01/23/19 Shaleen Title

Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Shaleen TItle

Shaleen Title is a Massachusetts Cannabis Commissioner who wrote an OpEd in Boston Globe call for end of drug prohibition

Audio file


JANUARY 23, 2019


DEAN BECKER: I am Dean Becker, your host. Our goal for this program is to expose the fraud, misdirection, and the liars whose support for drug war empowers our terrorist enemies, enriches barbarous cartels, and gives reason for existence to tens of thousands of violent US gangs who profit by selling contaminated drugs to our children. This is Cultural Baggage.

Hi folks, this is Dean Becker and this is Cultural Baggage. Thank you for being with us today. Here in just a little bit, we're going to bring in our guest, Shaleen Title. She's appointed by the Massachusetts governor to serve on the commission, named to the Boston Business Journal's list of 50 most powerful people in Boston.

She is now a Cannabis Commissioner up that a way, and with that, I want to go ahead and welcome our guest, Shaleen Title. Hello, Shaleen.

SHALEEN TITLE: Hi, Dean, thanks for having me on.

DEAN BECKER: Oh, it's good to hear your voice again. Folks don't necessarily know how we originally met up. That was when we were both working for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, who have now changed their name to Law Enforcement Action Partnership. But, the -- making some great strides along that way as well, right?

SHALEEN TITLE: Yes. Can you believe it's been ten years?

DEAN BECKER: Wow. Kind of, and no, at the same time. I'll tell you what, what caught my attention, what was it, a month ago, was it two months ago, you had that write-up in the Boston Globe?

SHALEEN TITLE: Yeah, maybe six weeks ago.

DEAN BECKER: Okeh, and just today, The Economist, the London Economist, I think it's called [sic: The Economist magazine], just came out with, oh, here we go. Anyway, I can't find the note, but they just came out with a mostly like an editorial, and I want to play just a little bit of that for you, then we're going to come back and get your continuances of this thought.

VOICE: Thought. Drug laws are not based on scientific evidence, but rather political expediency, paranoia, and ignorance. After fifty years of failure and escalating problems worldwide, a radical change in our oversight with how to deal with this social problem is to learn from the lessons of the past fifty years and create a carefully regulated system, which is flexible and aims at protecting health and wellbeing, respecting individual freedoms, educating and caring for those who have fallen into misuse.

DEAN BECKER: All right. I think they had a robot reading that. They were certainly making some good points, were they not?

SHALEEN TITLE: I couldn't agree more. I think The Economist has been great about this. They've been positive since, like we were saying, ten years ago, I think they've been one of the most sensible voices on drug policy.

DEAN BECKER: Right, and, you had another letter to the editor published just about a week ago, as well, kind of underscoring the need for medical cannabis, or for cannabis, I believe it was, but this one that, as you say, came out, was published six or so weeks ago in the Boston Globe, a massive, massive editorial, or op-ed, I guess you would call it.

One of the things they asked you, they said, how did you come to support the legalization and regulation of all drugs. Now, I know the answer to that, but share it with my audience, please.

SHALEEN TITLE: Well, it was out of concern and care for people who use drugs, for the same reasons that a lot of well-intentioned people support prohibition, that ultimately I think people who need help, who have problematic relationships with drugs, should be able to access things that work, treatment, prevention, education, these things work.

Criminalization does not work, and we have tried it for so long, and it's time to try a new approach. And I think that that rationale is really widespread right now around cannabis. Throughout the country people understand those arguments and principle that legal market and legal regulation is better than prohibition for everybody, whether you use the drug or not, or care about it or don't.

But, I think it's a good time to talk about the fact that all of those arguments apply to other drugs as well, even if the regulation system looks very different. Obviously you wouldn't have a heroin store. Most people wouldn't want that the same way you'd want a cannabis store, but, prohibition doesn't work, period, and I think it's okeh to start talking about that.

DEAN BECKER: Indeed it is. A week or two ago, I had Neill Franklin, our, well, your former boss, he's still my boss, I guess, and we were talking about this same thing, and I guess what I'm beginning to observe is, many of the Democratic candidates, you know, opting or indicating they're going to run for president, are starting to speak a little more boldly, a little more courageously, that we've got to change our perspective, our attitude, and our focus, insofar as this drug war, that we're off base.

