09/06/18 Shaleen Title

Shaleen Title, Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commissioner, Dominic Holden reporter for Buzzfeed re White House propaganda, US Rep Beto O'Rourke speaks at prayer breakfast & advice from beyond the grave from George Carlin

Program: 
Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Date: 
Thursday, September 6, 2018
Guest: 
Shaleen Title
Organization: 
Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission
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CULTURAL BAGGAGE

SEPTEMBER 6, 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.

Hello, folks, welcome to this edition of Cultural Baggage. I am Dean Becker, the Reverend Most High. Today, we're going to hear from Shaleen Title, from the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission. We're going to hear from Dominic Holden, who's now a reporter with BuzzFeed. We're going to hear the thoughts of Beto O'Rourke, when he attended a Houston prayer breakfast. And from beyond the grave, we'll hear some closing thoughts from Mister George Carlin.

Here we go.

Over the last few weeks, we've been looking at what has happened in various states around the country. We heard what happened in Oklahoma, where they have a new medical marijuana law that's coming into play. We heard last week from Debby Goldsberry out in California, where Big Marijuana, based in Canada, seems to be taking over the industry out there.

And today, we're going to hear from a Commissioner of the Cannabis Control Commission up there in Massachusetts, a long time friend and ally, Shaleen Title. Hello, Shaleen.

SHALEEN TITLE: Hi. Thanks for having me on, Dean, I'm a long time fan of your show.

DEAN BECKER: Well, thank you very much. Let's -- let's do a little background first off. You and I first met when you were working for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. Correct?

SHALEEN TITLE: Yes, back between 2009 and 2012.

DEAN BECKER: So we've been at this almost ten years now, and I guess the point I'd like to get to is that many folks have moved on. I spoke yesterday with Dominic Holden, who used to work for the Drug Policy Alliance, but he's now a reporter with BuzzFeed, and I guess what I'm saying is that, the drug reformers move on, take the experience they've gained, the knowledge they've gained, and share it in new ways to benefit and expand the possibilities, and that's what you've done there in Massachusetts. Correct?

SHALEEN TITLE: Yeah, I think that what I learned working at LEAP for those years, from Jack Cole and Neill Franklin and Steve Downing and so many others, is how to stand up for what you believe in, and not have to follow the mold of anyone else, and that you can be the first to do what you're trying to do, and I think that's how I ended up being appointed to help run the legalization program in Massachusetts.

DEAN BECKER: Well, and that's the thing, you actually have knowledge, boots on the ground knowledge, so to speak, you know the rationale, and the lack of rationale in many cases, behind these laws, and you're able to speak intelligently in that regard. Right?

SHALEEN TITLE: Yes. I have a long history, of course, in the cannabis movement, and then I also have done some legal and consulting work with marijuana businesses, so I have a sense of what the challenges are, and especially how it can be particularly different for them versus someone in any other industry.

DEAN BECKER: Okeh. Now, and I admit, I'm failing in this. I don't know the details, so I hope you'll fill us in on what the situation is in Massachusetts. Is the law in play? Are there dispensaries? What's going on, where are you at in implementing your drug law, your marijuana law?

SHALEEN TITLE: Absolutely. So, we have had, the last three presidential elections have all been big for marijuana in Massachusetts. So we passed decrim in 2008, we passed medical in 2012, and we passed legalization in 2016, all by ballot initiatives.

About, actually exactly a year ago, September First, our agency, the Cannabis Control Commission, was created from scratch to implement the law. And so, here we are a year later, we've just started issuing licenses. We have all of our regulations in place, we've held hearings, we're taking feedback from the public, and so the growers and manufacturers and stores should all be opening shortly, this year certainly.

DEAN BECKER: Okeh, and I guess the -- what comes to mind, I'm looking at you guys' wonderful website, and there's a link here to Cannabis Control Commission launches first in the nation social equity program.

Now I know that cities like Oakland, California, are maybe doing something similar, but this is to be a statewide program. Please explain that to the listener.

SHALEEN TITLE: Yes, so, the idea there was, if we are going to have legalization in Massachusetts, we want the industry to equitable, because first of all that's just how all industries should be in my opinion, but particularly if you look at the way that prohibition has been enforced, unfairly against certain communities, with the data being so clear that black and Latino communities in particular have borne the brunt of prohibition, we have to address that.

