09/06/15 Doug McVay

This week: We talk with Michael Krawitz about international drug policy reform as well as efforts to secure medical marijuana access for our nation's veterans.

Program: 
Century of Lies
Date: 
Sunday, September 6, 2015
Guest: 
Doug McVay
Organization: 
Drug War Facts
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CENTURY OF LIES

SEPTEMBER 6, 2015

TRANSCRIPT

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.

DOUG MCVAY: Hello! And welcome to Century of Lies. I'm your host, Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org. Century of Lies is a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network.

Now, on with the show.

Our top story this week: On Tuesday September First, Jeff Mizanskey walked out of a Missouri state prison as a free man. He had served twenty years of a life sentence for the crime of selling six pounds of marijuana. It was his third strike. Jeff had been convicted in 1984 for marijuana possession and distribution, and again in 1991 for marijuana possession. That meant his conviction in 1996 allowed the Missouri court to sentence him to life without parole.

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon commuted Jeff's sentence in May of this year, which allowed him apply to the parole board for release. They granted it last month, and so now Jeff Mizanskey gets to spend Labor Day Weekend with his family, as a free man.

The Drug Truth Network's executive producer, Dean Becker, was fortunate enough to get an interview with Jeff, which airs on this week's edition of our flagship program Cultural Baggage. Here's a bit of that audio:

JEFF MIZANSKEY: Oh, there's quite a few of them in it for marijuana. Actually, I ran across one that, he recognized me on TV and told me he was in there for marijuana, and I think it was only his second year he was in there, and he said, man, he said, it's ridiculous what you got, it's just so cruel, it doesn't make any sense. And I said yeah, I know. He said, I'm in here for marijuana. I said oh yeah? And he says yeah, he says, I had 350 pounds. I said 350 pounds! I'm thinking, man, they buried this guy. You know?

DEAN BECKER: Yeah.

JEFF MIZANSKEY: And he said yeah, they gave me five years. And I said wow. And it was his second or third time, too. So, that was crazy. But they've got another guy that's in there, he's doing 15 years. He had like six little seedlings.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Jeff Mizanskey, the Missouri man who was recently released from prison after serving twenty years for sale of six pounds of marijuana. The cruel and unjust sentence of life without parole, which he was given in 1996, was recently commuted by the governor of Missouri in response to the pleas of thousands of Missourians and others around the country. You can hear the full-length interview with Jeff on the newest installment of the Drug Truth Network's flagship program Cultural Baggage, hosted by Drug Truth Network executive producer Dean Becker. Catch it online at DrugTruth.net.

You're listening to Century Of Lies, a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

Michael Krawitz is an activist and drug policy reformer who wears many hats. He does medical marijuana advocacy with groups like Veterans for Medical Marijuana Access, he advocates on veterans issues with groups including Twenty Two Too Many, and he works on drug policy reform on the international level with groups including the Vienna and New York Nongovernmental Organization Committees. I caught up with him at Seattle Hempfest, here's that conversation:

Now you were at the Hemposium panel earlier, on an international panel. I was in back getting an interview and I missed a good bit of it, but got a good interview. But, now tell me some of the stuff that you're working on internationally -- you know, getting audio from a panel is a little bit questionable, getting an interview with somebody who's actually talking works a lot better, frankly. So, tell me what you were telling the folks at the international panel, and there's something happening with the WHO that you had mentioned to me just a few minutes ago, so if those are the same thing, then, ooh, that's easy, and if it's not, well that's two in a row.

MICHAEL KRAWITZ: All right, yeah, two in a row, looks like. I've been working in New York with the New York NGO Committee on Drugs, and that's actually an NGO committee that was created, I don't even how many years ago, but it certainly was in the 1970s sometime that this committee was last really active, 70s and 1980s. And, it kind of went inactive, and we've been doing all our NGO activity, that is Non Governmental Organizations trying to communicate with the United Nations system as they discuss drug policy, have dealt with Vienna, Austria. But, I saw an opening, you know, 1998, the world drug summit was in New York. In 2008, the whole thing was really dragged out and there was a very different process called the Beyond 2008, that you participated in. It was a really kind of an interesting experiment that was the life's work of some people, actually from the Vienna NGO Committee, that pulled that off.

