09/20/18 Jacob Sullum

Jacob Sullum, Editor of Reason magazine re failure and futility of drug war + Kinky Friedman "Governor of the heart of Texas"

Program: 
Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Date: 
Thursday, September 20, 2018
Guest: 
Jacob Sullum
Kinky Friedman
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CULTURAL BAGGAGE

SEPTEMBER 20, 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 Dean Becker. Thank you for being with us on this edition of Cultural Baggage. A bit later, we're going to hear from Texas's Kinky Friedman, but first up.

Hi folks. Glad to have with us Jacob Sullum. He's a senior editor at Reason Magazine, that's at Reason.com, and he's a nationally syndicated columnist, and I want to welcome him to the program. Hello, Jacob.

JACOB SULLUM: Hi, how are you?

DEAN BECKER: I'm good. Jacob, it never slows down, news about the drug war, that's my focus, and it just seems to constantly expand in its problems and lack of solutions. What's your thought?

JACOB SULLUM: There are some encouraging things about the response to opioid related deaths, and some discouraging things.

Well, I think the encouraging part is that the response has been less punitive than in previous drug panics, or anti-drug campaigns. There certainly -- doesn't mean there hasn't been a punitive aspect to it, certainly, in some states, they have ratcheted up prosecutions and ratcheted up penalties for dealing in opioids.

They are, many places they're prosecuting people for homicide, actually, if they distribute a drug, which could just mean sharing it with a friend and that person ends up dying, which is crazy, and really counterproductive, because, aside from being unjust, because it discourages people from seeking help when somebody overdoses.

So that's bad, obviously. At the federal level, they just, well, the Senate just passed this big package of measures, and I was looking through it, I was thinking maybe I'd write a column about it this week, but there -- it's not great, and there are some objectionable elements in it, but it is not as bad as some of the federal -- legislation that we've seen previously, like in the '80s and '90s, or even in the first decade of this century, responding to methamphetamine, that sort of thing.

The -- just looking, there are 70 different bills that are put together in this one omnibus, but the one thing that struck me is that they are authorizing the FDA to require that opioid painkillers be dispensed in blister packs. It doesn't mean the FDA has to do that, but it is now authorized to do that. That is part of a bad trend, which is toward restricting the availability of pain medication for people who actually need it, and I had a story in Reason recently, a cover story, talking about the impact that has on pain patients.

You know the Bush -- sorry, the Trump administration has set a goal of reducing total opioid prescriptions by I think a third in the next few years. It's a totally arbitrary goal, nobody knows what the appropriate amount of opioid prescribing is, but the tendency is to crack down and impose arbitrary limits.

You saw that with the CDC guidelines, which suggest that opioids should pretty much never be prescribed above a certain daily dose, even though there are many people with serious chronic pain issues who have been maintained for years and are doing well on doses higher than what they're suggesting.

Then people take the CDC guidelines at the state level and try to impose them by law. At the federal level, they're imposing them within the Veterans Health System, and you've seen some bills being introduced that would impose, at the federal level, limits on the length of initial prescriptions for acute pain, for example, which again is just politicizing these medical decisions, imposing arbitrary limits that in many cases will give patients less than what they need.

The problem is that it's very difficult, especially with acute pain, to figure out how many pills somebody's going to need. So after surgery, or after an injury, there's going to be a range, right? Some people will need more, some people need less. The tendency of doctors, until recently, has been to prescribe what they think is a reasonable amount that will get most people by, and knowing that some patients are not going to use the whole prescription.

Once states started to impose these arbitrary limits, then doctors are required to prescribe no more than a certain amount, which may be less than what they're used to, and that means that there are patients who will not get all the relief they need. They'll still be in pain, and when they finish their prescription, and the irony of this is that can actually result in more total pills being dispensed, because now patients are more likely to go back for a refill.

