09/09/20 Kevin Zeese

Century of Lies
Kevin Zeese
Drug War Facts

This week: a conversation with the author, activist, radio host, and distinguished long-time drug policy reformer Kevin Zeese; plus, White House Communications Director Sean Spicer on likely new directions for this administration's marijuana policies.

Audio file

NOTE: Kevin Zeese passed away on Sep 5, this show is in memorial to him.

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.

I first met today's guest when I was a young pup going to school at the University of Iowa. He was speaking at another school in the state, so my friend Jack Clubb – the Boston spelling with two Bs – and I drove up to Ames to meet him. Now at that time, he was the executive director of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. Previously he'd been their chief legal counsel, even sued the federal government over paraquat.

Now by the time I went to work for NORML in 1987, he was off working at another organization that he co-founded called the Drug Policy Foundation, which eventually became the Drug Policy Alliance. A little more than a decade after that, he got together with Robert Field, Mel Allen, and Mike Gray and created Common Sense for Drug Policy, and in April of 2000 he hired me to work on that group's websites and to work on this little project called Drug War Facts. Some of you may have heard of that.

I am of course talking about my friend, mentor, and role model, Mister Kevin Zeese, and I am unspeakably honored to have him on the phone here with us today. Kevin, how are you doing?

KEVIN ZEESE: I'm doing great, and that's a nice introduction, I remember all those steps in our history together, and I really appreciate, you've done such great work. And I've wanted to do your show, often we've tried to connect and for various reasons didn't make it, so I'm glad to do this. Thanks for having me on.

DOUG MCVAY: Well, again, it is an absolute honor. You know, I gave folks -- I at least brought, in terms of your background and our association, I brought folks at least into this century. Getting people up to speed, tell us -- tell me about some of the stuff you're up to these days.

KEVIN ZEESE: Well, a lot, especially these days, with the new Trump administration. The major project that we work on, I co-direct with Margaret Flowers, is Popular Resistance, so it's PopularResistance.org, and that is a site that covers the resistance movement. It puts forward our own agenda of campaigns. We were very involved in getting Net Neutrality approved during the Obama years, and we'll be very involved in protecting that in the Trump years.

We were very key in the campaign against the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which was -- we successfully stopped, with a bunch of other people. Everything we do is with other groups, and building a -- because we're trying to build basically a mass movement that can have a bigger impact than Trump will have.

I think anyone looks back at the 60s, when there was a multi-faceted popular movement, on a lot of issues, the movement had a bigger impact than the presidents did. I think the same can be true now. We have a movement that has been growing since the economic collapse. It grew during the Obama administration with very key campaigns, like the Occupy, and like #BlackLivesMatter, and the Fight for $15, student debt issues, a whole slew of issues, really.

And now that movement's in another phase, with the Trump experience. We've been covering and participating in the protests around Trump, and we've always tried to push to make it clear that Trump is a symptom of a system that's sick, a democracy in crisis, two parties that don't -- that really represent the oligarchs, and not the people. That the people are really cut out of governance, unless they really stand up and push hard.

And we've had some successes doing that, but we really see a need for transformational change, and we hope that we're seeing now, in this Trump protest, the beginning of a movement that really is bigger than Trump. And that -- so that's what we're mainly doing. It's been a decade, you know, since ending your biography of me there.

This century has been one where I've gotten more involved in a diverse number of issues, from the economy to racism to the environment, climate change, and continue to work on marijuana and other drug issues, too. It's been one -- I've also been involved in trying to help develop an independent alternative to the two parties. That included running, working on Ralph Nader's independent campaign in 2004, where I was his spokesperson and press secretary. And I worked with Ralph after that for many years, and still do, on other issues.

And then, you know, working on Green Party campaigns. I was an adviser -- a senior adviser to Jill Stein this last campaign. And the third party movement needs a lot of help, we have a lot of work to do, but we have to develop an alternative that can threaten the two parties, especially the Democratic Party, in order to keep it honest and not just an oligarch party, as it has been, really, for most of its existence. So, that's an update of what I'm doing. And, a lot going on, and glad to discuss with you the current issues.

