09/11/15 Amy Ralston Povah

Cultural Baggage Radio Show

Amy Ralston Povah of CAN-DO foundation on need to pardon hundreds of women caught in drug conspiracies, Matt Elrod and Alison Myrden report on Canada's back sliding drug laws

Audio file


SEPTEMBER 11, 2015


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

DR. G. ALAN ROBISON: It is not only inhumane, it is really fundamentally un-American.

CROWD: No more! Drug war! No More! Drug War! No More! Drug War!

DEAN BECKER: 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.

Hello, this is Dean Becker. Thank you for being with us on this edition of Cultural Baggage. We've got a couple of great reports for you, coming up out of Canada, but first:

Last week we were focusing on the story of Jeff Mizanskey, the man who was sentenced to life in prison without parole for a marijuana charge, who just got out after 21 years. Today we're going to talk to a lady who was sentenced to a 24 year sentence for her involvement, if you want to call it that, in an MDMA distribution ring. I want to welcome Amy Povah.

AMY POVAH: I'm fine, thank you Dean, thank you for having me on.

DEAN BECKER: Now, Amy, if you will, fill the folks in on the details of your sentence and how you got out.

AMY POVAH: Yes. Well, first of all, if people don't understand the conspiracy law, then they probably won't understand the way the feds indict drug cases, and most people have a tendency to think that a person gets caught, and then he gets charged, and then he goes to trial, and a judge sentences him based -- him or her, based on whatever they did, one person at a time. And that's really not how any federal cases are prosecuted.

What happens is, they may catch somebody doing something and then they want that person debrief, which is a nice word for snitch on whoever they got their drugs from. And then they like to indict people in groups, in clusters. So when an indictment comes out, you're listed typically with about anywhere from ten to 20 people on an indictment, so it will be the United States versus, and then a long list of people. And then what happens is, for those who haven't already started cooperating, then the feeding frenzy begins, where the wheeling and dealing starts to happen, and most people, a lot of people understand that whoever gets the deal first, gets the least amount of time.

And my husband, who I was actually estranged with when this whole thing started, was a Stanford Law School graduate, so he really knew how to game the system. He was arrested in Germany. He had been manufacturing ecstasy, in both Guatemala and in Germany, and I was somewhat shielded from the big picture and I was -- had moved to Los Angeles about a year before he was arrested, so to make a long story short, I did a very stupid thing when I found out he had been arrested in Germany. I went to his aid, I went and visited him, and then I was asked to collect bail money. That ensnared me in the conspiracy law, because with conspiracy, if you just do one thing, they say if you do one thing, one overt act, you're guilty for what everybody else has done.

And it can be something legal. You can give somebody a ride in a car, you can accept a FedEx package, even not knowing what's going to be in the FedEx package. I knew somebody in prison whose husband agreed to accept a FedEx package, because she told him she would be out of town, and she said she never told him but it was money that was coming to her, and she didn't want it coming directly to her, so she had it go to her husband. And he got ten years. I got 24 years because I did go around -- I did some stupid things, I'm not trying to present myself as an innocent in this. It became obvious that he was involved in ecstasy. We used to take ecstasy, I frankly like ecstasy, I think it has a lot of beneficial properties, I've never had a problem being addicted to any drugs, so I didn't really see that it was such a horrible thing.

About six months after he was arrested, the feds busted into my home in Los Angeles, and it was a full -- I wasn't even there. When I pulled into the garage, I had guns put in my face, screaming, hollering, put your hands up, don't move, which is contradictory. And so I was asked to become a working informant at that time. They wanted me to infiltrate his organization. And I refused, and they basically said they could destroy my life and I was looking at 20 to life unless I did work with them. And, they harassed me for almost two years, trying to get me to basically bend to their will. And then eventually indicted me, and I was taken to Waco, Texas, and tried, and I was sentenced based on all the ecstasy he manufactured. He cooperated while he was in Germany, named everyone, even said that I had collected money for him, and he got a sweetheart deal, and when he did come back to the US, the same Judge Smith in Waco, Texas, gave him three years' probation for his stellar cooperation.

