10/23/19 Matt Simon

Matt Simon the New England Political Director for the Marijuana Policy Project & a couple moments with Kim Ogg the DA of Houston, Harris County Texas

Program: 
Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Date: 
Wednesday, October 23, 2019
Guest: 
Matt Simon
Kim Ogg
Organization: 
Marijuana Policy Project
Download: Audio icon FDBCB102319.mp3
Share

Comments

TRANSCRIPT

CULTURAL BAGGAGE

OCTOBER 23, 2019

DEAN BECKER: Broadcasting on the Drug Truth Network, this is Cultural Baggage.

MALE VOICE: It’s not only inhumane, it is really fundamentally un-American.

CROWD CHANT: No more Drug War! No more Drug War! No more Drug War! No more Dug War!

My name is Dean Becker. I don’t condone or encourage the use of any drugs – legal or illegal. I report the unvarnished truth about the pharmaceutical, banking, prison, and judicial nightmare that feeds on eternal Drug War.

DEAN BECKER: Alright folks, this is Dean. I am glad you have your ears on listening to us here on Cultural Baggage.

Today we are going to have a longtime friend of mine. I don’t know exactly how long I’ve known this guy, I'm thinking at least 15 maybe closer to 20 years he now works with the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) and we're gonna do a little dive into political perspectives, a little bit of talk about presidential candidates – or maybe just one. He is with us now, Mr. Matt Simon. How are you, Sir?

MATT SIMON: Hi Dean. I am doing great.

DEAN BECKER: Glad to have you with us. I feel it important that I talk about marijuana, tests, what’s happening in other countries, studies, and scientific pronouncements over the years but I seldom dive in to politics at all because it is just not an area that I have much expertise in. You have been digging in to at least one of our presidential candidates fairly in-depth have you not?

MATT SIMON: I would have to say you are smart man on that front, Dean. It is tough dealing with the politicians sometimes. Most of my work is in the State Policies Department at MPP where I work with legislature in New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, and a few other states trying to get legislatures to do what other states have done by ballot initiative and that has been quite the challenge; but since I live in New Hampshire I have a front row seat every four years when presidential candidates come to my town and they are everywhere. I can’t avoid it so I have immersed myself in it. Back in 2007 when I first really engaged in the Primary, nobody wanted to talk about marijuana or drug issues at all and we have seen that change completely. This year it has come up quite a lot; it has come up in some of the debates. There has been a huge shift with all of the democratic candidates in support of marijuana legalization which was hard to imagine about a decade ago, with the exception of former Vice President Joe Biden, who I think you want to talk a little bit more about.

DEAN BECKER: I do. I and I think a lot of democrats have the simpatico – he was with Obama, he has got to be a good guy. I think in many ways he probably is and certainly from my perspective he is better than Trump but he was very much a ramrod if you will, back in the 80s and going in to the 90s in calling for the escalation and more punitive long-term sentences including arresting people and taking their things. Am I right?

MATT SIMON: I think you are absolutely right. I was watching CSPAN back in the 90s before I ever got involved in these issues. Back then Biden was Chair of the Judiciary Committee which was in the late 80s. His record definitely goes back to the 80s and 90s so if people aren’t aware of that, I would encourage them to become more aware of it. We have some good articles published (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to describe that history in the background. One of them that is really good is www.vox.com, it was published by German Lopez a couple of months ago on July 31, 2019. If your listeners want to search and find that they can. I have it in front of me and it has some things in it we can go in to.

DEAN BECKER: Sure. Let me interrupt for a moment. I just celebrated 18 years of doing the unvarnished truth about the drug war – 7,300 radio segments so far and at one point –

MATT SIMON: Wow!

DEAN BECKER: -- We had well over 100 stations in the U.S. and Canada, but I think others have developed the courage and they do their own drug war news now but when we did it, we were the original – the only show on the planet that was daring to broche this subject. Over the years we have managed to find allies especially right here in my home city and county. I want to share this with the listeners and give you a chance to perhaps respond, Matt, but it will also give the listeners out there an awareness and recognition that we here at KPFT, the Cultural Baggage Show, the Century of Lies Show has managed to sway the opinions of the police chief, the sheriff, and especially the district attorney. Here is a segment I did with our current district attorney, Kim Ogg. We will be back in just a few minutes. Matt, thank you for hanging on.

MATT SIMON: Absolutely.

KIM OGG: You know we can’t legalize marijuana. The executive branch can use its discretion and the immense authority of the District Attorney in terms of accepting charges or not to change the way we handle marijuana offenders but it is up to our legislature to act responsibly and to really consider the damage being done through the imposition of permanent records against thousands and thousands of people statewide – 10,000 a year just in Harris County alone. We have to look to our legislature to help make it right, especially for those who medically need marijuana.

