05/10/18 Phil Smith

Phil Smith of Stop the Drug War, Rachel Luba re Cannabis use for end of life, Jodie Emery re Canada cannabis situation

Program: 
Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Date: 
Thursday, May 10, 2018

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CULTURAL BAGGAGE

MAY 10, 2018

TRANSCRIPT

DEAN BECKER: I am Dean Becker, your host. Our goal for this program is to expose the fraud, misdirection, and the liars whose support for drug war empowers our terrorist enemies, enriches barbarous cartels, and gives reason for existence to tens of thousands of violent US gangs who profit by selling contaminated drugs to our children. This is Cultural Baggage.

Hi folks, this is Dean Becker, glad you could be with us today here on Cultural Baggage. I'm reading from today's Houston Chronicle: three smoke shops probed after illegal oil seized. According to our police chief, Art Acevedo, what they're doing is maybe getting a little bit of CBD oil out of some hemp plants, but then they're putting in that synthetic Kush BS, the poison.

It's, once again, we're returning to snake oil sales, right here in these United States. Ah, hell, it never really went away. A hundred years of prohibition, and it's still snake oil sales. This is the Reverend Dean and I've got some good stuff to share with you today. Let's get going.

PHILIP SMITH: This is Philip Smith, I'm the editor of the Drug War Chronicle, been doing that for about 18 years, and I'm now also a senior writing fellow for the Institute for Independent Media.

DEAN BECKER: Well, tell us a little bit about the Independent Media, I hadn't heard that yet.

PHILIP SMITH: Well, it's basically AlterNet. AlterNet has been bought by the Independent Media Institute, and I continue to write for AlterNet and post my stories on AlterNet, but I'm now not the AlterNet drug editor, but a writing fellow at the Independent Media Institute.

DEAN BECKER: Well, fair enough, at least you're focus hasn't changed, or not much, I would say. I'm looking at --

PHILIP SMITH: That's right.

DEAN BECKER: -- a recent post of yours, talking about New York City Mayor De Blasio is now endorsing safe injection sites. This would be the first of hopefully many in these United States, if he can get that moving, right?

PHILIP SMITH: Well, it would be the first legally permitted safe injection site in the United States. There is at least one that is operating underground, unpermitted, but it's going on.

DEAN BECKER: Right, and --

PHILIP SMITH: But yeah, this would be the first legal one.

DEAN BECKER: Even in my fair city of Houston, there is a needle -- underground needle exchange, it's the kind of thing that authorities really don't want to put too much effort into thwarting. Your thought there, sir.

PHILIP SMITH: Well, police officers in the street probably have a good understanding of what needles exchanges do, and what safe injection sites do, and they are undoubtedly less likely to oppose them than perhaps some elected officials who will embrace moralism and NIMBYism in opposition to them.

I mean, you know, these horrible elected officials say, oh, you're just encouraging drug use.

DEAN BECKER: Right.

PHILIP SMITH: But police officers know better, police officers on the street know better. That's why they don't tend to mess with them that much.

DEAN BECKER: Right. And I'm going to quote here Mayor De Blasio, he says after a rigorous review of similar efforts across the world and after careful consideration of public health and safety expert views, we believe overdose prevention centers will save lives, and get more New Yorkers into the treatment they need to beat this deadly addiction.

That sums it up pretty good, doesn't it, Phil?

PHILIP SMITH: Well, that's right. I mean, although there are no safe injection sites in the United States, that doesn't mean there are no safe injection sites. In fact, there are nearly a hundred of them, mostly in Europe, also in Canada and in Australia, and they've been rigorously studied, and you can see the results from them.

You see lowered -- well, first of all, people don't die of drug overdoses in safe injection sites, because there's medical help there if they do overdose. So that's an important first thing.

DEAN BECKER: Sure.

PHILIP SMITH: Also, you see reductions in drug related harms, you see reductions in the spread of infectious disease related to injection drug use. You do not see any increase in criminality, or any decrease in public safety. And you also have people who have an opportunity to then interact with social services, perhaps get pointed towards treatment or get pointed towards housing or employment help, things like that.

These are a proven harm reduction intervention, and it's pure politics that keeps them from being implemented in the United States. I do want to say that it's not just New York City, I mean, there are plans afoot in several other big cities in this country, including Philadelphia, Boston, Seattle, and San Francisco, to get these facilities up and running.

It's going to be a difficult task, though. The DEA says they're illegal, and the DEA is threatening to go after anyone who tried to do that. So, there is a political fight ahead. But, Mayor De Blasio's move last week, that's like the culmination of the -- that's the end of the beginning of safe injection sites, now we have to fight to actually get them up and running.

