06/28/09 - Peter Moskos

Prof. Peter Moskos, LEAP speaker, former Baltimore cop and author of "Cop in the Hood" + Doug McVay interview of Amsterdam cannabis pioneer Bernard Bruining & Phil Jackson

Century of Lies
Sunday, June 28, 2009
Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP)
06/28/09 - Peter Moskos


Century of Lies, June 28, 2009

The failure of Drug War is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors and millions more now calling for decriminalization, legalization, the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century of Lies.

Hello, my friends. Welcome to this edition of Century of Lies. Here in a little while, we’ll hear a report from Doug McVay, he used to give us Drug War Facts, but he did an interview with Bernard Bruining, one of the pioneers, beginners of the Cannabis Café’s in Holland.

But first up, we’re going to talk to a member of my band-of-brothers, a gentleman who spent time as a Baltimore Police Officer. You know, you’ve seen the movie, The Wire. He understands the nature of this drug war, I think more than most. He’s the author of a great book, “Cop in the Hood”. With that, let’s go ahead and bring in our guest, Mr. Peter Moskos. Hello, Sir.

Mr. Peter Moskos: Hey, how you doing? It’s great to be on your show.

Dean Becker: Thank you, Peter. I appreciate it. You’re currently serving as a professor, John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Is that correct?

Mr. Peter Moskos: It is. It’s a bit safer than policing, so…

Dean Becker: Well, yes.

Mr. Peter Moskos: …and I get summer’s off.

Dean Becker: I hear so many folks talk about the harms that police face. They get themselves out there in the fray and all too often we call upon them to endanger themselves for petty crimes, if you ask me. These non-violent minor possession crimes…

Mr. Peter Moskos: I think I more than anybody, or at least more than most people, understand the danger that cops go through ‘cause I went through that myself and that’s part of the job. It’s not that police shy away from that but the shame is that, so many police officers get hurt and killed fighting the war on drugs and it’s just something we should not be involved in.

Dean Becker: I think many of the listeners are aware of that great; what was it, Showtime or HBO program, The Wire.

Mr. Peter Moskos: HBO, yeah.

Dean Becker: Yeah and it was based on the situation in Baltimore…

Mr. Peter Moskos: …and filmed, those are my streets, I mean, the ghetto shots were where; fictionally it takes place in the western district of Baltimore but it was filmed in the eastern district which is where I work, so I know those streets very well and it’s an excellent show.

Dean Becker: Now, what was presented within that show, was it too far from the actual facts?

Mr. Peter Moskos: No and I generally say The Wire was about seventy-five percent realistic, which is not a hundred percent, but it is a fictional show, it’s not a documentary. Even the parts that aren’t true, and the part I’m thinking in particularly with the war on drugs, is the idea that you could set up; season four?; Hampsterdam, the drug free zone they set up, where-ever it was in the show it is, in the eastern district, the concept is great. The idea that you could keep such an idea secret just doesn’t exist in the police world, because the grape vine is so porous. So the idea that you could actually do that, without anybody knowing, wasn’t realistic.

But it shows the greater truth, which is the failure of the war on drugs as we fight it and the fact that if there was a place where people could sell drugs without law enforcement harassing them and arresting them, because it was a crime, but that would make the rest of the city safer. That’s the thing it showed clearly and I don’t think anyone who’d watch that show and say, ’Man, I want to shoot up heroin,’ ’cause it shows you how bad drugs are, but it just shows you that fighting drugs, the drug prohibition is a failure and there’s got to be a better way.

Dean Becker: I earlier indicated we’re going to have an interview done with Bernard Bruining. He’s one of the pioneers in Amsterdam…

Mr. Peter Moskos: …where I’ve also spent a lot of time. My brother lives there, I lived there for awhile and I’ve done research with police there and I don’t know which coffee shop particularly he was involved in, but that, to me, is an example of a successful drug policy. It’s not perfect and we can’t be held up to that standard. But anyway you want to look at it, it could be.

If the goal is to reduce drug use, they have less drug use there. If the goal is to reduce violence, they got less violence there. If the goal is to not spend so much money on locking people up, they have a fraction of the prison population we do. It works. It’s not perfect. They keep tinkering with it. They debate the pro’s and con’s, but the point is, they debate this stuff.