So, you know, that's just an attempt to get a handle on the number of opioid pills in circulation, but there's no simple way to do that. Any of these solutions they try, whether it's like imposing direct limits on how much you can prescribe, or through prescription drug monitoring programs, which every state now has. Everybody thought that was a great idea, let's keep an eye on who's getting what, and see, in two ways, keep an eye on patients who might be doctor shopping, but also keep an eye on doctors. Right?

So if you have a doctor who looks unusual compared to his peers, then the state regulators and law enforcement agencies, also at the federal level, see that as reason to investigate the doctor, even though it may just mean that he's especially willing to treat pain patients.

So, and those programs actually seem to make things worse, in terms of total opioid related deaths, that, yes, they're controlling the supply in one way, but then, many people, either who are non-medical users, get pushed into the black market or in some cases actual pain patients look for solutions in the black market, which of course is much more dangerous, because you're getting drugs that are completely unpredictable in terms of potency, you don't know what dosage you should be taking, you don't even know what you're getting. Right?

I mean, you think you're getting heroin and you end up with fentanyl. So that's obviously much more dangerous. And the numbers bear that out. I mean, if you look at the number of deaths involving legal, you know, prescribed opioids, where you know what the potency of the dose is, versus -- as a percentage of the total people using them, versus the same thing with heroin, you see the heroin death rate among, you know, per user, or, you know, per say a thousand users, is much higher.

And that's basically because you're dealing with black market products that are unpredictable. So that's -- those are the main counterproductive trends in terms of responding to opioids, that have been to deprive pain patients of the medication they need, and then also to push non-medical users into the black market, and that's why even though prescription opioids, the number prescribed has been going down steadily for several years now, you still see opioid related deaths going up and up.

So that's not -- that's not success. So to the extent that they are doubling down on that strategy of trying to control access to pain pills, they're really missing the boat, because the truth is that a large majority of opioid related deaths now involve black market drugs: fentanyl, heroin, fentanyl analogs.

And, you know, now they're trying -- going to revert to the strategy of trying to control the supply of those. One element of this bill that was just passed by the Senate was, requiring the postal service to scan packages coming from abroad to see is there fentanyl in them. Right? So they're trying to interrupt the supply that way. Of course, that's never worked, I mean, they've been trying to do that literally for a century, trying to stop, you know, drugs on their to consumers. So you see elements of that coming back, as well.

DEAN BECKER: You know, Jacob, I did a little, I don't know, investigation, I was hearing about the fentanyl, the carfentanyl, you know how it's so deadly, and, you know, it occurred to me, I did some digging, and I found out that if you were able to import one gram of carfentanyl, the more deadly stuff, the elephant tranquilizer, I think it is, that you could turn that into fifty thousand doses, equivalent to heroin doses.

JACOB SULLUM: Yeah.

DEAN BECKER: And sell it at twenty dollars a dose, comes to a million dollars on that one gram. Now --

JACOB SULLUM: Yeah, I mean, that's the logic, you know, of prohibition, of course, the economics of it encourage people to smuggle things in as potent a form as possible, because that's a smaller volume, and like you just said, you can get thousands of times as many doses in the same volume if you use a drug that's much more potent.

And that's the -- rather than discourage that, the government is actively encouraging it, to the extent that they have any success at all, writing, cracking, you know, why did fentanyl start to replace heroin? A big reason is that it's more potent, in some ways, you know, easier to manufacture, but you can smuggle in this smaller volume, and to the extent the government is actually successful in cracking down on the heroin supply, that's going to shift the market toward fentanyl, and toward fentanyl analogs which are even more potent than fentanyl.

And so that is, you know, the tendency, as they enforce drug laws more aggressively is simply to make drug use more and more dangerous, and this is the dynamic we're seeing, where the number of opioid related deaths just keeps going up, even though they are doing all these things that they thought were going to work, or they claimed were going to work.

It's having, if anything, the opposite effect.

