10/15/17 Doug McVay

Century of Lies
Doug McVay
Drug War Facts

Live from the Drug Policy Alliance's 2017 International Reform Conference, we hear from South African researcher Shaun Shelly, Pastor Kenneth Glasgow from The Ordinary Peoples' Society, and Drug Policy Alliance Executive Director Maria McFarland Sanchez-Moreno.

Audio file


OCTOBER 15, 2017


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

DOUG MCVAY: Hello, and welcome to Century Of Lies. Century Of Lies is a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

And this week, we are coming to you live from Atlanta, Georgia, site of the 2017 Drug Policy Alliance International Reform Conference.

SHAUN SHELLY: I'm Shaun Shelly, I'm from Capetown, South Africa. I am a bit of a generalist who specializes in drugs. So, a highly specialized generalist, and the reason I say that is because the field of drugs and particularly illicit drugs, or drugs that are deemed illicit, is vast. It takes everything from economics through to understanding the human condition, psychology, psychiatry, pharmacology, and those kind of differences and sectors that intersect into the drug field really suit my supremely attention deficit kind of personality, so my so-called pathology becomes quite an advantage in that.

I kind of want to know everything. I want to get the meta-view of stuff, and I think in the drug world, that very seldom happens. So, I have a number of roles that I fulfill, a number of hats that I wear. I spend most of my time working for an organization called TB HIV Care, we're based in South Africa, we're quite a large nonprofit focusing mainly on TB and HIV, which is pretty logical. It's been around since 1929 as an organization, which is fairly old. But I'm their drug guy, so I head up their people who use drugs policy, psychosocial, special projects, advocacy, and harm reduction section, and then as a subsection of that, I run the South African Drug Policy Week, as well.

And, then I've got a post at the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Pretoria, where I'm researching and implementing a community orientated substance use program as part of the primary care and primary wellness program that they've got there, which I think is quite interesting. And then I chair the South African Network of People Who Use Drugs at the moment, and I sit on the strategic subcommittee for the International Drug Policy Consortium as the African and Middle Eastern representative. So that's mainly what, you know, those are the four sort of main hats I wear. But, yes, I see myself both as an academic, as a researcher, and an activist as well, I think.

DOUG MCVAY: What is drug policy like in South Africa?

SHAUN SHELLY: They're very much informed by American drug policy, and --

DOUG MCVAY: My apologies.

SHAUN SHELLY: Yes, yes. And also, you know, obviously the international conventions. And I think one of the big tricks of the current drug policy status quo is that it's enabled us to perpetuate -- it's a little soundbite, almost, it's, like, perpetuating the colonial and imperial through the myth of the international, and what that means realy is that we've got this myth that there's an international consensus on what drugs should be legal and really, that is a myth. You know, which drugs are legal and which are illegal is an accident, or an intention of politics, not of science, and we're using this to impose a set of constraints and social controls on various population groups, and that's repeated in South Africa very much.

Which I find really sad, because up until recently, when we had apartheid, we had this huge set of activists, or group of activists, and unionists, and Marxists, and sort of socialists, working together to try and overthrow oppression. But now, these same people have become uber-capitalists, they are not looking at the way that the oppression and the subjugation of the communities is being perpetuated, and the drug was is exactly this. And what we're seeing is we're seeing the old apartheid policing structures are being used now to police drugs. And that for me is very frightening, you know, when you haven't dismantled this extremely violent and extremely rights-abusing structure, and are now using it to fight against drugs, you're actually still using it to perpetuate apartheid, as far as I'm concerned.

And nobody's really realizing that, and that's very disappointing for me. So, we have got communities who are calling for the death penalty for people who deal drugs, we've got people calling for the introduction of the military into certain areas, we're seeing that people don't see that both drugs and gangsterism are symptoms of a sick community, they're seeing them as causes of the sick community, and it's not very helpful. And so, my mission is to try and change minds and hearts of people, and get activism going from the grassroots up, in the same way that we had apartheid activism. I'm not for on instance saying that the drug problem is the same as apartheid, but certainly apartheid has informed it.

DOUG MCVAY: Well, and it's the policing structures and the violence and other things that are the, I mean, the tools and the machine never stopped, and never went away, the machine simply changed direction and changed focus. That's -- no, I can't. I can't. I'm trying to make an analogy with marijuana legalization and the capitalists taking over, and the regular people still being oppressed and communities of color and the poor still being out of the loop, and if they try and get in in an unofficial and unregulated way they're going to go to jail, they're going to be subject to incredible penalties, but it's obviously a much lesser scale.

