06/28/18 James Gierach

Former Chicago prosecutor James Gierach, Lisa Raville Exec Dir Harm Reduction Action Center Denver, Norma Sapp re Okla legal Cannabis & Rep Beto O'Rourke re failure of drug war

Program: 
Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Date: 
Thursday, June 28, 2018
Guest: 
James Gierach
Norma Sapp
Organization: 
LEAP
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CULTURAL BAGGAGE

JUNE 28, 2018

TRANSCRIPT

DEAN BECKER: Hi folks, welcome to Cultural Baggage. I am the Reverend Dean Becker. We've got a quick message for you from Merle Haggard.

MERLE HAGGARD [MUSIC: "Okie from Muskogee"]
We don't smoke marijuana in Muskogee
We don't take our trips on LSD
We don't burn our draft cards down on Main Street
We like livin' right, and bein' free

DEAN BECKER: Today's show will feature the thoughts of former Chicago prosecutor James Gierach as well as that of Lisa Raville, who heads up the Harm Reduction Action Center in beautiful Denver, and a quick message from US Congressman hoping to be Senator Beto O'Rourke.

Okeh, I'm a former resident of the city of Tulsa. I like Oklahoma. I like those dry breezes sometimes in the summer time, but there's a bigger breeze that swept through Oklahoma, and here to tell us about it is Norma Sapp. Norma, what just happened in Oklahoma?

NORMA SAPP: Well, we made it, even though the opposition was pulling every dirty trick they could pull. For the last two weeks, they've been running -- well, they spent one and a half million dollars on running ads, it seemed like every three minutes, with this crazy crap that wasn't even true. I think it drove people to our side, they could see that it was just hilarious, the things they were saying, like, oh now everybody's going to be lighting up in the movie theater, in the restaurants, and, oh, a veterinarian is going to write you a prescription for pot for a hangnail, and just ridiculous crap.

DEAN BECKER: But, at its heart, what has happened is you guys legalized medical marijuana. Correct?

NORMA SAPP: We did. It's hard to believe, isn't it?

DEAN BECKER: Well, I live in Texas, and it -- yeah, you guys have a lot the same perspective, attitudes, I think we do here, but you did it, and I am quite proud of you.

But, give us some of the details. How constricting and how liberal is this?

NORMA SAPP: Well, okeh, so, 788 was written with the patients in mind. It's pretty simple. It's five pages, and now we have -- the legislature is going to come back into special session and codify it. Because it was done as a statute petition, they have to codify it.

The Health Department is what 788 directed to handle the issuing of licenses and patient cards, and they have written their own proposed rules. Well, we don't really care for them, so we're going to meet on Thursday night and come up with our own proposed rules and hand it to the legislature, and they should come back into special session about the middle of July.

DEAN BECKER: Now, as I understand it, your governor is two-term limited, but she's wanting to tinker with this and maybe do some things you guys wouldn't appreciate. Correct?

NORMA SAPP: She probably would, and I don't know what the backroom deals might be, but, you know, there might be threats of I'll help you with your campaign in November if you'll do this when they meet at the special session. I have no idea what's being talked about over breakfast today.

But I know what the people want, and we are going to occupy the capitol until we get our proposed rules in place.

DEAN BECKER: Well, yeah, it was a pretty good majority, what was it, 57-43?

NORMA SAPP: It was. I think it would have been like 70 percent if all the things that happened yesterday didn't happen. Do you know there were counties, or precincts, that were withholding the ballot. It was a separate ballot for 788, and they told people that they didn't get it in that county.

DEAN BECKER: Well, you know, back when Harry J. Anslinger said that marijuana leads to insanity, criminality, and death, but I think the laws lead to some sort of insanity, to try to thwart the people's vote.

NORMA SAPP: Oh yes, certainly. It did lead to that.

DEAN BECKER: All these restrictions are just based in nebulous BS, and they have no connection with science or actual medical benefit. It's just -- just delay and stall.

NORMA SAPP: I know. Well, we've got to remember that we've been educating ourselves for decades, and they are just now starting to see that news.

DEAN BECKER: And again, hats off to you guys. I hope it works out real well and real smooth.

NORMA SAPP: Yeah, me too. Thank you for calling.

