04/01/12 Steven DeAngelo

Century of Lies

Steven DeAngelo, Pres of Harborside Health Center in Oakland, the world's largest cannabis dispensary speaks to 400 Students for Sensible Drug Policy in Denver

Audio file


Century of Lies / April 1, 2012


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.


DEAN BECKER: Last week I was in Denver, Colorado attending the major conference for Students for Sensible Drug Policy - more than 400 attendees from around the U.S. and, hell, from around the world. One of the main speakers, Steven DeAngelo…You’ve probably seen him on the cable show, Weed Wars, or perhaps you’ve visited his world’s largest dispensary, Harborside Health Center in Oakland California. This is Mr. Steven DeAngelo.


STEVEN DeANGELO: I love your motto, “Learn, Train, Act.” Wonderful. I admire your leadership – Aaron Houston, Stasia - who’s done such an incredible job not just here but through the year.

I see you not only as the training ground for the next generation of cannabis activists but also as the training ground for the first generation of legal cannabis professionals. I look forward to seeing many of you in the industry in the coming years as we move to build it.

AUDIENCE: [applause]

STEVEN DeANGELO: I’ve got a special place in my heart for activists because I was a young activist. I got my start in activism with an organization called the Youth International Party, the Yippies, close to 40 years ago.

It was back in the 60s. I grew up in the 60s and the 70s when young people were incredibly active to tear down the racial divide in this country, stop the war machine dead in its tracks and launch the gay and women’s liberation movements.

You know, young people have always played a critical role in every movement for social justice and I think probably always will because you see with fresh eyes and you think with new minds and because you are less invested in mistakes of the past and you are full of the life force energy that’s your birthright as young people.

So I welcome support from people of all ages and races and creeds and cultures. There’s nothing that means as much to me as having your attention and your support so thank you, very much, for inviting me.

In the earliest days of the cannabis movement, back in the early 1960s, all that the earliest activists knew about cannabis was that it got you high. You know, that attitude was typical of the earliest activist. People like Allen, people like Mike and Michelle Aldrich, who formed America’s very first cannabis reform organization, LEMAR (LEgalize MARijuana) way back in 1963. They funded it with the sales of Amorphia rolling papers made out of hemp.

The earliest activist stood on the grounds of individual rights – on the idea that the right to pursue happiness included the right to get high - taking their cue from the civil rights, gay and women’s liberation movement which emphasized individual rights.

So in 1970 when our first real political reform organization, NORML, was born it seemed natural for it to focus on individual rights. That strategy was successful at first. Between 1972 and 1978 eleven state decriminalization bills were passed. President Carter even publically endorsed the idea of nationwide decriminalization of cannabis – the closest we‘ve come to that since.

But the 1980s brought a reversal of those gains. Ronald Reagan and his allies unleashed the “Just Say No” campaign, DARE, Partnership for Drug-Free America. George H.W. Bush was appointed Drug Czar – the south Florida Task Force Chief where he wiped out all the hippie cannabis smugglers and replaced them with coke-smuggling, coke-dealing, arms-smuggling Contras.

And then there was this lady named Julie Nacpodia who launched something called the Parents Movement with a campaign against head shops and the paraphernalia industry claiming that those industries were trying to invade young people into a lifetime of addiction.

Kind of seemed funny at first but they were incredibly successful at rolling back the gains we had made. Recriminalization bills replaced decriminalization bills. Student Aid, public housing and even organ transplants were denied to cannabis users.

The U.S. Congress passed enhanced sentencing bills with ridiculous mandatory-minimums. You know, “including and up to”, passing death sentencing for 60,000 cannabis plants or more…I probably qualify for that 3,4 or 5 times over now.

So, why were they successful? Why were they so successful in rolling back our gains so rapidly? What they did is they transformed the debate that we were having from a focus on individual rights to a focus on social health to a focus on social health and cohesion.

They used our advocacy on the right to get high to raise a spector of a stoned nation. They were able to equate our support for decriminalization with approval of intoxicant use. They successfully argued that decriminalization would lead to increased cannabis use and that increased cannabis use would produce a culture of hedenoism. A culture who thought it was OK to sit around and get high all day, where kids would smoke instead of study, where airplanes would fall out of the sky, school busses would crash every day, where test scores and educational achievement would decline and GMP and productivity would take a nose dive, our global competitors would gain and, ultimately, the American way of life would be destroyed.