DEAN BECKER: Well, this brings us to a recent publication that you authored, in Fusion.net, talking about the need to, for the president to look at all of those that are sentenced, not just the few, and to look at cases like yours, where they were in essence just boxed in because they didn't want to cooperate, or didn't have any information to share, am I right?

AMY POVAH: Correct, yeah. You know, it's, I believe women are being horribly overlooked and under-represented by both the media and this clemency initiative. There are statistics that women have outpaced the male growth in prison population, almost two to one in the last thirty years, because of the conspiracy law, and because of ensnaring wives and girlfriends and just throwing them in the indictment. And so often, a woman, out of loyalty, sometimes fear, and there's a lot of women who, I've met a lot of women who have been physically abused, and they're not very likely to cooperate on a significant other. And also a lot of them were the only breadwinner, they have children, and I just think that we really need to take a look at this as a society.

Many of the women who are on my website are, most of them are first-time offenders and the first seven or eight have already served, in the top 25, have already served 20 years or more. And they're first offenders. And that is heinous, especially with you think that in the early 80s, we went from a model that if you were a first offender, you typically got probation when a judge had discretion in a drug case. And then in the late 80s, because of mandatory minimums and judge -- taking the discretion away from judges, we went to the current model, which is, you can be a first offender serving triple life. And Danielle Metz, for example, she just rode in a vehicle and had very little to do with the actual conspiracy, and she got triple life, and has already served, I think, 21 years, 22 years. And, it really speaks horribly upon our society, that we are so able to desensitize ourselves to something that now, a lot of people admit the train went off the tracks, but we're very slow to correct it.

DEAN BECKER: I don't even know how else to say it. A paranoid and delusional focus that they took on this in the 80s and into the 90s, and we have a lot of politicians now that are starting to decry the result, that are starting to back away from this need to incarcerate people for so long.

AMY POVAH: Oh, absolutely. You know, the last one who just jumped into the ring is Newt Gingrich, which, you know, I almost kind of cringe when I say his name because he was just such a strong proponent of these laws, and I, you know, it's a little -- too little too late, for me, and I think now that it's becoming somewhat popular, you're going to see a lot of people who really supported these laws and actually shoved them down the public's throat with fearmongering tactics, are now, you know, sort of stepping forward, and I'm glad, but it's almost bizarre to me that, when you have Newt Gingrich saying that we need to do, we need to look at criminal justice reform, that nothing really is being proposed that much. I know Rand Paul and Cory Booker have some legislation in, a few others talk about it, but it really should be front and center. There is bipartisan support for this, and yet I don't really see very many politicians putting any hard legislation, corrective legislation, on the table.

DEAN BECKER: No, that's so true, I mean, they need to step forward with the same fervor and, you know, indignation that they had in crafting these laws, do they not?

AMY POVAH: I know, right. When everyone was screaming about crack babies, and I got to tell you, it was, it was a bitter pill to be processed through what I call the bowels of our judicial system and see the way they were prosecuting cases when it wasn't enough to just indict somebody and have somebody say what they did. They made it clear that if you didn't help them pursue other cases, or ensnare other people, or even exaggerate the amounts of the drugs, a lot of the women that I'm trying to help, they have a term now for, it's called "ghost dope." And "ghost dope" means cases where there were no drugs seized, it's just testimony, and there's no real tangible proof. And some of them say, you know, there was -- there was maybe an element of truth.

