02/06/08 - Paul Armentano

Paul Armentano, Dep. Dir. of NORML discusses news of "powerful" marijuana, positive scientific studies, corporate media's continued reefer madness + Cliff Schaffer editor of Marijuana Businnes News & Poppygate Report from Glenn Greenway

Program: 
Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Date: 
Wednesday, February 6, 2008
Guest: 
Paul Armentano
Organization: 
NORML
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Cultural Baggage, Feb 6, 2008

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 phamaceutical, banking, prison, and judicial nightmare that feeds on eternal drug war.
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Hello my friends. Welcome to this edition of Cultural Baggage. I’m glad you could be with us. Today I’m not wearing my Law Enforcement Against Prohibition shirt. I’m wearing a cannabis activist shirt. The reason why? This drug war is a sham, a scam, a complete flim-flam, been perpetrated on the American people for 93 years. But nowhere is that scam more obvious, more evident than it is in regards to marijuana.

I am a medical user. I am a sacramental user and, by God, I am a recreational user.

And today we have, from the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, Mr. Paul Armentano, its Deputy Director.

Hello Paul.

Paul Armentano: Hi Dean, how are you?

Dean Becker: I’m well, Sir. Glad you could be with us. There’s much we need to talk about today but you are quoted and written and published and acknowledged much of the time on the internet and elsewhere. And let’s just talk about some of the emerging horror stories coming out of Great Britain.

They say marijuana is getting so strong they need to re-classify it. Canada’s thinking about putting its people in prison for growing plants and in the U.S. we have pluses and minuses, two steps forward three steps back, but these stories about cannabis strength...what legitimacy is there to that?

Paul Armentano: No, this idea that marijuana today is somehow stronger and thus more dangerous than the marijuana of the past...you know, Dean, this notion, this rhetoric has been around for decades. They were saying it in the 70’s about the marijuana of the 60’s, and they said in the 80’s about the marijuana of the 70’s, and of course they say it today about the marijuana of the 90’s and the 80’s.

You know, what’s interesting about this line of thinking is it always implies that the marijuana of only a generation or two before us was so impotent that it essentially would have rendered the drug innocuous. So one wonders why it was illegal in the first place.

Dean Becker: Exactly. And what’s never mentioned in these stories, and I read most of them, is the fact that, good gosh, you just smoke less of it to have the desired effect. It’s outrageous.

Paul Armentano: Certainly, certainly. You know, most people, even when very potent marijuana is available, it’s only a very small percentage of the market and frankly most cannabis consumers do not either seek out strong cannabis or even desire it. If they do happen to stumble upon it, as you said, they often times smoke less.

But certainly people should not be alarmed even if there are varieties of strong cannabis as marijuana is not toxic to the brain, it can not cause a fatal overdose and, in fact, any person listening to your show right now could go to their physician and their physician could prescribe them a pill, a synthetic THC, the active psycho-active ingredient in marijuana, and that pill is one hundred percent THC. And they can use that pill very safely.

Dean Becker: And I’ve often heard it said that the use of that pill, the Marinol, is like saying that a vitamin C tablet is legal but that oranges should be illegal. It’s kind of crazy. Now, there have been, again, a few recent studies...I mean it happens every six months or so, they recycle the same stories about cannabis causing cancer and yet that’s just not the case either, is it?

Paul Armentano: Well, you know, this study that came out of New Zealand that got a whole lot of press last week, and it’s still even in the news cycle this week...you know, it’s really been disingenuous how this study was reported.

This is a very small case-control population study that was looking at incidents of lung cancer in a population in New Zealand, they had 79 individuals with lung cancer and they matched them against 324 controls.

Now when you actually read the study what you’ll notice is that individuals in this study who actually had lung cancer, if they were light smokers of marijuana there was no association with an increased risk of lung cancer. The moderate marijuana smokers in this study also had no increased association or risk of lung cancer.

In fact only the smokers in this study who were deemed to be of the highest marijuana use threshold had any elevated risk of lung cancer. And in fact there were only 14 individuals in the entire study who met that criteria.

For every one else in this study there was no increased risk of lung cancer which is actually the same result that you find in much larger population case-control studies that have been done on this subject.