They set up policy based on rational ideas on how to minimize the harms of drugs and that’s something that we‘ve; well we’re starting to do and the past couple months even, there’s been a lot more publicity about debating marijuana legalization which, unfortunately in and of itself, I don’t think would reduce the violence that we have in our worst neighborhoods, but it’s a start and the idea that, ’Look, let’s try something else, because what we do doesn’t work.’

Dean Becker: To further underline the thought, and I’m not giving too much away from the discussion, but what Mr. Bruining says is that, ’They started out ‘low key’ with these cannabis shops.’ There was no provision, no laws, no permits, nothing and I guess by just not creating a hassle or havoc, the police had better things to do…

Mr. Peter Moskos: …and it took awhile and I’m sure you know more about this than I do, because he was there and he was probably doing it when I was still a kid. But in some ways it represents the medicinal marijuana now in California which is; the Dutch were really surprised that these coffee shops appeared.

But once the Dutch said, ‘We’re not going to arrest people for possession and for possessing small amounts‘, people like him and others said, ‘Well, let’s start selling it’ and the Dutch were kind of caught unaware and they didn’t like it and they fought it for awhile, but eventually they realized, ’You know what? The sky doesn’t fall if you allow people a safe way to get high.’

Then it was tolerated and now that the coffee shops in Amsterdam are actually regulated and taxed; The income is taxed, which is interesting, not the actual drug sale, because technically it’s still illegal, because America would complain and so would France and Germany. But it works. That’s the short of it and we should look at that and that‘s one possible way to distribute drugs and it‘s certainly better than people slinging on the corner.

Dean Becker: You betcha. I noticed, I think it was five or six weeks ago, that Amsterdam is actually closing down eight of their prison’s because they don’t have the same draconian drug war that we do and they don’t have the prisoner’s to fill them. It’s quite a…

Mr. Peter Moskos: I doubt it’s eight to be honest. I don’t think they have eight prisons there, {chucking by both} but I know what you’re saying.

Dean Becker: Well, ok. Insofar as the US, we are starting to see various states; New York’s looking at the Rockefeller Drug Laws, California’s looking at their three strikes and all the tens of thousands of people on drug charges. They can’t afford treatment anymore. I think Florida’s looking on shutting down some of their prisons. People are starting to realize that the drug war is a “luxury” we can no longer afford. Your thoughts?

Mr. Peter Moskos: Especially when it comes to locking people up. I mean look, I’m a former police officer. I don’t want criminals on the street anymore than anyone else does. But the point is, since the war on drugs, we lock up seven times as many people. No country in the history of the world has ever locked up as many people as America does today, and that‘s per capita per population. We lock up more people than China. We lock up more people than Stalin did, at the height of the gulag in the Soviet Union.

This is an experiment in mass incarceration, that really should terrify us. I mean, this is a civilized society. Why do we lock up two million of our citizens? The short answer, ‘Well, they committed a crime’, but all we do when we lock them up is create more drug dealers. It’s a never ending process and it’s a bit scary ‘cause prison’s have lobby’s and they want more prisoner’s. You know, that’s who speaks out in support of the…

The state of California had a referendum awhile back to say, ‘The third strike had to be a violent felon,’ and the Prison Guard Union, the correctional officers came out strongly against it, and they won. To think, ’Well, I respect the job prison guards do. Correctional Officer, it’s not a pleasant job and it’s tough, but they shouldn’t have a say in sentencing policy. But prisoner’s; it’s fodder, it’s job’s for them and that is not the right way to look at people in the free world.

Dean Becker: There was a recent report in the Vancouver Sun. I’m going to kind of extract from it. It was a 1995 Cocaine Project report. A joint effort of the World Health Organization and the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute and most folks, I hadn’t up till this point, heard of the Cocaine Project. It’s now a fourteen year old report that WHO never published it and even denied it existence up until about two weeks ago when it was leaked to the Transnational Institute.

The report sought the advice of experts from around the world, assessed cocaine use from Australia to Zimbabwe; largest global study ever conducted and the reason it was buried for fourteen years, the report condemns the “over-reliance on law enforcement measures” and recommends that “education, treatment and rehabilitation” programs be increased to re-balance our approach to problematic drug use.

