10/03/18 Beto Orourke

Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Beto O'Rourke
Drug Policy Alliance

Eunessis Hernandez of Drug Policy Alliance, CA Gov Brown vetoes Safe Injection, Charles Hawthorne of Harm Reduction Coalition re forthcoming conference in New Orleans Oct 18, Texas Governor Debate on Cannabis, Abbott Vs. Valdez, US Congressman Beto O'Rourke in Wash DC and in Austin + Willie Nelson's new song Vote 'Em Out

Audio file


OCTOBER 3, 2018


DEAN BECKER: Hi folks, this is Dean Becker. Thank you for being with us on this edition of Cultural Baggage. We've got so much stuff, we've got to get started now.

In a tale of, in essence, two governors, there's a situation going on in California. One story we'll cover here in a little bit, but we have the good side of this first, to discuss with Eunisses Hernandez. She works with the Drug Policy Alliance, and I'll let her tell you about the positive thing the governor did just last night. Would you please explain to the audience what he did, Ms. Hernandez?

EUNISSES HERNANDEZ: Yes, of course. So, last night, the last day of the California legislature, in the last couple of hours, he signed Senate Bill 1393, by Senator Holly Mitchell, which restores judicial discretion to the application of a five-year sentence enhancement that can be applied for each serious felony someone has on their record at the time of their sentencing for a new serious felony.

DEAN BECKER: Now this is, I guess, an undoing, if you will, of some of the vindictiveness that was put forward back in the 1980s, would you agree with that thought?

EUNISSES HERNANDEZ: Yes. Back in the 1980s, when this enhancement was actually created, it was not mandatory. It wasn't until we started coming further into, you know, California's tough on crime era that the legislature actually amended the prop -- because it started out as a proposition. They amended the proposition, so that the enhancement became mandatory.

And so since then we've seen that there's been about a hundred thousand years of this enhancement applied to people's sentences within CDCR [California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation] custody right now.

DEAN BECKER: A hundred thousand years. Good lord. You know, there were similar enhancements, if you will, put forward by the federal government, by states around the country, mandatory minimums and so forth, to teach those druggies a lesson, I suppose. What do you think?

EUNISSES HERNANDEZ: Well, we know that it hasn't worked. We know that right now the drug availability within our communities is higher than it has been, you know, in previous years. We've seen that safety has also not been increased in our communities with these enhancements.

What we have seen is that millions of dollars annually have been used to incarcerate these folks with these enhancements instead of actually investing in, you know, a system of care that can support these folks get jobs, housing, and, you know, all the other things we need to be successful to reenter our communities.

DEAN BECKER: And, I think that is the point, that many of these folks, they spend years behind bars, they come out, and they have that black mark on their record. They sometimes can't get housing, can't get credit, can't get a job, and too many of them fall back into this mess again, wind up behind bars another time. Your thought there, Ms. Hernandez.

EUNISSES HERNANDEZ: Yes. So, what we've seen is actually last year we were able to pass a bill called Senate Bill 180, also by Senator Holly Mitchell, which completely repealed a three-year enhancement that a person got for each prior drug conviction that they had on their record.

And so under this, we saw folks with like twelve additional years, just because of this three-year drug enhancement. And what we saw is that the recidivism rate with those folks didn't change, like, the long sentences didn't make them not commit crime again, it only added to the barriers that they faced trying to reenter the community.

DEAN BECKER: And, that --


DEAN BECKER: Go ahead.

EUNISSES HERNANDEZ: Oh, sorry, just to add on, that in California, if you have a criminal conviction on your record, there are literally 4,800 policies that prevent you from getting some of those things you talked about, such as employment, educational opportunities, and even housing.

DEAN BECKER: Lord, I mean, you know, it's -- I hate to draw the parallels, but there's, it's almost like persecuting witchcraft or something, just trying to destroy the possibility of success. What do you think?

EUNISSES HERNANDEZ: Agreed. Destroying the possibility of success and also taking away the resources that could be actually invested in a model like that. We spend in California, at minimum, $70,000 a year to incarcerate someone for one year, and when we know and recognize that treatment and reentry programs cost a lot less money, but when we're incarcerating these folks, all the resources are put into that instead of reinvested in our communities where we know we can really support people.

DEAN BECKER: It just seems like such a squandering, such a waste, that $70,000 a year, imagine what they could do to help build a life, a viable life for people with that kind of money. Your closing thoughts there, Ms. Hernandez.

