05/25/14 Doug McVay

Doug McVay reports on The House Foreign Affairs Committee talks about the future of US-Mexico relations, and Openvape replaces its drug testing program with impairment testing

Program: 
Century of Lies
Date: 
Sunday, May 25, 2014
Guest: 
Doug McVay
Organization: 
Drug War Facts
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Century of Lies May 25, 2014

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DEAN BECKER: 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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DOUG McVAY: Hello and welcome to Century of Lies. I'm your guest host, Doug McVay, editor of Drug War Facts dot org. Century of Lies is a production of the Drug Truth Network, and is brought to you through the Pacifica network's radio station KPFT-fm in Houston, Texas. Find us on the web at drug truth dot net, where you can find past programs and you can subscribe to our podcasts. You can follow me on twitter, where I'm at drug policy facts, and also at doug mcvay. The Drug Truth Network is on Facebook, be sure to give its page a Like, you can find Drug War Facts on Facebook as well, please give it a like and share it with friends.

Before we start, I want to say hello to a few of the stations out there that carry Century Of Lies, including KOWA-LP 106.5 FM in Olympia, WA; WIEC 102.7 FM in Eau Claire, WI; and Valley Free Radio WXOJ-LP 103.3 FM in Northampton, MA. You can hear Century Of Lies via 420 Radio dot org on Mondays at 11 am and 11 pm, and Saturdays at 4 am. If you're listening to Century of Lies via any of our affiliates, thank you! You can license or syndicate Century of Lies or any Drug Truth Network content through your radio station or web service, get in touch with Executive Producer Dean Becker through the website at drug truth dot net.

On Tuesday, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs held a hearing on the future of US-Mexico relations. Inevitably, drugs were a major focus. Witnesses that day were: Roberta S. Jacobson, Assistant Secretary of the State Department's Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs; Elizabeth Hogan, Acting Assistant Administrator of the Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean for the U.S. Agency for International Development; and William R. Brownfield, Assistant Secretary of the State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs - an agency better known to policy types like me as Drugs and Thugs.

Today we're going to hear from Secretary Brownfield, as well as a few of the members of Congress who attended that hearing. First, here's Brownfield's opening statement:

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WILLIAM BROWNFIELD: May I open by thanking you for not drawing attention during your introduction to my 3 years as US Ambassador to Venezuela - a period and a performance which richly merits not being remembered for centuries and centuries to come.

EDWARD ROYCE: I referenced it but I didn’t give the time frame.

WILLIAM BROWNFIELD: [laughing] Chairman Royce, Ranking Member Engel, and Members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to be here today to discuss our important partnership in the world. Assistant Secretary Jacobson has just described the larger, strategic issues and I will report on the security relationship.

With the arrival of the Pena Nieto administration in December of 2012 both governments took the opportunity to review our security cooperation. We had much to review. Since 2008 we have delivered 1.2 billion dollars to support that cooperation and the government of Mexico has delivered many times that amount.

Our support provided training and equipment to 8,500 justice sector officials and 22,000 police. Specific education programs reached more than 700,000 Mexican students and secure federal rural prison system grew from 5 to 14. The Mexican government has taken down more than 70 major drug traffickers and our contribution of over 112 million in border detection equipment has resulted in almost 3.8 billion dollars in seized illicit goods. Our joint review started from a very strong base.

Early last year the two governments agreed to maintain four pillars to guide our security cooperation: 1) Disrupting the operational capacity of organized crime; 2) Institutionalizing Mexico’s capacity to sustain the rule of law and protect human rights; 3) Creating a 21st century border; and 4) Building strong and resilient communities.

The government of Mexico released its own 10 point national security strategy last August giving greater priority to crime prevention, rule of law and community development. We agreed with these priorities. For our part we prioritized training over equipment and state-level engagement as well as federal-level engagement. The Mexican government agreed with these US priorities.

Since January of this year our two governments have approved 78 new projects valued at more than 430 million dollars. The Mexican government focused these projects on justice, sector reform, Mexico’s southern border and state-level law enforcement. We will work with the Mexican Attorney General’s office to train prosecutors in the new accusatory justice system and empower law enforcers to fight financial crime. We will provide communications equipment and training for Customs, Immigration, Border and Narcotics officials along Mexico’s southern border - through which most illicit product and migrants pass on their way to the United States - and we will increase training and support for state police academies to allow them to expand their reach to state police throughout Mexico.

Mr. Chairman, I do not need to explain to this committee the importance of this security relationship. I am sometimes asked when we will see concrete results on the ground from this investment. The question is easily answered. First I note our lesson from Colombia. It takes decades to create security from threats and it takes time to resolve them.

