01/30/19 Lui Larotta

 Lui LaRotta, Chairman. Harris County Republican Auxiliary Clubs , John Baucum, political director of Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition, Jason Tarasek re Minnesota Legislature to Consider Ending Marijuana Prohibition & Emily Kaltenbach of DPA re N. Mexico move to make drug possession a misdemeanor

Program: 
Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Date: 
Wednesday, January 30, 2019
Guest: 
John Baucum
Organization: 
Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition
John Baucum
Download: Audio icon FDBCB013019.mp3
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CULTURAL BAGGAGE

JANUARY 30, 2019

TRANSCRIPT

DEAN BECKER: Hello, friends, welcome to this edition of Cultural Baggage. I am Dean Becker, the Reverend Most High, and let's just get to it.

I want to welcome Lui Larotta. Hello, Lui.

LUI LAROTTA: Hi Dean, thanks for having me.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah, Lui, tell us about yourself.

LUI LAROTTA: I can start probably with the Navy, that's usually a good starting block. I served in the Navy about six years as nuclear engineer on board the USS Nimitz.

And most recently, since 2011, when I was engaged with the presidential campaign of Ron Paul, I became a member of the Republican Liberty Caucus, which is the Republican Party's version of the Libertarian's people.

So, one of the things that we advocate for strongly is the decriminalization and eventually the legalization of cannabis, because, as we all know, there's so many byproducts, there's so many potential benefits that we just don't know about because it's still a Schedule One narcotic.

So, we work closely with other groups around Houston, around the state, and particularly with the people who are in most need: children with epilepsy. My father was a cancer patient since June. He recently passed a few weeks ago, but I can tell you that we did treat him with cannabis, CBD oil and THC, and from what we could tell, and from what the medical results were, his tumors decreased.

So, there's a very strong indication that cannabis does work for a variety of symptoms, and we think it's time that Texas really takes a closer look at this. Texas is a state that observes and respects property rights, individual liberty, and this is a decision that, between healthcare provider and patient, should be discussed, we should leave the politicians out of this.

And eventually, you know, consenting adults, responsible adults, should have the right to do with their bodies as they see fit. Wouldn't you say, Dean?

DEAN BECKER: Oh, I agree with you, Lui, and that's what compels, kept me going for the last twenty years. I want to bring up this thought, that the science, the knowledge, the awareness of the potential, of the actuality, the usefulness of the cannabis plant, is becoming more widespread, more recognized, and embraced by more politicians.

Now, it's not near the tsunami we want or expect some day, but it is changing. It is shifting, is it not, Lui?

LUI LAROTTA: Absolutely. I mean, I think we noticed that with the outgoing House Speaker [John Boehner], who had for years, he had only come out against any kind of marijuana, cannabis legalization, and yet, you know, years after he's been out of the House, now he's advocating for it.

So I think that, maybe, for politicians, it's not politically expedient. There's still some backlash. But most of them understand that there -- that most of the country at this point has some form of legalization, and I think it's something that they can't hold back, but they're playing it very safe, so that's why it's up to us to keep the pressure mounting on them.

Because like you said, there's a lot of research already out there. Israel has done quite a bit of research, and also Spain, I've been following a few doctors out in Spain who've done quite a bit of research on the medical benefits of cannabis.

So, I think it's going in the right direction. I don't like some of the things I see with Big Pharma and, you know, trying to basically patent some of the chemical properties of a plant, because eventually, I think, why would we want the government in charge of controlling plants?

And you can grow something like this in your back yard, and medicate yourself, so that, to me, is a little bit concerning. I would like to see less of the government involved and just give way so that people can use this plant responsibly, and for the conditions that, you know, that impair them the most.

DEAN BECKER: Right. Now, you know, you mentioned the, I'm going to call it hypocrisy, the former Speaker now coming out in favor of marijuana, and it's indicative of, I think, what's going on, hell, around the world, that up in Canada, former prosecutors and police chiefs et cetera are now actively participating, are stockholders, in many of those legal marijuana companies that are up there in Canada, now.

