02/05/16 Phil Smith

Phil Smith of Alternet & Drug War Chronicle + Debby Goldsbury re International Cannabis Business Conf, Bernie Sanders re MJ laws, Heroin PSA & More

Program: 
Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Date: 
Friday, February 5, 2016
Guest: 
Phil Smith
Organization: 
Alternet
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CULTURAL BAGGAGE

FEBRUARY 5, 2016

TRANSCRIPT

SCOTT MCKENZIE: [MUSIC] If you're going to San Francisco,
Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair.
If you're going to San Francisco,
You're going to meet some gentle people there.

DEAN BECKER: Ah, indeed, gentle people out there in California. We're going to hear from one here in just a little bit, we're going to hear from a couple of folks living in California, enjoying the, not necessarily legal but close to it, marijuana that grows everywhere, and here in just a minute, we're going to speak to my friend, my longtime friend, Mister Phil Smith. Met him, gosh, I'm thinking 12 years ago. We have over the years done hundreds of interviews. He's still working as a reporter, you may have seen his work on AlterNet. You certainly heard him here, we used to do a segment, the corrupt cop story of the week, and I think he's still doing that.

Well, today we're going to talk about a forthcoming event with one of the spokespersons, who's going to be at this event, you may know her from her work with the Berkeley Patients Group, or her teaching at Oaksterdam University. Glad to welcome Ms. Debby Goldsberry. Debby, this event's coming up fairly soon, out in San Francisco. Why don't you tell folks about it, please.

DEBBY GOLDSBERRY: Well, this is our second annual event in San Francisco, the International Cannabis Business Conference. It's on February 13th and 14th, Valentine's Day. One of our taglines: Spend Valentine's Day With Who You Really Love - Marijuana. And, we're expecting people from all over the globe. We have an excellent panel of experts coming, we have Jocelyn Elders, former Surgeon General, coming, Tommy Chong, we have Andrew Sullivan, a conservative blogger. Two seated US members of the House of Representatives, federal representatives, one of our state representatives is coming also, and a whole host of amazing cannabis advocates speaking.

DEAN BECKER: Debby, I was able to attend this last year, it was a wonderful event, I had so many interviews with so many great people, I had weeks and weeks of radio programs. But this is a chance to get down in the heart of it, to learn the truth about the cannabis plant, right?

DEBBY GOLDSBERRY: Well, what we're really trying to do with the International Cannabis Business Conference, there's a lot of conferences people can choose to go to, but what we're focused on is this nexus that we think's really important, and that's social responsibility and social entrepreneurship. So, our goal really is two-fold. One, there's a lot of people coming in from the outside, from big business, or, you know, just business people in general who want to get into the cannabis industry, which is good. Now let's make sure that we can educate those people about the harms of prohibition, about what we face, about what it's going to take to legalize cannabis, about how we're going to stop people from being arrested, free people out of jail, get this medicine to people. We have to teach this to entrepreneurs who are coming in from the outside. Teach them how to be advocates for the cause, and how we're going to change, you know, America, by legalizing marijuana.

Now, on the flipside, our own people, the people who've been in this for a while, cannabis cultivators from northern California, people who are cannabis users wanting to get into the dispensary industry, people who are already selling cannabis in the illicit marketplace. We have to teach business skills to these people. People already share our same values, they already want to end prohibition. Now we have to make sure that we stand a chance to get the permits. We're teaching business to our people, and we're teaching advocacy to entrepreneurs who are coming in from the outside world, so it's kind of a meeting of the minds and finding the spot inbetween where we're really going to end prohibition and get people out of jail.

DEAN BECKER: Once again, friends, we're speaking with Debby Goldsberry about the forthcoming International Cannabis Business Conference in San Francisco. Debby, I see one of the speakers is our friend, Mr. Philippe Lucas, a gentleman who's had his nose to the grindstone for many years. He's coming out of Canada, representing Tilray, a producer up there, correct?