EUNISSES HERNANDEZ: Well, you know, these -- this is a modest step, really, in achieving real sentencing reform in California. California's sentencing structures and penal code system is a mess in regards to this, and so we hope that in the following years we move away from reforming these enhancements and actually towards more repealing them, because we know that long punitive sentences have been ineffective at increasing safety in our communities, and drug availability in our communities, and it's taking away from the resources that we can actually use to help people reenter and reduce recidivism.

DEAN BECKER: All right. Once again, we've been speaking with Eunisses Hernandez, she works with the Drug Policy Alliance. Their website, DrugPolicy.org. It's time for you to get involved, dear listener, it's time to end this madness.

Again I want to thank Eunisses for her thoughts, and here's the downside from California's Governor Jerry Brown. He vetoed Assembly Bill 186, which would have allowed San Francisco to open an overdose prevention service that would let drug users use controlled substances under the supervision of staff, trained to treat and even prevent drug overdose, and it would link people to drug treatment, housing, and other services.

The bill was authored by Assemblymember Susan Talamantes Eggman, and it passed the California Assembly and Senate earlier this year. Quote, "I am shocked that the Governor turned his back on the science and the experts, and instead used outdated drug war ideology to justify his veto." End quote. So said Laura Thomas, the interim state director of the Drug Policy Alliance.

Quote: "He cited long-disproven ideas about substance use in his veto message rationale. It's disturbing that Governor Brown apparently believes these myths about the need for coercive treatment, and even more disturbing that people will die because of his veto. Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in California. How many people have to die before Governor Brown is willing to listen to the science and evidence and experience? How many families have to lose a loved one?" End quote.

The negative health and social consequences of drug use remain staggeringly high in California, despite strong investment in treatment and prevention. Drug overdose is now the leading cause of accidental death in California, and nationwide, killing more people than motor vehicle accidents, and is the leading cause of death for people under 50 in the US.

Public drug injection is associated with higher rates of overdose, transmission of infectious diseases, including HIV and viral hepatitis, as well as a variety of nuisance and safety issues. The safe consumption site in Vancouver, Insite, reduced fatal drug overdoses in the area around it by one third. It also dramatically reduced public drug injection in the area, and syringe litter.

The bill was sponsored by the Drug Policy Alliance, California Association of Alcohol and Drug Program Executives, California Society of Addiction Medicine, Harm Reduction Coalition, Project Inform, and Tarzana Treatment Center.

Overdose prevention services, or supervised consumption services, are proven harm reduction services that are effective at linking people who use drugs to treatment and other services, reducing overdose deaths.

There is broad support in San Francisco for opening these programs. The mayor and board of supervisors, plus the elected law enforcement officers, the sheriff and the district attorney, supported AB186. Groups ranging from the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and SF Travel to the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, Saint Anthony's Foundation, and Glide Foundation support opening such services.

Public support polled at 66 percent earlier this year. Mayor London Breed has said that she will move forward with opening these services.

The following discussion is with Mister Charles Hawthorne of the Harm Reduction Coalition. We start off talking about Donald Trump's recent visit to the United Nations to once again declare an eternal war on drugs.

And that is the fact that, I think there was 112 nations that were there at the UN, signed in support of Trump's new effort, and that's kind of been the leading force, if you will, the United States, has, pays most of the dues for the UN and demands respect, if you will, from these other countries, and many of these other countries sign on board.

But they don't really ratchet up their mechanism of drug war, they don't go about it as draconian as we do here in these United States. I think they just went along to get along. Your thought there, Charles.

CHARLES HAWTHORNE: I definitely agree with that. I think a lot of people -- I think there's a very special history in the United States around things like prisons and police forces that doesn't really exist in other countries, and makes it kind of different, where we have a long history of police forces and prisons being directly related to things like slavery, and a long history of that.

Now, I think other countries, they kind of see us going out and they see us -- they see like our leadership, like President Trump, going to the UN and demanding these types of things, it's easier to just say yeah, whatever, because you're not really going to come and shut down anything down in our country, rather than, like, push back on it.

But I think ultimately people also recognize that it's like, putting more people in jail isn't going to solve a problem, or spending more money on police officers isn't going to solve a problem, and so I think it's just one of those things where sometimes countries might feel like they have to sign on in order to just kind of continue things on.

