09/02/18 Ngaio Bealum

This week: we wrap up our coverage of Seattle Hempfest 2018 with an interview with comedian and journalist Ngaio Bealum, plus we speak with BuzzFeed News political affairs reporter Dominic Holden about a major story he broke recently on secret White House plans to ratchet up federal efforts against marijuana legalization.

Program: 
Century of Lies
Date: 
Sunday, September 2, 2018
Guest: 
Ngaio Bealum
Dominic Holden
Organization: 
BuzzFeed
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TRANSCRIPT

CENTURY OF LIES

SEPTEMBER 2, 2018

DEAN BECKER: The failure of drug war is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors, and millions more now calling for decriminalization, legalization, the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century Of Lies.

VIVIAN MCPEAK: And he is a Reefer Raider trained by Jack Herer, the Hemperor, himself, who spoke at every Hempfest except one year, when he was sick, before he passed away, and in his memory, it gives me great pleasure to say, Doug McVay!

DOUG MCVAY: Hello, and welcome to Century Of Lies. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

This week, we wrap up our Hempfest coverage with an interview with the comedian and journalist Ngaio Bealum. But first, here are some headlines.

California ends cash bail. California has become the first state in the nation to eliminate cash bail for people awaiting trial. The state's cash bail system was declared unconstitutional by a state appeals court in 2017. Under the old system, people arrested and charged with a crime had to empty their savings or pay a bail bond agent to be released.

While that was no problem for people with sufficient means, those with low incomes or no savings could find themselves behind bars until the end of their trial. Criminal justice reform advocates have argued for decades that these cash bail system force people to accept guilty pleas for crimes they did not commit, just to end the disruption to their lives caused by being incarcerated indefinitely awaiting trial.

Under this new law, local courts in California will decide who to keep in custody and whom to release awaiting trial, based on the court's discretion. The California ACLU withdrew its support from the bill at the eleventh hour because of concerns that judges would be allowed too much discretion under this new law.

An estimated seven thousand jobs in the bail bond industry could be affected, so the industry is expected to file suit to try and have the law overturned.

You know, just an observation, I interviewed my local district attorney a year or so ago, and he made a similar argument regarding mandatory minimum sentencing, saying that actually they were much fairer than allowing judges the discretion to decide what kind of a sentence to impose on someone.

The racism and classism that so many people within the judiciary still suffer from would mean that white, privileged people might get lower sentences. According to District Attorney Foote, mandatory minimums could therefore be even more fair, because it would take away that discretion so that bias would not interfere.

The problem with that analysis is that it presumes the rest of the criminal justice system is fair, that the rest of the system does not suffer from those racial and class biases, when actually that's far from the case.

Policing is definitely biased, both in a class sense and in a racial sense. Prosecution, bless John Foote, he's a decent man, but there are many in his position who have those racial and class biases, and the charging decisions that are made before the trial even commences, those have a great deal of bearing.

So a person could be charged with one crime and face a massive mandatory sentence, or the prosecutor might decide to file lesser charges with less of a mandatory minimum. Again, the problem is, with mandatory minimums, you take the discretion away from the judge and put it in the hands of the police and prosecutor.

The same with cash bail. Yes, you're putting discretion into the hands of the judge, but you're taking that discretion out of the hands of the police and the prosecutor. I guess it comes down to, who do you really trust more? Well, we'll see how things go in California.

Another thing happening in California is AB186, Assembly Bill 186. We've talked about that quite often on the show. As loyal listeners know, overdose prevention sites, safe consumption spaces, and supervised injection facilities, those are all names for a life saving strategy that soon will be in operation in the city of San Francisco.

On August 27, the California State Assembly approved Senate amendments to Assembly Bill 186, to allow officials in the city and county of San Francisco to set up and operate safe consumption spaces. That bill now goes to the desk of Governor Jerry Brown, who's expected to sign the measure into law.

There are similar efforts underway in several locations around the United States, including Portland, Seattle/King County, Ithaca, New York, New York City, and Philadelphia, and many others.

