09/18/19 Nathan Beedle

Nathan Beedle Misdemeanor Division Chief of the Harris County District Attorney's office re hemp/cannabis, vapes, hash, edibles, flowers, extracts etc + Paul Armentano Deputy Dir of NORML re vape cartridge deaths, forthcoming Federal law changes & more

Program: 
Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Date: 
Wednesday, September 18, 2019
Guest: 
Nathan Beedle
Organization: 
Harris County District Attorney
Nathan Beedle Prosecutor Harris County DA Office
Download: Audio icon FDBCB091819.mp3
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TRANSCRIPT

CULTURAL BAGGAGE

SEPTEMBER 18, 2019

DEAN BECKER: I am Dean Becker, your host. Our goal for this program is to expose the fraud, misdirection, and the liars who support the drug war, empowers our terrorist enemies, enriches barbarous cartels and gives reason for existence to tens of thousands of violent U.S. gangs who profit by selling contaminated drugs to our children. This is Cultural Baggage.

Hello my friends. This is Cultural Baggage, the unvarnished truth about the drug war. I am Dean Becker, the Reverend Most High. Here in just a few moments we are gonna hear from a prosecutor with the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, Mr. Nathan Beedle. Then later on we are gonna hear from Mr. Paul Armentano, Deputy Director of The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. Let’s get going.

Alright friends, today we have the privilege of talking to one of the prosecutors – one of the good folks working with the District Attorney of Harris County, Houston, Texas, Ms. Kim Ogg. We have Mr. Nathan Beedle. How are you, sir?

NATHAN BEEDLE: I am great, how are you?

DEAN BECKER: Please tell us a bit about the work you do with Kim?

NATHAN BEEDLE: I am the Misdemeanor Division Chief at the Harris County D.A.s office, which means I am responsible the roughly 60,000 Class A and B misdemeanors that are filed each year, and the over 600,000 JP violations that are filed each year in Harris County.

DEAN BECKER: Now would I be correct in assuming that 60,000 number would include those for marijuana and other misdemeanor drug charges?

NATHAN BEEDLE: It includes all potential drug charges that the Harris County District Attorney essentially files; that’s correct.

DEAN BECKER: Okay now as I am aware and I think most folks know at this time that Kim Ogg is kind of a pioneer in putting forward her misdemeanor Marijuana Diversion Program, which has saved, if I remember right, 14,000 people from having that black mark that has saved $26-28 million for our county. Is that correct?

NATHAN BEEDLE: That is correct and it started on March 1st of 2017. I was tasked with actually implementing the program and still do on a daily basis. There are several counties that have asked for our materials to copy the success of the program. Those counties would include; Bexar County, Dallas County, Fort Bend County and several other smaller jurisdictions that have contacted us.

DEAN BECKER: Just from my perspective, it just shows a great acumen and understanding of the, if I dare say, futility of going down the same road which we had done for decades on end before. Would you agree with that thought, Mr. Beedle?

NATHAN BEEDLE: I know that Kim wants to devote our limited resources to persons that commit crimes related to victims. So if you have a victim in a case – we are going to prioritize those cases at both the misdemeanor and felony levels and traditionally most cases that I have seen related to both prescription narcotics and illegal narcotics, particularly at the misdemeanor level do not have a victim as it would relate to say an assault case or a DWI case.

DEAN BECKER: Or burglary or even a car wreck. Yes sir, I understand that. Now my discussion with Kim – I guess it’s been a couple of months back now, we talked about this situation with hemp and I guess I will say high THC marijuana; the two extremes if you will. One above and the other below .3% THC. It is has created a real set of circumstances for District Attorneys and cops around the state from my perspective there no longer is a probable cause. There is no rational perspective by which they can confiscate green smelly vegetables out there on the highways. What is your though in that regard, please?

NATHAN BEEDLE: Well our opinion at the office is that the new requirement issued by the legislature of .3% THC would require the state to be able to prove that a particular – let’s just say grade of marijuana, or the derivatives would be above .3% THC, which would require some sort of testing to make that affirmative statement to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. I am not aware of any machine or device or instrument in Harris County to be able to do that right now.

