10/23/16 Doug McVay

This week we talk with Tom Burns, former head of marijuana programs for the state of Oregon, about balancing the needs of patients in a time of broader adult use legalization; and Philippine President Duterte says he's separating from the US over his murderous vigilante drug war #BoycottThePhilippines.

Century of Lies
Sunday, October 23, 2016
Doug McVay
Drug War Facts
Download: Audio icon col102316.mp3



OCTOBER 23, 2016


DEAN BECKER: The failure of drug war is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors, and millions more now calling for for decriminalization, legalization, the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century Of Lies.

DOUG MCVAY: Hello, and welcome to Century Of Lies. Century Of Lies is a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

TOM BURNS: I'm Tom Burns, and I'm the former director of recreational -- of marijuana programs, sorry, not just recreational -- marijuana programs at the Oregon Liquor Control Commission. Before that, I ran the medical program for the Oregon Health Authority, and right now I'm doing consulting to anybody who wants to pay me to advise them on where the marijuana industry might be going, and what they might need to do to either get licensed or approved, or get the law changed, or anything like that. So, that's who I am and what I'm doing.

DOUG MCVAY: Well, I'm curious to find out the -- to get a capsule free version of where you think this industry is going, but in particular, as legalization rolls out, patients, patient interests are absolutely at stake. How do you think, moving forward, we can do more to protect patient interests?

TOM BURNS: Yes, so, when I was running the medical program, I knew nothing about medical marijuana, or where it came from, or how it worked, or what advantages or disadvantages it had. I frankly came into the job charged with putting together a program, but with sort of the view that this was just a backdoor way for people to legally get marijuana who did not have a need.

It quickly became clear to me that there were a whole bunch of people in this state, and I suspect across the country, who clearly were getting benefits from marijuana. And I had person after person come to me and say, before I got a marijuana card, a medical marijuana card, I was on bottles of antidepressants, or bottles of painkillers, or was trying to control seizures in my child, and once I had the nerve and in many cases for these people it was the nerve to go and get a medical marijuana card, and start using cannabis, their lives changed. And I heard that over and over and over again.

And so -- and I came out of the pharmaceutical industry, and, you know, I couldn't figure out, well, you know, how, why, what, where. I realized nobody knows because there were no studies, but that it was clearly working. And so, fast forward to legalization occurring, and suddenly, we had a legal market, or would have a legal market, and people looked around and said, oh, they had the same view I had, those people who had a medical marijuana card, or have the card simply because they wanted to get marijuana legally, they didn't have a medical reason for it, they just wanted to get the card so they could have marijuana. And therefore they were all a bunch of crooks, or close to crooks.

And I think what happened was, those people who really were patient advocates, and, you know, Anthony Taylor is the strongest of that, just never could get that message across. Instead, what we had was people saying, look -- and I was guilty of this, I mean, I stood in front of the legislature and in front of people and I said, look, here is a grow in southern Oregon that has six hundred plants, because they stacked a hundred cards, all of whom were illegal. And I whitewashed the entire industry, and I think that's a tragedy, and I think that was a mistake, and I think that the patients right now who really are in desperate need of this type of medicine, are at grave risk of losing it.

And I'm not quite sure what the solution is, but I really do fear that over the course of the next six to twelve months, that we may see a complete ending of the medical program and the products that patients need in Oregon.

DOUG MCVAY: It's a scary prospect. It's a scary prospect. The -- personally, I was a cancer patient many years ago, and grew to really appreciate, at levels I never thought -- I never wanted to, just how effective a medicine medical cannabis can be. And, yeah. It's a -- and it's one thing when you're, you know, when you have continuing little problems and issues and the aches and pains that come along with being over 50, shall we say, but -- yeah, but then again, you know, I'm, the kidney damage from all that means that I don't get to take NSAIDS like aspirin, so what do you do? Yeah. Getting up in the morning, it's a fun thing. It is.

So, you're going to be speaking this weekend at an event organized by Compassionate Oregon. You mentioned Anthony Taylor, who's, I think he's their director, certainly works with them, good friend, I've known Anthony since the 80s. Now, what are you going to be -- what do you hope that folks will be taking away from your talk, there?

