06/21/15 Doug McVay

This week we talk with Steve Rolles of Transform Drug Policy Foundation and Nazlee Maghsoudi of Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy about the June 26th Global Day of Action for Drug Policy Reform, plus an update on Oregon's legal adult use marijuana program.

Century of Lies
Sunday, June 21, 2015
Doug McVay
Drug War Facts
Download: Audio icon COL062115.mp3



JUNE 21, 2015


DEAN BECKER: The failure of drug war is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors, and millions more now calling for decriminalization. Legalization. The end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century Of Lies.

DOUG MCVAY: Hello and welcome to Century of Lies. I'm your host, Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org. Century of Lies is a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network and is supported through the generosity of the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy and of listeners like you. And now, on with the show.

Well today, folks, we have a great interview for you with Steve Rolles of the Transform Drug Policy Foundation along with Nazlee Maghsoudi of Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy, they're both going to be speaking with me about the June 26th Global Day of Action for Drug Policy Reform. We talked about this event last week, but here's a quick reminder:

The Global Day of Action for Drug Policy Reform on June 26th is organized by the Support Don't Punish campaign. It's an event that aims to highlight the need for a better approach to drug policy and to show global support for harm reduction, decriminalization, and legalization. In the US, there will be events in Oakland, in San Francisco, and in New York City on that day.

The Support, Don’t Punish campaign is a global initiative being led by the International Drug Policy Consortium, the International Network of People who Use Drugs, Harm Reduction International, and the International HIV/AIDS Alliance. It calls for investments in proven effective and cost-effective harm reduction responses for people who use drugs, and for the decriminalization of people who use drugs and the removal of other laws that impede public health services. For more information and resources about the campaign, visit www.supportdontpunish.org.

The campaign is also organizing to demonstrate support through social media, for those of us who can't make it to one of those events. You can help expand the reach of the campaign by signing up for their thunderclap on twitter and facebook, or just share the event, there are links for all that on the website at supportdontpunish.org.

Now, I'll let Steve and Nazlee tell you more about all of that, but first, let's do some news.

The federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reported recently that binge drinking among underage people in the US has dropped over the last decade. Nearly 23 percent of young people in the US between 12 and 20 years of age are current alcohol users, according to the most recent survey data. Just over 14 percent of them are current binge drinkers.

Binge drinking is defined as having five or more drinks on the same occasion, that is, at the same time or within a couple of hours of each other, on at least 1 day in the preceding 30 days.

These alcohol use numbers are strikingly high yet they show a steady improvement over the last decade. Underage alcohol use in general peaked in 2003, when an estimated 29 percent of those between 12 and 20 were current alcohol users. Binge drinking meanwhile hit its peak in 2004, when an estimated 19.6 percent of those between 12 and 20 had been binge drinking in the previous month.

Alcohol is the most widely used drug among 12 to 20-year-olds in the US. SAMHSA reports that for that age group currently, about 17 percent are past month tobacco users, while only 13.6 percent used illicit drugs in the past month.

Here's some interesting news: States which have legalized medical cannabis have not seen an increase in marijuana use by young people. That’s the conclusion of new research published in the journal Lancet Psychiatry.

Researchers at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University examined data on marijuana use by young people gathered through the University of Michigan’s Monitoring The Future Survey Project. They looked at responses from over one million young people surveyed between 1991 and 2014.

The study’s authors concluded that “passage of state medical marijuana laws does not increase adolescent use of marijuana.” These results held true even the authors redefined marijuana use as any use in the previous year, when they controlled for frequency of use, and when they reanalyzed the laws for delayed effects and for variation in provisions for dispensaries.

The researchers also found that although states which have legalized medical cannabis had higher rates of use by youth than those that did not, “the risk of use before passing medical marijuana laws did not differ significantly from the risk after the laws were passed.”

Now, full text copies of the study, titled “Medical marijuana laws and adolescent marijuana use in the USA from 1991 to 2014: results from annual, repeated cross-sectional surveys,” are available for free from the Lancet Psychiatry website.

