08/26/16 Ed Gonzalez

US Congressman Beto O'Rourke discusses need for veterans to gain access to medical cannabis + Ed Gonzalez, Democrat, retired police Sergeant running for Sheriff of Harris County/Houston

Program: 
Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Date: 
Friday, August 26, 2016
Guest: 
Ed Gonzalez
Organization: 
Sheriff Harris County Texas
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CULTURAL BAGGAGE

AUGUST 26, 2016

TRANSCRIPT

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.

Hi friends, welcome to this edition of Cultural Baggage. I'm so glad you could be with us. We have in studio today a former sergeant with the Houston Police Department, Mister Ed Gonzalez. who is the Democratic candidate running for sheriff of Harris County, Houston, Texas. We're going to have a good discussion here in just a little bit, but I was proud that recently had a chance to speak with a US Congressman, and Shannon, go ahead and start that track, please.

You know, over the years, I've made a few good friends in my travels around the country, and one of those I met in El Paso, Texas, over the years, for the Caravan For Peace and other conferences, was then a city leader, but he's now gone on, been recognized by his constituents, and he's now a US Congressman, from El Paso. I consider him to be a good friend of the show, I would like to welcome Mister Beto O'Rourke. How are you, sir?

BETO O'ROURKE: I'm doing well, and thank you for saying all those kind words. I feel absolutely the same way about you, and I am so grateful and know so many people are for the work that you have been doing for so many years to ensure that people have the facts and can make decisions based on those facts, and I think the tide is changing on our country's drug laws, thanks in large part to the work that you and the others like you are doing. So, I really appreciate everything you've done, and thanks for giving me a chance to join you on your show again.

DEAN BECKER: Well, Congressman, I used the phrase that the drug war is losing its luster, that lots of politicians, even here locally, the DA and the sheriff candidates are speaking about the need for change, not too much what that change might be. But it is beginning to change, and even in the US Congress, there are more and more people stepping forward, especially recognizing medical marijuana. Am I correct, sir?

BETO O'ROURKE: Yeah, it's happening. I mean, the tide is only moving in one direction, and it's really simply a matter of time, and I think for all concerned, especially I think, as you know from when we first met, I think of the kids who literally, you know, were dying or killing other kids in Ciudad Juarez, to move marijuana into the United States through the plaza there.

And I think about the kids in US jails and prisons, and I think about people whose lives will forever be changed for the worse because of the way this country, at a federal level, designates marijuana and treats those who have used it, or are in some way involved in growing it or selling it, and the conclusion of this change in policy cannot come soon enough for us to help all those who've been harmed by it, and also to allow, you know, Americans to do what those in 25 states and the District of Columbia have already decided they should be able to do, which is in a reasonable way, whether medicinally or even recreationally in some states, be able to use a drug which is not, you know, without its challenges and problems, but challenges and problems which can be controlled, and in a much better, more sane way than we do now, in a regime that's totally focused on interdiction and imprisonment, and law enforcement, and not on public health and treatment.

So, yeah, it is moving in the right direction, but it couldn't move fast enough as far as I'm concerned.

DEAN BECKER: I agree with you, sir. Now, Congressman O'Rourke, one of the efforts that you've been focused on, and I think rightfully so, you have so many constituents that are military veterans in your district, whatever you call it. And the fact of the matter is, we have I think it's well over a million soldiers, servicemen, who have been to Afghanistan, who have been to Iraq, and our other wars, and many of them come back with severe injuries, post traumatic stress, and other maladies. And it's being proven more and more that medical marijuana can help these people with their problems, as well as perhaps for the 22 soldiers that kill themselves every day in these United States, if they had the chance to get outside of that regime of opioids and tranquilizers and alcohol, it might benefit them. Am I right, sir?

BETO O'ROURKE: Yeah, you're right about that. And, it's worth remembering that when marijuana was federally outlawed and criminalized, in the 1930s, in large part because of the association with Mexican Americans, African Americans, and populations that, you know, the then-powers that were, were afraid of. One of the few groups to stand up in opposition to the criminalization of marijuana was the American Medical Association, because they said there was no scientific evidence supporting that policy.

And, in that same vein, I think today, we want to make sure that doctors, and medical professionals, and the providers for our veterans within the Veterans Health Administration, are able to discuss with their patients, those veterans who are in need of treatment, the best possible course of action for whatever afflicts them. And in some cases, some doctors, or some veterans, may want to discuss marijuana as a possible part of their treatment. And today, that is not possible, because we haven't changed the laws to reflect the times and the scientific and medical evidence.