DEAN BECKER: Right – and I think within the state there are perhaps a few – I don’t know if anybody is certain about that yet. If so, to get the time to use that machine would be prohibitively expensive especially for the number of pot arrests in this state.

Once again, we are speaking with Mr. Nathan Beedle, he is with the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. Now Mr. Beedle, I want to talk about certain potential charges of possession or whatever and I want to get to the heart of it though. There is THC hash and there’s CBD hash, there’s THC marijuana and there is CBD marijuana. There are oils and extracts on either side of that equation and I guess where I want to start is – I often hear people talk about today’s marijuana is not like your grandma’s marijuana, that sort of thing but there has always been hashish. A natural gathering of the THC molecules. What are the charges currently for hashish and for the various levels of possession, you know – ounces and pounds, perhaps?

NATHAN BEEDLE: Well, I mean are we talking about hashish or marijuana? I am confused now by your question. I am sorry.

DEAN BECKER: I am sorry if I misstated it – yes, hashish - the gathering of those molecules.

NATHAN BEEDLE: At this point we are developing some sort of policy related to what I would describe as the evolving nature of how THC is being present in the public fashion. So we are actively looking into developing some sort of policy related to many of the derivatives that you are talking about, but we currently – as I am aware – do not prosecute these cases at this time.

DEAN BECKER: Okay. This kind of ties in then with the extracts, the oils, the tinctures, the other means of producing and/or using cannabis in its various forms. There is still a ball of confusion around the whole situation, is there not?

NATHAN BEEDLE: I would say we are actively developing a policy to deal and address this issue and again, though, I would go back to Kim Ogg’s philosophy that we are going to devote our limited resources to crimes where victims are the center of those crimes and that is where we are focused.

DEAN BECKER: I do appreciate that thought, trust me I do. I know this is not an easy interview because there is still so much up in there air, so to speak and attitudes are changing. As you indicated other counties are perhaps immolating the work that our DA, Kim Ogg has done and from my perspective, Mr. Beedle, I have been at this for decades, I think you are aware of that. It’s the fact that other than Kim Ogg, police chief and sheriff there are few people in the county, in the state – heck, in our nation that are willing to talk about the subject of drug policy because it’s just so much influx. Your response to that thought, please, sir?

NATHAN BEEDLE: My response is I am really proud of this offices response to pretty much everything we are doing at the misdemeanor level but in particular, related to our Misdemeanor Marijuana Diversion Program. I have heard some criticisms that we’re not as liberal as other jurisdictions or what have you – but we live in the State of Texas as you know and Texas is not California, it is not Oregon, it is not Washington, it is not Denver, and it is not Massachusetts. There are 254 counties in Texas and many of them are extremely conservative counties. I think Kim’s vision in getting the political buy-in from the mayor, the police chief, the actual sheriff and many of the municipalities – the 80+ municipalities related to marijuana is truly visionary and took a substantial amount of work and we are really proud of it.

DEAN BECKER: I am right there with you – I am proud of what you guys are doing – the willingness to look at this truthfully insofar as where the damage is being done. We have been talking about it and I guess I wanted to look at it from this way – we have the vape pen hysteria going on now, I am sure you are aware of that.
There are chemicals being utilized within these cartridges that have deadly consequences. That peoples lungs are being ruined. A few people have died and it’s a national issue. What is your thought? Why that isn’t a problem and perhaps what we could do to correct that situation?

NATHAN BEEDLE: Well of course every district attorney’s office works under the framework of what the legislature has made illegal. It appears to me that there are several type of products being used out there that we would like some direction from the legislature but we have to wait for them to make those decisions. If something is made illegal or harmful, or if there’s an age restriction related to specific products we will obviously enforce that law and try and protect the public to the best of our ability.