DEAN BECKER: You know it. 72,000 dead last year, they say. You know, there are these little town, they're using border towns, I know we've got them in Texas next to Louisiana and in Louisiana next to Texas, where people with out of state plates come through and the cops pull them over, and the next thing you know they take all of their cash they may have on hand, any valuables in the car, because they think they smelled marijuana or they found a little tiny bit of something that's suspected to be drugs, and they frighten the people into signing documents and allowing them to go on home, but leave their valuables behind. And --

JACOB SULLUM: Yes.

DEAN BECKER: And, you wrote recently about a situation in Philadelphia. Tell us about that situation, would you please?

JACOB SULLUM: I'm not sure which Philadelphia situation you mean. They were actually forfeiting people's homes if they could, for example, if, you know, a grandchild was dealing marijuana out of a house, and the house belonged to his grandparents, they would take the house. And that's perfectly legal under civil forfeiture.

The kind of thing you're talking about is actually, they don't even have to bother with civil forfeiture, because what they're doing is they're intimidating people into signing this piece of paper where they relinquish any claim to their property. That's it. It's gone now.

So it's nothing more than highway robbery. I mean, and it's legal because it is officially consensual, but, of course, you know, if you consent in a situation like that, it's not really consent.

One encouraging thing, I think, you know, there have been these waves of outrage about civil forfeiture over the years, going back to at least the '90s, and there have been piecemeal reforms at the federal level and at the state level. The latest round of reforms that we're seeing, a lot of them are actually, essentially, abolishing civil forfeiture, meaning that they are going to require, a bunch of states have said, no, you have to have a criminal conviction.

DEAN BECKER: Right.

JACOB SULLUM: So that's a big deal.

DEAN BECKER: Oh yeah.

JACOB SULLUM: The other thing that needs to accompany that is they have to stop state and local law enforcement agencies from going around state law by going, now, they're again doing this at the federal level under Sessions, they are letting, or they're, yeah, they're letting state and local law enforcement agencies basically take stuff under federal law, the Justice Department is officially doing it, but then, the state and local agencies get to keep, I think eighty percent of the money.

So that's a pretty good deal, so if you, even if you reform your state law such that people can't lose their property unless they're convicted of a crime, unless you also say you may not, you know, have your forfeiture be adopted federally, then there's always a way around it.

But I think it is encouraging that, what you're starting to see is that people are just outraged by the very notion of civil forfeiture, which is that a property itself is accused of wrongdoing. The person who owns it need not be guilty of anything, they may not be charged or arrested ever, and people, you know, are really rebelling at that notion. I think it's a very unpopular idea, it's intuitively unjust to do that.

DEAN BECKER: Well, I'm with you there. Once again, friends, we're speaking with Mister Jacob Sullum. He's a senior editor at Reason Magazine.

Jacob, one more question for you. Elsewhere on this program, I'm talking to Kinky Friedman, and the topic of discussion for a while there was the run for Senate here in Texas, where it's Beto O'Rourke versus Raphael Eduardo Cruz. And he didn't much like Beto's stance on, his perspective on Israel, but otherwise I think he -- he might vote for Beto. But, you have a write-up you did recently here, The Great Imaginary Willie Nelson Boycottt of 2018. Talk to us about that, would you please?

JACOB SULLUM: Well, that wasn't actually me. It was one of my colleagues. But --

DEAN BECKER: Oh, I'm sorry.

JACOB SULLUM: Basically, the point was that Willie Nelson has long, you know, been left leaning and has supported Democratic causes, Democratic candidates. He spoke at the DNC, I forget what year that was, but he actually spoke at the Democratic National Convention. So it's not surprising all of a sudden that he would support the Democrat in that race.

People, I think some of the news stories made it seem like, oh, you know, his fans were disenchanted now that they realize that he was supporting Democrats.

DEAN BECKER: Okeh.

