10/07/16 Regenia Hicks

Dr. Regenia Hicks Director of Harris County (Houston) Mental Health program, Valerie Corral Director of Wo/Mens Alliance for Medical Marijuana & Chris Conrad cannabis expert re Calif AUMA 64 legalization effort

Program: 
Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Date: 
Friday, October 7, 2016
Guest: 
Regenia Hicks
Organization: 
Doctor
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CULTURAL BAGGAGE

OCTOBER 7, 2016

TRANSCRIPT

DEAN BECKER: Broadcasting on the Drug Truth Network, this is Cultural Baggage.

DR. G. ALAN ROBISON: It is not only inhumane, it is really fundamentally un-American.

CROWD: No more! Drug war! No More! Drug War! No More! Drug War!

DEAN BECKER: My name is Dean Becker. I don't condone or encourage the use of any drugs, legal or illegal. I report the unvarnished truth about the pharmaceutical, banking, prison, and judicial nightmare that feeds on eternal drug war.

Hi, folks. Welcome to this edition of Cultural Baggage. I am Dean Becker, with the thought that the drug war is ending, slowly, ugly, and with great loss of life and dignity. We've got a great show for you today. Let's get started.

REGENIA HICKS, PhD: My name is Doctor Regenia Hicks, and I am the director of the Harris County Mental Health Jail Diversion Program, and this program is one that was funded in 2013 through the Texas Legislature to provide us the opportunity of building program services for individuals that have a mental health diagnosis that are frequently cycled through the Harris County Jail. And at the present time, the Harris County Jail has a reputation of being one of the largest mental health treatment facilities in the state.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, ma'am. And, you know, this is a little off-topic, but it kind of brings focus to bear. Lately, we've been hearing people talk about #BlackLivesMatter and all of this, and that cops are overloaded, that we're asking them to do way too many jobs, and that this is one of the ways and means in which we can better address the problem, so those with mental illness, instead of putting them in the jail, give them some mental treatment. Right?

REGENIA HICKS: That is correct, and the wonderful thing about Harris County is that they have been proactive in a lot of ways, and, around being able to identify needs of individuals that do have mental health problems, and particularly in terms of being able to develop some wonderful collaborations between law enforcement and the treatment -- and the mental health treatment system. Two examples of that, is that both the Harris County Sheriff's Office as well as the Houston Police Department have teams that are called Crisis Intervention and Response Teams. And these are teams that are made up of licensed practitioners who then are teamed with a law enforcement officer, and when they get a 911 call that looks like it's related to a mental health issue, that team goes out and is the first one on site to make some level of assessment about what needs to happen for that individual.

Harris County and Houston also have in place now what's called the Homeless Outreach Teams, which builds on that same concept, where they're -- where they have workers that are again paired with law enforcement officers that are called out when there are situations having to do with individuals that are homeless that are out on the street. And as you probably are familiar with, there's a high incidence of people who are homeless who also have some level of mental health or substance abuse issues.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, ma'am, quite familiar with that. I have a family member who fits in that category. And, I want to talk about that nexus with mental health problems and substance abuse problems. Sometimes they're just tied directly together, are they not?

REGINIA HICKS: Very much so, in fact, we would -- right now, the data on the people that we've been serving says that at least, oh, about 80 percent of the population that we've been working with have a mental health diagnosis and substance use issues. And for the people that we -- have been enrolled in our program, that we've been able to provide services for, it's those people that have that combination of the mental illness and the substance use issue that are -- that tend to be the folks that end up cycling back through the jail. And a lot of that has to do with people at the time not wanting to get the type of treatment that our assessors are recommending for their substance use issue. It's like they haven't -- it hasn't hit them yet, it's not smacking their face, if you will, that, you know, if I don't take care of this substance issue, I'm going to be at risk of coming back to jail.

We're very lucky that our program has funding, that we can offer people substance use residential treatment, if they are willing to take it, but sadly enough, at that point, many people turn that down.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, ma'am, and that's sad. This situation in Houston has some parallels with what they've done in Seattle, with their Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion.