But this is a study that was published a couple of years ago out of UCLA that looked at over 1,200 individuals with lung cancer and matched them against another 1,200 hundred controls, a much larger study did not find any positive association between marijuana use and lung cancer and actually found that among some users of marijuana there seemed to be a protective aspect of the drug when it came to incidents of lung cancer.

Dean Becker: Thank you for that. Paul, I get a feeling that your phone wire is a little loose or something, if I could get you to just hold still I think we’ll get a better signal...

Paul Armentano: Sure.

Dean Becker: OK, now, I think it was Dr. Donald Tashkin, was that the author of that report you were just addressing?

Paul Armentano: Yes, yes, he authored the UCLA study but keep in mind there have been other case-control studies done as well. In fact, NIDA, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, reported a study in, I believe, 2004 or 2005 that looked at incidents of marijuana use and lung cancer among individuals under age 55.

They had 164 cases of cancer, 526 controls and they concluded that, and I’m quoting from the study now...”marijuana use in cancer to date does not favor the idea that marijuana as commonly used in the community is a major causal factor for head, neck, or lung cancer in adults.”

This has been studied now for generations. And they have not seen a strong correlation, a correlation that you might expect, between marijuana use and lung cancer.

And it’s shocking to me that despite this consistent history of not finding such an effect that you now have world wide headlines claiming the opposite based on a study that essentially consisted of 14 people.

Dean Becker: Well then there is the ‘plus’ stories that don’t get the attention, certainly not in the American media, that in fact it may help prevent certain types of brain cancers, I believe it was called gliomas, and other compounds, derivatives of the cannabis plant that help in regard to these cancers as well. That doesn’t get the focus that it needs, does it?

Paul Armentano: Sure. In fact there was a study that came out of the University of Wisconsin that was published just last week that accepts the use of cannabinoids to treat a whole host of cancers including breast cancer, brain cancer, pancreatic cancer, cervical cancer, lung cancer and on and on it goes.

Yet that study, as far as I know, has not received any press either in this country or internationally. You know, the fact is, Dean, is that this is arguably the most studied plant on Planet Earth.

If any of your listeners right now go to pubmed [http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/] and they type in cannabinoids for the year 2007 they’re going to get over 3,400 published studies about marijuana that came out in scientific journals last year alone.

If they do it for 2008 they’ll see 138 studies published in the month of January. Five of these studies, because I reported on each of them, actually talked about marijuana being used as an anti-cancer agent and possibly as an alternative for chemotherapy.

The fact is the media has the option everyday if they wished to, to write about marijuana, the question is why the media decides to highlight the studies they do, like this study out of New Zealand, and ignore these other studies.

Dean Becker: Ahh, yeah. It’s quite the conundrum. Now, as I understand it, that you have kind of analyzed or gathered together a lot of stats about studies of driving while using cannabis. Of course, we don’t want people smoking a big bowl of hydro and hitting the road, but it’s certainly less damaging to the individual than, say, a half a glass of whiskey, right?

Paul Armentano: You know this has been a topic that’s really been debated for a long time and I did, recently, write a report really trying to assess what the risk is of someone using marijuana and driving.

Here’s the facts: if a person smokes marijuana and then drives within, say, the one to two hour period after they use the drug, they do have an elevated risk of being in an accident due to the impaired driving compared to a sober driver. That risk is about two-fold.

By contrast, they have much less of an increased risk of having an accident as compared to one who has recently drank alcohol, including legal levels of alcohol.

A recent study that was published in a Canadian journal looked at ten years of North American crash data and what it found essentially was that individuals who had a blood alcohol level of about 0.05 had about three times a higher risk than individuals who had marijuana in their blood, indicating they had recently used marijuana.

So while marijuana use can be a slight risk or slight road hazard compared to not driving upon anything at all, it is a much lower risk than someone driving after drinking even legal amounts of alcohol.

Dean Becker: And yet the, there are several States, and I don’t know if the Feds have looked at doing this yet, but where they want to analyze peoples’ blood or urine on the road and hold them accountable as being high if they have the marijuana metabolites in their system. It’s more ‘reefer madness’, is it not?

