09/21/14 Doug McVay

Doug McVay reports: September is Recovery Month so we hear from Patrick Kennedy and ONDCP's Acting Director Michael Botticelli; the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime looks at the DEA; and Students for Sensible Drug Policy's annual conference is coming up September 25 through 29th.

Program: 
Century of Lies
Date: 
Sunday, September 21, 2014
Guest: 
Doug McVay
Organization: 
Drug War Facts
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Century of Lies September 21, 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, which comes to you through the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network and is supported by the generosity of the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy and of listeners like you.

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.

Later this week, the organization Students for Sensible Drug Policy will hold its annual conference in Arlington, Virginia. SSDP is a great organization, and I'd say that even if I wasn't on their advisory board. It's more than just a source of interns and workers, it's a serious policy organization advocating on behalf of students and young people who the drug war was intended to protect yet really often seems to target. The Executive Director of SSDP is Betty Aldworth. I spoke with her the other day about the conference, and about organizing in general here's part of that conversation:

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DOUG McVAY: Tell me about the conference you have coming up. It’s the end of the month, right?

BETTY ALDWORTH: Yes. We actually have a series of events that make up conference time at the end of the month. On September 25th we’re hosting our first Scanning Wall Celebration. This is a fundraiser SSDP in Arlington, Virginia (just outside of D.C., a few blocks from the conference location) where we’ll have a VIP reception for donors as well as screening some interesting art, some digital art films. You can find out more about that by going to http://ssdp.org/celebration.

We are also then on the 26th launching the conference with an opening reception, alumni gathering and our annual congress in which students make many decisions about how they’d like to see the organization run over the course of the next year. They elect the members of the board who are going to represent them and vote on resolutions.

On Saturday morning you go right into a series of panels and keynote sessions that are going to be so interesting and exciting. People talk about SSDP’s conferences being one of the very best in the drug policy reform movement. There is no question about it. It’s a very powerful educational experience but also tremendously inspiring to see all of these young people who are going to be taking up the reins of the drug policy reform movement of the future come together and talk about ideas that are being generated by our youth.

After two days of conferencing on Monday the 29th we will head into D.C., the hill to actually have our lobby day where we will be talking to members of congress about this sentencing act and about some other measures related to SSDP’s priorities.

DOUG McVAY: You always have great conferences. What I love is it is not just about learning the latest news it is also about how to put what you have learned into practice and some practical skills that people develop and the networking that goes on.

I’ve attended...I wish I could make it this year. Travel is, unfortunately, limited for me these days. My gosh, I know that some of the best conferences I’ve attended...I’m one of those people. I agree the SSDP are always good.

BETTY ALDWORTH: Excellent. I’m glad to have your endorsement there. It’s really just an amazing, amazing opportunity.

You are right. We educate people on the issues but then we turn around and talk about now that you know this what can you actually do...how can you make a difference with this information. Mason Tvert, Tony Newman and I will be doing a panel on Media 101 and it will be immediately followed by Campus Media - a panel on how to work with the media on your campus and get attention for your school.

There are many examples and sessions like that. We will be talking not only about the theoretical but also the practical.

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DOUG McVAY: The Drug Truth Network's Executive Producer, Dean Becker, will be at the SSDP conference next weekend, reporting live and getting a lot of great audio, so expect to hear more about SSDP on upcoming editions of our sister program Cultural Baggage.

You are listening to Century Of Lies, a production of the Drug Truth Network. I'm your guest host Doug McVay, editor of Drug War Facts dot org. Century Of Lies is heard on 420 Radio dot org on Mondays at 11 am and 11 pm, and Saturdays at 4 am, all times are pacific. We are heard on time4hemp dot com on Wednesdays between 1 and 2pm pacific along with our sister program Cultural Baggage. And we're on The Detour Talk Network at thedetour.us on Tuesdays at 8:30pm. A few of the stations out there that carry Century Of Lies include WERU 89.9 FM in Blue Hill, Maine; WPRR 1680 am 95.3 FM in Grand Rapids, Michigan; WIEC 102.7 FM in Eau Claire, WI;A WGOT-LP 94.7 FM in Gainesville, FL; KRFP 90.3 FM in Moscow, Idaho; and Free Radio Santa Cruz 101.3 FM in Santa Cruz California.