DEAN BECKER: All right. Thank you, Norma. Bye bye.

NORMA SAPP: Boomer Sooner.

DEAN BECKER: Ah yes. Boomer Sooner, I hope those guys have a great success, and we can prove to these Texas legislators that they have their heads so far up their posteriors, and they need to pull it out and look around at all the progress, all the money being made.

Well let's get to our next track, there.

All right, folks. We're speaking with Mister Jim Gierach. He's a former prosecutor in the city of Chicago, was on the board of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, but, he's finding information and sharing it with all of us that I think should give us some concern. The United Nations Office on Drug Control has just issued a report. How are you doing, Jim?

JAMES GIERACH: Well, very good, Dean, how have you been?

DEAN BECKER: I'm well, I'm excited. Oklahoma just went and legalized medical marijuana. [unintelligible] are being directed, or primaried, around the country. There is some hope on the horizon that we're going to recognize the futility of this drug war some day soon, am I right?

JAMES GIERACH: Well, for sure. Even Canada is coming home to roost. There are signs of hope around the world that this insane drug war will eventually end.

DEAN BECKER: The UNODC report does give it some hope, does it not? If you could summarize what you found there.

JAMES GIERACH: The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime annually puts out a report that's called the World Drug Report. Actually, I can't really say there's too much good news coming from the United Nations, the United Nations is the fountainhead for drug prohibition for the world, and it's the nations of the world, which then have passed national laws that criminalize the recreational use of drugs, and so the United Nations in this report has noted that there's now over 200 million people a year using illicit drugs, and yet it insists on continuing to criminalize them.

Here's the, I pulled up my website, 275 million people using drugs, and there are only ten million people locked up in the world, and these UN drug treaties, and the United Nations on Drugs and Crime, continues to insist that we criminalize these people that use drugs for recreational purpose.

The report's not good news. The report shows that women are targeted by UN drug policies so that we have thirty five percent of the offenders in prison who are women are there for drug offenses, and 19 percent of men who are in prison are there for drug offenses, so, women get a raw deal in international drug law as a consequences of the UN drug treaties.

DEAN BECKER: Well, Jim --

JAMES GIERACH: The -- well, let me point out just one interesting thing that this report says, is that, each year when I would go to the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, which is headquartered in Vienna, Austria, and the first year I went was 2012, and then I went each year through 2015, and every year when I would go, the International Narcotic Control Board would report increasingly new developed psychoactive substances.

And then, in this report of the United Nations that just came out yesterday, they showed that in 2012, there were 269 new psychoactive substances, whereas in 2016, the most recent year statistics are available, it nearly doubled to 479 new synthetic substances.

So, the drug health of the world has gotten worse, as these drug cartels continue to invent new drugs to try to avoid the penalties that are imposed by the United Nations [sic] and United States prohibition drug laws.

DEAN BECKER: I did see some numbers that I thought indicated a better perspective, and as you mention, about 200 million using these quote illicit drugs.

JAMES GIERACH: 275 million, it's about three and a half to five percent of the people of the world ages 14 to like 65 [sic: "5.6 per cent of the global population aged 15–64 years (range: 4.2 to 7.1 per cent)"].

DEAN BECKER: Yeah, hell, I'm over 65 and I'm still using, but, okeh. And there is no benefit, there is no rational reasons to go down the same path, yet, here we go. What the hell?

JAMES GIERACH: You look to see how many people were involved in the production of this. There's huge amounts of money that go to the people who are the quote unquote experts, who are feeding off this drug war gravy train, just as law enforcement in the United States feeds off the war on drugs as a way to get overtime, more jobs, more promotions, more money for equipment, the militarization of our police departments.

The 2018 report on world drug use and drug production says that we've got the highest rates of cocaine and opiate production in the history of the world.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah?

JAMES GIERACH: So, they've been -- the treaty, the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs went into place in 1961, so, what's that, 40, 58 years of continually more and more trouble, incarceration, racial discrimination, police abuses, the corruption of police.

Yesterday's newspaper here in Chicago, the Chicago Sun-Times, reports a six billion dollar settlement in police wrongdoing. They've got two stories in here on cops that are being incarcerated because of stealing drugs from gangs. There's another story in the same paper that a police dog finds ten million dollars worth of weed in a traffic stop on the south side of the city of Chicago.