Paul Armentano: Yes, that’s known as a zero-tolerance per se law, gaining some traction nationally. There are certainly more than a dozen States that have actually passed laws that now say a person is guilty per se of impaired driving if they simply operate a motor vehicle with any trace level of a controlled substance or that substance’s inactive metabolite in their urine.

For marijuana smokers, or someone who even occasionally uses marijuana, this law could potentially be devastating because, as many people know, the inactive metabolite in marijuana can be present in urine for several days or even weeks after past use. Or under a strict interpretation of these State driving laws, those individuals could potentially be found guilty of so-called ‘drugged driving’ for having used marijuana a week or two weeks prior to getting behind the wheel.

Dean Becker: Well, again it is that ‘reefer madness’ that just survives. It’s a monster. No matter how many stakes you put through its heart it keeps plodding along. But that’s where NORML comes in, you guys work against that propaganda war, do you not?

Paul Armentano: We certainly do and weeks like this week it seems like a herculean task. The media has really been, sort of, stoking the flames of ‘reefer madness’ lately and it does not help matters when they do that.

We have enough battles to fight politically without the media bringing up these sorts of ‘reefer madness’ scare tactics from generations ago but that’s how it goes and when they come up you have to deal with them and try and set the record straight like we’re doing today.

Dean Becker: Well, at the end of last month you had a great piece that was published on, I think it was CounterPunch: “What’s the Going Price for a Joint?” Let’s talk about that.

Paul Armentano: Sure, sure. You know essentially what I was doing with that piece is that I really wanted to highlight, not just the fiscal cost of enforcing marijuana prohibition but also the emotional costs. What sort of affect an arrest can have on the individual user.

I sometimes think that gets overlooked, that sometimes we don’t do well enough putting individuals’ faces on the victims of marijuana prohibition. The last year the FBI has data for, over 800,000 Americans were arrested and charged for simple marijuana violations. Over 90 percent of those arrests were based on possession cases only.

And more than ten million Americans have been arrested since 1994 on marijuana charges. We are talking about literally millions of lives being devastated and ruined by this drug war. And I’m not talking about simply being arrested and possibly going to jail.

We know that many individuals do not serve time in prison for minor marijuana offenses but they may lose their jobs or they may lose their student aid.

In many States they may lose the right to adopt a child. Forever. Simply because of a minor marijuana violation. They can lose their assets, they can lose their eligibility for certain Federal benefits like food stamps...the list of penalties go on and on and on. And they all stem from a minor marijuana arrest.

Dean Becker: I have a phrase I use here on the show that maybe not for small amounts, with large amounts they can take your kids, your house, your car, your cash and worldly goods and send you to prison for decades at a time. It’s a...I don’t know...I think it’s glaringly obvious to most people in America, certainly in regards to cannabis, that this drug war is an absolute and abject failure, is it not?

Paul Armentano: Well, it depends on what the goal of the drug is. You know, if we’re to believe that the stated goals of the drug war are to limit access to marijuana and discourage use, certainly by any means, by that standard the drug war has been an inherent failure.

And its also been a failure fiscally and, in my opinion, it has been the single greatest threat to American civil liberties that is out there. It’s certainly a greater threat to our civil liberties than terrorism is. The drug war is our own domestic terrorism and people really need to realize that.

Dean Becker: All right. We’ve been speaking with Mr. Paul Armentano, Deputy Director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

Paul, the Presidential candidates, some of them, still cling to the old notion that there are no positive studies yet, as you indicated, there have been hundreds over the years, over the decades, that speak positively about marijuana and yet they ignore those, do they not?

Paul Armentano: Yeah, for the most part they most certainly do. I, frankly, I think most of the Presidential candidates and most politicians in general are really simply uneducated when it comes to this issue.

Now that’s not to say, were they to be educated they would necessarily change their positions because I arguably think their positions are, for the most part, political. But the fact is most of these individuals, when they talk about marijuana, they talk about the drug war in general, they really don’t know what they’re talking about.

Unfortunately when you look at the crop of mainstream Presidential candidates in this election it’s pretty much more of the same, particularly on the Republican side aside from Ron Paul.