Last week, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations held an oversight hearing on the Drug Enforcement Administration. DEA Administrator Michelle Leonhart was the sole witness. Here's a portion of that hearing, the first voice you hear will be subcommittee chairman Robert Goodlatte, Republican of Virginia:

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ROBERT GOODLATTE: Just last week this committee reported 2 bills that directly affect DEA operations. HR 4299 addresses concerns that I and other members have with the increasing length of time the DEA has expended in recent years to schedule new controlled substances thus delaying patient access to new therapies.

Reducing these scheduling time frames is important but it should not be achieved by eliminating the Drug Enforcement Administration’s critical role in the scheduling process. The substitute amendment I offered in mark off codified a reasonable, shorter scheduling time frame while preserving its vital role in the scheduling process.

HR 4771 adds 25 new substances to the list of anabolic steroids in the Controlled Substances Act. In cooperation with our Democratic colleagues the Judiciary Committee unanimously approved a substitute amendment to remove an unnecessary and largely redundant criminal penalty and streamline the civil penalties for the illicit manufacture, distribution and dispensation of these substances.

Earlier this year this committee collaborated with our Energy and Commerce colleagues on another piece of legislation, HR 4709, which streamlines the process for the revocation or suspension to register or manufacture, distribute or dispense controlled substances. It is indisputable that our nation is facing a public health crisis due to prescription drug abuse and we know that much of the illicit activity that diverts prescription drugs from the legitimate supply chain happens in the United States however we cannot solve that problem by simply cutting off legitimate access to prescription drugs.

While HR 4709 is not a perfect bill and I invite DEA’s additional comments to improve the bill we must ensure that federal law punishes the bad actors who illicitly divert drugs from the supply chain while protecting legitimate, law-abiding businesses.

Under my leadership this committee will continue to conduct robust oversight of the DEA to ensure that vigorous enforcement of our federal drug laws does not compromise responsible regulation of prescription drugs and patient access to life-improving or even life-saving medications.

Unfortunately vigorous enforcement of our federal drug laws has been repeatedly compromised by this administration. President Obama and Attorney General Holder have repeatedly demonstrated their disregard for the constitution and the founding principle of separation of powers. They have circumvented the legislative process, ignored the will of congress and the American people and usurped the constitutional role of the legislative branch by unilaterally changing or ignoring federal laws with which we disagree.

These policies have touched many areas and taken many form not the least of which is the frontal assault on federal drug enforcement and sentencing. Since 2009 and at the specific direction of Attorney General Holder the justice department has issued directives and memos with the goal of softening its enforcement of federal drug laws to a level not seen in the 40 year history of the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Specifically attorney general and deputy attorney general have directed federal prosecutors to not pursue cases against certain offenders even though they violated federal law, directed federal prosecutors to selectively enforce federal financial crimes against institutions handling marijuana proceeds, directed federal prosecutors not to allege drug quantities in cases where the quantity could potentially trigger mandatory minimum sentences, directed federal prosecutors not to object to motions by defense council to apply lower proposed sentencing guidelines and initiated a campaign to solicit clemency petitions from an entire class of federal drug offenders.

Whether we agree on the policy is beside the point. The president has a constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed. The take care clause requires the president to enforce all constitutionally valid acts of congress regardless of his own administration’s view of their wisdom or policy.

These unilateral executive actions have put the DEA and especially its line agents in an impossible position. They must not choose between doing their job and obeying their boss. For example of this Hopson’s Choice we need look no further than the testimony of the witness that appears before us today. In testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on April 30, 2014 Administrator Leonhart refused to support legislation to slash mandatory minimum sentences for drug trafficking offences when she remarked, “Having been in law enforcement for 33 years and a Baltimore city policy officer before that I can tell you that for me and for the agents that work for DEA mandatory minimums have been very important to our investigations.”

