05/22/19 Larry Krassner

This week on Century of Lies, the UK House of Commons discusses medical cannabis prescribing, and the Philadelphia City Council and Philly DA Larry Krassner talk about harm reduction and supervised consumption sites.

Program: 
Century of Lies
Date: 
Wednesday, May 22, 2019
Guest: 
Larry Krassner
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CENTURY OF LIES

MAY 22, 2019

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.

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

On Monday May Twentieth, the UK Parliament’s House of Commons held a lengthy discussion about medical marijuana and government policy regarding prescription and availability of medical cannabis. We’re going to hear some of that debate in a moment.

First: On Wednesday April 24, the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania City Council held a hearing on the budget request for that city’s District Attorney’s office. Philly District Attorney Larry Krassner testified before the Council. At-Large City Council Member Al Taubenberger asked DA Krassner about supervised injection sites.

PHILADELPHIA CITY COUNCIL MEMBER AL TAUBENBERGER: I do have a question that relates, a question that I'm asked, many times, as a city council member at large, regarding safe injection sites. Do you have a position on that, or some thoughts on that?

DISTRICT ATTORNEY LARRY KRASSNER: Well, I do have - I do have a position in the sense that the only issue that I will face, or may face, is whether or not as the local prosecutorial authority, I would prosecute it.

And my answer has been, and remains, that I will not prosecute a responsibly run supervised injection site, for the same reason that in a prior life when I was a young attorney I defended Prevention Point, which we now all accept as being an appropriate clean needle exchange program, and we now all laud its benefits in terms of preventing the spread of hepatitis C, preventing the spread of HIV, at a time when AIDS really was a terrifying specter that killed over nine hundred people in a single year.

We now all accept that as being an okeh thing, but we didn't then. At that time, Ernie Preate, who was the attorney general [sic: of Pennsylvania], was threatening to prosecute all of them, and he was threatening to do so because he had a claim, and it was not a frivolous claim, that he could have gone after them for violating contraband, a contraband type statute, meaning that the needles were in fact for the purpose of people who would then take it and use it to inject drugs.

I support not prosecuting supervised injection sites for one reason that is moral and one reason that is legal. And the moral reason is that dead people cannot recover, and if we do not give people the ability to survive long enough to achieve their own recovery, then I think we have all failed.

There are three to four people who die every single day in Philadelphia from fatal drug overdoses, most of it is coming from opioids and especially with fentanyl, which is so volatile, it's incredibly unpredictable. Fentanyl has now by the way creeped into the crack supply, and so we are seeing people who may have been addicted to crack for twenty five years doing what they have always done, and ending up dead.

It is a bona fide crisis, and that is the moral reason, as far as I'm concerned. I don't know how I could do anything else. But there is a legal reason, which is that under Pennsylvania law, we have the defense of justification, and what we generally know that to be is self defense.

But what it says is, you can break a law that is not as serious as the harm you prevent. Okeh? I mean, it's a principle that comes out of the Old Testament, among others.

And so, when the husband is driving at a hundred miles an hour to get to the emergency room because something terrible is happening with his wife's pregnancy and he has a real fear that she's going to die if he doesn't get there quickly, he has a defense. He shouldn't have gone a hundred and five ordinarily but he has a defense, because he was justified in order to prevent the loss of life to his wife or child.

And that's what's happening here. What's happening here is you have idealistic medical students, you have activists who are trying by responsible means to stop death from occurring, and in my mind, that is what the law says. The law says under Pennsylvania that this is justified and therefore unworthy of prosecution.

I understand that our federal prosecutor, an appointee of our president Donald Trump, has a different view, but frankly he and I have different views on a whole lot of things, and I do not, and I say this very respectfully to you, Councilman, I'm not suggesting you're making this argument at all, and I have great respect for you, but I don't respect - I don't accept the notion that people are going to decide, gee, there's a supervised injection site, I've never injected drugs, I think it sounds like a good Saturday night to try.

I mean, to me, that argument is about as hollow as the argument used to be that if condoms are available, then teens will try sex for the first time. No, actually, they were going to have sex anyway. They were just going to have unprotected sex, and there was going to be more pregnancy and there was going to be more transmission of sexually transmitted diseases.