Also on Monday, August 27, Deputy US Attorney General Rod Rosenstein wrote an op-ed in the New York Times in which he warned cities and counties against harm reduction strategies, specifically against trying to set up supervised consumption spaces.

Rosenstein would prefer that communities stick with traditional law enforcement and "just say no" campaigns -- the same failed tactics that we've been doing for decades, the same failed tactics that have led us to this overdose crisis, and to fentanyl and carfentanyl and so many of these new psychoactive substances.

Assembly Bill 186 was amended by the California Senate. Originally it would have allowed several communities within California to set up safe consumption spaces. The Senate amendments narrowed it so that only San Francisco city and county would be allowed to do so.

I would have liked it if Governor Brown would have signed that bill on August 31. Friday, August 31 was International Overdose Awareness Day, when activists and family members and community members and people of all sorts from all over the world gather and hold memorials, and demonstrations, and other events to commemorate the lives of those lost and to push for better, more effective policies that could save lives.

Governor Brown is expected, as I say, to sign that bill, and we will have more information about that when it happens.

That leads us to this last piece.

The US Centers for Disease Control, in August, announced that approximately 72,000 people died in 2017 from a drug overdose. That's a significant increase from 2016, when more than 63,000 people died from drug overdose.

Much of the growth in drug overdose deaths has been fueled by a synthetic opiate called fentanyl, and analogues of fentanyl, which have contaminated many street drugs, particularly heroin. In the last year, however, there's also been a dramatic increase in deaths attributed to cocaine overdose, from nearly 11,000 in 2016 to more than 14,000 in 2017.

DOMINIC HOLDEN: I am Dominic Holden, a political reporter at BuzzFeed News.

DOUG MCVAY: Dominic, you broke a major story this week about the administration and its plans for the drug war. Tell us about this.

DOMINIC HOLDEN: Well, what we found was that the White House has amassed a group, secretly, of several federal agencies across the government, and what they're doing is combating positive messages about marijuana, portraying marijuana as a national threat, and identifying problems with state initiatives, trying to portray legalization initiatives in a negative light.

And this is according to a number of documents obtained by BuzzFeed News as well as by interviews with agency staff and the White House, and ultimately, they are working on giving a presentation of some sort about these harms and threats of marijuana to the president.

One of the things that's ironic about it, one of the memos says that, when they met on July 27 of this year, that they believed that the narrative around marijuana in the United States was too one-sided, and in order to counteract that, they are asking fourteen agencies and the DEA to submit data that only shows negative trends of marijuana, regardless of what the data show, even if it's positive.

So, they're trying to, I guess, fight what they believe is the positive perception of marijuana with one-sided propaganda.

DOUG MCVAY: Now, there's been a whispering campaign ever since the -- well, ever since the campaign about a sort of, the president really has a secret plan to end the marijuana war, I mean, his ONDCP picks have been horrible, his Justice Department has been horrible, every administration official that's ever said something reasonable about marijuana has been slapped down and forced to clarify, contradict, or completely abandon those remarks shortly afterward.

And yet, it seems like people still think the president has a secret plan to end the marijuana war. It sounds like that secret plan is as bogus as Nixon's was.

DOMINIC HOLDEN: It is so difficult to understand where president Trump is coming from here. This is someone who on the campaign trail talked about respecting states, and then as soon as he takes the White House, in a press briefing, they say to expect more marijuana enforcement in those states with legalization laws.

Then we see Trump come out for a bill sponsored by Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado and Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, a bipartisan bill, that would shield those states from the Justice Department's intervention, and it's really been scattershot.

And ultimately, we know that the president can see something on Fox News or somewhere else and come out guns blazing with a new policy.

This is being organized by the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy, the drug czar's office, and by charter, this is an entity that exists to portray marijuana and other drugs as tremendously harmful and has historically campaigned against legalization measures.

What's obviously different now, public attitudes have shifted far in favor of legalization. We have these models in eight states of regulation for adults to buy and to use marijuana, and we have a president who has been fairly mushy on this issue.

So for them to come out with what looks like a very one-sided effort for a propaganda campaign is fairly unprecedented, particularly given that it's got such a deep bench across the federal government.