SHAUN SHELLY: Well, I think that, you know, I think these things work in kind of fractals, you know, the meta-view is simply a repetition of the micro-view, as you burrow down you're seeing more of the same, more of the same, more of the same. And so the cannabis one is interesting for me, because in Africa, we've had centuries of nonproblematic cannabis use. It was the South African sort of white regime that really pushed to have cannabis on the initial list of illicit substances internationally. I think Egypt was the other country as well that pushed it right in the very beginning. The reasoning from the sort of South African, I think it was the prime minister at that stage, who wrote to the League of Nations, he said that cannabis makes the natives lazy, you know, directly, he said that. And we haven't critically looked at that.

But now, we've got this move towards legal regulation of cannabis all of a sudden, and it really is being designed for big business to take over the cannabis industry. Now, we've got growers of cannabis, and growers is -- sort of implies that they actually take some active role in the production of cannabis, they don't, they just simply keep the cows away from the cannabis fields, because the cannabis grows absolutely naturally in these areas. Totally naturally.

Every couple of years, each community will get flown over by police, the helicopters spraying glyphosate on them, which kills all their crops, all the flat-leaf crops, and in the other years, they harvest the cannabis and they sell it, they take it on donkeys across the mountains and sell it to people, and that provides a little bit of income for them, and it then gets smuggled through to the urban areas and semi-urban areas, and a group of traders, who are not making huge margins, because cannabis doesn't make huge margins, who are not part of the gang structures, are selling cannabis, and are performing a very important role in the informal economy.

Now if these people are excluded, or if there's a move towards big business, they're going to lose this income, because it is going to be far better policed than it is at the moment. Sure, it might not mean as many jail sentences, but put it this way, these people are certainly going to be out of business, and if they are out of business, a lot of people suffer. It's not just one person. If we look in the western Cape, we've got over 1,400 illicit, we call them shabeens, they're alcohol outlets selling legitimately produced alcohol but they don't have a license to.

And, once again, these people are very active in the informal economy. What's going to happen when the cannabis guys are gone? We're going to have a big problem. We're going to have eleven growers in South Africa, and believe you me, those aren't going to be 11 guys who are currently growing cannabis, or not growing cannabis and harvesting it in the eastern Cape or the former Transkei areas.

DOUG MCVAY: There's even a community in California that has, that's trying to decide whether or not to allow legal cannabis business within their limits, and the police department is arguing that they shouldn't because it would cost them more to regulate and enforce legal marijuana than they currently spend on enforcing marijuana prohibition, which, dear god, I want to check their math but I'm scared to think that they're probably right. They would spend more doing this.

SHAUN SHELLY: So, for me, you know, that's why I'm cautious about legal regulation. But decrim is an absolute no-brainer. Just simply stop arresting people. You don't even need to really change the laws to have de facto decriminalization. Just tell police to stop arresting people and stop investigating these kind of drug related charges, you know, that's not that difficult to do. And we saw that example in South Africa, for example, with apartheid. Everybody was saying, oh, you know, if apartheid falls there's going to be chaos and all the rest. There wasn't any chaos, and that was a much bigger structural issue.

I had dinner with Ruth Dreyfuss, the former president of Switzerland last year, and we were talking about the changes that took place in Switzerland. And everybody thinks that that happened over a decade or so. It didn't, it happened over one year. She was president for one year, and they went from Needle Park and huge problems, huge overdose deaths, huge transmissions of HIV, to the current Swiss situation in one year, because they had political will. Somebody decided this must change, and it changed.

So, you know, I think that decriminalization can happen instantly. It can happen overnight, and nothing's going to really fall apart. There's not going to be mayhem and destruction. However, when we move towards legal regulation, if you do it unintelligently, and you do it based on some sort of template that's not applicable to your community, you're going to be in big trouble. Very big trouble.

DOUG MCVAY: One of the recurring themes for me at this conference has been the dropping of the veil, the hypocrisy of the drug policy movement for many years has been that yes, actually, a lot of us do use drugs of some kind, many of -- and some of -- I've been a marijuana smoker for most of my adult life, and I've never been caught, never been arrested, and I haven't had a problem with it. I, you know, but I'm -- having said that, I've been breaking the law for most of my adult life, and so have a lot of the other people. We're not doing this because we want -- and that's the point, we've been able to do this all this time, and never gotten caught and never gotten arrested, it's not that the laws have ever stopped us, that's the bloody point.


DOUG MCVAY: But dropping that veil of hypocrisy, because the drug policy movement, we have always talked about those people as drug users, instead of talking about ourselves. Drug user organization -- the organizing of people who use drugs, I'm trying to get my terminology right, people who use drugs --

SHAUN SHELLY: Yes. Drugs, yes.