Some people are feeding their own habit. Beth Cronan just got out and she was a meth addict. Her husband divorced her. She was a dental hygienist, and had a good job, and she became clinically depressed. She got involved with a group of people, and the next thing she knew, her life was a mess. And she got in with some people who were cooking meth, and she just wanted to support her habit. Well, little did she know, this group was -- had already been under investigation by the DEA, so when the DEA came in and raided, many of them had priors, and not just for drugs, but other things. And they don't care. They'll give the deal to whoever will work with them. And, because Beth was new to the group, they fingered her as the master cook, and she ended up with something like 27 years. That's a lot of what these cases were based on, a lot of them were people who were somehow involved with, in the drug trade, but quite often to feed their habit. And these cases were made out to be, you know, something like associated with a cartel organization, when that just wasn't true.

I don't know if people realize, but the conspiracy law now says that the testimony of a cooperating co-defendant is enough alone to support a conviction of guilty. They don't have to have, they don't have to do the wiretaps anymore, they don't have to have video, they don't have to have drugs seized, just testimony alone.

DEAN BECKER: Well, folks, once again, we've been speaking with Amy Ralston-Polvah. She's the head of CAN-DO Foundation, that's CanDoClemency.com. She's got a great article up there on Fusion, A Presidential Pardon Saved My Life, Here's Why Obama Should Pardon Hundreds More Women.

It’s time to play Name That Drug By Its Side Effects. Empty pockets, theft, lying, withdrawal, nose bleeds, fits of rage, depression, uncontrollable itching and sniffing, prostitution, jail time, heroin use, loss of friends, loss of life. Time’s up! The answer, from Purdue Pharma: oxycodone.

Well, this week, we're going to go north of America. We're going up to Canada. We're going to hear from a couple of folks about what's going on up there. I'm delighted to have my good friend, a member of DrugSense, a man who has been in the trenches of this drug war for quite some time, Mister Matt Elrod. How are you, sir?

MATT ELROD: I'm good, thanks, Dean.

DEAN BECKER: Matt, it is confusing, I would think, to look at what's going on in the US, but from here, it looks really confusing up north. What's happening with the drug laws and the marijuana situation?

MATT ELROD: Well, you know, there were times, a long time, where it seemed like Canada was leading the way in progressive drug policies and the States was lagging behind, and might a thing from us, but that's changed, you know, with Washington, Colorado, Oregon, Alaska. We're surrounded here in British Columbia, on the west coast, by states that have legalized, and yet, you know, we've sort of stood still or even gone backward under our Conservative government, who've, you know, are sort of living in the past, with mandatory minimum sentences for example, taking pages from failed policies in the US. Things have completely flipped around, and it is confusing.

DEAN BECKER: Well, and I understand there's going to be a new, not governor, what the heck do you call Harper, he's the Prime Minister?

MATT ELROD: Prime Minister.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. And he's being challenged by a couple of folks who are more lenient, if you will, in regard to drugs, especially marijuana. Do you want to talk about that?

MATT ELROD: You know, for the first time in history, or since cannabis was prohibited, we have a candidate leading -- a party leader in Justin Trudeau, Pierre Elliott's son, who is calling for the legal regulation of cannabis. And he's making that argument on the grounds that it would better allow us to protect young people and stop enriching organized crime and criminal gangs, you know, very pragmatic public health argument, but nevertheless he's making it. In stark contrast to the ruling Conservatives, all the opposition parties are calling for serious cannabis law reform. They're also sympathetic to harm reduction, which is something the ruling Conservatives have been very hostile to.

DEAN BECKER: As I understand it, you guys have now some major industry, if you will, large companies growing large amounts, and yet there was the problem that people who used to grow for themselves were going to be forced to pay the high dollar items to buy it from these providers. How is that panning out?

MATT ELROD: It is a very weird situation. You know, the government has licensed as you say about a dozen or twenty or so very large licensed producers, or LPs as they're called, who are limited to sending out cannabis via mail order. And in that environment, the dispensaries and compassion clubs that had been operating since long before that program was put in place continue to operate, causing the licensed producers to complain bitterly about the uneven playing field. In fact, the dispensaries have not only continued to operate, but they're proliferating to the point where there are over a hundred in Vancouver, so many that the city of Vancouver's decided to legally regulate them, to pass municipal laws that would regulate where they can set up and what they can sell and so forth.

