04/09/17 Betty Aldworth

This week on Century Of Lies, our interview with SSDP Executive Director Betty Aldworth; Krys Nyrop from Seattle-King County, Washington, talks about the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) Program; and we talk about marijuana and athletics with Deuvall Dorsey, the Vegas 420 Runner.

Century of Lies
Sunday, April 9, 2017
Betty Aldworth
Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP)
Download: Audio icon col040917.mp3



APRIL 9, 2017


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.

BETTY ALDWORTH: I'm Betty Aldworth, I'm the Executive Director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy. We're a network of 5,000 activists on 300 campuses in 22 countries and 43 states, fighting to end the war on drugs.

DOUG MCVAY: This has been a terrific conference, SSDP has always had really stellar conferences and this is one of the best that I've been to in a while. So, congratulations first of all. Now, I want to ask you about all kinds of stuff, but really I want to ask you about something that someone mentioned. You have international students trying to attend, I interviewed one earlier who could not bring his laptop with him because he was flying in from Pakistan, and they wouldn't let him bring his laptop. You've had other -- what kind of hassles have you had with, on the international scene for this?

BETTY ALDWORTH: So, for this particular conference, we had one student, a 24 year old young woman from Chile, who was detained at the border, detained at LAX, where she was interrogated for some number of hours, strip searched, and turned -- ultimately turned away, and sent back home, unable to enter the country or come to the conference. Not because she was carrying contraband, not for any purpose other than denial of her ability to come participate in reform activities.

Our understanding at this point is that it was explicitly stated that that was the reason that she wasn't able to attend, to enter the country, was because she was planning to come for this conference.

DOUG MCVAY: From Chile. This isn't one of the countries on the -- on our current president's infamous list, this is Chile.

BETTY ALDWORTH: This is not about terrorism. This is about the drug war. And we certainly understand that enforcement activities at the border are escalating across the board, that is a reality, that is entirely separate from the Muslim ban and other efforts to -- purported efforts to control terrorism, which are, you know, in many ways, very closely related to the drug war.

Not only was this particular student turned away, we had other students who were inconvenienced, and when I use that term I mean it in a way that I don't think any naturalized US citizen would really understand, or US born citizen would understand. When I say inconvenienced, I mean detained for many hours, sent on absurd trips through, you know, in very expensive taxis, scammed in New York City to get from one airport to another when they had to switch their flights. Students who have been -- have gone through extraordinary invasive searches, as I mentioned, but also less invasive but still extraordinary searches at the border, just so that they could come and engage in some education.

And this is not the first time, either. It should be noted that one of the enormous challenges of organizing international students from the US or at the United Nations in New York is that any person convicted of a drug offense, or who admits to having used cannabis, even in a legal state, will not be issued a visa to enter the US, which means that we are silencing the voices of the very people whose lives we are destroying in their home countries through our prosecution of the drug war.

DOUG MCVAY: And now, some of these folks, there's no question of them having contraband, there's no question -- I mean, some of them don't even have necessarily a conviction, right? This is just, you're coming to talk about drugs, we don't want you in. Is that, I mean, is that, am I getting that right?

BETTY ALDWORTH: That's precisely it. I -- we have no reason to believe -- certainly, if any of these individuals were carrying contraband, they would have been arrested. And they wouldn't have been turned away summarily and sent back to their home countries, they would have been denied the visas in the first place. This is denial of visas strictly because of the content of the work they are coming to do. This is not about drugs themselves, this is about trying to end the drug war. And here we are again, with ideology, and the status quo, preventing its own demise, unfortunately, and hard as we fight, it will continue to be these moments where the, you know, the drug war flexes its muscles against our efforts to end it, in small ways and in large.

DOUG MCVAY: It's an important lesson, I mean, here we are in Oregon and some people may be forgiven for thinking that everything's fine because we've partially legalized marijuana for some people, but the reality is, this drug war continues and in some ways it's even getting worse. It's -- yeah. Tell me about some of the highlights of the conference, let's do the nice part, because I'm going to sit here and steam and be angry for a moment while you talk.