DEAN BECKER: Exactly. You know I spent some time a few weeks back in Austin and talked with several legislators, senators up there and behind closed doors they get it. It is them developing the courage to say in public or within hearing range what they can say privately behind closed doors. Courage is lacking but it seems to be growing. Does it not?

KIM OGG: Yes it is. You are exactly right, this is a matter of political will and I had hoped that leadership from the front during these critical times in our country on the issue of marijuana here in Harris County would inspire some of our legislators to make the move and at least vote in favor of medical marijuana legalization because I think our Veteran’s, people who have got children with serious epileptic disorders, and others who are suffering with chronic pain really need compassionate alternatives to pharmaceutical relief. I am just hoping that our legislature will look at the success that we are having in Houston diverting people; our crime is not up. So far we have had about ten percent of the people diverted go through our class and we have now started texting our class participants four times a day to remind them “Don’t go to jail, sign up for the class”. We are saving money, police officers time, and we are saving people’s professional lives in the sense that we have stopped limiting their opportunities through the execution of draconian sentencing for small amounts of marijuana. I am proud of what we are doing and I urge the legislature to move forward and if they don’t do it this session than I urge the community, who understands the benefits of medical marijuana to keep the pressure on and keep talking to their legislators and pushing them. Business organizations and associations are for this. There are think tanks on the right of the Republican Party who are for this right here in Texas and its one place where a liberal democratic and a libertarian republican alliance could move this thing through the legislature but they are going to have to have the political will to do it. If it doesn’t happen this session then I hope the community keeps the pressure on for two years from now.

DEAN BECKER: Friends, you have heard some very positive thoughts from District Attorney Kim Ogg of Harris County, Houston, Texas, and I want to thank you once again for your courage and your commitment to making these changes so necessary here in our county. Any closing thoughts, Kim?

KIM OGG: Just that I am so grateful to your audience. I appreciate their vote, their support, and their prayers. This is a big job and it is not one that any of us take lightly. We can see that the District Attorney, through our recent actions has the power to bring important change and reform to our justice system. I know I have that solemn duty. I took my obligation and commitment seriously and I just want your audience to know that I am not going to let you down.

DEAN BECKER: Kim, can I ask a favor?

KIM OGG: Of course!

DEAN BECKER: All right.

KIM OGG: Unless it is a get out of jail free card in which case you better call your defense lawyer, not your prosecutor.

DEAN BECKER: (LAUGHTER) I may have a situation in the next year or two to negotiate, but no. When you gave your speech there at the criminal courthouse about the Mandatory Marijuana Diversion Program (MMDP), I walked up to you and shook your hand. You tell me if I am right. You said, “Dean, you were the trailblazer! You made this day possible”. Is that right?

KIM OGG: I think you were a big part of it, Dean. You represent law enforcement and the community. You have been accused and been through our criminal justice system and I think that you have had the opportunity in your 68 years (now that I know how old you are) to see this issue from many different perspectives. I found that invaluable and your crusade to basically get law enforcement to focus on the issues and the things that we can do to reduce the crime rate and prevent crime. I think for a forerunner to my ability to bring this change to Houston’s drug policies and to our leadership’s perspective, yes, you were an inspiration to me and I want to thank you personally.

DEAN BECKER: Okay. That was the current District Attorney of Houston, Harris County Kim Ogg thanking me for helping me to change the perspective here in this county, this city, and in this state. What many folks don’t realize is that Kim has now decided she is no longer going to arrest people for any bags of marijuana or hemp since they don’t know the difference and that idea has spilled over in to the rest of Texas, and that idea has spilled over in to Oklahoma, Tennessee, and other states as well. Folks that was my impetus, my perspective, my challenge to the logic of doing this forever that helped change the attitude of Kim, of our sheriff, of our police chief, of the past three sheriff’s, police chief’s, and district attorneys.

Today we have a live guest on our show. Mr. Matt Simon out of New England, he works with the Marijuana Policy Project.

Matt, what did you think of that discussion with the D.A.?

MATT SIMON: It was absolutely wonderful, Dean. Thank you so much! I don’t get the opportunity to say that often but all of the work that you have done over such a long period of time lighting fires in people’s minds and helping them think through this issue. As somebody who grew up with the war on drugs in the eighties they cracked an egg in a skillet and told us that this was our brain and we just needed to be afraid.

DEAN BECKER: Yes.

MATT SIMON: That was drug policy. I am working online this morning and I see that Gallup has come out with a new poll and it says that two thirds of Americans are in favor of making marijuana usage legal. This is the second year in a row that the Gallup’s found 66%, two to one support nationally for legalizing cannabis and you have been a big part of that so thank you.

