05/17/18 Deborah Small

Deborah Peterson Small speaks at Patients Out of Time Conf, Paul Armentano of NORML re drug war hypocrisy and lies, Jasmine Budnella of Vocal NY, Melissa Moore of Drug Policy Alliance in NY

Program: 
Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Date: 
Thursday, May 17, 2018
Guest: 
Deborah Small
Paul Armentano
Organization: 
Patients Out Of Time
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CULTURAL BAGGAGE

MAY 17, 2018

TRANSCRIPT

DEAN BECKER: I am the Reverend Dean Becker, keeper of the moral high ground in the drug war, for the world, and this is Cultural Baggage.

All right, shortened up the intro so I've got more time to talk to you folks. We've got a lot to report. Our Drug Truth Network website is up and running, very telephone friendly. Please give a look, give a listen, we're going to have pictures, I'm going to start a blog, starting this next week. It is going to be MoralHighGround.world. It's time, it is frickin' time.

My friend Doug McVay was up in New Jersey at the Patients Out of Time conference, got a lot of good stuff for all of us, and let's just give a listen.

DOUG MCVAY: Thanks, Dean.

Hello folks. I’m Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org and host of Century of Lies, the sister program to Cultural Baggage on the Drug Truth Network.

Recently I had the pleasure of attending the Patients Out of Time Twelfth National Clinical Conference on Cannabis Therapeutics in Jersey City, New Jersey. Full disclosure, I also have the honor of working with Patients Out of Time doing website maintenance and social media management.

At this year’s conference, the first day was devoted to a policy seminar titled Medical Cannabis in the States of Confusion. We had a lot of great speakers. One of my favorites was Deborah Peterson Small. Deb Small is a great friend of the program and a friend of mine. She’s an attorney, drug policy reformer, and social justice activist who is one of the smartest people I have ever met, an incredibly sharp mind, and she's an exceptionally good speaker.

She gave a few presentations at #Patients2018. One in particular that I think listeners will enjoy was at the end of that day. The title of that panel was Where Are We Going: Federal Descheduling and Reclaiming Medicine. Here’s Deb Small:

DEBORAH PETERSON SMALL: There's a difference between ending cannabis prohibition and achieving racial and economic justice. And even the way that we do it may not achieve racial and economic justice.

I'm a California cannabis consumer who feels screwed by Prop 64, which I worked to help get passed. All right? Seriously. And it hurts me. I worked for six years on the campaign to change the crack cocaine sentencing laws, because of the impact that it was having on black communities, but the whole idea behind changing that was that that was supposed to be the first step towards getting rid of mandatory minimums.

Well, we spent almost a decade getting the ratio changed from a hundred to one to eighteen to one. Still f******, but a victory. But do you think anybody is now really talking about getting rid of mandatory minimums? It's like, oh, that fight is over. You don't -- I mean, it's still alive, but the level of energy and everything is gone, and I have this, well, we can talk about that over dinner.

But, I can tell you in terms of funding, and where the resources are going, it is not focused on changing federal law around mandatory minimums. In fact, legislative reform, for me, it looks like we go through phases. When I first started this work, everyone was focused on reentry. How do we support people coming back home. Then, it was voter disenfranchisement, around 2000, and all the foundations got behind that.

Now, they're all around, oh, how can we influence prosecutors, and that's like the newest thing. But the bottom line is that poor people remain poor. The system finds other ways to over-police them, and use that as a way to keep them out. And this is the thing about, you know, we have this conversation about expungement and all of that, as if those laws are legitimate.

But the thing that I learned, from working in law firms, many of our clients who had been guilty of and convicted of white collar crimes, was that they got to come back and become traders again. They got to come back and make back all that money. The thing -- and those crimes that they committed caused a thousand times more damage to society than any of the drug crimes that we're talking about here today.

So, I really -- I want people to, like, look at this stuff proportionately. And when they hear people like me, and I come across sounding like an angry black woman, it's because I am angry. I'm angry because I've watched now four generations of my family be affected by the drug war. People that I've lost to addiction, to homicide, to homelessness, to mental illness, over b*******.