DEAN BECKER: Well, and there is certainly a want, a desire, to set up a safe injection site in my city of Houston as well. Good folks at the Baker Institute, a couple of ministers and doctors, are talking openly about that need as well. It's -- it saves lives, and it doesn't cost anybody's, how to say it, morals, to put this in play, am I right?

PHILIP SMITH: Right. I'm sorry to say, though, that you folks in Houston, given the fact that you still have only underground needle exchanges, I'm not holding my breath waiting for a safe injection site to pop up there, legally permitted. Maybe someone needs to just go ahead and start doing it.

DEAN BECKER: Well, there -- there is some thought in that regard, I'll remain silent about the specifics at the moment. But, the hell of it is, is I'm sure you heard that here at the Drug Truth Network, we have claimed the moral high ground in the drug war, for the whole world, because there's no high official in the United States willing to defend this policy. They're still in support of terrorists, gangs, and cartels, and they don't give a damn how many people die from these contaminated and unknown drugs. They want this to last forever.

And I consider that to be quite immoral. Your thought there, Mister Phil Smith.

PHILIP SMITH: Well, there is a whole group of people and institutions that absolutely profit from drug prohibition. And, you know, that ranges from police unions and prosecutors' staff, to also include the defense bar, you know, all these lawyers who defend drug cases, they make money doing that. They're all -- a whole lot of other people as well who are materially invested in maintaining drug prohibition.

I mean, that's putting money in their pockets. And whether Americans die or go to prisons in large numbers seems to be less important to them than ensuring that the gravy train continues.

DEAN BECKER: Well said, there, Phil. You know, and the heck of it is, is that they all run from this debate, from my challenge, to defend this, to tell me what is the benefit, what do we derive from this policy, and they just run, like frightened deer. It's amazing.

PHILIP SMITH: Well, it's indefensible.

DEAN BECKER: It is indeed. Well, I tell you what, friends, let's hope that the good folks in New York soon approve these safe injection sites so that other cities can pick it up and so we can stop the thousands upon thousands of people from dying from overdose, because they're taking these contaminated, unknown drugs. Phil Smith, any closing thoughts, a website you might want to recommend?

PHILIP SMITH: Well, before I flag my website, I do want to say that these safe injection sites require support from all sorts of political levels. I mean, from local boards to state health departments, to maybe the state attorney general's office, and I want to point to what's going on in Philadelphia, where there's also a push on for a safe injection site, but it's not getting support from the Democratic governor, it's not getting support from the Democratic attorney general.

So there are battles that have to be fought at every level in the political process to make these things actually happen, and it's going to be an ongoing struggle, and if you are interested in this topic as well as marijuana law reform and all other sorts of drug policy related stuff, you can check out my work at StopTheDrugWar.org, or at AlterNet.org/drugs.

DEAN BECKER: This is Rachel Luba.

RACHEL LUBA: So, I'm a third year PhD student here at SUNY Albany, studying clinical psychology, and most of my research focuses on cannabis use among adolescents. I became particularly interested in cannabis and end of life care from personal experiences actually.

My dad was diagnosed with stage four metastatic cancer and told he only had several weeks to live. At some point in his diagnosis, he expressed an interest in cannabis, and we were kind of very firmly told that that wasn't an option for him, so, I became really interested in seeing whether that was an attitude shared by other palliative care providers, and if so why, and if not, how we can kind of disseminate that information and come up with some comprehensive guidelines for patients and for providers.

DEAN BECKER: Again, we're speaking with Rachel Luba. She had an article published recently in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, referencing several of her associates involved in this study, Cannabis In End-Of-Life Care: Examining Attitudes and Practices of Palliative Care Providers.

Rachel, I have minor experience with, you know, old folks and young folks who have benefited from the use of cannabis. Now, you're looking at end of life situations and the one situation I had was an 84 year old man, he had brain, bowel, and liver cancer, and I was told by his relatives that he didn't want to go out stoned on the opiates, he wanted to be alive and experience the end of his own life, and we provided him with, mainly he liked butter. He liked cannabis butter, and he wound up dying on the floor playing with his great granddaughter a few weeks after that was provided to him, and that to me screams that we need to allow this -- these studies, we need to allow this to come forward. Your thought there, please.

RACHEL LUBA: Right. So, there's a great deal of data to suggest already that cannabis is helpful in treating pain and treating appetite loss, and treating nausea. There's fewer studies to suggest that it may also be helpful in easing emotional suffering and kind of existential suffering at the end of life.

