10/23/15 Charles A. McClelland Jr

Cultural Baggage Radio Show

Charles A. McClelland Jr, Police Chief of Houston, Ethan Nadelmann Dir of DPA re UN call to end drug war, Matt Elrod of DrugSense re Canada's move to legalization & tribute to Vincent Lopez Texas drug reformer extraordinaire.

Audio file


OCTOBER 23, 2015


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

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

CROWD: No more! Drug war! No More! Drug War! No More! Drug War!

DEAN BECKER: My name is Dean Becker. I don't condone or encourage the use of any drugs, legal or illegal. I report the unvarnished truth about the pharmaceutical, banking, prison, and judicial nightmare that feeds on eternal drug war.

Once again, we have too much drug war news to cover this week. We'll hear from the police chief of Houston, Texas, from Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance regarding the UN's failed attempt to decriminalize drugs worldwide, Matt Elrod from Canada will talk about their new prime minister and their push towards legalizing cannabis. We'll close out with a tribute to Vincent Lopez, Texas's medical marijuana patient extraordinaire, who passed away this week. No time to focus on the Global Commission on Drugs new report, the US Justice Department getting their hands slapped, the Mexican Supreme Court considering legalization of marijuana, or even Australia's making medical marijuana legal. We'd best get started.

All right, folks, as part of an ongoing series of discussions with the police chief of our nation's fourth largest city, I'm proud to have with us once again Police Chief Charles A. McClelland, Jr. How are you, sir?

CHIEF CHARLES MCCLELLAND: I'm doing good, good, and how are you doing, Mister Becker?

DEAN BECKER: I'm well, chief, I'm glad we can continue our series. Now, last month the HPD focused its efforts on synthetic drugs like Spice, K2, and I guess the dozens if not hundreds of such other synthetics that are purported to be like smoking cannabis. And I think, you know this, sir, the truth is these synthetics bear little if any resemblance to the drugs they seek to replace. You know, it's used by those on parole and probation, or have a job that don't want to be tested and found with the real drugs, and these drugs are not safer, they're in fact more deadly than these other drugs, are they not?

CHARLES MCCLELLAND: Well, yes. Now, synthetic marijuana is a misnomer, because it has nothing to do with marijuana. It has all to do with the chemicals, which could be anything from insecticides to cleaning fluids, embalming fluids, you know, materials and different ingredients from China, anywhere around the world, but certainly has no medical benefit, hasn't been tested by anyone, hasn't been approved by anyone, and can not only cause death, but serious bodily injury.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, sir. You've seen the pictures, some of those kids, they've got the seizures and paralysis, and all kinds of horrible things. Chief, last month, I traveled to Los Angeles, I attended the international cannabis business conference, and there were dozens of tables, they had, you know, marijuana insurance and vacuum bag sealing machines, cannabis distributors, people selling chocolates and gummy candies, potato chips, all that stuff that's infused with marijuana, and my question, sir, is this: if a person were to take a bag of cannabis potato chips here in Texas and place them in a Lays potato chip bag, you know, what's a cop to do? Will it soon be necessary for every food item in a car to be analyzed by every cop making a stop?

CHARLES MCCLELLAND: Well, no, but that's why, you know, we have a federal drug administration to make sure that products that you can legally buy, you know, off the shelf or in a store are properly tested and sanctioned, because it will be difficult, and when you're talking about any type of edible product, then it's hard to know what levels and the intensity of the ingredients that may be in the product, so, no. The only way that, as law enforcement personnel, if we were to seize or come across, you know, those type of materials, or of food products, it would go straight to the crime lab to where those levels would have to be tested.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, sir, and I understand that perspective, but again, if it's a Lays potato chip bag, is he going to inspect every potato chip bag in the car, I guess?

CHARLES MCCLELLAND: Well, my short answer is no, you can't.

DEAN BECKER: No, sir. And kind of a comparison here. Like, if a cop sees someone walking down the street with an open beer, looks a little drunk, well, he's probably going to pull over and talk to that guy. But if that person puts it in a paper bag, he kind of takes away the focus, does it not? Less likely to stop and make an arrest, your response, chief.

