10/28/16 Piper Kerman

Piper Kerman, author Orange is the New Black, Deborah Small, Johns Hopkins Public Health Fellow and the Drug Policy Alliance├ö├Â┬úÔö£├é├ö├Â┬úÔö£┬║├ö├Â┬úÔö£Ôòùs Asha Bandele + Irvin Rosenfeld re pot stocks

Program: 
Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Date: 
Friday, October 28, 2016
Guest: 
Piper Kerman
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CULTURAL BAGGAGE

OCTOBER 28, 2016

TRANSCRIPT

DEAN BECKER: Hi, folks, this is Dean Becker. Thank you for joining us on this edition of Cultural Baggage. We don't have time for intros and outros.

The following comes from a Facebook live discussion on marijuana legalization, mass incarceration, and women, featuring Piper Kerman, author of the memoir Orange Is The New Black; Deborah Small, a Johns Hopkins public health fellow; and the Drug Policy Alliance's own Asha Bandale. All courtesy of TheRoot.com.

ASHA BANDALE: My name is Asha Bandale, and I am the senior director at the Drug Policy Alliance. We're the nation's leading organization working to dismantle the many policies that make up what we call the war on drugs, which has had the most deleterious impact on the black and brown and the poorest citizens of our nation. But for the last couple of months, we've been working in partnership with The Root in examining the ways in which the liberalization and legalization of marijuana laws impacts black communities nationwide. We've collaborated with The Root in publishing articles, and two weeks ago we were joined by Dr. Carl Hart in having a public conversation via this medium so that we could hear from you directly, and answer your questions.

Then more than 120,000 of you participated in the discussion, and today we are back with two of the world's leading advocates on drug policy, Deborah Small, whose work I first became aware of when she fought tirelessly for the release of black people in a small town in Texas called Tulia, where fully 10 percent of the population had been locked up on the word of a single rogue federal marshal. Deborah was then the policy director for the Drug Policy Alliance, and she would go on to found Break The Chains, the first US-based national organization connecting racial justice and the drug war, and today, as she works to complete a book on policing, she is also serving as a fellow at Johns Hopkins University in their public health program.

Joining Deborah is another cherished friend of mine, Piper Kerman, whose 2010 memoir, Orange Is The New Black: My Year In A Women's Prison, which was then turned into a must-see original series on Netflix, has changed conversations about prisons and women and the drug war all over the world. Between the memoir and the series and her own incredible advocacy, Piper has taken the conversation about mass incarceration, the drug war, and women to the world, and today she brings it to us. Welcome to both of you.

So, let me start there with you, Deborah, because, with, we're going to talk specifically about marijuana related offenses, and they really do drive the drug war, and that seems to me a little shocking, because when we think about the origins of the drug war, we think about it as something that was specifically meant to protect our women. You know, I want to know how we're doing with that, and I think I want to know it especially because California, which is the most populous state in the region, in the nation, is getting ready to legalize marijuana, with Proposition 64, so can you help us think that through historically and where we are now?

DEBORAH SMALL: Well, I think that one of the most important things about Proposition 64 is that it will absolutely make the entire west coast a place that has now chosen to regulate marijuana. And in that regard, it will have struck a serious blow to the overall war on drugs. Having California get on board, which represents the sixth most -- the most populous state in the country and the sixth largest economy in the world, that is now taking on the issue of regulating marijuana instead of prohibiting it --

ASHA BANDALE: That's right.

DEBORAH SMALL: -- represents a significant blow to the war on drugs, in the same way that those of you who may recall that when cities like New York and Chicago and others decided that they were no longer going to enforce the laws about alcohol prohibition. That was beginning of the death knell to alcohol prohibition.

ASHA BANDALE: That's right.