But, from what we know, it seems reasonable to expect that the effects of cannabis on sensory enhancement, on kind of savoring emotional and sensory experiences, may be helpful in end of life specifically and ease some of the more existential emotional suffering, and we know that palliative care is interested not only in treating the physical pain but also the emotional and spiritual suffering.

DEAN BECKER: Well, and, you know, looking at the results of your study here, your presentation, I'm seeing that it, cannabis is shown to be of benefit, as you say, for end of life care, but for agitation, irritability, getting sleep, which is sometimes very difficult, when one is in pain, and appetite, and nausea control as well. Cannabis has many legs to stand on, does it not?

RACHEL LUBA: Right. And for the most part our survey respondents were most enthusiastic about the effects of cannabis on appetite loss, nausea, sleep, emotional suffering, and pain, more generally. It seems like there's less consensus on the use in agitation, but, we were kind of surprised by the fact that 80 percent endorsed cannabis as a helpful adjutant medication, that 71 percent said that the side effects of cannabis were about the same or less problematic than conventional treatments alone, and 79 percent -- or 61 percent said that they would recommend cannabis for end of life care.

DEAN BECKER: And, I'm sure that number has grown exponentially over the last five to ten years in particular that there have been more studies, I won't say sufficient studies, but more studies have been brought forward, more experts are testifying or somehow presenting facts indicating the benefit, which then allows patients to recommend it to their relatives and associates. Would you think that's a fair assumption?

RACHEL LUBA: Definitely, and I think that, looking back at -- there's a 2001 survey of health care providers, and it found that only one third of the sample would prescribe cannabis if it were legal. Comparatively, 61 percent of our present sample reported that they would recommend it, regardless of legality. I think it's important to acknowledge that it seems like these attitudes and practices are shifting, even before the available data to support it, because legislation supporting medical marijuana is shifting very rapidly.

DEAN BECKER: Well, and we have, you know, I'd consider pioneers, or stalwarts, like Doctor Sanjay Gupta, who put forward the idea that -- that it would be helpful for kids with epilepsy, and now he's standing forward rather boldly talking about it being of benefit for those with an opiate addiction. Your response to that thought, please.

RACHEL LUBA: Right. I think that it's important to consider this data, especially in the context of the current opioid crisis, that was something we were interested in as well. When we asked providers about how they would compare the risks associated with cannabis versus the risks associated with opioids, they -- they said that for cannabis they're more concerned with the legal implications, not the side effects or the risk of its use, whereas for opioid use, they said they were more concerned with diversion, medication diversion, giving it away to other relatives and family members, or the actual adverse effects associated with opioids.

I think especially in the current context, it's reasonable that a lot of folks don't want to have a lot of opioids just kind of lying around their houses, when they're experiencing the loss of a loved one.

DEAN BECKER: Rachel, let me ask you, what method did you use to conduct your studies? How was this framed up, how was this put together, please?

RACHEL LUBA: Sure. So this was an online survey. We had help distributing it through the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine. They distributed the survey link through their email listserv, and we received about 425 responses.

DEAN BECKER: I think science in general is beginning to recognize that there is not the old ancient bugaboo reefer madness, that it's not going to kill anybody. What's your though in regards to its attraction to youth and or leading folks into addiction?

RACHEL LUBA: Well, I think that, when you're considering the risks associated, especially at the end of life, even folks who kind of document risks associated with cannabis are looking at the long term risks. That's not really the case in folks who have maybe months or weeks to live. We need to really kind of recalibrate our understanding of risk, especially when we're talking about people who are using cannabis to aid the symptoms of terminal illness.

DEAN BECKER: Once again, we're speaking with Rachel Luba, she's a PhD candidate and author of this great article, Cannabis In End-Of-Life Care: Examining Attitudes and Practices of Palliative Care Providers. Rachel, is there a closing thought you might want to share, a website to point folks toward?

RACHEL LUBA: I think the hope here is that these findings will hopefully provide some legitimacy to practices of palliative care providers. My understanding is that a lot of folks felt that this had to be kind of a secretive recommendation that they were making to patients, and hopefully this will help to construct comprehensive guidelines for families, for health care providers, and for patients in kind of dealing with some of the symptoms and some of the really intense existential and emotional suffering associated with the end of life.

DEAN BECKER: Well, I want to thank you, Rachel. I want to ask you one last question, that is, were it legal, were it not prohibited, were you allowed to conduct more thorough investigative studies, we could learn a lot more, could we not?

RACHEL LUBA: Definitely. I think overwhelmingly our survey sample reported that they would really like to see more data here, and I think that's really going to be helpful going forward.

