04/03/19 Gretchen Burns Bergman

Century of Lies
Gretchen Burns Bergman
Drug Policy Alliance

This week on Century: The FDA has announced that it plans to hold a public hearing on cannabis and cannabis derivatives; FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD, is questioned by a Senate subcommittee about CBD; plus we hear interviews with Gretchen Burns Bergman from A New PATH, Art Way from Drug Policy Alliance, and Shiloh Jama from People's Harm Reduction Alliance.

Audio file



APRIL 3, 2019

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

DOUG MCVAY: Hello, and welcome to Century of Lies. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

Well, the executive producer of the Drug Truth Network, my good friend Dean Becker, was at a Drug Policy Alliance event and he brought back some great audio, so much great audio that he's kind enough to share some of it with us, so we're going to be hearing some interviews in the later part of the hour [sic: half hour] with Shiloh Jama of the People's Harm Reduction Alliance, with Gretchen Burns Bergman from A New PATH, and with Art Way from the Drug Policy Alliance.

But first, the Food and Drug Administration is announcing that it will be holding a public hearing at the end of May to gather scientific data and information about products containing cannabis or cannabis derived compounds. It's a public hearing and a request for comments.

At the time of this recording, their announcement is not technically official. The draft which is right here on my computer screen in front of me tells me that the public hearing will be held on May 31, 2019, that requests to make oral presentations and comments at the public hearing have to be received by May 10, electronic or written comments will be accepted until July 2 of 2019.

You will be able to find all of this at the Federal Register, which is FederalRegister.gov, and on GovInfo.gov. Probably there will be something at the FDA's website about it. It's, as I say, at the time of this recording, still in draft, so, there's always a chance that by tomorrow, when the publication is made final, they may make some changes, they may adjust the dates, who can say.

But at the moment, according to this in front of, the FDA will be holding a public hearing to gather scientific data and public information about the safety, manufacturing, product quality, marketing, labeling, and sale of products [containing cannabis and/or cannabis derivatives].

On March 28, Scott Gottlieb, who is leaving the office of Commissioner of the FDA, testified before an appropriations subcommittee, talking about the 2020 budget request for the FDA. He was asked about CBD and CBD products and regulation by Democratic Senator from Vermont Patrick Leahy. Here's that audio.

SENATOR PATRICK LEAHY (D-VT): Doctor Gottlieb, I'm going to miss having you here. I do appreciate your availability when I've called, and when we've had questions.

I suspect there are four people in Westport who will be glad to have you back, your wife and your three children, and you probably won't mind that, either. That's safe to say.

SCOTT GOTTLIEB, MD: I'm going to miss this position, this has been a wonderful, wonderful journey.

SENATOR PATRICK LEAHY (D-VT): Well, let's go to a couple of things, and I realize everybody's got different questions, but, we did a bipartisan 2018 Farm Bill. I was pretty proud of it, Republicans and Democrats did things the way they should do. The Chairman was a member of that Committee, and we passed the Farm Bill, overwhelming margins, both the House and the Senate.

We had some significant wins for Vermont families and dairy farmers, organic producers, but also, what I was mostly concerned about, rural communities across the country, and also we classified hemp as an agricultural product, rather than a controlled substance.

I've had farmers, processors, retailers in my state, most states, want to enter this market, they want to leverage the potential. They have significant regulatory and enforcement uncertainty, including the FDA. You recently stated the FDA, if I've got this correct, could take years to create a formal pathway for hemp derived CBD products to be sold, despite the fact they're widely available in the market.

How do you think the FDA should use its enforcement discretion on the use of CBD as an ingredient?

SCOTT GOTTLIEB, MD: Well, we're using enforcement discretion right now. I will take enforcement action against CBD products that are on the market if manufacturers are making what I consider over the line claims.

So if you're marketing CBD and you're claiming it can cure cancer or prevent Alzheimer's disease, we're going to take action against that, because that could mislead a patient into foregoing otherwise effective therapy.

But there are products on the market right now that, you know, given our enforcement priorities and our limited resources, we haven't taken action against. That's not an invitation for people to continue marketing these products. We're concerned about it, but we heard Congress loud and clear here.

We know you want a pathway under our regulatory scheme. It's a challenging route, because this not exists as a drug in the marketplace, but it also is under substantial clinical investigation. So even if there was an improved drug, because it was never previously in the food supply, we don't have a clear route to allow this to be lawfully marketed short of promulgating new regulations.

