06/16/17 Allen St. Pierre

Cultural Baggage Radio Show

America's War On Drugs - Allen St. Pierre, Freeway Ricky Ross + Everything you know about drugs is wrong w/ Dr. Carl Hart & Asha Bandele

Audio file


JUNE 16, 2017


DEAN BECKER: I am Dean Becker, your host. Our goal for this program is to expose the fraud, misdirection, and the liars whose support for drug war empowers our terrorist enemies, enriches barbarous cartels, and gives reason for existence to tens of thousands of violent US gangs who profit by selling contaminated drugs to our children. This is Cultural Baggage.

This is Dean Becker, thank you for joining us for this edition of Cultural Baggage. You know, the war on drugs has cost America more than one trillion dollars, and a bizarre history that spans five decades, with prisons overflowing and heroin use reaching epidemic levels, The History Channel presents America's War on Drugs. The 8 hour, four consecutive night, limited documentary series premieres Sunday, June 18, at 9 pm eastern, and concludes on Wednesday, on The History Channel.

You know, it's been a few years since I had a chance to talk with our next guest, he's been the director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, he's now vice president of Freedom Leaf. He's not just a cannabis connoisseur, he and I have talked quite deeply about this subject of drug war, just the whole shooting match, and he's no amateur in this regard, in fact he's one of the talking heads if you will on the Vice special that's going to air on History Channel, and with that I want to welcome Mister Allen St. Pierre. Hey Allen, how you doing?

ALLEN ST. PIERRE: Good day, Dean.

DEAN BECKER: Allen, this four day special should be something. I've been working on this for 16 years trying to expose this fraud of the drug war, but these guys may do it in a week. What's your thought?

ALLEN ST. PIERRE: Indeed. In fact, they're standing on your shoulders to be sure, Dean. I've done many documentaries, script consulting, talking head. In most cases, the producers are often needing to be convinced of the necessity of covering the topic. That was not the case at all with these producers. They bittersweetly have hindsight that they can draw from, and it's cases that you and I have lived through.

For example, the Donald Scott case, out of Malibu Canyon years ago. Now, back in the 1990s, documentarists saw that as possibly interesting but there were lawsuits and civil actions, and so it just festered, and there was no way to have a beginning, middle, and end of that story, well all these years later, that story came to a conclusion such that producers could use that as a quintessential example of the terrible excesses and government abuses done under the auspices of the war on drugs.

DEAN BECKER: Each week, I count them off, I mean, it's a never ending cycle, isn't it?

ALLEN ST. PIERRE: It is. So regretfully. So, these producers, mainly all, you know, probably under 40 years old or so, really came to the project loaded with fodder of all the terrible abuses that the reform community had been documenting for so long, so I got to see some of their notes and where they were going with this, it's clear that they've been monitoring reform webpages for years to sort of, if you will, cherrypick the cases.

DEAN BECKER: You know, I think of the, I don't know, the overall scope of this, it's hard to wrap your head around, or maybe even to believe it could be so all emcompassing, but it by god is, isn't it?

ALLEN ST. PIERRE: It is. One thing to just say, the first fourteen amendments to the Constitution all agreeably, eight to nine of them, you can practically wipe your butt with them in the face of the drug war at its height, and I suggest, at least in my 26 years of being involved in drug policy reform, that I think, again from my point of view bittersweetly, I kind of came into this I think at the height, which I think is '90, '91, '92, of the institutional support for this thing called the war on drugs, and here we are now, 25 plus years later, recognizing the ill effects of it, the extreme costs, the inequity, the racism, so, again, these producers were able to just simply draw from all of these terrible public policy results.

DEAN BECKER: I look back on, you know, as I mentioned, 16 years, 16 years ago I was afraid to broadcast this truth about the drug war. I mean, I seriously was. I remember the first night I came home and wondered who would kick in the door, the cops or the cartels, because Houston's a big clearinghouse, if you will, for drugs. And, but I have never had any problem whatsoever, and I guess what I'm leading to here is that this truth, that these guys are sharing, this truth that you and I have been sharing, I guess what I'm saying, Allen is that there's no reason why others cannot speak up, cannot now step up to their Congressmen, their elected, and share this truth. We've just ignored it or been afraid to speak about it for so long. Am I right?

ALLEN ST. PIERRE: Oh, today, any individual who is sick of the war on drugs should have zero point zero fear, that you and I logically embraced, you know, there's not a good word in English if you're paranoid and right.


