08/30/18 Beto O'Rourke

Congressman Beto O'Rourke, running for US Senate in Texas wants to end the drug war, Boston Globe reporter Felice Freyer re fentanyl crisis & Debby Goldsberry owner of Magnolia Wellness in Oakland on the advance of Big Marijuana

Program: 
Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Date: 
Thursday, August 30, 2018
Guest: 
Beto O'Rourke
Felice Freyer
Organization: 
US Representative
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CULTURAL BAGGAGE

AUGUST 30, 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. I am the Reverend Dean Becker, and this is Cultural Baggage. Man, we've got a five star show for you today. We're going to hear first off from my good friend, Congressman Beto O'Rourke. We've got a segment with Felice Freyer, she's a reporter with the Boston Globe, and we've got a segment about Big Marijuana featuring Debby Goldsberry from Oakland, California. Here we go.

Hello, Beto?

US REPRESENTATIVE BETO O'ROURKE: Hey, Dean. What's up, man?

DEAN BECKER: Oh, it's good to hear from you. It's been a while. How are you?

US REPRESENTATIVE BETO O'ROURKE: Things are good. We're in Hamilton, Texas, and just had a town hall in Cedar Park. So, just making our way across the state, [unintelligible] show up and see people, and, you know, try to listen to as many people as we can.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, sir. No, I've been following --

US REPRESENTATIVE BETO O'ROURKE: How are you doing?

DEAN BECKER: I'm well, I'm well. It's a little rainy here, I hope the recording isn't too overcome with the thunder, but, by the way, folks, we are speaking with US Congressman Beto O'Rourke, out of El Paso. He's running for the US Senate, for the seat now currently occupied by Ted Cruz. And Beto, by the way, I've been in touch with his office, I've tried to get him to come on air with me, thus far I get the emails. That's about all. I try to be fair in all of this.

US REPRESENTATIVE BETO O'ROURKE: That's right.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, sir. Now, recently, you've gotten a lot of national recognition on your thoughts about those folks that kneel at the NFL games, and the rationale, the reasons why they do that. It's gained you a lot of respect, has it not, sir?

US REPRESENTATIVE BETO O'ROURKE: Well, you know, I'm just doing my best to answer questions that are posed to me at these town halls that we're holding all over -- all over the state, and just, you know, on the issue of making sure that everyone's able to enjoy their full civil rights, and to be treated like women and men, and dignity and the respect that they're owed.

You know, the fact that folks are willing to call attention to these issues, and work on that, and nonviolently, peacefully, using that First Amendment right, trying to secure fuller rights and respect and dignity, and life, frankly, in some cases, for everyone, I think that's, you know -- that's something that is fundamental to the genius of this country, and, you know, if we're helpful to -- if we're helpful in any way in moving that conversation along, then -- then, that's wonderful, but, as always, just trying to answer the questions posed to us, and trying to facilitate a conversation on issues that are important to this country.

DEAN BECKER: Well, and I think that's the point, really, that a lot of folks are enamored with you because you -- you delve down into it. You're willing to speak the truth, you're willing to speak from your gut, and you're willing to say what's really on your mind, and I certainly appreciate that.

You know, it occurs to me that we hear the president, we hear others, and Ted Cruz, a lot of folks say they're protesting the flag, they're protesting our national anthem. Nobody's ever said that yet, from Kaepernick, however you say it, to everybody else who's ever done it, they tell the people what they're doing it for, and yet those on the other side tend to indicate, or try to indicate, that it's for something entirely different. It boggles my brain. Your thought there, sir.

US REPRESENTATIVE BETO O'ROURKE: Yeah. No, I think folks are trying to ensure that attention is paid to a serious issue in this country that, for whatever reason, has not been resolved politically, legislatively, through the successive administrations.

And the White House, and, as so often happens in this country's history, it's -- it's people who are able to force the conscience of the country, and get the attention to an issue that otherwise, you know, is not going to be improved on its own, and we're reminded of those who marched for civil rights, or those who peacefully protested at the, you know, at the lunch counter, when you didn't have laws that forced integration of places of public accommodation.