That's why in closing one of the things that the working group that's headed up by Amy Abernathy, who's here with me today, our Principal Deputy Commissioner, is going to be looking at, is what options we could propose to Congress to potentially legislate on this issue in a specific manner.

SENATOR PATRICK LEAHY (D-VT): Well, that's going to take a legislative fix. I don't envy you trying to figure out a regulatory one, because you have other agencies with regulatory. Would you please, as you continue on this, make sure my staff and I are kept apprised of what type of legislative fix there might be.

I think between the various committees members of this serve on will probably be where the legislative fix will go, and I would just like to get some certainty here. I'm not diminishing the complexities, but I'd like to get some certainty.

DOUG MCVAY: That was US Senator Pat Leahy asking some questions of FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb at a hearing of the Appropriations subcommittee covering the Food and Drug Administration's budget. They were discussing the fiscal year 2020 budget request for the FDA.

Again, FDA will be holding a hearing on cannabis and cannabis derived products. Details will be at the FDA website, and will be published in the Federal Register on April Third.

You're listening to Century of Lies. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

Now, as I said at the top of the show, the executive producer of the Drug Truth Network, Dean Becker, who's also the host and producer of Cultural Baggage, was fortunate enough to attend a Drug Policy Alliance event recently. Got some terrific audio, and he's kind enough to share that with us.

So today's show, we're going to be hearing from some folks. Let's start off with someone from the Drug Policy Alliance, here's Art Way, Colorado State Director for the Drug Policy Alliance.

ART WAY: I'm Art Way, State Director in Colorado for Drug Policy Alliance, also a part of our criminal justice reform strategy team. So essentially the work that I do falls along, you know, the traditional ways in which DPA kind of breaks up its work.

You know, we promote harm reduction, we promote broader sentencing reform, when it comes to drug policies and in criminal justice, and, you know, we're looking to establish, you know, marijuana laws that take that substance out of the criminal justice toolkit for law enforcement, so that's legalization as well as medical marijuana.

DEAN BECKER: Art, let me ask you this. You are one of the main cogs in an effort called LEAD, Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion. It's working in Colorado, but still being refined, as I understand it.

It's beginning to wind around the country a bit. There's some dabbling of it in Houston, as I'm aware, but, tell us about LEAD. How does it work?

ART WAY: Yeah, LEAD ideally is a public health approach to deal with drug use and possession, addiction, that is essentially a pre-booking diversion program that uses law enforcement to be the first responders and the first people to provide for services as opposed to simply arresting people.

So, it's, ideally it's a way to create harm reduction wrap around services drug treatment infrastructure that is independent of the criminal justice system but still utilizes police to be that bridge to get people into those services.

DEAN BECKER: What type of tactics, or perspective, understanding do you have to develop within those police officers?

ART WAY: Well, they need to understand harm reduction. They need to understand that relapse is a part of recovery. They need to understand that you can increase somebody's life whether or not they become abstinent. You can increase somebody's quality of life, whether or not they become abstinent.

So, you know, they need to understand that it's not simply about, oh, I put you into this program, now you should get your life together overnight. You know, it takes time for people to become drug dependent. It takes time for people to find themselves, experiencing homelessness. It takes time for people to realize that they may have some mental health issues, and anything that we do needs to recognize that it may take time.

And I think police are the slowest to realize that this is a marathon and it's not a sprint. You know, they don't want to see the same people twice. Somebody that they put in LEAD in February --

DEAN BECKER: They find it insulting.

ART WAY: Yeah. They find it insulting to see that person back on the street doing the same thing in March. But the reality is, you're looking to figure out ways to increase people's quality of life through the harm reduction lens, and LEAD, if done properly, can be done -- can be used that way.

It takes a lot of faith, when it comes to law enforcement and district attorneys, to properly do LEAD in a harm reduction way.

DEAN BECKER: And, I was going to just throw this bit, the fact of the matter is, the difficulty involved can easily be discerned by just observing people trying to quit tobacco. It's, sometimes it takes a hell of a lot.

ART WAY: It's a journey. It's a journey, you know, it's rare that this stuff happens overnight. You know, most people quit three or four or five times before they finally are able to put that whole thing behind them.

And of course, it's the same thing with a lot of our illicit drugs. But you know, the great thing about LEAD, if done properly, it's not just about drug treatment. It's not just about diverting people away from the criminal justice to put them into drug treatment. It's about individualized case management.