ALLEN ST. PIERRE: I think that's what a lot of good early drug policy reform activists were, that they wanted to get the word out but they didn't want to be revolutionaries or overt about it. [sic: that's incorrect, see for example Yippies, Cannabis Activist Network, Green Panthers.] So today, having a four part, eight hour series that dissects the war on drugs, really is the result of reformers bringing these cases to the fore, and to championing these cases in the courts, such that these producers now can just simply look back at this despicably long and fractured record and find the cases, in this case 8 hours, you and I know that this thing could be 800 hours, if they so chose, but, you know, still, in TV land, four part series that run 8 hours is a big commitment.

DEAN BECKER: From my perspective, this is, it's a boon, it's a bonus, it's a hope. Your thought, sir.

ALLEN ST. PIERRE: Oh, indeed, because it's going to be ultimately the further mainstreaming, or to use a bad pun here, normalization of the discussion around changing these laws. And so for someone like myself, who was principally brought in to talk about marijuana, but then found myself talking about forfeiture, mandatory minimums, and the militarization of the police through the destroying of the posse comitatus act.

I mean, it really was this sad, long history of things that had been going on since at least the late '60s, early '70s, really ratcheted up under Reagan, ramped up one more time under Clinton, and then, a slow, arduous abatement back from the peak of all of this, in terms of numbers of arrests, money spent, so, the drug war is still going on, largely unabated, and it's going to be series like this that will make it much, much easier for reformers and the average citizen to make clear that, as this documentary does, is that drugs can be used and they can be abused, and misused, and those who abuse and misuse them, there is a far more rational, humane, and economic way to deal with them rather than to arrest them, prosecute them, and put them in prison.

DEAN BECKER: From your mouth to god's ear, I tell, you, Allen, you know, I've got to give a speech here in just a couple of months, pretty big event here in Houston, I'm trying to formulate a perspective to share with that audience, and it -- I want to hone in on the fact that, as you mentioned earlier, the striking, or semi-elimination of nine amendments and so forth, this has all diminished our rights across the board, not just in regards to drugs or other things, but is slowly taking away our individual god-given constitutional rights, this drug war. Am I right?

ALLEN ST. PIERRE: Nothing has eroded the constitution more, nothing in the history of this country, than this farcical thing called the war on drugs. Just think about, just, not to belabor the point, but the First Amendment. Second Amendment. Fourth Amendment. Fifth Amendment, Seventh Amendment, Tenth -- Ninth Amendment, Tenth Amendment, Twelfth Amendment, Thirteenth, Fourteenth Amendments, all of them are terribly challenged in the face of the war on drugs.

There are many laws and court precedents that diminish those liberties that are bestowed upon us, just because somebody's using, or selling, or cultivating, or in the presence of, a non-sanctioned drug, in the most drug-addled country in human history.

We have over 400,000 pharmaceutical drugs, we have hundreds of thousands of varietals of alcohol to choose from, tobacco products, I always throw caffeine products in there as well, and yet, somebody who would smoke some marijuana, somebody who would take some LSD, somebody who would grow some mushrooms, all of those individuals were thought of as having moral turpitude, that they were bad people, and so thankfully, and the data's clear from surveys and group focus, that, and the voting booths most importantly, that in these ensuing years, more and more people are voting away from the drug war and notably to ending marijuana prohibition, and that their general attitudes about the war on drugs, which by the way we ought to just have one overarching thought model of this, since the mid-1990s, in almost all the Gallup and major surveys, 95 percent of the US public think the war on drugs has failed.

Whether you're conservative or liberal, religious or not, young or old, uniformly, it has to be acknowledged, the war on drugs has failed, and here we simply have a series on The History Channel and Vice that's acknowledging this.

DEAN BECKER: And it's a wonderful thing. I'm certainly looking forward to it, I'm glad to know that you are part of it, script consultancy and all of that as well, and hopefully they'll have a good focus and wake America up to the possibility of ending this madness. Your closing thoughts, Allen.

ALLEN ST. PIERRE: Well, I'm absolutely sure this is going to spawn a number of other documentaries, in some cases on individual cases, in others, you know, big picture, like this, for example, I could imagine as we go into this year, the 80th year of the national prohibition on marijuana, that actually began August 2nd, 1937, that we will probably see some documentaries focused very specifically on marijuana as well.

DEAN BECKER: Here's hoping for change, because by god, we have really screwed the pooch insofar as this drug war, haven't we?

ALLEN ST. PIERRE: Well, we sort of documented here briefly how outrageous the drug war has been, because democracy, when practiced, is so resilient, we can see and blessedly because of the efforts of reformers in all 50 states, so we have seen this change in our lifetimes and it will only continue and a documentary like this one will only move that forward more quickly.