DEBBY GOLDSBERRY: Yeah, that's right, and he's going to be giving kind of a broad update on everything that's happening in Canada, which is obviously a gigantic place. But they have their medical cannabis program that rolled out nationwide, and we want to hear, is it working or not? Because I recently had some Canadians visiting me at Magnolia Wellness Collective, the collective, medical cannabis collective I run here in Oakland, California. They came from Canada. They told me there's only 28,000 registered medical marijuana patients in the whole nation of Canada. Well, at Magnolia, we have more than 28,000 registered members. So, to me, it looks like the Canadian market is still far from where it needs to be, and I'm curious about why, and I'm also curious how are any of those businesses staying open if there's only 28,000 patients to serve between them? And also, what does that look like for the illicit market? I think most people up there are still getting their cannabis from these sort of underground dispensaries or just person to person from their friends.

DEAN BECKER: Well, I have my own theory on that, and that is, the fact the government of Canada has priced it way too high, therefore enticing the black market to be continued. Your response, please.

DEBBY GOLDSBERRY: Absolutely, and I think that's happening all over in the United States, also. We're still going to see a thriving illicit market in the sales of marijuana because of that. You know, the fact is that there's kind of these sin taxes that they're putting on top of marijuana businesses, that make the cost of doing business actually impossible. In order to get into the cannabis business in some of these states that are regulated, it's going to cost you money every single day to keep your doors open, and that's just outrageous. Who's going to apply for even the permit, or once you get there you're going to find out that you're going to lose your shirt and the economy is not going to be pretty.

Out here in California, I explain, yes, we might be "legalizing" it in 2016, but that in quotes, because I wouldn't call it true legalization, but in this legalization scheme, almost everybody is still going to be left off the table who is in the current illicit marketplace, and that's just not right.

DEAN BECKER: Well, and then there's the other paranoid delusion, if you will, that it can't be within 500 feet of a school or other properties, whereas they sell alcohol in Target right next to the toy section. It's just a preposterous situation.

DEBBY GOLDSBERRY: Right. Well, I was just yesterday having a discussion with a local landlord here in Oakland, because they're about to change the medical marijuana regulations in Oakland, allowing dispensaries to allow onsite vaporization. So I was talking to a fellow who owns a building that has a nightclub in it, and I was telling him, look, this law's going to change, we would love for you just open your mind and just, let's just talk about it, don't even consider it yet, let's just talk about it. But what about vaporization instead of having a bar that sells liquor? And it's a hard leap for people to make in their minds, you know, because they really don't understand the driving issue when it comes to cannabis. There's a lot of things that we still have to educate even our own community or even our supporters about. You know? Marijuana's absolutely safer than alcohol, any landlord with an alcohol/hard liquor establishment should understand that it's much safer to, you know, allow medical cannabis vaporization onsite, than it ever will be to allow alcohol.

But educating people about this, we are fighting a hundred years' worth of stigma, hundred year old prohibition. So, it's going to be an uphill battle.

DEAN BECKER: Well, I think we're making progress. Friends, once again, we've been speaking with Debby Goldsberry, one of the many speakers that will be at the International Cannabis Business Conference in San Francisco at the Hyatt Regency February 13 and 14. If you want to learn more, please go to InternationalCBC.com.

The drug war is ending slow, ugly, and bloody. And here to talk about it is my good friend, Mister Phil Smith. Hey, Phil.

PHIL SMITH: Hey, Dean, how are you doing?

DEAN BECKER: I'm good, buddy. The fact of the matter is, some politicians are starting to talk logically about this drug war, are they not?

