to Wal-Mart, CVS, and, you know, Walgreen's, and fill their prescription. Most of us understand that, we do believe, those of us that are law enforcement executives, that the war on drugs, the 1980 drug policies, was a miserable failure, there's no doubt about that.

DEAN BECKER: Very profound words, am I right there, Howard?

HOWARD WOOLDRIDGE: Absolutely, Dean, and that's, that's as encouraging as more officers who are active duty have the courage to speak out regardless of the consequences. We've known in LEAP that sometimes an officer speak out, even when off duty, out of uniform, they are punished by their organization or by their fellow police officers. But more and more are coming forward, like the chief of Houston, and saying enough already, it's time for a major shift in how we look at drugs and how law enforcement handles this issue.

DEAN BECKER: Now Howard, you're there in DC, uh, you know the pulse certainly better than I. What does the new set of legislators portend?

HOWARD WOOLDRIDGE: Well, it's a mixed, mixed situation, Dean. Uh, sadly, in one sense, Senator Grassley is a, Anslinger-level drug warrior. At the same time, he has come out strongly, along with Sensenbrenner from the House Judiciary Committee, both strongly coming out now in favor of changing the civil asset forfeiture. Cory Booker, Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey and Rand Paul of Kentucky had a bill last year called FAIR, which would totally revamp the, the uh, federal procedures on asset forfeiture. This is going to be reintroduced, I just talked to his aide last week, uh, Mr. Paul's.

And it now looks like there's, there is solid, bipartisan support to end this basically highway robbery, uh, going on on our nation's streets and uh, and interstates, where police officers are out there simply to make money as opposed to public safety, so I'm encouraged at that level. On other things, uh, not so much, it's going to depend on how many of these new freshman Republicans are leaning libertarian, believe in the tenth amendment because as you know, all I do at the federal level is say this should be states' rights, tenth amendment controlled issue, like alcohol, tobacco, firearms, and gambling.

And we're seeing more and more Republicans voting our way, uh, that's why for the first time in history, through fiscal 15, which is through the end of September, the uh, medical marijuana is legal in the 34 states that have it and the DEA shall not interfere with anyone who is state legal when it comes to medical marijuana. This, this barn door has been opened, I think it will be very difficult for the drug warriors to close it.

DEAN BECKER: All right, friends, once again you're listening to Cultural Baggage on Pacifica Radio and the Drug Truth Network. Our guest is Howard Wooldridge, one of the founding members of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. You know, it occurs to me that, as these, uh, officials step forward, as they begin to speak more boldly and openly about that need for change, what's really lacking is you, dear listener: your input, your phone call, your email, your visit to these elected officials' office, to pat them on the back, to hug them, to tell them yes, yes, yes, this is necessary, we want to better protect our children. Uh, Howard, that's really the issue, isn't it, that this, this policy, this uh, system of drug prohibition, has never achieved any of its stated goals, has it?

HOWARD WOOLDRIDGE: Oh no, absolutely not. And when I pass out information at, in the Congressional offices, I simply use federal numbers, federal surveys showing drugs are cheaper, stronger, and readily available to America's youth. The facts are not in dispute, Dean, pretty much everybody on the Hill agrees with the facts, it's just a question of uh, some of the muffin-heads out there are going to say, well, it might get worse if you legalize regulate, which of course we see in Colorado has not happened, but it is important as you just said, please, do me a favor, help me in my job.

Mo matter how much of a drug warrior or muffin-head your Congressman has been, we have seen Congressmen now shifting their votes and voting in favor of legalize, regulate, tenth amendment type states' rights positions. And Luetkemeyer of Missouri is a perfect example who, for years and years always voted no on medical marijuana and then, last year for the first time flipped his vote because he has a very close loved one, uh, who has Dravet Syndrome. He, uh, was told by his, I believe it was his daughter that it's working, god's medicine is working, and he flipped his vote. So, I encourage everyone to always contact, by email, your Congressman and tell him how you feel about the issue of drugs, medical marijuana, whatever your specialty is.

DEAN BECKER: Uh, our guest today is Mr. Howard Wooldridge, one of the founding members of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. Howard, what do you want to throw into this mix, what am I leaving out, buddy?

