05/27/08 - Neal Peirce

Washington Post writer Neal Peirce regarding Bush's Faulty Prescription for Mexican Drug Violence, Paul Armentano regarding use of cannabis for brain cancer and CNBC clip of marijuana businesses in California

Program: 
Century of Lies
Date: 
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Guest: 
Neal Peirce
Organization: 
Washington Post
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Century of Lies, May 27, 2008

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.
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Dean Becker: Hello, my friends. Welcome to this edition of Century of Lies. I’m so glad you could be with us. Today we’re going to hear from Mr. Neal Peirce. He’s a writer for the Washington Post Group. We’re going to hear from Paul Armentano, Deputy Director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, about the use of cannabis in the treatment of cancer. And we’ll hear a clip from CNBC talking about the medical marijuana situation in the state of California.

First up, Neal Peirce.

You know it seems like about once a year we get a chance to talk to Mr. Neal Peirce who writes a column for the Washington Post Writers Group. And his latest one he’s titled up ‘Bush’s Faulty Prescription for Mexican Drug Violence.’ I want to welcome you, Mr. Peirce.

Neal Peirce: Thank you.

Dean Becker: Mr. Peirce, if you would, sir, please kind of outline this article. What’s contained therein?

Neal Peirce: Well, the basic story is that we have an incredible amount of bloodshed happening in Mexico at this moment. There have been 6,000 people killed in the last couple of years and it seems to be coming to a crescendo recently. More than 20,000 Mexican troops and federal police involved. All dealing with these private armies of rival drug lords and cartels which are involved, competing for the profits of exporting cocaine, marijuana, and other drugs into the United States. It’s this very bloody scene and a huge danger to our major ally, close by ally and neighbor, the nation of Mexico. And therefore the Bush Administration has proposed something they’re calling the Merida Initiative, which would be about half a billion dollars a year for three years to help the Mexican government supposedly step up its anti-drug efforts, helicopters and other military equipment for the police forces and phone-tapping and mail inspection and web surveillance stuff. And the question is: is that a good idea or a bad idea as a way to deal with the situation we have on our hands?

Dean Becker: Yes, sir. And this plan Merida is--it’s not difficult to surmise that perhaps a lot of this money will slip into the hands of the federal authorities that are in league with the traffickers, is it not?

Neal Peirce: Well, that’s what the past practice says because there’s serious corruption in the Mexican police forces and military forces also to some extent according to all reports. And there’s so much money involved in this trade--by some estimates 23 billion dollars a year in illegal drugs crossing from Mexico into the United States--that the temptations are just immense. Even for police officials to be bribed and brought in as members of the drug trade and there are some instances I’ve seen of high proportions of some of the border police forces being actually part of the, controlled by the cartels rather than by the government.

Dean Becker: Of’ times these border guards, these customs agents are given the choice of the silver or the lead and they have billions of dollars, as you say, with which to corrupt and bribe and arrange the situation, do they not?

Neal Peirce: That’s exactly what happens. Yes. So the question becomes: if we send all that money are we going to accomplish anything other than to make the war bloodier? And there’s no guarantee that would happen. Even if it did happen it would just drive up the price of cocaine for a while which makes the drug war all the more bitter because the profits are that much higher.

Dean Becker: Yes, sir. I heard it said once that, you know, saying that raising the price of these products would hurt the cartels is like saying raising the price of oil would hurt the gasoline vendors.

Neal Peirce: And we’ve noticed how that’s working with the oil industry in the United States right now.

Dean Becker: You betcha. And you also reference in this article there’s a paragraph about the situation that: where do these Mexican cartels get their weapons of death? Outline that for us.

Neal Peirce: Yes. This is very interesting. It appears that a high proportion, ninety to one hundred percent, of the weaponry used including assault rifles, AK-47s and so on, are being smuggled across from the United States. They’re bought by shady characters, shall we say, at gun shows and so on that the loopholes in federal law permit. You can buy a gun without having a proper background check. Therefore it’s easy for some of these characters to pick up these weapons and then, there’s sort of an ‘ant trail’ it’s called, of smuggling back across the border into Mexico where the cartels pay high amounts of money for these weapons. So it’s a pretty unhappy scene. Of course, assault rifles are now easily purchased in the United States because Congress, which had banned them, stopped banning them, knuckled under to the gun lobby, with the acquiescence of the Bush Administration about four years ago.

