01/24/10 - Arthur Burnett

Judge Arthur Burnett, director of National African American Drug Policy Coalition, Howard Josepher of Exponets in NYC + Paul Armentano of NORML

Program: 
Century of Lies
Date: 
Sunday, January 24, 2010
Guest: 
Arthur Burnett
Organization: 
National African American Drug Policy Coalition ( NAADPC)
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Century of Lies, January 24, 2010

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: Welcome to this edition of Century of Lies. Today we are going to have three segments for you. First we’ll hear from Judge Arthur Burnett head of the National African American Drug Policy Coalition. We’ll hear from Paul Armentano of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. And we’ll hear from Howard Josephson. First up Judge Burnett.

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Arthur Burnett: I am Judge Arthur L. Burnett, Sr., the national executive director of the National African American Drug Policy Coalition. The coalition was created in 2004 with the number one goal and objective was to get policy changes in America to treat the use of illegal drugs as a manifestation of a disease, of addiction or dependency and treated as a medical, a public health problem rather than a criminal justice problem where people are subject to incarceration release and then reincarceration without ever obtaining treatment.

So we wanted to bring a strong focus to treating it in a medical sense just like you would treat a heart ailment, diabetes or cholesterol problem or any other medical problem. And when we deal with it with a medical problem you get a person cured in a drug treatment program then to give the person the tools to lead a stable life.

They need a GED, a trade, an education to be job ready. We will provide that for them. If they need job training and employment and affordable housing let’s do that. It would be far less costly than people going in and out of prison time after time because they had a drug problem and no one ever treated it. So that was our number one goal.

The number two goal of the organization was to bring together the black African American organizations in this country to work on behalf of reaching back to our youth and showing our youth that there is a better way to have a useful productive life.

That black Americans who had achieved were not ready to jump ship and just enjoy their own wealth and largesse but were ready to help others break the barriers of poverty. And show that education could be a way to escape poverty and become a professional, a career person in the technological field.

So we developed a drug education and prevention program that included one of [ ] or preventing truancy, encouraging youngsters not to drop out of school and to do well in school. And to do that we offer certain incentives. That you stay in school until you reach the eighth grade. In eighth grade you can maintain a good B average or better.

You want to become a doctor we will give you a doctor as a counselor mentor to work with you from the eighth grade all the way through medical school as if that doctor were your father or mother. And that’s the medical association joined our coalition saying in this way we want to double the number of black doctors in America and not lose this human talent to people coming getting involved in drugs and becoming prison inmates.

And when the National Medical Association said they would do it, each of our other organizations in the coalition, the National Bar Association, the Black Social Workers, the psychologists, the dentists, the pharmacists, they all said we will do it for our profession as well.

So we now have developed a national program where any African American youngster who wants to go to college in any particular field, where you could end up with a PhD degree or professional degree we will reach out and take that kid by the hand at the eighth grade and give that kid from the eighth grade all the way through high school, all the way through college and then in the professional school the same guidance we would give our own children.

And so what the African American community is doing is saying that black America is engaged in self determination. We’re not waiting for the government. We’re not waiting for white America or the business community to do it for us.

We are going to reach back those of us who have gotten the advantages of the civil rights movement and break the problems of poverty and crime and the social ills that infect a substantial part of the black communities living in our inner cities and urban America.

Treatment resources we have today can hardly address fifteen or twenty percent of the problems we need in this country. I have personally had conversations with the drug czar and his general counsel and members of his staff about increasing tremendously the appropriations for drug treatment so that everyone who needs it can get treatment.

But I have also urged and it’s a position of our organization the National African American Drug Policy Coalition that one should be able to get drug treatment without waiting to get criminal charges first or be brought in to court on and elect and abuse case and have a court case. That a person ought to be able to walk in to a community health center anywhere in America just like they would if they had a heart problem or a diabetes problem or cancer problem and get medical public health treatment for substance abuse and get a referral.

And we are we are just waiting for the health care reform bill to pass because that bill promises that it will provide substance abuse treatment, access to treatment, elimination or racial and ethnic disparities for drug treatment and mental health treatment which many times is co-occurring as to depression or anxiety or traumatic stress disorder the same extent it would for physical ailments like diabetes, hypertension, cholesterol problems or any other physical problem you have.