DEBORAH SMALL: Because it requires local enforcement, and for many of the same reasons that local officials and the local population turned against alcohol prohibition are some of the same reasons that are driving public shifting in their views about marijuana and prohibition in general, the drug war in general, and primarily because, you know, it was marketed one way, and then it actually worked in practice another way, and so to me the parallels, particularly for women, are really pronounced in that it was women who were the leaders of the temperance movement, that brought about alcohol prohibition.

ASHA BANDALE: Right.

DEBORAH SMALL: It was women who said that the impacts of alcohol were so horrible to their families that we needed to have a law against it. But it was also women who thirteen years later said, this is not working, and the harms of prohibition are much worse than the harms of alcohol, so it was again women who were at the forefront of the movement to repeal it, and to have us come to a place that we were actually going to deal with this based on science and evidence, as opposed to prejudice and, you know, our presumptions about things.

So in much the same way, the drug war, the war in drugs, was marketed and sold to people as something that would protect women and children from the predations of drug dealers and other people who wanted to take them on a path to moral turpitude, and many people bought into that, particularly women, who were worried about their kids. They really believed that if we had a war on drugs, and made sure that we kept weed away, that their kids would be okeh.

But where are we 60, 70 years later? Half of all American kids used marijuana, that statistic has been pretty much static for the last 20 years, but what we also have now is a major problem with opiate addiction, and other drugs that people have access to because we have a war on drugs as opposed to dealing with it as a public health problem, and all kinds of violence that's associated with the drug trade, which is directly the product of prohibition, it has nothing to do with the drug. Everyone knows that marijuana does not make you violent. Fighting over the profits for marijuana will generate violence. And so people are starting to recognize that overall, society will be better, women recognize that their children will be better, if we have a regulatory system that actually controls the quality and the source of the material that their children may have access to, and allows us to provide good education, and I think ultimately women have recognized that in the scale of harms, that smoking weed is not as harmful as getting arrested for smoking weed.

ASHA BANDALE: That's right, or even just having contact with police, as we were talking about before we came on air, and let me -- that's why it becomes especially important for women whose, who've been so, had the spotlight on us during this particular election cycle, particularly important for women to get out and raise their voices for so many reasons, on Prop 64 and other matters concerning the election.

Let me bring you into this conversation, Piper, because I think at this point most of us know your story, about being locked up for a nonviolent drug law offense, and you know, one of the things that we've had to combat, for those who are working to pass Proposition 64, is the notion that in California, which has had medical marijuana for a couple of decades now, that nobody -- well I think it is 20 years this year, right Deborah, it's 20 years this year -- that nobody goes to jail for marijuana in California anymore, and it's something that actually, it makes them particularly angry because I think, well, maybe privileged people don't go to jail for marijuana anymore, but right now, 500 people are sitting in LA County Jail for a marijuana law offense, and that's true every night of every day of every week, and mostly they're black and brown people, and so, I wanted to think about, when that comes to women, a couple of things.

You know, what you saw, when you were in prison, and what women particularly face when they're incarcerated, and the particular damage that incarceration does to women and the harms that are visited upon them, but not only that, just thinking about being arrested, right? Just being arrested, what that does, especially for women, when we know that most of the women who are going to be in prison are going to mothers, and so I just wanted -- want you to tell -- share with us some of the things you saw and what you know about that.

PIPER KERMAN: Yeah. It's important to know that overwhelmingly, women in the system overall, and certainly incarcerated women and girls are there for nonviolent drug offenses or for low level property crimes, sometimes tethered into the drug trade in some way, those property crimes. And not for serious offenses, and that's -- the war on drugs is a huge driver of this enormous increase in female incarceration that you mentioned earlier.

ASHA BANDALE: Let me just interrupt just one quick second, I'm so sorry to do this, but Piper, you brought me to Ohio over the summertime because you volunteer and teach in two prisons in Ohio, and we had an incredible class with the women you teach there, and just share with this audience what the deputy warden said of the population of 2,600 women and the drug war.