Following her testimony it has been well documented that Ms. Leonhart was called in by the attorney general for a one-on-one chat about her recent insubordination. Apparently in this administration a dedication to enforcing the law amounts to “insubordination.”

The selective enforcement of federal law and lack of respect for the constitutional separation of powers has become a hallmark of the Obama administration. It is a source of profound concern for me and the members of this committee. Again, it is congress’s responsibility to make policy decisions about whether to address mandatory minimums and other hot button items. It is the administrations responsibility to enforce the laws.

Administrator Leonhart, I look forward to your testimony regarding the challenges facing the DEA today.

In conciliation with the ranking member of the subcommittee I ask unanimous consent to allow me to yield briefly to the gentleman from Pennsylvania who is not a member of the subcommittee but is a member of the full committee and is keenly interested in the issues before us today and who also needs to slip away to another committee. Without objection I now recognize the gentleman from Pennsylvania, Mr. Marino, for his comments.

THOMAS MARINO: Thank you, chairman, and thank you ranking member. I truly appreciate this.

Administrator, thank you for being here. Thank you for what the professionals at DEA do to fight the illegal distribution of narcotics. There are heroes in your agency and I’ve worked with them directly. I can’t overstate my respect for the DEA and its mission.

My congressional colleagues Chu, Blackburn, Welsh and I offer a bill that will clarify the responsibilities of the legitimate prescription drug supply industry and facilitate the collaboration. Or bill passed the house unanimously, unanimously.

Today legislation will be introduced in the senate by Senators Hatch and Whitehouse. Let me say this with the utmost respect – congress is sending the DEA a message. You should take a serious look at your regulatory culture and seek collaboration with legitimate companies that want to do the right thing...legitimate companies.

Big fines make headlines but that is all they do. Press releases do not save lives. It is my understanding that Joe Rantacezzi, a senior DEA official, has publically accused three sponsors of the bill of “supporting criminals.”

This offends me immensely. You know before coming to congress I was a prosecutor and an United States attorney. I worked to put away violent felons and drug dealers. I ask that you commit to me today that you will look into this and get back to me on whether you think that statement is acceptable behavior.

Such conduct is not acceptable and it is unbecoming of the DEA – an agency that I have the utmost respect for. I’d like to hear from you on this in writing after this hearing.

Finally, at our April 8 Judiciary Committee on Oversight hearing the attorney general suggested he should meet with industry representatives and ask me to facilitate that. I’ve attempted to do that but to date no such meeting has taken place. I am disappointed that DOJ staff has not made this a priority and I will be following up with a letter reminding the attorney general of our exchange and his personal commitment.

Chairman Goodlatte, Ranking Member Scott, thank you so much and I yield back.

ROBERT GOODLATTE: I thank the gentleman and it is now my pleasure to recognize the ranking member of the subcommittee, the gentleman from Virginia, Mr. Scott, for his open statement.

BOBBY SCOTT: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. First I want to thank you for cooperatively working with the minority last week to develop bills in drug scheduling that we could all support. The original versions had several problematic provisions which you addressed without deluding the effectiveness of the legislation.

I am pleased to join you this morning in convening this oversight hearing on the Drug Enforcement Administration and would like to thank Administrator Leonhart for her years of dedicated service and for appearing before us today.

I must also thank the thousands of dedicated DEA employees who enforce our laws every day, many of whom are putting their lives on the line to do so.

The DEA is involved in drug enforcement activities all over the world however it is not clear that all of these activities are as effective or as important as others in stopping or reducing the scourge of drug use.

In general there are supply-side strategies and demand-side strategies to reduce drug use. Research indicates that demand reduction through prevention, education and treatment can be much more effective than supply-side reduction through interdiction and law enforcement efforts. I’m hoping that the administrator will be able to shed some light on DEA strategy with respect to prevention and intervention strategies in what works and what doesn’t work.