TOM BURNS: Well, I'm -- my message to them this evening is going to be, you guys, who are in this for patients, for the HIV patients that I saw in low income housing here in Oregon, when I traveled with a caregiver. For the mother who has post-partum depression and who needed marijuana to get over that in order to take care of her child. As you said, for the cancer patient who is suffering terribly from the pain that is associated with it. Somehow or other, those people need to come up with a solution, and I, unfortunately, don't know what that solution is, to address the medical side of this industry. We're not going to have a Charlotte's Web -- well, you can't say Charlotte's Web anymore, because the OLCC thought that that was too much marketing to children. Not quite sure how, but that's their decision.

But you won't see a product like the former Charlotte's Web that I know mothers are giving to their children who have serious seizures, and that child is not going to be able to function without the product. Now, maybe there's another way to do it, maybe the market will stay. I really hope it will. But when you move into a legal market, the business interests are stepping up and saying, what is it that the majority of the population want? And are going to start selling to that population, and just like the fact that I have to go into Fred Meyer and can only buy Product X even though I know Product Y is what I want, it doesn't exist anymore.

And that really does worry me, in the medical world. So, what am I saying? My messaging is, you guys, who understand it, need to figure out how to deliver a real message about what you're doing. Not the message that they got, that is out there, which is they're growing illegally, they're putting it in the black market, they're shipping it out of state. That message is out there, and you need to find a way to provide a different messaging around how you control your product, that you are providing tracking for your product, that your product is going to be safe and tested, and that it is only going to go to people who are patients and who really need the product. And if they do that, I think that come January in Salem, they will find a receptive audience.

And so my message is, get involved, get active, and come up with your solution, that meets your needs, because Salem right now doesn't know how to address the medical market.

DOUG MCVAY: It's an important message, and as people in other states are looking towards their own adult use legalization, where they have medical already, these are all concerns that patients need to be addressing ahead of time, you know, before the vote gets taken. It's, you know, that's -- the business interests are certainly there doing the same thing.

Again, I've been speaking with Tom Burns, he is a consultant in Portland, Oregon, he's formerly the head of the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program and marijuana programs at the OLCC here in the state. Tom, any closing thoughts, and do you have a blog or something people can follow?

TOM BURNS: All right, I will -- I can't even figure out how to make Facebook work. You know, no, in other words no, I don't have a blog. No, I think the message, and I think you make a very good point. We have a number of states that are going to be legalizing products in November. I think that's good, I think that's heading in the right direction for this country. But I think it's really, really important for those people who are addressing the compassionate needs of patients, that they really need to figure out how to change the conversation, and how to make it clear that yes, there are bad actors in the medical world, and those bad actors need to close down, but don't broadbrush everybody in the medical world based on a few bad actors. Instead, recognize that there needs to be a controlled, regulated, medical market that provides products to patients who really, really need that product.

DOUG MCVAY: Tom Burns, thank you so much.

TOM BURNS: My pleasure.

DOUG MCVAY: That again was Tom Burns. Currently a consultant in Portland, Oregon, he was formerly the head of the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program, and after a legalization initiative passed in Oregon, he was for a time the Director of Marijuana Programs for the Oregon Liquor Control Commission.

If you are a voter in a state that has a measure to partially decriminalize or to legally regulate either adult social use or medical use of marijuana, you should vote yes. If you believe in drug policy reform, you should always support those sorts of initiatives. If it's not a great law, then you should already be working to make it better. The experience in my home state of Oregon, and across the border in Washington, has been that the legislature set to work on these laws before they were even enacted. You can waste your energy by trying to oppose drug policy reform, or you could use it constructively by talking to those legislators now.

There are legitimate concerns about how adult use legalization will impact those patients who have both the greatest needs and the fewest resources. At the same time, a much larger number of people will greatly benefit when these adult social use legalization initiatives pass. And then there's the carry-on effect in other states where legalization is still not even being discussed, and internationally. It's important for these measures to pass.

Yes there are concerns. It's possible to balance these concerns with these benefits, but you've got to start early. If you're in California, Nevada, Arizona, Massachusetts, or Maine, vote yes, but whatever way you vote, go talk to your legislators now. Now, before election day November Eighth, now, while they're still desperate for your support and for your vote. Ask them to make a pre-election pledge that when the legalization initiative passes, that they will protect the rights of patients. Get them to promise that when the initiative passes they will work with patients and caregivers to make sure that those who are in greatest need will not be rolled over as legalization is rolled out. And if you haven't already, please, just be sure to vote.