HOWARD WOOLDRIDGE: Well, the good news is, Dean, is, at least here in Washington, where I, you know, I go up and down the halls talking to folks, and uh, meeting some of the power brokers you're talking about that you gave a book to, and that is, a level of optimism that I haven't, I've been here, uh, going on ten years, it's never been better, because there's so many Republicans leaning libertarian, uh, who believe in letting states do what they think is best. Like, uh, our Governor Perry, you know I'm from Fort Worth, and our Governor Perry about exactly a year ago said, the Tenth Amendment states' rights should be the guiding principle for marijuana policy, and that idea is infecting Congress all over the place.

And that's why, uh, I remain, uh, optimistic that we're going to see more of those votes in this new session of Congress. And when you out there, send your email, it doesn't cost you anything, just send an email and tell your Congressman your Senator how you feel about this, that, you know, let Texas run Texas, let Illinois run Illinois, free of the influence of federal officials, this message is catching on like wildfire, and we just need to have people add more fuel to that by sending in those, those messages those emails to their elected officials.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah, and, and that is at the heart of it, is that so many people have been reluctant in the past to speak of this for fear of being seen as a druggie, or, you know, somehow a degenerate by asking such a change. But the fact of the matter is, the truth of this has come forward so strongly in the last couple of years, that uh, there's no argument left on the other side, it's nothing to fear, is it, Howard?

HOWARD WOOLDRIDGE: That's correct, Dean, I mean, I've, I've been doing this 18 years, I know people say well, if I send an email maybe police will be knocking on my door. Folks, there are over half the country, you know, 150 million people are on our side of this issue in terms of legalize, regulate, tax marijuana. The DEA, the FBI, your local police don't have the manpower nor the inclination to somehow track your emails and come after you and knock on your door. So don't be afraid, uh, make those, make those contacts, so that we can end this, this terrible policy sooner than later. And that's, but that's what it takes, is citizen involvement, is really the key here.

DEAN BECKER: You know, uh, yesterday when I went and spoke with Police Chief McLelland, I was talking with him about the fact that, occasionally I get a little paranoid, and it's not without just cause I don't think, because I'm trying to destroy the cash cow of the terrorists, the cartels, the gangs, I'm trying, the bankers who uh, launder the money, the law enforcement who gets the grants and funds uh, for making arrests. It's a huge, huge, uh, half trillion dollar a year, uh, accomplishment for all these guys, they, that money is distributed very year because of this drug war. Your thought there, Howard.

HOWARD WOOLDRIDGE: Well, absolutely, the fact that, I mean, I face these guys in a three piece suit or a skirt every day, who are trying to defend the money that the federal government passes out plus the entire drug war in general. It's a question of jobs for prison guards, and all those moneys you talk about plus the civil asset forfeiture, uh, in fact to the point my wife is worried about that, and she made sure I got a concealed weapons permit here in Maryland which is hard to do, just in case the cartels go after me. But for the, for the average listener out there, sending in an email is, is without risk, and uh, certainly as they say needed to do.

Oh yeah but the moneyed interests in this country would be wise, I mean in a sense, to go after guys like you and me, the, some of the leaders here, but so far, the good news is, that the cartels have not begun shooting LEAP speakers or anybody else, so we can still practice our activism without too much worry.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah, and that underscores what you said, that there's no, should be no fear in make, in sending that email or making that phone call or that visit. Because they're just waiting for enough people to embrace this idea before they're, they develop the courage to move any further, right?

HOWARD WOOLDRIDGE: That's exactly right. I mean, the, the politicians, almost all of them know that the right course of action is to bring these dangerous drugs, these serious drugs, under the control and umbrella of the, of the government, to develop rules and regulations much as we see in Colorado, which is working great, because they're treating it much like beer. And we know, everybody knows that's the best way to handle it. Leaving the production and sale of these drugs in the hands of cartels and kids and gangs is obviously not a good idea, but the politicians respond to money and right now, those banks, those, uh, police unions etc. are pouring in millions of dollars to the politicians and their re-election campaigns to say don't change nothing. That's why your voice and your vote are so important.

DEAN BECKER: Once again we're speaking with Mr. Howard Wooldridge, one of the founding members of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a man who patrols the halls of Congress every day of the week, educating and emboldening them to make changes to these uh, frivolous drug laws. Howard, we have to, uh, I don't know how to say this, just, kick these politicians in the butt, every time they open their mouths and share these lies. Because it's all based on lies, is it not?