The hypocrisy is just enormous. It's writ large, is it not?

LUI LAROTTA: Yeah, it's -- it was politically expedient to do it now, and they're -- they just set this up perfectly, so that when things cascade in the direction of cannabis, they're going to be the beneficiaries, so, you know, that's what politicians are going to do, unfortunately.

I wish there was a way to just get rid of them and start over, but that's going to have to be another discussion, Dean.

DEAN BECKER: Well, it is. It is. Now, we, by that I mean various groups, are going to be going to Austin on February Seventh.

LUI LAROTTA: Correct.

DEAN BECKER: To reach out, to appeal to, to discuss, to hopefully change the mindset of more politicians. What do you anticipate, what do you think we might accomplish this spring in Austin?

LUI LAROTTA: Well, being hopeful, I would say that, you know, we have to look at states that have had an opioid crisis and that have had some form of legalization of marijuana, and statistics show that there's a sharp decrease in the opioid addiction statistics in that state, so we can look at it from that perspective, that this is an alternative to a very critical junction of our country where we're seeing a lot of people suffering from prescription medication.

So I think we have the logic behind us, we have a strong vocal group of women that have been advocating for expanding the compassionate users program in Texas, and I think that if, we'll have to see how the Speaker feels about the issue, because this is kind of relatively new territory now, but, if we can get it here, if we can get a vote, I think that would be the most critical thing that we could accomplish this legislative session.

What -- oftentimes what happens is that politicians will see an issue that they don't want to touch and they just won't present it to the floor. So, that would be very disappointing, so we have to keep the pressure up on them.

I'm very familiar with Ann Lee's organization, Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition, also Heather Fazio's organization, and we plan to be there as well on, I believe it's February Seventh.

DEAN BECKER: Yes.

LUI LAROTTA: This next coming week, and we'll be there as well.

DEAN BECKER: I don't know, compulsion, this need, this drive to stand up, to speak up, to protest, if you will, the ongoing misery created by these draconian laws.

LUI LAROTTA: I argue that, you know, the state of Colorado has lifted itself out of a terrible financial position. They've increased tourism into the state, which we all know already had a booming tourism industry, and I think that the statistics have shown that children actually have been using marijuana less, underage children, under 18, from surveys.

So, I think there's a lot of misconception out there. I think alcohol's a far more dangerous drug, and I think prescription drugs are far more dangerous than cannabis.

DEAN BECKER: Right.

LUI LAROTTA: So, we have to combat the narrative of, you know, misconception, misinformation, there's still people out there advocating, saying marijuana's a gateway drug. So, you can see how far back people are reaching for a sensible argument.

So, it's up to responsible people like us to speak up, speak often, and speak clearly, and address these concerns. I think fear is what drives a lot of people into cornering themselves into positions where they don't feel like there's anything left to discuss.

So we have to point out what it is that is actually causing them that apprehension, address it, and then keep that conversation moving forward, because there's just too much evidence out there that marijuana, cannabis, has far more greater use as a substance that we can use, that we can treat people with, that we can treat ourselves, we can treat depression, several of the people in my organizations I participate in here in Houston, with the Lone Star Veterans Association, Wounded Warrior, I can tell you there's a lot of guys out there with PTSD, and there's even a handful more that would like to see the VA allow veterans to use cannabis as a substitute for some of the prescription medication that they've been given.

And I can say from personal experience, because I'm a patient of the VA's, I know the VA thinks it has a solution for you, it will send you tons and tons of pills a month, and they don't care if you take them or not.

So what does that -- what kind of message does that send to the people who've been released from active duty? You know, pill popping is a solution to your problems? I don't think so. I think that sets a terrible narrative, and I think we really need to explore holistic solutions.

And, it's just a plant. To be really honest, I don't see what the hang-ups are. But, you know, we know the arguments, we just have to get out there and we have to tell the people in Congress, we have to tell the state legislators, especially here in Texas.

And three dispensaries really isn't enough. It's a pilot program, and some people have also argued that it's still made it increasingly difficult for medical professionals to get engaged because it's a federal crime.

