01/03/10 - Daniela Perdomo

Daniela Perdomo, Alternet reporter + Philippe Lucas reports on Canada's drug reform + Corrupt Cop report with Phil Smith of Drug War Chronicle

Program: 
Century of Lies
Date: 
Sunday, January 3, 2010
Guest: 
Daniela Perdomo
Organization: 
Alternet
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Century of Lies, January 3, 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.
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Dean Becker: Alright my friends welcome to this first 2010 edition of Century of Lies. Today we’ll hear from Daniela Perdomo of Alternet who will tell us about progress on marijuana laws out in California. And we’ll hear from Mr. Philippe Lucas, city councilman and head of the Vancouver Island Compassion Society up there is British Colombia tell us about the progress or lack thereof up in Canada. First up, Daniela Perdomo.

Daniela Perdomo: I am a writer for Alternet and as of a month ago I have been working on the drug reform beat here at Alternet.

Dean Becker: I know there has been several efforts in California to take another look at this situation. And there is a gentleman out there former Houstonian Mr. Richard Lee who’s been responsible for one of the major pushes. You want to tell us about that effort?

Daniela Perdomo: Sure so Tax Cannabis 2010 is a ballot initiative that just qualifies for the November election mid term election here in California. And it essentially would technically legalize marijuana use for all adults over twenty-one in the state of California.

What it does - it doesn’t actually legalize pot as much as it actually decriminalizes certain marijuana offenses so marijuana has been quote unquote decriminalized in California since 1975. It can still involve a fine and arrest or a misdemeanor charge on your record which if you ask me doesn’t sound like decriminalized so what Tax Cannabis says is it actually allows for all adults over twenty-one to consume marijuana and buy it in certain areas.

Dean Becker: People across America think that it’s just you know legalized basically, that there is no arrests in California and yet the number of arrests there is rather ponderous is it not?

Daniela Perdomo: You know it absolutely is. You know I think that people have that idea about California because medical marijuana has been legal here since 1996. It was actually the first state to legalize medical marijuana.

But the framework under which growers and dispensaries in the medical marijuana business operate are in something of a legal grey area. The laws are to say the least pretty vague and confusing and of course they are in conflict with federal law. So district attorneys, law enforcement and even politicians have all different ways political ways I think of interpreting the law here.

So there is an ambiguous laws that govern or you might say don’t govern medical marijuana here and so that is one big reason people are propelled towards marijuana reform. But as you eluded arrests relating to marijuana you know it’s a social justice issue as a result of the drug war.

You know as I said in 1975 California decriminalized marijuana. And in the years following arrests were halved and the state saved millions of dollars in law enforcement costs. But then something changed in 1990 where low level marijuana arrests mostly for personal possession took off in California. They actually jumped a hundred twenty-seven percent from 1990 to last year. And over the same period arrests for all the other offenses dropped forty percent. And to further elucidate that since 2005 marijuana arrests have actually increased thirty percent reaching seventy-eight thousand last year four of five which were for simple possession.

Dean Becker: It also depends on what part of the state you live in, right? I know the major cities San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles it’s not such a problem but there are municipalities where it continues to be enforced like the days of old, right?

Daniela Perdomo: It’s interesting. So many experts try to explain to me exactly what is legal and what isn’t legal under current medical marijuana law and there is no consensus. And that is why everyone is pretty much free to interpret the law as they wish and that’s why we still see medical dispensaries still being shut down especially in areas like southern California like in Orange County and San Diego which are more socially conservative.

Dean Becker: There are certain initiatives, certain possibilities I should say in California. Assemblyman Tom Amiano has a bill he’s putting forward that seeks to change the status quo. You want to talk about that?

Daniela Perdomo: Sure. What is interesting about the Amiano bill is and I was telling you that Tax Cannabis doesn’t actually legalize pot as much as it absolutely decriminalizes certain marijuana offenses. But the Amiano bill actually removes marijuana from the civil and criminal codes. It reestablishes the selling or providing of cannabis to a minor felony penalty but it literally legalizes it while Tax Cannabis technically only decriminalizes it. But for practical purposes all but legalizes it.

And then another effort is another initiative which is not likely to qualify for the ballot next year called the California Cannabis initiative which is the most far reaching when you compare it to the Amiano bill and the tax cannabis initiative in that it has no limits to personal cultivation and possession. It expunges cannabis criminal records and includes anti discrimination protection for cannabis users.