DOUG MCVAY: I have to quibble with something quickly, though. I mean --

DOMINIC HOLDEN: Please.

DOUG MCVAY: Well, I -- you say it's their charter, and it is in there, it's true. And during the last Bush administration, we certainly saw that, actively, members of staff, officials from ONDCP, going to states and campaigning against legalization and against medicalization. We did not see that under the Obama administration.

And in fact, two of his drug czars, Gil Kerlikowske and Michael Botticelli, made presentations to the Harm Reduction Coalition's big international conferences. Gil did it by videotape, Michael Botticelli showed up in person. Now I'll grant you, that's not the Drug Policy Alliance conference, but Harm Reduction Coalition is very much in favor of decrim. They're very active.

And, I mean, I'll -- and you say he endorsed, well, did he endorse Gardner's bill? He was asked about it, he stopped -- he interrupted the question before it was finished [sic: the question, audio of which comes after this interview, was completed however it was largely inaudible over the sound of the president's helicopter], said that he knew what Gardner was up to and he supports it and all is well.

He never said what it was Gardner was up to. He never said he favored changing the laws on marijuana. He just said, yeah, yeah, I know what he's up to and I'm behind him. Really? Okeh. So I mean, that's not exactly the full-throated endorsement one would hope for. And yet, it's being taken as that. Nixon never said he had a secret plan to end the war. He alluded to something, and just let nature take its course.

We've had memes now and other kinds of fake news stories on facebook talking about, oh, he said that, the president has said he's -- he hasn't actually said that, though. I mean, it feels to me like he's trying to have it both ways. But his base, those are the drug warriors. I don't know, what do you think?

DOMINIC HOLDEN: I think there's no question that Trump often wants to have it both ways, and, the same way that he said that he endorses Gardner's bill without a bill without a description of what aspect of the bill he likes is much like Senator Gardner coming forward and saying that he had received assurances from Trump that he wouldn't intervene in the regulatory model of Colorado. But this is Gardner saying it, although the White House has been, yeah yeah yeah, you know, we agree with whatever he says, we've never actually heard Trump articulate a vision for what the limitations of the Justice Department would be.

In fact, the Cole Memo, that had established a tolerance policy for states that bided by certain guidelines, essentially, has been rescinded by Jeff Sessions, and Trump has left himself a lot of room to do really whatever he likes. This is, you know, for a fit analogy, this is a little bit like what he said around the transgender bathroom issue.

He said while campaigning that Kaitlyn Jenner could use the women's restroom in his facility, he said states should be able to do what they like, and yet, once his administration took power, you saw them both rescind a set of guidelines that accommodated transgender students all across the country, and you saw Sessions arguing that Title XII no longer protects transgender workers and their bathroom rights under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

So, Trump can say that he wants to let states do something, and then stake out a middle ground, while his agencies implement a hardline, traditionally conservative agenda. And given the fact this is being operated by the ONDCP, that has looped in so many of these agencies, they certainly have the power to start advancing an agenda, whether or not the president is fully behind it or is simply adjacent to it is unclear.

But we do know that Trump if often influenced by whoever was in the room with him last. And so, if these people put together a presentation, and it is tremendously compelling about the harms of marijuana and legalization, what isn't to say that Trump won't declare that marijuana is a threat and that the federal government has a role as it did under the Bush administration, fighting tooth and nail to defeat these legalization measures.

DOUG MCVAY: Well, I'm going to be wanting to follow this story as it develops, and I'm really glad to know that you're a reporter on this case. I have been a fan of yours for many years now, and you're doing incredibly -- you're doing exceptionally good work. I'm curious --

DOMINIC HOLDEN: Well, I was a fan of yours, for Drug War Facts, long before you met me. The honor is mine.

DOUG MCVAY: Ah, mutual admiration society, well here's a -- just curious. The story, I think, has legs. I know that as we're recording this, yesterday -- we're recording this on a Friday morning. Yesterday, the Fox News did about ten minutes on this story. Have other outlets, have other entities been picking up on it? What kind of response -- how many more interviews do you have scheduled today, sir?