Second there are visible results on the ground. The arrest of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman last February was the most important law enforcement operation since the Colombian take down of Pablo Es cobar in 1993.

In the past 3 years the homicide rate in the city Juarez (300 feet across the river from El Paso) has dropped as much as 83%. US consumption cocaine and methamphetamines (most of them transshipped through Mexico) has dropped nearly 50% since 2007. US border officials report that at some crossings Mexican nationals now constitute a minority of those detained for illegal entry.

Members of the committee, this congress was bold and ambitious when it decided in 2008 to support the Merida initiative. We’re not at the goal line yet but we’ve crossed the 50.

Thank you and I look forward to your questions and your guidance.

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DOUG McVAY: Now let's have some fun and listen to an exchange between Congressman Dana Rorhabacher, Republican from California, and Secretary Brownfield on the subject of legalization:

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DANA RORHABACHER: First and foremost let us be very grateful that we have such a wonderful people that live to our south. I’m a Californian. We are very proud of our heritage that we share with our brothers and sisters to the south. America could have neighbors that we didn’t like but I will tell you this much the people of Mexico are wonderful people. I’ve spent a lot of time with them as a young person and as an adult as well. Being a surfer I’ve spent a lot of time with Mexican surfers down in Baja. So let us just start with that that we should be grateful as a country for having such wonderful neighbors as we have.

Having wonderful neighbors and having good friends doesn’t mean that there aren’t problems and you have to work at those problems to make sure you maintain a good relationship. I’m very happy to hear testimony today that indicates that that relationship and that cooperation is on the upswing. I hope to be as supporting as I could of that effort.

I’d like to talk about something that you’ve touched on and ask you what is drug use in Mexico like? Is there a problem with internal drug use in Mexico?

WILLIAM BROWNFIELD: I don’t see anyone else grabbing for the microphone, congressman, so I will take a crack at that.

May I offer one lesson of history and that is there is no such thing as a country that serves solely as transit country in the drug trafficking pipeline. The reason is very, very simple. Over the last 30 or 40 years the trafficking organizations pay their network in product. They do not pay 50,000 dollars to a corrupted customs official. They provide an one-half kilo of cocaine or of heroin and that product then must be marketed locally and in that way a transit nation becomes a consumer nation.

Mexico is, in fact, confronting its own drug problem and crisis. It involved methamphetamines, cocaine and heroin. A big part of our program under the Merida initiative with the government of Mexico is drug demand reduction in terms of supporting an education program in schools and among youth, treatment and rehabilitation centers particularly in cities that are vulnerable to social unrest and ...

DANA RORHABACHER: Let me ask you this. Do they imprison drug users in Mexico?

WILLIAM BROWNFIELD: I’d have to double check in terms of the specific state of federal Mexican law. There are, of course, 32 states in Mexico as in the United States and each state has its own legal code. What I do not know at this point is whether mere possession or consumption is a criminal offense.

DANA RORHABACHER: Let us note that our drug war has been a total failure in the United States. We have massive drug use and after how many years that drug use in the United States is one of the things that has had a negative impact on our neighbors, our good neighbors whom we like. I think that there is a tendency among too many Americans to blame Mexico for our problem of consumption when actually it’s the other way around.

I have talked with former President Vicente Fox in Mexico and he is suggesting that perhaps we should try a revolutionary approach which is bringing down the price of drugs by legalizing it and by treating those people who use drugs as people who need our help rather than people who need to be imprisoned.

WILLIAM BROWNFIELD: I agree with you, congressman, that drugs in the United States and everywhere else in the world is a public health issue, that it is not just a criminal justice issue.

DANA RORHABACHER: So let me just say this. The best thing that we could do for Mexico would be to lower the price of drugs so that cartels wouldn’t have so much income to create a power dynamic in Mexico that is negative to that country. Isn’t that correct?

WILLIAM BROWNFIELD: I would want to be very careful not to support a policy or a strategy whose effect would be to increase the number of users and consumers of dangerous product...

DANA RORHABACHER: I agree.

WILLIAM BROWNFIELD: I understand what you are saying. My only response is the “devil’s in the details.” We have to make sure that as we proceed we are not producing a worse outcome and...

DANA RORHABACHER: With a note on that (and I understand that argument) but I would just suggest that I haven’t seen a lot of evidence that indicates that legalization of drugs and treating it as a personal problem that someone has rather than a criminal problem – I haven’t seen were that would increase the use of drugs in our society or in Mexico.