JACOB SULLUM: I find it interesting that Cruz is trying to use Beto's drug policy positions against him. And to me, if any -- I remember Beto back when he was a city council member. He sounded pretty radical. He sounds less radical now, both because he kind of has moderated his position, I think, but also because of where we, you know, how far we've come since then.

And, you know, the stuff he's saying is completely unobjectionable, you would think, even in Texas. So, I wonder, and what I wonder is, how does that play? I mean, Cruz obviously thinks he's going to make his opponent look like he's pro-drug, and that that will help him, but it's not clear to me that that actually is going to resonate. I don't know if there's been any polling in Texas recently on that question, but I suspect you'd get a large majority who would say no, people shouldn't go to jail, certainly that's true nationally, people shouldn't go to jail for using marijuana, you know, whether they actually want to legalize commercial production and sale is another question.

DEAN BECKER: Well, I think -- I think that percentage approval for that idea is about 52 percent in Texas. Right. Now, one more thought I do want to delve into, another Texas story. We've got this situation in Dallas where some disoriented cop comes home, goes to the wrong apartment, goes inside the apartment, and kills the resident.

JACOB SULLUM: Right.

DEAN BECKER: And then they come back a few days later with a warrant looking for narcotics. Your response to that whole situation there, Jacob.

JACOB SULLUM: Well, what was interesting to me, I mean, they got a warrant to look for evidence in general. One of the things they mentioned was narcotics. It's not clear, I mean, what it looks like is, oh, they're trying to make the, you know, the guy who was killed look bad, and therefore make the cop look better.

I'm not sure that's what was going on, I think it may have just been a standard form that they fill out when they're searching a residence. This is -- these are among the things we might find, right, some of the contraband we might find.

But what happened in the coverage afterward was very interesting, because when it came out, I think it was a very small amount of marijuana as you recall --

DEAN BECKER: Ten grams.

JACOB SULLUM: Yeah, okeh, so like a third of an ounce. And, the local Fox station in Dallas tweeted that, saying, you know, breaking news, cops find pot in the apartment of this guy who was murdered. They didn't put it that way, but it was the guy who was killed. And people were outraged, it was very -- if you looked at Twitter, not just on the left but on the right, too, people were, like, what does that have to do with anything? This guy was minding his own business in his own house and somebody storms in, apparently thinking it was her place, at least that's her story.

You know, she says, she told him, you know, to freeze or whatever, and he didn't respond to her commands. Well, why would you respond to some total stranger's commands when they burst into your house, I mean, right? It's a situation where, you know, it's -- I haven't seen anybody try to justify it, say how, oh, I could see how that could happen.

DEAN BECKER: Well, that's -- from my perspective, every marijuana case is irrelevant. It's just not one percent the problem, the danger, of alcohol. We --

JACOB SULLUM: Well, and of course, drinkers are allowed to own guns. It's not like drinking disqualifies you from owning a gun. So, yeah, it's completely irrational, completely unjust.

DEAN BECKER: I thank you. Once again, friends, we've been speaking with Mister Jacob Sullum. He is a senior editor at Reason Magazine. If you want to check out Jacob's stories, please go to Reason.com.

It's time to play Name That Drug By Its Side Effects! Breast enlargement, impotence, corneal opacity, deafness, anaphylactic shock, pseudo-membraneous collitis, bloody diarrhea, rectal hemorrhage, myocardial infarction, and death. Time's up! From Bristol-Myers Squibb, the answer, weirdly, is Aciphex, for heart burn and obviously not for your ass effects. By the way, the number of potential complications is more than one hundred.

I'm glad we have with us a good friend of the KPFT, the mothership of the Drug Truth Network, a man who understands what's going on, who certainly has an opinion, and with that, I want to welcome a friend of the program, Mister Kinky Friedman. How are you doing, Kinky?

KINKY FRIEDMAN: Pretty good, Dean, pleasure to be here.