People do not say gee whiz, now that there's a supervised injection site, I can hardly wait to inject heroin. They just don't do that. So I do not accept the notion that it normalizes, I don't think it does that at all.

I consider it to be a medical facility, the purpose of which is to make sure people who don't have to die don't die, so they can achieve their own redemption by recovery later.

PHILADELPHIA CITY COUNCIL MEMBER AL TAUBENBERGER: Thank you for your very complete answer on that. And, I have to say, also well founded. I don't agree entirely with it, but, every position you've had here is well founded and you have explained your reasoning, and I appreciate that.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krassner answering a question about supervised injection sites. The city of Philadelphia is one of many in the US that hope to set up a supervised injection site officially and legally.

Prevention Point and others who are working on this, we wish the all the luck in the world and hope for their great success.

You’re listening to Century of Lies. I’m your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

From the US we now go to the UK, where on Monday May Twentieth Members of Parliament in the House of Commons had a debate on medical cannabis prescribing. We’re going to hear portions of that discussion now.

The motion is introduced by the Right Honorable Sir Mike Penning, Conservative Party MP for Hemel Hempstead.

SIR MIKE PENNING, MP: Thank you very much indeed, Madame Deputy Speaker, and it is a real privilege to stand here, to represent families from across the country and with colleagues from across the House who I'm sure will be scampering in in all haste when they realize how fast the previous business has moved on. And this gives us a suitable amount of time, some five hours, to debate something which is really, really serious.

Madame Deputy Speaker, on the Eighth of April, Mister Speaker granted me an urgent question with support from other colleagues from across the House on the medical use of cannabis, and in particular when a young lady’s medical cannabis had been removed from the family’s possession when they came through customs at Southend airport in Essex.

The young lady concerned was a lady called Teagan, and Teagan's family are ardent campaigners, and they know, because they have been abroad, and had the cannabis medical oil given to Teagan, that it had a really helpful effect.

What had an even more dramatic effect on Teagan’s family is probably not unexpectedly when Border Force confiscated the oil. I don't blame Border Force or the Home Office, and we'll go into the history of how we got to this position in a moment, but they were doing their jobs.

However, after long conversations on the phone that evening and conversations with the Speaker, I was really, really pleased when we got the UQ [Urgent Question].

The UQ meant that this House could come together and ask the question why, why was an oil which had been prescribed, admittedly it was prescribed abroad, but it was prescribed, taken away from a young lady that desperately needed it because of the seizures that she had because of the epileptic condition that she has.

The oil was taken away, it was promised to the family, quite rightly, but it was promised that it wouldn't be damaged and it would be kept in a safe place.

On the Saturday after the UQ, so a week later, a prescription was accepted by the Health and Social Care Department and the Home Office, eventually. And I say “eventually” because the confusion around this medical product, prescribed medical product, is fascinating to me even within the medical profession.

The first prescription was rejected, and she wasn't allowed to have the oil back because it hadn't mentioned the word “oil” in the prescription. Even though the description of what the product was was completely accurate, it wasn't - didn't have the word “oil”.

A new prescription was issued with the word “oil”, and it was released. And Madame Deputy Speaker, believe it or not, conversations took place as to who was going to pay, who was going to pay for the transportation of that medical oil to Teagan.

?KEVIN BRENNAN: Would you yield?

SIR MIKE PENNING: I naturally will do.

KEVIN BRENNAN. I'm grateful. Can I congratulate him and my colleague, my friend from the Gower as well, for the work that they've have done on behalf of the APPG [All-Party Parliamentary Group] and on behalf of my constituent Bailey Williams and his family.

And his mother has written to me about today’s debate, she unfortunately can't attend, but to say that Bailey really needs urgent access to medical cannabis because of the continuing effect his constant seizure activity is having on him.

Does he feel as frustrated as I do that, many months after the Government first indicated that this could be prescribed, that he's having to describe what he's describing now, and I'm having to once again raise Bailey’s case on the Floor of the House?

SIR MIKE PENNING: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. But that's what we're here for. Yes, we're frustrated, yes we're angry, but actually we're here to do something which is really very important.

And the only reason that the Home Office deregulated this drug and we're in this position today, is because this House came together -

SIR DESMOND SWAYNE: [unintelligible]

SIR MIKE PENNING: - and, more importantly - bear with me - more importantly, the families came together, families that have young children, and I am a father myself, like lots of colleagues in this House, and said this is fundamentally wrong. Why is it illegal. It helps my child, and we know it helps my child. So that's why we're here today. I give way to my friend.