The report was buried but it says, ‘Reasonable people can disagree on how best to deal with drug abuse.’ But with these statements of fact, about cocaine use it reports that, “The use of legal substances, particularly alcohol and tobacco, are greater health problems than from cocaine use.”

Mr. Peter Moskos: Yeah, but prohibitionist’s will hear that and they won’t care, is the problem. It’s interesting this show is called the Century of Lies, because the drug war is built on a century of lies and if you know the facts and you want to debate them and you still agree that the war on drugs is correct, I’ll disagree, but I’ll respect that.

But so much of the war on drugs is spent on suppressing debate, on making up statistics, to give the illusion that prohibition works. I have a sneaking suspicion, deep down, that a lot of people would support the war on drugs. You know prohibitionist’s would love to bring back alcohol prohibition and completely ban cigarettes.

It’s not so much a question of what’s right, it’s a question of telling people what to do in the sense of morality, ‘Well, drugs are wrong, therefore they have to be illegal.’ You say that and you might say, ‘That makes sense,’ but the point is, that if we were to regulate drugs, we could reduce drug use and that is one of the strongest arguments for… To take Amsterdam, which people tend to associate marijuana and prostitutes (there’re actually beautiful canals there too. A lot of people don’t even know that.)

Fewer people in Amsterdam have tried marijuana then in America. People do or don’t take drugs for a lot of reasons, but apparently the law isn’t one of them. If anything, I think there’s a little, you know, you’re a teenager, you want to do the forbidden and if you say, ‘Look, they’re here for you, but here are the facts. Here’s the good, here’s the bad, make your own decision. By in large, most people are going to make the right choice and the people who make the wrong choice well, they’re making the wrong choice now, but they’re killing each other over it.

Dean Becker: I’ve said a thousand times, we have this completely bass ackwards, that if we want to control these drugs, as you just stated, it’s better to put them in the hands of government; of legitimate corporations and not hand it over to criminals, worldwide. The UN says it’s some three hundred to four hundred billion dollars a year, this black-market that buys a lot of influence, corruption, bribery, crap around the world.

Mr. Peter Moskos: …sixty billion dollars in the US alone we could save, if we were to regulate drugs and that’s the thing, it’s not creating, especially with an organization like LEAP, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. By and large, LEAP members are not, we’re not the long haired, hippie, stoner stereotype. We understand that drugs harm a lot of people, the point of how do we minimize those harms.

Right now we have uncontrolled drug distribution somewhere in every city in America and look, alcohol control is not perfect. Cigarette control is not perfect, nor is prescription drug control perfect. But the point is we do control it and for a lot of kids, it’s easier to buy weed than it is to buy alcohol. At least let’s make it as hard to buy illegal drugs as it is to buy legal ones. But you can’t regulate what you prohibit and if you refuse to open the debate to regulation well then, we’re just stuck with what we got.

Dean Becker: That’s the whole point. More and more members of Law Enforcement are being called upon. Our op-ed’s are being printed, our thoughts in regards to this subject of drug policy are being called upon by, even governmental agencies, as of late…

Mr. Peter Moskos: …and also on that report that came out, not too long ago, by the former President’s of many Latin American Nations. Presidents who said, ‘The war on drugs has failed and it’s ruining our countries.’ It’s not just America. Mexico is in chaos now because of American imposed, and we do impose drug prohibition there, of our willpower saying, ’You got to fight the drugs like we do,’ and the result is now a country that’s exploding in violence.

It was better before that, it was just three years ago, we could turn back the clock and at least Latin America is starting to wake up a bit and go, ’Hey, we know we cannot stop the production of drugs and you cannot stop consumption of drugs, so let’s try to figure out a way that’s not going to overthrow our countries or put the money, in the case of Afghanistan, put the money into the hands of the terrorist‘s.

Farmer’s just want to feed their families, it would be better if we just bought the drugs and burnt them, even. But instead we allow Taliban and terrorist’s to get their hands on the drug profits because there’s no legal market.