DEAN BECKER: All right. Thank you, Rachel, I do appreciate your time.

RACHEL LUBA: Thank you very much.

DEAN BECKER: It's time to play Name That Drug By Its Side Effects! Agitation, paranoia, hallucinations, face chomping, lip eating heart devouring, brain slurping, ecstasy, suicidality, zombie-ism. Time's up! The answer, according to law enforcement, from some crazy ass chemist somewhere: mephedrone, otherwise known as bath salts.

Otherwise known as bath salts, or Kush, or all kinds of other names they give it out there, trying to fool people into believing it has some relationship with real marijuana, which it does not. And that's what we've run into here in Houston. You folks on the west coast, in those states where it's legal, you don't have this kind of BS going on because who the hell would want to use this stuff, made by some crazy ass chemist somewhere, but they're calling it now CBD oil.

I don't know what to tell you, folks, other than we have, you know, better things to do than smoke CBD oil. All right, here we go, folks, more entertainment.

JOURNALIST: I'm joined now by marijuana activist Jodie Emery. Jodie, nice to see you as always, and just let me start by asking you about the Senate recommendation. Do you think that the government should take their advice, should they delay for another year?

JODIE EMERY: Well, we need to ask what is the delay for? Is it delaying the development of the storefronts, or is it delaying the delivering of justice to the victims of prohibition who are still being arrested every day for cannabis offenses, even possession.

So, we can't delay with stopping the arrests. The arrests for cannabis possession at least, and for all non-violent cannabis crimes, should have ended immediately, and in the US jurisdictions, it actually stopped, the enforcement, even when the legislation isn't completely come into effect.

So we should be legalizing to protect the civil liberties of our fellow citizens, not waiting for the governments across the country and the police and the others to get the money and funding that they're seeking.

JOURNALIST: You know, is there a fear, I mean, the Liberal government's been talking about legalizing marijuana for years now, and if we delay it once again, I mean, is there, I don't know, something to the fact that if we never have a deadline, you won't need it?

JODIE EMERY: Well, they have an election coming up, and I think Trudeau is going to be waving around the cannabis possession amnesty promise to get more support, and that's really important, in fact we just launched a new campaign, lawyers and advocates have launched a CannabisAmnesty.ca campaign and petition, asking for some sort of government action to recognize that a huge number of Canadians, hundreds of thousands, have criminal records for cannabis that prevent them from getting jobs and engaging as full citizens, and we know those records disproportionately target marginalized or people of color, so we shouldn't delay with the amnesty and the pardons and the stopping of the arrests.

But when it comes to the government --

JOURNALIST: Is that your biggest concern, when it comes to Bill C-45, that that needs to be resolved before this bill goes ahead.

JODIE EMERY: Well, legalization is very strange these days, because right now, we have eight cannabis offenses, but the legalization act, Bill C-45, there will be 45 criminal offenses. So, we're supposed to legalize to end criminalization of Canadians. Legalize the existing industry. Stop wasting law enforcement money. But none of those are being realized under this act.

So I have a lot of concerns with it, but, if Canada votes no or fails to pass, the whole world is watching, and that would be a bad sign.

JOURNALIST: Yeah. I want to ask you about price as well, because Stats Can recently revealed, I think it's nearly seven dollars a gram on the black market. The wholesale price the government is looking at is somewhere I think around five dollars and forty cents, so by the time, if they met the black market price, that they pay taxes, I mean, these distributors are going to be actually losing money. That does not sound like, I don't have a business degree, but that does not sound like a recipe for success.

JODIE EMERY: Well, one of our messages for legalization was to note that eight billion dollars of peaceful, consensual transactions are already happening. The industry exists, and the government said, well that sounds like a lot of money we'd like to take into our wallets. But that's the prohibition price. When you have something illegal, the risk goes up and the reward goes up. So, cannabis should be pennies per gram, but it's ten dollars, seven dollars, even more per gram.

So these -- when new medical marijuana companies, that were created by court order, had to go to the stock market to get the money to meet the requirements to build out, that the government put on them, so now they owe all of these shareholders returns on their investment. They're worth a huge amount of money, which isn't based on the actual product. The government needs to maintain prohibition prices to get their cut, and now they're going to send law enforcement to try and stomp out the competition, but, that's the approach of prohibition.

So, the government can't sell a lot of pot when they tell people it's bad for you, don't buy it, but come and get some and get tax money going.

JOURNALIST: All right. We're going to have to leave it there for now, pot activist Jodie Emery, Jodie it's great to see you. Thank you for coming in.

JODIE EMERY: Thank you.