CHARLES MCCLELLAND: Well, you know, it's always based on behavior, and not necessarily, you know, the container that the person may be holding in this, in your example. People usually don't put brown bags over soda, but nevertheless it could happen, but the officer should base his observations on the behavior and the actions of the individual before they stop and investigate or detain, see what's going on.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, sir. You know our interview from last December is still resonating. Fox TV, NBC, others have carried reports endorsing your thought that the drug war's a miserable failure and just a couple of weeks back, the Houston Chronicle carried another editorial with quotes from you that could be summed up with, that the end of the war of marijuana is inevitable. And sir, considering the tens of thousands that are arrested in Texas each year, that ten thousand or so that are arrested in Houston alone, and per your prior thoughts that we can non longer afford to lock up so many people for so little, what will it take to get these Texas reps to speak and act more boldly?

CHARLES MCCLELLAND: Well, I do think that people are understanding that, you know, for individuals that, you know, are caught with a, you know, low levels of marijuana, that we do have to come up with alternative ways, you know, to deal with that, and I think that we're dealing with it in a very progressive way here in Harris County by coming up with diversions, alternative sentencing programs, and, you know, personal recognizance bonds, because we can't fill our jails with those individuals that have very small amounts. I mean, we need to make sure that we're locking up the right people for the right things.

DEAN BECKER: Yes sir. Now, in regards to that new position by District Attorney Anderson and you and the sheriff, do you have the numbers, I mean, a percentage of those who are getting arrested versus those who are given the second chance, so to speak?

CHARLES MCCLELLAND: No, I don't have those percentages, you know, off the top of my head, because, to be honest with you, our arrests for, you know, small amounts of marijuana possessions have been dropping over the years the last several years, pretty significantly. So, now, you know, by allowing someone that's a first-time offender, a young person that, you know, doesn't necessarily want their life marred or impacted by a misdemeanor that's, you know, on your record the rest of your life, I think it's a good idea, you know, because although marijuana's still illegal here in the state of Texas, and, you know, small amounts are still illegal, but there are some times that people who are under the influence of marijuana have made some bad choices, bad decisions, and got themselves in trouble, getting into other things, so that's what we want to guard against, that, you know, if someone makes a mistake, there's other alternatives beside sitting in jail to where you can't make a, you know, $500 bond.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, sir. This month it was announced that President Obama was making arrangements to free up to six thousand federal prisoners who were locked up for nonviolent drug charges. At about the same time, Senator Cory Booker and members of the House are trying to reel in the excesses of the 1980s and 90s, the mandatory minimums, the three strikes law, and others are trying to stop the highway robbery that's called interdiction, which requires no warrant or arrest, just simply take people's money during a traffic stop, and this week, it was just announced that a new United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime paper has been presented that calls for decriminalizing drug use and possession worldwide. It was released and just as suddenly withdrawn at the insistence of the United States UN office. Your response, Chief McClelland.

CHARLES MCCLELLAND: I'm not familiar with that document, you know, per se, so I don't want to speak out of turn. I'm not familiar with it, nor have I, you know, read it or know what's in it. But there are many folks that, you know, feel that it takes a position that small amounts of marijuana, certainly, should be a ticketable offense, or people should be able to get out on some type of diversion program, yet still, they maintain the position that marijuana should still not be legal. So, I certainly understand both positions.

DEAN BECKER: During this last legislative session, you know, you and I had talked about the need for these politicians, that you and I can't make the decision, it's the elected officials at the state house that make these changes. Were you able to talk to some of the reps, were you able to give them your thoughts in this regard?

CHARLES MCCLELLAND: Well, you know, they didn't ask me, and normally they don't. It's no different than, you know, the gun laws, open carry, you know, most people in state government, if they decide to do something or enact a law, it really doesn't matter what I or any other police chief in this state really say. If they are taking a position the way that their constituents want them to take, that's what they do. The legalization of marijuana across the country still has some ups and downs, and some of the new states and cities that are dealing with this, it's not a panacea. In the city of Denver and other cities in Colorado, it didn't put the street dealer out of business, matter of fact, the street dealers are more popular simply because their marijuana is cheaper. It's not taxed, there's no overhead, there's no regulation, so in some ways, the street corner dealer in Denver, Colorado, is more popular than a person who has a license to sell marijuana over the counter.