And it does…it seems comical to talk about it today, right?! It was effective. It worked. It was an incredibly effective specter that they raised. We traded decrim for recrim. We saw hugely increased penalties for cannabis. We saw the establishment of routine urinalysis in the work place and in the schools. We saw the denial of all kinds of benefits – including those that preserved life.

It basically put us to a dead stop almost until 1996. We really didn’t see any substantial forward political motion for all that time. It was largely driven by this idea that cannabis is an intoxicant. That it is something that you just get high on.

So let’s take a look at that idea. Where does that idea come from? The idea that it’s just about getting high.

Well, not surprisingly, when we study the history it was the creation of the prohibitionists – not something that came from our community.


DEAN BECKER: Alright, you are listening to Century of Lies on the Drug Truth Network. That’s Steven DeAngelo. He’s the president of the Harborside Health Center and much more out there in Oakland, California – the world’s largest cannabis dispensary. He’s speaking to the Students for Sensible Drug Policy conference up in Denver, Colorado just last week. Again, this is Steven DeAngelo.


STEVEN DeANGELO: For thousands and thousands of years cannabis users themselves have described cannabis as a medicine or as a tool for spiritual or artistic exploration. We, ourselves, never reduced it to something that “just got you high.”

That idea first emerged in the 1870s in publications like “Police Reporter.” But, it wasn’t until the 1920s when William Randolph Hearst launched his notorious newspaper campaign to demonize cannabis that this idea really became widespread in America - the idea that cannabis is an intoxicant.

Now, today we all know that William Randolph Hearst had his own financial reasons to put this myth out. His own financial reasons to suppress hemp and that’s an interesting story which I’d be happy to tell you another day. Too long to go into now.

But by 1937 his campaign was successful in making cannabis illegal across the entire United States. From 1937 to 1967 cannabis was pushed to the very margins of American life - a brutal campaign – wiped out doctors and hemp farmers who were supposed to be exempt from the 1937 legislation.

Harry Anslinger’s Federal Bureau of Narcotics demonized cannabis with great fabricated news stories, films like “Reefer Madness” and a parade of pulp fiction horror stories.

So, before long, cannabis had become the exclusive province of the underbelly of American life – musicians, prostitutes, juvenile delinquents. So, by the dawn of our movement, by the beginning of the modern cannabis movement that first generation of activist – people like Allen Ginsberg – had no memory of the medical or industrial uses of cannabis.

“Pot is fun” is all they really knew. And so they launched our movement on the basis of individual rights – on that idea that the right to pursue happiness includes the right to get high and that showed promise. We did pass those eleven decrim bills.

But, ultimately, Reagan’s social decay argument overcame our individual rights argument. And we saw very little movement for 16 years.

Let me tell you that was a miserable 16 years - handing out leaflets to demonstrations that nobody came to, putting out press releases that nobody wrote stories about. It was a difficult time to come through.

Let’s fast forward to the end of the 1980s. AIDS has decimated San Francisco’s gay community. Almost everybody had someone close to them that has died. Almost everybody knows somebody or is nursing somebody who is sick. Its swath of destruction has sweep across the city.

And the sufferers discovered cannabis was their best medicine.

So in 1990 came the spark that relit and ignited the cannabis reform movement when the San Francisco police department raided the home of my good friend Dennis Peron. They arrested Dennis for providing medicine to his lover, Jonathon, who was dying of AIDS.

They charged him with felony distribution and they dragged him into court and they threatened him with all kinds of God-awful sentences and Dennis stood up and he said, “Wait, that was medicine.”

Jonathon stood up and said, “Wait, that was medicine for me.”

And so, to everybody’s surprise, Dennis won that case. The court ruled that he possessed the cannabis to save Jonathon’s life and he dismissed all of the charges.

Two weeks later Jonathon died. And Dennis, in his memory, dedicated himself to making sure that all the other patients that needed cannabis would get it.