Dean Becker: That’s interesting, because I think it was just yesterday the New York Times and the Houston Chronicle printed a story talking about, now here I’m going to give you a quote from it. They’re changing their policy in Afghanistan. The aim of the new policy, ‘to deprive the Taliban of the ten’s of million’s’ (I’m thinking it’s more than that) …‘ten’s of million’s of dollars in drug revenues that are fueling its insurgency.

The U.S. envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, told the Associated Press that poppy eradication — for years a cornerstone of U.S. and U.N. drug trafficking efforts in the country — was not working and was only driving Afghan farmers into the hands of the Taliban.’ This is a quote from Holbrooke, "Eradication is a waste of money."

Mr. Peter Moskos: So what are they going to do though? It’s nice they’ve admitted the first piece, that what we’re doing doesn’t work, but I’m still curious to know how… unless we agree that there’s some legal parts of this, and by legal again I mean regulated part. We got to find some way to deal with this growth.

What you also see in Latin America is eventually, with a lot of destruction, we can eliminate drug growth in certain regions. You basically send in the Army, you burn all the crops and then the farmers, who have no money crops, they come to America ‘cause they’re desperate. But then of course, drugs start some-where else and so you have this sort of scorched Earth policy, where you destroy one area and then drugs appear somewhere else and it’s really destroying the whole damn hemisphere.

Dean Becker: I saw a report, within this past week, that dealt with the fact that, I think, the production of Coca, at least per satellite mapping, was down some six percent this past year compared to escalating twenty-eight percent last year, but they also indicated that Peru and Bolivia are growing more. They also talked about the fact that they’ve now been developing newer strains of Coca, higher cocaine percentage within better process with which to extract the cocaine and furthermore that these satellite images don’t detect how much they have driven into the National and State Forests, to plant new area’s with Coca.

Mr. Peter Moskos: It also mentioned that; before they would have large fields of drugs but now they might have smaller fields or make some legitimate crops so the satellite imagery can’t do it. Look, maybe they’ve reduce some production some six percent or whatever, in a way, who cares. That’s not going to win the war. Drugs are cheaper than ever. So what are we going to do?

Let’s also remember a lot of, when I at least ‘cause especially where I policed, think of the harms of the war on drugs, the violence around the trade is when you’ve got public drug dealing and that’s, by and large, concentrated in black or Hispanic poor urban neighborhoods.

Millions of American’s manage to buy and sell and use drugs illegally in the suburbs, without basically anybody knowing and they might be harming themselves or they might be having a good time, but that… That would be a huge improvement, if we could just stop the killing and stop the overdose deaths.

It’s the street corner drug dealing, in America at least, that’s sort of the root of the problem that destroys entire cities and neighborhoods. People don’t realize, I police the war on drugs. I did not think they were a good thing and I saw, to some extent, as a quality of life issue, you don’t want drug dealers outside your house selling crack, but it is very hard for the police officer.

The patrol officer on the street really can’t do that much, because… you go to the drug corner, you lock up the guy with the drugs, often you’re going to lock up a fourteen year old boy, ‘cause the guy’s aren’t idiots, they give the drugs to the kid. So the drug dealer’s sitting there, he’s got nothing on him, the guy in charge of the corner. Locking up that boy is not going to solve the problem. Even if you lock up the whole corner, you’ve got addicts. They need to get their drugs. The question is, how?

Dean Becker: Right, right. Once again, we’re speaking with Peter Moskos. He’s a professor at John Jay College of Law, he’s a former cop there in Baltimore. He’s author of a great book, “Cop in the Hood”. We’ve got a couple of minutes here. Let’s talk about your book, Peter.

Mr. Peter Moskos: Love to. The book; I urge people, so they can look, go to copinthehood.com where I write about other police issues, not just related to my book, but I do hope people discover my book through it. While I’m at it, let’s also mention LEAP’s website. Even non-Law Enforcement can join up as a friend of LEAP and that’s leap.cc.

“Cop in the Hood” my book, it’s about by my two years policing in Baltimore. It starts with the police, I mean, I was an unusual police officer and then as a graduate student at Harvard University and then became a cop. I was the only Harvard student in the Baltimore Police Department thru the police academy and then I got thrown into midnight shifts in the ghetto.