They're even beginning to sound a little bit like LEAPers, talking about we're empowering terrorists, cartels, and gangs, but they don't seem to have much of an idea of what we should do about it. You know, I guess the main thing is we've just got to quit doing what we've been doing. Right?

SHALEEN TITLE: Yeah. And, I could not be respectful of LEAP, Neill Franklin being one of my mentors since the beginning, and so many of the speakers that I've met, like you, because, when you have the courage to go out and speak the truth, and not care about what everyone else is saying or how they'll react, you can pull the conversation in the direction that it needs to go.

And you can see how that has happened. When we started in 2009, people weren't even using the word legalization, because --

DEAN BECKER: The "L" word.

SHALEEN TITLE: -- it was radical at the time, right, it was the L word. You were supposed to say regulate. But, the police officers and the judges and the other law enforcement officials said no, I'm going to tell the truth, let's be straight about what we're talking about, and why.

And I think that, yes, it takes time, but as you move the conversation in the right direction you start to see what we're seeing now, and, yeah, then you move to the next step. So the first step is what we're doing now isn't working, and the second step is what does a responsible system look like, and then I think we'll just find, I don't know, a year, two years from now, suddenly that's the sensible thing, and the people in the mainstream will act like they supported it all along, just like they have with harm reduction efforts like Narcan.

I remember when Narcan was considered radical and people were saying, you know, if you use a life saving drug on people who have overdosed, you will be enabling drug users. And now of course, because it's been proven to be so effective and saved so many lives in so many different communities, police officers carry it with them, and nobody even remembers that it was controversial.

So those first few brave people, I think, play a huge role.

DEAN BECKER: Indeed they do. You know, we keep hearing this story, we need a wall, we need a wall, we need a wall, and the fact of the matter is the number of refugees has gone down, I think it was 46 percent, in the last ten years, that if there was ever a need it's certainly not now.

And I guess what I'm leading to is that they talk about all of these people coming northward, seeking a job, and perhaps they do want a job, but more than anything they want to live. Talk to that situation please, Shaleen.

SHALEEN TITLE: Oh my gosh, yeah, I wouldn't know where to start. When you imagine problems, you make up problems that don't exist because you're trying to fulfill some agenda, you can see that repeat in so many different areas of society, and certainly the wall is one example.

Certainly drug prohibition is another example. No doubt it was not, marijuana was not made illegal because of public health concerns, even though that's how people act now. It was to advance a racist agenda.

And there are so many other places where problems that are not real are being created and imagined. I think voter fraud is another one, so that you can disenfranchise people and particularly black and brown people, in an attempt to change election results.

And so we have to be skeptical and ask, is there really a problem here? Or are we making it up for an agenda? And that's something I see as a regulator, as well. And sometimes it's really difficult to be the one to bring that up, when you're talking about something that people just accept as a problem.

Robberies around cash being used in dispensaries, for example, or accidents because of impaired driving. Obviously, nobody wants to see those things happen, and you don't want to be someone who is acting dismissive or callous about those concerns, but, you have to ask, is there really a problem here to address, or are we creating new problems by being too quick to put supposedly preventative measures in place that might violate people's rights or cause other unintended consequences, just so it looks like you're doing something.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. Now, one of the reasons I wanted to speak with you, of course, is the, your stance in regards to the drug war, the eternal prohibition, if you will. But, also, additionally, as I indicated early on, you are a Cannabis Commissioner there in the state of Massachusetts. Please tell us, I don't know, the details of your job, if you will, to start.

SHALEEN TITLE: Sure. So, it's a full time position at a brand new agency established when the marijuana legalization law passed in Massachusetts in November 2016. This Commission was established with five commissioners from five diverse perspectives on purpose: public health, public safety, business, government regulation, and social justice, and I hold the social justice seat.

So every decision that we make about regulation, or about licensing, or anything else, we do in public from those five perspectives. And so that's Massachusetts's way of trying to be true to all of the different priorities that we have in implementing this law.