So, we were able to work with, you know, a true champion on this issue, Representative Earl Blumenauer from Oregon, who was able to get an amendment into the Military Construction/Veterans Affairs bill, that would allow doctors to have those kind of conversations with their patients within the VA, and it passed, to some amazement, by a vote of 233 to 189.

On the Senate side, we had a Republican, Senator Steve Daines of Montana, who included almost identical language into that bill. And, somehow, as that Senate bill and that House bill were brought to conference, that language was stripped out. So it shows that we still have work to do. Even when the majority of House members, and that includes a lot of Republicans as well as Democrats, even when in the Senate you have identical legislation that is passed by a majority of Senators, we still have a challenge in actually getting that through into final passage and into law. But it's a good -- so there's good and bad that come with this. The good is, we've really crested a hill here in terms of the will of Congress to act on these issues. And the bad news is, we're not all the way there yet, and those at the very top are still holding back some of this necessary, incremental change.

But, it's a good sign, and I'm very confident that we can see the same or greater numbers next year, and be much more vigilant in the conference process to make sure that that language is not stripped.

DEAN BECKER: Yes sir. I want to make note, I think the bill you're speaking of, one of the Republicans, Steve Stockman, is also from Texas. So even in the south, people, Republicans, embrace this idea as well. You know, in the last week or two, been a couple of things that have broken. One is the Ninth Circuit ruling on marijuana and, you know, where the funds can be spent to go after those that may be growing it in the legal states, and I think that's a good thing. And that DEA ruling, I think you touched on. You know, it's, the cage has been rattled. Am I right, sir?

BETO O'ROURKE: Yeah, and I think, you know, you pointed this out several times, I mean, that public opinion, the popular will, is way ahead of the legislators and politicians, and yet, politicians are catching up, and it is reflected in that vote that I just talked about, it's reflected in some of the pressure that you're beginning to see come to bear on the DEA for the, you know, Schedule One decision. Perhaps reflected in some of these court decisions, and, you know, just, as I said at the beginning, I really think this is a matter of time, and you hope that this is not a slow roll, or a, you know, an incremental series of decisions. You hope that, as, you know, more of these states make these decisions, separately, reflecting the will of the voters and citizens in those state, that at the national level, you know, that force and that popular will be carry through and be reflected in the policies that are adopted by, you know, what will unfortunately have to be at this point a future Congress, given that much of our business is over for this year. You can -- the elections and the lame duck session.

But, you know, the bright side of that is there's another opportunity beginning in January of 2017 with a new president, a new make up of Congress, and hopefully new legislators who are going to be closer to the people they represent who by ever increasing majorities want to see more rational drug policies, especially when it comes to marijuana, in this country. So, I'm the eternal optimist on this, and in large part because I have seen progress, and so much of that again has been pushed by people like you, who've been sharing the truth and the facts on this, and we just have to continue that work, because it is working. Not fast enough, but it is working, it is moving in the right direction.

DEAN BECKER: Once again, we've been speaking with US Congressman Beto O'Rourke out of El Paso, Texas.

I know you can get this one, it's on the TV every day. It's time to play Name That Drug By Its Side Effects! Runny noise, skin rash, swollen tongue, dizziness, vertigo, fainting, abnormal ejaculation, priapism, a persistent painful penile erection leading to permanent impotence. Time's up! The answer, from Boehringer Ingelheim: Flomax, for male urinary problems.

All right, folks, you are listening to Cultural Baggage on Pacifica Radio and the Drug Truth Network. Again, we have with us in studio today a former sergeant with the Houston Police Department, Mister Ed Gonzalez. He's now a recently retired as a city council member, but he's running for sheriff, right here in Houston, Harris County. Mister Gonzalez, how are you, sir?

ED GONZALEZ: I'm fantastic, thank you for having me. I appreciate all your work.

DEAN BECKER: Well, thank you sir. Yeah, I'm looking at, I got this off your website, and you, first thing I see here, you know, you certainly want new leadership at the sheriff's office, but you point out you want to root out cronyism, and corruption, in the agency. And I want to just preface this, your response, with this thought. The drug war, $370 billion a year and it's been reported that about half of that goes towards corruption. Now, I'm not pointing at the sheriff's department, I'm not pointing at any one person, but I'm just saying, that's a lot of money to corrupt the situation, is it not?