We've got so many killings and so much violence and so many shootings that -- that a popular reverend of a Catholic parish, it's a black parish with a white priest, who's planning on closing the Dan Ryan Expressway, which is the interstate that travels through the city of Chicago, on July Seventh to bring attention to the fact that the violence is so epidemic here in Chicago.

DEAN BECKER: I am really puzzled by the lack of focus on why all these immigrants are coming northward, why their, you know, where their children are taken from them. Too few people realize that this is because of prohibition, a large part of the reason why these people are coming northward is fleeing cartel and gang violence in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Mexico, where villages and towns are overrun, are controlled, by these barbarous actors. Your thought there, Jim Gierach.

JAMES GIERACH: Well, Central America is just such a hot spot, because Central America's between South America, Colombia, cocaine producing countries, and the United States. Opiate products that are, they're coming from Afghanistan, will travel through South and Central America, Colombia, and other places. It makes life so, so miserable, so intolerable, that they flee, that, you know, if somebody's threatening to kill you, or somebody shoots you, or somebody kills your relative or cuts off -- there's a story yesterday, some woman had like four fingers cut off, as a threat, because she wouldn't pay the cartel.

When these horrible stories happen, people try to get away from the pain, to get away from the danger, and that has them migrating to the border between Mexico and the United States. Then we have a president who says we're going to put up a wall, well, walls aren't going to help one iota.

The problem is the United States has supported a drug prohibition system, and implemented it through the United Nations by threatening other nations not to get foreign aid unless you cooperate with the United States drug program, which is prohibition, which started with this guy Anslinger, who in chasing this dream, had some horrible experience as a kid, and he used that experience to warp his thinking and to demonize drugs and to really create a world war on drugs, which is now packaged and codified into three United Nations drug treaties: the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, another UN treaty on drug trafficking, another one on psychoactive substances.

But we can't solve these problems of the world, whether it's the migration, whether it's the killing or the violence or the addiction or the overdose from opiates and fentanyl being mixed, without ending the drug war. And the fountainhead for this world wide drug prohibition is the United Nations, and the United Nations operative arm is the UNODC, that put out this report, and the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, but, the real -- the, really the one that spends the most money of any United Nations agency is the UNODC, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

So, if you want money in some country, you cooperate with the UNODC, and what is it they want? They want prohibition. It's a failed policy and the world will not get better until it ends this prohibition system, and the United Nations is key.

DEAN BECKER: Once again, that was James Gierach, a former prosecutor in the city of Chicago, and I would urge you to please visit LEAP.cc.

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The challenger to Ted Cruz's Senate seat, US Congressman Beto O'Rourke.

REPRESENTATIVE BETO O'ROURKE: After more than 45 years of the failed war on drugs, where the profits are still going to criminals, the cartels, and the kingpins, finally the people of this country are taking the right steps for a more rational, humane, compassionate policy when it comes to drugs.

It's part of the urgency behind this Senate race, by getting in touch with your member of Congress, your US Senator, to let them know that you want them to end this war on drugs once and for all.

DEAN BECKER: That was my good friend Beto O'Rourke, a current US Congressman running for Ted Cruz's Senate seat. I hope the vote comes out well. Hope Ted answers my emails, maybe comes on this show sometime soon. We've got one more track for you.

LISA RAVILLE: My name is Lisa Raville, I'm the executive director of the Harm Reduction Action Center. We're Colorado's largest public health agency that works specifically with people who inject drugs. We're located in Denver, right across the street from the Colorado State Capitol.

DEAN BECKER: And, Lisa, you know, you guys are trying to legitimize, or somehow get certified, safe injection facilities up there, am I correct?

LISA RAVILLE: Correct.

DEAN BECKER: And, you know, I think it's Syracuse, and New York City, and San Francisco, and Spokane [sic: Seattle/King County], and even my city of Houston, there are rumblings and mumblings about doing the same thing, and I was going to say this, last week I had the police chief of Houston, Art Acevedo came on my show, and I asked him what was his thought in regards to, should Houston consider safe injection facilities, and he seemed to be all in, indicating his willingness to at least explore the option.