PIPER KERMAN: Yeah. So, I was incarcerated in federal prison, where the overwhelming percentage of women are incarcerated for drug offenses. But in the state prison, where I teach, the women's state prison, the overwhelming percentage of women are also incarcerated for drug offenses. We were talking with the deputy warden for operations and security, so the man who's really responsible for the security side, and we were talking, you know, we said, you know, just estimate, if you could, you know, what percentage of the 2,600-odd women who are here are here because of a crime that was driven primarily by substance use and addiction, or by the drug trade, and he said, roughly 2,000 of those 2,600 women.

ASHA BANDALE: Right.

PIPER KERMAN: So, that's a huge percentage of people that the state of Ohio is choosing to incarcerate for really public health reasons. Because at the end of the day, these questions around substance use disorder and around addiction, and around drug selling, and whatever harms we think might be associated with drug selling, are rooted in public health questions, whether it's the demand, or whether it's deleterious effects of drug use, if those come to pass. Obviously, many of those issues tether into substance use disorders having to do with opiates and other drugs, and not so much with marijuana, which is why we've seen this push around the country, and right now in California, to see legalization, and it's very important to remember that we're talking about existing markets when we're talking about, you know, whether to legalize marijuana or not.

It's not like we're creating new markets. These are existing markets. We just want to see them regulated, and we, you know, we want to see them legal. I don't want to see them decriminalized, because I know that there are so many people filling up prisons and jails all over this country because of marijuana arrests, and they may not spend a lot of time in prison or in jail, but even a few days or weeks in jail can be incredibly disruptive, and destructive, for those individuals, and equally important for the circle of people around them. So if a woman gets arrested for marijuana, put in jail, kept in jail even for a short stay, what's happening to her kids? Who -- are her kids protected? What's happening with her job, and her -- who's paying her rent? You know, I think people need to understand that even those low level arrests and short term incarcerations can have a seismic effect on families that, you know, are often struggling. Right?

And for a mother to lose her kids into something like the foster care system, which we know is much more common when we incarcerate a mom? You know, when a family loses a dad, to prison or to jail, it is devastating to those families, in not just, you know, sort of emotionally, but also in nuts and bolts way.

ASHA BANDALE: Income, income and --

PIPER KERMAN: But when it's a mom, it is seismic. We know that her kids are five times more likely to go into foster care than if a father is lost to prison or jail. So, it's so important to think very critically about what we criminalize in this country, and what we think we're getting out of that punishment. Right? That punishment paradigm. And when it come down to something like marijuana, you know, possession, or marijuana, you know, the sale of marijuana, it simply doesn't make any sense, it doesn't make moral sense, it doesn't make economic sense. It doesn't make any sense for the fabric of our communities and our society.

ASHA BANDALE: Yeah, and thank you so much for that, Piper, and Deborah, you know, and both of you feel free to comment on this, I mean, I think that you had brought up something about the violence associated with the drug war, Deborah, you know, we see that on both sides of the border, in Mexico and in the US. I think that a lot of mothers, you know, get very nervous and I think keep marijuana and other drugs illegal as a way to disrupt violence, but in fact that's counter intuitive, and I wonder if you could pull that apart a little bit.

DEBORAH SMALL: Well, again, I think that's just where the example of alcohol prohibition is so relevant, because really, the thing that turned people against it was the mob violence, was the level of killings that was taking place, and that was all about the money. All about the profits from the alcohol trade. As soon as we repealed alcohol prohibition, and set up a regulatory scheme, you don't see people fighting in the streets anymore over alcohol. Now, you see people under the influence of alcohol fighting, and that's a whole different issue. But you don't see major gang wars --

ASHA BANDALE: You're probably not going to see people under the influence of marijuana fighting in the streets, it's a whole different thing, right?

DEBORAH SMALL: No, that's, again, that's a totally different drug, and it's one of the reasons why it's kind of crazy that alcohol is legal and marijuana is not. But my point, you know, specifically though, is that same here, people have collapsed the violence that's related to the profits of the drug trade to the drug itself. So we -- and we, and it's something that law enforcement encourages, because they make their money from being able to get the arrest, of going after these things.