You're listening to Century of Lies, a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

And now, let's get to that interview with I promised you with Steve Rolles and Nazlee Maghsoudi. We talked via skype earlier this week:

Steve Rolles is a senior policy analyst at Transform Drug Policy Foundation in the UK. He's been lead author on many of Transform's publications, he's a regular contributor to the public debate on drug policy. He's brilliant, he's someone whose opinion I greatly respect, and he's a friend. It's an honor and pleasure to have him on the show today. Steve, how are you doing?

STEVE ROLLES: I'm very well, thank you. I'm in Toronto and I'm a little bit jet-lagged, but I'll try to keep it together.

DOUG MCVAY: I'm sure you'll be great. Now, I've got you here to talk about the Support, Don't Punish coalition and the global day of action for drug policy reform. That's coming up this Friday June 26th, and you've got an organizer there from Toronto who's working on this as well. Before we get into that though, really quickly, could you tell my listeners something about Transform Drug Policy Foundation and the work that you're doing there?

STEVE ROLLES: Well, we're based in the UK but we also have an office in Mexico, and we operate internationally, and we're a thinktank and charity and our work is very much focusing on ending the war on drugs. And we've got a specific focus on developing models for how a post-prohibition world will operate and function, so we're looking at models of regulation for the post-prohibition world. So that's a lot of, that's kind of our USP that's kind of defined our work internationally, and that's our sort of specific skill set but we're also engaged in a lot of the broader campaigns around harm reduction, decriminalization, and human rights and public health and all the other elements of drug policy debate.

DOUG MCVAY: Terrific, and I know that that's one thing that frankly is missing, you're right it's a unique selling point. Not a lot of people look at how the post-prohibition world is really going to work, we focus on opposing things, we focus on trying to make a change, but trying to see what it actually is going to look like when these changes happen -- boy oh boy, that's really new thinking for a lot of folks, down here at least, in the US.

STEVE ROLLES: Yeah, I mean, it's, I mean, we noticed that there was a very clear and eloquent critique of the war on drugs, but there was a bit of a gap in terms of, yeah, you know, it wasn't quite matched by an eloquent vision of what the alternative to the war on drugs was, so that's a gap over the last 10 years that we've really tried to fill.

DOUG MCVAY: Now, the Support Don't Punish. Folks have been working to build this coalition for a few years now. Tell me something about that.

STEVE ROLLES: Well, Support Don't Punish takes place on World Anti-Drugs Day, or the -- I can't remember exactly what the title of the day is, but it's a UN event, and usually it's the day that the world drug report is released. And it's historically been a day in which the UNODC and the UN drug agencies, that are very kind of conservative drug war status quo agencies, unleash a whole bunch of propaganda about how great the war on drugs is.

And so, the idea of the Support Don't Punish campaign was really to challenge some of that, challenge that sort of status quo narrative and say actually, there's a whole bunch of stuff that you're not talking about. The war on drugs isn't helping people, particularly people who use drugs, it's actually harming them. Punishment isn't an appropriate response to a public health problem. We need to be providing harm reduction and treatment and services for people who use drugs, not punishing them, criminalizing them, and imprisoning them. So the idea of Support Don't Punish is to have a kind of civil society response, to reclaim that day for common sense, reason, and evidence, and that's been the idea behind it, and it's really taken off, so the first year I think there was twenty cities, I think last year there was 110, and this year there's going to be, the target is 140.

So it's a genuinely global campaign, and it's -- there's actions all over the world, on every continent, and last year in particular, it really dominated the media on that day, so it really stole the thunder from the UNODC and reshaped the narrative, so it's a really successful, global, civil society-led campaign to reshape the drug policy debate.

DOUG MCVAY: Well, it sounds terrific. I know that what I've seen has been really positive, in fact you mentioned the UN, back in '87 they began observing June 26th: World Drug Day, which actually sounds really fun, but the fuller title is the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking. And, yeah. But you've been doing this since 2013. In 2015, 140 different events -- er, places around the world scheduled. You've got with you, I apologize if I get your name wrong, but Nazlee Maghsoudi?

NAZLEE MAGHSOUDI: Yeah, that works.

DOUG MCVAY: Yeah? Well, close. You're in Toronto and you're part of Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy. Tell me about what you've got planned up there in Toronto?