So, ideally, you ask what does this person need to improve their quality of life? Drug treatment might be a part of that, but they also may need assistance with housing. They may need assistance with employment. So LEAD is ideally about wrap-around services with drug treatment just being one part of that.

DEAN BECKER: There are communities, I don't know if it's directly involved with LEAD or not, but there are communities around the country where in order to lead people towards that, finally recognizing or ending their addiction, that they've -- they're given housing at times, given a stipend in some locations, able to start to rebuild the life, start to have a little respect for their own dignity, and move it forward. Your thought there, Art.

ART WAY: Yeah, I mean, ideally LEAD deals with what many people call the 'frequent flyer' community, so any local jail, you'll have the same people going in and out of that local jail, every week, whether it's on drug charges, transient charges, loitering, trespass.

So these are the people in our community that could benefit the most from, you know, for the lack of a better term, safety net type policies and procedures and practices that we really don't have.

So, you know, LEAD looks to build this type of policy infrastructure, find this type of wrap around services, and limit our over-reliance on the criminal justice system to provide such things.

You know, we depend on the criminal justice system to provide mental health, and we need to figure out a way to at least have the same amount of services outside of the criminal justice system, and I think LEAD can slowly start to not only make that paradigm shift, but make that resource allocation shift that's needed to deal with public health issues that the criminal justice system is not ideally situated to deal with.

DEAN BECKER: And I would think given time, given the ability to prove the validity of this transition, from criminalization to, you know, support, it would prove itself.

ART WAY: Yeah, yeah, you know, it's -- it's a definite mind shift for many actors involved. I mean, not only police, but even, you know, most of our people within the treatment community aren't really fans of harm reduction like we think they should be.

So, it not only shifts the paradigm for police, but it shifts the paradigm for those in the treatment community.

But yeah, it's going to take some time to work out because we've been doing it one way for fifty years, and we've been putting a lot of money into jails and prisons, and we've been trying to create services within jails and prisons, but for whatever reason, we haven't done the same thing outside of the criminal justice apparatus, and I think LEAD is one way to slowly start to begin to walk down that path of establishing community based supports that do not require a conviction in order to take part.

DEAN BECKER: Okeh. Now, once again, folks, we've been speaking with Mister Art Way, he's with the Drug Policy Alliance, they're out there on the web at DrugPolicy.org. Art, is there a subsection where folks can learn more about LEAD there on the DPA website?

ART WAY: Yeah, you could just search for LEAD, and some resources will come up. There's a national LEAD bureau that I think has the most detailed information on the LEAD policy. I'm not quite sure of that website, but google National LEAD Bureau, and you'll get a lot of information on the LEAD program specifically. [sic: https://www.leadbureau.org/ ]

DOUG MCVAY: That was Dean Becker's interview with Art Way, Colorado state director for the Drug Policy Alliance. They were at a Drug Policy Alliance event recently, and as I say, Dean was kind enough to bring back a lot of really great audio.

So now, let's hear another interview from that event. This is Gretchen Burns Bergman, she's director and co-founder of A New PATH, Parents for Addiction Treatment and Healing.

GRETCHEN BURNS BERGMAN: So I'm Gretchen Burns Bergman, and I'm co-founder and executive director of A New PATH. That stands for Parents for Addiction Treatment and Healing, and we advocate for therapeutic rather than punitive drug policies, and we -- I'm also the lead organizer of Moms United To End The War On Drugs, which is now in 35 states, and we work to -- also partners with six countries, and we work to end the stigmatization and criminalization of people who use drugs or people who struggle with substance use disorders.

DEAN BECKER: You know, the idea is being respected more, more than ever before, I think. The implementation of change, hopefully we'll soon follow more rapidly than it has been, but, the truth of it is, is that more and more people are realizing that these newspaper headlines about the opioid deaths are friends and sometimes family, and worthy of more respect, and reinterpretation. Right?

GRETCHEN BURNS BERGMAN: They're not just statistics. They're not just numbers. They're people, and they leave in the wake of their oftentimes accidental opioid overdose grieving families, parents, communities, whole communities are devastated by this.

You know, it's interesting, because I talk about the opioid crisis, well, it's not the opioid crisis, it's the opioid overdose crisis. It's the number of people who are accidentally losing their lives.