And so our Commission has created an equity program where, if you can show that you're part of these communities, particularly based on where you live or if you have a drug conviction, or if your parent or spouse has a drug conviction, you're eligible for certain fee wavers and technical assistance so that we can try and make the industry as inclusive as possible.

DEAN BECKER: Well, that's good to hear, and certainly that's, I think that's the way it has worked around the country, that people of color have been impacted more severely by law enforcement than whites. A perfect example, I've been busted 13 times. I never spent more than 30 days behind bars, and I think that's because I'm white, because otherwise I'd still be behind bars. Your thought there, Shaleen.

SHALEEN TITLE: Wow. Yeah, I mean, I think, yeah, I think that the evidence is really clear, all around the country, that even though people of all races tend to use and sell drugs at roughly the same rates, that the enforcement is widely disparate. And even after you see decrim or legalization pass, even though the number of arrests, you know, can fall to almost nothing, they're still enforced unfairly against the same communities. That seems to be consistent.

DEAN BECKER: Well, Shaleen, I always had hopes of being a farmer, of providing, you know, lots of good cannabis for, you know, some good customers, and I'm looking at your Cannabis Control Commission page for guidance for farmers. I see that a licensee may have no more than one hundred thousand square feet of canopy across no more than three licenses. That, that will grow a lot of cannabis, a hundred thousand square feet. Tell us how it's going to work out for the cultivators.

SHALEEN TITLE: So, let me explain first where you can find that guidance. So, if you go to MassCannabisControl.com, and you click on Guidance, we have explainers on our equity program, on our required diversity plans, and our guidance for farmers. So if you want to see what we've done in plain language, I recommend checking that out.

So yeah, when it comes to cultivators, we are all in agreement as a Commission that we want to encourage small farmers, and we want to encourage outdoor farming. But I'm not going to lie, it's definitely been a challenge when you're trying to balance wanting to promote farmers, but then also the need to have a very tightly regulated system, where under the law, all of the plants, of course, have to be tracked, there are very tight security regulations.

And it's hard to make it affordable for a farmer, especially if they may only have, you know, one or two crops a year. It's not like in California, because our weather is so different. And so, if you look at the guidance for farmers, you can see what we've tried to do. We've tried to make it more accessible, we've tried to provide certain benefits for the smaller cultivators, under ten thousand square feet.

The fees are different, environmental, energy efficiency standards are a little more relaxed. So, we're trying to do them at -- I really hope that we can have a robust, thriving industry, where farmers are welcome and hopefully, you know, as the stigma decreases, they can grow cannabis just like any other plant.

DEAN BECKER: Okeh. Now, we are aware that in the legal states, you know, Colorado, Washington, Oregon, California, that there's excessive taxes being applied, that this in turn encourages or motivates the black market to stay in business, and how are you going to deal with that situation, going forward?

SHALEEN TITLE: Well, here in Massachusetts, I think that our tax rates have been set at a fairly reasonable level. Back in the ballot initiative, they would have been the lowest in the country, which I supported, but our legislature ended up increasing them to a total of 20 percent now, which I also, I think it's fine, I think it's reasonable, a lot of work went into calculating it.

My bigger concern is that in Massachusetts we have a unique system where every licensee has to get approval at both the state level and the local level, and currently there's no enforcement of how the business pays the city or town in which it locates.

And so, if that continues to go unchecked, that can provide some big barriers to entry, some big challenges in terms of costs on the business, that would then be passed on to the consumer. And so that would be a concern to me, in the same way that you've described the concerns of when the taxes are too high.

So that's something I'm definitely keeping an eye on, trying to draw attention to, trying to make sure that people in other states are aware of as they're building their own programs.

DEAN BECKER: Okeh, Shaleen, so if I'm to understand, then, each county or commonwealth or whatever you guys call it up there, or even city I suppose, would be able to indicate what they want from a grower to set up in their town, township, whatever it might be, and that could vary county to county?