DOUG MCVAY: -- is relatively new, and I know that my listeners need to know about it, and that's -- could you tell me about this?

SHAUN SHELLY: Yes, so, and you're right about the terminology. The nice thing about the term "people who use drugs" means that you put people first, and I'm working towards a world where we can just drop the "who use drugs" part, because it is obvious: everybody uses drugs. So if we can just go, you know, people. And I often tell medical students and people who are studying to become psychiatrists and that kind of thing when I teach them, I say, drop the "who use drugs" part, and that's where you start your treatment process for anybody.

And for me, that's why people who use drugs movements are essential. But they also need to happen on a couple of levels, because in South Africa for example, I'm the current chair of the Network of People who Use Drugs, but I'm not truly representative of the people who suffer most under drug policy, because frankly, being a white male in my fifties means that I don't suffer the same consequences that other people suffer.

And when I gave my talk yesterday, I said to the room, I said, would everybody who has used drugs for a significant period of their life, and has never been arrested, please stand up. And of course, the majority of people were white males. And, I think there were about fifty percent people of color in the room, and they probably had used drugs and been arrested. And so I looked at my fellow drug users, and I said to them, why aren't you being more vocal about your drug use? You know, I was, for a period of time I was banned from coming to the United States. I couldn't get a visa because I didn't lie on my application form. When it asked the question "do you or have you ever used illicit drugs?" I went yes.

Now, everybody says, oh, that's stupid. I say, but you know it's never going to change until enough people do say yes on that. And when we can't get certain people to come and talk in the United States that everybody wants to hear, that when the president of the United States, when he comes to visit, he gets blocked from coming into the United States, you know, because he says yes to that question, you know, and obviously he wouldn't need a visa for the States, but I'm just saying, you know, your former president. In fact I wish your current president would take some drugs, preferably large doses.

But anyway, so, the issue is that the people who are protected, and who are able to take drugs, and I'm not only talking about the illicit drugs, I'm talking about people for example who are able to access amphetamines, or methamphetamines, or sort of very close to methamphetamines, or whichever pharmaceutical analog of street drugs, those are also drugs, and it's tremendous privilege to be able to afford to go to a doctor, to be able to have these drugs prescribed for you, and then, I think it is absolute hypocrisy to look down on another person who is maybe using a methamphetamine, who may or may not be self-medicating, we don't know, you know, and then look down at them and say, oh, they just shouldn't be doing something illegal.

I think it's absolute hypocrisy, and we need to challenge people in positions of privilege who are taking drugs to come out and own their drug use. In fact, I was saying yesterday, I would love to set up dummy courts for parents who use drugs, and never will suffer the consequences, and put them in front of a dummy court as if they were parents from a marginalized community, and see how they feel being treated and broadcast that, because really, a lot of people would be losing their kids. Ad executives, financial executives, you know, basically, I reckon we'd be seeing about 40 percent of the population, and that's just a thumbsuck, would lose their kids, because their parents use drugs in one form or another, but nobody's looking at them.

DOUG MCVAY: I've got to say that I was in that presentation you did at the, yesterday, and was one of the people who stood up, and, yeah, that, your challenge is one of the reasons I just -- is one of the reasons I'm a little more willing to admit now, well, yes, I've been using marijuana for a long damn time, other stuff too. I'd rather not go into the list right now because this is not about me, but the point is that you're right. We have to, this is ridiculous, this is garbage, we've got to, you know, we can't -- the hypocrisy, our own hypocrisy has to stop before we can get the government and the authorities to stop being hypocrites themselves.

SHAUN SHELLY: Absolutely. But what I found really, really interesting is that people have this fear of exposing themselves in terms of their drug use, and I kind of proved to myself that that's not necessarily true, because I work in a very conservative environment, I work in an academic environment, I work with police officers, I work with sort of the head of our narcotics division, and I will occasionally say I'm the chairperson of the Network of People Who Use Drugs, and they kind of go, oh, when did you stop using drugs, I say no, I'm the chairman of the Network of People Who *currently* Use Drugs, not who once upon a time used drugs. And they sort of like gloss over it and move on, because I'm incongruent with their vision of a person who uses drugs.

And at the South African Drug Policy Week, we had one of the -- the head of the police forensic labs was sitting there, and he said, I was really challenged and made really really uncomfortable, he said, because I looked at this person next to me who had a PhD from a very, very prestigious university -- you know, one of the two that there are, I won't say which one because we'll get to close to who this individual is, and they said, I said to them, oh, so do you use drugs? And they said yes I do, I use opioids, and he said, well when last did you get high on opioids? He said, well I'm high on opioids right now, by your definition.