DEAN BECKER: Well, you know, Gretchen, I close my half hour show the phrase because of prohibition you don't know what's in that bag, to please be careful. And it is the policy of prohibition that creates this situation where gangsters make it and gangsters cut it with all kinds of c***, for lack of a better term, and sell it, many times to our children. Right?

GRETCHEN BURNS BERGMAN: And it's that black market that's created by prohibition that is really at the base of this. It's the war on drugs, you've, we've all said it many times, but it's not a war on drugs, it's a war on people, and people, precious human beings, are getting caught up in the crossfire of this.

So, you know, our kids are at the forefront of this war on drugs, and are losing their lives, and oftentimes if not losing their lives, losing their liberties, being caught up in mass arrest, mass incarceration.

And this is why we're working to try to enlighten the general public about this, and that we are losing our human rights and dignities. It's been eroded at such a pace that people are not necessarily aware of the need to stand up for their rights.

Parents, mothers, like me, need to speak out about what our basic human rights to nurture and protect our kids are. Right? For the sake of, not just our own children, but future generations.

DEAN BECKER: Well, it has a, I use the term, it's a quasi-religion. It's a belief system that allows one group of people to go to war against another group of people because they don't like their habits, their morals, their use of certain products. And, I try to be careful. It's not -- it's charlatans, ah, hell ....

GRETCHEN BURNS BERGMAN: It's about judgment. I mean, how dare we judge what people, what other people put in their bodies, you know. How dare we judge them. And yet we've built a whole system of control over people, like a moral authority over people, that is ridiculous.

DEAN BECKER: I see great similarities to that of the tactics of the Taliban, if you will, that you go with the, our dictates, or we will punish you.

GRETCHEN BURNS BERGMAN: Yeah. And there's a, very much of an us and them separating of people, which is so dangerous. I'm very worried about mankind. Right? When this happens, and it's happening all over the world, this othering of people. You know?

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. And I think it's, you know, it's a means whereby, you touched on it, our rights are slowly being eroded, and handed over to no-knock warrants and SWAT teams and other new tactics to modern policing that never existed before but they're justified through this fear of drug users and their quote "tactics."

GRETCHEN BURNS BERGMAN: And it's very interesting that we allowed the criminal justice system to take over what is really a healthcare concern, and it's a parental concern. You know? And perhaps teachers' and instructors' concern.

But it's not a criminal justice concern. Why did we do that to our own people, to our own family members, you know?

DEAN BECKER: Well, we're here at the Drug Policy conference in St. Louis, and yesterday I tried to bring up what I thought is the answer to what you just posed, and it is that it was charlatans pretending to be moralists who put forward the idea that blacks shouldn't be allowed to use marijuana, they'll rape white women and so on and so on.

And it was embraced within, well, the Jim Crow era, it was put in place, and it has been, this war has been waged for over a hundred years, depending on which initial law you speak of, but it's, it has no, no real defenders in public. They'll do it to TV camera, or from a pulpit or whatever you call it in DC, but they will not submit to an open public debate about the validity of usefulness of this policy.

GRETCHEN BURNS BERGMAN: Well, at the core of it is racism, and it's also not just a war on race, it's a war on poverty, so it's the haves and the have nots, and the greater divide between the two. It's power and money. That's why it's hard to get an honest debate going.

DEAN BECKER: They can't do it. Well, Gretchen, it was wonderful to see you here in St. Louis. I'm sure we'll be seeing each other this November, back here in St. Louis, where the major Drug Policy Alliance conference will be held, and, some closing thoughts? Your website, share that with the audience, please.

GRETCHEN BURNS BERGMAN: It's easiest to go to the Moms United website, which is MomsUnited.net, and the two sites are interconnected so that you can check around our different campaigns.

We're coming up to our Mother's Day campaign, a time where we can really speak out about our mom's rights to nurture, protect, and defend the rights of our families and our children.

So, I hope that we get a big crowd here when we come back in November. The Drug Policy Reform Conferences are really, really thought provoking, inspirational, and reinvigorating, you know.

DOUG MCVAY: That was an interview with Gretchen Burns Bergman, director and co-founder of A New PATH, Parents for Addiction Treatment and Healing. Drug Truth Network's executive producer Dean Becker was at a Drug Policy Alliance event recently, ran into Gretchen, and was kind enough to share that audio with us for today's show.

Now, let's hear from Shiloh Jama, a longtime harm reduction advocate and director of the People’s Harm Reduction Alliance in Seattle, Washington.