BETTY ALDWORTH: You know, we've had such an incredible conference. We, I swear that every conference just gets better than the last. We had 32 sessions planned, organized, and moderated, and presented by students and the panelists who they chose. A handful of great keynotes, I'm very excited to have Sanho Tree here to speak about the situation in the Philippines to close us out tonight. We had a great panel this morning, a plenary discussion from some local organizers in harm reduction, talking about the realities on the ground here for the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program, supervised consumption facilities, and other very forward thinking drug policy reforms, which are very exciting.

And we had a tremendously impactful panel last night that I think will forever go down as my favorite SSDP conference panel ever, where we had students talk about their very own lived experiences, on the receiving end of the war on drugs. Students who have been, or members of our network who have really been through some horrifying experiences, dehumanizing experiences, where they were disregarded and felt those worst impacts, which we, you know, fight against every day but don't always remember that some of the closest people in our network have actually been victimized by those same policies. That was a wonderful panel.

Now, the panels, the content, all of that is great. We also get together, we celebrate our community, we were able to honor our good friend Eric Sterling with, by naming our lifetime achievement award, which is issued every year, in his honor, which was a wonderful moment for us, to be able to do that. We had our dance party, which is always a really good time, but more than anything, we've brought together hundreds of students for the bonding experience that will last their lifetimes.

And we have alumni members who have been to every single conference here with us, people who have been to dozens of SSDP events, and who still count as their closest friends those people who they came up with through SSDP.

DOUG MCVAY: I know you've got a lot of stuff to do because this is coming to an end, and I'm very grateful to you for your time. I want to say first that I'm very glad you were able to livestream portions of this and that, to note for folks, it's up on your Periscope account, periscope.tv, and hopefully you'll have a link on your website.

And I'll also note that the Commission on Narcotic Drugs doesn't post any of the proceedings from their conference, which just concluded in Vienna. A UN agency that livecasts but can't find room on its server and can't afford to have someone do this, and you're a student organization, a nonprofit that gets by with all this and yet a lot of the great content is available online. It's good that you're more organized and efficient than the United Nations, and open, and honest, and transparent, and the rest of those things.

Anyway, you were at Vienna, what did you think?

BETTY ALDWORTH: I actually didn't go to Vienna this year, so I'm going to turn this back for just a moment and I'll say, one of the nice things about SSDP is that we don't have a lot of bureaucracy, right? And so if we decide that we're going to do something, we do it, and we make it happen. So you can find an incredible amount of content from the conference at SSDP2017.org, where we have notes and session content, we'll have links to the Periscopes when they're available, conference videos as much as possible.

And there's a reason for that, you know, we are a conference, not a convention, and we are here explicitly to educate, not just the people in this room, but to push the content beyond these walls, so if you are interested in hearing about the compound stigmatization of LGBTQ people who are also people who use drugs, you can learn about that on our site, and you can hear about the conversations that were had.

And again, 32 panels on topics touching every single aspect of the war on drugs, and including some future looking panels on what it might look like to regulate psychedelics someday, you know, what it might -- what the pharmacological mechanisms are of psychedelics for therapeutics, you some, some really interesting conversations around cannabis as well, and many, many other issues that are important to our network, and if you want to know what the future of drug policy reform is going to look like, you should definitely check that out.

DOUG MCVAY: Give us your twitter handle and any closing thoughts for the listeners.

BETTY ALDWORTH: You can find us online, @SSDP. So, our website is SSDP.org. We are on twitter and facebook, @SSDP, and I definitely encourage folks to check out that session content, that program content at SSDP2017.org.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Betty Aldworth, Executive Director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy. I caught up with her at the SSDP conference, which was held recently in Portland, Oregon. You're listening to Century of Lies. I'm your host, Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

KRYS NYROP: So, my name is Krys Nyrop and I work with the Public Defender Association in Seattle, Washington, on the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion project.

DOUG MCVAY: Krys, could you tell me about the LEAD program?