And he said, I'd been having a fifteen minute intelligent conversation with this person, and I felt so guilty, because all my life I'd assumed that somebody who had recently injected heroin or had recently smoked heroin would be unable to hold any form of intelligent conversation, and this was probably the most intelligent conversation I've held for months.

DOUG MCVAY: Closing thoughts, and if you have a website and such that you could -- that people can find out about the work you do.

SHAUN SHELLY: Look, at the moment, people should just google my name, which is Shaun Shelly, and you'll find a lot of my writing, and other than that, I'm trying to resurrect my website. Otherwise, www.SADrugPolicyWeek.com, and they will see some of the work that we're doing there, and some great talks by a variety of people around the world.

At this year's SA Drug Policy Week, we had speakers from the International Network of People Who Use Drugs, right through to the current head of the Central Drug Authority in South Africa, right through to the head of the Narcotics Division from Ghana, who's a man by the name of Yaw Akrasi Sarpong, who's a dynamic speaker.

And we had four keynote speakers. We had Ethan Nadelmann from the Drug Policy Alliance, we had Professor David Nutt, from Imperial College in the UK, we had Neil Woods, the former undercover policeman from the UK, and we had Anand Grover, who is the man who decriminalized same-sex sex in India, and broke the patent laws on ARVs and managed to get ARVs around the world at affordable prices. So we had some really great speakers, go and have a look at that, and you can follow my work there.

DOUG MCVAY: Excellent, Shaun Shelly, Network of People Who Use Drugs, SADrugPolicyWeek.com.

SHAUN SHELLY: That's it.

DOUG MCVAY: Excellent. Shaun, thank you so much.

SHAUN SHELLY: My pleasure.

DOUG MCVAY: You're listening to Century of Lies, a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

I'm sitting here with Pastor Kenny Glasgow from The Ordinary People Society. I heard you speak in 2013 on a panel that was one of the most inspirational things I have ever been to in my life, it helped to change my perspective, and at least to shape my perspective, and before we start I just want to thank you.

PASTOR KENNETH SHARPTON GLASGOW: Thank you. Thank you. I feel honored.

DOUG MCVAY: Ah, the honor is mine. Could you tell me about yourself and The Ordinary People Society?

PASTOR KENNETH SHARPTON GLASGOW: Well, I'm Pastor Kenneth Sharpton Glasgow. I did fourteen years in prison. While I was in prison, I had an epiphany from god to start a ministry and go out and help some of the people that I used to do drugs with when I was on crack cocaine. In the process of doing that, I started looking at society and how it treated those of us who were incarcerated, how it treated those of us who were drug users, how it treated those of us who have been drug sellers, and just how it treated some of us.

And in doing so, I started studying these different religions, and, you know, everybody was getting a degree in theology, I got a degree in theosophy, the study of all religions, and I learned that those ten principles that we use as the Ten Commandments are ten principles that a lot of different religions use, that we're not aware of, and that concept of Jesus and Jesus the Christ, and I started studying his life, and that's what TOPS is, The Ordinary People Society, because who he went after was the ordinary people.

Well, they called them common in those days, but I got a thesaurus, synonymous word was ordinary, so we came up with the The Ordinary People Ministry. But it needed to be more than a ministry. It needed to attach itself to society to change the way society looked at the ordinary people. And so then we came up with the finalization of The Ordinary People Society.

We do three things emphatically. We feed about 300 people, as you've heard, at three or four different places in the south, southern states of Georgia, Florida, Alabama. We have a mentoring and monitoring program, everybody mentors but who's monitoring what's happening with the children, the ADHD, why they've got them on all these psychotropic medications now, and all that, well now when we were growing up that didn't happen.

And then last but not least, we have the Prodigal Child Project, where of course you've where I've changed so many laws, and well known for changing the law in Alabama, under the Moral Turpitude Act, where they can vote even if they are in prison. So, that's The Ordinary People Society and myself. I've been affiliated with the Drug Policy Alliance for about 11, oh, 11 to 12 years, and we've been working, you know, hand in hand, getting a lot of things done in the south, and so I end up getting about thirteen to fifteen laws changed in Alabama, three in Georgia, one in West Virginia, and one in Florida.

DOUG MCVAY: You do tremendous work, and I -- well, hold on a minute. Kenneth Sharpton Glasgow.


DOUG MCVAY: Sharpton?

PASTOR KENNETH SHARPTON GLASGOW: I'm Sharpton's little brother, I'm his half brother, we have the same father.

DOUG MCVAY: The Reverend Al, who's finally come around on some drug policy stuff.