His first victory was the passage of Proposition P in 1991 which made medical cannabis legal in the city of San Francisco and followed up in 1996, of course, with the historic passage of Prop 215. In the years to come 15 more states followed California’s example and today 80% of Americans support medical cannabis.

AUDIENCE: [applause]

STEVEN DeANGELO: I think that we need to repackage cannabis and describe it not as an intoxicant but as a wellness product.

If any of you caught my appearance on the O’Reilly Show you’ll remember that he mocked me and mocked the use of cannabis for anxiety. But anxiety in similar conditions can be crippling to people who suffer from it.

Millions and millions of prescriptions are written every year for anxiety or depression or insomnia. These prescriptions are advertised every night on television with a parade of side effects that reads like something out of a Stephen King novel, right?!

I mean…severe skin rashes, trembling, dry mouth, impotence, liver failure, suicidal ideation…it’s crazy. It’s ridiculous because anxiety and depression and insomnia are all better treated with cannabis whose worse side effects are getting increased appetite.

AUDIENCE: [applause]


DEAN BECKER: Quick note…You are listening to Century of Lies on the Drug Truth Network. The speaker, Steven DeAngelo, president of Harborside Health Center – the world’s largest cannabis dispensary. He’s speaking to Students for Sensible Drug Policy at a conference last week in Denver, Colorado.


STEVEN DeANGELO: Cannabis is a safe and natural alternative to more dangerous prescription drugs and we know that prescription drug abuse is the largest drug abuse problem in this country today.

Cannabis is effective for a wide range of wellness purposes and, yes, I define wellness broadly – very broadly. I believe it includes to relieve illnesses like cancer and AIDS and Cerebral Palsy, and Multiple Sclerosis and epilepsy – yes, it does. But it also includes insomnia, depression and anxiety. It includes occasional problems like rashes and aches and muscle strain and headaches. Wellness also includes enhancing appetite or creativity or libido. It also includes commonly overlooked benefits of cannabis like an increased sense of patience and forgiveness and to enhance sense of wonder and play or deeper spiritual connection.

All of those things are legitimate uses of cannabis and, in my view, the vast majority of people who use cannabis do use it for those wellness purposes.

AUDIENCE: [applause]

STEVEN DeANGELO: Now my thoughts about wellness have been critiqued by some advocates of recreational cannabis. I’ve been accused of wanting to make cannabis legal only for patients and not for everyone.

Nothing could be farther than the truth. I’d like to clarify, very clearly, here today. I think that adults should be able to make their own wellness decisions about cannabis without a doctor’s recommendation.

AUDIENCE: [applause]

STEVEN DeANGELO: Right?! It just makes sense. It just makes sense.

Aspirin kills hundreds of Americans every year but you can buy it by the case load. No medical supervision whatsoever. You don’t even need to be an adult, OK?!

So what I’m saying is let’s apply a scientific standard. If it’s safe to buy aspirin without a recommendation then we should be able to buy cannabis without a recommendation too.

AUDIENCE: [applause]

STEVEN DeANGELO: But I’ll still say and I’ll still maintain that it’s a mistake for us to advocate for the recreational use of cannabis.

Recreation is not a commodity. It can’t be smoked or swallowed or rubbed on your skin. Recreation is an experience. It requires some activity beyond the simple ingestion of a substance.

Now cannabis can help you relax and thereby help make the transition from work time to leisure time. Or it can ease pains or emotions that might prevent recreational activity or enable physical activities that otherwise would be impossible.

But cannabis by itself cannot produce recreation.

The term recreational use reduces this complex, amazing, beautiful plant with so many benefits to the level of a simple intoxicant – to something that just gets you high.

And because of that history that I’ve lived through and because of those painful times that I’ve witnessed I’m convinced that the idea of cannabis as an intoxicant is a major, perhaps the major, danger to our movement.

It’s that image that enables the specter of the stoned nation that we were laughing about but which was so effective in the past and which our opponents will not hesitate to deploy in the future with equal effectiveness.

They like it because it allows them to paint cannabis use to leading to social decay but the idea of wellness transforms the regular use of cannabis from a negative to a positive.

It establishes cannabis not as harm to be tolerated but as a benefit to be promoted.