DEAN BECKER: Well, once again, folks, we've been speaking with Mister Allen St. Pierre.

Try to picture the drug war as a freight train, more than nine miles long. Cars ten feet wide, 63 feet long, and fifteen feet high, filled with hundred dollar bills. Four million four hundred thousand cubic feet of hundred dollar bills. More than one thousand one hundred tons of sweet Benjamins. More than eleven trillion dollars frittered away on this drug war. But hell, I guess everybody loves trains.

All right, it's very seldom I get the chance to dig into what's been considered to be a great conspiracy here in America. Mister Gary Webb brought it forward to our attention and then was demonized for having done so, but here to give us the skinny on that is Mister Freeway Ricky Ross. Now, Ricky, you were sentenced to life for your shenanigans back in the day, correct?


DEAN BECKER: There was a situation developed that allowed you to get out after about twenty years?

"FREEWAY" RICKY ROSS: Yes, there was. It was discovered that the CIA was responsible for kicking off the crack cocaine era.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah, and that's what Gary Webb was trying to report, and people were just denying that he was, they told everybody he was a liar, but that's just not true, is it?

RICK ROSS: No. The CIA later admitted that they did know that these guys were selling drugs.

DEAN BECKER: During your span of selling that cocaine, that you sold hundreds of millions of dollars worth, and they say by today's number it could be two and a half billion dollars worth. Any truth to those numbers?

RICK ROSS: Yeah. I sold, I sold, for my last two years, at least a million dollars every day and I had days that I went as high as three million dollars, and all in between.

DEAN BECKER: Now Ricky, the thing is, we have invested a hundred years into this drug war from the passage of the Harrison Act in 1914. Have we done any good?

RICK ROSS: Oh, I think it's worse than it's ever been. You know, cocaine is at its all-time low, you know, it's readily available, on any street corner you go on. So I think the drug war has failed miserably. We have more people in prison than anybody in the world, I think we have like 2.2 or 2.3 million people in prison, and 65 percent of those people were nonviolent drug offenders. So I think that the war on drugs has failed. I think it's time we rethink the concept behind it.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. And the fact of the matter is, they keep saying, you know, in Mexico they busted the Sinaloa Cartel or the Gulf Cartel, or some cartel in Colombia or Nicaragua, and that somehow that's going to make a difference, but it never does, does it?

RICK ROSS: It never does, you know, when they bust up one organization, ten small organizations take over and then they start fighting over the same turf that this one organization ran. And a lot of times, the one organization that's in charge, ran it without any violence. But when you bring a bunch of little guys in who don't have the control, then that's when all the violence breaks out.

DEAN BECKER: And, it's my understanding that most of the mechanism to maintain their power lies in their involvement, their complicity, with the local police forces, and judges, and prosecutors. Right?

RICK ROSS: Absolutely, most of the time. It's rooted with -- with the political aspect of society.

DEAN BECKER: You know, Ricky, I have, I've lived in Houston for 50 years. We've had a situation where a guy got busted for taking a hit off a joint, because some narcs were passing it around. He got ten years for that. It's such a preposterous jihad they're waging on the people of America, isn't it?

RICK ROSS: Yeah, it is. Just the other day I was in San Bernardino and I met two young ladies, couldn't be more than 25, maybe 23 years old, and they told me that they both were facing prison time for selling marijuana. And I was like, wow, you mean they put, and these were young white girls too, so, that they would put them in prison, you know, I mean, they look as innocent as Snow White. You know, so if you would put somebody like that in prison, it shows me how far that this war on drugs has went. It's now past the black community, where they was locking up us, now they're starting to lock up everybody because they can't fill their jails fast enough. They've got beds, they need filled.

DEAN BECKER: It's a horrible situation, just nation wide, isn't it?

RICK ROSS: Yeah it is, it is, you know, and one of the things that, you know, I salute Gary Webb for is that he stopped that forfeiture law here in California and in a lot of other places, where, he made it so if they don't find you guilty, well they can't take your car anymore. You know, before they could catch you – I mean, they didn't even have to catch you with nothing, just a cop say that he smelled weed in your car and they could forfeit your car, and you go to trial and the judge'd say oh, they don't have enough evidence and throw the case out. Well, you still lose your car. And Gary Webb is one of the ones who got that reversed, and -- we have to salute him, and it's time for us all to wake up and be courageous, as Gary was.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. And sadly, for standing so tall, he was chopped down by so many at every opportunity, wasn't he?