Dean Becker: All right. Paul, we’re going to have to close it out here. I appreciate you being with us. Before you go give them your website.

Paul Armentano: Sure. People that want to learn more about NORML and learn more about some of the topics that we’ve touched upon today can go to www.norml.org.

Dean Becker: Thank you, Paul.

Paul Armentano: Thank you, Dean.
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Cliff Schaffer: I’m Cliff Schaffer. I’m founder of the Schaffer Library of Drug Policy and editor of Marijuana Business News dot com. And lately I’ve been looking at the marijuana industry in California.

Dean Becker: As I understand it, Great Britain is thinking about re-criminalizing marijuana over there. Gosh, Canada is thinking about sending people to prison for growing plants but yet the United States seems to be the one awakening to the need for change, right?

Cliff Schaffer: Well, California anyway and I don’t know they so much as they awakened to it as they just accepted it. In 1996 we passed the medical marijuana law in California, Proposition 215, and it basically authorized that anyone with any illness could get marijuana.

Well, to make a long story short, over the years since then a million people or more have gotten medical marijuana recommendations from doctors in California and hundreds of stores have sprung up to service the demand.

It is still anybody’s guess how legal the stores are because the law is rather hazy and uncertain on a lot of points but the fact remains is that there are hundreds of stores, including hundreds in Los Angeles alone, and they do about a billion dollars in annual business as near as anyone can estimate and probably pay more than $50 million a year in sales taxes.

In addition, they apparently employ what I would estimate is at least ten thousand people. And the bigger news is that, you know what, this isn’t a problem. It isn’t creating major problems anywhere and there is no major movement to go back to marijuana prohibition.

People are just fine with it. They know that anybody can get marijuana with a simple doctor’s recommendation. They know that there are stores all over the place and it’s not bothering anybody.

Dean Becker: As you stated to me the other day perhaps the most major problem is finding a parking space near some of the dispensaries.

Cliff Schaffer: That’s true. Some of the dispensaries have done $50 million a year in business through a single location and the biggest problem is finding a place that has adequate parking for all their customers. It’s as if there was only one beer store in town.

Dean Becker: There was a major story broke across the country a couple of weeks back about the fact that some of the dispensaries are now providing vending machines for after-hours access. What kind of problems is that creating?

Cliff Schaffer: None at all. If it creates problems then the people who do the vending machines will go out of business and it won’t be a problem anymore. But the vending machines are under tight control and there’s an interesting thing here because the vending machines that sell marijuana are perhaps even less regulated than ordinary vending machines.

You can’t really sell alcohol through vending machines here in California but you can sell marijuana simply because marijuana exists in a grey area. And for all those who are concerned about the vending machines I would point out that you can buy Aspirin and Tylenol and all sorts of other drugs through vending machines and those drugs kill far more people than marijuana does.

Dean Becker: Not to mention tobacco products like cigarettes.

Cliff Schaffer: Yes, those are pretty well gone here in California. But.…

Dean Becker: ...across the country...

Cliff Schaffer: Yeah, across the country they still exist.

Dean Becker: Alright, now there are also some indications the Federal government is, at least some Federal officials, are beginning to back down. Wasn’t there something about a U.S. Attorney out that way?

Cliff Schaffer: Yes, the U.S. Attorney for Northern California was asked recently in a news conference about his stance on medical marijuana and he describes it as ‘shoveling sand against the tide’ and said that really the Federal government has better things to do than to chase down medical marijuana.

But if you live in California this much was obvious a long time ago. He’s only saying what all of his men in the field have obviously recognized already. The Federal government is not raiding all of these stores, I mean they have hundreds of opportunities and the stores have neon signs in the window and they advertise marijuana-on-special in the newspaper so it doesn’t take a lot of investigation to find a big marijuana seller in Southern California.

Dean Becker: I was out in Las Angeles this past summer attending the NORML conference and I was amazed at how, to me, the openness and, for lack of a better word, the brazenness with which marijuana was utilized and, I guess, being a Texan it struck me as brazen. But the fact is it’s not creating any problems despite the fact people are using the best products they can find.