SHALEEN TITLE: Right. So bear with me, because it might sound technical for a second, but it's actually fairly straightforward. So in Massachusetts, every licensee has to get approval at the state level, but they also have to sign an agreement with the city or the town in which they will locate, and that agreement lays out the responsibilities between the community and the business.

That can include payments from the business to the city or town, but there are limits on how big those payments can be and how long they could last, so that we have a fair and consistent standard.

The problem that's happening in Massachusetts right now is that those limits are not being enforced. And so that is setting up a system where potentially we may have big marijuana companies coming in and essentially promising to make excessive payments to the city or the town, in exchange for licensure, and of course that would knock out the smaller competition, the businesses that are mom and pop businesses, the farmers, and so I'm trying very hard to make sure that that gets enforced, in one way or another.

DEAN BECKER: All right. Well friends, once again we're speaking with Shaleen Title. She's a Commissioner with the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission. Again, I want to point out, last week I spoke with Debby Goldsberry out in Oakland, and she was talking about how many of the start-up companies have now folded, that the permits were too high, that the fees were too high, that the -- it just got to be too much, and many of them have folded up.

And she says that the big bucks now are coming from Canada, where it is already legal, nationally. And they are already on the stock market, and they have billions to invest here in these United States. Your thought to that circumstance, Shaleen.

SHALEEN TITLE: Well, here in Massachusetts, our five Commissioners are appointed in five different areas. Mine is social justice. There's public safety, public health, government regulation, and business, and we make all of our decisions from those five perspectives.

And to all of us, it's very important that legalization be a way to address all of the problems with the illicit underground market. That was the main thing that of course I learned at LEAP, when we worked together a decade ago.

Now, if we don't have a pathway for the people in the illicit market to now enter the legal industry, that is going to cause all sorts of problems. Where is that going to leave them? What's next for them? What happens with enforcement? And so, my focus is on creating that pathway, and that means making sure that the legal industry is accessible, that we don't have fees that are too high, that we're not allowing different loopholes to be created so that those big businesses can come in and knock out the smaller competition.

And that means paying attention every day, in all the different details, and ensuring that those pathways are clear. So yes, definitely, it's a big concern of mine, and I go into every decision that we make as a regulator considering that perspective.

DEAN BECKER: Well, really good. Well, Shaleen, I want to thank you for your time. I hope to stay in touch with you and re-assess this situation here in six months or so to see how this is unfolding, how it's working out for your state of Massachusetts. Is there a website you wanted to share, closing thoughts for the audience?

SHALEEN TITLE: Absolutely. Thank you for having me to check in, I'll be glad to do it regularly. If folks want to stay on top of what's happening, MassCannabisControl.com is our website. We're also on Facebook and Twitter, and then you can follow me personally too, to try to stay on top of what I'm finding important.

DEAN BECKER: It's time to play Name That Drug By Its Side Effects! Shortened attention span, hyperactivity, obesity, diabetes, diagnostic diseases, kidney failure, heart disease, hypoglycemia, tooth decay, and death. Time's up! For the answer, look in every bag of Halloween candy, and in damn near every product we buy. Yep, it's sugar.

It's been many years since I've had the chance to talk to one of my long time friends, a gentleman who worked with the Drug Policy Alliance for many years [sic: Dominic has never worked for DPA], starting his career, but he's branched out now, he's back in New York, he's a political reporter for BuzzFeed, and he's still nailing it right through the head.

His latest, the one I caught, a story he had printed in BuzzFeed, was "A Colorado Senator Slammed Trump's Anti-Pot Committee," and with that I want to welcome my friend Dominic Holden. Hey, Dominic.

DOMINIC HOLDEN: Thank you so much for having me.

DEAN BECKER: Dominic, like I said, you're still at it, aren't you? You haven't given up on ending this stupid drug war.

DOMINIC HOLDEN: Well, I was an activist for many years, and then I got into journalism. I was at a weekly paper in Seattle called The Stranger. Now I'm at BuzzFeed, reporting on the federal government, looking at the Justice Department and the White House, and we've seen these documents that indicate there is a marijuana policy coordinating committee being run out of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, in the White House. That's known as the "Drug Czar's" office, casually.