DEAN BECKER: Well, yeah, there's some truth to that, sir, I agree. Now, the fact of the matter is though, coming back to the thought, the legislators, they wear many hats, they think they're doctors and wardens and prosecutors, they should lean on folks like you to get your opinion, I'm sorry they did not. I wrote an article this month, 2,000 word article in Houston Free Press, [inserting a note of clarification, it was actually Free Press Houston -- we continue] to have people contact our nation's drug czar, Michael Botticelli, to request that he be a guest on my radio show. For, well, fifteen years, he and his predecessors have avoided that interview like crazy. Your thoughts, sir.

CHARLES MCCLELLAND: Well, I don't know Mister Botticelli's position and why he's avoided your show, but, you know, it's still a controversial issue, you know, across the country. You know, there's some folks that certainly want to be progressive on the issue and support different diversions and we shouldn't be filling up our jails with just people that have low levels of marijuana on them, but they are staunchly opposed to legalization, so, and sometimes, you know, people in positions of government, in federal government, taking a position could cause political implications which could lead to funding issues and other things, and so I understand that.

DEAN BECKER: Yes sir, and, you know, from my perspective, I mean, I'm a reporter. I think that's, I've proven that at this point, and he'll certainly go on Fox or MSNBC, but I think the reason why, sir, is I ask the questions that these other reporters do not, that the Chronicle quotes our interview because they don't have the reporters or the focus to bring these questions to the fore. And my last question for you, sir. Could I get you to contact Michael Botticelli and ask him to come on my show?

CHARLES MCCLELLAND: Well, no, I'm not going to tell Mister Botticelli what to do and what shows to come on, he's the national drug czar, he has to pick and choose, you know, whatever he wants to do, so certainly that would be out of place for me to tell him to come on your show just like, you know, I wouldn't, you know, tell the police chief or sheriff next door to me to do that either.

DEAN BECKER: Well, I appreciate your candor, sir. Here's hoping that we can do this again in the coming year, if things work out.

CHARLES MCCLELLAND: All right, then. Thank you very much.

DEAN BECKER: Once again, that was the police chief of Houston, Texas, Charles A. McClelland, Junior.

UNIDENTIFIED VOICEOVER: Marijuana may not cause the overdose deaths like heroin, but it's just as dangerous.

DEAN BECKER: For thousands of years, marijuana has been known as an appetite stimulant, and for its ability to prevent nausea.

It's time to play Name That Drug By Its Side Effects! Chest pain, dark yellow or brown urine, shortness of breath, skin rash, unusual tiredness or fatigue, headache, diarrhea or constipation, flatulence, nausea, and vomiting. Time's up! The answer: Nexium: the little purple pill. Another FDA-approved product.

I was just speaking with Houston's police chief, Charles McClelland, about the recent release from the UNODC calling for decriminalizing drugs, and here to fill us in on some details is the executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, Mister Ethan Nadelmann. Hello, Ethan.

ETHAN NADELMANN: Hi Dean, good to be back on your program.

DEAN BECKER: Oh, it's good to have you, sir. Now, that's a spark of bright light, isn't it? That release, even though it was rescinded, so to speak.

ETHAN NADELMANN: It is most definitely a step. I mean, what happened here was that the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, UNODC, which is traditionally seen as a, basically a defender, protagonist of the global drug war, put out a release on Friday, basically calling for the decriminalization of drug use and possession, and pointing out that this, that decriminalization was not inconsistent with the international drug control conventions, making clear that decriminalization of possession and use is a good policy from a public health and public safety and human rights perspective, and that it is not inconsistent with the conventions. Now that said, they put out that document within an embargo. One of the journalists violated the embargo, it broke into the news, there were rumors that the US government had contacted the United Nations drug control office and asked them to rescind it, and so earlier this morning, Monday morning, the UN said that that document that is circulating in fact is not the official policy of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.

So the good news is that a document that looked like it was in final form was about to be released by the UN, really pointing in the right direction. The bad news is that they since retracted that document, possibly under pressure from the US government, but we don't have, we're not certain of that.

DEAN BECKER: Okeh. And this follows on the heels of many other proponents of change, including Cory Booker, and others who are trying to rescind the highway interdiction efforts and other means of mass incarceration. It is taking hold, is it not, this thought of this need for change?