NAZLEE MAGHSOUDI: Right. So we'll be holding a rally at our drug users memorial, which is a place at a community center where there's a plaque and a bunch of memorial things put up to honor the lives of those who have been lost as a result of our prohibitionist drug policies. So we'll be gathering there on that day, speaking about the failures of the war on drugs. There'll be a few different community leaders that will be speaking to the group. We'll be chanting in the streets, having some materials to give out to people that walk by, to educate them about the failed war on -- world -- the failed prohibitionist drug policies. And yeah, so essentially we just want to join in with the 100, other 139 countries or cities that will be doing that, and build up that global movement.

What's really exciting is last year's Support Don't Punish, as Steve mentioned, was a big media hit, but it was also trending on Twitter, which as we know is sort of a tough thing to do in this day and age, but we're excited to join that movement. It will be the first action in Toronto, not the first one in Canada, but in Toronto, so it's an exciting day for our city.

DOUG MCVAY: Well that sounds terrific. Now, of course, this is, a lot of this is building up toward the United Nations Special Session, the UNGASS, that's held, that's being held next year in April of 2016 to discuss the world drug problem. Steve, I know that your organization Transform is working with a lot of other NGOs around the world and here in the US to build support for drug policy reform internationally and within the UN. Could you tell our listeners a little bit about that effort?

STEVE ROLLES: Well, I mean, the UNGASS is a big moment because the eyes of the world will be on the issue, and heads of state from all over the world will gather in New York to talk about drugs with, for the first time really, ever, a reform mandate. This UNGASS, this special session at the UN, was brought about by the efforts of three countries: Colombia, Mexico, and Guatemala, with a very specific call, that they were just frustrated with the failings of the war on drugs, and they were very explicit about this, they stood up at the UN and said, the war on drugs is failing, we need to talk about this, we need to look at alternatives, and we can't go on with the status quo any longer.

So, we've got the first, really ever, major UN summit on drugs with a reform mandate, and, you know, I don't think any -- it's not going to signal the end of the war on drugs, but it may be the beginning of the end of the war on drugs. And it's going to be a big media opportunity, a big opportunity for NGOs and civil society groups, and it's a big opportunity for the reform states around the world, of which there are a great number, to really stand up and be counted, and to say enough's enough, we need change, and to start trying to spell out what that change really means.

So, it's going to be a big moment in the evolution of the global drug reform debate, and there's an awful lot of groups doing an awful lot of work. Support Don't Punish is one part of that, but there's also a whole bunch of other campaigning, organizations are going to be involved, and if your listeners are interested in getting involved in that, and I encourage them to do so, there's an awful lot of resources online that they can find out more about that.

DOUG MCVAY: Well, in fact, that brings me to the next question, is where can listeners find out more about the work that you're doing generally, you know, your website at Transform, but also about the Support Don't Punish, and about the organizing for UNGASS, and throw in there some more stuff about how to follow you on twitter and the other social media.

STEVE ROLLES: Cool. Well, there's the Transform website, which is TDPF.org.uk, there's the SupportDontPunish.org website. The International Drug Policy Consortium does a lot of the coordinating around the UNGASS work, that's IDPC.org. I'm sure Nazlee's got some other -- other websites you might want to mention.

NAZLEE MAGHSOUDI: Yeah, an important one I would say for the UNGASS conversation is UNDrugPolicyReform.com, which is a website that's been made up of all these organizations that are working towards informing that UN conversation. And maybe I'll also pitch the International Center for Science in Drug Policy website, which is ICSDP.org, which is an organization that's also working to bring scientific and academic voices to the UN drug policy debate, as we know that the evidence says that the global war on drugs has failed.

DOUG MCVAY: Terrific, and Nazlee, I work with a thing called Common Sense for Drug Policy, and we were active in helping to support and start up the Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy, getting folks from SSDP up there and rolling across the -- oh, in the dead of winter, driving and walking across Canada trying to drum up support, and -- yeah, I'm the smart one, I know what thermal insulated tights are, oh, those kids -- but anyway, so where can people find out more about CSSDP and the work that you folks are doing? Because I know that you've been doing a terrific job.