DOUG MCVAY: Our current president has only said a little bit about drug policy so far, mostly that he blames Mexico for everything and believes that a slab of concrete will take care of everything. He's an idiot. But I was thinking, Kevin, you first started work on the drug war when an American president was doing something stupid by ordering that marijuana fields in Mexico be sprayed with paraquat, which is a terribly dangerous herbicide. Different president, different approach, but, I'm wondering if you're getting even a little hint of deja vu?

KEVIN ZEESE: Yeah, there's a lot of deja vu. And of course, Carter was followed by Reagan, who was the first to use the military in drug enforcement, escalated the drug war, and again focused on trying to stop the so-called supply at the border. And every time that we've done this, it's always had the reverse impact.

We would not have a US marijuana market if it had not been for paraquat, if it not had been for the war on Colombia by Reagan, if it had not been for the use of the military in trying to stop bales of marijuana from being dropped off in the Gulf waters. And so, the US marijuana market was the result. My expectation with Trump, and Sessions, is that no matter what they do, we're moving toward full regulation, and a legal market, of marijuana. We will have a legal market, you know, because of whatever they do.

Sessions has been -- and Trump, you know, by the way, supported legalization early in this century. He was a -- he came out in favor of legal marijuana a long time ago. He hasn't said that recently but even during the campaign he said he supported medical marijuana being legal, and otherwise he hasn't said anything too bright.

But, Sessions has also been, you know, very hard to gauge on this. I mean, he has said that, you know, as Attorney General, his job is to enforce the law, and that right now, possession's against the law. And so, he's not -- his job's not to select which laws to enforce. But he also has said that it's a question of resources, and we don't really have the resources to enforce the marijuana laws in that way. He's also been somewhat positive about Eric Holder's position on allowing the states to experiment with legal marijuana markets. He's been critical somewhat of the way that that's been enforced, as far as going to other states, and some of the restrictions that are in there, he doesn't think those have been enforced enough. But he's been relatively supportive of that approach, so that's interesting.

So we don't know what he's going to do yet. He has said some pretty stupid things, like, good people don't use marijuana, and, you know, that legalization's the wrong course, and, you know, he's said a lot of things that aren't very smart. But, you know, the reality is, the marijuana market has become something you can't just wipe away. It's an eight to nine billion dollar a year market now. That's a significant market, and it has grown, you know, faster than the technology growth in the Clinton era. It is now, you know, legal in eight states, and in 29 states you have medical marijuana.

So it's not something that's easily erased, and I suspect if they try to erase it, they would have a tremendous backlash, that you'd see an even more energized marijuana legalization movement. In large part because Trump is so unpopular, I think that would help to advance it. It's -- so if they take that approach, I think there will be a blowback that will help us. If they take the approach of allowing this to go forward, that will mean that Jeff Sessions, an anti-marijuana senator, is allowing legalization to go forward. That's a tremendous advance as well.

So I don't see what -- and our job, I think, as a movement, and this is true in every movement I work in, is whatever the government does, to turn it to our advantage. Just like I said, if there's an economic collapse or a new war, we have to turn that to our advantage on those broader issues. If there is a crackdown and an escalation of the war on marijuana, or if there's acceptance of a legal market, either way, we have to turn that to our advantage and advance further. That's our job, is to keep pushing forward.

And so, I think that we're positioned, the marijuana movement is positioned well. I've been very pleased to see the comments made by people in the marijuana market, it's not -- the marijuana reform movement on Sessions and on Trump. They've been keeping a very open mind on this and not been antagonistic toward Trump, and I think that's wise.

I mentioned the marijuana market in a slip there because I was thinking about one of the biggest concerns I have, which is that, one thing that's going to help us advance with the two parties is that marijuana's becoming corporatized. It's becoming a big, business-run industry. And I think that is losing a lot of the flavor, so to speak, of marijuana. I think that it being a non-big business, you know, dispersed market with a wide range of growers developing new strains, new ideas, new approaches, has been one of the things that's made marijuana really interesting substance that really could even advance further.