Meanwhile, the federal government, you know, the aforementioned prohibitionist government, had rattled the saber about that, and they're none too happy, but the city of Vancouver once again is sort of blazing a trail. And when they rolled out the licensed producer, the corporate model, they at the same time pulled all those licenses for personal production or designated growers and attempted to shut that system down. And so those patients took the government to court, and won a temporary injunction allowing them to continue to grow their own or have a designated grower. And that's still battling its way up through the courts. It's a very complicated dynamic situation.

DEAN BECKER: Speaking of British Columbia, as I understand it, the Insite safe injection room has been challenged and so forth. How does that stand at this time?

MATT ELROD: Well, Insite is holding its own, as I say, they went right up to the Supreme Court of Canada, and the Supreme Court of Canada agreed that they have a right to exist, and what's more ordered the government to grant Insite an exemption from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act that allows them to continue to operate. But at the same time, following on that ruling, the government introduced a sort of Orwellian bill, as they tend to do, this one called the Safe Communities Act, I believe, that requires any other group that wants to open a supervised injection site to seek the consensus of the police, the community, health professionals, and meet a number of hurdles that they have to go through, hoops they have to jump through, in order to open an injection site, essentially making it impossible for any more injection sites to open.

They kind of created a Catch-22, because when Insite first opened the local community was very skeptical, and they had to operate for about five years before the local community came on board and said, you know, now that we've seen it operate we understand what it does, we understand that it reduces public consumption, reduces discarded syringes, improves community safety, and ushers people into treatment, and they got on board. But it had to be demonstrated to them, and I guess the Harper government knows this, and so they've created this sort of NIMBY situation where, if a group in a community is afraid of the injection site, and they object, then that's enough to reject an application to open one.

DEAN BECKER: But it's just a case of old hysterical values being clung to for too long, isn't it?

MATT ELROD: It is, and, you know, again, the Harper government appears to be basing, cynically basing their policies on ideology and appealing to fear and ignorance, you know, rather than for example explain to the Canadian people what supervised injection sites do and how they help, they're instead fanning the flames. It's depressing that, as the polls stand right now, about 35 percent of Canadians are still prepared to vote for the Conservative party. I dare say that they're the party of the stupid.

DEAN BECKER: Well, let's just leave it there for now. Folks, we've been speaking with Mister Matt Elrod of DrugSense, a computer guru extraordinaire. Closing thoughts, Matt?

MATT ELROD: Well, I take heart, you know, I've been at this since about 1995, '96, and I take heart that, you know, the states that are legalizing. It almost seems like the economic momentum has grown to a point where I'm almost ready to say it's inevitable. You know, after what happened in the late 70s, and we were so optimistic, and then we saw a swing back, I'm loathe to say it's inevitable, but it really does seem like we're making a lot of progress and we're looking at these now as a beacon of hope. It gets harder and harder for politicians to say that legalization and regulation of drugs will cause the sky to fall, when there are clear examples that it doesn't.

DEAN BECKER; And I'm proud to introduce one of my sisters in Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, and also a legitimate medical marijuana patient up in Canada, Alison Myrden. Hello, Alison.

ALISON MYRDEN: Hi, Dean. Hi everybody on Drug Truth Network, I hope everybody's fabulous today.

DEAN BECKER: Now, Alison, if you would please, explain to the folks first off, why you use medical cannabis.

ALISON MYRDEN: Yes, I most definitely will, Dean. I've been battling my health since I've been a young child, and I've actually been diagnosed with chronic progressive multiple sclerosis from the age of 28 years old, back to the age of 10 years old. So I knew all my life I was quite ill. I had actually had my worst flare-up, or exacerbation, which is an episode with multiple sclerosis, I had my worst exacerbation to date in 1992, when I lost all feeling from the waist down and couldn't walk at all. So now I tend to go in and out of a wheelchair. I'm back on my feet walking, thanks to things like medical cannabis, which again my doctors have prescribed to me since 1994 here in Canada, when I used to carry a prescription for cannabis around, and show it to the police when I got stopped, and then I was one of the first people in Canada to be given what they call a Section 56 from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to allow me to possess cannabis, because cannabis was illegal in this country at that point still, and still is.