But I think it's also important for people to realize that the war on drugs is actually a misnomer, that what we've been fighting in this country is a war on weed. That more than half of all drug arrests in this country, every year, are from marijuana.

ASHA BANDALE: So we should think of marijuana less as a gateway drug to anything, or any other drug, as it's often characterized, and more as just a gateway to maybe prison.

DEBORAH SMALL: Well, I call it headstart for prison, that, the way that we use marijuana arrests, really is a headstart to prison, because we focus primarily on young people, you know, and primarily youth of color, and it's our way of letting these kids know whether they end up in prison or not, we're letting you know that we're going to surveil you, we're going to arrest you, we're going to add you to the databases, and you know, people don't talk about the actual humiliation that goes along with the arrest, but I've watched police force people to strip in the stree, when they are searching them, or looking for drugs. I've watched them humiliate folks in the process of arresting them by dragging them through subway stations and other public places, you know, with their handcuffs on so everyone can see them.

So you know, even if you don't end up serving a long period of time, the fact that you've gone through that, the fact that you had to be strip searched, the fact that you were humiliated that way, for something so minor, has a definite effect on people's mental health. And finally, I really think it's important for all of us to think about what it means to have a justice system that targets primarily black and brown people, particularly black and brown youth, male or female, as the major targets of law enforcement and to treat them in the same way that slaves were treated. Chased. Handcuffed. Thrown into a cell. You know, stripped of their freedom and their dignity. It's like a constant replication of the rituals of enslavement, that we have ingrained into our culture, and that we introduce to our young people, before we even give them the opportunity to have a decent job, they'll have the opportunity to come into contact with law enforcement. And that says a lot more about us than it does about them.

PIPER KERMAN: Marijuana policy offers such a crystalizing example of the way that the criminal justice system has been misused as this tool of control over certain communities, and not others. So, every time I talk to any audience, no matter, you know, if I'm out in the rural areas, or in the city, if I'm talking to young people, if I'm talking to, you know, folks at a library. I talk about the fact that we know that in this country, that African American people are at least four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession, simple possession of marijuana than white people. And every time I -- it doesn't matter what audience I'm talking to, I point out that white people smoke just as much marijuana as everybody else

ASHA BANDALE: If not more.

PIPER KERMAN: And everyone recognizes it. I've never had anyone debate that, but it just you know, and we know, quite frankly, that that arrest disparity is much greater in many places, that's the low end. So, I think we just have to think critically, specifically about marijuana policy, because it is such a huge feeder into jails, of young people, it's a huge feeder into the juvenile justice systems, and everywhere we look in this country we see incredible racial disparity in juvenile justice systems.

So here in New York, where we're sitting today, you know, the juvenile justice system is 95 percent kids of color. That's insane, no one can possibly imagine that, you know, that youth crime, or youth disorder, is so racially disproportionate. It's the enforcement of laws, and those laws are especially -- those marijuana laws are especially useful for controlling young people.

DEBORAH SMALL: And I think that's one of the ways that we teach privilege very early on, either class privilege or racial privilege, because the truth is, is that if you live on the upper west side, if you go to school at Columbia or NYU, or any other elite space, and you and your friends are smoking weed, you don't really have to worry about the police coming into your community. Okeh? But you can just be two miles away, you know, at a school in Harlem, or at a school on the lower east side, and doing the exact same activity, and have cops all over you. So, I mean, it's one of the ways as a society that we, undistinguished, teach privilege. That the same behavior can be engaged in by people by the same age, but we're going to treat you differently depending on where you are geographically or on the socioeconomic scale.

ASHA BANDALE: Or the color of your skin.

DEBORAH SMALL: Exactly.