REGENIA HICKS: We have now -- the legislation was passed in 2013, and so right now, we have been in operation in terms of actually providing services for now going on two years, you know, we spent about six months pulling together a team of, a host of people, made up of law enforcement officers, people from judges from the courts, people that had previously received services, homeless providers, mental health providers, that really helped us pull together our service model. And right now, we are finalizing our report that will be going back to -- going to the legislature on the outcomes that we've been able to -- positive outcomes that we've been able to see in terms of our treatment program.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, ma'am, and the results, everywhere it's been tried, have been at least partially if not significantly successful.

REGENIA HICKS: Yeah, and see, the difference for us, than what is happening in Seattle is that the Seattle population is also focusing on people that are oftentimes just being connected into the jail system. They're, I think, also working with more kind of first-time offenders, or like that, whereas our program is really focusing on individuals that have at least been in the jail at least a minimum of three times in a two year period. And so, that says that people are averaging coming back to jail at least twice. What we're seeing in our statistics of the population that we've been serving is the majority of people that we've been enrolled into services have been, had at least four jail admissions within a two year period, so that means that if you, you know, if you look at -- pretty much every six months these people are coming back into jail.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, ma'am, and that is truly indicative of the need to get some type of help, certainly. We're speaking with Dr. Reginia Hicks, she's director of the Harris County Mental Health program. Dr. Hicks, I, you know, I hear the stories, we've got a lot of homeless people out there that are doing this stuff, what do they call it, K-2, or Spice, this synthetic marijuana, and --

REGINIA HICKS: Yes, here, we call -- the people here were calling it Kush. That's the name we -- yeah, yes.

DEAN BECKER: But, this is oftentimes may lead to at least a temporary type of mental health problem, am I correct?

REGINIA HICKS: Well, what it does is that using Kush and other types of drugs can cause people to have delusions or hallucinations, which are symptoms of some other major mental illnesses, like people that have delusions are, you know, that have mental health diagnoses of schizophrenia. What using that specific drug does is it causes them to have those same symptoms, that someone would get -- would have a major mental health diagnosis.

DEAN BECKER: Doctor Hicks, I understand that in Seattle, oft times, if a policeman finds somebody, you know, doing aberrant things on the street, and they happen to find a small amount of drugs on them, that they have the option to refer them to mental health services or to lock them up.

REGENIA HICKS: Yes. Yes.

DEAN BECKER: Do we have the same situation here?

REGENIA HICKS: Yes. In fact, that's one of the things that the current district attorney has done in terms of developing a first chance program for people that, first time being caught with under a gram of whatever controlled substance, as well as we, now that's being expanded with -- Harris County was lucky enough to get a grant through the MacArthur Foundation that's focusing on helping us to really revise our whole approach to criminal justice, particularly focusing in on what -- things that we can do to reduce the number of people that are going into the jail, and so that less than a gram will also now be able to be applied to people that are not on their first offense. And so that will be very good. So people would be able to then get the option of then, if they're willing, going into some level of treatment besides going in, besides going into jail.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, ma'am. And, what am I leaving out? What would you like to relay to the listeners?

REGENIA HICKS: I think one of the things that's so important for people to understand is that people that have mental health issues are people who can receive treatment, and they can be okeh, and they can become, you know, productive members of society. It -- having a diagnosable mental illness is not a life sentence for somebody that means that forevermore you're not going to be able to do anything else or to be helpful. The problem is that, of course, is that many mental illnesses also affect people's cognitive abilities, or their ability when they're not on medication or receiving their medication, is that they are at that time not willing to receive treatment, and so, because they maybe have been experiencing a level of paranoia or they're having auditory hallucinations that are telling them not to, you know, that these people are the devil so you don't trust them or whatever, and so it's really being able to get people to accept services and treatment at the time that they are most in need, and then we have the opportunity of turning it around.

I think the other thing that we've really learned from our program as well is that the things that bring people back to jail, it's not just them having a mental illness, it's also the fact that they have other risk factors that can bring them back to jail, and that's where being able to work with them on changing how they view illegal acts, or breaking the law, is so important. And so it's really combining them getting the treatment that they need, so that they can have a clear mind, and then being able to then provide them with other levels of education and intervention that says, you know, we understand that you may have come from a background where you didn't have a lot, but there are other ways for you to get the things that you need besides robbing somebody. And so, it's helping them to kind of break some of those criminal -- criminogenic factors, or patterns, that they have developed over time that is equally as important to them getting the treatment. You've got to do both things at once.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, ma'am, and I think the foundation to all that is having a situation where they're not desperate, I guess, where they have housing, where they have a source of income, or food --

REGENIA HICKS: Yes. That's correct.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, ma'am.