DOMINIC HOLDEN: This is my first interview of the day, I've got another one in about 30 minutes. This story has been picked up really across the board, everything from, you know, New York Magazine and GQ to Politico and the Washington Post have been discussing this. Rolling Stone came out with a piece interviewing lawmakers.

Just yesterday, Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado sent a letter to the White House, confronting them over the report and saying that they were tremendously concerned that the White House was losing credibility on this issue, and was presenting skewed information as a form of propaganda.

So, there has been an ongoing blowback from this, and fortunately, you know, given the access that we had to these documents, we're able to turn this inside out and we know that people are going to be tracking what it's doing, whether that is through records request to the federal government, or simply asking probing questions. What was once hidden is in view, and hopefully that scrutiny means that the information that we do get is more accurate and impartial than whatever had been planned.

DOUG MCVAY: Fantastic. Well again, we're going to be following this story very closely, and again, folks, I'm speaking with Dominic Holden, political reporter at BuzzFeed News. Dominic, give me your social media stuff, how do people follow your work.

DOMINIC HOLDEN: I'm losing you.

DOUG MCVAY: I'll try that again. Dominic, give me your social media handle, how do people follow your work, where do people find you?

DOMINIC HOLDEN: Ah. Absolutely. You can follow me on Twitter at @DominicHolden, @DominicHolden.

DOUG MCVAY: Terrific. Dominic, thank you so very much.

DOMINIC HOLDEN: Thank you so much for having me.

DOUG MCVAY: Dominic Holden is a political affairs reporter at BuzzFeed News. We were talking about his recent article which revealed that the White House has secret plans to continue the war on marijuana.

DOUG MCVAY:

VOICE: Do you Senator Gardner's marijuana federalism bill?

PRESIDENT donald trump: I really do, I support Senator Gardner, I know exactly what he's doing, we're looking at it, but I probably will end up supporting that, yes.

DOUG MCVAY: You are listening to Century of Lies. We’re a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. I’m your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

And now, let's catch that interview with comedian, activist, and journalist Ngaio Bealum.

Okeh, I bring the level down there so I'm not quite as hot. And, I'm sitting here at Seattle Hempfest with a view of the Puget Sound, it is an absolutely glorious day, not too hot, not too cool, a lovely little breeze, a little bit of haze because all the fires, okeh that part sucks.

But I'm sitting here with Ngaio Bealum, so that makes up for all that. How are you doing, man?

NGAIO BEALUM: Great, man, it is a beautiful day. It is day three of the Seattle Hempfest. Supply lines are longer and harder to maintain. So is sobriety. Usually, you know, you show up the first day, maybe you try to ration, oh, I've got to speak, I'm speaking for a couple of hours here, been doing a thing there, then this.

And then, you know, by Saturday, I go, ah, you know what, I've got to talk but I think I've got the hang of it so I'll smoke all your weed, and, you know, after the after party or whatnot, and then on Sunday you're just like f*** it. And yeah, sure, man, I'll smoke that, this huge blunt before I've had breakfast? I'm in. I'm in, let's go.

And so that's where I'm at now, I'm just, as a kite, would probably be a good descriptor.

DOUG MCVAY: Now you have been doing a lot of stuff so far this thing, you've MCed a couple of times, you're doing a set in a little while, you were -- were you, the DOPE Awards, were you part -- were you the entertainment, or?

NGAIO BEALUM: I were not the entertainment for the DOPE Awards, although I do love DOPE Magazine. But I did go to their afterparty, and they had a doughnut wall. It was just a wall, festooned with donuts that you could take down, and good donuts, from top pot doughnut, which is a great doughnut here in Seattle, although it's an expensive, it's like a three dollar doughnut, which seems a little high, but, you know, there's usually cardamom involved so ... right? Cardamom is not a cheap spice.

DOUG MCVAY: But it is delicious. My favorite -- my favorite, in the bay area, down near Grand Lake, there's a -- Lake Merritt, rather, there is, there was at least, a, what are those things? The, with the ice cream, the fancy -- gelato. A gelaterie. Fancy ice cream. They made a cardamom gelato that is off the hook.