DEAN BECKER: Ah, thank you, Kinky. You know, we do drug war news, but seems the news is getting crazier than the drug war of late. What's your take on the situation with Trump and the Russians and the Senate and what in the hell's going on?

KINKY FRIEDMAN: Well, my sources, which are really, they've been pretty good, actually, they're predicting there's going to be a lot of people are going to be arrested on this thing.

DEAN BECKER: Well, now that is -- that's music to my ears. I don't think I've ever witnessed anything even close to this with prior administrations, prior, you know, governance. What's your thought, please?

KINKY FRIEDMAN: Well, it certainly doesn't, you know, surprise any of us, that the government is corrupt, and that they've been getting away with it forever.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah.

KINKY FRIEDMAN: I mean, that goes back to Mark Twain and Will Rogers's time, they were absolutely just vehemently against the legislature, and, I mean, the kind of people that were involved, and the slush funds, and the corruption, was really, really bad.

So, maybe it's part of the -- part of human nature, you know, like I always say, it's politics. Poly means more than one, and tics are blood sucking parasites. Now that's who might be in there by now, and probably you and me, if we were, you know, if we spent thirty years in Congress, would become a little tainted.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. We'd be carriers, I'm certain of that. It seems to affect a lot of people once they get in that office. What's your take on the situation with the two gentlemen running for Senate this go, Mister Ted or Raphael Eduardo Cruz, and or Beto O'Rourke? What's your take on those two?

KINKY FRIEDMAN: Well, I'm looking at it pretty much from a Jewish angle, but the Jewish angle is very appealing to Christians as well. In other words, the question to put to Beto, I think, is why he was one of only eight people in Congress that voted against giving the Iron Dome, or selling the Iron Dome, to Israel, which has saved thousands of lives, because Hamas has never stopped firing rockets.

And he's perfect for Congress, you know. I mean, he's just right to be a Senator, actually, because all the Senators think they're smarter than everybody else. Every one of them thinks they should be president.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah.

KINKY FRIEDMAN: I think Trump is a reality star, in a reality world right now.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah.

KINKY FRIEDMAN: And he might be better suited than most people think, to handling that job. And really I just think outside of Churchill, Lincoln, and Jesus, I can't think of anybody that's been mocked more than Trump. So he must be doing something right.

DEAN BECKER: Well all right, friends, once again we've been speaking with Mister Kinky Friedman.

KINKY FRIEDMAN: We'll see, you know, I mean, I could be very wrong on that, you know, Beto could turn out to be really somebody good. But I think he's a good politician, and that always worries me.

I've actually met both of those guys, and I kind of liked them. You know, that's where I think I met Beto, at a drug war deal, and I was really impressed with the number of retired FBI people and retired, all kinds of government people that really felt that the war on drugs has been one of the biggest mistakes that we've ever gotten ourselves into.

I was up in Oklahoma, and I couldn't believe it, you know, Oklahoma's, if they didn't legalize pot, they've come very close to it.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. Yeah.

KINKY FRIEDMAN: And, that's way ahead of us here, who, I mean, we have the finest cancer hospital in the world, M. D. Anderson, and we don't have medicinal marijuana.

DEAN BECKER: But we do have doctors in those hospitals recommending it on the side, which is just plain crazy, again.

KINKY FRIEDMAN: Oh, it's absolutely nuts, and all you've got to do is look at a little state like Colorado, and how much income they've generated, and they've made a safe harbor for -- Israel is now giving marijuana to autistic children, to people with Alzheimer's. Seems to be working with these people, seems to be focusing them and putting them more at, you know, at peace with themselves.

And if that's true, and it's working, well, we're making a, you know, we're on the wrong side of this deal, and I would have thought Texas would have been way the hell ahead of Oklahoma.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. Oh, it would make a lot of sense. Yeah, I'm starting up a new organization called Conscientious Objectors to Drug War, and I hope to recruit a lot of ministers and politicians to get on board, because everybody knows it's a failure.