It’s a world, both the police world and the ghetto world that people, by and large, don’t know. If I try and tell that story and I believe I’m sympathized to the police officers who do the job, work day in and day out, putting themselves at risk and yet ultimately, in the grand scheme yeah, we lock up a lot of bad guys, but ultimately it’s not working.

To give you some idea of; the area I police had forty-five thousand people living in it, I’m sure it’s smaller now. We made twenty thousand arrests every year. A lot of those were repeat customers, but it is a scale of lock-up’s that is kind of incomprehensible. But that, by and large, is now how we police our urban poor and no community can survive when you’re locking up every fourth, every fifth person, every year.

Unfortunately, I didn’t leave very optimistic. I miss Baltimore and I love parts of Baltimore, but I’m happy to be in New York City.

Dean Becker: I hear you. There are, I’m sure, parts of Houston that are more akin to those neighborhoods that are shown in The Wire, but for the most part, the vast majority of drugs in this city, and probably in Baltimore as well, are at least funneled through some fairly rich people; some white folks in affluent neighborhoods that just happen to be in charge of the distribution. We’re not really focusing on the ‘King Pins’ when we go about all this, are we?

Mr. Peter Moskos: No. If police were to patrol in rich white neighborhoods like they do in poor black neighborhoods, there would be a revolt. Part of the reason I want to say police don’t have to police that way, is because rich white neighborhoods tend to be safer. I mean, there is a problem when you got people shooting each other, that’s why police are there.

But we let police; ‘get away with’ isn’t quite the right way to phrase it, because it’s not that police aren’t trying their damndest, but we allow a certain style of policing that we wouldn’t tolerate for ourselves and we say, ’ Well, it’s those people, so go ahead. It’s ok.’

One of the shames of policing a high crime district, you would hope that people would love the police because they want to be safe and they do want to be safe. But they don’t love the police, because they know that police are there to lock them up and if it were to work, if we could actually bring down the homicide rate in our worse neighborhoods, like we have in some other places. New York, in particular, comes to mind. It’s a lot safer than it was twenty years ago. If police could have that success, you would have a lot more people liking the police. But look, if I lived in that neighborhood, I don’t know if I would like the police.

Dean Becker: Well, I tell you what Peter, we’re going to have to leave it there. I got another segment I want to share with the audience. I appreciate your time, Sir. Once again, we’re both speakers for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. Our website: leap.cc. Thank you, Peter.

Mr. Peter Moskos: A pleasure. Anytime.

(accordion accompaniment)

The DEA’s a joker, the FDA’s a joke.
The joke is on the USA, so why not take a poke.

Here’s a riddle for you.

How many drug warrior’s does it take to change a light bulb?

Answer: 113

One to kick in the door, one to accidentally shoot the home owner, ten to search the house and confiscate the goods, vehicles and property, one hundred more to arrest, process and imprison the surviving occupants and one to announce, “Mission accomplished!”

This, despite the fact that the bulb never gets changed and the darkness is deeper, cheaper and more abundant than ever.

A bad joke? Yes, and the joke’s on all of us. Most adults, here in the land of the free, don’t care what other adults choose to do with their lives. That’s the essence of the freedom we so dearly cherish. The freedom to do as we please, so long as we don’t infringe on the freedom’s of others.

What we don’t want is the crime, violence and death associated with the black market drug trade. The prohibition and drug war put the profit and danger in the drug trade. Remove the profit and the violent drug gangs will go out of business, faster than the American family farmer and street crime and overdose deaths will shrink to manageable size.

So, question: How many people does it take to change our failing drug policy?

Answer: It just takes you. If you’ll just contact your local legislators and let them know that you want it changed.

For the Drug Truth Network, this is Phil Jackson.

The following is long time Drug Truth Network reporter, Doug McVay.

Bernard Bruining recently visited the US from Holland. Last week he gave a presentation at the Berkeley Patients Group, a renowned Medical Cannabis Dispensing Collective in California.

I was fortunate enough to get a few minutes with Bernard to learn about his past and his current work.