Dean Becker: This is a desperate situation. I must concur with that. You know, it was Colombia twenty years ago that had an ongoing all-out war for control of the nation, for control of the distribution and it’s now just as deadly, just as dangerous in Mexico, is it not?

Neal Peirce: It appears to be the case. And of course what happens is when you crack down in one area you simply push the illegal trade elsewhere because the demand is not reduced significantly at any point. And, as a matter of fact, you can argue that the higher the price of drugs the more the drug dealers and drug cartels will recruit runners and distributors and others by using, by giving them small amounts of drugs and getting them sort of subjected to the tyrannies of their control.

Dean Becker: You mentioned, you know, that it’s the balloon effect. If you squash it in Mexico it will go to some other country. And I had Sanho Tree of the Institute for Policy Studies on last week and he said that ‘In order to grow all the cocaine that is used around the world it would only take an area about the size of the City of Houston to get it done.’

Neal Peirce: That’s fascinating. I didn’t realize that.

Dean Becker: Yes, sir. And I guess what I’m leading up to here is, you know, you hear the politicians talk about the need to squelch the drug trade rather than tax, regulate and actually control these drugs. They want to change the minds of hundreds of millions of users worldwide and stop the millions of growers and traffickers and sellers from continuing their trade. It’s off base, is it not?

Neal Peirce: Well, you know, the fact is that there has been in human nature, since the dawn of time, a desire for mind altering substances. Opiates, alcohol, whatever it might be. And you can try as hard as you would like to stamp out that part of the human desire and it just doesn’t work. It has to been seen that these are substances, some of which are quite dangerous, are quite, not easy to kick once you get going with them, but the treatment of various types, and then trying to convince on the merits people not to use them is far better than setting up a black market system in which they use them anyway but we create this huge criminal enterprise in the process.

Dean Becker: Yes, sir. You reference within this piece the Rand Corporation had done an investigation of that situation, drug treatment versus incarceration. Your outline of that please.

Neal Peirce: They found that the dollar for dollar drug treatment is about ten times more effective at reducing actual abuse than the attempt to prevent drugs from reaching a market in the first place.

Dean Becker: Now, you quote a man of great intellect and courage, I think, for having made some of his statements, Mr. Milton Friedman, the Nobel Laureate. Outline for us what you quoted from him.

Neal Peirce: He had seen what alcohol prohibition accomplished when he was a young man, which was a huge amount of crime with all of the illegal rum-running triggered the really, the huge wave of gang wars, Al Capone is a name we all know out of that era. And his theory was that, and I think it’s been proven pretty well again and again around the world, that the illegality creates the profits and therefore pulls the people, creates the criminal activity, and then you corrupt law enforcement officials in the process, so that you get the drugs being pushed and quite aggressively sold. That criminalizes the people who then use them, so you end with, as Milton Friedman put it, a ‘tragedy.’ It’s a disaster for society, users and non-users alike.

Dean Becker: Once again, we’re speaking with Mr. Neal Peirce, a writer for the Washington Post Writers Group. Mr. Peirce, we have a very similar situation in Afghanistan where the terrorists are making billions of dollars each year growing opium flowers on a mountain side and even in the United States we have these dangerous, violent gangs that afford their weaponry, their ability to shoot-up our neighborhoods, by selling drugs to our children. Your thoughts on that?

Neal Peirce: I’m not going to argue with you. I think that’s where it’s gone and I’ve been writing about this for several years. And what astounds me is that the issue does not get out into public debate widely enough. Have you heard anyone ask at a Presidential Debate, ‘what are we going to do about the failure of our thirty some year War on Drugs?’ No one asks the question.

Dean Becker: Haven’t heard it, sir.