But, I thought we would finally get back to New York. I mean, what, is just made sense that there would eventually be another big drug summit in New York. I'm putting energy into getting that going again, that NGO committee in New York, and I'm so proud now that we're actually in the midst of communicating with the General Assembly about this world drug summit that's coming up in 2016. It's going to be in April, I think it's like the 19th through the 21st, ironically enough 4/20 2016, we're going to be at the United Nations in New York discussing drugs again, with the drug summit. What this means is about like 80 world leaders will be in the house. Not their delegates, not just State Department reps, although in 1998, President Clinton was there with the Secretary of State at the time -- with all the pins, what was her name, I can't remember off the top of my head. Janet Reno?

DOUG MCVAY: Justice Department was Janet Reno. Secretary of State, Madeline Albright.

MICHAEL KRAWITZ: Madeline Albright! Yes, thank you, you win a prize. Ding! Madeline Albright was the one with the pins. Seriously, she had really wonderful lapel pins. Funny what you remember from process. But anyway, we're coming up on this big drug summit, and it's going to be a time when we're going to really start talking about drug policy at the international level. If you're expecting results, I think you're going to be disappointed. However, that is definitely someplace where you can expect some of this stuff that's bubbling up, like legalization in Washington state and Colorado, and legalization in Uruguay. This is all going to be the center of discussion as we get into that drug summit.

But onto the other front. An interesting opening for us in cannabis, and I'm really glad that you're digging into this subject matter really deep and are willing to explore this information, because years ago, buried in the documentation at Vienna, Austria, and these drug policy meetings was a complaint from Japan and Azerbaijan, that high potency cannabis seeds were getting put out on the market on the internet, and that their children were getting access to these seeds, and it was causing problems. And they passed a resolution to look into this. What that resolution wound up being interpreted as was a request from the World Health Organization to review cannabis and its relative harm. And the last review was so many years ago, it was before the discovery of the endogenous cannabinoid receptor system, and all this stuff that we know now about CBD. Before all of that.

So, we're really excited, actually, that the World Health Organization's going to be reviewing this information, and we have an opening to participate in November. I think it's going to be the 16th, if I remember correctly, of November, there's going to be actual hearing where NGOs are going to present information to the World Health Organization, and they're going to do their review process, and we'll be following it as it goes along. When I say we, we've started a new patient coalition of patient organizations, groups like Americans for Safe Access and Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access, along with groups from all over the world. It's a small coalition, but really covers a lot of the world. It's called the IMCPC, the International Medical Cannabis Patient Coalition.

And we're actually together, you know, coming together to work on this World Health Organization stuff. So if you know, or are a big fan of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, or Drug Policy Alliance, or, you know, you want to come in through Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access, or as an NGO yourself, or an interested party, an expert. All these ways are ways that you can communicate, I think very effectively, with the World Health Organization. I invite everyone to do so, and give input, because this is the time to make sure they have everything in their hands that we later, if the report doesn't reflect all this truth, we -- you know, we can complain. We not only complain, but I mean, we can own the absolute high moral ground, because we definitely gave them that information.

So that's what this is all about, for me, I think, is make sure they have the information in hand, and then they can do their report in a fair manner -- which, just to finish the story about the World Health Organization. They've done a pretty good job on reports in the past. They did a report on the cocaine, and a report on cannabis, comparing cannabis with alcohol and tobacco, and both of those reports were pretty fair, and both of them were suppressed by the system. So I think our challenge isn't so much to influence the World Health Organization, just to make sure they have the information in hand, and then when they come out with their report, make sure the system doesn't bury it and suppress it. So that's I think where we're at.

DOUG MCVAY: Very cool. Now, while I still have you, and -- yeah, this is all very good stuff. But let me find out more about Twenty Two Too Many, the veterans organization that you've been working with here.

MICHAEL KRAWITZ: Yes. It's a, I think it's kind of a new age spelling. So you spell out Twenty, then you write 2 2, and then you spell out many. So Twenty 2 2 Many. If you do that dot org, you'll come right up on their webpage, and that's got a hot link to get to the facebook page, and you can follow this organization. It's a small veterans organization out of Olympia, Washington, and I think it has a very creative way that they're trying to actually lower the suicide rate. You know, it's not, it's one thing to say twenty two is too many, and 22 suicides a day is outrageous, and cannabis could help. Let's give it to them. It's another thing to really actively take off the, you know, the coat, roll up the sleeves, and dig in the trench and try to do something about it. And that's what they're doing, they're creating social networks, they're trying to integrate with social services at the state and county level, and they're trying to make sure that cannabis products that might help are made available to these veterans and that they understand how to use them and where to get them.