And that's starting to, similar perspectives are starting to develop around the country, people are seeing that it's okeh to speak out loud about that possibility. Right?

LISA RAVILLE: Absolutely. Yeah, it's a very exciting time in the United States. Now, these have been happening outside of the country for over 20 years, in ten countries, 63 cities, and a 102 total sites, and so we've been very excited to have these conversations in the Colorado and especially Denver community, and where we've found a lot of folks really being supportive is in the business community, safe community, treatment providers, recovery community, drug users, moms, so there's been a lot of great conversations happening in our community about pushing forward for a healthier and safer Denver.

Law enforcement has been neutral on this in the Colorado community, which has been really great for us, and as we have these conversations one by one people are starting to realize it's, you know, we need this in our community to keep people alive, to take injecting out of the public sphere and to put it into a controlled environment, to reduce the acquisition of HIV and hepatitis C, to reduce skin tissue infections, and to promote proper syringe disposal. So I think this is going to be the syringe access programs of twenty years ago.

DEAN BECKER: You know, I think about the, I don't know, the failings of the drug war, how, we have these drugs circulating now, made by untrained chemists in jungle labs, then it's cut with all kinds of stuff along the way before it's sold on the streets, and I guess what I'm leading to here, Lisa, is that we couldn't do this any worse if we tried. Every aspect of prohibition sets us up for failure, death, disease, and all of these things you're fighting against. Right?

LISA RAVILLE: Absolutely. And I think for far too long we've relied on stigma, shame, and incarceration, and we know that doesn't work. We know that too many people have died of overdose, we know that too many people have been incarcerated, and then are felons, and then it's very difficult to get housing or a job or to be able to flourish after that as well.

And so, I think there is a national shift of talking about what this looks like when we don't involve the war on drug users and we start pushing forward for healthier and safer communities.

DEAN BECKER: Right, and, you know, I just wrote a piece that basically deals with the reason why we have so many people coming north from Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico itself, is the violence, the violence that these drug laws create, the drugs themselves do not hold the gun, and I guess I'm a LEAP speaker and to me that's really at the heart of all this, is that we're empowering criminals worldwide by believing in this prohibition. Am I right?

LISA RAVILLE: Yes. Yeah, and I think, you know, drugs sell themselves, and people have been using drugs for years and years and years, and what does legalization look like in different communities, and I think those conversations are really starting to happen now when people, used to be incarceration or bust, you know, and now people are able to have those conversations on what that looks like for our communities, and we've already tried the old way, that certainly hasn't worked. It's never worked, for over 40 years.

And so, you know, having these conversations now, to push forward for a healthier and safer community, is absolutely key.

DEAN BECKER: Lisa, tell me how to pronounce your last name?

LISA RAVILLE: "Ray-ville".

DEAN BECKER: Once again, we're speaking with Lisa Raville, she's with the Harm Reduction Action Center up there in Denver, Colorado, and Lisa, I was going to ask you, you know, you guys are the pioneers.

It's not exactly your forte, but, medical -- excuse me, marijuana has been legal there for a few years now. It has not created the blowback, the complications, the horror that was predicted by the other side, and I guess what I'm leading to here is that it shows that we can change these drug laws without the world ending. It's an example of how we, by that I mean drug reformers, were right. Your response there, please.

LISA RAVILLE: Yes, I mean, you know, they went for a long time not being able to do anything with pot, and then all of a sudden there was this national shift, and I think those are conversations, and I feel like as part of our messaging, it was very much like, talking one on one with folks and educating them. And so, you know, we've learned a lot from the marijuana movement in Colorado and drug policy reform in general.

But we want to, you know, have these conversations and be able to break down those barriers, and, you know, reduce stigma.

DEAN BECKER: Sure. Now, Lisa, you know, we, earlier we were talking about the safe injection facilities, and, that's a good idea for any city in America, and there are many states where that is permitted. In Texas, we had a law that allowed it in one city but then the mayor said hell no, and it just never has happened. We do have a few underground, I guess you say, needle exchange programs in some of the major cities, but you have -- you guys have a working, legitimate facilities for needle exchange. Correct?