And it is our position that is if this is caught early on by way of prevention or in the incipient stages of the substance abuse we can head it off in advance and it would be less costly to our health care system. People will live longer and more productive, less dysfunctional and we can indeed save money as president Obama is suggesting.

But we urge that treatment on demand where people can get it on their own where they have the desire to turn their lives around should be made available to the same extent we are making health care available for people for physical ailments.

Our website for the National African American Drug Policy Coalition is www.naadpc which is the acronym for the name of the organization dot org.

I want to emphasize also that our coalition includes eighty-two historic black colleges and universities and across America we are involving those colleges and universities as home bases for creating local chapters of our organization in the cities and communities in which those colleges are in fact operating and have their campuses.

So that we will have the joint effort of our black professionals as well as our college faculty and our students studying go in to criminal justice, social works and social behaviors. Those students working for master’s degrees and PhD degrees can reach back to our younger generation and influence them to seek quality education and be role models for them. So they don’t only just have to see the pimps and the drug dealers riding around in BMW, they see the productive side of African American life.

And hopefully through that over the next ten years cut in half the number of blacks, African Americans who are going to prison and committing crimes in the country and making the crimes undermine the very viability of our national security and our work force. And we aim to set an example and be a model for all segments of our society on how to influence our youth to become productive citizens.

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Prohibition’s filled the world with vice and crime
It’s left a trail of death, graft and slime
It can’t stop what it’s meant to stop
Everybody knows this but the cops
Prohibition don’t prohibit worth a dime

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Howard Josepher: My name is Howard Josepher. I am the founder and president of Exponents, a community based organization in New York City helping people with drug use issues, HIV AIDS and people who are returning to society from prison. I have been doing this now for over twenty-one years. And actually came in to this work by overcoming my own addiction to heroin some time ago. And that I feel that the opportunity that I took advantage of many years ago is the opportunity I want to make sure that other people have.

He is talking the talk and it’s good talk and it’s much more enlightening what we’ve been doing but until we see the current drug czar and the Obama administration walking the walk then we haven’t done anything differently.

Understanding addiction as a health issue means that drug taking behavior is a form of self medication. And the important thing is to understand what is it that people are medicating. To keep it simple we see that people are medicating their pain, their feeling basically in some ways their medicating depression.

And so that to to work with people who have this condition you have to understand it that depression does come and go and that relapse will be part of the addiction treatment process. And that we have to approach it as a chronic health condition. And approaching it as a chronic health condition means we’ll be treating addiction much like we treat diabetes, asthma or hypertension and that there will be some steps forward as some steps backwards but we might be hopefully treating addiction in a way that we don’t punish people for their step backwards.

In New York I work with people who are often on parole or probation. And while we the drug czar is saying we should treat addiction as a chronic condition. In New York if you are on probation and you and you get high you’re going to go back to prison. So it’s only in treatment of addiction do we expect a perfect outcome a perfect resolution. We are still treating it as an acute condition not as a chronic one.

We started at the height of the AIDS epidemic I was asked to help get one of the first HIV initiatives off the ground in new york city for injecting drug users. It was a small research and demonstration grant. And we understood that if we were going to ask the addicts coming in to our program we were going to say we wanted to teach them about the prevention of spreading AIDS. We wanted to teach people how to take care of themselves if they had the virus. We wanted to help them prevent relapses.

But we understood we could not tell people you have got to be clean, you have got to get off drugs before we will help you. So we we we created a harm reduction approach even before we knew there was such a thing as harm reduction.

The other thing we did that I believe has made us successful is that we looked around and said well where is successful outreach happening around this epidemic? And we saw in the gay community in New York City an incredible education effort being made by the gays with one another.

Remember in those days if you wanted to know about HIV you didn’t go to the doctors. You didn’t go to the medical textbooks because there wasn’t anything in them. You went to people living with the virus. And then the gays doing their outreach with one another we saw that they did it without judgment. And so we incorporated this non judgmental approach in to our work.