I mean, all that, it's just cool, and very portable. This could be expanded all over the country, other groups even with different, you know, doesn't have to be veterans. I mean, veterans are very keen to work on these kind of things, but this idea of coming together to really do something about this, and share this knowledge about cannabis, it's certainly very portable, and I think everyone benefits from what these guys are doing.

DOUG MCVAY: Very cool. Michael Krawitz, thank you so much.`

MICHAEL KRAWITZ: Thank you.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Michael Krawitz, a veteran and drug policy reform activist who I spoke with backstage at the Main Stage at Seattle Hempfest this year. You're listening to Century Of Lies, a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

And finally: I work on a lot of different projects. I had the good fortune recently to record a lengthy interview with Johann Hari, author of the great book Chasing The Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs. We have some time left on the show today so let's hear part of that interview, which originally aired on public radio station K-B-O-O in Portland, Oregon.

You, in your book, talk about Bruce Alexander, a Canadian psychologist, which is called Rat Park. Could you tell the listeners about that?

JOHANN HARI: I think it's a really fascinating area, this. NIDA was invented by, was set up by Richard Nixon in the early 70s to basically find scientific evidence to back up the drug war. I've interviewed the first head of NIDA, Robert Dupont. He's a very interesting, complex figure. And I think it's really important to understand several things about NIDA. Firstly, when you think about this dichotomy between, are addicts morally depraved or are they just sick, I think a little bit like the, there's this very interesting thing about gay people in the 1870s, right? In the 1870s, you have the first people to self-identify as gay in, you know, more than a millenia, publicly self-identify as gay. And a lot of them say, we're not evil, we're sick. Right? And at the time, this is interpreted as a great liberation for them, because, you know, if that's the choice, I'm gay myself, if I had a choice between being evil or being sick I'd choose to be sick. Right? I'd choose to think of myself that way.

Now of course we would regard both of those ways of thinking about gay people as crazy, right? We'd say, well you're not evil or sick, you're just different. Right? And in the case of gay people, it's a difference that obviously causes no harm to anyone else. Now I don't want to take that analogy too far, of course, you know, being an addict is a state that causes terrible pain and distress to you, whereas being gay is nothing like that. So I don't want to take that analogy too far, but I do think there's an important parallel, because I think that the dichotomy that NIDA sets up is in some significant ways really harmful. So, although I think they are largely well-intentioned people, to think about Nora Volkow, who presents this idea that addiction is a brain disease, right? And the evidence that she presents for this is that -- by the way, Nora Volkow is one of the very few people who I wanted to interview, I interviewed hundreds of people for my book, she's one of the very few people who just would not give me an interview. And I think it's very revealing she never gives interviews to anyone who might question her in any way putting other theories, which I think is quite revealing.

So, what they do, NIDA, is they look at the -- they show you brain scans of addicts, and they'll show you a brain scan of an addict and they'll say, this looks different to a non-addicts brain scan. They're entirely right, it is true that addicts' brains look different to non-addicts brains. What they fail to explain is -- right, so they have this concept called neuro-plasticity. It basically means that brains evolve, right? How you use your -- your brain will change according to how you use it. In the same way, if I start lifting loads of weights, my arm muscles will get bigger, they'll grow over time. So if I use my arm differently, my arm will grow differently and look differently and indeed, if you did an x-ray or a scan of my arm, it would look very differently. That wouldn't mean that I had an arm disease, it would mean I was using my arm differently.

In the same way, if you use your brain differently, so if you use your -- for example, London taxi drivers have to memorize the map of London to pass a very difficult exam called The Knowledge in order to get the license to be a taxi driver, right? So they have to know the map of London in their head. If you do brain scans of the -- of London taxi drivers, the part of their brain, I think it's part of the hippocampus, that relates to spacial awareness is much bigger than it would be in you or me. Right? That doesn't mean they've got a hippocampus disease, it means they use their brain differently. So what the brain disease -- by looking at brain scans, one of they key things they're getting wrong is they're getting the order of causation wrong. The reason why addicts have -- look different on brain scans is because they've used their brains differently. Why have they used their brains differently, is because of the underlying social factors that we're describing. It's not because there was inherently something differently wrong with their brain, there's plenty of evidence that's not right.

