10/30/19 John Conyers

John Conyers, US Congressman has passed away at age 90. We listen back to his visits to the Cultural Baggage program over the decades + Lucas Wiessing, Chief Scientist of European Monitoring Centre on Drugs and Drug Abuse

Program: 
Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Date: 
Wednesday, October 30, 2019
Guest: 
John Conyers
Lucas Wiessing
Organization: 
EMCDDA
Download: Audio icon FDBCB103019.mp3
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TRANSCRIPT

CULTURAL BAGGAGE

OCTOBER 30, 2019

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

DEAN BECKER: Hi folks I am Dean Becker, the Reverend Most High. This is Cultural Baggage and today to honor the memory of the U.S. Congressman John Conyers were going to replay a cultural baggage that is more than 15 years old when Congressman Conyers was the first national representative to come on our program.

MALE SPEAKER: 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!

Broadcasting from the Gulag Filling Station of planet Earth this is Cultural Baggage, the unvarnished truth about the Drug War. My name is Dean Becker, our engineer is Steve Nolin. In just a moment we'll bring you the voice of U.S. Representative John Conyers talking about the American Dream that has turned into a nightmare for the rest of the world. We’ll also hear from Bob Newland and Jeremy Briggs the co-publishers of Hemphasis the magazine which tells us about the 20,000 plus users of is little plant that could if we’d only let it. I want to kick todays show off with a little editorial on Drug War Policy.

This policy is based on nothing more than now thoroughly debunked hysteria, superstition, and ignorance. The only basis – the only reason for the continuation of this drug war is greed - pure unadulterated greed. Asking a member of a law enforcement what we should do about the drug war is like asking your barber if you need a haircut. Seeking the advice of a treatment provider is a similar exercise in futility. Despite the machinations and distortion of the black market deaths from the use of heroin remain on par with deaths from aspirin and Tylenol. There is no grace, no bonus, no success whatsoever derived from the current drug war policies. Now to address the major problems – the U.S. policy of not allowing needle exchange means addicts often share both needle and life expectancies with each fix of heroin or amphetamine. AIDS and Hepatitis C are slowly reaping their harvest of death because of moral crusaders whose true bigotry and religious intolerance shows their true compassion for their fellow man. In prison inmates that came in as pot growers or minor dealers are often turned onto the joys, the temporary escape of heroin often time smuggled in by the prison guards. Of course the lack of a needle exchange in prison mean tens of thousands of prisoners released each year are returning to their families with a dose of a communicable and life threatening disease. In the U.S. more than 100,000 male on male rapes are reported each year in our prisons and one can only assume that many more rapes go unreported. This is not a genocide of Hitler, Paul, Pot, or Milosevic.

This is not the extermination of Auschwitz or even quite the horror of Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, though naked romps with prisoners seems quite popular here as well. We must acknowledge the diversity of the horrors inflicted the tens of millions arrested and incarcerated, the inmates and their families demonized and destroyed. We must see prohibition for what it is – a hopeless failure turned into a knowing, blatant, and horrible infliction of pain and misery on our fellow man for a profit.

DEAN BECKER: I wanted to let listeners know that we are speaking with U.S. Congressman John Conyers, the Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee and Dean of the Congressional Black Caucus. Welcome once again to Cultural Baggage, sir.

CONGRESSMAN CONYERS: It’s a pleasure.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, sir. I received a copy of your letter sent yesterday to the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee where you state your concerns that the Solicitor General of the U.S. Justice Department wrote, “May have knowingly or recklessly communicated false and misleading information to the United States Supreme Court”. I wanted to get your thoughts in that regard, sir?

CONGRESSMAN CONYERS: Well yes. The Solicitor General claimed before the Supreme Court of the United States that we had nothing to do with the crimes of brutality, rape, torture embarrassment, the salt that would bring on their intimidation. However, there’s a bit of a conflict here because the New Yorker article by Cy Hersch said that the President was briefed by Rumsfeld and today on the newsstand it said that not only was he briefed – the President, but so was the Attorney General and the Secretary of Defense whose resignation has been called for permanently in the Congress. So we need a special counsel. That’s what Special Councils are for so that the Department of Justice won’t have the have the responsibility of investigating itself.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, sir. Last week Bob Drogan of the L.A Times stated, “Coalition military intelligence officials estimated that 70 to 90% of prisoners detained in Iraq since the war began last year had been arrested by mistake and these figures --

CONGRESSMAN CONYERS: 70 to 90% of the Iraqi prisoners were arrested by mistake?