Because there's nothing inherent about these products that require the level of damage that we as a society seem to be willing to allow to be inflicted on people. And I'm tired of these incrementalist conversations that say that I should be happy that we're going to treat marijuana like medicine, which just means that the government has more ability to control my life, because anything that we medicalize in a system that is not committed to health becomes another tool for control.

Now, I am an advocate for health, but I'm very clear that in this particular system that we're in, this is not a system that cares about people's health. And it uses the health system as a way to control people.

And so we have to think about all of those things as we do our advocacy. Personally, I am a proud socialist. My ultimate fight is to bring down pernicious capitalism, because I believe that that is the ultimate ill, that all of the other things that we have to deal with stem from is the pursuit of profit over people.

And yet that's not a conversation that we have, and it worries me that even in the area of reform, of these horrible laws, what's motivating people to change the is the pursuit of profit, the ability to get more tax money, the ability to get more revenue. What that sounds to me is like the constant succubus, just sucking more and more resources, more and more stuff from people, that only benefits a few people.

So I hope that we can have a conversation about building collective power. How do we build collective power. Instead of having marijuana businesses, let's have marijuana collectives. Let's think about microfinancing. Let's look at the rest of the world for ways to improve economic equity. Not rely on the old models that we've had before, the ones that have not served us, and I'll just end with this last thing, which is not about drugs, but it is in a way.

Which is that, in the twenty-first century, we need to let go of our conversation about the middle class. There's only two classes of people in the world right now. There's the class of people who work for money, and the class of people whose money works for them. The majority of us belong to the class of people who work for money. If you work for money in our particular system, it doesn't matter whether you're getting paid $25,000 or $250,000, when your source of income goes, you're screwed.

If you have enough money that your money works for you, like the Trumps, and all the people who are in this administration, everything that we do is designed for you to keep that money, for it to grow, and for you to pass it on to your kids. We are creating a permanent aristocracy, a permanent plutocracy, inside of this frame that we're in, because we are not challenging economic distribution.

So please, as we go forward in our advocacy around this, let's have it come from a place that's increasing economic democracy, because ultimately you're not going to be able to preserve political democracy if you don't expand economic democracy. Thank you.

DEAN BECKER: All right, folks, that was Deborah Small, speaking at the Patients Out of Time conference up there in New Jersey. Thanks to Doug McVay we're going to have several programs, Cultural Baggage and Century of Lies will be featuring segments from that conference. We were the only outlet there allowing to use that stuff.

Again, go to DrugTruth.net, check it out, we've got a brand new site, we're still working on it. Going to do a big announcement next week, but it's in trial phase, it's working, as I said, we're going to have pictures from the conference, other additions, and it's really telephone friendly. I urge you to please, check it out.

Today, we're going to be speaking with the deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, Mister Paul Armentano. And Paul, I want to preface our discussion with this thought.

A few weeks back, I somewhat tongue in cheek and somewhat seriously declared myself to be administrator of the moral high ground in the drug war, because over the years, hell, over the decades, the top dogs, the administrators of the DEA, the ONDCP, the attorney general, governors, prosecutors, all kinds of folks, stepped forward as if they were knowing, as if they were fully informed, and declared this eternal madness to be necessary.

One such instance occurred lately, where you heard that the head of the ONDCP was talking out of another orifice, so to speak, and you had an opinion in The Hill. Tell us about that piece, would you please, sir?

PAUL ARMENTANO: Sure. Well, to clarify the issue we're talking about the acting director of the United States Drug Enforcement Administration, Robert Patterson. And last week, he was asked to testify before members of Congress, and during his Congressional testimony, he was asked a number of times about marijuana and marijuana policy.

Specifically at one point he was asked whether the agency held an opinion with regard to whether the expanded medicalization of marijuana was playing either a positive or a negative role in American use and abuse of opioids.

To which Mister Patterson responded that he believed the passage and enactment of medical marijuana laws is exacerbating the use of opioids and is exacerbating the opioid crisis.