So we've now issued a hundred provisional business licenses, I think about twenty final licenses, there are a few stores opened, we're going to keep up the pace in 2019, you'll see marijuana retail stores opening all over Massachusetts. If you're over 21 you can come and visit, if you want to see one, what it looks like, and hopefully we will slowly begin to see the problems related to prohibition minimized.

DEAN BECKER: And, I think this is taking place all around the country. What is it, ten, eleven states now legalized, and thirty something medicalized, is that a rough guess?

SHALEEN TITLE: I think it's -- I think it's more than that, I think we were the tenth state to legalize and there've been more since.


SHALEEN TITLE: I think, depending on how you define medical, almost all states have some sort of medical use allowed.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. Well, Texas almost does. But, speaking of which, I wanted you to share with the Texas reformers, you know, I'm hoping that we can carve out another step or two this go-around. We have a very bare minimum law right now, where little kids with Dravet's Syndrome epilepsy can use CBD only, below point three percent THC, I think it is.

And this is good, it's an experiment, it's a tiny step along the way, but, I think in order to prove the point that marijuana is beneficial, you have to make use of the whole shooting match, all the chemicals contained therein, to glean the full benefit. Your thought in that regard, Shaleen.

SHALEEN TITLE: I agree. I mean, I think the whole plant is medicine, and less important than what I think, it's what medical professionals think. It should be up to the patient and the doctor.

I think that most people tend to understand that, you know, we shouldn't legislate those decisions. I also would just tell the Texas reformers, stay focused and stay positive, because I swear it feels like the change happens overnight.

I've done this in several states now, Colorado, and then I've been visiting different states to try and testify for better, more inclusive laws, and then here in Massachusetts, seeing decrim pass in 2008, medical pass in 2012, and then legalization in 2016.

Now we're at a point where supporting retail stores and the will of the voter is seen as the common sense, mainstream position, and then there are people that are pushing for more. And so, I would just tell reformers to keep consistent, and keep in mind that it doesn't matter that there's so much conflicting evidence around the benefits and harm of marijuana.

You can really cherrypick any data and make any case that you want. But it doesn't matter. Any potential harm that's caused by it is far outweighed by the harms of prohibition and stigmatization, and criminalization.

And in addition, with each state that legalizes, there's more data out that shows that the sky doesn't fall, and in fact there are benefits. So, we take that pretty seriously in Massachusetts, whatever data we collect and are required to collect by the law, we want to make sure that other states have it and that it's certified by our agency and it's reliable.

So, by all means, feel free to stay on top of what Massachusetts is doing. Our website is MassCannabisControl.com, and I know that every state that does this, it's such a difficult process, we want to be helpful to the next ones.

DEAN BECKER: MassCannabisControl.com. Please, check it out, friends. Well, there's so much we can do. I'm going to go up there early next month, there's going to be a couple of busloads of Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition, I think at least one or two buses showing up.

You know, they're going to be talking, you know, medical, advance on what we have, maybe, a little bit of decrim, and I'm going to be wearing a shirt that says Legalize Heroin Like Switzerland.

They have now twenty years, tens of millions of injections, and zero overdose deaths. Paranoia is a bigger killer than these drugs at times. What's your thought there, Shaleen?

SHALEEN TITLE: I think focusing on the number of overdose deaths, I mean, how can you be any more persuasive than that? I mean, I think all of us who, I have very robust conversations with people here about safe injection facilities and the legal status of heroin, but ultimately, there is a big crisis with people dying and people want that to stop.

So, if it has stopped in Switzerland, I mean, what else do you need to know, from my perspective?

DEAN BECKER: Well, I was over there early this year, I guess it was March, got to tour a couple of their injection facilities, I got to meet up with the designer of their heroin injection program. Yeah. Something over twenty million injections so far, and zero deaths.

It's proving a point, I think, and our politicians just need to take a look around. Don't listen to that hundred year old propaganda anymore. It's not doing us any good, is it?

SHALEEN TITLE: No. And no matter how much of a resurgence there is of that reefer madness, in particular, I think that it's not doing much good.

DEAN BECKER: And, it is my theory that reefer madness wrapped around all drugs, heroin, cocaine, meth, you name it, it's all attached to every drug, this thought that it's going to lead you to harder drugs, and killing babies, and whatever else, I don't know.