DEAN BECKER: Okeh. I agree with you, sir. I mean, you know, we -- we're beginning to expose the fraud, misdirection, of all this, I think, it's sure taking its time, it's aggravating as hell, if you ask me, but we're getting there.

Again, we're speaking with Charles Hawthorne, he's with the Harm Reduction Coalition. Let's start talking about this conference, because I've been to, I think, five or six of these. I really enjoyed the people you meet, the attitudes, the perspectives, the energy, is just amazing, and I would encourage folks to sign up and attend. Please, tell them where it is, when it is, and how they can get involved.

CHARLES HAWTHORNE: Yes, so, we have our conference every other year, and our next one is going to be coming up next month -- this month in October. It's going to be from October 18 through October 21 in New Orleans, Louisiana, which is a super exciting location for it to be, there's some really cool harm reduction work happening in that area.

And, it is, it's an awesome conference. I attended my first one last year, actually as a student, where I was going around my college actually trying to get grant money to go out when it was in San Diego. And it was an honestly life changing experience. I mean, I guess, flash forward, two years later when I'm actually working at the Harm Reduction Coalition, this says a lot.

But it's probably one -- it's the coolest conference I have ever attended. It has, like, informational sessions for, like, every bit of the world that you never thought of exploring, and exploring the ways that it's impacting people. And it's also some of the most fun and genuine, awesome people you'll ever meet, and so that makes it really awesome as well.

DEAN BECKER: No, I agree, Charles, it's just energizing. If folks want to get involved, they're having the conference at the Marriott, if I recall, when I spoke to Monique a couple of weeks back she said something about it was closing fast, that the, you know, the rooms were disappearing.

CHARLES HAWTHORNE: It's right in the middle of the French Quarter, there's lots of hotels all over that you can access as well.

DEAN BECKER: Charles, one last thought here, I'm, you know, I'm a LEAP speaker. I believe that the drug war is a complete fraud, it never had any basis in reality. And, that, you know, we just -- we've screwed the pooch, I think is the term a lot of folks like to use, that we have just done this so wrong for so long, and we have so many politicians and even many in the media that have in essence made their bones by believing drug war to be so necessary, and it's so hard for them to back down now.

What's your thought in that regard? Do you think I'm hitting that nail on the head?

CHARLES HAWTHORNE: I think admitting that the drug war's a failure is also people admitting that they really don't see people who use drugs as people deserving of life. That's really a lot of it. This is the argument, is harm reduction isn't about -- isn't really about, like, any particular opinion besides the fact that people who use drugs are still human and still have their human rights, and still deserve, like, dignity and respect, and to have access to improving their health.

And so the war on drugs has kind of in direct opposition to that, because what it's about, it's about criminalization and locking people up, and moral failings, and all of those things instead.

And so I think people, it's like, when they feel like they have to back down, what they have to admit is, they were wrong. And they were not just wrong, like, on an opinion piece, but wrong morally, as well, and that's a little harder for people.

DEAN BECKER: Right. No, I like to use the term that they consider drug users to be unconditionally exterminable. Anyway, Charles, let's wrap this up for now. I do appreciate you taking time to talk with us. Once again, we're speaking about the Harm Reduction conference coming October 18 through 21 in New Orleans.

I hope to attend, I hope to see you while I'm there, Charles, and any closing thoughts you'd like to share with the audience?

CHARLES HAWTHORNE: I would just say, like, if you have neighbors that are homeless, neighbors who are navigating drug use, reaching out, saying you care, supporting them, doing what you can to help them live better, is always great.

People are still our neighbors, people are still our friends, people are still, even in navigating a lot of challenges in their life. Something that my executive director, Monique, always likes to say is the opposite of addiction is bonding, and I really believe that, and I think that a lot of times, what we -- what the war on drugs really needs to be on is a quest to bond and create communities, and create connection with people.

And sometimes that just starts with one person at a time.

DEAN BECKER: All right. Well, Charles, thank you sir, I appreciate your time.

CHARLES HAWTHORNE: All right, thank you so much. Have a great day.

DEAN BECKER: All right sir, bye bye. You can learn more by going to HarmReduction.org/conference.

It's time to play Name That Drug By Its Side Effects! Changes in sex drive, pounding heart beat, shortness of breath, chest pain, difficult speech, dizziness, seizures, believing things that aren't true, feeling suspicious of others, hallucinating, mania, and hostile behavior. Time's up! The answer, from Shire Richwood, Incorporate: Adderall.