KINKY FRIEDMAN: Yeah, why does it continue?

DEAN BECKER: I don't know. I think we've got to ask one simple question of the drug czar, any top dog, and that is, what is the benefit of drug war?

KINKY FRIEDMAN: I mean, all the good people have been killed. The bad people are still, you know, I mean, what did Voltaire say, Truth forever on the scaffold, crime forever on the throne [sic: "Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne" - from the poem The Present Crisis by James Russell Lowell]. Yeah. That's the way it is, right now.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. Oh man, you know it, and the money just keeps flowing into the same big pockets.

KINKY FRIEDMAN: Yeah. I couldn't believe the amount of money that's been spent, and energy, and lives. So, yeah, I mean, I'm with you all the way in that. I just, I can't believe Oklahoma's a more progressive place than Texas.

That document -- one documentary by Sanjay Gupta on CNN, did you see that? Where the little girl had a hundred seizures every day?

DEAN BECKER: Yes. Dravet's Syndrome.

KINKY FRIEDMAN: Twelve year old girl, and they give her just a drop of liquid pot, the right kind of stuff, though, you know, not anything, but they give it to her and it cut her down to one.

DEAN BECKER: Right.

KINKY FRIEDMAN: One seizure a day, from a hundred.

DEAN BECKER: Well, there's a --

KINKY FRIEDMAN: I mean, it's totally a life-threatening situation with her, and this stuff has worked, and they've documented it all, and, you know, it's all part of this video documentary thing, I mean, all you've got to do is look at it, it's, the girl is doing very well now.

DEAN BECKER: Well, Doctor Gupta's not going to allow his reputation to be sullied by bad info, and he's standing up again for the old folks now, he's standing up again for, you know --

KINKY FRIEDMAN: That's right. Well, that's two places that seem to be taking a real progressive attitude are Colorado and Israel.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah.

KINKY FRIEDMAN: And they've got kibbutzes there that are strictly, you know, they, I mean, imagine the thought of giving pot to a person with Alzheimer's. But, that's what's being, or to little children, it's being done, and they're also giving pot to people in the hospitals now, in Israel.

Now, I mean, you watch, there will be -- there'll be some big, big, very good stuff like the, whatever they give the Nobel Prize for medicine or whatever, that kind of stuff, like, and it should go to American doctors because we have the facilities to do this, but we just won't touch it.

You know, all you have to do is look at the, really all you've got to do is look at Colorado and see that it's become a harbor for people in Texas, say, who have autistic children. I mean, they would rather be in Colorado, where they can get treatment.

Well, I think the enemy is chemotherapy, and the kind of path we've taken. We've, you know, we have all this money put into radiation and chemo and all this sort of thing, and that will kill a person over a period of time, so, if you can eradicate the symptoms, I mean, if you can get rid of, here's a person that can't sleep, sounds like me, I guess find what you like and let it kill you, but this -- this is killing them, that's for sure.

DEAN BECKER: Oh yeah. Yeah.

KINKY FRIEDMAN: And, that one -- that one, I guess it's part of the drug war. I mean, it's all part of, how are you doing to handle this? We need another way than what we're doing now, that's all. What we're doing now ain't working, and all these places, like Colorado and Oklahoma and Canada and Israel, they're out -- I'll predict, and I was saying this, that we're going to be left in the dust in this thing.

It's medicine, it doesn't look like it's getting any better.

DEAN BECKER: Friends, once again, we've been speaking with Mister Kinky Friedman, Texas raconteur, is that a good word to use?

KINKY FRIEDMAN: Governor of the heart of Texas, right, and may the lord take a liking to you, Dean.

DEAN BECKER: Well, I know the lord has certainly taken a liking to Mister Kinky Friedman. Be sure to join us next week, we have some representatives of the Harm Reduction Coalition to talk about their forthcoming conference, going to happen in New Orleans October 18 through 21. I hope to be there reporting on your behalf, and 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.