Neal Peirce: Nor have they asked the question, ‘why do we have the most people incarcerated of any country in the world and the highest per capita incarceration rate?’ A large reason for that is that we, with our wealth, are the great vacuum cleaner pulling in drugs and paying out huge amounts of money for. And it’s a really bad situation which we are unwilling to discuss and make a major public issue in this country and therefore as long as that’s the case we’ll continue to suffer the terrible price that we’re seeing with the criminality on our streets, with the seduction of lots of people into drug use who would normally not get into it as much, they were pushed into it, they were very poor, they pulled into the drug rings in the inner-city neighborhoods and elsewhere. And we wouldn’t be seeing other countries like Colombia and Mexico suffering so grievously because of our habits.

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(DTN promo) This is Gustavo de Greiff, former Attorney General of Colombia, talking about the drug problem to the Drug Truth Network.
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Paul Armentano: I’m Paul Armentano, Deputy Director of NORML and the NORML Foundation in Washington D.C.

Dean Becker: You know, Paul, it may be too late to help Senator Kennedy but I saw a report, well, several times over the years, about the fact that cannabis can be helpful in the treatment of glioma cancer of the brain. Have you heard those same stories?

Paul Armentano: Well, most certainly. One of the most vexing issues for me over the past fourteen years or so that I’ve been dealing with this issue is the fact that for now more than three decades the U.S. government has essentially suppressed information indicating that components of marijuana have anti-cancer properties. The first study illustrating this fact actually was published in 1975 and that study was actually conducted at the Medical College of Virginia and in that study investigators found that when you gave doses of THC to rats that had various types of cancerous tumors that you increase the survival of those rats in that the tumors did not spread to the same extent that they did in mice that were not given THC. That was a finding and a fairly stunning one that, as I said, goes back now almost 35 years yet there has never been any follow up research conducted in this country looking at compounds in marijuana as anti-cancer agents. Fortunately, there has been follow-up research taking place overseas over the last decade and the bulk of that research has looked at whether these compounds in marijuana can stave the proliferation of brain cancers, or gliomas as you mentioned earlier. And the pre-clinical and very limited clinical data that is available is actually very promising.

Dean Becker: And where were those other studies conducted?

Paul Armentano: Those studies are primarily done in Spain. There is an investigation team in Italy that has done some work on this issue as well some researchers in Israel but primarily this research has been limited to those three countries and has predominately been limited to pre-clinical trials, those would be trials involving animals. Although in 2006 a researcher in Spain, Manuel Guzman and his team, did conduct and publish the results from the first-ever clinical trial where patients who were suffering from a very aggressive form of brain cancer were actually administered doses of THC directly into the tumors in their brains. And they did find that, in some of those patients, there was a regression of the tumors after THC administration.

Dean Becker: Now this is not the only instance wherein medical cannabis can be of benefit to the human with their various maladies and complications sometimes from treatments and so forth, right?

Paul Armentano: Well, sure, but what makes this so exciting is that when you look at this research, you see two or three things happening in regards to cannabinoids and cancer. The first and probably the most exciting factor is it seems as if the cannabinoids target the malignant cancer cells while leaving the healthy cells alone. Now, anyone who has undergone chemotherapy or who has had a family member undergo chemotherapy knows how sick chemotherapy treatment can make a person. That’s because essentially you are poisoning the body.

By poisoning the malignant cells and the healthy cells doctors are hoping they will be able to get rid of the cancer and hopefully keep the person alive long enough to recover. So when we’re talking about cancer research the holy grail is literally to have an agent that, unlike chemotherapy, only targets the unhealthy cells. In any pre-clinical trials that’s what cannabinoids seem to do. They seem to have the ability to selectively target the malignant cell, have that cell turn on itself and actually kill itself while leaving the healthy cells intact. So we are literally talking about an agent that may have the ability to do things that no other agent that we currently have available can do. And, like I said, the irony and really the most frustrating aspect of this is that government researchers have been aware of this since the mid-1970s.

Dean Becker: A few months back on the Drug Truth Network we had Dr. Robert Melameade and he’s done a lot of investigation into the cannabinoid system. And if I can sum it up he’s says something to the effect that all of our body organs have cannabinoid receptors and that it is an integral part of balance of our condition, if you will.