So we need, the states really need to nullify what the fed hasn't done yet, and if Donald Trump won't do it, I think that we have to prove, like in so many other states, that we have the courage to do the right thing.

DEAN BECKER: All right, folks. Well, we've been speaking with Mister Lui Larotta. He's very much involved with the Harris County Republican Party and with efforts here in the state of Texas to educate, embolden, and change the mindset of our politicians to allow for marijuana. I want to thank you, Lui.

LUI LAROTTA: Thank you, Dean, and I look forward to seeing you up in Austin.

DEAN BECKER: We just heard from Mister Lui Larotta, talking about the forthcoming event in Austin, Texas. Here to tell us more about it is the political director of Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition, Mister John Baucum. Hey, John, how you doing?

JOHN BAUCUM: Doing great, Dean. Thanks for having me.

DEAN BECKER: John, tell us first off about RAMP, Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition.

JOHN BAUCUM: Yeah, RAMP, we're a political caucus with the GOP, so we try to advocate from a conservative perspective why prohibition is a failed policy. It goes against Republican values such as limited government, individual responsibility, and fiscal responsibility as well.

So, we like to, you know, say there are the unicorns out there, Republicans who believe that marijuana should not be prohibited, and we try to explain to our peers within the Republican party why that's the case, and really make strong, factual based arguments from all those angles, from an individual liberty aspect as well as from a financial and limited government perspective as well.

DEAN BECKER: Well, there have always been those few Republicans, Rand Paul, Ron Paul, if you want to call them both Republicans. They certainly lean that direction. But there have been many others along the way.

And, I was talking to Lui about this, that as of late, more and more politicians on both sides of the equation are starting to recognize, embrace, and make use of the science that's been developed over the last ten, twenty, thirty years, that marijuana is not the devil's lettuce. It is not the, I don't know, to be seen as evil and wicked.

JOHN BAUCUM: Yeah, I think you're right. And part of that has to do with just the, you know, unfortunately not as much research coming out of this country as should be, but just research coming from around the world, and then some of the states that have opened up their medical programs and seeing patients, whether it be anecdotal or clinical evidence based research, that there is an efficacy of cannabis for a multitude of medical types of conditions.

And I think also you're seeing a lot of people that are looking at it from the criminal justice perspective, too, realizing that it's not a fantastic use of our law enforcement resources to lock people in jail for possessing a plant, who are relatively non dangerous, nonviolent individuals.

If we think people are addicted to cannabis, then we should deal with that outside of our criminal justice system. And it's great to see that there is a lot of momentum and movement going forward, but it's happening very slowly, and we want to, you know, try to push that ball a little bit forward.

Specifically in Texas, Texas is really behind the curve when it comes to understanding cannabis, both as a medicine and then also understanding the very harsh criminal penalties that we have in Texas.

So, we really need to get on board with the rest of the country. You know, let's not be just tough on crime, but let's be smart on crime and right on crime, and really make sure we're prioritizing those law enforcement resources.

And then we also see around the country the economic boom both in tax revenue for the governments, and also in new job creation for individuals through the blossoming, you know, medical marijuana industry as well as the adult use marijuana industry.

DEAN BECKER: Right. And, you know, Texas is probably the most entrenched in the old propaganda belief system. It was El Paso, 1913, 1914, that first made marijuana illegal. Texas was among the first of the states, I think 1922, '24, to make it illegal on a state level.

And it's going to take a little bit more to undo the propaganda here, but I think that the links are breaking, that more politicians are standing forth, hell, even Beto O'Rourke was running for US Senate and he was talking about legalizing marijuana, openly. It's not the taboo it once was.

JOHN BAUCUM: Sure, and, you know, prohibition didn't start overnight, it's not going to be ended overnight, and I think we are making great progress. Unfortunately, especially within Texas and I think within much of the south, you still have a lot of that reefer madness propaganda, and you know we hear it all the time.

And, what I always tell activists is, go into these meetings with your legislators prepared with facts. Research this issue thoroughly, so when they throw out some BS propaganda piece, some talking point of theirs, you can refute that with fact based evidence and explain to them why they're wrong.