REGENIA HICKS: It's very sad, because when -- to see the number of people that end up coming back to jail on what we call misdemeanor offenses, or, you know, thefts for under 500 dollars, thefts for under a thousand dollars, you know. And it's like, and these are people that, they were on the street, they were trying to get, you know, trying to get food, trying to do something else, and they did this, and then they ended up, you know, they ended up in jail. So we do see that, and that's why I think one of the things that has been very helpful for our program is that anyone who gets enrolled, if they are homeless, we give them a place to stay for at least 90 days. So that during that 90 day period of time, we've got case managers that are going to be able to work with them, figure out if there is some other long term housing that we can get them connected with, make sure that they're on their medication, connecting them with other benefits that they might be eligible for, as well as the fact that we also do have people that want to work, and that can go back to work, and so we're also connecting them with employment opportunities.

But the first thing that you've got to do is you've got to give people that level of stability around their basic needs. I mean, that goes back to a psychologist named Mazlow, who talked about the hierarchy of needs, which is basically, if somebody doesn't have food, clothing, and shelter, for you to talk to them about anything else, it's not going to go through until you've taken care of those things.

DEAN BECKER: Very sound summation, there. Again, we've been speaking with Doctor Reginia Hicks, of the Harris County Mental Health group. Doctor Hicks, thank you so much. Is there a website you might want to share with the listener?

REGENIA HICKS: If anybody is interested in getting more information about our program, they can contact me at regenia.hicks@cjo.hctx.net. And I would be happy to send them any information that they would want about our program and the things that we're doing.

DEAN BECKER: Well, Doctor Hicks, I wish you great success. My hat's off to you and all of those who serve this situation.

REGENIA HICKS: Well, and thank you, sir, for allowing time on your show, because this is the way we're able to get good information out to people that have other loved ones that may be going through the same thing as well as being able to reinforce, as I said, that these people can be helped, they can contribute -- become contributing members of society, it's just about us reorganizing things and the best way to make that happen.

DEAN BECKER: It's time to play Name That Drug By Its Side Effects! Chest pain, fever, gastroenteritis, rectal hemorrhage, vaginal hemorrhage, ulcerative stomatitis, pancreatis, pneumonia, amnesia, decreased libido, neuropathy, deafness, thrombocytopenia, paralysis, and slow death. Time's up! You should have gotten this one, it's the world's number one selling drug to cut down on cholesterol: Lipitor, another FDA-approved product.

CHRIS CONRAD: Hi, I'm Chris Conrad, I'm with the Friends of Proposition 64, and I'm a court-qualified cannabis expert.

DEAN BECKER: Chris, big things are expected this fall in California. They're going to vote to truly legalize marijuana, correct?

CHRIS CONRAD: That is absolutely correct. It will be legal and lawful to possess one ounce of marijuana, six -- excuse me, 8 grams of concentrate, and grow six plants in your home, completely legal.

DEAN BECKER: Now, this is going to allow those who maybe avoided growing their own garden to feel comfortable, to eventually bring the prices down, if I'm correct. What do you think?

CHRIS CONRAD: Absolutely. In fact, you know, I'm planning on doing a little growing myself finally, you know, because under Prop 215, we have a defense, but they can arrest you and take you to court and prosecute you, that's where you use the defense. But with Prop 64, that won't be true, they can't arrest you anymore, so, that's quite exciting. The other thing you have to understand is that people are allowed to keep the entire harvest and share it for free with their friends. So I'm hoping that a lot of my friends will be sharing some cannabis back with me this year. Next year.

DEAN BECKER: Well, there you go, and yeah, everybody grow a different strain, and at harvest time, share it up. Right?

CHRIS CONRAD: Right. And you know, this initiative really works hard to keep the small growers in place. It's got a lot of anti-monopoly language in it, it gives -- takes away the -- makes it easier for people to get into the business if they have prior arrests, first by cleaning your record, by, because the penalties are going to be retroactive, but in addition to that, even if you had a record that still has something on it, you can still get a job in the industry. Like I say, some states call it a rap sheet, in California, growing marijuana's considered a resume.