DEAN BECKER: I like to think that I have made a difference not just in Houston, Texas or even in America for that matter. I get feedback from some of my stations up in Canada as well. I used to be on Sirius Radio back in their first years but I think my skills weren’t up to their standards after a while, they found more professional shows. We even had a station in Australia but they were growing weed in the back part of the warehouse and they got busted and the station shut down. It just proves the point that when I first started this a little over 19 years ago stations were picking up the show and playing it on college stations and others around the country without even asking me because like I said earlier, this was the only program in the world that was challenging the logic of drug war. I used to open it with, “Broadcasting from the Gulag Filling Station of Planet Earth, this is Cultural Baggage. The unvarnished truth about the drug war”, because back then Houston was the Gulag Filling Station. Every morning we would have buses show up at the jails and they would load hundreds of people in to those buses and take them to Louisiana, and small Texas towns because our jails were so full. They were sleeping under the bunks on the beds in the hallways! We were so gung-ho for drug war but I helped to end that madness.

The thing about Joe Biden is that he hasn’t backed down. I suppose if he winds up with the nomination I would hold my nose and my ears and close my eyes and vote for him but I don’t want to because he still is a drug warrior at heart. He is the only one who doesn’t want to legalize. He thinks we still need to have the ability to arrest people in order to stop them from their immoral habits I suppose. Your response to that, Matt Simon?

MATT SIMON: I am just going to preface this real fast by saying that any opinions I express are my own and don’t necessarily reflect those of my employer. MPP is all for getting the facts out there on all of the candidates and having voters make up their own mind. That being said, I have talked to a lot of young people in particular who know Joe Biden from recent history and know him as the Vice President under a popular president who many would be willing to brush aside his past without a full examination. To those people I would suggest that yes, certainly the whole country was thinking drug war thoughts back in the 80s and early 90s and certainly most politicians were voting in support of the drug war back in the eighties and nineties but Biden in particular was at the front of that parade.

I am going to mention something from this Vox article which was published on July 31st. 1989 was really the height of the anti-drug politics. George H. W. Bush was President and he had come out with yet another plan to escalate the war on drugs after it had already been escalated several times in the eighties and Biden’s response on national television was “Quite frankly, the President’s plan is not tough enough, bold enough, or imaginative enough to meet the crisis at hand”. He called not just for harsher punishments for drug dealers but to, “Hold every drug user accountable”, and put aside the plan for not including enough police officers, not enough prosecutors, not enough judges, not enough prison cells and seemed to be directly calling for even more mass incarceration. In recent years, Biden has walked back from those positions to some extent. He supported reforms to some degree but he still does not support legalization of cannabis and I think there are far more questions than answers at this point with regard to how much of that from the eighties and nineties he is sorry for and how much he would do differently if he had it to do over.

DEAN BECKER: The British newspapers, the Australian newspapers, the Mexican newspapers, and many of the Canadian newspapers are starting to talk about the need to legalize drugs, not just marijuana. They are starting to talk about the possibility of thwarting the efforts of the cartels. Maybe they can stop the overdose deaths. Maybe they can save money and lives. It is starting to sound more and more like what I have been saying for these 18 years over the airwaves that the logic has always been there; but for people to open their eyes to see it, to observe and to speak about it. It is a wonderful thing.

A couple of the politicians were talking the other day about decriminalizing and going the Portugal way if you will and I am all for that, it is certainly better than what we have going on but it still leaves the cartels and the gangs in charge of production, purity, and so forth. There is room to move and it just seems like Biden could move if he wanted to. Your thought there, Matt Simon?

MATT SIMON: Well he could move, he may move, many believe he will move if he is elected and that is a decision for each voter to make. I am only looking at the facts and the words that have come out of his mouth and I am not entirely seeing it just yet. It is an open question, Dean.

DEAN BECKER: It certainly is and not one that I am willing to gamble on to be honest with you. I had Eric Sterling, a good friend of ours on my show about two months ago and we were talking about those days during the late eighties and early nineties when he was working for Peter Rodino in U.S. Congress helping to right the drug laws and how they got flanged together and it was not Eric’s idea – not his doing. He was more or less just working for them. We didn’t focus too much on Biden during that discussion but he was very instrumental; he was the ramrod on many of those efforts. Was he not?

MATT SIMON: He was very much front and center and one of the key supporters at every turn. It was 1986 – 1988 that the so-called Anti-drug Abuse Acts were passed in Congress and that is where we got that 100 to 1 ratio – the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine which to Biden’s credit he later supported reducing that disparity and now it is at 20 to 1 but that doesn’t seem to be justified by anything.

DEAN BECKER: No.

MATT SIMON: We are a long way from where we need to be and I will tell you what the big takeaway is for me on the positive end is that they may not have a clear idea of what policies should replace the war on drugs but we hear a lot of people in mainstream political discourse, including most of the democratic candidates for President that will now say that the drug war is a failure and will call for alternatives. Some of those alternatives may be better than others and I hope this gets more detailed scrutiny and discussion before people start voting in January, but is has been very encouraging. At the last debate, Andrew Yang said he supported broader decriminalization and Beto O’Rourke has said that as well which has created more of a discussion around those issues which I think is always positive.