ED GONZALEZ: Oh, absolutely. There's a lot of wasteful spending, and definitely a lot of impacts, not only to society, but also to budgets, and so, that's why I definitely feel that reform is needed.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, sir. And that's the point. It's been reported that at least a trillion US taxpayer dollars have been invested into the drug war over the years, some say it's as much as three trillion. But the fact of the matter is, the results have not been the bonanza that we were anticipating. Am I right?

ED GONZALEZ: Absolutely, yeah, we spend approximately $80 billion a year in this country incarcerating folks for one thing or another, and that does not even include the full cost of the criminal justice system, that's basically just incarceration. It doesn't have anything to do with the judicial side, the police officers, and we still have crime. We still have drug use occurring, and so again, we need to definitely rethink what's happened, especially over the last 40 years.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah, and, okeh, the next one on your website says you want to clean up the jail and increase transparency, and I would applaud that, sir. Tell us how you would do it.

ED GONZALEZ: Absolutely. Well, I think sharing data, I think, is very important. There's very limited data to see where some of those arrests are coming from, because if you were to see the origin of a lot of those arrests, you would see how it disproportionately impacts for example minority communities. And so, no one's really making those arguments, and so there's a key policy need, you know, for change there, because it's really impacting a lot of, again, communities of color. And also, making sure that being inside the county jail should not be a death sentence. You know, they have a right to due process, we have individuals simply awaiting bail, and half the time they're in on a simple misdemeanor while they await trail or couldn't make bond. We need to do better that that, it's the 21st century, we should have the right safeguards in place.

We see the situation with the rape victim that was recently incarcerated, and some of the abuse that occurred over those twenty plus days. You know, you would think that with all that's happened, that we would have the right checks and balances, and that something would sound an alarm to bring intervention quicker to eliminate some of those things, but yet we still see incidents like that occurring.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. It's, it is an outrage, yes sir. You mentioned the word bail, and I saw a recent, I forget what level it was at, but a Justice Department ruling indicating that to prevent people from making bail because they don't have the money to make bail is unconstitutional. Your thought in that regard, please.

ED GONZALEZ: Yeah, I agree with that. I think there are simply many people inside the jail today that are just poor, you know, and can't make bail, and again, that impacts society because those that are gainfully employed perhaps lose their employment, and keep in mind that they're not yet proven guilty, you know. They should have their day in court. It just creates a lot of impacts, and it's kind of a debtor's prison, if you will, you know, and so, we definitely need reform on that front as well. And we need to see leadership. I don't hear a lot of leadership occurring, neither from the current administration or many others out there. We need voices that are speaking of reform and change.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, sir. Again, we're speaking with Mister Ed Gonzalez, he's the Democratic candidate for sheriff in Houston, Harris County. I wanted to bring up something that's a sticking point, a sore point for me. You know, we have many politicians now saying marijuana's too dangerous, we can't legalize it yet, we don't know enough. But the fact of the matter is, you know, like Beto was talking about in his interview, there's 22 US veterans dying every day of the week, 365 days a year, many of them addicted to alcohol, and tranquilizers, and opiates, and it's been proven that for many -- I'm not saying it's a, you know, carte blanche cure, but for many, it is a means where they can at least diminish their use, if not eliminate their use, of these other medicines, if you will. Your thought there, please.

ED GONZALEZ: Yes, I agree, I think too often politicians are just too stuck in the status quo, or the way that things have always been, and I think there is, we're seeing a new wave, if you will, of younger leaders, and I'm not talking in age, as maybe newer leaders out there, that are starting to open up the dialogue, being open to these thoughtful discussions about it, and being more practical, more realistic, to see the cost of simply incarcerating is way too costly, when we look at the real truth, you know, how many people are really dying from a marijuana overdose, for example, and so, let's speak with facts, you know, and not just, and -- again, I think that I'm encouraged by some of the conversations that are out there, you know, I'm very open to this as well, and we just need, again, I think that's why elections matter, because at the end of the day, the more we can bring these forward thinking, progressive thought leaders, that the more hopefully we could see the change that we need, in terms of drug policy.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, sir. And again, speaking of harms, right now, probably today, there's been five or six kids that are picked up by ambulances right here in our fair city, passed out, maybe twitching, maybe some of them have paralysis, because they have smoked that quote "synthetic marijuana" and folks, it has nothing to do with marijuana. But it's sold as Kush and K-2, and Spice, and all these other things. And nobody knows what's in it. We had a situation, what was it, a month and a half ago, I think it was 12 or 15 kids were found in our biggest park, Hermann Park. Passed out, laying in the hot sun, hundred degrees. And most of these kids are probationers, or on parole, homeless. There is a better way. Your thought in that regard, Mister Gonzalez.