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

Turning now to the Philippines. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte went to Beijing, China for talks. The Chinese government had previously declared its support for Duterte's campaign of murder and violence under the guise of a war on drugs. This week, a joint statement from the two governments announced that China has agreed to provide some fifteen million dollars for his death squads and vigilante drug enforcers, hashtag Boycott the Philippines #BoycottThePhilippines.

On Thursday October 20th, Duterte spoke to a business forum in Beijing and announced that he was separating from the United States, saying that the US had lost. By Friday, Duterte was starting to backtrack. Duterte further said that criticism of the brutal murders being committed under the guise of a drug war in his nation was one of the main reasons he was pulling away from the US.

The question arises whether Duterte wants to eat his cake and have it, too. That's among the questions State Department spokesperson John Kirby spent more than half of a fifty-minute news conference earlier answering this week. Here's some of that audio:

REPORTER: [S]ince President Duterte came to power, which is not so long ago, there have been several thousand, as you well know, killings of alleged drug dealers and others. The human rights community describes these as extrajudicial killings, and as you well know, the Leahy law limits the assistance that you can provide.


REPORTER: Is this, despite the attractions of its geography and despite the treaty – which, as you pointed out, doesn’t oblige you to have a specific amount of military presence there, and it’s varied from decade to decade.

JOHN KIRBY: Correct.

REPORTER: Why is this an ally you want to have given your, A, human rights concerns and, B, this angry rhetoric often directed at you? Why is this an ally you want? Is geography destiny here and you just have to have it?

JOHN KIRBY: Well, I think the alliance – as I said, some 70 years old now – has weathered all kinds of different storms, be they actual storms or political storms. And again, we’re focused on keeping it solid going forward. It’s based on a very rich history, people-to-people ties that, again, go back even before, obviously, World War II. And it includes a very vibrant Filipino American diaspora of Filipino Americans here who enrich our culture, enrich our society, enrich our armed forces, and a very long list of shared security concerns. So it is a country in the crossroads of a very important region, a region that is undergoing enormous strain and change. It is a commitment, an alliance that we have – that we not only entered into honorably but we intend to continue to honor going forward.

And that – to your question on human rights, we’ve been very open and honest about our concerns over human rights activities there, and you can go on our report online and see that. We’re not bashful about expressing those. You’re right about the Leahy law. I mean, obviously, that applies there and anywhere else around the world. We have restrictions on what kind of aid and assistance can go to specific units that, if we have credible information that they – that they’re violating human rights, that that aid cannot go forward. We always look at that on a unit-to-unit basis. It’s always under review. But to your larger question, it is – that we have human rights concerns, even with a treaty ally, doesn’t mean that that renders moot or invalid or undesirable the treaty itself and the larger foundation of the relationship.

REPORTER: John, is the Philippines ambassador being summoned to explain President Duterte’s comments?

JOHN KIRBY: I’m not aware of any such summons.

REPORTER: Is that something that you anticipate will happen?

JOHN KIRBY: If we have something to report on that, I’ll let you know, but I’m not aware that any kind of summons like that’s coming.

REPORTER: And then one other --

JOHN KIRBY: As I said --


JOHN KIRBY: -- Assistant Secretary Russel is going to be heading to the region in just a few days.

REPORTER: Right. Right.

JOHN KIRBY: And I think his conversations will hopefully suffice for the kind of explanation and more detail that we’re seeking.

REPORTER: But there will be a lag of at least three days, and certainly the ambassador is here. Why not just have him come in and say, well --

JOHN KIRBY: Well, I don’t think we believe there’s a need to do that. But if that changes, I’ll let you know.

REPORTER: And then, going back to something that you just talked about, the overall relationship between the U.S. and the Philippines, the economic relationship. Could that be imperiled, given that Philippine workers are hired to work at naval installations around the world? I’ve seen them with my own eyes at PXs and cleaning facilities and doing maintenance. Schoolteachers, registered nurses routinely get visas to come work here in the United States, sending home money to a country that I don’t think is considered an economic superpower. Does the U.S. believe that President Duterte believes or understands that he could be imperiling a real economic support for his country by making these sorts of comments and making these sorts of overtures to other countries in the region?