NGAIO BEALUM: Oh yeah. You can't go wrong with a cardamom gelato, really, it's really excellent. There's a place in LA called Scoops, and they do fancy gelatos like that. Irish brown bread gelato, and cardamom spice gelato, and, you know, duck salad, or whatever. I don't know. They just make a good -- yeah, it's fantastic.

DOUG MCVAY: Three days of Hempfest, and we're talking about food, and well you would, I mean, aside from getting hungry, it -- I went to the Iowa State Fair every year when I was a kid because I lived in central Iowa and that was pretty much the highlight of my year, which --

NGAIO BEALUM: Yeah.

DOUG MCVAY: -- tells you a lot about Iowa [sic: more than that, it really tells you a lot about Doug], and the midway, with all that food and all these weird, and the donuts, and it's like, there's more food, there are more -- there's more food and this is a bigger midway than five Iowa State Fairs.

NGAIO BEALUM: You can get a chicken and waffle cone here. So they'll put some fried chicken in a waffle cone and then you can just walk around, with maple sauce and whatnot. They also have the deep fried peanut butter and jelly sandwich, it's still here. The mini donuts place is still here. I haven't seen the chocolate covered strawberry people in a while, but there's pork buns -- everything from pork buns to soul food. You can get anything you want here, it's just one of the best festivals in the world. That's how I feel about it.

DOUG MCVAY: I agree. And it's -- aside from the food there's also all the vendors. It's, it's -- it's a dozen Dead shows, it's Shakedown, it's a dozen Shakedown Streets rolled into one.

NGAIO BEALUM: It's as if Shakedown Street was two miles long. Right? With better music.

DOUG MCVAY: Ah, jeez, much better.

NGAIO BEALUM: Fewer drum circles.

DOUG MCVAY: That's the other thing that I was missing and I'm so glad of it, too.

NGAIO BEALUM: And no nitrous.

DOUG MCVAY: This is true. And you know, fewer people than I have in years past, I mean, occasionally you'd hear people trying, you know, the joints and that. Once. Once so far, and that's been about it.

NGAIO BEALUM: What? Selling weed?

DOUG MCVAY: Selling loose joints, yeah.

NGAIO BEALUM: Oh, yeah, I mean, you can still find them. There's a couple of cats. They usually stick to the outskirts of the park now, so you can like pick it up on your way in, or whatnot.

The underground economy is still pretty good, the underground cannabis scene is still pretty interesting. And I was just out on Vashon Island, and a lot of those guys, man, they're still underground, they stick to underground, they don't like any of this dispensary weed, or this recreational weed. They find it overproduced and uncared for, and always not cured correctly, sometimes flushed badly.

There's a lot of challenges in creating it. I think a lot of people think that you just, you know, buy a license and open a farm and start growing good weed, and that's not how it goes, man. Weed is like craft beer, it's like a good wine, it's like heirloom tomatoes. You still have to take care and put love in your product to have anything viable.

It's almost a race to the bottom in a lot of these legal states, man. Everybody's just thinking bigger is necessarily better, and you're just -- I almost cussed. You're just messing up the prices for everybody. You're costing yourself money, and you're costing other people money, and I don't -- I don't think it's necessarily the way to go.

DOUG MCVAY: Well, you know I agree. This is -- I mean, the way that the, the corporatization is the -- I mean, it's interesting, too, because we have this, oh, pharma's bad, and it's like, well, yes, pharma's bad because they're evil corporations. Actually there are people, some people who need the medications that they're on, and I'm not going to trash that. But the corporate evil bastards and the sales and the marketing, yes, I'll trash those, and when those people come into cannabis, I, I have to start looking at them the same way that I report on big pharma or the tobacco industry, or the alcohol industry, and they're not going to like that.

NGAIO BEALUM: It can't always be about market share, maximizing your numbers for, and while pushing everybody else out. It's not -- you know, the point of Darwinism is not that it's always survival of the fittest. It's that we're supposed to evolve into better creatures. Right?

And so a lot of these cats are showing a somewhat uninvolved, unevolved, uninvolved and unevolved, and unenlightened, state of mind. It's not, I mean, competition is good, but it's almost more of an exhibition. You should be trying to exhibit your best s*** more than trying to put other people out of business so you can get your mediocre ass weed off the ground. And that's how I feel about it.