The following is part of a recent debate between Texas Governor Greg Abbott and his challenger, Lupe Valdez, the Democrat.

MODERATOR: Thank you. We've got another question from Twitter tonight. This is from UFC Titan Fans, he wants to know, what's your stance on marijuana legalization?

Right now in Texas, only the sale of a specific cannabis oil for intractable epilepsy is legal. Sheriff Valdez, are you in favor of expanding the use of medical and recreational marijuana in Texas? You have sixty seconds.

SHERIFF LUPE VALDEZ: I'm in favor of expanding medical marijuana. Alcohol has no medical benefits, yet it's taxed and fined. We know that medical marijuana has some health benefits. Why can't we tax and fine those also? And as far as recreational marijuana, I think it's up to the people. The people need to decide whether that's going to be in Texas or not. I think every other state has let the people decide. We should do the same thing. Let the people decide whether we should accept other than medical marijuana.

MODERATOR: Governor Abbott, you have sixty seconds.

TX GOVERNOR GREG ABBOTT: Parents with children who have epilepsy approached me a couple of sessions ago about the possibility of what's called CBD oil for their children. I was moved by what they had to say, I agreed with them, I'm the governor who signed into law the legalization of CBD oil.

More recently, I've had discussions with veterans as well as parents of autistic children and others who make a very strong, compelling case about legalization of medical marijuana. I have seen however in other states that authorized that, abuses take place that raise concerns. So I'm still not convinced yet.

However, one thing I don't want to see is jails stockpiled with people who have possession of a small amount of marijuana. What I would be open to talking to the legislature about would be reducing the penalty for possession of two ounces or less from a class B misdemeanor to a class C misdemeanor.

MODERATOR: Sheriff Valdez, you have thirty seconds for a rebuttal.

SHERIFF LUPE VALDEZ: We agree on something. I believe in decriminalizing marijuana, and I honestly believe that often we have more in common than we have differences. And, speaking of veterans, you know, I've heard plenty of doctors say they would much rather give the veterans, the mentally ill, and others, marijuana than give them opioids, which are now legal.

You can write a prescription for opioids, and therefore have more problems with the people you prescribe that to than the medical marijuana.

MODERATOR: Governor Abbott, thirty seconds for a rebuttal.

TX GOVERNOR GREG ABBOTT: Again, we want to make sure that, if this is done, it's going to have controls on it so abuses don't place -- take place. We need to observe what's going on in other states. I do agree that we need to take all steps possible to make sure that we reduce opioid abuse.

MODERATOR: Thank you both for your answers.

DEAN BECKER: You know, it doesn't seem that long ago, and then it seems like forever, but four years ago, my son and I went to Washington, DC. We held a press conference in the Rayburn Building. We had several speakers in support of my book To End The War On Drugs: A Policy-Maker's Edition.

One politician did drop by, and speak his mind about my book, and about the drug war.

All right. While he's here, I think we should take advantage of the fact that we have a Congressman from the Texas Sixteenth District, Beto O'Rourke with us. Beto, would you come up and say a few words, please?


BETO O’ROURKE: Well, thanks. You know, what kind of politician would I be if I didn’t accept an opportunity to speak into a microphone?

So, but, I really can’t add and hopefully won’t take away anything from what Dean has done with this book. I’ve known Dean for, you know, at least since 2009, and I've got to tell you that I’m very grateful for him and others who've been working in the trenches on this issue, on an idea, whose time has finally come. And, you know, as the old saying goes, “There’s nothing more powerful than that.”

And, Dean has written something here that is critically important for me and my colleagues and just, and our staffers, to digest and understand, and when we do it’s really hard to escape the conclusion that the war on drugs has failed, there's something far more rational, humane, and arguably fiscally responsible should take its place.

And, you know, recent events, whether it’s closing in on half of our states have adopted or are considering adopting measures to allow the, either medicinal or recreational use of marijuana, or the New York Times' editorial board taking this unprecedented step in campaigning for a federal end to the prohibition policies when it comes to marijuana, or people like me who, prior to my exposure to this issue, because of the drug violence and prohibition-related violence in Ciudad Juarez, this was something that I didn’t really think about, care about, didn't think it affected me.