Now, that's a very unique opinion and position, because it runs contrary to virtually all of the available peer reviewed data on the subject, which in fact shows just the opposite, that legal marijuana access is directly associated with reductions in opioid use, abuse, hospitalizations, and mortality.

When the DEA's administrator was pressed on this issue, when he was asked to provide evidence in support of the agency's opinion, he acknowledged to Congress that he was aware of no scientific evidence supporting the DEA's position. He further argued that he was aware of no scientific evidence that conflicted with the notion that medicalization is actually mitigating the opioid abuse crisis.

So, here we have an instance where the acting director of the primary federal agency that addresses drugs and drug policy admits that he holds an opinion, that he represents an opinion of the agency, but acknowledged that he has no scientific evidence in support of that opinion, and in fact acknowledged that the evidence that is contrary to that opinion, the agency itself has no interest in even assessing that evidence.

And it really strikes to the heart of this drug policy issue, that we have an agency that is largely ideological, that is guiding drug policy, and my suggestion for members of Congress and others, we're moving forward, to simply pay no further deference to this agency, because they admit that they don't know what they're talking about.

DEAN BECKER: So true, and again, I think there's a parallel across the state, representatives and others, who, you know, if you're told in kindergarten that if you kiss a girl you're going to get cooties, well, you might never get laid, and I kind of draw a comparison there to this belief system that they learned in their youth or that was stamped in their brain, in their heart, when they were younger, and they refuse to even inquire or investigate the possibility that they were wrong? Correct?

PAUL ARMENTANO: Well, indeed, in fact at one point the DEA was asked specifically had the agency ever assessed the relationship between medical marijuana laws and opioid use. And Mister Patterson admitted that they had not. So again, it's not so much that the DEA holds a flat earth position, a position that runs contrary to the available science, but the DEA further admits that they have no interest in learning the truth on this issue. That is what he said under oath.

DEAN BECKER: That's just scary as hell, to be honest with you, because over the years they've gotten well over a hundred billion dollars, and if I dare say, the respect of police chiefs and prosecutors and lawmakers around the country, to believe what they believe, right?

PAUL ARMENTANO: They're lazy. They're so used to not getting pressed or prompted, to have to substantiate their positions, that when they are prompted in a situation like this, they have nothing to bring to the table. You know? I mean, they're just -- it's a lazy institution, that feels they don't even need to be prepared, because anything they say is going to be rubberstamped anyway.

The DEA is an artifact of a bygone era. They're the flat earthers in drug policy. And the fact is, in 2018, pundits, lawmakers, members of Congress, their staff, they need to view the DEA in this light. This is not an organization that has any credibility on drug policy, so it is not an organization that should be guiding drug policy in America in 2018.

They are out of step with both public opinion and also with scientific opinion, and the rapidly changing cultural status of marijuana in America.

DEAN BECKER: Well, some profound words from our good friend at the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, their deputy director, Mister Paul Armentano. Their website: NORML.org.

It's time to play Name That Drug By Its Side Effects! Headache, fatigue, nausea, dizziness, irregular pulse, skin discoloration, weakness, amnesia, agitation, loose stools, coughing, taste perversion, tremors, arrhythmia, cardiac failure, and death. Time's up! The answer, from Pfizer Laboratories: Caduet, for high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

All right, folks, thank you for being with us on this edition of Cultural Baggage. I am the Reverend Dean Becker, the owner of the moral high ground for the world and, you know, I think more and more folks are going to understand this to be true, and get behind this effort.

We've got some reports coming to you out of New York City.

JASMINE BUDNELLA: My name's Jasmine Budnella, drug policy coordinator at VOCAL New York.

DEAN BECKER: Now, there's been some shake-up, if you will, going on in New York, a recognition of the racial disparity in regards to the marijuana arrests, and an endorsement by your mayor, De Blasio, in support of safer consumption spaces, places where folks can inject drugs safely. Tell me about that support, that endorsement from the mayor, first off. It's in recognition of the work of VOCAL New York, Drug Policy, and many other good folks, right?

JASMINE BUDNELLA: Yeah, absolutely. So, we had quite a long fight with Mayor De Blasio on releasing a feasibility study that was commissioned in 2016, a hundred thousand dollars from city council commissioned this study to study the feasibility of supervised injecting facilities in New York City.