SIR DESMOND SWAYNE: Am I right therefore in my assessment that Ministers have bent over backwards, we have acted in this Chamber to ensure that these products are now available, and the problem is in the medical profession? And now, what more can we do? I know it's interfering in the medical profession, but, frankly, that's now becoming necessary.

SIR MIKE PENNING: I thank my honorable friend, and he's absolutely right. The Secretary of State stood at that Dispatch Box following the urgent question and laid out in plain English that it is not illegal for a suitably qualified person to prescribe these medical products, so how are we still here?

Perhaps as I go through this speech -

FRANK FIELD: May I interrupt the right honorable Gentleman?

SIR MIKE PENNING: If I can - for a second.

FRANK FIELD: It relates to that very point.

SIR MIKE PENNING: I give way.

FRANK FIELD: Thank you very, very much.

DEPUTY SPEAKER DAME ELEANOR LAING: Frank Fielding.

FRANK FIELDING: Because when we heard the Home Secretary make this initiative, we all thought those whose children were doing themselves - the fits were, in effect, ruining their children's lives, would actually now, from now, would actually find solace. Not for those whose children were beyond help at that stage, but in the future.

Given that we want it, given that the Home Secretary wants it, given that the parents want it, given that individual doctors want to prescribe, there is clearly some group at a regional level, isn't there, in the Department of Health that is actually stopping these prescriptions being issued in a way in which they can be delivered.

SIR MIKE PENNING: I will touch on many of points that the right honorable Gentleman has alluded to in his comments, I'll touch on in my speech going forward.

The person that was ever so helpful was the Home Secretary, was ever so helpful s was the Health Secretary, but actually the Prime Minister played an absolute diamond role in this, because we took Alfie Dingley and Hannah Deacon to Number Ten with the petition. And I know, Madame Deputy Speaker, we're not meant to refer to the Gallery, but they're up there and they're watching us, and they were scuttling up the stairs very quickly as well.

So for me, for me I think it is vitally important that over the next five hours we can have a proper debate this afternoon without concerns about time limits. If the Government lose their business, I'm not fussed.

FRANK FIELD: There is no business tomorrow.

SIR MIKE PENNING: So, there - I could certainly - there is Government business later on. I don't care about that. What we need to do is try and flush out what are the blockages, which is what the Health Secretary for Health and Social Care tried to do.

NORMAN LAMB: Will the right honorable Gentleman give way?

SIR MIKE PENNING: I will, then I will then try and make some progress.

NORMAN LAMB: I'm very grateful, and he's, in responding to another intervention, he's indicated that there is a degree of resistance within the NHS [National Health Service] amongst clinicians, but does he not agree that it's not just that, it's the regulatory framework set by the Government that is restricting access to this medication, and that we're still left in a situation where many people in acute pain are resorting to opioids, which are highly addictive and potentially fatal, whilst not being to get access cannabis legally, which can often ease their pain.

SIR MIKE PENNING: My honorable friend, and we debate very often around health issues, and we were - he was my shadow I think when I was a shadow Health Ministers and we agree on most things, and this particular issue around prescribed medical use of cannabis, pharmaceutical, we agree.

The other area which I think he was alluding to is not, in my opinion, for this debate. It's not on the motion. And the reason we've managed to get such huge cross-party support from families around the country on this specific issue of prescribed medical use of cannabis is because we've stuck to that and not gone into the casual use.

I'm going to make a little bit of progress, if I can, and then colleagues we'll have plenty of time, and I'm really chuffed that the Backbench Business Committee gave us this opportunity. Whenever has the Backbench Business Committee had five hours for a debate on a Monday afternoon? I am simply thrilled, and I intend to use as much of that time as possible.

I got a little note, just anecdotally, I've got a little note from the Clerks saying that “You should speak for 12 to 15 minutes, Mister Penning.” Yeah, in your dreams.

The key for me, touching on the point, and I will come back onto this in a moment, is that there is a blockage in the Health, the NHS. Let's talk about the NHS. There is a blockage if you can't pay for the prescription.