But, we have, I think, a rare opportunity in this country to really, with this new election cycle, the 2020 presidential go around, to really open up this can of worms and go fishing for truth, and I'm hoping that these politicians will push each other.

My friend Beto O'Rourke, he kind of broached this subject, wrote a book on legalizing marijuana. Once he started running for that Senate seat, he kind of backed away, and I've been teasing him that, you know, he's becoming like all these other politicians, unwilling to face down this toothless lion. Your response there, Shaleen Title.

SHALEEN TITLE: I'm very excited about this upcoming cycle, because there are so many candidates, and I think we shouldn't settle. I mean, a vote is a really important, precious thing. People have died for our right to vote, and we should have high standards, and we should force, you know, however many end up in the pool, the serious pool at the end, 20 or more, we should force all of them to defend their past positions and to be clear about how they feel about all these issues now, Beto included.

DEAN BECKER: Right. Now, your state is, how to say it, still in the process of setting up all the dispensaries and the permits and all this, but you are beginning to have retail sales?

SHALEEN TITLE: That's right. I believe we have six retail stores open now, and the more that get open, the fewer problems we're seeing with traffic and other concerns, because of course, now people are starting to have more accessibility and more choices. So, we're going to keep going that route.

DEAN BECKER: Now, I don't know how attuned you are to the situation in Canada, but, you know, this year, what was it, just last year, October, they legalized, got close to legalized, I guess, I'm going to say.

But they still, they increased their police manpower, their funding, and perhaps they're going to increase the number of arrests despite the fact that it's now legal. We have to be careful how we put these laws, these legalization laws, together. Right?

SHALEEN TITLE: Oh my gosh, yes, and especially as you start to see more interest from big companies that want to take over the market, you will see such a difference in the way that legalization is implemented, and we have to pay very close attention to those details.

One thing I always look for is the right to home grow. I would never support a bill that doesn't include that, because it's such an important check on many different things, delays, and believe me I know delays are not intentional, we've had quite a few delays in Massachusetts that were not intentional, but during that time, people could still grow at home.

They don't have to go back to the illicit market. They don't have to be in violation of the law if they are growing at home. And then also, it's a real concern to me, if you only have a few companies that are dominating the market, then what would happen with prices, potentially, or with access, or with product variability, and having home grow protects against all of that.

DEAN BECKER: Well, and then we do have the other conundrum, the other situation, whereby they, the state wants to tax it, the county wants to tax it, the city wants to tax it, heck, I don't know, the neighborhood wants to tax it, and pretty soon you've got a product that's so overpriced, or at least in comparison to the black market, that the black market's never going to disappear. Your response, Shaleen.

SHALEEN TITLE: Yeah, I mean, I think that you're absolutely right. The way we set the tax rate is probably the biggest factor in how the underground market is affected. We have to keep very close tabs on that. I do think that there have been situations where the tax rate was too high, and it let the underground market flourish.

At the same time, you want to make sure that you can collect enough revenue to be able to cover the administrative costs and then have it, have more left over for the societal repair that we want to have. So I think at this point we've done, I know it was a very thoughtful job setting the rates in Massachusetts, but we're trying to make sure we stay on top of how the underground market is affected, and if it needs to be adjusted, I'm sure that the legislature will take a look at that.

I'll say, too, in response to Canada, I've been there a couple of times and talked to a few people in equivalent positions. Once you are able to take away the problems related to federal illegality, it's a completely different job to regulate.

It's something that, we're so used to it, we forget, but imagine if, you know, insurance can cover it, if, you know, schools could research, because they wouldn't have to worry about being blocked, if you could use the mail, like they do in Canada. It's a completely different world.

DEAN BECKER: Well, I agree with that. You know, I'm going to go back to the piece you had in the Boston Globe. They asked, I guess these were questions they were asking you, or maybe these are questions you put forward and then responded to, but, what would it actually look like? The government selling drugs in brown paper bags without any marketing? How, what would it look like?