And they have asked fourteen federal agencies and the DEA to hand over essentially data and documents that show the negative trends around marijuana. And what's sort of ironic is that the records show on the one hand, they complain about a one-sided narrative on marijuana in the country, that they think is too positive and too generous.

But they're only counteracting it with negative data, even if there might be positive data that these agencies could turn over. And so, it's a bit of an irony, that they believe that they can simply put out one-sided propaganda, whether this is the hope to change public policy at large, or to change the views of the president himself, it's not exactly clear. But their work is now underway, and has been at least since July.

DEAN BECKER: Well, Dominic, I kind of think this underscores what the -- I've always felt, I'm sure you have too, that there was a committee always back there in the back room somewhere, putting together information to show just negativity towards marijuana. I honestly believe that's been the case through every administration in my lifetime. Your thought there, please.

DOMINIC HOLDEN: You know, the Drug Czar's office, by charter, has to oppose legalization efforts and portray the harms of drugs. But what's interesting now is that the public opinion has shifted in the last fifteen years, even within the last few, since the first states, Colorado and Washington, legalized marijuana, to really support legalization.

And so we see the ONDCP moving at odds with public opinion. Trump himself had indicated that he wanted to support states with legalization laws, and so, the question is, you know, why does this continue to happen? Given the shifts around both the way voters and state governments are behaving.

DEAN BECKER: Well, that, and the results and the pronouncements of scientists and doctors that have come forward over the years. I'm greatly enamored with this Doctor Sanjay Gupta and the medical information he's brought forward, which has, I think, awakened many Americans to the legitimacy of cannabis as medicine, and I think that has helped to swing the situation. Your thought there, Dominic Holden.

DOMINIC HOLDEN: There seems to be no question that people understanding that there are medical benefits to marijuana has blunted, if you will, some of the propaganda and criticism from the government over the years.

You know, there was this campaign, it existed under Obama and certainly under George W. Bush, that marijuana should be illegal, and that it was a very dangerous drug with no medical benefit. But once you start to hear these stories, of people with cancer or chronic pain or epilepsy, finding some sort of relief, it may not convince people that legalization is in order, but certainly convinces them that the government is not terribly credible on this issue and open to thinking this out for themselves.

The changes we've seen in public attitudes since states have started to legalize marijuana for adult recreational use also goes to show that the claims, the forecasts, of mayhem and reefer madness and addiction that were promised by the government and legalization critics, simply haven't come to be now that we have eight test states where we can look and see, you know, that all of these doomsday forecasts simply didn't come to be.

DEAN BECKER: Ah, so true, so true. You know, I think about, even here in Houston, Texas, I have interviewed police -- I'm not going to name names, but they know who they are, a recent police chief who told me on air that they have relatives that benefit medicinally from the use of cannabis. So it's not a wild assumption anymore, it's known, endorsed, and it just gives me concern as to why they think they have to continue doing the negativity.

It reminds me a bit of a quote I know from former head of the CIA William Colby, he said, I'll get this close as possible, that the Latin cartels are controlling every aspect of government because there doesn't seem to be any sense in going down this road even one more step. Your thought, Dominic.

DOMINIC HOLDEN: I mean, it's hard to know. We had a relatively progressive federal administration under Obama. They were obviously somewhat critical of legalization but they didn't campaign against it. The Trump administration have carved out an unusual identity in contemporary politics in which they are simply overtly racist.

The president ran his campaign based on racism, he pushes racist policies, and this is really the core ethos of this administration. And drug enforcement disproportionately affects people of color.

So, you know, you could certainly say there is a racist interest on behalf of Trump in finding a way to marginalize and target and incriminate people of color for something they do at the same rates as white people.

But it's really difficult to know what is going on in their head. We don't know if this is something Trump is one hundred percent behind, we don't know if this is an effort from people within the federal government to attempt to influence the president's thinking, to try to get him on their side, since Trump hasn't shown an interest in cracking down on these states.

What we do know, based on our reporting, is that, you know, Trump could stop this. No one in the administration has denied that this is happening, and at this point, Trump is letting this committee continue.

So, we're going to have to keep an eye on it and see what happens next.