KRYS NYROP: Sure. So, Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion started in Seattle, Washington, back in October of 2011, and it was designed to give police officers an alternative to arrest for people who were committing low level law violations related to substance use. So if they were outdoors and they were using drugs, or they were selling drugs, and the only option police had was to arrest them, that was primarily what they would do. So what LEAD does is gives officers the ability to refer people immediately into intensive community based case management services.

DOUG MCVAY: It's been in operation in Seattle for the last few years. What does it look like on the ground?

KRYS NYROP: So, yeah, it's been operating in Seattle since October of 2011, so basically five and a half years at this point, and what it looks like is again where officers are out, and they have two routes where they can refer people in, one of which is an arrest based diversion, where otherwise they would have arrested and booked the individual, they can offer them an immediate referral to case management, or we have what's called the social contact route of referral, which is where officers in the course of their normal work, who identify people who are out on the street, they can offer them a referral to the intensive case management services, and so, you know, after five years or so of operating in Seattle, what we're seeing is this is actually more effective than the criminal justice system.

So people who are referred into LEAD are 58 percent less likely to be rearrested on new offenses than individuals who are diverted -- I mean who are routed through the criminal justice system as normal. It's also not quite surprisingly a lot cheaper than using the criminal justice system.

DOUG MCVAY: The two big questions are: The social referrals actually do happen? I mean, it's an option, but the police -- it's different than what they would normally do, so they do actually do those?

KRYS NYROP: Yeah, absolutely. And so what we've seen in Seattle is, you know, there was some skepticism, there was some resistance from police when we initially started, but once police officers see that this actually results in better outcomes than using the criminal justice system, they willingly embrace the program. And I think what it takes is, you know, you start out small, and they start seeing, you know, an individual that they've known for 20 years who's a homeless heroin user, and they divert the person into the program, and then, you know, a few months later or maybe a year later they see the person and they've gained 20 pounds and they're wearing clean clothes. And for an officer, it's like, ah, that is a better outcome than what I was getting before.

And once they see that kind of concrete positive change, they're, you know, they're pragmatists, they will embrace it, and they will use it.

DOUG MCVAY: Now the second question, the second big one is, resources. Has King County been able to find the resources, and are people being pushed out who are not LEAD, in order to make room for them?

KRYS NYROP: So, resources is a good question, and what I will say is that we have shown that LEAD is significantly less expensive than the criminal justice as normal, and that's really quite surprising because we did LEAD about as expensively as you could possibly do it in Seattle, and the reasons for that were two, one of which was, we were the first program like it in the country, so we spent money just to prove the point. And we weren't going to let money stand in the way. The other thing that we started doing it before the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, which meant we were actually using cash dollars to pay for chemical dependency treatment, mental health care, or regular health care.

Virtually everyone that is diverted into LEAD in Seattle is Medicaid-eligible, so we signed them up for Medicaid immediately and we can use Medicaid dollars to pay for drug treatment, mental health care, or health care. Oregon is also a Medicaid expansion state, and, you know, thankfully due to the debacle that just happened last week, with, you know, trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act, it is in place at least for the next year or so.

So you can leverage Medicaid resources, you still have to come up with money for case manager salaries, and for things like housing or job training or employment, but those are dollars that are very well spent.

And then in terms of displacing people, one of our core principles of LEAD was a non-displacement principle, so we do not kick LEAD people to the front of a waiting list. They do not displace people who are already on waiting lists. What we try and do is expand the capacity of the system.

DOUG MCVAY: You had to have people against this when you started, are any of your opponents coming around to understanding this?

KRYS NYROP: Actually, surprisingly enough, we had virtually no opposition when we first started, and it really had to do with, there was unanimity from a wide array of people that the status quo was not working. So, you know, at one end we had the NAACP, the ACLU, and other civil rights folks who were complaining basically that the police were doing too much law enforcement. At the other end of the spectrum, we had community members and business owners who were saying that the police were not doing enough, and they were filming people using drugs and posting it on Youtube, and saying see, here, clearly the Seattle Police Department is incompetent.