AUDIENCE: [applause]

STEVEN DeANGELO: There’s a lot of other advantages to the wellness approach. It provides valuable political cover for our allies, for our elected officials, for those who are running for elected office who want to support us.

It is consistent with the traditional American values like the protestant work ethic.

But, most of all, I think the idea of wellness is a good idea because it best describes our own experience with cannabis.

I mean…think about it. So many people have faced so much danger for so many years…would we have struggled for decades against the intimidating force of the federal government…would we have chanced the disapproval of friends and family and risked arrest and prosecution just to “get high”?! NO!

The reason we love this plant is because of the many different benefits it brings to our lives. It cannot and should not be reduced to a simple intoxicant.


DEAN BECKER: Wanted to remind you, once again, that that is Steven DeAngelo, president of the Harborside Health Center – the world’s largest cannabis dispensary – speaking at the Students for Sensible Drug Policy conference last week in Denver, Colorado.


STEVEN DeANGELO: This past year has been a challenging one – a discouraging one in some ways – for the medical cannabis movement. We’ve seen the Obama Administration break its promise – break a promise it made to us to respect state medical cannabis laws. And a resurge in federal campaigns has been unleashed on patients and their caregivers – a well-coordinated, multi-agency campaign.

We’ve seen armed federal agents raiding clinics and dispensaries and access points, seizing medicine and smashing equipment, prosecuting people whose only crime is providing medicine to people who are legally qualified to get it – in states like Montana and Michigan and Washington and California where the overwhelming majority of voters approved medical cannabis.

More ominously we’ve seen federal prosecutors insert themselves into the political process – threatening to .prosecute city councils and county supervisors if they dare to regulate cannabis - theatening to prosecute state and local employees for implanting any of those laws to regulate cannabis.

We’ve seen the IRS attack organizations like Harborside Health Center who provide medicine to patients charging taxes that no other businesses have to pay, hoping to bankrupt us, drive us out of business, force patients back to the street.

The U.S. Treasury Department has closed the bank accounts of thousands of dispensaries in an attempt to delegitimize us back to an all cash economy and the Bureau of Alcohol and Tobacco and Firearms in a really incredible move is now denying medical cannabis patients the right to buy firearms.

I mean, of all people who should be denied the right to purchase and have weapons you would think that it would not be denied to people who may be physically unable to protect themselves otherwise. It’s crazy.

All across the country we see the government engaged in actions that contravene our basic democratic rights and the sad result of this federal campaign is that hundreds of dispensaries have closed nationwide – throwing thousands of patients back onto the streets, back onto the illicit market, tens of thousands of well-paying jobs have been destroyed, hundreds of millions of tax dollars have been lost – all of those assets have been delivered back into the hands of the unregulated, illicit market.

It’s a crazy policy with all down sides and no upsides not just for those who depend on cannabis for medicine but for all Americans.

I’ve learned that the pace of social changes is uneven but sometimes the darkest moments come just before the dawn and I’m convinced that that’s where we are now.

It’s the last hoorah for our opponents. They’re pushing back now because they know how precarious their position is.

It’s precarious because now there’s really only one class in America that’s deeply invested in keeping this war and that’s the prosecutors. The American people aren’t invested anymore. 80% of them support medical cannabis according to the most recent CBS poll and more than 50% support legalization of cannabis for adult use according to the most recent Gallop poll.

The American people are no longer invested in this war.

AUDIENCE: [applause]

STEVEN DeANGELO: Their elected officials from Washington to California to Rhode Island to Colorado to Montana and Michigan have called on the prosecutors to end their vicious campaign…have called on the federal government to reschedule cannabis.

We’ve seen a wave of elected officials coming out in support of us like we have never ever seen in the history of this movement before.

Leading medical associations have called for reform of cannabis laws - the American Medical Association, the California Nurses Association and the American College of Physicians.

Civic groups as diverse as the NAACP and the CATO Institute support our call for changing the laws and now Pat Robertson….even Pat Robertson, right?!

After years and years and years as a rabid drug warrior has joined our movement along with growing numbers of people of the faith community.

And even law enforcement is joining us in record numbers. You can see it in the growth of organizations like LEAP and Lawman Protecting Patients.