ED GONZALEZ: Yeah, well, I think there has to be a better way. I think sometimes, you know, the knee-jerk reaction is always just to criminalize and just to, you know, we've got to start thinking of, you know, what's the education? You know, how do we inform the dangers of some of these dangers that as you said has no relation to marijuana. You know, these are dangerous chemicals that you have no idea what's come into your system, and you know, it's the equivalent almost of poison, you know, I mean, we wouldn't encourage anyone to consume poison, and so, but, the knee-jerk reaction is sometimes just to criminalize or to prohibit instead of trying to see how do we educate, how do we bring other interventions, how do we look at managed care instead of just simply incarcerating, because we're not solving the problem. They simply come back out and are still either addicted or finding the drug of their choice instead of other options that, unfortunately, aren't available.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. And to tie that thought with one we were talking about earlier, bail. Those kids, who get, you know, arrested, and can't make bail, many times they, you know, as you indicated, sit there for days, and, if not weeks, and meantime, their car's in the impound. They can't afford to get their car out of -- the cost to get their car out of impound may be worth more than their car. They could have lost their apartment, their job, their girlfriend, relationship with their parents. And then, perhaps, they have to pay probation fees and other fees, and don't have the money, and it just complicates their life, and I'm not saying it's an excuse, but, too often, that leads to other crimes, of burglary, shoplifting, and other such things, which makes your job even more difficult.

ED GONZALEZ: It does. One of the things I really think we need to focus on is just the recidivism rates, because those that are incarcerated tend to come back, and so we need to find a way to cut that flow back into the jail system, in addition to the long list of things you just mentioned, like financial aid, sometimes that could be impacted as well. There's, you know, the lesser educational opportunities, so what's their earning power over their life, and so, it just has so many impacts that we don't think about and we simply sweep them under the rug and think, well, let's just incarcerate and not deal with the problem, but we're frankly not dealing with the problem.

DEAN BECKER: Exactly right, sir. Coming down your list here, from your website. Build stronger relationships between law enforcement and the community, and I would preface your response by saying this: it has been the drug war which has destroyed that relationship, which has alienated the two sides. Your thoughts, sir.

ED GONZALEZ: Yeah, I could see that happening. Again, as I mentioned earlier, a lot of the communities that are impacted through a lot of these arrests are minority communities. And so I think that instead of simply, you know, every time we see law enforcement coming it's going to mean some type of potential low level arrest for something minor, it's why not build bridges instead, and really get back to community oriented policing, where we get to know our police officers, our deputies, our law enforcement professionals, where we continue to develop that bond, on both sides as well, where they understand our work better, and we understand the community as well.

Because, look, there's a lot of communities out there that aren't, maybe, none of them would say they're not impacted through all this, but, you know, you're not going to see major arrests happening in certain neighborhoods compared to others, perhaps. And so those neighborhoods really need more of that handholding, more of the building those bridges, and we see across the country right now some of the friction that's occurring in law enforcement. It's very unfortunate, because we need to make sure we're supportive of law enforcement, and at the same time listening to the concerns of the communities.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, sir. Now, again, going down the list of your objectives from your website, I want to combine two of these if I will -- if you will. One is listed as, initiate reforms to offer education and job training to nonviolent offenders in the jail. I think that's great. And you also indicate you want to work together with the district attorney and other partners in law enforcement to increase diversion programs, that will keep us safer and focus our limited resources on violent and repeat offenders. I applaud both of those thoughts. Your continuation of that, please.

ED GONZALEZ: Yeah, I think in law enforcement, we've sort of been misguided now for some time. I think in law enforcement, we're trying to find a law enforcement solution to things that simply don't have a law enforcement solution. And three, to prove my point, are poverty, mental illness, and drug use slash addiction. And I think that we need to find other methods to better address that, not through law enforcement means, because our focus should be on rooting out the hardened criminals, the ones that we're truly afraid of, the ones that are, you know, intentionally harming us. We need to make our communities safer, and we're not seeing that, and so we need to find a way to reduce drug arrests, and return the focus. It's very costly, we -- right now in the county, it's a lot less safe because the current administration is siphoning moneys from patrol operations to move to jail operations, just to maintain it. It's creating bad morale because they're severely understaffed, and so we're contributing to our own budget woes. And at the end of the day, not solving anything.