Cliff Schaffer: Yes, and one of the amazing things is that the stores are often very much welcomed in their local communities. And one of the reasons is the stores often have a lot of security and therefore they provide security for the rest of the neighborhood as well. And in some cases they act as anchor tenants for the strip malls, they are the tenants that draw the customers to the strip mall in general.

Dean Becker: Once again, we’ve been speaking with Mr. Cliff Schaffer of the Drug Library, of the Marijuana Business News and Cliff, give them a website or two where they can learn more about what you’re up to.

Cliff Schaffer: Well, the main one right now is marijuanabusinessnews.com, there’s quite a bit of information and will be more information on what’s happening in California. And if you want background information on the marijuana laws and why we have this situation in the first place, I’d recommend going to druglibrary.org and clicking on the Schaffer Library of Drug Policy.

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It’s time to play ‘name that drug by its side-effects’.

(horrible side-effects)

Answer: The answer from GlaxoSmithKline---Veramyst nasal spray for allergies.

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Poppygate: Bizarre news about the U.S. policy on controlling heroin featuring Glenn Greenway.

Glenn Greenway: The BBC reported this week that opium poppy seedlings are already sprouting in the early Afghan spring and that all predictions point to another record-breaking crop.

The UN Drug Czar, Antonio Maria Costa, announced this week that Afghanistan, currently the source of 93% of the world's illegal heroin, may have an opium harvest that matches 2007's record production. Dr. Costa has previously stated that last year's jackpot harvest has no historical precedent since the hey-day of Chinese production in the 19th Century.

Twice as many acres are under poppy cultivation as during the Taliban production peak prior to U.S. engagement. Fifteen percent of the population are now involved in opium production which accounts for more than half of the country's GDP. According to the UN, the harvest's final value is between $200 and $400 billion dollars, 50 to 100 times what the crop generates within Afghanistan.

Former U.S. ambassador to the UN, Richard Holbooke, wrote a blistering guest editorial about Poppygate in the Washington Post last week:

"The [spectacularly unsuccessful U.S. counter-narcotics] program, which costs around $1 billion a year, may be the single most ineffective program in the history of American foreign policy. It's not just a waste of money. It actually strengthens the Taliban and al-Qaeda, as well as criminal elements within Afghanistan. I hope [high-ranking U.S. government officials] will reexamine the disastrous drug policies that are spending American tax dollars to strengthen America's enemies."

In other Afghan news, the U.S. military has killed nine Afghan policemen in a botched raid on so-called "insurgents" and an Afghan reporter has been sentenced to death for blasphemy after researching women's rights.
Finally, back in the U.S, the number of methadone-related overdose deaths has risen nine-fold in Baltimore during the course of the Bush Presidency.
This is Glenn Greenway reporting for the Drug Truth Network.
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Public Service Announcement: Hi, this is Willie Nelson from NORML. To learn how you can help, contact NORML at www.norml.org.

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Dean Becker: Well, I hoped you have enjoyed today’s show. I want to thank Paul Armentano once again from NORML for his insight and I want to just recommend to you, courage. That’s what’s happening out in California. The people finally got courageous enough to tell the DEA to ‘stick it.’ And the DEA is giving up, reluctantly I guess, they’re still busting a couple of folks a week and for the most part they just take the marijuana and the money and flee in a hurry. Courage. Courage is what’s going to end this drug war.

I want to recommend this week’s Century of Lies program, the second segment of “Black America: The Debate Within.” We talk about the need for change. I want to let you know that I got an invite from a local black church to speak and that’s, to me, wonderful news.

We need to work together to help bring this to an end. If you’d like to have me or any of my friends at the Drug Policy Forum of Texas or from Law Enforcement Against Prohibition speak at your church, your organization, your school contact dean@drugtruth.net.

We have about 53 videos online now and we have, they’re all available at http://youtube.com/fdbecker and I remind you, once again, that because of drug prohibition you don’t know what’s in that bag so please be careful.

To the Drug Truth Network listeners around the world, this is Dean Becker for Cultural Baggage and the unvarnished truth. This show produced at the Pacifica studios of KPFT, Houston.

Tap dancing on the edge on an abyss.

Transcript provided by Gee-Whiz Transcripts. Email: glenncg@zoominternet.net