Bernard Bruining: Mellow Yellow was the first coffee shop in Amsterdam and we developed the whole idea by accident, because we were just smokers who wanted to create a life for ourselves and that life meant a life of free smoke and lot’s of times we play table football and to make enough money, so that we didn’t have to work for a boss and that became the first coffee shop in Amsterdam.

Doug McVay: Now, how did the authorities react when you started operation?

Bernard Bruining: They didn’t, because we kept a low profile and it took them years to find out before they found out that we have -------- and by the time they found out, we were already three or four years operational and we have time to prepare ourselves for bust of police.

We were open like a coffee shop ya’ and it was the only branch, in those days, that you did not need a diploma or a permit for and in those days police couldn’t close down a public place whenever there was somebody found in the place amongst the customers who had marijuana or was selling marijuana.

So one of us was pretending to be ‘just a visitor’ and sat amongst the public. In reality he was a house dealer and in reality we were, of course, all involved in playing this little game. So the first couple of times police came they arrested the dealer, but they couldn’t close down the shop and they couldn’t touch me because I just said, ’Gee’s, you found a dealer in my shop, that’s weird. OH, that guy. Oh yeah, I know him. Yeah, he always had good smoke. I like the guy. Oh, it was…. ha-ha…..’ So, that was a little game that we played in those days.

Doug McVay: Wow

Bernard Bruining: In ’79 an American came over. He was an old man and he was a grower and he taught us how to grow. He basically taught us how to grow and together with another American friend we formed the ’Green Team’ as we call it and our dream was to make Holland, Jamaica, Europe for us to smoke for free and to make some money and I said, ’Well, I’ll agree to that if it’s ok that I tell our little secret to anybody else.’

So on one hand I was involved in large scale growing. Each year it grew more, our operation grew more. First year a kilo. Second year, ten kilo’s, then a hundred kilo’s, couple hundred kilo’s a year, and I was the guy who had to sell it to the coffee shops. On the other hand, I made sure that I told as many Dutch people as possible.

By the time it was ’85, our operation grew so big and we had more and more partners and the new partners, they all had these wonderful ideas about making more money and we should grow in a greenhouse and the greenhouse should not be small, but five thousand square meters and gee’s, we should not have one greenhouse, we should have five greenhouses.

Another American came to Holland and he was what we call the ’Skunkman’ and he brought this new variety of seeds and it was called skunk. The skunk was really ideal for growing indoors, in greenhouses or under lights. The other thing was, I know selling that skunk, that the Dutch public really liked the way it looked and suddenly I had absolutely no problems in selling it all.

So of course, there came other partners that said, ’Let me do the selling.’ {chuckling} I said, ’Yeah, sure. Go ahead. ’Cause you know, I’ll leave the Green Team and I’ll leave you guys making money and I’ll just go do what I like to do and I like to make table football machines, you know and maybe sell some lights on the side, to provide good money. That company was called Positronics from Positive-Tronica (sp?) and that was the first grow shop in the Netherlands and in Europe.

So again, similar like the Mellow Yellow, I invented, let’s say, a new formula that attracts a lot of people and a lot of attention. So in the next years, I got run over by thousands and thousands of people and journalists and everybody. All the energy that you release when you so something and a lot of people started to copy the idea of growing indoors and in greenhouses and outside and sell seeds and sell fertilizes and la-de-la-de-la and before I knew it, I had a newspaper, a restaurant, my own factory, designed my own reflectors. Yeah. Lot’s of business. Sixty employee’s, drove me crazy.

Dean Becker: Alright. That was Doug McVay interviewing Bernard Bruining of Amsterdam’s Mellow Yellow Café. Doug now works for the Berkeley Patients Group and Common Sense for Drug Policy. Check out our most recent Cultural Baggage, Moisés Naím, Foreign Policy magazine editor, Norm Stamper, former Police Chief.

There is no truth, justice, logic, scientific fact, medical data. No reason for this drug war to exist. Please visit our website. endprohibition.org

Prohibido istac evilesco.

For the Drug Truth Network this is Dean Becker, asking you to examine our policy of Drug Prohibition.

The Century of Lies.

This show produced at the Pacifica studios of KPFT, Houston

Transcript provided by: C. Assenberg of www.marijuanafactorfiction.org