DOUG MCVAY: There's -- there's an element of social, I mean, we're social creatures, and so the social cooperation is a real thing, and the need for that, I mean, that's part of survival too.

NGAIO BEALUM: Well, you sound like a hippie, and not a libertarian capitalist, Doug, and so, you know. These things -- listen. People are people, and you can't expect some people not to act like how people act. I think that's a diplomatic way of putting it.

DOUG MCVAY: Well, and there's the -- you can say all these things because you're a comedian, and so it's -- you can say, you can speak to truth to power because you're a comedian. I do that as a reporter and I --

NGAIO BEALUM: As long as it's funny.

DOUG MCVAY: I never heard of a DOPE Awards after party, but that's because I'm a jerk, and so I understand this, it's all good.

NGAIO BEALUM: Sure. Sure. It was a fun party, though.

DOUG MCVAY: I'm sure it was.

NGAIO BEALUM: Ooh.

DOUG MCVAY: I love donuts.

NGAIO BEALUM: You can't go wrong. Donuts and weed.

DOUG MCVAY: Aw, man.

NGAIO BEALUM: That was a -- that's a pretty good, that's two of my four favorite things.

DOUG MCVAY: FCC, we're not going to ask.

NGAIO BEALUM: No, you know. Hey, we were just -- it's funnier unsolved. It's an open question, I suppose.

But hey, thank you very much for the time, man, and the speaking, and everything, and I think that one of the themes here at this year's Hempfest is that, while marijuana's legal on the west coast, and Alaska, and a lot of different places, it is still illegal in most of the country. Right?

So while these cats are out here making millions of dollars and everybody's got a cannabis business and we're all smoking weed in the streets, there are people in other states who are still in jail over a joint, who got fifteen years on two grams, who got arrested for a gram and a half of weed.

It's not over. We still need activists. We still need radicals. We still need to be in the streets, like, I've updated one of my new jokes about how what we need to do is just roll out from the west coast to all these other states and just start going door to door, like Weedhova's Witnesses, and get everybody involved.

I have some good news about weed. Can I share with you? Right? I'd like to talk to you about my faith in the cannabis hemp plant.

DOUG MCVAY: I would let a Weedhova's Witness into my home.

NGAIO BEALUM: Exactly! I have some papers here that I would like to fill and go over. Fill out. I'm going to fill out this paper with the ancient sacrament.

DOUG MCVAY: Okeh. You've got to get back because you've got to get ready for a thing, you've got stuff, so very fast, say the social media way to find you, and, what -- you've got some kind of a thing on Netflix or something?

NGAIO BEALUM: I have a thing on Netflix, I'm the cannabis expert on Cooking On High. Spelled like it sounds, Cooking On High. If you're in Mexico, I think it's Cocina en Cocal? I can't remember. They also show it in Brazil, I've got a lot of new Brazilian Instagram followers.

Follow me on all the social media, @NGAIO420. Thank you very much, Doug. Always a pleasure.

DOUG MCVAY: Oh, the pleasure's mine, man. Thank you.

NGAIO BEALUM: Thank you.

DOUG MCVAY: That was my interview with journalist, activist, and comedian Ngaio Bealum, star of the Netflix series Cooking On High. We were hanging out at Seattle Hempfest 2018.

And it for this week. I want to thank you for joining us. You have been listening to Century of Lies. We're a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. I’m your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

The executive producer of the Drug Truth Network is Dean Becker. Drug Truth Network programs are available via podcast, the URLs to subscribe are on the network home page at DrugTruth.net.

The Drug Truth Network is on Facebook, please give its page a like. Drug War Facts is on Facebook too, give its page a like and share it with friends. Remember: Knowledge is power. Follow me on Twitter, I'm @DougMcVay and of course also @DrugPolicyFacts.

We'll be back next week with thirty more minutes of news and information about drug policy reform and the drug war. For now, for the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay saying so long. So long!

For the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay asking you to examine our policy of drug prohibition: the century of lies. Drug Truth Network programs archived at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.