Dean Becker: Now let’s go back to Richard Lee the guy who is putting together this referendum if you will for 2010 ballot. He has built a university to educate people about cannabis laws and agriculture and so forth. And he works with the community to actually improve that neighborhood there in Oakland. Let’s talk about the positive aspects of through regulated marketing of cannabis.

Daniela Perdomo: Sure and you know Oaksterdam area in downtown Oakland that Richard Lee has spearheaded its transformation over the past few years used to be a really run down area of Oakland and now it’s pretty much it’s a thriving entertainment district. We have Oaksterdam University which is essentially a training school for the cannabis industry.

One of Richard Lee’s biggest goals I think in life is to professionalize the cannabis industry. And I don’t know how many classes they have graduated but many. And then he has a bunch of coffee shops, dispensaries, businesses related to marijuana say places where they sell you know bongs and bowls and books on growing cannabis.

And but you know he is also its interesting next to every single piece of Oaksterdam that is owned by Lee, there are other businesses that have sprouted and thrived as a result of you know the foot traffic that Oaksterdam has brought in. You know Chinese restaurants, brunch places. He also put in a lot of money to refurbish the Fox Theatre, this historic beautiful theater in downtown Oakland that was falling apart and is now one of the premiere venues in San Francisco Bay area.

Dean Becker: There are very few I’ll call them drug warriors left standing who are willing to discuss this subject and yet there are a few die-hards who remain adamant that marijuana is a threat. You want to talk about the substance of those objections.

Daniela Perdomo: I think that for me it’s very clear that the drug war has failed. We are sending a lot of people to jail non violent offenders to jail or or at least tarnishing their criminal record with a misdemeanor charge for a drug that one out of three Americans admit to using and of course many more have likely used it. It’s the least toxic illicit substance. I mean you can overdose on water, you can’t overdose on weed.

I don’t think that the drug warriors claims have any substance at all. Dean I think what is interesting is that the campaign Tax Cannabis is not going to be trying to change the minds of these drug warriors. You know what they are trying to do is is appeal to the majority of folks who know that the drug war has been a failure and are trying to find another solution. And so they present taxing and regulating marijuana as part of that solution.

I think taxing and regulating marijuana and taking it out of the black market may very well have an effect on the violence that is occurring in Mexico and that is spilling over into the United States. And relating to the budget crisis you were speaking about and in Texas.

You know of course California has perhaps one of the largest budget crisis if not the largest. The budget here reached we have eighty-one billion dollar debt this month and it’s rising and people are watching [ ] special programs being cut, public schools bearing a big brunt of it and state parks a big source of California pride are in danger of being closed and so taxing and regulating marijuana could actually bring a great deal of revenue to the state.

The Board of Equalization, the agency charged with taxing and regulating tobacco and alcohol in this state, estimates that legalizing marijuana could generate at least one point four billion dollars in tax revenues annually. And further legislative analysts office here published a report stating the legal marijuana would free up several tens of millions of dollars annually in correctional and law enforcement resources which would in turn redirect the funds for more urgent matters so I think that there’s a great financial incentive to pass Tax Cannabis.

Dean Becker: Now you had a paragraph in there talking about Mr. Steve DeAngelo who heads up the Harborside Health Center there in Oakland who is going to contribute some cash to this effort. I mean Richard Lee is a millionaire but this is a multi million dollar project to move this forward to the 2010 election. You want to talk about that need for people across the nation to perhaps show their support and show that the sky doesn’t fall in California perhaps it can be done elsewhere.

Of course well the campaign will have anywhere between ten million to twenty million dollars and my guess is that they want to ensure greater chances of winning it will be closer to the twenty million dollar mark. They will be emphasizing online organizing and fundraising kind of like the Obama campaign. They do want it to be a populist movement. Of course they always have Richard Lee’s money to fall on. But anyway they hope to raise money from a lot of people, small donations, ten twenty dollars from many people and they are going to try to raise nationally too.

Dean Becker: A moment ago I talked about the fact that the sky isn’t falling and you know it’s been ten years plus since Prop 215 passed and the sky has not fallen and children are not you know smoking in grade school classrooms. It hasn’t brought about the impending doom that was forecast. You want to talk about what has actually happened in these last ten twelve years.