I’ve come to the conclusion that people can get a hold of drugs in our society no matter what. There’s nothing stopping them and that legalizing them wouldn’t mean more people would be using them it’s just that the drug cartels would be cut totally out of the equation and, thus, helping Mexico.

With that thought thank you very much.
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DOUG McVAY: You're listening to Century of Lies. I'm your guest host Doug McVay.

Let's hear one more bit from that House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing. The first voice is Congressman Joe Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, and after the response from Secretary Brownfield we'll continue on with a question from Congressman Adam Kinzinger, Republican of Illinois:

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JOE KENNEDY: I’m going to strike a theme that I thing many of my colleagues have also already talked about a bit with you, Mr. Ambassador. You talked a bit in your testimony and in many of the questions that have been asked about the recent positive developments regarding economic and energy reforms taking place in Mexico and the recent capture of “El Chapo” as an example of how the United States and Mexico can cooperate and make both countries safe from targeting drug traffickers.

Drug trafficking is of pretty good interest to me as a former prosecutor and I think, most importantly, across Massachusetts heroin overdoses are on the rise. In my district, specifically, Bristol County has been on the front lines of this painful epidemic.

By the end of last month the Taunton police department confirmed that there has been over 140 heroin overdoses in the city in 2014 alone. Equally concerning is SAMHSA’s (Substance and Mental Health Administration) recent report that shows 12.3% of Massachusetts’s youth between the ages of 12 and 17 reported using illicit drugs within a month before the survey was conducted. Compare that to the national average of 9.8%.

I’ve spoken with local leaders, health care providers, law enforcement officials from Taunton, Fall River, across Bristol County who stress two things driving the surge in overdoses and addiction.

First the prevalence of prescription drug abuse that is often the root cause of opiate addiction – 4 out of 5 heroin users started with prescription opioids before moving on to harder drugs. And, number 2, the ration of incredibly cheap heroin that is flooding their streets making it more tempting for a kid addicted to OxyContin that can go for up to $80 a pill to $3 a bag for a bag of heroin2 in parts of Massachusetts.

In its March 2013 report the INL (the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement) states that Mexico accounts for about 7% of the world’s leading heroin supply and most of it is smuggled into the US. DEA officials that I’ve met with confirm that large amounts of the drugs you find on the streets of cities like Taunton have Mexican origins.

A large ( I believe it was a front page story) in the New York Times today talks about New York City as being a hub of heroin for distribution across the northeast - much of that coming from Mexico.

Mr. Brownfield, you’ve talked a bit about this already but if you can give us some detail as to what advice you would give me, what advice you would give this committee as to what we can do about this on top of your efforts that you’re already allocating I’d be grateful.

WILLIAM BROWNFIELD: Congressman, I’m going to start with something that I don’t know how often you hear it but I’ll say it. I agree with absolutely everything you have just said. There is not one point of disagreement in what you have just described that I would point to.

JOE KENNEDY: I don’t get that often enough.

WILLIAM BROWNFIELD: I would say the following and I know we’re not supposed to create headlines here but I, in fact, do believe that the United States of America is confronting a nationwide heroin crisis. I have seen the same statistics you have. Over the last 4 years the number of addicts and abusers of heroin in the United States of America has jumped between 75 and 80%. The amount of estimated pure heroin that is entering the United States has increased by nearly 100%. That heroin is now found in neighborhoods, cities, regions of the country where it never was seen before and we are, I would also suggest, set up to address a different sort of drug problem.

We have gotten pretty good at over the last 40 years and that is interrupting the flow of cocaine and methamphetamine that start in South America, process and transit through Central America and Mexico or the Caribbean and enter the United States of America.

Heroin is a different problem set. We have got to get our head around that problem set and we will have to address it our we will pay very long-term consequences. Mexico is very much part of this issue. You have cited the statistic. The statistic I have read is roughly 26 metric tons of pure heroin is produced in Mexico any given year. That may sound like a lot although may I remind the members of this committee we estimate 650 is produced in Afghanistan but, nevertheless, if the US market is between 15 and 40 tons per year 26 tons actually goes pretty far towards satisfying the entire market.

We are going to have to adjust our tactics, our policy, our dialogue and our diplomacy in order to address heroin as well as cocaine and methamphetamines. That’s the answer I give you.

JOE KENNEDY: Mr. Ambassador, I know that I’m over time but if you might be able to respond in writing with some suggestions on how we should do that I would be grateful. Thank you.

EDWARD ROYCE: Thank you, Mr. Kennedy. We now go to Adam Kinzinger of Illinois.