Paul Armentano: Yeah. Robert Melameade has for some time been talking about the endocannabinoid system, that is this system of cannabinoid receptors in the human body and the ability of this system to maintain homeostasis, this notion of balance that you mentioned earlier. It’s a very interesting theory. And the science that has been emerging in this area over the past few years has seemed to support a lot of Dr. Melameade’s thoughts on this issue. Clearly if we have discovered, or I should say, if scientists have discovered over the past few years that this endocannabinoid system is integral in maintaining some of the most primary biological functions that humans have. From mood elevation to appetite to blood pressure to reproduction, these are all elements that biologically are regulated by the endocannabinoid system. And we’ve seen that when you take mice and when you block that endocannabinoid receptor system from working essentially the mice die of old age extremely quickly. That’s how vital this system is to human health and survival.

Dean Becker: Now, I don’t want to put on a tin-foil hat but I want to ask this question just the same. Could it be that the pharmaceutical companies just need their profits so much that they’re squelching this research, squelching the further studies?

Paul Armentano: You know I hate to burst some person’s balloon but I don’t think that is the case. The pharmaceutical industry, in my opinion, is going to profit either way. They are going to profit with marijuana being illegal and if there comes a time where marijuana is legal they’re going to profit even more. There was a paper published by NIAA a couple of years ago that, really, nobody has talked about and I’ve been somewhat surprised as to why. It’s called the ‘Endocannabinoid System as an Emerging Target of Pharmacotherapy’ and at the end of that paper they cite the fact that pharmaceutical companies have now taken out over two dozen patents on different cannabinoid analogs, those are the synthetic compounds of actual cannabinoids, for medical research. Believe me, the pharmaceutical industry, perhaps better than most individuals and certainly better than our government, understands that compounds in this plant have all sorts of medical utility and they’re planning on capitalizing on it.

But one of the things that I also would like to mention since we are talking about the medical utility of cannabis, and you touched on this just a bit earlier, is that when we’re talking about things like cancer and there’s some other diseases that I also think are vitally important to talk about like multiple sclerosis and Lou Gehrig’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease, we’re talking now about the potential for marijuana to not just have symptomatic relief for patients. We’re actually talking about something much bigger here. We’ve seen evidence now coming out of the U.K. that patients with severe MS who are given Sativex, a oral spray that was composed of natural extract of cannabis, that they can be taking this drug now for one, two, maybe three years and that their MS has not advanced. And they have not been increasing their dosage. That shouldn’t be happening. Multiple sclerosis is a progressive disease.
The disease should be getting worse and these people should be needing to take larger doses of the drug over the years to maintain their relief. The fact that that isn’t happening is awfully good evidence of the fact that Sativex, or the compounds in Sativex, are actually halting the progression of this chronic disease. And we’re seeing that sort of evidence in certain families of diseases, particularly these neuro-degenerative diseases like ALS or Alzheimer’s and some of the autoimmune diseases like diabetes, like MS. So I think it is incredibly insulting when our opponents say things like ‘medical marijuana is the equivalent of someone taking a shot of vodka to feel better.’

We’re not talking about symptomatic relief. In some cases we can be. Everyone’s familiar, for instance, with cannabis and the way it alleviates temporarily the nausea associated with cancer chemotherapy. That’s great. Many patients have benefited from that, from the use of cannabis for that reason. But when we’re talking about medical marijuana today I want to stress that for many patients we’re not just talking about temporary symptomatic relief, we’re actually talking about disease modification, something that very few available medications on the market can do.

To go back to multiple sclerosis, you know, a person when they’re diagnosed with MS, they may be given one drug to address the symptom of spasticity, they may be given another drug to help with their incontinence, they may be given a third drug to help them sleep. But none of those drugs address the underlying disease, they’re simply masking symptoms. Cannabinoids appear to have the ability to alter the progression of the disease itself. And that, I think, is really the holy grail for medicine.

Dean Becker: All right. Once again, we’ve been speaking with Mr. Paul Armentano of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. Paul, share your website, please.