DEAN BECKER: Yes, sir.

CONGRESSMAN CONYERS: Well that’s because they were pulling them off of the streets, hauling them out of cabs, checking out peoples in-laws. It was all built around the notion that the President couldn’t figure out why we got so much information out of prisoners in Guantanamo and other places and so little out of Iraqi and that is how Abu Ghraib was born. This is not a rogue soldier’s enterprise. This comes from no less than the heads of our government in Washington, D.C.

DEAN BECKER: Another thought I wanted to discuss – Dana Priest and Joe Stevens of the Washington Post wrote that, “All totaled more than 9000 people are held by U.S. authorities overseas”. This according to pentagon figures and estimates by intelligence experts. Your thoughts on that, sir?

CONGRESSMAN CONYERS: Well what about it? I can’t pretend to be shocked anymore. We’re bombing wedding parties by mistake. We’ve got Abu the move now that neither wanted here that there isn't a thin build a new president but like the power through the prism of Ghraib, now they want to tear the prison down and build a new prison. Like the policy – the prison wasn’t doing that. It was the policies and the people in the prison. This wasn’t something wrong with the cement in the building.

DEAN BECKER: Yes. Sir. Now these detainees have no conventional rights, no access to a lawyer, and no chance at a hearing and there is no guarantee of human rights at all according to the Geneva Convention or even basic human rights. How can this be justified at any level?

CONGRESSMAN CONYERS: I don’t think it’s justifiable although you might check with the President’s Press Secretary. He may be able to explain it.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, Sir.

CONGRESSMAN CONYERS: But you know we now find – this isn’t a matter of being a congressman or a lawyer or a government scholar. You go to the news stand, you buy the News Week, you turn to Page 37, and an investigative journalist tells you they not only planned it but they were worried about being hauled before the court of war crimes under the Geneva Convention. They were trying to make sure that it was all kept secret. Now these are very serious offenses and we need to know as a member of judiciary whether they are accurate or whether there’s a response other than just a routine denial by a press secretary and that is what I am trying to find out.

DEAN BECKER: Even for the media it is becoming kind of a sticky wicket if you will, to even challenge some of the thoughts being presented by the administration means they want to destroy the messenger more so than the message.

CONGRESSMAN CONYERS: Yes and you know the special counsel has been saying that we have proof positive of guilt. Quite frankly, if we did we’d be mulling over impeachment charges but we are trying to say did this happen or didn’t it? From this administration – the most secretive on record – we get nothing. So we have got to move ahead. Congress has a duty and there are more and more members that are waking up to the fact that whether these kinds of practices that plummet our respect around the world are going to be allowed to go on or whether they’ll be cut out.

DEAN BECKER: Yesterday in Houston there was a protest at the Halliburton stockholders meeting regarding what the protesters say is more profiteering in the U.S. Oiligarchy and I wanted your thought on our arrangements – worldwide contracts with independent people to provide security service and so forth like DynCorp does for the Drug War down in Columbia.

CONGRESSMAN CONYERS: These independent contractors are creating a bit of a problem aren’t they?

DEAN BECKER: Yes, Sir.

CONGRESSMAN CONYERS: They’re not under anybody’s control and apparently some of them do just about anything that comes in to their mind. That is all part of the investigation that will have to be gone in to.

DEAN BECKER: All right. So far as those held by the military in Afghanistan and Guantanamo and so forth – some of them have had visits by the international committee of the Red Cross and yet some of the CIA detainees have in fact disappeared. Please talk about that point, Sir.