ETHAN NADELMANN: Well, you know, it's interesting, Dean, what you see is if you look at three major areas of drug policy reform, one of them is ending marijuana prohibition, and that's an area where the US has been at the forefront, and a few countries like Uruguay have also moved forward, so in that -- and what I think that the US is providing real global leadership at this point in terms of trying to move cannabis from a prohibition system into a regulatory system. The second area is in ending mass incarceration, and that's primarily an issue in the US, secondarily in other countries.

I think on the third issue, which is about ending the criminalization of drug use and possession, and really committing to treating that as health issues rather than criminal issues, that's an area where many of the European countries, notably Portugal, have really led the way, and also where some Latin American countries, for either legal reasons or political reasons, have also led the way. It's one where the US has struggled, because in the United States, we still tend to have a system where you can go to jail for simple possession of drugs, even in the absence of any harm to others.

We still have a system here where people who are arrested in possession of drugs are given an opportunity through drug courts and are drug tested, but where many of them will end up spending time behind bars for even longer than they would have if drug courts had not existed. So in the US, we still have a lot of work to do in order to advance the basic notion that drug use and possession should not be criminalized at all.

DEAN BECKER: Now, Ethan, when I was talking with the police chief, he brought up a subject that I found some truth to, and that is, in the states where cannabis is legal, it's taxed, it's inspected, it's regulated, and which helps to bring the price higher, and that those, you know, surreptitious growers if you will, those mom and pops that are selling their weed for much cheaper, I don't really see the cheaper price being a problem, but it does undercut the regulatory system, correct?

ETHAN NADELMANN: Well, you know, it's hard to say, because, you know, we're already seeing in Colorado, which has a regulated system, we've seen the price dropping fairly substantially over the last six to nine months, and I think if you look at the repeal of alcohol prohibition, what determines where people buy their marijuana, some of it is just simply about price, some of it is about convenience, many people are going to prefer simply to buy from a legal regulated store, even if it costs a little more, than to buy from the black market. And so I think what's going to persist as it did with the repeal of alcohol prohibition, is a fairly dynamic illicit market in which people continue to buy from the people they used to buy that they knew. That's going to fade away over time. I mean, over time, we're going to see the cost of marijuana in the legal market decline. Right? We're going to see fewer and fewer participants in the illicit market, so I think we're moving in the right direction but it's a mistake to expect this, this transition to happen instantaneously.

DEAN BECKER: Well, exactly right. And, you know, from my perspective, once legal, in at least the majority if not the totality of the states, the price will continue to drop even further.

ETHAN NADELMANN: Right. It's simple market forces.

DEAN BECKER: Yes sir. Now, Ethan, the fact of the matter is, the Drug Policy Alliance has a conference now coming up in less than a month, there near Washington, DC. Please, fill us in on that, folks still have time to get on board, do they not?

ETHAN NADELMANN: Yeah, well, go to the website, ReformConference.org, registrations are still open. I have to say it's looking like it's going to be the biggest one ever. Normally we get about a thousand people registered just five days before the event. In this case we have over a thousand people registered five weeks before the event. There's going to be a stellar array of speakers, there's going to be dozens of other sorts of meetings of various state-based groups, issue based groups, I mean, the way, I think, Dean, you've heard me describe the event before is, imagine a hybrid of a graduate level seminar on drug policy and a three day revival meeting, by which I mean the intellectual content of this gathering is unparalleled, while at the same time, the energy, the stimulation, the sense of being part of a growing movement, is just palpable. And I can't tell you, this is a biennial event, hundreds of people over the years have told me how they're, actually their lives were transformed by the first time they came to these events, either by realizing the bigger movement of which they were a part, or through the connections they made, or the ways it shifted their own thinking on this issue. So, I would love for your listeners to find a way to get there.

DEAN BECKER: Well, and I've got to underscore what you just said. My first Drug Policy Alliance there in New Jersey, I met Jack Cole, I became a speaker for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, and I really put the pedal to the metal in becoming a drug reformer. Once again, folks, we've been speaking with Mister Ethan Nadelmann, Executive Director, the Drug Policy Alliance. And go to their website, now. DrugPolicy.org.

If you want to get high,
Ya gotta be willin' to try
To stand up to the law,
'cause it's a broken saw.
To live free,
You must be willin' to die.

MATTHEW ELROD: I'm Matthew Elrod, I'm the webmaster of DrugSense and the Media Awareness Project. I've been a cyber activist for a couple of decades, and I reside in Metchosin, British Columbia.