If you can pay for the prescription, in the private era, there are consultants working inside the NHS and outside in the private sector, but private presriptions are being honored. The product is available in this country, perfectly legally, if you can afford it, and that is something that sticks really strongly in my throat, which I'm sure we'll come into later on.?

Madame Deputy Speaker, at the UQ, at the conclusion I think of the UQ, even though it's in Hansard, I clearly heard the Speaker speak to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care saying that, whatever happens, we're not going to leave it. He was referring to me. We're going to go on and on and on about this until we get justice for these young people.

And touching for a moment beyond the small cohort of desperately ill children, there are others in the country that would clearly benefit from the medical cannabis. And I am not a doctor, but I've had hundreds and hundreds of families that have come to me and said, does this mean that we can get some help for us? From the MS Society, which sent an excellent briefing to colleagues today, to the Brain Injury Trust [sic: Brain Tumour Charity] to many, many others

Constituents come into my surgery, and I have said what we need to is make sure that your specialists, your specialists, the experts in your area, are saying that you need it, and then we can fight in your corner.

We have such specialists in this sector now for children with epilepsy, young people with epilepsy, and my constituent has just triggered over 18 so mum will want me that I talk about post-18, as well as pre-eighteen, that do get a tangible benefit, in their seizures that they have, from these prescriptions, from this - prescribed from a suitable specialist, pharmaceutical provided so we know exactly what's in it.

And yet, we still have the crazy situation where hospitals are telling parents that if they bring it on to a ward when their child is ill, as part of their ongoing medication, social services will be called to look into what they're doing with their family - for a prescribed product from a consultant.

My own constituent, who has just turned 18, when I wrote to her GP [General Practitioner] on behalf of the family, and to the CCG [Clinical Commissioning Group], who were blocking it, they said, “We're not interested in homeopathic products.”

What on earth is going on inside the medical profession in this country? When we haven't been able to get out there, what the - and by the way, Madame Deputy Speaker, if they don't know what it is, go and ask someone before you write stupid letters back to people and break their hearts. Because I had to send that letter on.

And then, and then, actually, look carefully at what we could do to help. It is not for any politician in this House, Madame Deputy Speaker, who is not suitably qualified to say to anybody, you deserve to have that product. What we must do is break down the blockages, which is what the Secretary of State alluded to in his answer to the UQ - it won't be a second, I'll give way - is to break it down and find out why. And I'll come on to that again in a second, Madame Deputy Speaker.

CHARLIE ELPHICKE: I thank my right honorable friend for giving way. As he knows, he and I share a passion on this subject. Would he not agree that the absurdity that lies at the heart of this situation is that we have heroin prescribed legally, as morphine, well understood for many years, but somehow, when it comes to cannabis being used for medical purposes, a kind of medical prejudice kicks in, even though we have morphine?

And does it not highlight that there is an inconsistency here that needs to be addressed, and addressed quickly?

SIR MIKE PENNING: I completely agree with friend, and it was - he is Teagan's constituency MP, which is, I was referring to, and she got, as he knows, her medication seven days late, but I am convinced she would not have got that if we had not got the UQ in this House, which is why these debates and these sorts of things, and UQs, Madame Deputy Speaker.

I mean, I used to be a Minister in Government as well and I was always panicked about whether there's going to be a UQ. I always actually said, well, why don’t we just do a statement? It's a damn sight easier and we can control the agenda going forward. The business managers didn't always agree with me on that point.

Could I just correct the record. It was the Brain Tumor Charity that have sent an excellent briefing, not as I alluded earlier on.

If we look, Madame Deputy Speaker, at the only, as I am, and I may be wrong, but are aware from our investigations, the only NHS prescription that has been issued was actually issued through the Home Office, Madame Deputy Speaker. Because Alfie Dingley got his medication through the panel that the Home Secretary set up with the expert group in the Home Office.

So since we changed the law subsequently on that, in November, as I am aware, no NHS prescription has been honored. We've had trusts clearly threatening consultants not to do it, we've had their professional bodies do the same, and I've seen some of the correspondence that's been out there.

As I alluded to earlier on, we've had families threatened with social services if they brought the product into the hospital where their child was being treated, when it was a prescribed, prescription drug which is perfectly legal in this country today.