So, everyone agreed that the status quo wasn't working, and what was interesting was, when we went to community members and said, you know, you're unsatisfied with what the police are doing now. What if the police did something different, and it gave better outcomes? And the community members were like, we don't care what it is. Just get these people off my block. And, LEAD has done that. And so, I mean, there are some folks who, you know, question whether it's the most efficient use of resources, there are some folks who push back around the harm reduction aspects of it, but it, you know, the obvious level of success that LEAD has had out on the street has given it a substantial amount of community support.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Krys Nyrop, he works with the Public Defender Association in Seattle, Washington, on the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion Project, or LEAD.

DEUVALL DORSEY: My name is Deuvall Dorsey. I'm also known as the Vegas 420 Runner. I am a member of the UNLV SSDP chapter, I'm a grad student at UNLV, and this semester I have an internship with Freedom Leaf Magazine.

DOUG MCVAY: Tell me about Redefine Cannabis, what's up with this?

DEUVALL DORSEY: Yes, Redefine Cannabis. It started off as a student assignment in undergrad, when I had to put together a project of a public relations firm, and all the different aspects that it would be in the real world. And so after I got done with the assignment, I decided to start, if I continued trying to perfect this, it could actually be something that happens. And so, what our motto is, is we're redefining cannabis and those who use it by way of athletics and academics.

So I use my story as an ultra-marathoner and triathlete, and my academic success, I use my personal story to help people to try to de-stigmatize cannabis. Now, in that journey, now form that journey of me just doing it on my own, I was beginning to get a lot of support, and now I'm trying to just spread the running, the whole message further.

DOUG MCVAY: Right on. And so you've got, jeez, ultra-marathon. Regular marathon is the 26.2 mile, right? What?

DEUVALL DORSEY: So, 26.2 miles is the regular, just a marathon. So an ultra-marathon is anything over 26.2. So, like, by definition, even if it's 30 miles, that would be considered an ultra, because you went beyond the marathon distance. And so, a 50K is usually the next distance above the marathon, which is, a 50K is like 32, approximately 33, something like that. And so that's a 50K. And the next one after that is 50 miles. Now the 50K I did May 2015, I did a 50K in Indiana, that's my very first 50K all at once. I've done that distance spread out throughout the day before, but all at once, that was my first time.

And then just last month, in February 2017, I did my very first 50 mile race. It took me exactly eight hours, or, no, twelve hours, I'm sorry. Twelve hours, yeah, I was out from 8 am to 8 pm, exactly, and I finished 50 miles.

When I was an undergrad, what we had was a cross country -- it was like a running club, cross country club. I came from a smaller institution in Nevada called Nevada State College, and they were about 10 or 11 years old at the time, and so, they didn't have an actual team that competed, but we did have a running club, and that's kind of how I started getting, being around running, hanging out with that running club, and then one day the school asked us to do a 5K, asked me to round up some students to do a 5K, and they're going to pay for all our entries because they wanted us to represent the school for something that the school was a part of or something.

And I did that 5K, that was May 2012, and that was when it all got started. And so, no, I wasn't, to answer, to clarify, I wasn't a competitive athlete in college, you know, or anything like that, you know, I wasn't a competitive athlete in college, and, you know, I just started running, and one thing led to another. I did not want to go to the next distance above, but it was something inside that kept calling me, and fueling me to go to the next distance. Each time I finished a race, I just had to do the next distance above that, you know? I don't know why, I didn't want to because I knew as soon as I got to the finish line, I would think of the next one.

DOUG MCVAY: And it's a good segue to ask about your hat, because it's 420CrossCountry.org. What -- tell me about this.

DEUVALL DORSEY: Okeh, so, well, I'm the Vegas 420 Runner, and initially, I was kind of hoping that people would co-opt the idea and that I would start finding the San Diego 420 Runner, the New York City 420 Runner, the Detroit 420 Runner, I wanted people to kind of take ownership of the idea. But, because I didn't clarify that, they would, they saw my content and they said, oh, this is cool, I like that, but they didn't take it upon themselves to continue that on.