HOWARD WOOLDRIDGE: Well, it's certainly, the, the number of lies out there, the number of misinformation is enormous, uh, and, but, the good news is, a lot of these guys are saying it with no enthusiasm. We've been at this Dean as you know for 43 years, over a trillion dollars misspent, wasted, and – so the handwriting's on the wall, that, the, uh, uh, this thing is going to end, but the bad guys, the police unions, the banks, the cartels are not going to go quietly, and that's why we need to not stop and rest, we have to keep going as hard as we can.

DEAN BECKER: Howard, we're going to have to wrap it up here quick, but, I just want to say this, that, my trip to DC, I found it very educational, uh, the sad thing is the only two people who wrote me after we handed out more than 600 books was our attorney general Eric Holder, a man I greatly admire these days, and, uh, Justice Keegan, I think it is, Supreme Court Justice, everybody else tended to ignore it. What's your thought, why are they ignoring it, my friend?

HOWARD WOOLDRIDGE: Well, certainly, uh, a certain number, and this is, I hit this every day, Dean, they don't care what the facts are, they don't care what expert opinion is, they are never, ever, ever going to change their vote or their opinion on illegal drugs. And, that's a hard core, probably 25-30 percent, and there's nothing we can do about that, they are just going to go to their grave believing that marijuana is as bad as heroin etc. For many of the others, I would have some, be more optimistic that many of them, uh, read parts of or the book itself, uh, but everyone's busy, and to take the extra five minutes to send a thank you note, uh, is five minutes they don't have.

I mean, you may or may not be able to appreciate how busy these people are and how much pressure they're under to, uh, you know, read all kinds of material. So I would be more optimistic and say that, it was read, uh, certain parts of that interested the folks, certain areas, and that uh, that information always helps to make a decision or arguments from staff going up to the Congressman. That's the biggest thing is, staff tells the Congressman look, here's A B C D facts, that you need to look at before you vote, and that's what's important, and why I meet with so many of the aides, to have them talk with the Congressman.

DEAN BECKER: All right, well Howard, we're going to wrap it up for now, I want to thank you my friend, I hope to see you soon, and uh, please keep up the good work there in Washington DC.

HOWARD WOOLDRIDGE: I will, Dean. Misty and I will be out there doing the best we can.

DEAN BECKER: All right, thank you my friend. I think I should point out that Misty is his horse, the horse he twice rode across America, thousands of miles, and he, uh, also rode his bicycle across America as well, trying to end the war on drugs, Mr. Howard Wooldridge.

It’s time to play Name That Drug By Its Side Effects. Itching, difficulty breathing, bone pain, chest pain, dark urine, irregular heartbeat, fever, chills, red blistered peeling skin, seizures, severe diarrhea, stomach cramps, swelling of the hands and feet, unusual bruising and bleeding. Time’s up! The answer: from Schering-Plough Healthcare Products Incorporated, a subsidiary of Merck and Company Incorporated, Zegerid for heartburn.

Sound advice from Ethan Nadelmann, Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance.

ETHAN NADELMANN: Now that Republicans are talking about sentencing reform, getting behind it for either fiscal reasons, or Christian reasons or some other reasons, it's an opportunity. Do not assume that the Republican is not worth a visit. Do not assume that, that he will not be your ally on reducing incarceration or taking on a range of these issues. Democrats out of power, I mean, Democrats with time on their hands, and that means that your ability to get in the office with your legislators, right?

The ones who one day, you know, will be back in power or in power, you know, whether it's in two years from now or twenty years from now, your opportunity to engage Democrats at the city council level or the, the state level, whatever, and talk to them, educate them while they have time, befriend them, win their trust, get them, meet them where they're at. I mean, it's a great opportunity. They've got the time, they like being visited at this point, right? And you want to help them see how this can work for them.

DEAN BECKER: Thank you, Ethan. The website fo the Drug Policy Alliance is easy: Drugpolicy.org. And, the website, I should add, for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition is LEAP.cc. As I indicated earlier, officials from all around Houston are starting to challenge the logic of drug war. This is the mayor, Annise Parker.

ANNISE PARKER: We need a complete rethinking of the nation’s drug laws. We have seen over and over again that outright prohibition doesn’t work. We saw that in the, in the Twenties when prohibition in this country fueled the rise of organized crime. At the same time we don’t want in any way to send a message that illegal drugs are, uh, are approved or appropriate, and, uh, but we need to figure out a way to go to managing, managing these drugs rather than simply saying, Don’t do it, or we are going to treat all illegal drugs the same.