JOHN KIRBY: I have no idea what he thinks or believes about where he’s going with these comments. Again, as I told Arshad, I wouldn’t put myself in a foreign leader’s head; I can’t do that. All I can tell you – but you’re right, there is a – there are many – the ties that bind us are many different areas of our – sectors of our culture, society, and our government. And there is strong economic ties and the United States does provide many billions of dollars to – for aid and assistance to Philippines. And when the Philippines have had natural disasters in the past, the United States was first into the fray to help.

We very much want to see that close – those ties that – we want to see those continue and we want to see them deepen and strengthen, and there’s really no reason why they shouldn’t. And again, that’s why these comments are baffling to us, and not just to us – as I said, to other of our friends and partners in the region. And that’s why we’d like to get a little bit better sense of exactly what he meant when he said “separation.” What does that entail?

REPORTER: Is it reasonable to assume that if President Duterte insists upon a change in the mil-to-mil relationship, that the US in turn would reconsider its economic relationships, its visa policies, its immigration policies regarding the Philippines?

JOHN KIRBY: I wouldn’t. I don’t think it would be helpful to hypothesize or speculate about that kind of stuff right now. Obviously that’s not a future that we are interested in seeing.

REPORTER: Can we go to Syria?

REPORTER: John, (inaudible).

REPORTER: (Inaudible) Syria?


REPORTER: Philippines.

JOHN KIRBY: Philippines?

REPORTER: Philippines.

JOHN KIRBY: Yeah, go ahead.

REPORTER: So you mentioned that there were friends in the region that were also concerned about these comments. Can you be a little bit more specific on who those countries – or what those countries might be and what the exact concerns they’ve expressed?

JOHN KIRBY: No, next question.

REPORTER: Okay. And then also, do you have any specific comment on the fact that the Philippines has agreed with China to discuss on a bilateral basis the South China Sea issue?

JOHN KIRBY: Can I confirm that the Philippines and China are discussing --

REPORTER: Or do you have a response that they’ve agreed to bilateral talks?

JOHN KIRBY: I’ve seen press reports that they have. I don’t know that I can confirm that they’ve agreed to have bilateral talks on the South China Sea specifically, but as I said, we would welcome a closer bilateral relationship between the Philippines and China. And I would have every expectation that such a bilateral discussion and relationship would include what’s going on in the South China Sea. That wouldn’t shock or surprise us one bit, but we – again, we welcome China and the Philippines being able to have a closer dialogue and discussion and, in fact, a closer relationship.

REPORTER: Do you think that’s a positive --

JOHN KIRBY: That doesn’t – that doesn’t bother us.

REPORTER: You think that’s a positive step in terms of resolving their dispute?

JOHN KIRBY: I think any dialogue between two nations involved in the tensions there, any dialogue that can lead to peaceful diplomatic solutions to some of the claims disputes, obviously we’re in favor of that – obviously we would see that as a positive, productive thing. And we’ve been saying that for years now, that we want these things to be resolved peacefully, bilaterally, in accordance with international law and norms. And if President Xi and President Duterte have that kind of conversation and they can arrive at some solutions and reduce the tensions there, that’s all to the good.


REPORTER: So last week, Toner said that the working-level relationship between the Philippines and the United States is still strong and rock-solid. Have you seen any shift in the working-level relationship?



REPORTER: So recently, outside of the U.S. embassy in the Philippines, there’s been a lot of activity as far as protests and such.


REPORTER: And in fact, some pretty horrible video came out the other day --

JOHN KIRBY: I’m sorry, say --

REPORTER: Some pretty horrible video came out the other day with a police van. I’m wondering, with Russel going this weekend, do you think that him being there at the same time during these protests would heighten tensions at all?

JOHN KIRBY: Well, we certainly don’t want to see tensions heightened regardless and I don’t think that Danny would go if he felt that him going would exacerbate any tensions. I think he’s going – again, long scheduled, long planned. He still believes that it’s important to make this trip, particularly in the context of recent events, and believe me, I don’t – he would not go if he felt that he was going to make the situation worse in any way and I don’t believe that he will.

REPORTER: Can we go to Syria?