And it wasn’t until it, you know, came to my attention from the violence in Juarez, and then I got a chance to listen to people like Dean and others who pointed out that we imprison more of our own fellow citizens than any country on the face of this planet, that we spend billions and now well over a trillion dollars on this war on drugs, and that something like marijuana today is just as available, if not more so, to young kids, middle schoolers, elementary school kids, than it was before we spent the first dime, and we're nowhere closer to reducing its access, reducing its potency, keeping money out of the hands of criminals, thugs and cartels.

For every reason and anyway you can measure it, the right thing to do is now before us and that is to end the prohibition on marijuana and replace it with a much more logical, sensible, rational, humane plan to regulate and control its sale, keep it out of the hands of kids, help those who may need help if they have issues with addiction or its use, and make sure that we take the least bad option before us.

So, Dean, I just want to just thank you, and just commend the representatives of my colleagues to pick up a copy of this book, read it, make sure, if you can, to get your boss to read it. And then let’s do the right thing. I think the choice is very clear, it's before us right now.

And, it used to be we wondered if in our lifetimes we would see the right decision made. I think it's going to be within the next term or two in Congress that we will see historic change here, and it will be thanks to people like Dean and others who have been pursuing this issue in the trenches and on the front lines. Dean, thank you. I’ll turn it back over to you and just listen. Thanks.


DEAN BECKER: During this time of eternal war, I find it my somber duty to report the death toll from the drug formerly known as marijuana is zero.

Last weekend, in Austin, Willie Nelson held a fundraiser for US Congressman Beto O'Rourke, who's running for Ted Cruz's Senate seat. Beto has created a bit of a firestorm talking about those who kneel during football games being patriots. He's got a lot more to say about war.

BETO O'ROURKE: And what if, for those women and men serving tonight in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Syria, in Libya, in Yemen, in Somalia, in Niger, what if we made this commitment, that we will not start another war, nor will we renew the wars we are in, unless we can define victory, the strategy, and why it is we asked our fellow Americans to put their lives on the line and to take the lives of others?

And if we cannot answer those questions, then let's bring those women and men back home to these communities, and let's end these wars!

And for the wars that we are fighting within this country, a war on drugs, which has become a war on people, and some people more than other people, this country, the largest prison population per capita on the face of the planet, disproportionately comprised of people of color, only some are getting arrested, only some are doing time, only some are checking a box on an application form that makes it that less likely that they'll get that job, only some will not qualify for Pell Grants, for possession of a substance that is legal in most states in this country.

What if we decided that instead of waging war, we were going to treat addiction as a public health issue instead of a criminal justice issue?

That those pharmaceutical corporations that push opioids on the American public and said it would not be addictive, are held accountable and that we have justice for everyone, even the most powerful, even the wealthiest, even those corporations with their political action committees?

And what if we ended the prohibition on marijuana, and expunged the arrest record for everyone arrested for possession of something that's legal in most of the country today? Allow you to get on with your life, take that job, go to school, be everyone that you are supposed to be!

DEAN BECKER: For years, I've had zero luck getting Raphael Edwardo Cruz to come on my show. Ted, if you want to come on the show, please do, I would really appreciate it. Contact me: Dean@DrugTruth.net.

After Beto got done speaking at last week's fundraiser, Willie Nelson did a great concert, and finished up with these thoughts, this song.

WILLIE NELSON: Here's a new song I want to spring on y'all tonight. Take it home with you, spread it around.

If you don't like who's in there, vote 'em out.
That's what election day is all about.
And the biggest gun we got
is called the ballot box.
If you don't like who's in there,
vote 'em out.

Vote 'em out,
(Vote 'em out),
Vote 'em out,
(Vote 'em out),
And when they're gone
We'll sing and dance and shout.

And to bring some new ones in,
And then we'll start the show again,
And if you don't like who's in there,
Vote 'em out.

DEAN BECKER: Well, that's all we can squeeze in, so once again I remind you, because of prohibition you don't know what's in that bag. Please, be careful.

And if it's a bunch of clowns you voted in,
Election day is coming 'round again.
And if you don't like now,
You can change it anyhow,
And if you don't like who's in there,
Vote 'em out.

Vote 'em out,
(Vote 'em out),
Vote 'em out,
(Vote 'em out),
And when they're gone
We'll sing and dance and shout.

And then we'll start the show again,
And bring some new ones in,
And if you don't like who's in there,
Vote 'em out.

Vote 'em out,
(Vote 'em out),
Vote 'em out,
(Vote 'em out),
And when they're gone
We'll sing and dance and shout.