NAZLEE MAGHSOUDI: Yeah, so, we're online as well, CSSDP.org. We have a facebook page and a twitter, all under the same name, just Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy or CSSDP. But yeah, CSSDP has also really been engaged in the UN drug policy reform conversation. We've attended a lot of the high level UN meetings, and really counted -- shown up to sort of try and counter that rhetoric around protecting youth from drugs, and all of that, bringing the voice of young people who are negatively impacted by our current drug policies, and the voice of young people who use drugs, which is often overlooked when we think about the need to protect young people from drugs. So that's sort of the work that CSSDP's been doing, particularly around the UNGASS.

DOUG MCVAY: Terrific. Now I know that you folks have got to get going, but before I let you, have you got any, any closing thoughts for the listeners?

STEVE ROLLES: Well, I mean, just to kind of build on what Nazlee was saying about young people, and the UNGASS. The official slogan for the UNGASS is "A Better Tomorrow for Today's Youth." And they're really pushing this idea that somehow the status quo is protecting young people, and it's one of the narratives we really want to challenge by saying that the war on drugs is not doing that, it's not protecting young people, it's not protecting vulnerable people more broadly, it's actually endangering them and imperiling them and causing harm, and increasing risk, and fueling violence, and we, as the voice of civil society, really need to challenge that sort of prevailing UN narrative. Because they can't be allowed to be waving that around and get away with it. So this is one of the key messages that we're going to be pushing, is that young people and families are being negatively impacted by the war on drugs and not protected by it.

DOUG MCVAY: Terrific. Nazlee, any thoughts?

NAZLEE MAGHSOUDI: No, I think that's exactly what I would say as well. But essentially I think we really need to think about how we can best protect young people and families, and I would argue and I'm sure Steve would agree here that regulation would be a much better approach to protecting young people and families than the current model.

STEVE ROLLES: Yeah, no disagreement from me, no disagreement from me on that one.

DOUG MCVAY: Terrific. Steve, Nazlee, thank you so much.


STEVE ROLLES: A pleasure.

DOUG MCVAY: Once again, I've been speaking with Steve Rolles of the Transform Drug Policy Foundation in the UK, and Nazlee Maghsoudi of Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy. You're listening to Century of Lies, a production of the Drug Truth Network. I'm your host Doug McVay.

Well folks, while we have time, as many of you know, I live in the city of Portland, Oregon. Oregon has legal adult use thanks to a ballot measure which passed in November of 2014. The law will start to take effect on July First. Start to take effect, just partially, it will be come legal for adults over the age of 21 to possess small amounts of marijuana at home, and to cultivate up to four plants per household. Not all the law will take effect at that point, we will eventually have retail stores, which will sell marijuana and starts, and seeds, and the like, to people over the age of 21. That's not on track to start for quite a long time.

The state legislature is considering a possibility of allowing medical dispensaries to sell cannabis to adults over the age of 21. There will be restrictions on the amount available so that the adult users don't end up buying up everything and leaving nothing but dregs for the patients. We'll have to see how all that works, but they are discussing it in the state legislature, and to give you an idea of how some of that is going, I've got a recording from the state legislature's recent discussion over this. The Joint Committee on Implementation of Measure 91, joint committee is not a pun, that's what it's called. House-Senate Committee on Implementation of Measure 91, if you prefer.

In any case, we're going to listen to part of the testimony which was given recently. The first speaker is going to be Sam Chapman. He used to be a student at the University of Oregon, and that's how I met him, he was active with Students for Sensible Drug Policy, he's moved on from there and does consulting and lobbying, mostly focused around the marijuana issue, and around the marijuana business. And the second speaker is going to be Don Morse. He was a dispensary owner and is still involved in the dispensary business, he is also an activist with the business community and has been organizing a business association within that. They're both going to be talking about the need for beginning adult use sales on July First, some of the different reasons, and let's just go to that audio.

SAM CHAPMAN: The other issue that I just wanted to raise was just my support for early recreational sales in general. I think you're going to hear a lot of people talk about how, and there may be agreement already here on the committee, that, you know, in order to really avoid any black eyes in terms of, you know, it being legal to possess and grow but we have nowhere to buy it, you know, you will hear a lot about, you know, this is going to help us be in line with the Cole memo, I agree with that. I think the more important focal point that may resonate with this committee is that if we truly want to keep this industry a craft industry, and we want to empower the mom and pop small businesses to be able to survive in this industry, we need to have early recreational sales.