DEAN BECKER: You guys did something real this week. Tell us what happened.

MATTHEW ELROD: Well, we just elected a Liberal majority government, after having been under a Conservative government for almost a decade. That Conservative government was extremely unfriendly to drug policy reform, they had removed harm reduction from our official drug policy, instituted mandatory minimum sentencing for many drug crimes, including growing as few as six plants for the purposes of trafficking, and of course trafficking is defined as giving or offering to give cannabis away, so in other words, if I grew six plants and gave a hash brownie to my grandmother, I would be eligible for a six month mandatory minimum prison sentence.

They've also made some ridiculous pronouncements, the Conservatives, about cannabis recently. Our former Prime Minister came out and said that cannabis is infinitely worse than tobacco. And prior to that, his Health Minister had said that cannabis has no medicinal value, despite the fact that she's charged with managing our medicinal cannabis system.

DEAN BECKER: But you have elected this new Prime Minister, who has pledged to legalize marijuana, correct?

MATTHEW ELROD: That's right. It was one of the first pledges he made when he went on the campaign trail, he was asked by a crowd in British Columbia if he supported decriminalizing cannabis, and he answered no. But then he went on to say, I'm in favor of legalizing cannabis, I want to see it regulated like tobacco and alcohol. Which was quite heartening, because not only did he agree that cannabis should be legally regulated, he understood what decriminalization is, and understood the distinction. The Conservatives, as you might imagine, tried to paint that as, well, Trudeau wants kids to use marijuana, and in fact, they recently put out an ad saying that Trudeau wants pot shops, brothels, and injection sites in every community. And you know, where do -- sign me up. They tried to tarnish him with that position and he stood fast by it, and repeated it, and reiterated and explained it as the campaign continued, and I'm happy to say it didn't hurt him.

DEAN BECKER: Once again, we've been speaking with Mister Matt Elrod, based up there in British Columbia, Canada, with some great news. Matt, closing thoughts, website you'd like to share.

MATTHEW ELROD: Your listeners might be interested in our website DrugSense.org, as well as the Media Awareness Project site, where they can catch up on drug-related news at MAPINC.org, mapinc.org.

DEAN BECKER: Mister Vincent Lopez, a cannabis reformer extraordinaire, has passed on at the age of 42. Vincent suffered from muscular dystrophy.

VINCENT LOPEZ: The canons of truth are upon you when families are jumping onto the Texas exodus to Colorado, having no other alternative due to the illegality of medical cannabis here in Texas. The canons of truth are upon you when a child is incapable of even having a voice, or the ability of full-on expression. The canons of truth are upon you when the medicinal properties of cannabis can bring a child out of that darkness, out of that epileptic, catatonic state.

There is no greater inspiration than looking into the eyes of a child. It invokes an irreplaceable feeling that truly reminds us all of the sacrifice we must all make for them. I'd gladly give my life four times over to be the voice for them. No real legalization can exist unless it protects the rights of all. Therefore we need to keep with the knowledge that each word of what we express has its own power, time, and place.

We must have an awareness of our own strengths and weaknesses, and understanding of the process of legislation. And we must always seek a higher aim than just momentary satisfaction. Keep in mind that our actions of today greatly effect the outcomes of tomorrow. We cannot ascend beyond the entrapment and binding clutches of isolation, desolation and fear if we allow the repercussions they inflict on us. It's about facing that dragon eye to eye and conquering the ultimate chess game from within. Not about turning away out of fear or denial. It's about becoming something you thought you never could be and taking to heart that which does not kill us makes us stronger.

It's how we wield our inner strength that enables us to confront our demons so courageously and without fear. Let me say: if Jesus were here today he wouldn't sway and neither should we. Go to the ones who've been separated from their families due to this ridiculous drug war, go to the ones who've been forgotten, neglected, abused, and misunderstood, go to the ones tormented lost and left behind, go to the ones consciously unaware of their true potential and the knowledge and nature's medicinal truth.

How much longer shall we suffer these injustices? The death of our liberties, the wretchedness and consumption of disease? How much longer shall we allow these mighty mountains of desperation to exist, and suffer the depravities of our own mental silence? We win this journey by being that book of knowledge, by being that magician, and by being that machine. And really, by simply making ourselves immortal. Thank you.