But also there's so many other things that the brain disease theory can't explain. I'll give you -- by the way, a fantastic guy to talk to about this is Professor Carl Hart at Columbia University, who I'm very grateful to for explaining some of these things to me. If you -- there's loads of different things they can't explain. I'll give you one example. Well, we've already talked about one. How do they explain the Vietnam soldiers? If heavy drug use causes a brain disease, how do they explain the fact that these soldiers came home from Vietnam and overwhelmingly just stopped using? How do they account for the fact that the overwhelming majority of addicts stop, of their own accord, without any rehab? That's an overwhelmingly proven fact, right? Most addicts will stop after about 10 years. Right? They can't -- if it's a -- if your brain is hijacked and taken over, and as Nora Volkow says you lose your capacity for pleasure and for, you know, taking pleasure in normal things, because of a neurochemical process, how do they explain that? They can't.

Now, I want to stress, this is not about undermining for the slightest second how much pain and agony addicts are in, and how much really to love them and show compassion and care for them, that is the whole purpose of my whole way of talking and thinking about this. But, I want to explain why it's really dangerous and harmful to call, to tell people a false explanation of why they're addicted. Stanton Peele, who's a wonderful man, I'm sure you know his work, Doug, he wrote a fantastic book called Love And Addiction, amongst other stuff. He's a real expert on addiction, cites a study that I was just reading the other day, actually, about, that -- I don't want to get the details wrong, I haven't written about this so I haven't memorized the details in the same way so I may be remembering some small elements of this wrong, but if I remember correctly, it's a study that looked at factors about recovering addicts. And one of the things it found is that addicts who believe that they have a brain disease called addiction had a significantly lower recovery rate than addicts who didn't.

People are very vulnerable to the stories you tell them, and if you tell them a story that their brain has been hijacked, and their neural circuitry no longer works, which is what Nora Volkow says with no evidence, you know, that's a very dangerous story to tell a person. A, it's not true, and B -- let's look at another example, which I think is really important. When we -- there are societies where there are significant falls in addiction, right? I've been to them, I've reported from them for Chasing The Scream, the book we're talking about. And what happened in those societies is, what happened, that there was this sudden evolution in the human brain that meant that brains worked differently. Was there a mass intervention in the brains of the addicts of those countries? No, that's not what happened at all. I'll tell you what really happened. Let's look at one of them: Portugal.

In the year 2000, Portugal had one of the highest rates of heroin addiction anywhere in Europe. One percent of the population was addicted to heroin, which is kind of incredible when you think about it. And every year, they tried the American way more, they arrested more people, they imprisoned more people, and every year the problem got worse. And one day, the prime minister and the leader of the opposition got together, and they basically said, like, look, we can't go on like this. We can't have a country where every year more and more people are heroin addicts. What are we going to do? And they decided to set up a panel of scientists and doctors, and they said to them, you guys go away, look at the best evidence about addiction, and all of this, and drug policy, and come back and tell us what to do. They did a really smart thing. They agreed in advance that they were going to do whatever the panel recommended.

It would be like if Obama and Boehner got together and agreed -- I mean, that is difficult to imagine them agreeing on the time of day, but -- you know, got and agreed, you know, agreed in advance they were going to do whatever the drug panel recommended. So the panel, led by this amazing man I got to know, called Doctor João Goulão, went away, and they looked at all the research including Rat Park, and they come back and they say, decriminalize all drugs, from cannabis to crack. And, this is the crucial next step: take all the money we used to spend on arresting and imprisoning drug users, and spend it instead on turning their lives around. And what's interesting is that it's not what Nora Volkow recommends. They do do some things like rehab, they do do some residential rehab, and that does have some real value, but overwhelmingly what they do is the opposite of what Nora Volkow recommends, they did the opposite of the drug war.

So what they did is they, they set up a huge program of job creation for addicts. The goal was to make sure that every addict in Portugal had something to get out of bed for in the morning. So, say you used to be a mechanic. They go to a garage, and they'd say, if you employ this guy for a year, we'll pay half his wages. And, you know, I spoke to lots of addicts who found that, as they got back into their normal life, they started to get friends and relationships, they started to kind of reconnect. So they started to have connections that gave them pleasure beyond the connection they had to the drug. And it's been fifteen years, it will be fifteen years this year since this experiment began. Injecting drug use is down by 50 percent, five-zero percent. You know, one of the ways you know, overdose is massively down, HIV transmission is massively down. One of the ways you know that it's been so successful is that almost nobody wants to go back in Portugal. You know, they have six main political parties, none of them want to go back.