DEAN BECKER: Okay. Now I have one here that is kind of a crossover between a misdemeanor and felony, but perhaps you can give me the interpretation or the perspective and that is edibles. Like cookies, brownies, or other products that are made using cannabis – and again, it could be hemp – it could be marijuana. But let’s just assume for one second that it was marijuana and a total of one pound of cookies, yet we know within that one pound of cookies there’s probably less than five or six grams of marijuana and I guess what I am saying is the extrapolation turns those few grams of marijuana into a felony. How do you deal with that subject, Mr. Beedle?

NATHAN BEEDLE: My personal opinion about this being the Misdemeanor Division Chief, is that it would be the weight of the marijuana above .3% THC that we could actually quantify. It that remained a Class A or B misdemeanor, which would be up to four ounces, then it should be – assuming that it is marijuana and tested positive with the concentration in accordance with the new law, then it could be a Class A or B misdemeanor. If you are asking me if we’re taking the total weight of the brownies, cookies, or whatever other edible that we are talking about the answer is we don’t do that here in Harris County.

DEAN BECKER: Well I applaud you then, sir. That’s the kind of thing that a lot of folks out there are curious about because they don’t want to be held accountable for a felony for just a few dollars’ worth of weed. Okay, when the cops are out there on the street now can you give an estimate of the number of cases being filed now as compared to a year ago, or a few years back. That deal with minor amounts of marijuana and/or hemp – is their perspective changing? Are they less onerous, less draconian in their policy and their interactions?

NATHAN BEEDLE: I would address it this way; since the law change, I am not aware of any misdemeanor case of possession of marijuana that has been filed in our system that postdates the law change.

DEAN BECKER: Okay. Would you clarify that for me? I am not sure I understand.

NATHAN BEEDLE: The recent change where the percentage of THC was required as an element for us to prove, I am not aware of any possession of marijuana case after the date of that law change being filed. If it was filed shortly thereafter, we dismissed it shortly thereafter because of the law change.

DEAN BECKER: Okay. Now as I am aware there was a law that took effect I think September 1, if I remember right, that basically made hemp legal in the state of Texas – at least for certain properties or components. The question I guess comes to this, there are in our city -- I have toured around and visit many of them. I am thinking of starting to sell Becker’s Buds, a brand of hemp cigarettes to raise money for my radio station. The point I am wanting to get to though is, is that legal? Will it bring a focus to bear on the work I am doing there or is it just something you guys will just ignore? Go ahead, sir?

NATHAN BEEDLE: Mr. Becker, this is how I respond – I cannot give legal advice to anybody --

DEAN BECKER: Okay. I understand.

NATHAN BEEDLE: --I cannot do that. I think the policy though that Kim has instituted speak for themselves regardless of the .3% THC analysis, is that let’s assume that in the future we do have the capability to test for THC I guess concentration, that somebody’s actually paid for it.

DEAN BECKER: Right.

NATHAN BEEDLE: I am not convinced that that’s gonna happen. The Misdemeanor Marijuana Diversion Program, which is currently in effect and has been I effect since March of 2017, would still be available to everybody that came in contact with law enforcement. So nothing is going to change with regard to our perception of how these types of cases –

DEAN BECKER: Okay. I want to come back – there are hundreds of stores in Houston, Harris County, that are selling hemp cigarettes as we speak. Is that legal? What is your understanding there?

NATHAN BEEDLE: My understanding is that there is a requirement for the state to be able to prove beyond a certain of THC. If that is not provable then we cannot file a case in Harris County.

DEAN BECKER: Okay. Because I know those stores as best I understand it, are all being left alone. There are not being bothered for these sales but it’s good to know how the cow at the cabbage, so to speak. Now perhaps our final question I want to bring up is that hemp cigarettes are now legal. I have quit tobacco. I find a little bit of relief in smoking a hemp cigarette to just kind of quell that compulsion and I am wondering if that is a legal thing. If hemp cigarettes can be smoked wherever people are smoking tobacco here in Harris County?

NATHAN BEEDLE: Again, I think you’re asking for legal advice and I can’t give legal advice, Mr. Becker. Again, I would go back to the requirement that we would have to be able to prove that anything in somebody’s possession was above .3% THC, and I am not aware of that capability right now in Harris County.