CONGRESSMAN CONYERS: Well these are all things to be determined. The Red Cross was given a hard time because they were complaining about the conditions. They had reported it to Rumsfeld and others for months and months before it broke. How much can you be shocked with every time you get a new body, a new brutality, a new video, a new prison camp – in which they are turning it in to an interrogation center. I mean you run out of shock value.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, Sir. It’s time for action.

CONGRESSMAN CONYERS: Exactly. Time for action.

DEAN BECKER: Each year here in the U.S., we arrest 1.6 million people for drugs and the predominant amount of those arrested are blacks, then Hispanics, and then whites at least in correlation to their representation. Many have said the drug war is a continuation of slavery or the poll tax – it’s just the best means available to continue white supremacy in this modern era. Your thoughts on that, Sir?

CONGRESSMAN CONYERS: The fact that there is a racial factor as to who is arrested, locked up, gets the longest sentences, the most death penalties, the most brutality, the most abuse of process clearly race plays a role in it. I cannot deny that. The question is how are we going to marshal the forces to do something about it against those who say so what – they did something wrong. Lock them up and throw the key away. I don’t think that is any longer an acceptable approach to our criminal justice problems.

DEAN BECKER: Just as in New Jersey they had this modus operandi and though they said the practice of racial profiling was not being used, their method was actually found to be institutionalized and taught around this nation. Can we not see a correlation – another type of bigotry being practiced in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay?

CONGRESSMAN CONYERS: Sometimes it’s religiously motivated. Sometimes it’s ethnically motivated. Sometimes it’s motivated against nationality. We need some sociologists and psychiatrists to help us out.

DEAN BECKER: I wanted to close this out with one last question. I know you are a great jazz aficionado –

CONGRESSMAN CONYERS: Ah. You’re gonna play Coltrain to complete.

DEAN BECKER: I will put it in the background during the parting. Harry J. Ainslinger, our first Drug Czar – he and William Randolph made sure that lots of stories I call it Propaganda Republic in trying to get marijuana made illegal and mostly they eluded to the fact that many of the users of marijuana were black musicians and to further demonize these users they were sure to point out that it was jazz musicians. Your thoughts on that, Sir?

CONGRESSMAN CONYERS: I am disappointed to know that that happened but I can’t say I am surprised. Racism is not a logical operation. So I thought you were gonna play Coltrain.

DEAN BECKER: No, Sir. I will have to overlay it behind the track. When it’s on Track 1 I will put it on Track 2.

CONGRESSMAN CONYERS: Okay. Well take good care and let us stay in touch because this resolution will be sent forth wit to the Attorney General.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, Sir, and as always it is wonderful to talk with you and we certainly will continue this dialog.

DEAN BECKER: John Coltrain in a Sentimental Movie

(MUSIC)

In a mood for the return to the American justice system of just 100 years ago before the advent of these corporate powers that now seek to run every aspect of our lives. Thank you, Congressman Conyers. Now we are gonna take a little break and play Name That Drug By its Side Effects and hear about the Volcano Vaporizer – it takes the smoking out of smoking marijuana.

MALE VOICE: Marijuana may not cause the overdose deaths like heroin but it’s just as dangerous.

DEAN BECKER: For as long as man has been recording history marijuana is shown itself to be of great benefit in fighting anxiety.

It’s time to play Name That Drug By its Side Effects. Anorexia, nausea, insomnia, constipation, or diarrhea and loose stools, agitation, tremors, decreased libido, and failure to ejaculate. Times Up! The answer: Zoloft. Another FDA Approved product.

That was about all from the year 2005, this is from last year. It's Lucas Wiessing, who heads up the European Monitoring Centre on Drugs and Drug Abuse there in Lisbon, Portugal.

LUCAS WEISSING: My name is LUCAS WIESSING: My name is Lucas Wiessing, I'm a Dutch epidemiologist at this European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction, the EMCDDA, based in Lisbon, Portugal. We collect data and try to provide evidence on the drug problem in Europe, so that individual European countries can make their own policies.

DEAN BECKER: Right. Portugal has done an amazing thing, they set an example for the rest of the world, really, to follow, and much of Europe is in fact following them. Am I correct in that assumption?