And, it's really interesting to see them sort of spin on their toes when one, they understand that you know this issue very well, you've done your research, you understand your facts. And when you present those to them, usually they'll just start kind of spinning away and maybe using other talking points, and you refute those.

And eventually they realize they have no business being in this conversation, because they have not researched it as meticulously, they're relying on falsehoods that they've been fed for decades and decades, and many of those for very negative reasons such as, you know, we all know that the racism and how that was borne out of the war on drugs, and specifically the war on cannabis.

DEAN BECKER: Right. Harry J. Anslinger, the first US drug czar, if you will. He was quoting as saying, reefer makes darkies think they're as good as a white man. And that's where it all came from, is that it was a way to dismiss and, a means to put down our fellow man as being less than through the use of a plant.

JOHN BAUCUM: Yeah, and hopefully, you know, as negative as the connotation with cannabis has been over the past, hopefully it can totally flip that on its head and be, you know, really seen as an economic miracle, as a miracle for patients, you know, we're seeing research even here at the Texas Medical Center in Houston, with MD Anderson, Baylor College of Medicine, and other hospitals utilizing cannabinoids in treatment for things like epilepsy, cancer, and other types of conditions.

So, we really need to unleash this plant. It's going to be a boom to our medical community, it's going to be a boom economically, and really we just have to get the bureaucrats and the politicians out of the way, let the doctors and the patients make the right decisions, let responsible adults use cannabis just like they would, you know, other things such as alcohol or wine, beer, et cetera, in a responsible way.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. All right, friends, well, once again we've been speaking with Mister John Baucum, the political director for Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition. Now, John, as I understand it, there's still some seats left on the bus, so to speak, the bus headed from Houston to Austin for the February Seventh day in Austin. Tell us a little bit more about that, how folks can get involved and get on the bus.

JOHN BAUCUM: Sure, yeah, we're really excited about the lobby day, you know, this will be the third year that RAMP has chartered a bus out of Houston to go to Austin. We'll meet about 7 AM at the Marq-E Center, at I-10 and Silber, and then we'll get on the bus, go to Austin, and spend the day at the capitol having some training, and some legislative meetings.

And then we'll all get on the bus and come home together, so, it's a really fantastic opportunity to, one, be a part of your government, go and participate in the process, sharing your beliefs and your opinions with our lawmakers, as well as meeting other people that are activists within the movement, whether those be from a patient perspective or criminal justice perspective.

It really does help build a bond when we get to share that long bus ride and share each others stories, and train new people that maybe have never done that before on the property way to go into these meetings, to prepare their arguments, and be ready to, you know, to answer any rebuttals that might come their way.

So, we're very excited about it. The easiest way to find it is on Facebook, we have an event page. If you google RAMP Lobby Day Bus, it will come up. You can also find us through eventbrite, if you search RAMP Lobby Day Bus on eventbrite. You can also email me at johnb@RAMPGOP.org, and I'd be happy to connect with you as well.

And, it's a great time, very exciting. We're going to have hundreds of activists from all across the state rallying in Austin together. And typically we'll go in as a group to these different legislative offices and share our stories, share our testimony, and it creates a really powerful impression on the legislators and their staff when they hear these stories, they see the outpouring of support.

If we're not showing up to tell our government what we believe in and what we want, then potentially our opposition is, and we want our voices to be heard and our voices to be louder, but we also want to be respectful of the process and respectful of their time, and respectful of their opinions, too, because not everybody knows this issue so well.

So, it's frustrating sometimes when you hear a politician give you sort of a no answer, you know, oh, well that's interesting, I'll consider this. And we want to hear yes, I will support this wholeheartedly.

But we have to understand, they don't know it necessarily as well as we do, so we want to continue building that relationship, really be that trusted adviser to provide the information articulately, factually, and present the arguments both on the medical front and in the waste of resources on the criminal justice front, and we need to move in a different direction.