PHIL SMITH: Indeed, I, we're even seeing it at the presidential candidacy level. And, you know, it's striking how different things are from, say 25 or 30 years ago. I was just thinking about this earlier today. We're getting a much more compassionate response to the problems of drug use, particularly in this case opiates and heroin addiction, than we did say to the crack cocaine epidemic in the 80s. Now, a lot of people will say, well, that's because these drug users are white, not black. Now, I think there is some truth to that, but I also think that kind of statement undercuts the real progress we've made as a society in the past 30 years. We have, you know, the crack cocaine wars really inspired the contemporary drug reform movement, it emerged shortly after that in the early 90s, and since then, we've had a quarter century of trying to beat some sense into politicians' heads, and it's starting to catch on.

DEAN BECKER: Well, and it is. I tell you what, in support of what we're saying here, let's play track number nine for the listeners, this is just a little clip from, I think the frontrunner in the Democratic Party, Mister Bernie Sanders.

BERNIE SANDERS: We have more people in jail today than any other country on earth, including communist China, three times our size, which is an authoritarian country. I, now this, I am Senator Bernie Sanders, and I would love to take your questions. So, we need real reforms in criminal justice, our goal should not be to put more and more people in jail, it should be figuring out ways that we keep people out of jail, and that requires major reforms in our criminal justice system, it requires accountability for police departments, it means taking a hard look at the war on drugs, so that we do not flood our jails with nonviolent criminals, it means a path out of jail so that when people leave jail they're going to have jobs and education, mental health counseling rather than getting right back into jail. It means getting corporations out of the running and building of jails, people should not be making profits by the incarceration of fellow Americans.

DEAN BECKER: All right. Once again, that was Bernie Sanders, talking about the drug war. My good friend Phil Smith, what's your response to his statement?

PHIL SMITH: I could vote for that guy.

DEAN BECKER: Well, there's a lot of people that can vote for him, apparently, he's drawing crowds like never seen before, at least not in a long time. And, it brings to mind, given the opportunity to, and I talk about it, open this can of worms and go fishing for truth. You can catch a lot of fish, can't you?

PHIL SMITH: Oh, yes.

DEAN BECKER: And, it boils down to, from my perspective, most politicians now know the truth about this drug war, they just don't know quite what to do about it. Am I right?

PHIL SMITH: I think so, but I think even on the Republican side, we are seeing real signs of progress. I mean, since President Obama has been in office, we've managed to pass federal sentencing reform legislation, we're getting people out of prison now by the thousands, there were six thousand released at the end of October last year. And, you also see Republicans talking about being smart on drugs instead of being tough on drugs. Not all of them, of course, you have some real lunatics left, like that guy who's the governor of Maine, Mister LePage, and you know, he goes around talking about bringing back the guillotine for drug dealers, and encouraging vigilante shootings of drug dealers, and, you know, talking about how black drug dealers from New York and they're impregnating our white women, man, where have we heard that before?

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. Yeah, I mean, look. People just don't realize that the drug war, this prohibition, reaches into so many aspects of life on this planet, and, you know, there's certainly racial bigotry, there's the immigration situation, there's the terrorist situation -- hell, if they can grow the flowers we forbid, they can make this stuff, make billions of dollars from it. It's just crazy.

PHIL SMITH: That's right. But change is coming. Particularly with marijuana policy, this is going to be an exciting year for pot.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. Is it Maine?

PHIL SMITH: I think we're going to see 6 states that could legalize it this year, including a bevy of states in New England. That's a real hotbed this year. We have Massachusetts, where they have already qualified for the ballot, there's one step in between the legislature gets a chance to legalize it first, if the legislature doesn't act, then it goes to the voters in November. I don't think the legislature's going to act, so the voters are going to have to do it themselves in Massachusetts. In Maine, they just handed in signatures for their petition drive. They needed 61,000 valid voter signatures, they handed in 103,000 raw signatures. So that's a fairly comfortable margin, I am assuming that they are going to make the ballot, and that they will be voting on it in November.