People forced that, not lawmakers, not, you know, positions -- not people who are already in positions of power or trust, but people forced that. And, you know, you and I have had conversations, going back to 2009, on the drug war, on marijuana laws, and, you know, those laws are not going to change of their own, and it's not just going to be people in the state legislatures or in Congress who just wake up one morning deciding they're going to do it.

It's people who force that. They form the political will that allows us to do the important things that otherwise this country would not do, and so, that's -- that's a tradition that we're talking about right now.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, sir. Again folks, we're speaking with US Congressman Beto O'Rourke. Yeah, Beto, you -- you're not taking the PAC money. You're not taking the big corporate funders. You're not taking that money from the people who can influence your vote later on. This is a people's election, is it not?

US REPRESENTATIVE BETO O'ROURKE: That's right. This is all about people, the people of Texas, all 28 million of us, and you can't be too Republican, can't be too much of a Democrat, can't be too independent, or even too much of a non-voter, to be part of this. We want everyone, and we're doing this with the power of people.

No PACs, no political action committees, no corporations, no special interests. Just the people of Texas coming together, and we're doing that despite any differences we might have in party affiliation or geography or religion or race or whatever. That stuff just doesn't matter right now. What matters right now is this country, and getting it right for this country while we still can.

And I know that we still can, and I know that Texas can lead the way in ensuring that we do. And so, we're going to stay focused on that.

DEAN BECKER: Now, Beto, over the past few weeks, well, heck, really over the past few years, but it seems to be escalating, reaching a pinnacle, that newspapers and broadcasters are starting to open up the discussion about this drug war. They're starting to, you know, today I have a guest from the Boston Globe, a reporter, last week I had a guest who had an op-ed in another major paper.

What I'm leading to now, sir, is earlier this week, there was an opinion piece in the Chronicle, it was titled "Texas Should Lead The Way On True Criminal Justice Reform." And there's much in this I want to talk about, if you have the time, but, if you would give us a summary of your op-ed in the Houston Chronicle, please.

US REPRESENTATIVE BETO O'ROURKE: Yeah. We have, in this country right now, the largest prison population per capita in the world. And, as you know, Dean, so many of those serving time are there for nonviolent drug crimes. Many for possession, or sale of marijuana, something that's legal in the majority of the states in this country right now.

And yet, we're still putting people behind bars for a substance that, you know, doctors at the VA say that they want to be able to prescribe to some veterans instead of prescribing them opioids, to which those veterans could become addicted and succumb, and even die from an overdose.

People that I'm meeting in these town halls talk about conditions like glaucoma or fibromyalgia, or, you know, things that they're struggling with that would be made better if they could receive a prescription of medicinal cannabis.

And yet, and yet, to be able to, to use something like that in Texas makes you a criminal in the eyes of the law, and it's an incredibly expensive proposition. It costs 22 thousand dollars a year to keep someone locked up, and we're also locking up their earning potential, their ability to finish their education, their ability to raise their family, their ability to do whatever they're supposed to do in their lifetimes.

And so, you know, we can either continue to do that, and expect a different result than the one that we've already seen, or we can do the right thing and end this war on drugs, and end the prohibition on marijuana, and make sure that we live up to our true potential as a country and our highest ideals and values, and, you know, that's what I'm all about. That's -- that's what I hear the people of Texas are all about, when we go to these town halls and hear their testimonials, their stories, what they want to see us do.

And so, that op-ed was a reflection on the opportunity we have, and an acknowledgement that those who are doing time right now are disproportionately African-American. They're disproportionately people of color in this country, though all people of all races and ethnicities use drugs that are illegal today at the same rate. Only some will be doing time for that.

So, do we want to be a fair, do we want to be a just, do we want to be a moral country? Here's our chance to do the right thing, and if we want to be a good steward of that taxpayer's dollar, we can invest those tax dollars in education, in public health, or we can continue to invest in incarceration, putting people behind bars.