Let me tell you people coming in to your program, this is inner city hardcore drug users that you meet them where your at without judgment and without preaching to them and they become very receptive and amenable to the services that you have to offer.

We started in a church basement on the lower east side of Manhattan with seven men out of prison. And here we are twenty-one years later and this program that’s an eight week twenty four class program has over nine thousand graduates. Even more significant is that every single one of them has attended twenty-one of twenty-four classes on a completely voluntary basis.

So it goes against the commonly held belief that addicts don’t want help that they don’t want treatment. You have got to put a gun to their head to motivate them. That’s a lot of crap. You know if you change the way you approach people, you do it in a respectful manner in a manner that you know meets people where they’re at and you don’t preach to them I find people are very receptive to us.

You can learn more about us, Exponents, on our website: www.exponents.org. And you will find a message of hope and you will see many individuals who have overcome their own addiction. People like myself who thought they could never change, they could ever have a better life.

But if you take that energy and you focus on getting high and you take that energy and you are able to shift that focus you’re a powerful person. Just as you are powerful when you are getting high, there’s how many people go to bed at night without any money, without any dope and somehow they get up the next day. They find a way to get high that’s a kind of a power. And you could shift that power and you could use it to make a better life for yourself. You have got to find people who have done it before you know and just do your research, look around, don’t give up.

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Opening up a can of worms and going fishing for the truth.
This is the Drug Truth Network. drugtruth.net

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Paul Armentano: Yeah my name is Paul Armentano. I am the deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. I am also the co author of the book Marijuana is Safer So Why are we Driving People to Drink?

Well the public has understood this for some time but we have seen a major cultural shift in public perception over the last one to two years where the percentage of Americans who now respond on national polls and say that they believe marijuana should be taxed and regulated in a manner similar to alcohol. We are now pushing nearly fifty percent nationally.

And while some people may look at that number and be disappointed and say I am surprised we don’t have a majority of the American public that believes that we have to keep in mind that just two three years ago those numbers were only roughly around thirty percent, thirty-three percent. So we have made great strides in the public’s understanding of the futility of prohibition and of the relative safety of marijuana particularly compared to the use of alcohol.

And most tellingly there was a Rasmussen poll of about one two months ago that asked Americans which drug did they think was more dangerous, marijuana or alcohol. And fifty-two percent of those who responded to that poll said that in fact alcohol is the more dangerous drug. And I think that explains why we are seeing this shift in public opinion.

Well whether you are looking at the toxicity of alcohol versus marijuana, whether you are looking at the impact on behavior of alcohol versus marijuana or whether you’re looking at the short term and long term effects on the body, the users overall health, by any standard you want to give cannabis is by far the objectively safer substance. It is far less toxic than alcohol and its long term and short term impact on the body is far less than that of alcohol.

And I think most people are already well aware that its influence on behavior is far less detrimental than the use of alcohol. It is arbitrary and irrational to live in a society that embraces as a culture and legally the use of alcohol while stigmatizing and criminalizing the use of marijuana, the objectively safer of the two substances.

This issue has been looked at around the globe. The World Health Organization several years ago commissioned a study. They wanted to look at the social impact on both health and cost to a society of the use of alcohol, tobacco and… alcohol, tobacco and marijuana. And they found not surprisingly that the actual costs to a society were far less those costs that were associated with marijuana versus those costs that were associated with alcohol.

And you see this again and again. Australia did a similar study similar studies conducted in Canada there have been some state studies conducted in this country as well. They all consistently come out with the same results.

And when we are talking about risks to the consumer, you know I would argue that as a society we under report the potential risks of alcohol. I think most people would be shocked to learn that even one drink a day over the course of five six days a week greatly increases a persons chance of coming down or being diagnosed with cancer.

Ethanol the psychoactive ingredient in alcohol is carcinogenic. But as a society we tend not to have that conversation. And I think we really need to begin to have that conversation. We have drawn an arbitrary line that puts marijuana on the illegal side of things and has put alcohol on the legal side of this equation. And there is not a rational basis for making that distinction.