And, you know, we're hoping that we'll have some success. We'd love to have anyone that's listening, we'd love to have you join us. If you don't want to take the bus you can get in your car and drive to Austin February Seventh, and we'll be rallying in the capitol, in the extension. It will be very easy to find us, and we'd be happy to get you plugged in and help you all participate in this event.

DEAN BECKER: It's time to play Name That Drug By Its Side Effects! Fever, headache, dizziness, abdominal pain, influenza like symptoms, fatigue, edema, diarrhea, depression, hypertension, plasmapheresis, thrombocytopenia, renal dysfunction, and death. Time's up! The answer, from Bristol-Myers Squibb: Plavix, to fight blood clots.

JASON TARASEK: My name is Jason Tarasek, I am the Minnesota political director for the Marijuana Policy Project. I am an attorney in Minneapolis. I have been working on adult use legislation for the last few months.

We now have four bills introduced in the Minnesota legislature. Well, we soon will have four bills introduced. So, things are moving quickly.

DEAN BECKER: Well, and I'm from Texas, and I think we're up to thirteen bills that are being introduced. We have a situation, every two years our legislature gets together so there's a lot of hope down here that we'll get some traction.

But, describe the bills you have up there. I don't think we have anything near legalization as yet.

JASON TARASEK: So, there's one bill that would put it to the voters, as a ballot initiative of sorts. There's another bill that just got introduced to legalize adult use through the legislature. And that would be in the model of the Colorado laws, and the Washington law. That's the one that MPP supports.

There are more aggressive bills coming down the pike soon, I think, from the activist community. I don't recall the exact number of plants for home grow, but it's something on the order of a couple;dozen, so it's pretty aggressive.

So, I don't know how likely it is that that will pass, but, at the same time, what I've told the activists is go for it. Maybe you guys will prove me wrong.

DEAN BECKER: Well, and I think that's kind of the unknown. We had, across the country, for decades, you know, a great reluctance on politicians to do anything to, you know, change the cannabis laws, but now, it seems like in every state, there are a few, if not several, rather bold politicians speaking more openly of a greater need for change.

So I guess we can always just keep our fingers crossed, right, Jason?

JASON TARASEK: Yeah, and I think it turns on politics, you know. It might not be surprising to you, but, we elected a governor in Minnesota who campaigned on legalization. Our house, state house, is now controlled by Democrats, and the senate in Minnesota is not controlled by Democrats, but the Republicans only control is by one vote.

So, we're taking sort of a long range approach here in Minnesota, you know, if we can't get it done in this session, after the 2020 election we're hoping that the Democrats can take control of the Minnesota senate and then really in a position to get a bill passed.

DEAN BECKER: The future does look bright, because there are fewer and fewer people who quote believe in this drug war as time goes by. Your closing thoughts there, Jason.

JASON TARASEK: Yeah, just think, you know the more states that legalize it, the harder it will be for the others to hold out, you know. Minnesota shares a border with Canada, and it, marijuana is legal in Canada now, and North Dakota, one of Minnesota's neighbors, had a ballot initiative to legalize cannabis.

So, you know, as it sort of gets closer and closer, it gets harder to sort of justify keeping it illegal, especially when it can result in hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue every year. I mean, I don't know what politician would say no.

DEAN BECKER: Good point. All right, friends, we've been speaking with Jason Tarasek. If folks want to learn more about what's going on in Minnesota, please point them to the right website.

JASON TARASEK: Sure. So, you can go to MPP.org. I've also co-founded something called Minnesotans for Responsible Marijuana Regulation. It's a multi-partisan group. That website is MNISREADY.org.

DEAN BECKER: Real good. Jason, I wish you guys great success.

JASON TARASEK: Thank you.

DEAN BECKER: All right, folks, today we're going to hear some news coming out of Santa Fe, New Mexico, courtesy of the Drug Policy Alliance and their representative, Emily Kaltenbach. Emily, tell us what went on in Santa Fe today, please.

EMILY KALTENBACH: Today was a real exciting day. A bill was introduced that we believe will be a real game changer for New Mexico families. It's Senate Bill 408, and what that bill will do is reduce penalties for simple possession, from felonies to misdemeanors.