And then from there, I progressed to the Medical Marijuana Access Regulations. They made me change over from my Section 56, and again I was one of the first 20 people in Canada to get that. And then I was involved in the Medical Marijuana Access Regulations from the beginning, which have now, as of April 2014, or March 31, 2014, turned into the Medical Marijuana Protective.

DEAN BECKER: Tell us about your intake, if you will.

ALISON MYRDEN: Now, Dean, sadly enough I've never been a recreational cannabis consumer, I don't think. As I said, I've been battling my health all my life, and I always knew something was wrong. So when I started actually as a medical cannabis patient in Canada in 1994, I started at the top that was allowed at that time, which was 28 grams a day, and now over the last decade or more I've progressed to 150 grams a day, one of the largest prescriptions in the country in Canada for medical marijuana, from what I understand, because I use it in everything from cannabis oil to tinctures, to cannabis creams, to smoking it, to things like hashish, even, you know, anything that will take -- I also, Dean, since again the mid-2000s -- sorry, mid-1990s again, I've been dealing with violent pain in my face and head, called Tic Douloureux, that's gone both sides of my face and head over the last number of years, and it's supposed to be the worst pain known to medicine.

Again, Tic Douloureux, associated with MS, is my main reason for consuming cannabis in so many ways. I have a violent pain 24 hours a day, so, patients like myself, Jason Wilcox and myself, and many others across the country, have been fighting to keep the right to not only grow our own medicine, but have -- if we can't grow it ourselves, have someone tend it and take care of it and grow it for us. We feel that, in our constitution here in Canada, we know for a fact that we have that constitutional right to take care of ourselves and use anything licit or illicit to feel better, so that has been our fight on the basis of the injunction.

So the injunction was filed April First, 2014, and again that was the day that Prime Minister Harper here in Canada had decided to allow licensed producers to take over this particular issue in Canada, and we made international news, Dean, fighting him tooth and nail. I was all over CTV national news here in Canada, out of Ottawa, that day, because we happened to be in Ottawa fighting it. And we're hoping that the British Columbia courts will rule in favor of the patients allow us not only again to take care of ourselves, but again if we choose to allow somebody that we love or care about, take care of us for, you know, ourselves, then so be it, Dean. We want that right. So that's where it is medically in Canada.

Legally for recreational or social consumers of cannabis in Canada, it's still illegal across the board. Every single province in Canada has no limit on legality of drugs, and so much so that they are 100 percent illegal, and do not let patients like myself, who fight to make these things known as medicine.

DEAN BECKER: Once again, we've been speaking with Alison Myrden, a medical marijuana patient up in Canada, a speaker for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. And, Alison, we've got to close it up, but if you had to pay ten dollars a gram, that would be fifteen hundred dollars a day, wouldn't it?

ALISON MYRDEN: Exactly why I fight the way I do for people like us all around the world, Dean, it's absolutely egregious of our governments to ask us to pay that amount of money when we don't have it, A, and we're on full disability and marginalized financially.

DEAN BECKER: I have beaten my head against the wall for fifteen years, striving to create this scenario wherein the fallacy, the futility of the drug war can be recognized for all to see. Will you please spend a few minutes of your time to help me motivate the drug czar to visit this radio program? What have we derived that begins to offset the horrors we inflict on ourselves and the world by continuing to believe in the viability of this drug war? Please, call the Office of National Drug Control Policy through the White House switchboard. That number: 202.456.1414. Ask to speak to the press secretary, Mister Zepeda. You can visit DrugTruth.net for that phone number, the email and some hints on what you might say.

Well, that's about all we have time for. Once 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 the 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.