ASHA BANDALE: And let me just, for those of you who are just tuning in, my name is Asha Bandale, I'm a senior director at the Drug Policy Alliance. I am working in partnership today, or we are working in partnership today, with The Root. We're having a discussion on mothers, marijuana, and mass incarceration, specifically looking at Proposition 64, which would legalize marijuana in the most populous state in our nation, California. Voters have a chance to help disrupt the mass incarceration system in that state, and we are talking with Deborah Small, one of the world's leading advocates on drug policy, and Piper Kerman, author of Orange Is The New Black: My Year In A Women's Prison.

And I want to bring it back to 64, because one of the things I want to talk about is the fact that this is the first marijuana legalization initiative that centers reparative justice, which was so, it was hard fought, it stemmed from a conversation that Michelle Alexander had, where she questioned, as Jay Z would later question in a video that he released, that, how was it that white men are poised to get wealthy over that which black boys and men were going to jail for?

And so, in creating this law, we were very, very intentional about certain things. We were talking about children going to jail, and the way that particularly black and brown children are going to jail. In Prop 64, no child will ever go to jail again because of marijuana. That alone is enough to drive me, if I lived in California as you do, Deb, you're going to have to pull the lever for us. But no child will ever go to jail again, because of that, and if you have gone to jail, or been arrested or convicted of a marijuana law offense, you can have that expunged. And those who are sitting in jail now have the opportunity to apply for release without having to pay a fee, at 12:01 on November 9th, which is why I think I think it's so important to vote, it's a moral obligation.

You have literally tens of thousands of people sitting in jails right now, today, as we are speaking, for a marijuana law arrest, and our failure to pull the lever on that means we are saying it's okeh to let you just continue to languish in there. But you know, Piper, as somebody who's had to live your life and, you know, you freely talk about the amount of privilege you had coming out of prison that many of your friends haven't. Can you talk about that piece around record expungement, and what that does? What does it mean to walk around with a conviction? How does that stigmatize you, hamper you from going forward, and what would it mean to have that erased entirely?

PIPER KERMAN: Yeah. It would be hard to overstate how significant that retroactivity, how significant that expungement, the possibility of that expungement is, for citizens of California. It is an incredibly important reason to pass Prop 64. It's not just a felony conviction that can live with you forever, it's contact with the criminal justice system, more broadly. So we have about 2.4 million people right now in prison or jail. We have far more people under correctional control, on probation, on parole, it's estimated maybe 8 million Americans have done time at some point, but we have 70 million Americans who have some kind of criminal record, and a lot of times it's something like a low level marijuana arrest. Right?

So, that rides with you, especially a felony conviction, more than anything else. Obviously in many states you will never be allowed to vote, in swing states like Florida, like, if you move to Florida, if I move to Florida, I can't vote. There are many other barriers to citizenship, to full participation in society, when you have been a part of the criminal justice system. So the idea that for Californians who have past convictions having to do with marijuana, that those barriers to their citizenship would be lifted, is tremendous.

You know, I spent four hours in immigration detention on my way to Canada this year, because of my own felony conviction, and you know, I take responsibility for my, you know, actions, for my choices, but, there are many people who have a lot less privilege and who were not necessarily going to go and give a lecture in Canada, you know, who would never be able to travel, I mean, the limitations are very substantial. And obviously, on the nitty-gritty level of, you know, how am I going to feed my family, things like access to public housing and other, you know, benefits which are broadly shared, you know, having a conviction for something like marijuana will be, will stand in the way of you being able to go forward and live your life and take care of your family and your responsibilities.

So that retroactivity that's part of Prop 64, that possibility --

ASHA BANDALE: Which never sunsets, by the way, so if you decide in ten years from now, to do it, it never sunsets.

PIPER KERMAN: Right. That expungement is tremendous. For me, that alone is just the most incredibly compelling reason for folks to take a good look and to make a good choice in the ballot box, on election day.