So for me, the choice is that clear, and I want to make sure that we make the right choices. And Dean, we're about to start this town hall in Hamilton, Texas, so I'll have to let you go, but I am grateful for the chance to be able to talk with you, and as always, you're asking the questions about the most important issues. I'm just very grateful to, almost ten years in, being able to continue the conversation with you.

DEAN BECKER: Well, Beto, I will let you go here shortly, I just want to thank you and your staff for being so kind with me, and I know this town hall you're going to, the people will listen up, and have great respect for your thoughts and your direction.

US REPRESENTATIVE BETO O'ROURKE: Well, thank you. Really grateful, and look forward to talking with you again in the future.

DEAN BECKER: All right. Thank you, Beto. Be safe, my friend.

US REPRESENTATIVE BETO O'ROURKE: Okeh. Adios. Bye, Dean.

DEAN BECKER: Bye bye.

It's time to play Name That Drug By Its Side Effects!

ALEX TREBEK: A 2009 study recommended treating heroin addicts with diacetyl morphine, the active ingredient in this?

DEAN BECKER: Time’s up! The answer from Jeopardy:

ALEX TREBEK: Karen?

KAREN: What is heroin?

ALEX TREBEK: Yeah.

DEAN BECKER: You know, newspapers and broadcasters around the country are starting to take a much more focused look at the drugs fentanyl, carfentanyl, that are killing tens of thousands of Americans. There's a recent headline in the Boston Globe, it's titled "The Scourge Of Fentanyl Is More Clear In The Battle Against Opioid Use," and here to talk about it, to fill us in with some details, from the Globe staff, we have Felice J. Freyer. Hello, Felice.

FELICE FREYER: Hi. Thanks for having me.

DEAN BECKER: You have brought focus to bear on a very important subject. The, you know, they talk about the slow boil of the frog in the pot, you know. We have had this slow boil increasing here in America that's hard to ignore. It's killing our children, it's killing our friends and neighbors. Talk about this situation with the fentanyl, please.

FELICE FREYER: Yes. I work in Massachusetts, obviously, and in Massachusetts, state officials are tracking this very closely. The medical examiner puts out a great deal of effort in trying to determine what drugs are found in the bodies of people who die, and, you know, as well as various demographic characteristics of people who are affected by this epidemic, which has hit Massachusetts very hard, it's actually one of the hardest hit states.

So what is happening is that over the past year or so, they have been noticing that fentanyl is showing up in the bloodstreams, in the bodies, of people who die of overdoses at an increasing rate. So back in 2014, when they looked at all overdose deaths, only forty percent of those people had fentanyl in their systems, or rather of all the deaths that they were able to get a screen on.

And now, it's reached the point of 89 percent, so almost everybody who dies of an overdose in Massachusetts was exposed to fentanyl.

DEAN BECKER: It's -- and again, I end my program with this thought, that because of prohibition you don't know what's in that bag, and I urge folks to please be careful, and that's never more true than it is now, because these cartels, the gangs, find that it's much easier to smuggle the more potent, the more powerful, fentanyl, than it is heroin itself.

And they bring it across the border, or bring it through the US mails, and mix it with some kind of other powder and suddenly they can sell it as heroin for a great profit. Am I right?

FELICE FREYER: That's right. It's -- it requires so little fentanyl to get a person or to get some kind of a response to it, but it is much easier to smuggle in, and what we're seeing now though, and this is the other thing that came to light with the most recent report from the state, is that fentanyl is basically getting into every illicit drug.

So, what's happening in Massachusetts is that cocaine users, including, there's a bunch of cocaine users who just use cocaine, and without knowing it, they're -- they're now taking fentanyl because it's mixed in with the cocaine. They have no idea, they have no tolerance for opioids, so they're at much higher risk of overdosing. So that's a very scary situation.