Meanwhile, in Vermont, a legalization bill is moving through the legislature, it has passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee with the approval of the head of the committee and the approval of the state governor, Mister Shumlin, a Democrat. So those are three states in New England that look like they could well legalize it this year. I think in Massachusetts and Maine, the voters will do it. I'm not so sure about Vermont, it's facing some obstacles in the House, but it could still happen.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. And, you know, it brings to mind that across the spectrum, people are starting to look at this, we've got a little segment here I want to share with you from the Cato Institute, we'll be back in a minute and a half.

ILYA SHAPIRO: While legalizing marijuana as a matter of federal law would take an act of Congress, President Obama can decriminalize it. He can do this by moving it out of Schedule One of the Controlled Substances Act, which is reserved for substances of no medical purpose and a high potential for abuse, and therefore have high criminal penalties attached to their mere possession.

Virtually all marijuana-­related arrests are handled by state and local law enforcement. The federal Drug Enforcement Agency, or DEA, simply lacks the resources to enforce the federal ban across all 50 states. That’s why the Justice Department decided not to fight the legalization of marijuana in the handful of states that have taken that step.

President Obama, without rewriting any laws or going outside of his constitutional authority, can direct the attorney general to start the process of reclassifying marijuana as a Schedule Four or Five substance, or declassifying it altogether.

Reclassifying marijuana as a Schedule Three substance or lower would have significant benefits for the budding marijuana industry and individual users. For example: the Internal Revenue Code prohibits the deduction of business expenses that relate to Schedule One or Schedule Two trafficking? the Gun Control Act of 1968 prevents the sale of ammunition and firearms to the unlawful users of any controlled substance? a conviction for possessing a controlled substance can bar students from getting loans? and the rules are even stricter for public housing. Declassifying marijuana would solve all of these problems.

But even merely reclassifying it would make it easier for legal businesses to access the full economy and reduce violent crime. Marijuana deregulation sits squarely within the control of the executive. The president should use his executive powers to allow for intelligent enforcement of drug policy without eroding the rule of law.

DEAN BECKER: All right. Once again, you're listening to Cultural Baggage on the Drug Truth Network and Pacifica Radio. My name's Dean Becker, we have with us Mister Phil Smith. Phil, the fact of the matter is, the president has kind of backed away from that opportunity to reschedule, has he not?

PHIL SMITH: Yes, he has, and in fact, he's said recently that if we want any federal marijuana reforms this year, we need to talk to Congress, not him. So, I guess Obama is not going to expend any of his remaining political capital on reforming the marijuana laws.

DEAN BECKER: That's such a shame, isn't it? Well, I tell you what --

PHIL SMITH: He could have acted. I mean, he could have directed the Attorney General to reclassify, or better yet declassify marijuana, but he's chosen not to do that, and so that leaves it up to us and the Congress.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. And again, it's such an easy task, if you ask me. You know, I want to stop funding those barbarous cartels, I want to eliminate the reason for many of these gangs, I want to take away our children's easy access, I want to make sure there's a quality product there for adults who buy it through a regulated marketplace. There's very few people can argue against those points. Am I right?

PHIL SMITH: You're right, and it's coming, Dean. I mean, we've got it in four states and DC already. I mentioned New England a few minutes ago. You know, the largest state in the country's going to legalize it this year, California, 38 million people. You know, that's more than 10 percent of the whole country right there.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah.

PHIL SMITH: And, we're well on track to get that thing on the ballot and get it passed.

DEAN BECKER: All right. We are talking with Mister Phil Smith about the law change, or potential change, in California. I hear people griping about it, it doesn't do enough, it does too much, it robs certain people. What's going on?

PHIL SMITH: Well, it is a regulate, tax, and control marijuana initiative. Yeah, there are people complaining. Russ Belville, who also writes on this topic quite a bit, refers to these people as "Stoners Against Legalization." They are the people who would deny the possible in pursuit of the perfect. You know, I kind of understand where they're coming from. My personal preference would be the tomato model of legalization for marijuana, which is treat it like a plant. But, that's just not politically feasible.

DEAN BECKER: Not yet.

PHIL SMITH: Not yet.

DEAN BECKER: Right, no.