DEAN BECKER. Well okay. I understand your situation – I do. Now I am gonna wrap it up with this one thought, and that is if you encounter someone with a green leafy substance will you automatically take that assuming that it might be marijuana or will people be left alone in the sense that you can’t prove that it is the high THC?

NATHAN BEEDLE: My instructions from the First Assistant and Kim Ogg herself is that until we have a THC analysis showing that something is in fact above .3%, then we will not file a charge.

DEAN BECKER: Okay. But I guess the cops could always assume you might.

NATHAN BEEDLE: Again, we are not the police. We are the District Attorney’s Office. There’s approximately 85 different law enforcement agencies around our county with very different command structures, etc. We are operating under what Kim Ogg has told us to do and that’s exactly what we are gonna do,

DEAN BECKER: Well, I want to thank you for facing down this toothless lie and how it’s trying to present to you. You’ve answered my questions quite thoroughly and I do appreciate your time.

Once again folks, we’ve been speaking with a prosecutor working for our District Attorney, Kim Ogg. The prosecutor – Nathan Beedle. Is there any closing thoughts you might want to share, sir?

NATHAN BEEDLE: No. I just want to tell you I appreciate the opportunity to speak with you and your audience.

DEAN BECKER: Well thank you, sir.

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MUSIC: He’s in charge of the truth so he tells nothing but lies. He professes such great sorrow for the thousands of his minions who died. He’s the drug czar waging his eternal war on our free will.

DEAN BECKER: Friends, I am proud to be speaking with my good friend, Mr. Paul Armentano, he’s the Deputy Director of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. He is the author of a great book you really need to read, it’s titled, “Marijuana is Safer So Why Are We Driving People to Drink?” He joins us now. We have a couple of subjects to delve in to but we are gonna talk first about the vape cartridges and some of the news that’s going around. How are you doing, Paul?

PAUL ARMENTANO: It’s been a busy couple of weeks, Dean. How are you?

DEAN BECKER: Well it has been busy, hasn’t it? I just got done with an interview with a Mr. Beedle, he is a prosecutor with the D.A here, Kim Ogg’s office. We had a great discussion about marijuana and concentrates and extracts and hemp and CBD versus marijuana – the high THC. There’s a lot of noise and confusion all around this country at this point, would you agree?

PAUL ARMENTANO: I would certainly agree. There are a patchwork of state regulation that in many cases or instances it was federal regulation and in some cases there are changes in federal policy but there are no regulations hashing out the details of those changes. So yeah, many folks are left (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

DEAN BECKER: And here in Texas, we have kind of the rural’s versus the more populated counties and different perspectives, different means of arrest and continuance of the old attitude, “Reefer Madness”. It’s really noisy – noise and confusion isn’t it?

PAUL ARMENTANO: Very much so and again, this is a result of the fact that in many cases the federal government fails to provide guidance, and absent that guidance confusion often rains.

DEAN BECKER: And if I dare say, it comes under the bailiwick of supposed controlled substances when in affect, we are not controlling much of anything these days. A prime example of that is represented in a recent opinion piece you had in Leafly, it’s titled, “Cannabis Vaping Concerns Call For Increased Regulation and Oversight”. Fair statement. Elaborate on that for us, Paul?

PAUL ARMENTANO: Well what we are seeing right now is confusion in the marketplace and disparate quality in the marketplace when it comes to many of these cannabis extract vapor cartridge products and the reason that there is such uncertainty in this marketplace is because at the federal level these are entirely unregulated products. This is an entirely unregulated industry and certain states where cannabis is legal and the retail sales of cannabis products are regulated, there are some state regulations governing the production and quality of these products. Even at that level, these are patchwork regulations that differ from state to state. There is are no standards with regard to how these products ought to be produced and what contents they should be tested for. Unfortunately, this unregulated market – like pretty much any unregulated market attracts these reputable predatory players and fosters impure product qualities. This principal is no different than if one goes down 42nd Street in New York City and buys a supposed Gucci bag from the street vendor – don’t be surprised if you get home and its not a Gucci and don’t be surprised if one buys a supposed vapor cartridge product off the street. That is a counterfeit knock off and not of the quality one would get of a product that was bought in a state licensed, regulated retailer.