DEAN BECKER: Well, it is, and I, we hear the stories, here in Houston over the past month or so we had a couple of stories of cops encountering white powder, thinking that it might be fentanyl they might be overdosing, they give themselves narcan. In both instances I'm aware of, it was not true, it was not any kind of drug whatsoever.

But there is a great deal of fear, a great deal of potential complications from these powders, fentanyl, carfentanyl.

FELICE FREYER: Right. Yeah. I mean, they're very dangerous and you just don't know where they are, you know, what they're mixed in with. So, it was really a very striking comment from the state commissioner of public health, who basically said, if you are using illicit drugs, you may be taking fentanyl, so, that means everybody needs to be careful, everybody needs to have a naloxone rescue kit available in their homes, if you're out there taking any drug off the street.

DEAN BECKER: According to your article, overall, opioid related overdoses in Massachusetts has declined by a small amount, about four percent, from 2016 to 2017. But that is not really representative of what's going on around the country, seventy-two thousand deaths last year [sic: that's the CDC's projected total of all overdose deaths involving all controlled substances, including overdose deaths where no opioid was found], as I understand it, that's just too, too huge to ignore, isn't it?

FELICE FREYER: It is, it's really terrible, frightening thing. Yeah, there's only six states that have been the overdose death rates go down, including Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont, but it's not by a lot, yeah, we're talking four percent in Massachusetts, and who knows if that will continue as fentanyl gets into every kind of drug and every kind of drug user is at risk of this kind of overdose.

But yeah, if you look around the country, it's terrible. There are so many people dying from this, and one of the things that the Massachusetts data show is that the people who are dying are in the prime of life. So almost two thirds, at least here and I'll bet you it's the same everywhere, almost two thirds of people who died of overdoses were between the ages of 25 and 44.

So we're looking at a terrible cost to society. That's when people are normally, you know, most people are building their careers and becoming productive, and doing the things that make the world better, and it's hard to do if you're addicted to heroin [sic].

DEAN BECKER: Absolutely true. All right, well friends, we've been speaking with Felice J. Freyer, she's a staff reporter with the Boston Globe. I want to give you a chance to relay what else you may have found, and by that, I mean, the feelings, the stories, the gut wrenching reality of this.

FELICE FREYER: Yeah, it's hard to ignore. It's hard to pay attention to it, it's so painful. I mean, there are people, I've been, interviewed mothers who, you know, who found their child dead, sometimes even in their home. I've interviewed the mother who's, you know, was waiting for the son to return home and instead there's a policeman at her door.

And it cuts across all of society. Everybody, you know, people from the so-called good neighborhoods as well as in the inner cities, everywhere. There's hardly anybody who hasn't been affected in some way or knows someone who is.

It's really hard to listen to. But on the other -- I do want to say too, I've also interviewed a lot of people who are in recovery, and who have found the way back from this, and they really impressed me because it's like they're walked through fire and they come out sort of transformed. They're very impressive people, and there's a lot of them out there, so it isn't all bad, there is treatment, it works, and people who are able to access the treatment and keep trying, because it rarely works on the first try, but if you keep trying you can get better and you can have a good life.

And, I'm just so impressed and encouraged by the people I've met who have done that.

DEAN BECKER: Ignore the nightmare that surrounds you,
Just to try, try to reach the American dream.

Well it's been, gosh, I guess eight months or something since marijuana went more legal in the state of California. It's going --

DEBBY GOLDSBERRY: That's a good way to say it, more legal, yes.

DEAN BECKER: And we have with us one of our past guests, one of our friends of the Drug Truth Network. She's the director, the owner, I guess, of the Magnolia Wellness Center, out there in Oakland, California, and I think now maybe associated with one in Berkeley as well, but we'll let her fill us in on that. I want to welcome Debby Goldsberry. Hello, Debby.

DEBBY GOLDSBERRY: Hi, thanks for having me back. Very excited.

DEAN BECKER: Well, yeah, Debby, and, am I right, you now have alignment with another shop in Berkeley as well?