One of the big problems we have in this country with illegal drugs as well as illegal use of prescriptive drugs is that there is a huge demand for them. The history of the War on Drugs shows us two things. First that if there is a demand for the product suppliers will find a way to provide it no matter what cost and no matter what the sanctions. Second the large amounts of drugs interdicted and captured annually represents only a small fraction of the drugs being trafficked. In fact, evidence suggests that the street price for some of the most dangerous drugs has actually gone down while purity has gone up and drug use has increased or stayed about the same. Therefore the so-called War on Drugs has had negligible effect on the drug trade at the highest levels but it has imprisoned legions of street-level dealers and users.

Even though we’ve spent billions of dollars without a significant impact the question remains how much more would we have to spend in order to achieve significant results. While drug use in all major categories among white Americans is as high or higher than the drug abuse among black and Hispanic Americans the vast majority of those in prison for drug violations are black and Hispanic.

The War on Drugs has been wages almost exclusively in poor communities of color even though the data shows that minorities are no more likely to use illegal drugs or commit crime. Black Americans make up 12% of the U.S. population but almost 50% of those incarcerated for drug violations.

Drug convictions alone make up about two-thirds of the increase in the federal population that’s exploded over the last few years. The excessive and discriminatory sentencing penalties from drug convictions are driven mainly by mandatory minimums and also by consecutive counts and enhancements that are so draconian that many are serving life sentences or the equivalent in years even for first-time, low-level offenders.

In fiscal year 2012 60% of convicted drug defendants were convicted of offences carrying a mandatory minimum penalty. These harsh penalties were intended to be used against kingpins and leaders of criminal syndicates. In reality data from the U.S. Sentencing Commission shows they are used against couriers, street-level dealers and addicts. More than half of these defendants have the lowest criminal history category at the time of their conviction.

Mandatory minimums are sound bites mascaraing as crime policy. They sentence people before they are even charged or convicted based solely on the name of the crime. No consideration is given to how minor the role may be that one played or whether or not they are a first offender, a minor or an abused woman under the control of a violent boyfriend.

Even if the prosecutor, the judge, the defense council and probation officer all agree that a mandatory minimum is too severe for a particular offender in a specific case there is no choice. The judges hands are tied and the judge must impose the mandatory minimum as a matter of law.

All the research we have shows that mandatory minimums waste money, disrupt rational sentencing considerations, discriminate against minorities and often require judges to impose sentences that simply violate common sense when compared to traditional common sentencing.

As a result of the emotional appeal of the “tough on crime” policies the United States has the dubious distinction of being the world’s leader in incarceration jailing 700 people for every 100,000 in the population. Most countries incarcerate about 100. The closest competitors is Russia at about 600, China at about 116 per 100,000, India about 36.

Pew research upon the states estimates that any ratio over 350 per 100,000 - for any ratio above that the crime reduction value begins to diminish, anything over 500 per 100,000 becomes counterproductive – messing up so many families, wasting so much money, having so many people with felony conviction records that you are actually adding to crime not reducing crime.

That’s at 500 per 100,000 and the United States averages over 700. When we look at the lock up rate in the minority community the rate is even worse. Some states lock up African Americans at the rate of approximately 4,000 per 100,000. The rates of incarceration that we have in this country and looking at crime and simply suggesting that the main problem we have is we are not locking up enough people just doesn’t meet with science, experience or common sense.

One is left to wonder about the motivation to continue what amounts to a failed system in reducing drug trafficking and abuse when we consider how ineffective and costly the punitive supply-reduction strategy has been. Reliance on incarceration is not free. When a drug dealer gets sentenced to 50 years at $30,000 per year that amounts to over approximately a million and one-half dollars. The day after the drug dealer is sent away his territory is taken over so you really haven’t done anything in reducing crime.

That same million and one-half if it had gone to the Boys and Girls Clubs which held their annual congressional breakfast yesterday could have been put to much better use. Maybe if we liked to have spent just $500,000 locking up a guy and had a million dollars for the Boys and Girls Club we could have put hundreds of young people on the right track and kept them on the right track rather than the excessive incarceration for just one person.

Those are some of the things that I hope we discuss today, Mr. Chairman, and I yield back the balance of my time.