Paul Armentano: Sure. I would encourage people to go online at www.NORML.Org and when they’re on that page they can click on an online publication that I authored called ‘Emerging Clinical Applications for Cannabis and Cannabinoids’ and it covers, in quite a bit of detail, many of the subjects we’ve talked about today.
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Dean Becker: And now, as promised, we’re going to close this out with a little clip I captured from CNBC talking about the marijuana situation on the West Coast.
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CNBC Anchor One: California’s number one industry is...can you guess? What do you think? Don’t look. Number one industry in California, don’t look at the prompter.

CNBC Anchor Two: Garlic?

Narrator One: Close, agriculture. Probably nuts but arguably it’s number one crop isn’t legal. One study by advocates says maryjane--worth $14 billion to the Golden State. But in this week’s cash crop report: Jane Wells says there is a legal side to this business. Oh yeah? Jane?

Jane Wells: Yeah, worth a couple billion they estimate legal in the state size market. This medical marijuana facility behind me called the Farmacy in Venice. Many of these clinics are being raided as criminal enterprises but many others are trying to prove they are legitimate businesses even if the feds disagree. Which makes turning a profit challenging.

JoAnna La Force: I mean, this is the business model of the future.

Jane Wells: A model that JoAnna La Force claims is open, honest, ethical and legal. She runs a handful of herbal remedy shops in Los Angeles that also sell medical marijuana. Even as a dozen states have legalized cannabis for certain patients, no place has run with the idea like California.

JoAnna La Force: California went from under a hundred dispensaries to over five hundred dispensaries in just a few years.

Jane Wells: Last year medical marijuana clinics paid California a hundred million dollars in sales taxes, plus taxes on income and property. But the feds got nothing. All of this remains illegal at the federal level and that adds extra costs to running La Force’s business. She keeps lawyer William Kroger on retainer and she’s not the only one.

William Kroger: I say we represent about twenty to thirty in the Los Angeles area.

Jane Wells: Kroger charges over $400 an hour usually and he gives would-be clinic owners tips like ‘don’t steal electricity to grow,’ ‘guns are a bad idea,’ ‘the DEA is not as big as you think it is,’ and ‘the burden of proof is now on the government to prove your assets were bought with ill-gotten gains.’ But there are other costs, like growing. Clinics often grow their own from cuttings they receive from state-sanctioned collectives. And the growing equipment can run into the thousands of dollars.

Farmacy Employee: And these are fans that are used for filtering the material and the smell.

Jane Wells: To compete, some clinics provide patients with up to a hundred choices of cannabis in several different forms.

JoAnna La Force: We also have cookies and our hemp balls which are very tasty.

Jane Wells: La Force says she is finally close to breaking even on the business, and as for the retail price, it remains similar to what pot costs on the street. Even if clinics could charge less, many don’t, afraid it will encourage buyers to turn around and resell at a profit.

JoAnna La Force: Being illegal in the minds of the federal government, we do practice civil disobedience every time we open our doors. It provides a lot more stress you have to deal with.

Jane Wells: Usually when you start a business you need to go through some sort of certification process but in the absence of that process here in California one school has decided to start one.

On a weekend in West Hollywood people learn how to grow and sell their own medical marijuana. The two hundred dollar class is sold out. This is Oaksterdam University which opened last year in the Bay area. It’s name a combination of Oakland and Amsterdam, the Dutch capital known for liberal drug laws.
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Dean Becker: A quick closing thought. Scott McClellan has written a new book and contained in it is a recounting of an evening in a hotel suite where he remembers President Bush saying ‘The media won’t let go of these ridiculous cocaine rumors. You know, the truth is honestly I don’t remember whether I tried it or not. We had some pretty wild parties back in the day and I just don’t remember.’

I wonder if he’s aware of the fact that during his presidency we’ve arrested more than ten million of our fellow Americans for their drug use.
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And, as always, I remind you that there is no truth, justice, logic, scientific fact, medical data, no reason for this drug war to exist. We’ve been duped. The drug lords run both sides of this equation. Do your part to help end this madness.

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 Gee-Whiz Transcripts. Email: glenncg@zoominternet.net