So now, I want to help the idea spread by putting together the 420 Cross Country Team, and what we're trying to do, it's for cannabis, people that use cannabis, or even just supporters, you don't have to use cannabis, it's for all ages and levels and everything like that. And what we're just trying to do is help de-stigmatize cannabis by raising awareness, particularly in the running and fitness lifestyle communities, and one way that we do that, we ask people to come out to our races and just cheer at the finish line.

Maybe they don't want to get involved in the big race part yet, but if you come to the finish line and you have your cannabis gear, or you have your 420 Cross Country gear, and you're at the finish line, you're cheering us in, this helps other people at the event, other spectators, understand that, you know, the community supports us, and that this is okeh, you know, they don't have to be afraid to clap for us or be in a picture with us because of our racing jersey.

And so, and there's other ways too, we ask people to participate in races with us, and things of that nature. We just recently launched our website, 420CrossCountry.org, and you can go to the website and check out all the information about kind of like our mission statement, some of our key members.

One of our big things that we're doing this year is, there's a race circuit called the 420 Games, and we're going to -- and they have eight different races throughout the country, but predominantly you know on the west coast, California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Nevada, Arizona. And so we're going to go to all 8 of those events, and participate, and so if anybody's interested in getting together with us, they could team up with us at those events, but we also have other races in Las Vegas, and in Portland, that you can also team up with.

And we just launched our Portland team, we had our first race in Portland this weekend, that coincided with this conference, and we took home two first place age group finisher medals, myself, the Vegas 420 Runner, and Simon Anderson, the first female team member of the 420 Cross Country team, very first female team member, and she's helping start the team up here. She took a first place medal, too. And so yeah, the idea's really starting to catch on.

Next Saturday is going to be April First, it's going to be the very first 420 Games event of 2017, it's going to be hosted in Los Angeles. I will be there in Los Angeles with the 420 Games team, and we're going to be doing big things. That's going to be the first event of the year is April First. The last event of the year is in November in Las Vegas, so another thing I'm doing is I'm putting out a call as I go and make this, travel to all these different races, I'm putting out a call to those that support cannabis and those that enjoy running, to, because I want Las Vegas to be the largest 420 Games event of the year.

So, at each of these different events I'm inviting all the people out to Vegas, and we're going to make Vegas the largest one of the year. And it's going to be a challenge, because California, a little bit more fitness, a lot more people into fitness, a lot more, you know, the races are a lot bigger out there, and Vegas, it's going to be a challenge, but I think we can do it, and have the biggest event of the year. That's my goal.

DOUG MCVAY: Well, I wish you luck, and that's again at 420CrossCountry.org. People can get information, the schedule, and the rest. The big one you want to have would be November in Las Vegas.

DEUVALL DORSEY: Yes. And I am the Vegas 420 Runner, so you can check out @Vegas420Runner on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, and, yeah, it's been an honor being part of this.

DOUG MCVAY: Any closing thoughts for the listeners, again we're speaking with Deuvall Dorsey, the Vegas 420 Runner.

DEUVALL DORSEY: Yep. I just want to say, you can also go to RedefineCannabis.com. The 420 Cross Country is one project that we're working on but we have multiple projects, particularly our three main topics are athletics and fitness, academics and working with student organizations, and you can see the different student organizations that we've worked with so far, a lot of their videos and material, media coverage is on there.

And also film festivals, we have a documentary, one on me being the Vegas 420 Runner, we have another one on the 420 pound weight loss champion, a heavyweight guy that is about weight loss or whatever, and he's a runner, too. And he used to weigh 420 pounds, and he's a big supporter of mine and running community. And then we have another documentary that's coming out about the Nevada cannabis industry and how it all got started and stuff like that. So, RedefineCannabis.com is the parent website to 420CrossCountry.org. And you can find me at both of those places. Again, my name is Deuvall Dorsey, and I am the Vegas 420 Runner.

DOUG MCVAY: Deuvall and the 420 Cross Country Team, we are all rooting for you. Good luck in the 420 Games.

You have 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. The executive producer of the Drug Truth Network is Dean Becker. Drug Truth Network programming is also available via podcast, the URLs to subcribe are on the network home page at DrugTruth.net.

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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.