Daniela Perdomo: Yeah medical marijuana is one of the reason people are so excited about California. You know California is not the first state to have a ballot measure about the referring to the legalization of marijuana for all adults. I believe it was Colorado or Nevada in 2008 or 2006 passed similar initiatives which failed.

But the reason people are excited about California is that is wasn’t the advent of medical marijuana movement in fact it was the first to pass a medical marijuana law in 1996. And then of course views on pot legalization have never been so favorable both nationally and locally. For the first time ever we are seeing slim majorities consistently. And finally you know California is the largest state. If it succeeds here the effects will be far reaching and experts see California as something of bellwether.

Dean Becker: Once again we have been speaking with Daniela Perdomo. She’s a reporter for alternet.org. Well Daniela this is a major effort. What sort of challenges stand before this effort.

Daniela Perdomo: Well you know it might be good to even speak first about what it has going for it. It certainly has more things going for it than it has challenges. Well it is clear to most people that the drug war has failed particularly when it comes to marijuana. And the polling is more favorable than ever before. A field poll here in California in April shows fifty percent support for legalization of marijuana.

Then of course you have the massive budget crisis that and so there’s a financial incentive to bring in more tax revenue to the state. And of course it affects the socioeconomic initiative. A lot of passionate about it for very different reasons.

So while less people vote in the midterm election if the campaigns get out the vote strategy is effective they can really influence the composition of the electorate much more than if it was a presidential year. And there is no organized opposition yet.

But in terms of challenges, the polling is not in the super majority category. For example in 2008 we had Prop 5 which was and initiative that sought to emphasize treatment and rehabilitation for non violent drug offenders with harsh criminal consequences. And it failed by just polling in the seventies. You know a powerful opposition mostly made up of law enforcement was able to wage a successful smear campaign.

And so and but right now in California the courts are legalizing marijuana is only polling in the low to mid fifties pending which poll you are looking at. After all it is much easier to vote to maintain the status quo than to change everything around. It’s just easier to vote no over yes. And additionally we don’t know if there will be any other quote unquote controversial measures on the ballot next November, but if there isn’t tax cannabis may bear the brunt of too much scrutiny.

And of course the other thing right now is going to be more galvanizing on the ballot than this initiative will be the governors the governor election. And no GOP candidate is going to be for this. And Jerry Brown the presumptive democratic nominee is not likely to be either particularly given his record of interpreting medical marijuana laws. Just last month he said that the selling of medical marijuana is illegal under current state law.

So it will be an uphill battle for sure but there’s probably never been a better chance of it passing than 2010. Yeah and I think what is interesting to point out is that I think that the Tax Cannabis people are right to envision this as a public education campaign. After all there are a lot of mistruths out there about pot that they have to dispel.

So I think you know at worst if it were not to pass a lot of people are going to a lot of people who haven’t thought about this. People will be thinking about it and talking about it. And you know if 2010 doesn’t pass perhaps 2012 will.

Dean Becker: Alright. Well once again folks we have been speaking with Daniela Perdomo. She’s a reporter with alternet.org. Daniela I kind of envy you for being out there in heart of this maelstrom and being able to observe it on a daily basis. Any closing thoughts?

Daniela Perdomo: You know it’s really exciting and and as somebody who is completely convinced that the war on drugs has failed. I can only hope that legalizing marijuana is the first step in repealing laws that just have not worked and just don’t make sense in today’s climate.

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Phil Smith: This is Phil Smith of the Drug War Chronicle with this week’s corrupt cops stories. And this week this is for all you lone star staters out there. We have got a Texas trifecta.

In San Antonio the FBI is investigating the Bayard county sheriff’s department narcotics unit over allegations that some deputies unlawfully took evidence or stole money and property from they detained or arrested. The probe has been going on for two years and has expanded from allegations of civil rights violations into investigating deputies who appear to have been living beyond their means.

Among accusations aimed at some members of the dope squad are that they use excessive force and threats and that they shook people down at apartment complexes where they work private security jobs. The investigation began when a childhood friend of one of the deputies was arrested in Arkansas with fifteen pounds of cocaine and a deputy intervened filing a report claiming the man was his informant. He wasn’t. The investigation continues.