So the real issue is, why, Madame Deputy Speaker, if you've got the money, got a donor, you've crowdfunded, or in my case of my constituents, one of the manufacturers has given it to my constituents for free because there's no way in the world that she could afford to do that, and I thank them for doing that, particularly from the family.

If that can happen, so if you can afford it or you get a donor, you get it, and in the country that is so proud of the NHS, how on earth have we got in a situation that if you're poor, you don't get it? I give way.

NORMAN LAMB: I'm very grateful and I agree with the points that he's making, but the fact that the one prescription that's been issued has been through the Home Office raises an important point, doesn't it, that the Home Office should have nothing to do with what is a health issue and it should be transferred without delay by the Government to the Department of Health and Social Care.

SIR MIKE PENNING: Well, to be fair to my honorable friend, it has been, and this was before we changed the law in November. So the panel that the Home Office set up while we looked at the changes of the law, and frankly it really doesn't matter, but at the end of the day, there's a Health Minister at the Dispatch Box, it was a Health Secretary there for the UQ, it's clearly sitting in there, however, the connotations are still there with for instance, bringing it into the country—

NORMAN LAMB: And licensing?

SIR MIKE PENNING: But that - but licensing, I understand it, but it moved, this drug has been moved out of its category into the Health Department and it can be prescribed.

The issue is not prescription. Even though there's a very limited amount of private prescriptions, but they are being issued, and I thank the consultants that have met me and my colleagues from across the House that have been campaigning on this.

And they are willing to do it. The blockage, as far as I can work out, is that this was moved too fast, too quick, to help the families that we wanted to help, when actually the Health Department and the Home Office wasn't ready.

Which actually fascinates me, Madame Deputy Speaker, because two and a half years ago - no, four and a half years ago I've been a Minister, I stood in Westminster Hall as the Minister responsible for drug policy and said then that the Government was minded to allow medical use of cannabis under prescription.

Do they not read our debates? Do they not listen to what Ministers have got to say? I whether they thought I was just having a flier there, and as a Minister of State just doing it because I felt like it on that day, actually, the then Home Secretary, is now the Prime Minister, and of course I did it, of course, with her permission. I give way.

NORMAN LAMB: What did Ministers do after my honorable friend made that point in Westminster Hall? He says that that was four years ago. Why did it take until last year for the Government to do anything about this?

SIR MIKE PENNING: You should have seen, Madame Deputy Speaker, the reaction of some of my civil servants when I got back to the Department after making that comment in Westminster Hall, and you would understand exactly why it went absolutely nowhere after I said it, even though I pushed and cajoled. Sadly, or fortunately, I was moved to the Ministry of Defense after the 2017 election.

So, Madame Deputy Speaker, why are we here today? Why have colleagues come into the Chamber, which was completely empty ten minutes ago, fifteen minutes ago, absolutely empty, when colleagues probably could go, I don't think there's going to be a vote.

NORMAN LAMB: Steady.

SIR MIKE PENNING: The reason don't think there might not be a vote is the Government have indicated to me that they've accepted the motion, which is votable, if we needed to. And I've indicated to the Whips that if we needed to, I would push it to a vote. But I don't think we need to, simply because, at the end of the day, once we've listened to the debate, the Minister will realize, hey, we’ve got to move faster.

Are we moving fast? No. Are we moving faster than we was? Yes, but there's more needs to be done. Why is that, Madame Deputy Speaker? That is because young people are having massive seizures that are affecting their lives, of them and their loved ones, affecting their families and the quality of life that they are having in this country today.

We can do something about that. We are on the journey of doing more about it, but I find it, as a father more than as a politician, why is it that they have to go to Holland or to Canada, find some money?

If they can't find the money, you ain't going to get it unless someone donates it to you or we crowdfund. In the twenty-first century, why are we allowing these children to be given drugs that are not working, that were never designed for the use they're giving, while we have a product out there that are being produced by pharmaceutical companies, we know exactly what's in the product?

And it may not help. it may not stop those seizures, but for some, it clearly does. And it is morally wrong for us to sit back and allow those children to suffer, and I have no intention of doing that going forward.

DOUG MCVAY: That was from a debate in the UK House of Commons regarding medical cannabis prescription. The motion was introduced by the Right Honorable Sir Mike Penning, Conservative Party Member of Parliament for Hemel Hempstead.

And that's 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.

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