The corporatization of marijuana is not something I'm happy about. In many ways I like the DC model best, and they took their model because they are living inside the federal government. You know, their budget is reviewed by the federal -- by Congress, and they can undermine anything that DC does, so they voted for basically allowing individuals to grow their own marijuana, and share the marijuana. And that cut out the big business aspect of it. In many ways, I like that better than the regulatory approach. I mean, I see advances to the regulatory approach too, but as I say, I do worry about the corporatization.

So I think no matter what Trump does, and what Sessions does, the movement is positioned to advance further. And that's the power of this movement that's developed so beautifully. When I got involved back in 1979, I full-time focused on it into the early part of this century, but along the way, and beyond my time as a full-time marijuana reform activist and drug policy reform activist, beyond that time and during it, I saw so many good people come into the movement, bringing their own skills, their own perspectives, their own energy, and I think that's still true today. We are seeing a lot of new people getting involved and I'm very confident about the future of this issue, going forward.

DOUG MCVAY: You are 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. My guest today is Kevin Zeese. He is now a political consultant, activist, and organizer living in the Baltimore area. Kevin has also had a long and distinguished career in drug policy reform.

Kevin is also my friend, and one of my mentors. And I must add, for full disclosure, I currrently serve with Kevin on the board of directors of Common Sense for Drug Policy, and I must also note, again for full disclosure, that a resource I compile and edit, DrugWarFacts.org, is a project of Common Sense for Drug Policy.

We'll be back with Kevin in a moment. But first …

On Thursday, February Twenty-Third in the James A. Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, DC, the president's communications director, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, took a question about marijuana.

SEAN SPICER: I’m going to go to Roby Brock from the Talk Business & Politics in -- where is he from? Arkansas.

ROBY BROCK: Thanks, Sean. Roby Brock with Talk Business & Politics here in Arkansas, the home of the rowdiest town halls in the nation.

I have a question on medical marijuana. Our state voters passed a medical marijuana amendment in November. Now we're in conflict with federal law, as many other states are. The Obama administration kind of chose not to strictly enforce those federal marijuana laws. My question to you is: With Jeff Sessions over at the Department of Justice as AG, what’s going to be the Trump administration’s position on marijuana legalization where it’s in a state-federal conflict like this?

MR. SPICER: Thanks, Roby. There’s two distinct issues here: medical marijuana and recreational marijuana.

I think medical marijuana, I’ve said before that the President understands the pain and suffering that many people go through who are facing especially terminal diseases, and the comfort that some of these drugs, including medical marijuana, can bring to them. And that's one that Congress, through a rider in 2011 -- looking for a little help -- I think put in an appropriations bill saying the Department of Justice wouldn’t -- wouldn't, wouldn't be funded to go after those folks.

There is a big difference between that and recreational marijuana. And I think that when you see something like the opioid addiction crisis blossoming in so many states around this country, the last thing that we should be doing is encouraging people. There is still a federal law that we need to abide by in terms of the medical -- when it comes to recreational marijuana and other drugs of that nature.

So I think there’s a big difference between medical marijuana, which states have a -- the states where it’s allowed, in accordance with the appropriations rider, have set forth a process to administer and regulate that usage, versus recreational marijuana. That’s a very, very different subject.

And I think -- Shannon.

GLENN THRUSH: What does that mean in terms of policy? A follow-up, Sean. What does that mean in terms of policy?

SEAN SPICER: Shannon. Shannon. Glenn, this isn’t a TV program. We’re going to -- Shannon.

GLENN THRUSH: What is the Justice Department going to do?

SEAN SPICER: Okay, you don’t get to just yell out questions. We’re going to raise our hands like big boys and girls.

GLENN THRUSH: Why don’t you answer the question, though?

SEAN SPICER: Because it’s not your job to just yell out questions.

GLENN THRUSH: Can we have some follow-ups in the conference?

SEAN SPICER: Shannon, please go.