DEAN BECKER: I've heard, yeah, in Oakland in particular, they're trying to make it where those who have been in trouble before, perhaps those within the black community, get a second chance at getting in the industry. Correct?

CHRIS CONRAD: Yes, indeed, and this initiative does the same thing, two different ways. It has the tax revenues, putting $50 million a year into helping communities that have been harmed by the drug war, with grants to help create jobs and opportunities, and also as we've said, it sets up a system that's scaled to size so that people who are small growers don't have to pay as much for their licenses. They can get in with distributors, they don't have to, so it streamlines the process of getting into the business completely for everybody.

DEAN BECKER: You know, I was talking with a buddy of mine, he's out there vacationing in California, talking about how free it was, that, you know, the medical marijuana had made it available for a lot of folks who, you know, had a malady and could go to a doctor and get that recommendation. And he was talking about the freedom that already exists in California. But the fact of the matter is, it's going to get a lot more free. Is it not?

CHRIS CONRAD: Well, not only is it going to get a lot more free, that's a fool's paradise that we have right now, because the legislature voted last year to eliminate the legal defenses for collective marijuana cultivation, starting in 2019, so this freedom that we're talking about, it's all gone. We're just kind of in the dead man walking phase right now. The legislature said two years, and then all the felonies return, unless the initiative passes, and legalizes it, and gets rid of those felonies, which it will.

Well, the way the California laws are based, everybody should be afraid of an arrest. If you smell like marijuana, police have a right to search you. Any amount of marijuana you have on you, if they claim that it's for sale, it's a felony. You can then go to court and fight and say, well, it's medical and blah blah, you know, which you may or may not win, but then the problem of it is that, that defense goes away in two years, so in two years, it won't matter, you just simply, if they catch you, they say you're in possession, and that you're intending to sell, and that's just a straight felony, you wouldn't have a defense anymore.

I mean, you -- the defense would be, I wasn't selling it, you know, but the defense now is, I was selling it to a patient, and under the initiative, it would be I'm sharing it, or I have a license to sell it. Because remember, that's the whole thing. If people can get licenses, you get nonprofit ones to make marijuana available for free for people, they can a license on it, they just have to pay the production tax to make it work.

DEAN BECKER: Wow. Well, I know that you --

CHRIS CONRAD: Yeah.

DEAN BECKER: I know that you and Mikki Norris, and a lot of good folks out there in California are working hard to educate folks to the benefits of this referendum 64, and I think more than that, you're trying to get them to get out and vote, to make sure that it passes. Correct?

CHRIS CONRAD: Absolutely. One of our biggest concerns right now is that we have a good margin in the polls, but if people don't show up to vote -- that margin's a cap, frankly, it's people who actually show up on election day. And actually, what we're doing is a lot of absentee balloting, meaning people can vote now, or in the next few weeks, if they get their voter paperwork and do a mail-in ballot. So we would like to win this thing before the election day even arrives, by getting all the people on our side to vote absentee.

DEAN BECKER: All right. We've been speaking with Mister Chris Conrad. Chris, is there a website we could point folks where they could learn more?

CHRIS CONRAD: Yeah, well first, I have a book called The Newbies Guide To Cannabis and the Industry, which is available, they can read all about that. The other thing is my website is ChrisConrad.com. Or you can come to FriendsOfProp64.org.

VOICEOVER: When legalizing safe, responsible, adult use of marijuana, the most important question is how. By voting yes on Prop 64, adults 21 and over could only purchase marijuana at licensed marijuana businesses. And Prop 64 bans advertising directed at kids, requires strict product labeling, child proof packaging, and bans edibles that appeal to children. Smart provisions to safeguard our families. Learn more about the safeguards at YesOn64.org.

VALERIE LEVERONI CORRAL: I am Valerie Leveroni Corral, I'm the co-founder and director of WAMM, the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana in Santa Cruz, California. The Wo/Men's Alliance, the women's and men's alliance. And we were founded in 1993, and we have been providing organic cannabis, non-GMO of course of course, for people of low income and terminally ill. We also work at hospice, end of life, and with palliative care, in assisting people who are facing death.