SHALEEN TITLE: Yeah. So, no, I didn't put forward those questions. It was a Q and A. And when I got that question I did laugh a little bit, because it reminded me of when we used to get that question at LEAP. At least, that was probably the most common question is, okeh, but then what does legalization look like?

And I said the same thing that I said then, which is that it doesn't have to be done overnight. It can be careful, and it can be phased, and most importantly, it can be adjustable based on the feedback that we're getting and the data that we're collecting.

And that's how we're handling marijuana regulation, too. There are a couple of license types that have been delayed because there were more public safety and public health concerns from experts, and that's cannabis cafes and delivery licenses.

And so, our agency decided to start with small, basically pilot programs, so that we can collect data, make sure that's public, and then make decisions on whether to expand and how much to expand based on that data, and not based on the imaginary concerns.

And so if you take that same concept, it doesn't matter what drug you're talking about. Something like coffee could be sold in a grocery store, something like heroin would have to be very strictly regulated, and then you have everything in between, but the common theme is, A, you're not arresting anybody, you're not throwing anybody in jail, and B, you're developing a system that's appropriate and that is adjustable based on the data you're getting back.

DEAN BECKER: Well, and, right, and I would, I think you've probably indicated as much, but the in between stuff, pure heroin, you know, poppy juice, I think it ought to be available first and foremost, to keep people from getting into the harder stuff, to perhaps keep them from getting addicted.

I want coca leaves at the Kroger store, you know. I think we need to make these lesser drugs available. Put the coca back in the cola, you know what I'm saying? That there are better means of distributing these drugs than through the hard powders and such. Right?

SHALEEN TITLE: Well, I think it's -- it depends on the purpose, and if you're using something medically, I think that all different options should be available to the medical professional.

But in general, I think everyone can agree that a unadulterated, tested, regulated substance is better than something you buy on the street when you don't know what it is.

DEAN BECKER: Okeh, and we're about to wrap up here. Once again, folks, we've been speaking with Shaleen Title, she's a Cannabis Commissioner up in the state of Massachusetts. She had a great piece in the Boston Globe, talking about the need to control all these drugs.

And I often talk about that, Shaleen. They talk about controlled substances. These substances have never been under control. It is trying to control the people who use the substances. Your closing thoughts, please.

SHALEEN TITLE: Yes, absolutely, it's about controlling people, it's never about the drugs, and if you look at marijuana, it was made illegal because supposedly Mexican people were using marijuana and being lazy in California, supposedly Hindus were using it and making white people use it, and the same thing with Chinese people and opium, and the examples go on and on. It's never been about drugs.

You're absolutely right, it's been about a system of control of people, and keeping them down, and it's time for that to end.

DEAN BECKER: Well, indeed it has. Again, Shaleen, I want to give you a chance to close out here, is there a website, what might you want to pep up the Texas folks about the marijuana laws and what they should take to Austin.

SHALEEN TITLE: Yes, so, two things. The Cannabis Control Commission website, MassCannabisControl.com, has all of our information. We take transparency very seriously, so take a look. I hope that you'll find Massachusetts a good starting point for information.

And then, if you want to follow me personally, I'm very active on social media, and particularly on twitter. My handle is @ShaleenTitle. If you have questions or comments, I'm always very happy to take those on twitter.

DEAN BECKER: All right. Thank you very much, Shaleen. We'll hope to be in touch soon.

SHALEEN TITLE: All right. Thanks a lot, Dean.

DEAN BECKER: All right. Bye bye.

Pipe dreaming warriors raise their eternal chant, ancing for rain in the eye of a drug war hurricane.

It's time to play Name That Drug By Its Side Effects! Decreased sex drive, excessive milk whether nursing or not, loss of menses, hallucination, aggression, depression, hepatic impairment, renal impairment, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, sleep apnea, rebound insomnia, withdrawal, new feelings of depression. Time's up! From Takeda Pharmaceutical, they say it doesn't have the side effects of Lunesta, the answer: Rozerem, for a good night's sleep.

You have been listening to Cultural Baggage here on the Drug Truth Network, Pacifica Radio, coming out of KPFT, the mother ship of the Drug Truth Network, and I want to thank Shaleen Title for her expertise and her understanding and her help in giving us the right direction here.

And 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 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.