PHIL SMITH: And you know, there are a whole lot of people who don't really care about marijuana. But they don't want to have it just go wild west on them, either, they could live with regulated and taxed marijuana, buying it at the stores, even with people growing their own, which the California measure does allow. And, those Stoners Against Legalization people, I think, are just wrongheaded and shortsighted, I'm sorry to say that. Some of them are my friends.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. No, I hear you. I see a meme on Facebook, it shows a dog behind a fence, kind of looking through the fence, and, I don't know, the meme said something about, what it's like to be in states where there is no legal marijuana. And we're that dog, looking through the fence here in Texas, and in many, much of the south. It's a hellacious situation. I tell you what, we're going to do our mid-show break here. I've got a couple of things to pitch to the listeners, and in and around the Houston area as well.

CHEERLEADERS: Give me an H! Give me an E! Give me an R, O, I, N. What's that spell? Heroin!

[MUSIC] Started at a party, everyone was there.
She had a couple pills on a little dare.
Now she's missing class, she's dropping her pom pons.
Nobody knows where she is, not even her mom.
Everybody thought she was the All American Girl.

There goes the books, it's all about the score.
There goes the doggy, life is such a bore.
There goes the family, she's got a new friend.
There goes the looks, this is the end.

I guess she really was the All American Girl.

VOICEOVER: Pick up heroin, and you'll throw away everything you love. Share your stories on Instagram with hashtag heroin.

DEAN BECKER: All right. I'm not sure I agree totally with that. I know that before this prohibition, Bayer heroin sold on the grocer's shelf next to Bayer aspirin at the very same price, and we did not have these problems that prohibition has created. If you're in the Houston area, or if you can get here, on March 9th, I think there's something you need to hear.

A great event will happen on March 9th. The Baker Institute Drug Policy Program will present a panel on law enforcement perspectives on drug prohibition. Panelists will include Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson; Gary Hale, non-resident fellow in drug policy, former chief of intelligence at the Houston office of the DEA; Howard Wooldridge, drug policy specialist, Citizens Opposing Prohibition, founding member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition; Texas State Representative Gene Wu. The moderator will be yours truly Dean Becker, contributing expert at the Baker Institute, producer and host of the Drug Truth Network and a LEAP speaker. This event is on March 9 at the James A. Baker Hall at Rice University from 6:30 to 8:30 pm. To RSVP and to learn more, please visit BakerInstitute.org.

All right, friends, there you have it. I get to ask the questions, including to our district attorney. She's stepped forward a little bit, she sees the failure of this drug war, let's see how far we can take it. I urge you to go to BakerInstitute.org, it's free, but they'd like for you to RSVP so they can figure out how big a room. It's well over a hundred people so far RSVPed, we want you there, we need you there. Please go to BakerInstitute.org.

We are speaking with Mr. Phil Smith of the Drug War Chronicle and AlterNet. Phil, what's your latest on AlterNet?

PHIL SMITH: Oh, I don't know, Dean, but I want to tell you about something else. I haven't written this up for AlterNet yet, but I'm quite excited by this, and it's related to that little blurb you did on heroin. Just today, in the Maryland legislature, we had a package of bills introduced that is really far-reaching and comprehensive. One of the bills would decriminalize drug possession. Not pot possession, all drug possession. The second bill would call for drug treatment, not by court order, but on demand. The third bill would allow for opiate-based maintenance therapy, that means methadone, stuff like that, but in this bill it also could include heroin itself. So, give the junkies the heroin they want.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah.

PHIL SMITH: This is a pretty exciting package of bills. Oh, and the fourth part would allow for safe injection sites, which would be a first in the United States, even though they've been proven to work in other countries around the world. So, we've got this really progressive forward-looking package being rolled out in Maryland. I think that's a sign of the times. You know, we've got a long ways to go but we are making progress. It's going to be a slow slog, but if we keep it up, we're going to change our country and the world.