DEAN BECKER: Paul, this harkens back to one example is bathtub gin. Killing people back in the alcohol prohibition days.

PAUL ARMENTANO: Again, these products are already existing in an illegal market. The majority if not all of the adverse effects that seem to have come from these products have largely come from counterfeit products. These were not products that were produce by a good manufacturer with good manufacturing practices at the state level, or were state tested products. They are counterfeit products. They are bootleg products. They are products that are already illegal at the federal and state level. We can’t make them anymore illegal, but certainly we can provide better clarity for the legal, regulated market and we can provide better educational resources to the consumers so that they can readily discern between legally regulated product and those that are not.

DEAN BECKER: Very strong point, Paul. Let’s talk now a little bit about hemp versus high THC marijuana. That is a complete cluster situation around this country, is it not?

PAUL ARMENTANO: You know it is and it isn’t. Yes, there is federal legislation that is in place that deschedules industrial hemp or cannabis that contains less than three tenths of one percent THC, but again, there are regulations surrounding those policies. In many cases there are regulations that still need to be formulated around those policies and in many states there are active hemp programs. But again, in many cases these are tightly licensed, regulated programs. If one is not operating in compliance with those regulations than they are still not following the letter of the law and in many cases, like in Texas, those programs are not yet up and running.

DEAN BECKER: Right. Well and that is my point of focus I was wanting to bring forward is that in those states like Texas and several others where hemp is now becoming legal but marijuana, the high THC is not. It creates a complication out on the highways where the cops can either confiscate the bag and assume that its marijuana or accept your word that it’s hemp and perhaps leave you alone. It’s a real situation, is it not?

PAUL ARMENTANO: It certainly is a situation in some jurisdictions. I don’t think it’s going to be a lasting situation and I am actually looking at the national perspective somewhat perplexed as to why it’s a situation at all in some of these jurisdictions. To me, this is no different than a state like say Ohio passing a medical marijuana law but then two or three years go by. Until that law is operational the regulations and the details of that law are hammered it out, it is not legal for one to possess marijuana in the state until the laws operational. In my mind, I am somewhat confused as to the legal confusion in some jurisdictions in states like Texas. Hemp is not regulated under the law until the law becomes operational, and it’s not yet operational.

DEAN BECKER: And the District Attorney of Harris County I think coincides with your thought very well. Again, she’s kind of being pushed and pulled by the legislatures demands that she continue doing things the old way and she is refusing to do so and I certainly commend her for that.

Alright friends, once again we’ve been speaking with Mr. Paul Armentano, he’s Deputy Director of NORML – and Paul, your closing thoughts. What’s another set of circumstance that we need to be aware of and perhaps in repairing?

PAUL ARMENTANO: Well there’s quite a bit, obviously, Dean. You have been doing this work a long time, I have too. I would just assure your listeners that at the federal level, things indeed are changing. We are expecting within a matter of weeks to have a house floor vote on legislation to finally provide some explicit guidance to banks and other financial institutions so that they can engage in above board relationships with this industry. We’re expecting the senate potentially to move on this as well. We know that just today the Speaker of the Senate has introduced an amendment to try to really direct the FDA to act more expeditiously to try to bring some regulations to this burgeoning CBD market. We know that there is movement afoot in the House to try to pass far more expansive marijuana policy reform like The Moore Act. So there is quite a bit going on at the federal level in addition to all of the activity that we are seeing at the state level.

DEAN BECKER: Alright. Once again, Mr. Paul Armentano, I want to thank you. Please go to their website where you can learn more, where you can be a better reformer and help get this stuff fixed sooner rather than later. That website: norml.org. Alright Paul, thank you, sir.

PAUL ARMENTANO: Thank you for having me, Dean. It’s always a pleasure to talk to you.

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