DEBORAH SMALL: It's both an expungement of the records and a clear pardon, and saying we, this was the wrong thing to do. And I think it's really important for society. For me, it's every thing that you said, and it's important for society to recognize that when you pass bad policy, that hurts people, it's not just enough to get up one day and say, we've changed our mind, we're going to have a different policy. You actually have to do some repair, to the people who were hurt. You know, if they were disproportionately targeted, either because of race or their sexual orientation, or their nationality, that's a harm that's been done by the state. And so, I'm really happy that Prop 64 is standing for that principle, the idea that it's not just enough to do positive, you know, criminal justice reform, which is a good thing to do, but that you actually owe something to the communities and the people who've been hurt.

So one part of that is the expungement, but the other part is the community reinvestment money, that's actually going to be allocated from the proceeds to go back to help restore communities that lost investment, that lost people, that lost resources, because they were disproportionately targeted.

DEAN BECKER: I want to thank The Root, and the Dug Policy Alliance. Real quick, name this drug by its side effect: Euphoria. Time's up. The answer: Marijuana.

The following segment courtesy of Yahoo.

ANCHOR: We're going to turn to cannabis now, Alan, which is becoming a big industry. It's expected to grow to $22 billion by 2020, according to ArcView Market Research. This November, nine states have legalization measures of one form or another on the ballot.

ALAN: Well you know, there's a whole slew of investment angles. This November 8th, it's on the California ballot, which is going to be huge, I mean, that's going to really blow it off the map, and then New York, eventually, it will come down to recreational marijuana. But just to show you how big Colorado is, again, 36 percent national park, $267 million the first quarter, and tax revenue, and that's what's going to drive legalization to the states and eventually federally, because of those tax dollars, those precious tax dollars.

ANCHOR: And investors can get in on this too, there are some penny stocks, right? Companies that are actually trying to help this come to fruition.

ALAN: Yes. You know, there's quite a few stocks out there, and there's some good publicly traded stocks, and it's a good time to get in, you know, it's still federally illegal, but the feds aren't going to step in, I mean, they've already let it go so far, in four states, 23 states like you mentioned medical marijuana, so basically, there's no turning back now. It's a good time to get in -- it's like prohibition, when prohibition ended, if you had gotten in early, you'd be stinking of booze, maybe your son would be president like Joe Kennedy.

DEAN BECKER: So upon hearing about all these marijuana stocks escalating so fast, I determined that many of them escalate fifty, sixty, eighty percent per day, some have escalated 800 percent in a week. So I bought some. I had a fantastic day reaping a lot of money. Did it again the second day, and lost my ass. Well, maybe you are a better quote poker player than I am, maybe you can do better than I did. There's still a little bit in the bank, and I thought, well, what's the safer alternative? So, I called up my good friend, a stockbroker down in Florida, a man who's one of the few surviving compassionate use act patients, he gets 300 pre-rolled joints from the government every 28 days, Mister Irvin Rosenfeld.

IRVIN ROSENFELD: It's called XXII Century. Okeh, XXII Century Group is a plant biotechnology company. The company's focus on technology allows increasing or decreasing the level of nicotine and other nicotine alkaloids in tobacco plants, and, levels of cannabinoids in cannabis plants, through genetic engineering and plant breeding. They could be a billion dollar, which would be $15 a share. But the reason I'm buying it is the cannabinoids. They bought 25 percent of a lab in Canada, and they're able to research cannabis, of course which can't be done in this country. And they can modulate cannabinoids. They can raise the THC, they can lower the THC, they can raise the CBD, they can lower the CBD. Or, THC-V, or any other cannabinoid.

So as they find different cannabinoids that work best for different diseases, they can modulate the cannabis plant to grow it. I think that's huge. And, the stock is $1.39 a share right now. Went as high as $1.75. But, I'd say call Irvin Rosenfeld, here's the phone number: 954.689.6875.

DEAN BECKER: Thank you for listening, once again I remind you, because of prohibition you don't know what's in that bag. Please be careful.