DEAN BECKER: I, for alcohol prohibition, it was one of the, and I think it was a Texas legislator who brought the idea forward, got it rolling, got the states to endorse it, and prohibition of alcohol became the law of the land. And I think three years before the end of alcohol prohibition, he was quoted as saying, the chances of ending Prohibition are as likely as that of a hummingbird flying to Mars with the Washington Monument tied to his tail. And it was three years later that it ended. Those politicians in New England are indeed starting to speak with some common sense.

PHIL SMITH: Yeah, and that hummingbird is now somewhere past Jupiter.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. Headed out of the solar system.

PHIL SMITH: Indeed.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. Well, Phil, I want to come back to, you know, that, the situation in California. You said, people are wanting perfect instead of what's being presented. I want to, you know, talk about the fact in California, it's been in essence legal since, what was it, '96?

PHIL SMITH: 1996, yeah.

DEAN BECKER: When, if you had a medical card, and just about anybody in the world could get one, it was like you needed a fifty or a hundred dollar doctor fee to be able to get legal weed. Am I right?

PHIL SMITH: Yes. Dean, I remember going to Los Angeles in 2003 to a Drug Policy Alliance conference, and when I was there, I was handed a magazine, it was a local LA area magazine, it was all about medical marijuana. But what it really was, was a medium for advertising medical marijuana dispensaries. When I looked at that publication, I said to myself, it's over. There's too much money to be made, the tawdry power of American capitalism is going to end pot prohibition. And that's what's happening. There's a lot of money being made, you know, that's not why we're in it, Dean, but that's why a lot of other people are in it and that's why politicians can go with legalization, because they see tax revenues. But we've been, now, had 20 years in California of dealing with marijuana, it's well established in the state, we have lobbyists that go to Sacramento, we have all kinds of industry associations. You know, this is a mature industry at this point, even before legalization here in the Golden State.

DEAN BECKER: Phil, we've got just a couple of minutes. What would you like to say to the American people?

PHIL SMITH: Get Ed's book about how to grow weed. This guy's a real expert. I mean, Dean, your book is very good, but Ed's book has some real practical information in it for when Texas gets around to ending marijuana prohibition. Ed is a personal friend of mine, and he also said something that really struck me, stayed with me. He said that marijuana doesn't get you addicted, but growing it does. And I agree with him. I'm looking forward to doing my crop in just a few months.

DEAN BECKER: Well, and you had a pretty good harvest last year, right?

PHIL SMITH: Seven pounds.

DEAN BECKER: And all nice and legal, and just, you don't have to go to the dispensary that often.

PHIL SMITH: That's right, I stay out of the market.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. And that's how it ought to be. The fact of the matter is, at one point weed was $6,000 a pound, I think it was, in New York City. It might still be for all I know. But the fact of the matter is, when it's legal, when you can grow it in a greenhouse instead of under lights, that price is going to fall under a hundred bucks retail, I'm fairly certain.

PHIL SMITH: Yeah. Yeah.

DEAN BECKER: And, it's just time for us to pull our heads out, to do what's rational and logical, to end this stupid dang drug war. Folks, I don't know how else to put this. This has been a labor of love for me. As I say, nigh onto fifteen years I traveled the country, 7,000 miles with the Journey for Justice, as I said, I went to Bolivia, I've been to Canada, Mexico. I have tried my damndest to expose this fraud, this fairy tale of drug war. Mister Phil Smith, I thank you, sir.

PHIL SMITH: Thank you, Dean, for all you do.

DEAN BECKER: Well, we'll talk to you soon. That's all we have time for. Once again, I remind you, because of prohibition, you don't know what's in that bag. Please be careful.

[MUSIC] To the Drug Truth Network listeners around the world, this is Dean Becker for Cultural Baggage and the unvarnished truth. Cultural Baggage is a production of the Pacifica Radio Network. Archives are permanently stored at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy. And we are all still tap dancing on the edge of an abyss.