LISA RAVILLE: Correct, yes. So, we're the state's largest syringe access provider. We have over 7,800 folks signed up with us. We see between 140 and 160 people per morning, where they have the opportunity to dispose properly used syringes, get access to sterile syringes to prevent and eliminate the transmission of HIV and hepatitis C in our community, offered referrals, they get access to naloxone to save someone's life in the event of an opioid or heroin overdose, health education classes, street outreach, and then we do that advocacy.

So we've passed seven pieces of statewide legislation in the last nine years. Four to reduce the harms associated with overdose, and three to reduce the harms associated with syringe criminalization, which is why we continue to put forward that the street should influence the policies at the state level, and which is why we're pushing forward with the supervised consumption site here in Denver.

DEAN BECKER: And, you -- sorry. Yeah, you know, my goal is to educate the county commissioners, the city council members, you know, to speak with law enforcement officials, judges, to get people whose stature is respected, to speak up for the need, because we're going to have to work through the legislature here.

LISA RAVILLE: Right.

DEAN BECKER: And, I was going to ask you how did you guys legitimize, or certify, needle exchange programs, because I guess that will be our first step.

LISA RAVILLE: Yes. So, it became the perfect storm. So in 2009, our then-governor, towards the end of the year and beginning of 2010, said he wasn't going to run for re-election. So we were able to push forward and in 2010, 81 of the 100 state legislators voted in support of syringe access programs.

And it was very helpful because, you know, the -- non-elected drug users come out and speak on behalf in trying to push forward, but also physicians, and, you know, the larger community coming out and saying we need to be able to try this. It's not revolutionary, it's just good public health.

And so, I thought when a bill becomes a law, a bill becomes a law, and you move on with your life. Problem was, the -- we pass the legislation, and was signed May 26, 2010, however it took 21 months to be able to begin. So it was actually very frustrating, too, so step one is passing, you know, the legislation. Step two through ten are all about implementation.

So, that can be where people start dragging their feet, once it's actually passed, as well. So some people in the community think I'm an advocate, others think I'm a nag, but it's important that, you know, like, we've passed the legislation, and then push forward to be able to implement that legislation.

DEAN BECKER: Well, I'm proud, or, I don't know, hopeful, I guess, is that, you know, that the district attorney, the sheriff, the police chief, listen to me, and we came up with a law a little over, well it's a year and a half old now, Misdemeanor Marijuana Diversion Program, where they no longer arrest people. Stupid kids, mostly, out there on the street, for four ounces or less of marijuana.

And I guess what I'm hoping is that I can stair step from that to show that, hey, I was right then, at least think about, consider, you know, needle exchange and or a safe injection facility. Get the ministers and the cops and, you know, the muckety-mucks to go along with the idea, because, as you guys have indicated and as these safe -- and as these safe injection facilities around the world show us, it saves lives, it saves futures. It saves money. It saves law enforcement. Right?

LISA RAVILLE: Yes, absolutely. And I think when you, you know, when you have those conversations, you know, we work within the harm reduction movement, so sometimes you have to meet these decision makers where they're at on the spectrum of change, right?

And continue to have those educational opportunities, and people do shift, and do want to do the right thing, and so I think, you know, continuing to have those conversations is key, and it will continue to save lives in all of our communities.

DEAN BECKER: All right, friends, once again we've been speaking with Lisa Raville, she's with the Harm Reduction Action Center up there in Denver, Colorado, doing great stuff. Lisa, I hope that we can continue this, that we can, I don't know, combine forces with folks in Spokane [sic], New York City, Seattle, to learn from and help promote each other's efforts over the coming months and years.

LISA RAVILLE: I would love that. Thanks so much, Dean, for having me.

DEAN BECKER: All right. Their website, please visit HarmReductionCenter.org

All right, folks, thank you for being with us on this edition of Cultural Baggage. I want to thank Jim Gierach and Lisa and Congressman O'Rourke. I want to thank you for listening especially because you can help swing this cat, you can help make the change, so I would urge you to pick up phone, call your representatives, visit our website, DrugTruth.net. There's nearly seven thousand of my radio programs available there for your listening.

Again, I would just hope you would do your part. Stand up. Speak up. Make the change happen, because otherwise they're going to devour all your rights and just rob us of a future. And I remind you, because of prohibition you don't know what's 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 of an abyss.