LUCAS WIESSING: In a certain sense, yes. I think you're right that Portugal has quite recently, in 2001, decriminalized the possession of drugs, so that if you're being caught by the police in possession of drugs, you're no longer going to jail.

And there is a system of what they call dissuasion committees, where you will be interviewed and will be assessed for, if you are problematic then they will actually recommend drug treatment, if you're not problematic, you will just have that interview and that's it.

Portugal is obviously not -- it's now the most recent example, and has gone quite far in legally changing their law and decriminalizing, but of course we have other countries in Europe, the Netherlands for example, that has a long term non-criminal policy by simply not enforcing the criminal law, and then you have countries outside the European Union, like Switzerland, which have been very forward also in, for example, what we call harm reduction, just like the Netherlands.

So, it's not just Portugal, and it started already a little bit before Portugal, but there are now a couple of countries, together with Portugal, that are moving in the, I would say, a right direction of seeing the drug problem as a health problem rather than as a judicial problem.

DEAN BECKER: Right. I speak primarily about the United States, you know, we have arrested nearly fifty million of our citizens for mostly minor amounts of drugs. And it just seems that there's a lot of more difficult, more dangerous problems that we could be dealing with instead of wasting so much manpower there.

LUCAS WIESSING: There is, as I told you before also, there's a sort of convergence in European countries the last two decades, where this -- this, there is a more focus on health, and, well, it's what we call the balanced approach, so there is basically a balance between criminalizing the dealers, the big dealers, but not the users, not the small users, and the other pillar is the health pillar, and of course, also including harm reduction.

We have a quite coverage of harm reduction, and, so mainly that involves methadone treatment, substitution --opiate substitution treatment for opiate users, and the provision of syringes and needles for injectors. A number of countries now, with a lot of, what we call consumption, safe consumption rooms, where people are able to use under supervision and are being helped with their social and medical problems.

DEAN BECKER: Well, Lucas, this reminds me, that's one of my goals of the last year or two, and that's to create a stir, to get people talking about these safe consumption rooms, for my city of Houston. I mean, we have increasing numbers of opioid deaths, like every major city, I think, at this time. I can't even find the word, but it's the right thing, to save lives.

LUCAS WIESSING: Well, yeah, it is obvious that young people take risks, and sometimes the risks are not that big, I mean, you know, like smoking a joint is probably not going to kill you, but, you know, injecting heroin is a little bit more dangerous, quite dangerous of course, and now we see, especially in the United States, the spread of fentanyl, which is extremely dangerous, and causing all these overdose deaths. So it's a very scary situation, especially in the US, and we see also some countries in Europe, and the UK, and in northern European countries, we see also increases in overdose deaths.

So it's very scary, and yes, consumption rooms, we think they play a very positive role. The evidence is scarce, yet, because of the trouble that studies have been very difficult to do, because of the controversies around consumption rooms. So we still need better studies to show, you know, that what we, what seems obvious is that if you're in a consumption room, using with good supervision, that, if an accident happens, that you can be helped quite quickly.

Another prevention measure that is being rolled out across Europe is trying to give people naloxone, so that, to give peers of drug users, so that usually when they use in groups or together, with at least two, that the person who's not, who's actually, you know, witnessing the overdose, can help the patient by administering naloxone.

And that should also save a lot of lives. So, yeah, there is, I think, good things, but it's difficult to introduce because of the controversy, especially with consumption rooms. It's obvious that you're sort of accepting drug use, and that if it's legally not acceptable, then it's a very difficult thing to implement.

So, you need to -- you need to really accept the, you know, there is a conflict with the law, and countries that, like Portugal, change their law, decriminalize, have it less difficult, but even here, it's not easy to set up consumption rooms.

At the moment, a couple of countries are having -- have been able to spread them out. Other countries are trying to introduce them, are talking about it, trying to make pilot plans, but it's not easy. It's probably a little bit like what you're seeing in the United States with the liberalization of cannabis sales.