DEBBY GOLDSBERRY: Yeah, called High Fidelity, and it's right next to Amoeba Music on Telegraph Avenue. It's co-founded by the owner of Amoeba Music, which is the biggest independent record store on the planet.

You know, the idea is, what goes better together? Music and marijuana, there's almost nothing better. So combining the two ideas, they brought me on as the cannabis expert, I'm one of the owners of the dispensary, and we're just getting started. We're about three and a half months old right now and everything's going great.

DEAN BECKER: Okeh. Well, real good. And Debby, I wanted to, I don't know, I see a lot of angst and agitation, if you will, out on the web, I'm down here in Texas just wishing I could do something. But I see this stuff going on in California, I hear they've got surpluses in Oregon, the pot prices are falling through the floor.

I hear things about California, that there's too many regulations, and maybe the fear of Big Marijuana is coming in play. How's it going out there?

DEBBY GOLDSBERRY: Right. It's a bit of a mess, let me tell you. Both things are right. Here's a problem we're having. The nation of Canada legalized marijuana, and Canadian firms that are listed on the stock market, you know the equivalent of the OTC down here, maybe the pink sheets, they're able to freely invest in cannabis businesses over the border here in California.

So the Canadian firms are really coming in. When you hear Big Marijuana, you start to hear about the money coming in from Canada. They've got millions and billions of dollars to invest in cannabis companies here in the US, because frankly the market in Canada is small. It's legal and it's small, and here we are in the biggest cannabis market probably on the planet in the United States, and definitely in the United States, in California, and the Canadians have come to town.

They're buying up companies, they're investing in companies, they're taking control, and sort of making conglomerates, holding companies that hold a number of different companies under their umbrella. And a lot of founders are, through this process, being sidelined or bought out or shut out, even.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah, I, and if I may say, it's belief in marijuana, it's belief in these big companies in Canada, that allowed their stock prices to give them additional billions of belief by the banks to have that money to come to California. Is there truth in that?

DEBBY GOLDSBERRY: That's right, and what we're finding now is if you want to invest in cannabis businesses and you're in the United States, you have to invest in a Canadian cannabis company, who then turns around and brings the money back to the country, even, in the United States. So, yeah, it's a bit of a conundrum.

You know, it would be nice if we had federal legalization here. We could keep the ownership of cannabis businesses, you know, in the United States, but the fact is, is legalization in Canada has really created a scenario that we weren't expecting. We didn't expect this to happen.

DEAN BECKER: States like Texas, we've got tens of millions of people, we have an opportunity to support, you know, a thousand dispensaries, I would think, within the state.

DEBBY GOLDSBERRY: Yeah, it could be true. I mean, I think what will happen though is, if we manage to get legalization going in Texas, yeah, it will be the next American gold rush. The big businesses will, they'll do two things. They'll lobby municipal governments in order to create local regulations that favor them, big business. They'll be able to create state regulations that favor big business.

And the way that that happens is by implementing oppressive surveillance requirements that cost, you know, for example, forty thousand dollars for your camera equipment, or very high licensing fees, such that, in order to start your company you have to pay two hundred thousand dollars to the state government to get your permits to begin with.

What it does is it creates this scenario where to own a cannabis business you have to have enough money to not make any income for maybe two years, you know, they call it runway in the business. You need a runway of three to five years, just money in the bank that you can spend if you don't make any income in the meantime.

Small businesses just don't have two to three year's worth of runway, it's big business that does. So it's a competitive disadvantage for us to not have enough money to last through the creation of the regulations, to pay our lobbyists and our government relations people to do the local work that's required, and then to go out and compete for the few spaces that might be in the right green zones, and you know, to pay the regulatory costs to get in business and stay in business while you start to turn a profit.

DEAN BECKER: Oh my, oh my. You know, it was about thirty-five years ago, I was growing, heck, I used to grow behind 7-11s and all kinds of places within city limits.

DEBBY GOLDSBERRY: Nice.