I can tell you right now, as a consultant in the industry that works with dispensaries, existing dispensaries and new dispensaries, that they're hurting right now. If you're one of the 130-some-odd dispensaries in Portland, you are struggling to stay open, if you're not one of the top five percent of dispensaries that have the capital to do marketing, the resources for all of these products that people need, you know, the staffing, just the overhead in general, a lot of these businesses are starting to drown and either sell out to larger big business, that is not local, and that can unfortunately in some instances circumvent residency laws, that we need to give local residents and existing businesses as much of a leg up on the existing and future competition that we will see in the state of Oregon. And with that, I'd be happy to answer any questions that you have.

REP. ANN LININGER: Thank you very much.

DONALD MORSE: Chairs, members of the committee, for the record my name is Donald Morse and I'm here representing the Oregon Cannabis Business Council. I, too, would like to offer my support for early sales. On Tuesday, we held a meeting of all our dispensary members, and overwhelmingly they supported the early start. The main reason that we discussed is that, we feel that medical dispensaries are going to be put in a precarious position.

We anticipate that the number of medical patients who will come in and get marijuana that they will then turn around and sell to their friends, basically, is going to be huge. That, by not starting soon, with under 91 and making marijuana available to those who want it retail, we're putting those people in a precarious position: do they go to the park and get it, or do they find a friend who has a card and, you know, OLCC calls it shoulder tapping or whatever, but however, that medicine is going to get to these people one way or another, and rather than putting them in a position where they may be breaking the law, I think it's in the best interest of everyone that we give them a means to obtain the marijuana as soon as possible.

We do have a few concerns about, you know, the July 1 date, that's only a few weeks away, to ramp that up is going to take a lot of effort on a lot of people's parts, we realize that. But at any rate, the sooner we can do this, the better. And then we're, just a few other things, if you will indulge me. There are a few items that pertain to medical patients that have, were supposed to be in a patients bill of rights, and they've kind of wallowed and if it's at all possible to see these amended into this bill, we would very much appreciate it.

The first one would be from HB2821, section 6, that doctors shall not refuse to prescribe medicines or treatment plans because a patient has a card or uses medical marijuana. If you, if this made its way, treatment would include the transplant list, so that people could not be refused to be put on an organ donor list if they're using medical marijuana.

The other would be HB2821 page two, line 16, or, I'm sorry, lines 26 to 30, allowing patients in hospice to be administered cannabis by those other than their caregiver. You know, the caregiver can't be there 24/7. These people are dying, they've chosen to use cannabis rather than opiates. Again, rather than force people into breaking the law on behalf of these dying patients, we need to put some language in there that lets them take care of these people.

And the last one would be HB2821 page four section 2, I believe subsection 4, which is lifetime card for chronic or terminal disease. Glaucoma isn't going to go away. Why do people have to go every year to the doctor, spend the money, you know, spend the money on a card. If you just want them to renew the card, fine, but to jump through all the other hoops is kind of ridiculous. An amputee with phantom pain syndrome, that, they're not going to grow back their leg. It's going to be there the rest of their lives. So, all of this paperwork is a tremendous waste of resources.

DOUG MCVAY: Again, that was audio from the Oregon state legislature's house-senate committee on implementation of measure 91. The committee is looking at rules and regulations and changes to the law. They've already promulgated bills which would change completely the medical marijuana program, and the adult use program, the adult use program of course doesn't even start until July First, and adult use sales are to start, well, who knows when. The people you just heard speaking were Sam Chapman, he's a lobbyist and consultant in the marijuana industry here in Oregon, and Don Morse, a businessman who's also organizing a business association in the marijuana industry here in Oregon.

And now that's really all the time we have today. I want to thank you for listening. This is Century of Lies, a production of the Drug Truth Network. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

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We'll be back next week with more news and commentary on the drug war and this Century Of Lies. For now, for the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay saying so long. So long!

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