REPORTER: No, no, no, no. I – three, but they’re extremely brief. One, when you didn’t want to be specific about what other countries have – are baffled by this, is it more than – can you say it’s more than just other ASEAN members?

JOHN KIRBY: I think I’m – I would let --

REPORTER: When we talk about the region --

JOHN KIRBY: I would let --

REPORTER: When you say “the region,” that’s Southeast Asia, but I mean, are there – does it extend beyond Southeast Asia?

JOHN KIRBY: I think there are many – yes, it does.


JOHN KIRBY: There are many nations in the region that are concerned and baffled. I’ll let them speak for themselves.

REPORTER: All right, secondly --

JOHN KIRBY: Does it go beyond ASEAN? Yes.

REPORTER: Yeah. So, I mean, one could presume – assume, then, it’s Japan --

JOHN KIRBY: I’ll just leave it at that.

REPORTER: It’s the Korea --

JOHN KIRBY: I’ll leave it at that.

REPORTER: -- or South Korea. Secondly, have you heard anything through the embassy there about concerns among American expats living in the Philippines? Because you mentioned the Filipino-American community here, the diaspora, which is quite large, but there’s also quite a big --


REPORTER: -- number of American expatriates there. Do you know, have you heard any reports of a concern --

JOHN KIRBY: We have not. I’m not aware of any specific concerns expressed by Americans that are living overseas.

REPORTER: All right. And then lastly on this, I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but today is the 72nd anniversary of General MacArthur returning to the Philippines after his --

JOHN KIRBY: I only know because I saw your tweet.

REPORTER: Yes, exactly. And I’m just wondering – I’m just wondering if this – if you see any connection, if it makes the sting a little bit worse that this, whether it’s a coincidence or not, happened on an historically – on a historically important day, particularly for the Philippines-US relationship?

JOHN KIRBY: You’d have to talk to, again, the president about his --

REPORTER: No, no, no, I’m – from this – from this end.

JOHN KIRBY: -- motivations. No, I know. You’d have to talk to him about the timing of his particular statement and what it meant and whether it was timed to coincide with General MacArthur’s famous proclamation about returning to the Philippines. We are not focused on history here. We’re proud of the history of the relationship, obviously – I’ve talked about the 70 years of an alliance. We are very much focused on the future. And that’s where our heads are – on the future of this very important alliance, very important relationship.

DOUG MCVAY: That again was from a US State Department news conference in Washington, DC, on Thursday October Twentieth. Spokesperson John Kirby was being questioned about the US reaction to statements by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. Duterte said that the Philippines was separating from the United States, and that criticism of his violent outlaw regime, or anti-drug policies as he insists on referring to them, was one of the main reasons. Hashtag Boycott The Philippines #BoycottThePhilippines – is an example of that criticism.

Imagine that, dear listener. I mean, really, Duterte's move is nothing more than a ploy to get bribe money out of China, and then extort more money and favors from the US, and back and forth, to see how much extra he can squeeze from both before we tire of it. But imagine, for just a moment, that what Duterte said was true, and I realize that it will take a lot of imagination to imagine truth coming from him, but still, just think: this murderous Hitler-loving scumbag of a bully wants to break relations with the US, its biggest ally, and shift to another major power, China, just because people like us have called him out for being, well, a murderous Hitler-loving scumbag of a bully. Hashtag Boycott The Philippines. #BoycottThePhilippines.

Of course, Duterte may be a dictator – actually no, strike that, he is a dictator – but he's not a foolish dictator. He's not really going to have the Philippines break its relations with the US, in fact he's already admitted that. Still, at least we know that Duterte is aware that he has critics. And we're not going away, not until after he does. Hashtag Boycott The Philippines. #BoycottThePhilippines.

And well, that's all the time we have. Thank you for joining us. You've been listening to Century Of Lies. We're a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org. Drug Truth Network is on Facebook, please give its page a like. Drug War Facts is on Facebook too, give it a like and share it with friends. You can follow me on Twitter, I'm @DougMcVay and of course also @DrugPolicyFacts.

We'll be back next week with thirty minutes of news and information about the drug war and this Century Of Lies. For now, for the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay saying so long. So long!

For the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay asking you to examine our policy of drug prohibition: the century of lies. Drug Truth Network programs archived at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.