Currently in New Mexico, any amount of a controlled substance other than marijuana is considered a felony, a fourth degree felony, and so what this would do is reduce it to a misdemeanor, following in the footsteps of many other states, nineteen states in fact that have done this.

DEAN BECKER: Well, and there are locales around the US, like my Harris County, Houston, they have decided to look at things differently at least. We used to, you know, indict people for a hundredth of a gram, but I think they tend to overlook at least the minor amounts these days.

It's just common sense, isn't it?

EMILY KALTENBACH: Absolutely. I mean, here's someone who could, you know, be caught shoplifting, and there's a syringe in their pocket with trace amounts of heroin. The shoplifting would have been a petty misdemeanor, but now that the syringe was found with residue, that person then could have a felony on their record for the rest of their lives, and we know what that does.

The collateral consequences are extreme, and the cost to the taxpayers is extreme.

DEAN BECKER: Well, one thing I note in the release you guys sent out, it will lead to a significant decrease in prison population, and millions in savings, and that's, that's just a no brainer, isn't it?

EMILY KALTENBACH: Oh, absolutely. I mean, not only in prison savings. A lot of people are spending time for their felonies in our county jails, and we know the county jails are just bleeding, you know, they can't afford to be housing people and we shouldn't be housing people that are -- we need to deal with this as a public health issue.

DEAN BECKER: Emily, do you guys not have a strong medical marijuana law?

EMILY KALTENBACH: So, we do. We have a great medical cannabis law that has been on the books since 2007. New Mexico was one of the first states to have a state license system, so the Department of Health licenses the producers and has a patient registry.

And it's regulated out of that department, and other states actually follow that model, after New Mexico passed our law in '07.

DEAN BECKER: Well, I feel kind of jealous. Here we are in Texas, we've got Oklahoma as I understand just came up with a boffo, just wonderful medical marijuana law, and we've got you guys on our west side. What would be your recommendation to those considering or wanting to help make these changes happen? How do you deal with your legislators?

EMILY KALTENBACH: Well, I mean, it's about compassion. Right? Our, New Mexico's law is called The Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act. We know now so much more than we did when New Mexico passed their law, that cannabis helps patients dealing with their chronic and acute illnesses.

It should be a compliment to other medications, and so, you know, I think it's important for legislators to hear from patients themselves. That really made the difference in New Mexico, when people stood up, the cancer patient saying, you know, this is about alleviating my pain and suffering. It has medicinal properties, I think that's really important for legislators to hear from their constituents.

I think it's also important for them to hear from researchers and clinicians, because we're starting slowly to be able to see some research.

DEAN BECKER: Right, and I would think that, you know, the headline of our interview today, that you guys are considering making drug possession a misdemeanor, what's your thought? How many legislators are on board, what does your governor think, what are your odds?

EMILY KALTENBACH: Well, it's the first time we've ever introduced this type of legislation in New Mexico. So, we're not quite sure what the path to success looks like, but, we, so far, the proposal has been met with a lot of positive responses.

I think people realize that the burden on our economy of all the individuals that have felonies on their records, who can't get jobs, the separation of families, the -- we know that felony convictions don't make our public more safe, doesn't make our public more safe.

So, I think people are starting to warm to the idea. And then I think also it helps to know that states like Oklahoma and Utah have done this. If they can do it, New Mexico can, and Texas can.

DEAN BECKER: Well, I've got my fingers crossed, and, is there a place where folks can learn more about your efforts, a website you might point them to?

EMILY KALTENBACH: Yeah, to DrugPolicy.org. You can go to our New Mexico page, and also, if people are in New Mexico listening, they can sign up as members and they'll get our action alerts. And we'll be posting our press releases there so they can follow our work.

DEAN BECKER: Well, Emily Kaltenbach, I thank you.

EMILY KALTENBACH: Oh, I thank you. Thanks for the time and the interest.

DEAN BECKER: Well, that's about all we can squeeze in, and again I remind you, because of prohibition you don't know what's in that bag. Please, be careful.