DEAN BECKER: Now, Valerie, we've spoken a number of times over the years, heck, over the decade we've known each other. I was privileged to come to one of the WAMM meetings for the distribution of the medicine, and to see the concerns, the maladies, the reasons why these people need medical marijuana. And the reason why I'm calling today, I've heard a lot of folks quibbling about the AUMA, resolution number 64, in California, as being bad for the medical side of this issue. What are your thoughts in that regard, please?

VALERIE LEVERONI CORRAL: Well, let me just say that since the passage of Proposition 215 in California, and I think we can look at Oregon and Colorado, Washington as well, and their legalization movements, that with the cannabis, medical cannabis legalization in California, we've noticed that while the access to medical marijuana, medical cannabis, has become greater, access by people who are, have both ill health and marginal finances, or restricted finances, has become more difficult. So people who are the sickest, have to come up with a great deal of money to be competitive in this market, where there's a lot of availability on every corner.

So, you know, my -- the problem that I foresee is that with legalization, it won't make it more accessible to the people who actually really require it for their health, and upon whose backs, lives, that we've built this movement upon, you know, it's just, we've built this, we've medicalized cannabis, made it harder to access financially, and now with legalization, and this sort of open door, how will that benefit people who are sick and dying? My fear is that as it has gone since 1996, so it will proceed. It doesn't mean that it shouldn't be legal, I'm not saying that it shouldn't be legal. I don't know that AUMA is the way to go, because if you read AUMA, it really does look like a lot more money for the people who are already rich.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah.

VALERIE LEVERONI CORRAL: When you think of, have people gone to jail for an ounce, I mean, it's got protections that we really already have in place, and it's sort of pronouncing those protections. And I think that there's another, greater sort of unspoken social justice issue, and that's the inequity between great wealth and what -- how great wealth affects poverty and causes disparity between people who can afford and people who cannot.

DEAN BECKER: Yes.

VALERIE LEVERONI CORRAL: So, some greed is not necessarily better than great greed, but some wealth does not cause poverty, great wealth demands poverty. And that's sort of I think the dilemma that we're faced with. I mean, I'm not a anti-capitalist, but I do want to see small businesses, I'd like to see small farmers, I'd like to see patients, I'd like to see individuals who want to access it for recreation be able to access at a reasonable market.

There's another piece, and that's the sort of Monsantification of the planet. I mean, now they're going to call themselves Bayer, and so that's going to make, what, make them different in their intentions? Cannabis can so easily be used to -- as the point of the arrow to take over all of nature, and what do I mean by that? I mean the laws that surround cannabis threaten the laws that surround access to all plants. And I think that that is our, one of our biggest, maybe not completely hidden threats, but it is a hidden threat, it's one that we're perhaps not paying enough attention to.

So, I just think it's a bigger question. And of course I'm not opposed to legalization. After, you know the decades that we've spent struggling for this issue, isn't it really ironic that it's promoted by, you know, big money? And it's not the grassroots that's brought it to our doors, and to our lungs, and to our hearts. You know, I think, sometimes I look at this and I think, gosh do these guys ever imbibe? Do these guys ever use cannabis? Because it should open their consciousness and their awareness, but it doesn't seem like it, it's just really filled a lot of bank accounts.

DEAN BECKER: Well. I tell you what, Valerie, I appreciate your time, and your commitment, hell, your dignity and grace that you share with so many. We've been speaking with Valerie Leveroni Corral, the director of the Wo/Men's Alliiance for Medical Marijuana out there in Santa Cruz. Their website: WAMM.org.

With this edition of Cultural Baggage, it represents fifteen years over the airwaves of North America. Tomorrow's my 68th birthday as well. I want to say something, though. I'm sick of alcoholics getting away with their BS. They can lie, cheat, steal, rape, crash their cars, kill somebody, even murder somebody, and yet if I were to use cannabis, it's considered to be a crime. Worthy of wiretaps, and snitches, entrapment, maybe a SWAT team. Certainly an arrest, a conviction, maybe some fines or even years in prison. Perhaps they'll take my children, my car, my house, my bank account. And perhaps if the cops were to see me twitch or adjust my belt, they can kill me. All with impunity, and the blessings of the major media. I remind you once again, because of prohibition you don't know what's in that bag. Please be careful.

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.