ADAM KINZINGER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman and thank you all for being here. I appreciate it. It is a very important hearing to have and a relationship that I think sometimes both countries take for granted so I appreciate the attention being brought this day.

I just want to add to the heroin issue, the talk on that. There’s a youth recovery center in my district. I went to that recently and the person who was taking me around and introducing me to these teenagers (14, 15-years-old) said, “Hey, ask these kids what they are addicted to.”

When I was in high school the drug issue was marijuana or that was the extent of it. I asked the kids, “What are you guys addicted to? What’s your issue?” and half of the kids in that room were heroin. It shocked me. It actually caught me way off-guard. I knew it was a rising epidemic. I didn’t realize 14 or 15-year-olds were getting into heroin as intensely as they are. In areas of my district you can buy it cheaper than marijuana now so it’s a real, real issue.

Let me ask Ms. Jacobson...I’m going to switch subjects off of that.

Mexico was projected to grow last year at 3%. It actually had a 1.1% growth. Economists are predicting that there is going to be much better growth this year. Given the fact that our economies are so interconnected and given reforms going on in Mexico how do you think those reforms are going to impact economic growth in Mexico and, therefore, our growth? If you could keep it fairly short because I’ve a couple of other issues I want to hit, too.

ROBERTA JACOBSON: I’ll try and be really quick because I don’t have a crystal ball. I wish I did.

ADAM KINZINGER: You don’t?

ROBERTA JACOBSON: I wish I did have the answer to that question but I do think that the reforms open up possibilities for greater economic growth. I think the real question to some extent is how quickly. The implementing legislation gets into place now the expectations are very high but it’s not clear to me that the results of that in terms of improved economic performance and growth are going to be immediate. So I don’t know how...

ADAM KINZINGER: So maybe the hope is today we get kind of a boost from just people feeling better about it...

ROBERTA JACOBSON: Certainly you get some increased expectations and positive feelings. I think you probably get some increased investment and I think then you begin to get real changes.

ADAM KINZINGER: Thank you. Ambassador Brownfield, I’m an International Guard pilot. One of the missions I actually have flown is on the border of Mexico as part of border operations (I guess we’ll call it). Through Customs and Border Patrol I’ve seen first-hand the threat that a porous border creates and I’m not talking about people coming over I’m talking about illicit drug trade and everything along that level.

I think, frankly, that issue creates damage and mistrust between the two countries to an extent and I think a secure border could mean different things to different people. Everyone says they want a secure border.

I want to ask you a question specifically. Talk about the idea of the twenty-first century border and the four pillars that you’ve talked about. Could you describe what you envision? What is a secure border under this look like especially when it comes to the illicit drug trade?

WILLIAM BROWNFIELD: I would remind you as I start, Congressman, that, of course, what we are doing for the Merida initiative is the southern side of the border. That is our focus. State, local and federal law enforcement obviously manages the northern side, the US side, of the border.

First and foremost our focus is on equipment. A modern, twenty-first century border is a border that, in fact, has the sort of inspection equipment that allows your authorities to verify what is coming through or to the border in a way that does not create 50 mile backlogs and 2 weeks delays in order to cross the border.

I mention over the past four years we have provided 112 million dollars’ worth of nonintrusive inspection equipment and we believe that has been responsible for 3.8 billion dollars’ worth of seizures...

ADAM KINZINGER: Just real quickly. Is some of that stuff that’s being repatriated from Iraq and Afghanistan for instance? I mean ISR-type ...

WILLIAM BROWNFIELD: Not yet however you have put your finger, Congressman, on an issue that has increasingly become a matter of internal discussion within the executive branch and that is, simply put, are there resources or assets that are, in fact, going to be drawn down and removed from one region that could be put to use in this mission not just incidentally along the US/Mexico border but in other parts of this hemisphere as well. We are actively assessing it. As you can imagine my coming into position is I would like to apply as much of that as possible to this mission.

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DOUG McVAY: Now finally, a follow-up to a story we've been covering over the past few weeks. Openvape, a Colorado-based cannabis oil and paraphernalia manufacturer, had announced an employee substance abuse policy which had urine testing as its centerpiece. An uproar in the drug policy community ensued, which led to a dialogue between the company and several drug policy reformers, including me, a dialogue which was made quite public and was not always polite. I'm very happy to report that the company did listen, and more than that, they responded. Openvape announced last week that it has entirely retooled and revamped its employee substance abuse policies. They are abandoning urine testing, and replacing it with good supervision and where necessary computer-based impairment testing. If an employee seems to be having a problem, or is involved in an incident, they can be immediately tested for impairment, but workers will not be randomly selected and told to urinate in a cup just to hold down a job. As the company notes in the policy statement I was given on Tuesday, quote:

"The Company recognizes that certain circumstances might trigger the need for impairment testing, including specifically when employees hold certain "Safety Sensitive Positions” within the Company. The Company is also sensitive to civil liberties concerns implicated by testing, and the perception of asking employees to "prove their innocence€ through a drug test. The Company further acknowledges that factors other than controlled or impairing substances, such as stress, sleep deprivation, and personal difficulties, can impair an employee's ability to perform the essential functions of their jobs.” End quote.