DEAN BECKER: The recognition of the failure, I guess, is what I'm really saying, of past process, of the drug war, is being recognized in Texas, across America, into Canada, down into Mexico, Central and South America, I hear recognition of that, that Uruguay legalizing cannabis, that Colombia is nearly so, that the price is down to under twenty dollars a pound. Recognizing that these changes, these nuances, do not create overdose deaths, do not create children's involvement, and do not exacerbate the problem.

LUCAS WIESSING: Yeah. Well, you know, it's a little bit early to say that there are no negative consequences of, for example, liberalization of cannabis. We, as you say, we don't think that cannabis causes a lot of deaths. We, there's basically no evidence for that. But, of course, if you liberalize, there can be unintended consequences: more kids like, you know, accidentally having, you know, ingesting it because it's, like, marketed as sweets and all that.

So, what we are -- what we try to promote, and what is a role also for the European region, is to gather that evidence, and to do good studies, to say well we'd better understand what's going on. I think what you see in the US is rolling out, it's spreading out, the sales, and what we stress, and I mentioned that publication we did recently in the International Journal of Drug Policy, is that there is a need to gather those data, to look at it.

Obviously we don't expect overdose deaths from cannabis, so that should be a relatively safe thing to do. The, what's happening, but, you know, we need evidence, and that's our role here. So, as I explained also, as a European Monitoring Centre, we are -- we're not allowed, and we would not tell countries what to do. We are -- our role is to gather the evidence and to make publications showing the data, and hopefully contribute to a rational drug policy.

DEAN BECKER: Once again, we're speaking with Mister Lucas Wiessing, he's with the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction. What am I leaving out, sir? What would you want to share with the American listening audience?

LUCAS WIESSING: I would invite American colleagues to come over to Europe and to visit us, the EMCDDA in Lisbon. I would be very happy to show our data, obviously our data's online so you can just go to our website, see our annual reports, and see our publications.

And conversely, you know, we are visiting the US, several of my colleagues have been there recently, and we are trying to understand what's going on with the cannabis liberalization, with the overdose deaths. We are collaborating closely with institutions like NIDA and also like, on infectious disease, for example, with colleagues like, from the CDC, and I think information exchange is very important, and trying to learn, and especially to base ourselves on sound data and evidence.

DEAN BECKER: Well thank you for that, Lucas. I would just close it out with I try my hardest to get NIDA, to get the DEA, to get the CDC, to get any of those top dog organizations in my country to go on the air and clarify for me why we are doing what we are doing and why we keep doing what we’re doing.

LUCAS WEISSING: The problem is I think it’s the same situation as I was explaining. Also the EMCDA – our institution – is unable to make policy or to defend or not defend policies. That is just simply not our role. We would be closed down if we would do that and I guess that is the same situation of the colleague institution in the U.S. that you are mentioning. Because the policy has been made by the government in the U.S. and in Europe by the government of the member states of the European Union.

DEAN BECKER: Right.

LUCAS WEISSING: They make the policy and what we try to do – and I guess that that’s the same remit that NIDA and CDC are trying to do is to provide the evidence so that you can compare alternative policies, see what’s happening and make up your mind. In the end, the person who decides is the government and we’re not going to change that so we’d be really happy and we are already exchanging a lot with these public institutions and governments also visit us. You know there are people from administrations coming to see our work and in Europe we exchange a lot of information with them so they use us a lot to inform themselves. I guess it’s the same situation in the United States but we don’t make the policy and I guess NIDA nor CDC make the policy themselves. You know we are institutions that provide evidence for the decision makers to take the policy.

DEAN BECKER: I learned a lot from Luca Weissing, the top scientist there at the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction and he truly is one hell of a nice guy. Thank you, Lucas.

All right, as we close out todays show I want to once again remind folks that U.S. Representative John Conyers was one of the longest serving members whose resolutely liberal stance on civil rights made him a political institution in Washington and back home in Detroit despite several scandals he was 90 years old. And again I remind you, because of prohibition you don't know what's in that bag please be careful.

To the Drug Truth Network listeners around the world, this is Dean Becker for Cultural Baggage and the unvarnished truth. Cultural Baggage is a production of Pacifica Radio Network. Archives are permanently stored at the
James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy and we are all still tap dancing on the edge of an abyss.