DEAN BECKER: Friends once again that was Mr. Matt Simon. He works with the Marijuana Policy Project. His thoughts are not necessarily that of the Marijuana Policy Project itself.

We challenge the world to come on this show and tell me that I am full of it. Show me where I am wrong. Prove that I have missed the mark.

There is no one on this planet that wants to come on this show and challenge my logic or defend this drug war, not for one second. It cannot be done. It is evil, ignorant and extremely stupid. 500 billion dollars a year we give to terrorists if they are brave enough to grow flowers on a mountainside. We spend about ten billion in Mexico where the cartels smuggle cocaine and methamphetamine north where they mix it with all kinds of powders and potions and sell it to our kids at a 17,000% markup with 70,000 of our kids dying each year from drugs off of the black market. Drugs that they have no idea what are in them. What hacks me off more than anything is that every time I hear a Tom Petty song I think about what happened to him. Tom Petty got some bad Oxy. It was counterfeit, it contained Fentanyl and it killed him. The same holds true for Prince. Two miraculous, wonderful musicians who helped generate happiness around the world and they are dead because of the ignorance of prohibition. It just hacks me off, I don’t know how else to say it. We will be back in a moment with Matt Simon.

It’s time to play Name That Drug By its Side Effects. Low blood sugar, decreased appetite, hunger, drowsiness, weakness, dizziness, confusion, irritability, fast heartbeat, sweating, acidic stomach, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, renal failure, and death. Times Up! The answer: from AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals, Inc., Byetta for diabetes. The drug was originally discovered in the lizard. Hello, Derma Subspectrum.

All right folks, this is Cultural Baggage on KPFT, the Mothership with the Drug Truth Network. We are speaking to Mr. Matt Simon with the Marijuana Policy Project. Matt, what else is MPP up to these days? How are things going up there?

MATT SIMON: Things are going very well actually. We are very focused on state legislatures in my department. We are working on some perspective ballot initiatives as well. It has been very exciting in the northeast just in the last week the governors of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut all met at a summit with a bunch of legislative staffers and they discussed how to move forward regionally on cannabis legalization and on policies dealing with vaping which is the first time anything like that has ever happened that I am aware of. To have governors of states that are not ballot initiative states that see that legalization is not only coming, but is a good idea; they have all expressed support for it. They are meeting to discuss how to best move forward and how to best get their state legislatures to move forward and that has pretty much taken up all of my time. It is very encouraging while at the same time being wildly frustrating.

DEAN BECKER: It does get to be déjà vu all over again. A lot of that goes on. We have a conglomeration of governors that you are speaking of which is a good sign that people are starting to think on this at a higher level both nationally and regionally. I feel that I have been blessed over the years that I have had the opportunity to talk to well over 3,000 individuals that I interviewed over these shows from government scientists like Dr. Donald Tashkin, he works for the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and I had a chance to have a good sit down interview with him a few years back and during that interview he reminded me of a study he had done to determine just how dangerous and deadly cannabis is. They wanted to see how badly it hurt your lungs and your life. They did an in-depth study looking at people who smoked marijuana, people who smoked tobacco and then they looked at people who smoke nothing at all. For some reason they made a determination that those who smoke marijuana were less likely to contract lung cancer than those who smoke nothing at all. This is the interview which is online and in the transcript as well. There are a lot of people who believe marijuana is a medical miracle and for some people it certainly has been. I have seen the stories, I have met the people. I know it is true and while I am not going to say it is a blanket universal salvation to the world; it does have the potential to save many people. Does it not?

MATT SIMON: There is no question about that anymore and anybody who is still in denial about that fact might be on a few state legislatures but it’s really well accepted in all 50 states and the fact that some states still don’t have safe legal access for patients just further underscores the need for continued effort on all fronts. Every time I think about hanging up the spurs and maybe I won’t lobby next year on cannabis, I think of all the states that still don’t have decent laws or that are stuck really in the 1980s. We have a lot of work left to do, Dean. We have come a long way but we have a long way left to go.

DEAN BECKER: We were speaking with Mr. Matt Simon, he is with the Marijuana Policy Project. You can find them on the web at: www.mpp.org.

I just have to ask, to advise, and to hope that you will look at these Presidential candidates. Joe Biden ensures that terrorists, cartels, and gangs make lots of money. He doesn’t give a rat’s ass how many of our kids die from these contaminated drugs.

DEAN BECKER: Once again I remind you that because of prohibition you don’t know what’s in that bag. I urge you to 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 currently stored at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy, and we are all still tap dancing on the edge of an abyss.