AUDIENCE: [applause]

STEVEN DeANGELO: It’s only the prosecutor class that’s still invested in this war on cannabis and they are invested for the most ugliest and vase reasons. They are invested for money and they are invested for power. They love the power that this war has given them - with the creation of mandatory-minimums and the destruction of our fourth amendment rights.

They love the way this war has shifted power to them – away from the judiciary and to the prosecutors. They love the money. They love the money that has been shifted from education and from social programs to the punishment industry which they, no doubt, are just waiting to join as soon as they pay their dues in the revolving door of corruption..

They love the ability to seize property from those unlucky enough to be convicted and then they take those assets and they use them to buy the cooperation of law enforcement which knows better – which knows that cannabis is not a crime and should not be a criminal justice matter but cannot afford to turn down the resources that the prosecutors are offering them.

It was the prosecutors who launched this resurgent federal campaign because they know that their work and destructive policies are doomed by the successful models of regulation that we’ve still managed to create in spite of their campaigns.

It was the prosecutors that started this campaign and it’s the prosecutors that can end it.

We must focus on the prosecutors.

We’ve done a really great job in the past of focusing on legislators at the local level and the state level. We’ve been very effective at winning over elected officials. We know need to focus that same kind of energy on the prosecutors.

We need it flood them with email and phone calls. We need to fill their offices with angry patients demanding justice. We must focus the spotlight on them and shame them for oppressing the sick and denying them the medicine that they need.

We need to branch out from the democrats who have proven themselves untrustworthy allies and start working to build new alliances with the libertarian wing of the republican party – reaching out to people like Rand Paul<?> and Pat Robertson.

And we all, each of us, in our own ways, in our own places need to continue deploying our favorite strategies.

We are now a mature movement. There’s many strategies in our tool chest. We should always continue to assume good intentions on the part of our fellow activists and never allow individual pride to stand in the way of advancing the movement.

Let’s support each other with unity.

Most of all…don’t lose hope and don’t lose heart.

AUDIENCE: [applause]

STEVEN DeANGELO: It was so dismaying and so dispiriting to see what happened with Prop 19 in California which, but for the disunity of the cannabis movement, could have won and should have won.

We can’t ever allow that to happen again.

AUDIENCE: [applause]

STEVEN DeANGELO: You know I don’t think it’s really wise for us to advance the idea of recreational cannabis but I’ll tell you what there’s not one initiative to legalize recreational cannabis on the ballot anywhere that I wouldn’t walk into the voting booth and very happily pull the lever in favor for.

You know it’s my generation and the generation before mine that gave birth to this movement but it’s your generation that’s going to finish the job that we started. You’re going to take us all the way home.

And I know we are going to get there. I know that victory is ours, right?!

Just do the math. Look at the public opinion polls. Look at the trend lines. Look at the number of medical associations that have endorsed our position.

Look at the number of the politicians joining our cause. Look at the ever increasing number of young people who support us – displacing the older demographic that stands in the way of change.

There’s no question and there’s no doubt that regardless of the uneven pace of social change, regardless of the resistance of the prosecutor class, regardless of the broken promises of the Obama administration – we are all on the road to victory.

AUDIENCE: [applause]

STEVEN DeANGELO: We are all on the road to victory. We’ve come too far. We are not going back now. We’ve stepped out of the shadows. We’ve stepped into the light. We’re never going back to that place again. We’re never, ever going back to there again. We’ve stepped into the light and this is where we’re going to stay.

Thank you, very much.

AUDIENCE: [applause]


DEAN BECKER: Thank you for joining us here on Century of Lies. That was Steven DeAngelo speaking to the Students for Sensible Drug Policy conference in Denver, Colorado last week.

Students for Sensible Drug Policy, http://ssdp.org

As always I remind you that there is no justification for this drug war – none. Please do your part in ending this madness and Please visit our website, http://endprohibition.org. Prohibido istac evilesco!


For the Drug Truth Network, this is Dean Becker asking you to examine our policy of Drug Prohibition.

The Century of Lies.

This show produced at the Pacifica Studios of KPFT Houston.

Tap dancing… on the edge… of an abyss.

Transcript provided by: Jo-D Harrison of www.DrugSense.org