RICK ROSS: Well, you know, yeah, the whole journalist community went against Gary. I don't know anybody stood up for him, you know, the LA Times went against him, the New York Times, Washington Post, and it was tragic that all these people who are supposed to report the truth caved in and went on the side of the government.

DEAN BECKER: When did you get out of prison, how recent?

RICK ROSS: I got out in 2009.

DEAN BECKER: Now, and I know that you are working with organizations to educate, motivate, our kids, right?

RICK ROSS: Absolutely, absolutely. I think that our kids have to become critical thinkers. I believe that our kids can't think for themselves, and, you know, our kids don't go out and just take rat poison and stuff like that because they want to be drug addicts or they want to kill themselves.

But, I believe they use certain drugs because they don't have the information, the knowledge that they need to make a logical decision. So I think that what we should be doing is taking this money that we're using to incarcerate and use it for education, where our kids now can make logical decisions, they can sit down, they can analyze the situation, and say you know what, I want to be part of this situation and I don't want to be a part of that one.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. You kind of bring to mind a thought that irks me really bad, and that is, like in Alaska, where the native American kids can't afford $400 an ounce marijuana, so they huff glue and other aerosols, and many of them wind up retarded and otherwise a burden on society. It is the prohibition that creates problems like that, isn't it?

RICK ROSS: Absolutely. You know, prohibition didn't work for alcohol, it didn't work for tobacco, and it won't work for cannabis, or cocaine or nothing. You can't keep drugs out of this country. A guy OD'd at Lompoc, which was a maximum security penitentiary, inside the hole, so he was inside of a prison that was inside of the prison, and he was able to get enough drugs in there to OD, so, we can't win this with incarceration, we have to win it with education.

DEAN BECKER: Indeed, my friend. Now, that's really the heart of it, that this prohibition corrupts. It corrupts prison guards, it corrupts cops on the street, it corrupts so many people – it corrupts the medical field for that matter. It is a, just a huge detriment to society, right?

RICK ROSS: Absolutely. And you figure if it can corrupt those people, how hard is it to corrupt a 16 year old, a 17 year old, even a 20 year old kid who don't really have an opportunity, who doesn't see an opportunity for themselves. So it's up to all of us to really, really focus on what we're doing and really try to educate as many people as we can.

DEAN BECKER: And Ricky, it's good that you have a job, an effort, a reason these days, you know, to stand tall again, and I appreciate that, but for so many people, once they get that strike, that record, of that drug arrest, it complicates, forestalls a lot of progress in life for those people, doesn't it?

RICK ROSS: Oh absolutely. You know, you have to check the box on every application that you fill out, saying that you do have a conviction. And you also have to tell them when did you get it, and just other things about you that, in my opinion, would hamper you from getting a job.

DEAN BECKER: Well, maybe Gary Webb wasn't a hundred percent right, but he was pretty close, wasn't he?

RICK ROSS: Yeah, and I think that the key point, you know, that Gary was trying to make is that the CIA definitely knew or supported these guys selling drugs, and I think that those are the points that was overlooked. You know, people tried to put stuff in his mouth, that he said the CIA specifically targeted the African-American community. I had never saw where he said that, but that's what wind up happening anyway, even if they didn't purposely try to do it, it wind up happening.

DEAN BECKER: Well, Ricky, look, I want to commend you for the new focus you have, the attempt to help end this madness of drug war. Is there a website, some closing thoughts you might like to share with the listeners?

RICK ROSS: Well, they can get me @FreeWayRicky on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, also they can go get my book on RickRossBooks.com, they can get it on Amazon, Kindle, and Nook. And, you know, tweet me, facebook me.

DEAN BECKER: Everything you know about drugs is wrong. That was the title of a Facebook presentation which is currently available at facebook.com/TheRoot, given by Asha Bandale, the Senior Director at the Drug Policy Alliance, and the author of High Price, Doctor Carl Hart.

ASHA BANDALE: So, you know, do you see any parallels in the way that we talk about what they refer to as the heroin crisis, with how crack was talked about in the '80s and '90s?

CARL HART, PHD: Of course. This is crack all over again, even though there are some people who -- we allowed them to pretend to be conscious by saying things like, well, we're dealing with this differently than we dealt with crack. In, and in --

ASHA BANDALE: Kinder, gentler drug war?

CARL HART, PHD: Kinder, gentler drug war, and it's not true. It's just simply not true, and that's not informed. This is exactly the same way we dealt with crack. Please recall, back in the 1980s, mid-1980s, we were talking about treatment, for certain groups of people. In fact, this was the height of the 1-800-COCAINE, where you'd call a --

ASHA BANDALE: Oh, that's right.