And so we need to reduce, you know, drug arrests, and a smart, practical approach to doing it, and at the same time making our community safer, because what's happening right now is not making our community safer.

DEAN BECKER: Not by any stretch.

ED GONZALEZ: It's not.

DEAN BECKER: I was wanting to, I don't know, okeh, I'm just going to jump to the next section here, and, this is something I want you to explain to the audience, please. You led the creation of Houston's Sobering Center. And again, I applaud you for that. Too often, we think people who use drugs and or alcohol are scumbags unworthy of respect. That's just not the case, is it?

ED GONZALEZ: Well, it's not the case. We've seen a great amount of success with the Houston Sobering Center. It's been college students, maybe it might be the homeless veteran, it could be a business professional. It could be, sometimes, just somebody that had one drink too many at one of the local special events that we have, like, you know, the rodeo, or cook-offs, and things like that. In the past, they would have been incarcerated. No need to be paying the cost -- into a costly system. Let them go sleep it off. It doesn't go on their criminal record. We're saving taxpayers money. And at the same time, we're at least dealing with a better intervention. And so, it's really been a great model. We've had people visiting it from all over the country, to see how we're doing it. It's not unique to Houston, other cities have tried it as well, and I think that that's a start.

We could also look at further interventions in the future, such as prostitution as well. I think that's another one that could simply, we could find an alternative to incarceration and deal with the root causes that leads to some of that behavior.

DEAN BECKER: Prohibition hardly works anywhere it's ever been tried. I'm Dean Becker, we have in studio with us Mister Ed Gonzalez, former sergeant with the Houston Police Department and a city councilmember. Ed, we're wrapping it up here, but I want to ask you, you know, what are some of the first things you would do, were you elected sheriff?

ED GONZALEZ: Well, you know, of course, immediately is getting our hands over the staffing issues. We're severely understaffed, especially in jail operations. I would, and I think that's important because it's really costing a great amount of overtime, that's being pulled from patrol operations, and so we're not keeping our community safer.

I would do a full evaluation as well about our current drug policy here, the type of arrests we have, and how could we continue to bring that back. You know, I know there's intervention programs that sometimes could be given as an alternative to incarceration. Seattle LEAD program is one that I would look at, that I'm a proponent for, and I know that studies have already been done that will show the cost savings here, to Harris County, so I would immediately try to implement programs like that. And seeing how we could continue to reduce trace amounts as well.

And so continuing down that track, and again, doing a full evaluation so the public knows we're being methodical about it, it's not just, you know, impulsive, and that we could show the data and the cost savings, and how we'll use those cost savings to put into more important operations, like clearing backlogs of cases that aren't being investigated, like robberies, and sexual assaults, and the like.

And I think that's what people want, and that's a better way of making things safer.

DEAN BECKER: Well, I hear the DA candidates, they talked about it last go around, and they're looking at it again, but you know, we have a law on the books here in Texas, you no longer have to arrest anybody for under four ounces of weed, which is a big, fat bag, y'all. And yet, and yet, we continue to do it, about a, well it's less than a thousand now a month, I hear the DA has given a few probably white folks a second chance. But the fact of the matter is, we still have somewhere near a thousand, every month, going into that jail, overcrowding it as you speak, and we could diminish that problem greatly if we were to just recognize the law that's on the books. Your thoughts, sir.

ED GONZALEZ: It's already on the books and we're not using this tool, and so when we talk about, you know, we're shipping inmates to other states, very costly, you know, we can't manage our current population. Well, that's because we're not using the tools available to us to reduce the population that we currently have. And there's a law available to do it. I'm going to use every tool available, and do it methodically. We're going to do an assessment of all the arrests we make, but, you know, we could do better.

DEAN BECKER: All right. Again, we've been speaking with Mister Ed Gonzalez, running for sheriff of Harris County. Next week, we'll have as our guest the current sheriff, the Republican candidate, Ron Hickman. We'll also hear from Neil Woods, he heads up Law Enforcement Against Prohibition in the UK and he's the author of a great new book, Good Cop, Bad War.

And that's about it, folks, as always I remind you, because of prohibition you don't know what's in that bag. Please be careful.