Meanwhile, not too far from San Antonio in Kerrville in the hill country, the former hundred ninety-eighth district attorney was indicted December seventeenth for misusing asset forfeiture funds. Former DA Ron Sutton is charged with two counts of misapplication of fiduciary property. His indictment comes after district judge Carl Proel resigned in September after defense attorney complained to the Texas commission on judicial conduct that Proel was being biased in the DA’s favor because he was benefiting from the DA’s largess with seized funds.

Judge Proel had received fourteen thousand five hundred dollars in checks from Sutton for training, equipment and to attend a conference. As well as part of another twenty-one thousand dollar check for conferences in Hawaii and a six thousand dollar check to cover per diem expenses during those same conferences. As a residing judge Proel approved all expenditures from the asset forfeiture fund. Proel agreed to resign his judgeship quote in lieu of disciplinary action by the commission unquote.

And out in Lubbock a former deputy sheriff pleaded guilty December twentieth for his role in a methamphetamine trafficking ring. Former Hockley county chief deputy Gordon [ ] age fifty-three copped conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and now faces up to ten years in federal prison.

He was one of twenty eight people named in a July indictment alleging a motorcycle gang was running cash to Modesto, California and returning to west Texas with the speed. Also indicted was another Hockley county deputy Jose Jesus [ ] who pleaded guilty last month to mis [ ] of a felony. Both deputies provided information to the bikers that hindered efforts to shut down the ring.

As always there are more corrupt cop stories and other drug war news. Check it out online at www.stopthedrugwar.org.

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Philippe Lucas: My name is Philippe Lucas. I am founder of Vancouver Island Compassion Society and I am currently a city councilman in the city of Victoria, British Columbia. And I do cannabis and drug research.

Dean Becker: Well Philippe it’s been a while since we have talked. It’s been a while since I have gotten an update, the pulse on what’s going on in Canada. But I also understand perhaps some things that didn’t happen are good. There was and I am not sure I understand this word a bill was prorogued different nomenclature for me that would have brought forward mandatory minimums. You want to talk about that situation first?

Philippe Lucas: Yeah in fact the it’s a parliamentary term proroguing of government and it means that the actual government has been shut down, that their term for making or passing bills is essentially done for the year. And it has been prorogued until March thirteenth and that means that any bills that are currently outstanding and before the government will not be passed.

Now that’s fantastic news for those of us that spend a lot of time and energy opposing Bill 315 which would have imposed mandatory minimums on Canadians even for minor drug offenses if they were tied to a distribution or production. And certainly when I had to testify before the House of Commons and the senate on this bill and when I testified in front of the House of Commons I was in a panel that included representation from the ACLU and Neil Boyd.

We also had Deborah Small sit on the same panel and come and tell us some of the incredible damages of the Rockefeller laws and mandatory minimums had caused in New York and all through the US. And and so we have definitely gained from the expertise in the US and it was clear from the evidences before the government from both Canadian researchers as well as American researchers and activists that this was not going to be a bill that was going to have any positive impact on Canadians. It wasn’t going to reduce drug use. It wasn’t going to reduce problematic use. It wasn’t going to reduce crime in Canada and in fact all it was going to do was fill our prisons with non violent drug offenders.

So I think that drug policy and drug use and basically altered states are topics that bring about some visceral responses that are - these are emotional topics. They the drug war is a is a an incredible example of moral regulation both for our countries. It is not sustained by any scientific evidence whatsoever and so I think that Alex Woodaxe said it best.

Alex Woodaxe wrote a paper on on basically on whether or not prohibition was morally justified and he talked about consequentialist drug policies versus deontological drug policies. Now deontological drug policies or deontological approaches to problem would be where you have an approach to a problem that doesn’t take into account the actual impact to the approach you are putting forward.

And it with drug policy we condemn drug use because drug use is quote unquote bad despite the fact that our policies we are putting forth may actually be increasing the damages of the very drugs that we are trying to protect people from. And so that is a deontological approach to drug policy and that is reflected in our current prohibition in Canada and the US.

Whereas a consequentialist approach where we look at the consequences of our policies might best be exemplified by harm reduction approaches where we realize that people throughout the since the dawn of humanity have been seeking altered states of consciousness. We realize that people will continue to do so into the future and we try and reduce potential harms that people face when seeking these altered states. And so that would be an example of a consequentialist drug policy.