Well unfortunately if this was an argument that was going to be… if we were going to have public policy on marijuana based on science we would have a very different public policy than the one we presently have. Unfortunately our policies in this regard are based on ideology. They are based on rhetoric and often times the drug czar whoever he or she may be is simply parroting much of that rhetoric.

The American Medical Association reversed a long standing position that it had held for many years that argued that marijuana should be retained as a schedule one controlled substance. Now for those out there that may not know what a schedule one controlled substance is this is a substance which is defined by congress and by the government to hold no accepted medical value in treatment.

And that statement that definition clearly runs up against the reality that there are literally hundreds of thousands of Americans right now legally using marijuana as a medicine. There are tens of thousands of physicians right now that are recommending marijuana as a therapy to their patients.

And as the AMA noted when they reversed this long standing policy earlier this week there are clinical trials and there are pre clinical studies showing that inhaled marijuana has safety and efficacy in the treatment of a number of conditions whether it be neuropathic pain, whether it be the spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis whether it is as an anti nausea agent.

So for the drug czar to say otherwise is essentially the equivalent of those that would have argued with Galileo and said that it is in fact the sun that revolves around the earth. The drug czar’s policy is a flat earth policy. I don’t hold out much hope he’s going to change that position.

But by the same token I am also not a firm believer that he’s particularly passionate about this position. He understands it’s the position he needs to take. I don’t think he has a lot of faith in it because he strikes me as a fairly pragmatic and well educated individual. And he has to know that the position he is espousing is not a position that is in line with the science.

You know I have been involved in this movement now for almost twenty years and I have heard every reason why people can’t be overt in their activism. Some of those reasons I would argue are valid. Some of those reasons I would argue really aren’t that valid. But the times are changing. I think people are becoming for more emboldened now to voice their support for marijuana law reform.

And look I think the point needs to be made that there are many, many people that right now would agree that our marijuana laws are a total failure. They don’t dissuade people from using marijuana. They are not limiting access to marijuana particularly among young people. And that they are counterproductive and fiscally irresponsible.

And many people that hold those views do not use marijuana. And I think it is important to acknowledge that the support for marijuana law reform doesn’t necessarily only come from the marijuana using community. That’s a part of those that are advocating for change but realistically it’s a small part.

Sure we can argue that even despite seventy plus years of prohibition that we still have millions of Americans that have tried marijuana. We still have millions of Americans that use marijuana. But we do not have anywhere near the numbers of Americans regularly using marijuana that we have say for instance using alcohol. Yet we have tens of millions of Americans arguing in favor of marijuana law reform. We have tens of millions of Americans going to the ballot box and approving laws for the medical use of marijuana.

So this is an issue that affects all Americans not just a minority of the marijuana using community. And the futility of this war on marijuana consumers is being acknowledged not just by the consumers themselves but by society as a whole.

NORML is a membership driven organization. Without the support of our membership NORML would cease to exist. And we are very different than a lot of the other drug law reform groups that work on this issue in that many of them for better or for worse derive the bulk of their funding from a small handful of individuals.

NORML does not operate that way. NORML’s funding is based on the small individual donations of tens of thousands of people, our constituency. And we answer to them. And we really are an organization that the average person can become involved in and become invested in.

We have over a hundred thirty chapters located across the country so people can get involved with other like minded reformers at the state and at the local level. And that is where we do a large part of our work.

We have a blog on our website that we the individuals that work at NORML take the time to respond to, to respond to individuals questions and foster that sense of community. So to me I look at this as an organization, it’s an educational organization, it’s an advocacy organization, it’s a legal organization. But it’s also an organization that responds to the interests and to the requests of the marijuana consumers and the constituency that wants marijuana law reform.

We have very few barriers between the average American marijuana law reformer and those of us that are speaking on their behalf. Yeah and NORML’s website for those that want to learn more about the organization is www.norml.org

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Dean Becker: Well that’s about it. I hope you’re doing your part to bring to an end this hundred year war on people who use certain drugs. There is no truth, justice, logic, scientific fact, no medical data, no reason for this drug war to exist. In my opinion the drug lords obviously run both sides of this equation. Please do your part to help end this madness, visit our website, endprohibition.org.

Prohibido istac evilesco.

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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