Openvape has designated Bowles-Langley Technology as their initial approved provider of computer-based impairment testing. Based in Alameda, California, according to its website BLT got its start in the maritime industry with products such as maintenance schedules and safety checklists. They leveraged that experience to develop the BLT Alertness Tester, which is touted as the world's first dedicated alertness checking device.

Now, here's Openvape's Chief Revenue Officer and spokesperson Todd Mitchem:

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TODD MICHEM: I just want to thank Doug and folks like yourself and folks from NORML and everyone that gave their feedback.

The policy that we had before while I know that we really understood the intent clearly in the way we languaged it and some of the specifics the intent wasn’t coming out properly. We took a lot of advice and listened to the industry and really paid attention to what could we do this policy, what could we do to keep employees safe and, at the same time, take care of the feedback that we heard and really apply it.

Certainly we could have, as someone put it, “You could have just re-languaged it and made it us all happy but you really went in and put some thought into it.”

This person was very appreciative of that. I felt like, “That’s spot on.” We took so long to figure it out because we were really making sure we did the right thing.

What we did is really zero in on the intent which was impairment. The biggest issue that you have whether you’re in safe environment or an unsafe one (what you call an industrial-dangerous environment) you want people to be safe and you don’t want them to be impaired by anything.

We started having a really robust dialogue about what impairment meant - it could be sleep deprivation, it could be stress, someone who was out too late the night before drinking Jack Daniels and they have a terrible hangover. It could also be drugs like heroin, meth and cocaine and other substances like that and it could be any number of things in their body like a prescription - legal or not legal – that could cause impairment. We really felt like that needs to be our focus – impairment.

The second part of our focus really needed to be around if someone is found to be impaired how do we help them? Then we diverted them back to our corporate council who works with them if they are found to be impaired.

Then the question was how do we determine if someone is impaired. We don’t want to do this idea of testing although we were never going to really do any type of a random drug testing it was always going to be specific circumstances. We did want to say that we need a mechanism. We got to know other than I think Joe is altered or not functioning properly - we need a test for impairment.

We went out and sought a computer-based testing, a proven computer-based testing that would – after a baseline – if we felt like you were impaired you would have to go through this computer-based testing to see if the computer determined you to be impaired at all. If you are it doesn’t mean anything bad is going to happen to you. We’re just going to ask you to please go talk to our department counselor to make sure impairment is not something bigger. Maybe you just need to talk about your divorce and you’re just stressed out. Maybe you didn’t sleep last night and that’s why you can’t operate this machinery today. Or maybe it’s something more serious but either way we want to lean on the side of trying to help rather than hurt somebody.

So, that was the original intent and we just found a better way to articulate it and a better way to find out if someone was impaired. I think thanks from the feedback from the industry, thanks to our own willingness to collaborate and to really look at an issue from all the sides, I think we were able to create a policy that after a little bit more refinement we’re going to be able to take to corporate America and say, “It’s time to wake up! It’s time to look at these issues differently. It’s time to look at people differently that work for you.”

Those were all very important to us. We rewrote the policy. We didn’t just re-language it. We literally tore it apart, re-worked it, found better ways to do things and reconfigured it in a way that not only take folks like yourself and others who appreciate but the employees will appreciate it even more deeply.

I think we achieved all the goals we were after.

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DOUG McVAY: I want to thank Todd Mitchem and Openvape for listening and responding in such a positive way to the concerns which were being raised. Hopefully more companies - especially those outside the cannabis industry that after all make up the majority of those doing testing - will start to listen as well.

That's it for this week. I'm Doug McVay and this was Century of Lies. Thank you for listening. You can find a recording of this show and past shows at the website drug truth dot net, where you can check out our other programs and subscribe to our podcasts.

For the drug truth network, this is Doug McVay saying so long. So long!

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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 Pacifica Studios at KPFT, Houston.

Transcript provided by: Jo-D Harrison of www.DrugSense.org