DEAN BECKER: I had this dream, open up a little shop, Becker's Buds, you know, just a small shopping center, and I'd have --

DEBBY GOLDSBERRY: I love it.

DEAN BECKER: -- four or five flavors, if you will. I see that now, that that's, it's going to be thwarted, because I won't be big enough to swing that, to be able to just grow, you know, a couple of hundred plants, and provide for a select group of customers.

DEBBY GOLDSBERRY: We have to work in places like California to make space for small businesses. We know there's space for big business. How do we make sure the cottage industry, mom and pop and small businesses, can survive?

Your first point, what it's doing is it's just driving our peers to continue to provide cannabis in the underground economy. You know, they still have to pay their bills. These people have been in the industry for twenty, twenty-five years, thirty years sometimes, it's multiple generations of a family growing or making a cannabis product, but they can't get in the regulated market.

They still have to bring their product to market. That's how they live. So, it really has created a thriving underground economy in cannabis that's just as strong as ever here in California, so bad regulations that leave out mom and pop, create an underground economy that thrives.

DEAN BECKER: Well, I'm kind of glad, no, I'm really glad to hear that, to be honest with you. Again folks, we're speaking with Debby Goldsberry, the owner of Magnolia Wellness Center, out there in Oakland. Debby, I'm looking online at your menu. You have some beautiful buds for sale, legally, it has me drooling, wishing I was in California.

DEBBY GOLDSBERRY: Nice. Yes, there are still, you know, there was a rumor that everyone's gone out of business. Look, let me tell you, almost everyone's gone out of business, but the companies that are still putting products on shelves are very -- they produce amazing products. They all have -- they have to go through this very extreme laboratory analysis, they're very clean, they're very pure, they have beautiful labels, they're packaged really nicely, and they're very good products.

So, in dispensaries, we saw access to the number of products drop, but we saw access to really good products that were very pure, that sell, that people want, that's fine. Shelves are still full in California, despite what's happening. A lot of people are out of the business right now, unfortunately.

DEAN BECKER: I hear you, Debby. I heard there was a situation, what was it, a couple of months back, where there was inventory that was not labeled properly and therefore had to be destroyed, and all kinds of, you know, garage sale prices going around. I don't know. It's straightened itself out now?

DEBBY GOLDSBERRY: Well, we called it the weed apocalypse, because, they changed the packaging and labeling and testing regulations on July First, and anything that didn't meet the regulations had to be compost on July First. None of us wanted to compost a darned thing, so we made sure to put everything on sale, super blowout sale, to get the products out into the marketplace.

Plus, all of us had to buy new products on July First, so we needed to liquidate, for example, the entire stock of our shop had to be liquidated very fast, and then invested in compliant products.

DEAN BECKER: And we put yahoos in charge of all of us, well yippie. I don't know what else to say. I'll tell you what, Debby, it's been good talking with you. I wish you the best of luck. I hope to come see you guys when i'm out that way again, and --

DEBBY GOLDSBERRY: That would be great.

DEAN BECKER: Your closing thoughts, a website, whatever you'd like to share with the listeners.

DEBBY GOLDSBERRY: Well, we're at MagnoliaOakland.com or .org, you can find our website. Everybody can come by, we're an onsite consumption facility, you can actually consume cannabis in vaporized form at the facility. It's like a little cannabis cafe. Everyone is invited if you're over 21 or a medical patient 18 and over.

DEAN BECKER: And Debby, I want to let folks know that your site is one of just a few in the United States where they can smoke onsite, is that correct?

DEBBY GOLDSBERRY: That's right, there's only -- there's only eight, possibly nine in the whole United States. All of them are located in San Francisco, other than the one, Magnolia Wellness, we're in Oakland.

DEAN BECKER: For next week's show I hope to be bringing you information about a situation where if you come back from Colorado with one cannabis cola, it can cost you fifty thousand dollars to clear your name. And once again I remind you, because of prohibition, you don't know what's in that bag. 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.