PASTOR KENNETH SHARPTON GLASGOW: Thank god, he's come around, we've been talking about it for years. He's come around, he's seen it, and, you know, all of us that are advocates and activists that are supposed to be fighting for human rights need to recognize it as a human right, and not an opportunity to treat people inhumanely, such as the prisons and all these draconian laws do.

DOUG MCVAY: We're about to, the closing plenary's about to start, so I should probably get myself back there and make sure my recording is going. Any closing thoughts for our listeners, and is there a way to find out about The Ordinary People Society, do you have a website?

PASTOR KENNETH SHARPTON GLASGOW: Yes. Go to TheOrdinaryPeopleSociety.org. TheOrdinaryPeopleSociety.org, and you know, just look at some of our videos and everything we've put out. If you need any help in your different states, pastors, preachers, ministers, and all, please get in touch with us. We want to take the Prodigal Child Project all across the nation, and what it's doing, it's helping to aid pastors and preachers in learning how to change policies with the scriptures in the [inaudible] as well as sermons.

DOUG MCVAY: You're getting an award later tonight, am I right?

PASTOR KENNETH SHARPTON GLASGOW: Yeah, I thought you were going to forget that. Yeah, I'm getting one of the most prestigious awards I've ever gotten in my life, and that they give at Drug Policy Alliance. I didn't even realize the significance of this international award, but I am getting one for civil advocacy and civil action work that we've been doing, and I'm really, really feeling a little excited about that.

DOUG MCVAY: I -- you deserve it. You are -- for once I can say this without having to excuse or feel sheepish. You are doing god's work, and no one is more deserving. God bless, you man, bless you.

PASTOR KENNETH SHARPTON GLASGOW: Thank you, and thank you so much, and y'all got to remember, the key thing about people that have felony convictions, people that use drugs, people that have been out there and lived the righteous life? The key and operative word is, they're people. God bless you.

DOUG MCVAY: I'm talking to Maria McFarland Sanchez-Moreno, the new Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance, and first of all congratulations on the new position, and secondly, congratulations on a tremendous conference. This has been one of the most exciting I've been to in a long time. Well, silly question, but how do you think it's been going?

MARIA MCFARLAND SANCHEZ-MORENO: I think it went wonderfully. I mean, we got 1,500 people here, we've got people from fifty countries around the world, people representing all walks of life, from across the drug reform movement, including people who use drugs, people who don't like drugs, people who were in law enforcement, front line activists who are reducing harm and preventing overdose, people who are fighting for legalization of marijuana, for decriminalizing personal use of all drugs. It's really a wonderful, vibrant, energetic community that is, in very difficult times actually, making a difference.

DOUG MCVAY: One of the things that's been most exciting to me at this has been that, for years, there was a sort of split between harm reduction and policy reform. It feels like over the last few years that split has been narrowing, and it feels a lot like at this conference you've been successful at bridging that gap between the service providing people on the one hand, the advocates for the people who use drugs, and the other side, the drug policy reformers, working on this. Any closing thoughts for the listeners, and of course to remind folks, they can find out more about all this at DrugPolicy.org.

MARIA MCFARLAND SANCHEZ-MORENO: Yeah, no, I think that what you just talked about with the harm reductionists and others, coming closer, I think we all recognize across this movement that ultimately our goals are the same, that this is about human autonomy, human dignity, it's about respect for basic and equal rights, and so this is about very basic principles that we want our society to be built upon. And at this time, when so many difficult things are happening in this country, with overdose rates soaring, with a government that is very aggressively pushing for a harsher war on drugs that is often using straight-up lies to justify those policies, I think this is a moment where it's been especially important that we all come together, that we strategize together and that we be inspired and energized for the fight ahead.

DOUG MCVAY: Terrific. Thank you so much, Maria McFarland Sanchez-Moreno --


DOUG MCVAY: -- new executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance.


DOUG MCVAY: And that's it for this week. Thank you for joining us. You have been listening to Century of Lies. We're a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. I’ve been your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org. The executive producer of the Drug Truth Network is Dean Becker. Drug Truth Network programs are available via podcast, the URLs to subscribe are on the network home page at DrugTruth.net.

The Drug Truth Network is on Facebook, please give its page a like. Drug War Facts is on Facebook too, give its page a like and share it with friends. Remember: Knowledge is power. Follow me on Twitter, I'm @DougMcVay and of course also @DrugPolicyFacts.

We'll be back next week with thirty more minutes of news and information about the drug war and this century of lies. For now, for the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay saying so long. So long!

For the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay asking you to examine our policy of drug prohibition: the century of lies. Drug Truth Network programs archived at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.