I went and interviewed the guy who led the opposition to the decriminalization at the time, I guy called João Figueira, who said what I think a lot of your listeners will probably be thinking now, which is, you know, surely if you decriminalize all drugs, all sorts of -- you'll have all sorts of disasters. And he said to me, I'm paraphrasing, the exact words are in the book, You know, everything I said would happen, didn't happen, and everything the other side said would happen, did. And he talked about how he felt ashamed that he'd spent 20 years arresting and harassing drug users. The reason why I mentioned that in relation to Nora Volkow, I'll personalize it on her with NIDA more generally, is, you know, they -- big social changes lead to falls or rises in addiction. If addiction is a brain disease, that doesn't make any sense. You know, if -- there's just so much they can't explain. There's a very revealing quote, a former head of NIDA, the one who was the head in the 80s, I'm blanking on his name, but this quote is given in Sally Satel's excellent book Brainwashed. He said something like, no of course addiction isn't a brain disease, but if that's what it takes for me to sell it to Congress, for them to treat addicts a little bit more nicely, then fine, I'll do it.

You know, I do think there's an element where the people who promoted this idea, I'm sure Nora Volkow to be fair to her does sincerely believe it, but you know, people have promoted this, that they believe that this is the way to promote compassion. I think we have to look at, we shouldn't say things that aren't true, and it's not true. Right? It's just not right, what they're saying. But actually, I think they fail to see that by telling that story, they're inadvertently undermining addicts. There's a much more empowering story, it's what they told them in Portugal, is that any of us, if we lost our sense of meaning, if we lost our sense of connections, would become addicts, and the way to bring you back to us, the way to not want to be addicted or to be out of it all the time, is to help you to build and strengthen connections, and bonds, and love, and compassion, and over time, you know, if you do that, your brain will change, and it will be more receptive to the world, just like it changed when you started using drugs heavily. The brain, our brains change the whole time according to how we use them and you are not trapped, and you have not been hijacked, and you've not been taken over.

And just to say one other thing about NIDA, that is very interesting. I went and interviewed Eric Sterling. He's a fascinating man, he, you might know him, Doug. He wrote the drug laws for the United States between 1979 and 1989, he was the lawyer on the House committee whose job was to draft the laws. And Eric said to me, we were talking about how the science in NIDA works, and it's worth remembering, NIDA funds 90 percent of all the scientific research into illegal drugs in the whole world, so they are the dominant figures in the global funding of this, and I said to Eric something like, you know, what would happen if NIDA started talking about these other causes of addiction, that are not to do with the drugs themselves? And Eric said, I spoke to him a couple of years ago so I'm completely paraphrasing, but he said, well, the head of NIDA would know not to do that because the job of NIDA is to find good reasons to continue fighting the drug war. But in the extremely unlikely event that someone from NIDA did start saying that, they'd be called before a Senate subcommittee and before the House and they'd be fired. You know?

So they know not to say these things. Now again, I want to stress, it's not -- I don't think it's the people at NIDA are dishonest, or, I think the science has been skewed by the people who fund it. That's not difficult for people to understand. You can be, you know, if 90 percent of all the journalism in the United States was funded by Michael Bloomberg, Michael Bloomberg would end up looking pretty good in the American media without anyone having to lie about Michael Bloomberg, or consciously distort what they were doing. You know, it's just, you would end up, you know not to anger your paymasters, right? It's a bit like Noam Chomsky's theory about why the corporate media is the way it is, and I think exactly the same thing is true of NIDA. I didn't actually write very much about this in the book, so I'm glad to get the chance to -- the book is mostly, as you say, stories about people and so on, but --

DOUG MCVAY: That was Johann Hari, journalist and author of the book Chasing The Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs. Audio courtesy of radio station K-B-O-O F-M, a community public radio station located in Portland, Oregon. You can find out more about Johann and Chasing the Scream at the book's website, which is ChasingTheScream.com.

For now, that's all the time we have. Thank you for listening. This is Century Of Lies, a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org. We come to you each week with thirty minutes of news and information about the drug war and the drug policy reform movement.

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