I did want to mention that although Vancouver is perceived all over the world as a very progressive area in terms of drug policy. Certainly when you look at the safe consumption sites, the Naomi protocol around heroin distribution it is very progressive.

It is worth noting that Vancouver has the highest per capita police reported arrest rates in all of Canada and has lead the country in drug arrests for the last five ten years. And so on a per capita basis more people are prosecuted in Vancouver than anywhere else in Canada and that includes cannabis crimes. They lead the nation in cannabis arrests. And so despite the act that the population itself is very progressive and that cannabis use is largely accepted within that society that is not reflected in police action whatsoever.

Dean Becker: You know I just did an interview with Daniela Perdomo. She writes for alternet and she was talking about the fact that California is perceived as very you know liberal in this regard and yet the number of marijuana arrests continues to escalate. Its perceptions are not always what they first lead you to think.

Philippe Lucas: And I think what we are seeing there is a real dichotomy between the public’s acceptance of this form of non problematic substance use and the government’s response to it. The government’s response and certainly the police response is not reflective of the way that the people perceive these substances at all.

I think it’s with California now having the opportunity in 2010 to vote on a legalization initiative we are going to get a much better judgment of where the people of California are and where they would like to see their enforcement dollars spent.

And also in 2010 I’ll be conducting a really amazing study of iowaska assisted therapy for problematic substance use along with a doctor named Gabor Mate who published a great book a few years ago called In the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts looking at addiction. And so Dr. Gabor Mate has been setting up these five day retreats for people suffering from issues of dependence in their lives that includes two iowaska sessions and apparently the results have been quite stunning and the impact it’s had on people’s lives.

And so I am working with a researcher named Gerald Thomas right now and we’ll be conducting an observational study of some of these sessions to see if the changes that people are suggesting and the impact of these sessions have had on people’s lives are as significant in the long term as they are in the short term.

Dean Becker: And to kind of inform the listener, iowaska is a substance, a combination of two jungle vines if I am right, that leads you on quite a trip if you will and is in fact embraced by the US Supreme Court as a legitimate sacrament for certain churches, right?

Philippe Lucas: Yeah in both Canada and the US there have been some interesting court decisions as well as government moves to recognize iowaska as a sacrament within Brazilian syncratic churches that use it as a sacrament and in fact in the US right now it’s being used legally.

In Canada we are still awaiting a section fifty-six exemption which would allow the legal import and export of this substance to a Brazilian syncratic church which is headquartered in Montreal. And so although the use the recreational use or I should say the use therapeutic use for problematic substance use isn’t yet legal in either of our countries. Certainly this kind of observational research might lead the way to more stringent clinical trials that will show the incredible potential of this of this Amazonian admixture to treat problematic substance use.

Dean Becker: Once again we have been have been speaking with Mr. Philippe Lucas. Great source of information regards to the subject of drug reform on a world wide basis called upon for his expertise. Any closing thoughts?

Philippe Lucas: If I could bring attention to two incredible events taking place in the next few months both of them in the US. The Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies in end of April is going to be holding an incredible conference on psychedelic research in the Bay Area in California. If you want more information I suggest you go to maps.org.

And on the exact same weekend unfortunately on the exact same weekend on the other coats in Rhode Island, Patients Out of Time is going to be holding a conference on cannabis therapeutics and research. And I’ll be speaking at the Patients Out of Time conference and maybe even try to swing across the country and catch the tail end of the MAPS conference.

Dean Becker: You still working for Drug Sense?

Philippe Lucas: I am still working for Drug Sense absolutely and still do communications work for Drug Sense. We are we are looking forward to 2010. We think it’s going to be an incredibly exciting year particularly with these with the incredible voter initiatives that are coming forward. And if anyone wants more information on drugsense.org, certainly go to triple w dot drugsense dot org and see the great work being done by that organization. And this is an organization that exists only because of your donations and so please consider Drug Sense as a as a some of the best value for your drug policy reform dollar.

Dean Becker: Once again that website: drugsense – S-E-N-S-E – dot org.

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Dean Becker: Alright my friends we’ll be hitting it again next week and I want to invite you to participate in bringing about the end of this drug war. It has no basis in reality. There’s no truth, no justice, logic, scientific fact, no medical data, no reason for this drug war to continue. We have been duped. The drug lords run both sides of this equation. Please 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