CARL HART, PHD: The height of that, that was all about treatment. This was at the height of shows like, what, 21 Jump Street, with Johnny -- what was his?

ASHA BANDALE: Yeah. Johnny Depp.

CARL HART, PHD: Johnny Depp, and those folks, they're talking about don't be judgmental to cocaine users. Who do we think we're talking about? I mean, and so that was certainly a part of that conversation, just like it is today. But at the same time, we were arresting many black folks, a disproportionate number of black folks, for cocaine use, cocaine trafficking, crack cocaine use, cocaine trafficking. The same is true today. The same time we're talking about this sort of gentler drug war, 80 percent of the people who are being arrested and prosecuted at the federal level for heroin trafficking are black and brown people. Just like we did in the '80s with crack cocaine. It's exactly the same. It's the same rhythm, it's the same playbook. We know this.

ASHA BANDALE: And then, how would you respond, Carl, to some of the -- on that note, on some of the things that people have said about, we need to have drug-induced homicide laws, right? So for the people who, you know, we now want to start prosecuting and in some cases I think they've even talked about the death penalty, like they have in Saudi Arabia, for people who sell drugs. Can you talk about that a little?

CARL HART, PHD: We said the same thing for crack cocaine. The mayor of our great -- I mean, the governor of our great state in the 1980s, Mario Cuomo, the guy who we all liked and supported.

ASHA BANDALE: I didn't. I didn't.

CARL HART, PHD: Well. Okeh, well. I'm speaking metaphorically, not ... But, but, okeh.

ASHA BANDALE: Not just kidding.

CARL HART, PHD: That's cool. That's cool.

ASHA BANDALE: He built the most amount of prisons.

CARL HART, PHD: I should say, the guy who the Democrats liked. How's that? The point is, is that Cuomo was calling for the death penalty for people who were dealing with crack. I mean, he was calling for the death penalty, he was loud about that sort of thing. The same thing is happening today, states are starting to pass stronger legislation against people who are trafficking in heroin or other opioids. The same, this is the same playbook.

Humans are capable of only a certain amount of behaviors. That's, you know, that brain hasn't evolved that much from 1986 to right now. In the past 30 years, we haven't evolved that much, but it's the same playbook.

ASHA BANDALE: Yeah, and, you know, and I worry so much about black and brown communities, they're silent in the face of this, because we're usually the target of the worst outcomes, so Latino communities are also dying, as -- equally, almost as high rates as white people, but we only mostly hear about white people in the media, and black and brown communities are also being arrested at these really high levels, and I wonder if you can talk a little bit about some of the myths that our communities, especially black communities, hold, that actually advance the drug war and actually advance harm to ourselves. Have you come across that in your discussions and studies in our communities?

CARL HART, PHD: Well, you know, I've come across so much I forget, you know, because if I -- I have a lot of things to remember, and there's so much stupid things out there about drugs, I try to forget so I can think about things that are more important, but I'll try and think about --

ASHA BANDALE: What do you wish we knew, like, what's the top three things or whatever that you wish we knew.

CARL HART, PHD: That drug use is not the boogeyman that you've been taught. That it's -- and the people who use drugs are not automatically bad people. There are certainly people who use drugs who use drugs who are bad people, and there are some people who don't use drugs and they're bad people. So to categorize drug users in some way, like that, is inappropriate. And then, it prevents us from looking at folks just like other human beings.


CARL HART, PHD: And so, when you start to accept the fact that, hey, some good people use drugs, and drug use is not going anywhere, now you can get at the issue of how do we keep people safe?

ASHA BANDALE: And alive.

CARL HART, PHD: Let's just think about this. Let's think about automobiles. In 2015, where we have the last good numbers for opioid related deaths and automobiles, 2015, we had 35,000 Americans die from accidents on the road. Thirty-five thousand. We had a combined, of all the opioid related deaths, now this is opioid, and they can be combined with alcohol and other things. We had a combined, of all the opioid related deaths, and now this is opioid, and they can be combined with alcohol and other things, total, was 33,000 Americans.

So less the amount of people who died from automobiles, are dying from opioid related.

DEAN BECKER: Next week's Cultural Baggage will feature more from Doctor Carl Hart and Asha Bandale. That will be available at facebook.com/theRoot, and I urge you to check out The History Channel's four parter on the war on drugs.

DEAN BECKER: Once again, 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. Cultural Baggage is a production of the Pacifica Radio Network. Archives are permanently stored at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy. And we are all still tap dancing on the edge of an abyss.