DEAN BECKER: You know, it's time for us to realize that this stuff being sold is snake oil. I just got a call from a lady who was concerned about it, and my advice is, don't use it. Don't use it. Not unless you have a doctor's approval and you're buying it from the state of Texas, because otherwise, you don't know what in the heck is in that bottle. What is this all about? Let's see. More details.

DANIEL DENVIR: We're live here at PhillyCam. Bernie Sanders is an independent US senator from the Green State of Vermont. Senator Sanders, what is your assessment of the current state of an American criminal justice system that incarcerates so many poor people, particularly poor people of color, for such extremely long sentences? And yet have a lot of trouble finding anyone on Wall Street to punish in the wake of the financial crisis.

US SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: Ain't that something? You're suggesting that the people who destroyed our economy, forced millions of people to lose their jobs, their homes, their life savings, because of illegal activity, and nothing happened to them, not one of them went to jail.

And yet we have kids in this city and all over this country who get picked up with marijuana, they get a criminal record, some of them will end up in jail. So I think, bottom line here is, you know, we claim to have in the pledge of allegiance a system calling for justice for all, but one would be very naive to believe that was the case. We have a system of justice for the wealthy, and you have the money and the good lawyers, my god, there's almost anything you can do and get away with.

And then we have another system for the poor and working people in this country. So the bottom line here is that in the midst of massive income and wealth inequality and declining middle class, forty million people living in poverty, massive amounts of racism and sexism in this country, we have, and this is an important point for us to digest, we have over two million people in jail today, as you indicated, largely poor, disproportionately African American, Latino, Native American.

We have more people in jail than any other country on earth, including China, a communist authoritarian country. And then on top of all that, we have the privilege of spending eighty billion dollars a year locking up fellow Americans.

So I think there can be no debate, whether you're a conservative, a progressive, or somewhere in between, that we have a broken criminal justice system that is begging, begging for real reform, and the good news, as Larry will talk about, you're seeing here in Philadelphia and all around the country the beginning of an effort to bring about significant reform of that system.

All right, look, I think it is fair to acknowledge that when we talk about a broken criminal justice system, we also have got to acknowledge that we've had a forty year failed war on drugs, which has done massive damage to this country. I mean, and we can talk, and we will talk, about the insanity of this so-called war on drugs.

Let me just start off by saying that under the federal Controlled Substance Act, if you think I'm not telling you the truth, but I am, heroin is regarded as a schedule one drug, right alongside of marijuana. Heroin and marijuana. Does anybody in their right mind? You may, people talk about the pluses and minuses of marijuana. Nobody thinks that marijuana equates to a deadly drug like heroin.

We have seen in the last number of years millions of people arrested for possession of marijuana, getting criminal records. Now, you got a criminal record, they might not put you in jail, but sometimes it does. But what does it mean when you go out and get a job, or try to get some other public benefit, because then, oh you have a criminal record? Maybe come back next year, I don't need you right now.

So we have, I think, need to have an understanding. The prohibition against alcohol did not work in the 1920s, and prohibition of marijuana and other drugs is not working today. So it has to be rethought in a very, very fundamental way.

And the good news of course, that it is being rethought. I think we have eight states in this country now, plus DC, that are either decriminalizing possession of marijuana or moving to the legalization of marijuana. I am in support, and a co-sponsor, of federal legislation that would do that in every state in this country.

So I think if we're serious about understanding a failed and collapsing criminal justice system, ending the war on drugs is an important part of that.

DEAN BECKER: Well, Bernie's got some pretty good advice there. It's time to get rid of the snake oil salesmen. We've been at it for a hundred years, we have never actually controlled the so-called controlled substances. Time to pull our head out of our rears and actually do something to stop funding terrorists, cartels, and gangs forever.

SANJAY GUPTA, MD: Maine. Known for its rugged coastline.

DEAN BECKER: Doctor Sanjay Gupta.

SANJAY GUPTA, MD: -- and iconic lighthouses, and now, known for overdose deaths, which have doubled here over the past three years. Jamie Higgins lost her brother to opioids.

JAMIE HIGGINS: Battling the opiate crisis is going to come down to us doing things that a lot of people are going to feel uncomfortable about. It's going to be, I think, the most shocking changes that really bring change to the epidemic.

SANJAY GUPTA, MD: Shocking changes and bold steps.

MALE VOICE: And the cannabis, I think you're using it really well. When will the medical community catch up with what their patient populations are doing?

DEAN BECKER: All right folks, got to wrap it up, but once again, I remind you, that because of prohibition you don't know what is 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 an abyss.