DEAN BECKER: Oh, my. Well, friends, we've been speaking with Mister Dominic Holden, long time friend of the Drug Truth Network, activist extraordinaire, he's now working as a news reporter for BuzzFeed, out there on the web at BuzzFeedNews.com. Any closing thoughts you'd like to share with the audience, Dominic?

DOMINIC HOLDEN: I just want to say thank you all for being here and supporting this great show.

DEAN BECKER: Last week, US Congressman Beto O'Rourke, from El Paso, running for Ted Cruz's Senate seat, was invited to speak to a gathering of ministers at a prayer breakfast. Here's one question offered to Beto.

VOICE: In the past, before -- back when Bush was president, we had more funds for mental illness. Mental illness accounts for not -- for not just being at Harris County but across this country, and now, all of a sudden, the attention is on prescription drugs, and it's getting more attention than ever for any illegal drugs, and the people who are doing the same thing that people do on illegal drugs except they get theirs from the pharmacy so they don't get any time. What is it you're going to do to remedy that? because that's a major problem for our community.

US REPRESENTATIVE BETO O'ROURKE: Thank you. We have an opioid addiction crisis in this country that has claimed the lives of tens of thousands of our fellow Americans. And the story is almost stranger than fiction and hard for us therefore to believe, but the corporation, Purdue, that came up with these opioids, and marketed them to doctors and the pharmacists, and therefore to the American public, as non-addictive, though their internal studies found that in fact they were addictive.

This corporation, that has made billions of dollars, ultimately upon the suffering of hundreds of thousands of our fellow Americans, has paid no real consequence or cost. Their CEOs are not in prison, their shareholders have not really had to pay any meaningful fine, and I contrast that with a low-level dealer of marijuana, or someone who is searched frankly because of the color of their skin and is found to have marijuana on them, who's going to be doing time in this country, that is purported to be the world's greatest democracy, that now hosts the largest prison population.

So, there has to be accountability, and justice, and no person, no man, no woman, is above the law. No corporation, importantly, is above the law. And here's what I've found, by listening to veterans, and some stood up earlier, and I also want to thank you for your service, by listening to doctors at the VA who take care of those veterans, they tell me, I don't want to be prescribing opioids to these veterans because I fear that they may become addicted to them.

We had a town hall with veterans in El Paso, veterans stood up and said, I was on opioids for five years, the VA cut off my prescription, I'm now buying heroin on the streets, the only way that I can take care of and medicate myself. Doctors at the VA in some cases want to be able to prescribe medicinal cannabis, and it's perhaps the one thing that can alleviate the symptoms of veterans who are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or the consequences of their exposure to Agent Orange back in Vietnam and today, they are criminals in the eyes of the law for being able to do that.

So, when I talked about criminal justice reform, it is not just expunging the arrest records of those who are in jail for possession of marijuana, it's not just ending the prohibition of marijuana, it's making sure that there is justice for those at the very highest levels of power in this country who have foisted a crisis of addiction on so many, and to date have not paid any price for it.

I want to make sure that healthcare means that every single one of us can see that doctor, that therapist, get that nutrition that we need to be at our best, and aren't having to self-medicate, get arrested on purpose to receive care that otherwise we should be able to count on as human beings in this country.

GEORGE CARLIN: In particular, it's fun to listen to Washington talk. Whenever the issue of term limits comes up, I always tell people, the only term limits I'm interested in would be to limit some of the terms used by politicians.

They speak of course with great caution, because they must take care not to actually say anything. Proof of this, according to their own words, is that they don't actually say things, they indicate them.

As I indicated yesterday, and as the president indicated to me, but sometimes they don't indicate, they suggest. Let me suggest that as I indicated yesterday, I haven't determined that yet. See, they don't decide, they determine.

If it's a really serious matter, they make a judgment. I haven't made a judgment on that yet. When the hearings are concluded I will make a judgment, or I might make an assessment. I'm not sure. I haven't determined that yet.

But when I do, I will advise you. They don't tell, they advise. I advised him that I had made a judgment. Thus far, he hasn't responded. They don't answer, they respond. He hasn't responded to my initiative. An initiative is an idea that isn't going anywhere.

DEAN BECKER: What's going on in Washington should give everyone concern. Again 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.