What you see, again, in America is a, beginning to have an adult conversation in many places about marijuana, and once that works its way through, uh, the justice system across America, through our state legislators, and I think that – well, it’s not going to happen quickly, I think you've got, that public opinion is going to shift on marijuana and then it will be decriminalized in most states in very short order.

DEAN BECKER: To close this out, I was talking about the Washington Post report on asset forfeiture, here's a segment from them.

UNIDENTIFIED VOICE 1: Is there any large amounts of cash in the vehicle?

UNIDENTIFIED VOICE 2: There's nothing.

UNIDENTIFIED VOICE 1: Okeh, Would it okeh if I did a quick search of the vehicle and uh, just make sure there's nothing in there?

UNIDENTIFIED VOICE 2: For what reason?

UNIDENTIFIED VOICE 1: Well, it's just part of what we do out here.

NARRATOR: These officers are on the hunt for cash and drugs. More and more, police across the nation's highways are focused on seizing money, using an extraordinarily powerful legal tool known as civil forfeiture. The law was created as a way to better fight drug cartels and terror financing networks.

UNIDENTIFIED VOICE 3: Any drugs in the car, period.

NARRATOR: But a Washington Post investigation has found that caught up in the net of seizures are tens of thousands of citizens who had to forfeit their money without so much as criminal charges or search warrants.

MANDREL STUART: I knew something was wrong from the minute they pulled me over.

UNIDENTIFIED VOICE 4: That was literally the second thing, second question that he asked me, how much cash I was traveling with.

SHAWN STOUT: It started out as a way to take money from big criminals, and then, what it's used as now is a way to pull over the average Joe and rob him on the street.

SCOTT BULLOCK: Everybody is in on this, this is a slush fund for law enforcement.

UNIDENTIFIED VOICE 5: I have to get to the US Bank before five o'clock to find out exactly how much currency is there, but there's five stacks that you're letting go.

NARRATOR: While his restaurant was flourishing, he got into tax trouble and operated in cash while he settled the dispute. This became a problem one night in August 2012, when Stuart and a girlfriend headed to DC to buy equipment and supplies for the restaurant in cash.

MANDREL STUART: We got pulled over in Fairfax, officer said my window tint was uh, too dark.

NARRATOR: As the officer approached the vehicle, he also noticed the DVD of Flashdance playing in view of the driver, a minor moving violation in Virginia. The officer started asking a lot of questions of Stuart and his friend. Police became suspicious when the stories didn't line up, so they called in a canine unit. The dog alerted on the car, and the officers gave Stuart a choice.

MANDREL STUART: Well we either can let you off at the top of the exit, and you can find your own way home, or, you can voluntary come with us, we'll check the vehicle, if there's nothing in the vehicle, you and your friend can leave.

UNIDENTIFIED VOICE 6: Sir, can you come in here for a second?

STUART: Two and a half hours away so of course I have to go with the police officer to check my vehicle.

NARRATOR: Back in the station, the Fairfax Police continued to question Stuart. They searched his car, where they found a bag of cash containing $17,550, and a few flakes of marijuana. They also went through his cell phone, looking for incriminating text messages. Stuart tried to explain that he was on his way to buy supplies for the Smoking Rooster, but still they didn't believe him.

SHAWN STOUT: Marijuana possession, based on the, like, three flakes that they found, but that would have required them to go through all of that and, at the end they would have ended up with a conviction for possession which wouldn't support a forfeiture.

REPORTER: What did they charge you with?


DEAN BECKER: And, one last time, Ethan Nadelmann, director, DrugPolicy.org.

ETHAN NADELMANN: Think really hard about the ways in which the momentum on marijuana, how we can make the most of that, and how that issue can be our friend, right? You know, whether it's talking about treatment, the ways in which people that are involved in heroin cocaine alcohol methamphetamine can use marijuana in a way that moderates it, whether it's talking about the illegitimacy of a probation or parole or drug court system that reincarcerates people, you know, for marijuana, you know, it's opening it up, it's marijuana is the foot in the door, we need to shove that door open.

DEAN BECKER: All right, thank you friends for being with us on this edition of Cultural Baggage. I want to thank Howard Wooldridge for being our guest, and I want you to please do your part to help end the madness of this goddamned drug war. 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. Drug Truth Network archives are stored at the James A. Baker III Institute for Policy Studies. Tap dancing on the edge of an abyss.