SHILOH JAMA: I mean, I think, you know, some of the trends that are going forward now is, you know, we've been talking around things like syringe exchange programs for a long time, you know, and since our last kind of conversation, when we were in Portugal, we've been doing a lot more work towards getting smoking services.

And something that I was really impressed, when we went there, is a lot of young people don't inject, that they do, they're a lot more smokers, and you know, I think that's where a lot of people, people can talk about, that's how people start or whether or not, but, you know, if, it's one of those things about drugs, is if you don't do enough, they're not very fun, but if you do too much, they're really scary.

And so your just right place? That actually might be smoking compared to injecting, and I think a lot of places we've kind of forgotten that, and we've forgotten that, you know, people do inhalant systems, and, you know, talking to a lot of our people we've been serving is they're becoming a lot more responsible because they've been able to use a lot less and it's been a means for them to recover.

You know, one of the other things I think that people aren't talking a lot around is, you know, some of your listeners might know what dabs are. You know, it's a concentrate of THC, and there's a lot of opiate users in Seattle, because of the legal market of marijuana, who've been using, who've been turning to smoking heroin and they've been now using, mixing it in with dabs to slowly do a detox formula, to stop using opiates and start using marijuana.

There's also, you know, and there's been some advocacy work around getting low income folks some free marijuana in order to facilitate that.

I think, you know, it's, like anything, you know, the system hasn't really caught up yet to those recovery systems through marijuana. And I think, you know, but again, it's like that smoking system, when you give people the opportunity and you give people the means, they, you know, some people want to use drugs the rest of their lives, and that's great. We just don't want them to be in chaotic use.


SHILOH JAMA: Right? People who are in stable use, you know, some stable use can look like a lot of different ways. Right? It can be that you've decided to use marijuana over opiates. It also can mean that you decided to use opiates on the weekends.

And it's around creating those opportunities for folks to do that. You know, and when we're dealing with a larger concentration of heroin, that's fentanyl laced, so quality, or I should say, you know, the potency, is not an issue as it used to be. So there used to be a lot of weaker opiates, so you didn't want to smoke, but now that it's a lot stronger because it's laced, smoking becomes a safer means of ingesting your drug.

DEAN BECKER: Well, and even like with marijuana, they talk about you can titrate, you can determine how much you want to intake, and how much of an effect you want to create for yourself, and I'm sure that's true with smoking the opiates, I don't know, is it pills, is it the powders, what the heck are they smoking? The opium's certainly not around, is it?

SHILOH JAMA: Well, it's the tar heroin that people are smoking, and you know, I think one of the things for a long time there wasn't really many ways to smoke.

People, you know, the old opium pipes aren't readily available, let's just say, and so we've been having to develop more and more different systems and like creating these dab rigs, and a lot of people, if you know what a dab rig is, that can be, you can use tar or powder, you can smoke out of those same systems. They're well designed for that. You know, not everyone can afford, you know, the hundred dollar version of that.

DEAN BECKER: Little, yeah, rig.

SHILOH JAMA: Yeah, rig, where, you know, a lot of this, essentially, I mean, it's basically a bong with a little more high tech top, and it's, and the reason they call it a dab rig is because it has this little nail that you put down on it.

DEAN BECKER: To provide the heat, provide it first from the blow torch, mostly.

SHILOH JAMA: Yeah, yeah, it's a high heat, you dab, you put it in, the concentration turns to smoke really quickly, you inhale it really quickly, and it works really well with using with heroin, and so a lot of opiate users are reducing their use through adding marijuana to it.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Shiloh Jama from Seattle, Washington, where he directs the People's Harm Reduction Alliance, in an interview with Dean Becker, host of Cultural Baggage and of course my good friend and colleague, the executive producer of the Drug Truth Network. They met up with each other at an event that was sponsored by the Drug Policy Alliance recently.

And well that's it for this week. I want to 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’m your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

The executive producer of the Drug Truth Network is Dean Becker. Drug Truth Network programs, including this show, Century of Lies, as well as the flagship show of the Drug Truth Network, Cultural Baggage, and of course our daily 420 Drug War News segments, are all available by podcast. The URLs to subscribe are on the network home page at DrugTruth.net.

The Drug Truth Network has a Facebook page, please give it a like. Drug War Facts is on Facebook too, give its page a like and share it with friends. Remember: Knowledge is power.

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We'll be back in a week with thirty more minutes of news and information about drug policy reform and the failed war on drugs. 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.