We had heard from the mayor in February that he would be releasing the study soon, and we launched a full-on campaign to get that study released as we're dying, in 2016 we lost 13 -- over thirteen hundred people to overdose. In 2018, or 2017, sorry, we lost over fourteen hundred people to overdose.

So, during this fight to get the study released, we were able to move the mayor into supporting this lifesaving intervention. And so now he's come out in support of them, but, in one of the stipulations to get this off the ground in New York City, is to have state approval. So, two weeks ago, city hall sends a letter to the governor's office, to Commissioner Zucker of the Health Department, to approve these sites.

We still have yet to hear anything of the approval, so now, now that the mayor's in support of lifesaving interventions, which is very critical right now, especially as we're losing so many people, we have changed our strategy now to really push the governor to stand with us and stand with the city of New York as well as the mayor of Ithaca, and other mayors across the country.

DEAN BECKER: This is wonderful news, Jasmine, and I, you know, San Francisco, Seattle, even my city of Houston, there are rumblings and mumblings about the need for these safe injection facilities, and we're going to need people at every level, mayors, governors, district attorneys, and other folks to get on board to make this happen, are we not?

JASMINE BUDNELLA: Yeah, absolutely. This is a group effort, right, the opiate crisis is impacting all communities right now, and it's very important that we all stand up to recognize that we have a strategy, one of many strategies, to save people's lives. These sites have been around for over thirty years, are well researched, are all over the world, and it's time that all of us as a community stand up to say we can't lose another person.

DEAN BECKER: Well, this is good news, certainly, and I understand there was a protest today as well, or a rally, to hope to convince Governor Cuomo?

JASMINE BUDNELLA: Yeah, absolutely. So, on May Second, we had a -- we performed civil disobedience in front of city hall, to really show the mayor we were -- we're very serious about saving lives, and the very next day, it was, his announcement, so as a community, we did really great. We had eleven people get arrested, as well as a councilmember with us.

And today, as we're shifting over to telling Governor Cuomo we need you to stand with us, we went to his office in New York City and held a rally with community members, from Drug Policy Alliance, Housing Works, Harm Reduction Coalition, and our community members, who are directly impacted by these issues, to raise our voices and say that we're not backing down until we -- we're able to prevent overdoses and keep people alive.

DEAN BECKER: All right. Again, we've been speaking with Jasmine Budnella of VOCAL-New York. Is there any closing thoughts, a website you might want to recommend?

JASMINE BUDNELLA: Just sending love and hugs to everybody as we continue this fight to save people's lives.

DEAN BECKER: Opening up a can of worms, and going fishing for truth, this is the Drug Truth Network. DrugTruth.net

MELISSA MOORE: I'm Melissa Moore, I'm the New York State Deputy Director for the Drug Policy Alliance, and the Drug Policy Alliance is a national organization working to end the harms of the war on drugs and drug use. So, we're working for evidence based solutions, and to end the damage caused by prohibition across the country.

DEAN BECKER: I'm aware that people are beginning to hold politicians' feet to the fire. For too long, many of them have stood and pronounced the need for this drug war as if it was god's will, but many of them have never delved into the facts, have never actually realized that they are off base, they're off track, and they're causing harm through their endorsement of these policies or their failure to recognize the failure of the policy. Am I right?

MELISSA MOORE: You know, the fact is that we've seen growing momentum across the country, from people saying that we're not going to accept the war on drugs anymore, that we know that prohibition has not been effective at reducing use or keeping people in communities safe, whatsoever, and that amid, in particular amid the overdose crisis right now, we need innovative solutions.

And we need to shift from the criminalization approach that completely hasn't worked and has brought so much damage onto communities, to a public health framework, and that's where solutions where safer consumption spaces, making sure that people have access to harm reduction programs that can provide syringe exchanges and naloxone to reverse overdoses and things like that make a lot of sense.

And then also legalizing marijuana and taxing and regulating it, so that we're no longer prohibiting the substance.