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DOUG McVAY: In that segment you first Representative Goodlatte, he was followed by Representative Thomas Marino, Republican of Pennsylvania, Representative Bobby Scott, Democrat of Virginia, and Representative John Conyers, Democrat of Michigan.

And finally: September is Recovery Month, and to celebrate the office of National Drug Control Policy held a short event at the White House. Here's part of it, the closing statements by former representative Patrick Kennedy and the acting director of ONDCP Michael Botticelli.

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PATRICK KENNEDY: We both worked on the Parody Law with my colleagues in congress five years ago. Now we’ve got the first year of implementation in the Mental Health Parody And Addiction Equity Act.
The challenge is making it a reality because just because it is written on paper doesn’t mean it is written in reality. We as a community have to work on implementing the Parody Law which means we have to get to know how insurance companies make medical utilization review decisions, medical necessity determinations. We need to understand how they might be imposing higher treatment limitations on those seeking recovery from addiction and mental illness when compared with our friends seeking recovery from diabetes, cancer, cardio-vascular disease.

This is simple, my friends. In order to take it on to the next level we need to treat this like we would any other organ of the body with a chronic illness and that’s treat it and continue to support the person who has a chronic illness so that they don’t relapse.

[applause]

I just want to say that I look forward to working with the other agencies (SAMSA, ONDCP and HHS which will oversee the system of care that is going to be implemented for Parody and the Department of Labor which is going to be enforcing the Mental Health Parody And Addiction Equity Act with private employers so that people who are trying to seek sobriety in this country can be sure that their insurance plan not only follows the letter of the law but follows the spirit of recovery that you have heard here today which can be a reality for the millions of Americans who are suffering, suffering, suffering every single day needlessly only because of our neglect for this illness being treated like any other physical illness.

I am excited to be here, thrilled to be invited and want to continue to work with you. We passed Parody now we’ve got to work together to make sure that Parody is implemented so more people have the opportunity for recovery that you heard explained so well today.

I just want to count myself among them because I want to be among my fellows in recovery because I can’t do this work...I couldn’t be here before you today if I weren’t taking it one day at a time in recovery myself and, like that Hair Club for Men guy...remember...he said, “Not only am I the Hair Club for Men I’m also a client.”

So...not only am I a sponsor for Parody I’m also a consumer. Thank you, very much.

MICHAEL BOTTICELLI: I think we should just let him close and just be done with the day. Patrick, you are always an inspiration on a daily basis and you inspire our office and the millions of people around this room.

You are right. We have a lot more work to do. We have a lot to be proud of. We have accomplished a lot but we have a lot more work to do. Let me echo your thanks and praise to our colleagues and partners in congress.

Congressman Brian, you are right...this has been a hugely bi-partisan issue. We are so grateful for your leadership in the addiction and recovery caucus and we’re really glad that you are with us today. We look forward to your continued leadership and partnership.

Today was really about living proof that recovery is possible, that it works and that people recover but we also heard today that we recover with the support of our families, our co-workers, our friends and our communities.

I want to thank our panel...Lori, Christina, Chris, Rueben and Tim for your incredible leadership. Despite how far we’ve come I think you all know that it still takes a tremendous amount of courage to tell your story. To the women from M Street thank you very much for setting the tone for today. You did a remarkable job. We are really fortunate to have you here.

To those of you who are watching online especially the youth we know folks from the Collegiate Recovery Program at the University of Texas and the George Washington University are watching. We have a message for you. We hope that you will be inspired by these stories today to be your own potential. 25 years from now we expect you to be on this stage.

Before we go I just wanted to thank all of the distinguished guests who have joined us today for this really remarkable event. It has been amazing for us to have a launch a number of weeks ago with SAMSA and now to have another event at the White House.

Again I want to thank particularly the ONDCP staff who have really made this possible today. It’s been an honor to represent this administration in this role and I look forward to seeing all that we can accomplish in the coming months and years.

Thank you very much.

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DOUG McVAY: 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. Follow me on Twitter, where I'm @ Drug Policy Facts and @ 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. Spread the word. Remember: Knowledge is power.

We'll be back next week with more news and commentary on the drug war and this Century Of Lies. For now, 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