DEAN BECKER: Well, in your fair city of New York, you know, they've been saying they're cutting back on the number of marijuana arrests, that they're, you know, they have a gentler, kinder situation, but, for blacks and Latinos that has not been true. Am I right?

MELISSA MOORE: Exactly. What we know is that, although there has been somewhat of a drop in overall marijuana arrests in the last couple of years, that the racial disparities across the board remain exactly as they've been for the last thirty years. We know that 86 percent on average of the people arrested in New York City every single year for low level marijuana possession, which I should note was decriminalized in 1977, the vast majority of those people being arrested are black and Latino New Yorkers, even though we know that people use marijuana at roughly the same rate across racial and ethnic groups.

So this comes down to targeted policing, hypercriminalization of certain communities, and it's time for that to stop.

DEAN BECKER: Well, you had a great piece in the New York Daily News, you and Chris Alexander, title was Legalize And Tax Marijuana To Truly End The Disproportionate Arrests Of Blacks And Latino New Yorkers. And, you know, your fair city leads the nation for city arrests. My state of Texas leads the nation for state arrests of marijuana users, and it's way out of wack. It is focused on black and Latinos just way too often. Correct?

MELISSA MOORE: Right. We know that this is something that's systematically a problem across the country. Even in states that have legalized marijuana, enforcement still ends up being harshest on communities of color, so we know that just legalizing the plant doesn't necessarily legalize people who are often subject to hyper-policing, and extensive targeting, even though they've done nothing to deserve that whatsoever.

But nonetheless, we know that legalizing marijuana and ending prohibition does remove a significant tool that law enforcement can use as a justification for interactions with community members. So, it doesn't change the entire parameters that we're operating with within this country, but it does provide some significant ways forward for people to not be criminalized.

DEAN BECKER: Through your efforts and the efforts of Drug Policy Alliance and many others, the mayor, De Blasio, has now refocused and promised to change the situation, has he not?

MELISSA MOORE: He has, and this is due to many years of pressure from Drug Policy Alliance and our partners. Years and years of research, just last summer we published a report with the Marijuana Arrest Research Project that showed once again the extreme racial disparities in New York City, and Mayor De Blasio tried to refute it. He tried to debunk it, questioned our character, questioned the data, which had come from the state's own office of criminal justice services.

And now he's changed his story, when it's absolutely undeniable what the situation is in New York, and it's clear that he needs to take action or he'll be -- he'll suffer for it. We know that marijuana legalization is actually more popular than most politicians are at this point. So people are seeing that there's a need for a shift in this conversation.

DEAN BECKER: Well, Melissa, is there something I'm leaving out, something you think needs to be brought into this story, into this interview?

MELISSA MOORE: I think actually one of the most significant developments yesterday was the Manhattan DA, Cy Vance, and Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, announcing that they were no longer going to prosecute low-level marijuana possession charges in their offices anymore. That, those two offices alone, two of the DAs out of the five boroughs of New York City, those offices account for about ten thousand arrests and potential prosecutions for low-level marijuana possession every single year.

So, those offices and the bold leadership of those district attorneys, saying in the interest of justice, we're no longer going to prosecute these cases, it's clear that these arrests are being carried out in a racially biased manner, no more will we participate in that, was huge, and we -- we're certainly hopeful that other district attorneys across the state of New York and in other parts of the country will follow that lead as well. It's definitely time to take action, and we don't have to wait for legalization in order for district attorneys and other people in positions of power within different agencies to take similar steps.

DEAN BECKER: You know, it's a sign that people are recognizing, I don't have a better word, the stupidity of this drug war that has never worked in any fashion.

All right, that was Melissa Moore, DrugPolicy.org, and she's absolutely right, yesterday's New York Times had a big story about this in the paper. Folks, it's time for you to get on board, it's time for you to help end this madness, and again, I remind you, because of prohibition, you don't know what's in that bag, and I urge you to please, be careful.

Drug Truth Network transcripts are stored at the James A. Baker III Institute, more than seven thousand radio programs are at DrugTruth.net, and we are all still tap dancing on the edge of an abyss.