SHANNON PETTYPIECE: Okeh. Well, first, on the manufacturing summit, was the AFL-CIO invited? And then, yeah, I did want to follow up on this medical marijuana question. So, is the federal government then going to take some sort of action around this recreational marijuana in some of these states?

MR. SPICER: Well, I think that’s a question for the Department of Justice. I do believe that you’ll see greater enforcement of it. Because again, there’s a big difference between the medical use which Congress has, through an appropriations rider in 2014, made very clear what the intent of -- what their intent was in terms of how the Department of Justice would handle that issue. That’s very different than the recreational use, which is something the Department of Justice I think will be further looking into.

DOUG MCVAY: That was from a White House press briefing on Thursday, February Twenty-Third. The president's communications director, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, was answering a question about marijuana that had been posed by Arkansas journalist Roby Brock. The reporter who tried to follow up, and got shut down in that condescending way by Spicer, was Glenn Thrush. Glenn Thrush is the Chief White House Correspondent for the New York Times.

On Friday, February Twenty-Fourth, the White House Press Office did not hold its regular daily press briefing in the Brady Press Room. Instead, Spicer held what's called a “press gaggle” in his office. There were no cameras allowed, but one or more reporters in attendance did record the audio.

Spicer and the White House Press Office refused to allow reporters from several major outlets to attend. News organizations that were shut out of Friday's gaggle included the New York Times – there's a surprise, huh? – also the Los Angeles Times, The Hill, Huffington Post, the New York Daily News, and most of the foreign press, including the BBC and the Daily Mail. Time and Associated Press boycotted the gaggle in solidarity.

Reporters who were allowed to attend Friday's gaggle, and who did not join AP and Time in the boycott, obviously, represented Reuters, Bloomberg, NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox, the Washington Times, Breitbart, and the, uh, One America News Network. Yeah, me neither.

Fortunately, CBS reportedly made its audio recording of the gaggle available to those who had been excluded. And, I have to wonder whether that is going to get CBS excluded from future gaggles.

Sorry, just I love that word. Gaggle. Gaggle, as you may know, is the collective noun for a flock of geese when they're not in flight, so really it means a group of geese waddling about, messing up the place, honking loudly. Gaggle is also the collective noun for the group of reporters covering the White House. Gaggle.

According to one of the best and most respected reporters in all of American history, Helen Thomas, the word gaggle was first applied to the White House press corps by Dee Dee Myers, who at the time was serving as White House Press Secretary. She was there for two years, the first two years of the Clinton administration. Myers had also been the chief spokesperson for Clinton's first presidential campaign.

Considering how much time Myers had to spend in those days answering questions about Bill Clinton's various and legendary “zipper problems” and every other kind of thing that had nothing to do with policy, you can kind of understand why she called the White House press corps a gaggle. All things considered, it's a rather quaint and remarkably polite term.

I mean, gaggle was not meant as a compliment, and yet, you know, it really is a kind of a badge of honor. Reporters are supposed to annoy public officials. That's part of the job, we have to speak up in order to get their attention, especially when officials are giving non-responsive answers or just ducking questions entirely. I mean, this is a reporter's duty. We owe that to the news outlets we work for. But more than that, it's our responsibility to you.

Yes, you, dear listener. As a reporter and as host of Century Of Lies, I work to provide you with accurate news and reliable information that you can use and that I hope and pray is of interest. Doing that involves finding answers to questions, especially the questions that some would prefer go un-asked. It involves raising concerns, especially the concerns that some would prefer be dropped. And it involves pointing out lies, especially the lies that some would prefer go unchallenged. As a journalist, those are my responsibilities, and my duty to you.

At this point I feel I should mention that this is a volunteer-produced program. I am a volunteer. I am not paid to do this. I put in several hours every week reading news articles, finding new reports and research, talking to people, doing interviews, recording events, getting material, and recording and producing this show. I do it, first and foremost, because I love it. I'm a news junkie and a drug policy freak, I have been that my entire adult life. Producing this show is a huge honor for me, I feel incredibly blessed.

Also – and this is just between you, me, and the fence post, all right? – I do this because I really love radio. It's my favorite medium. I've had dreams of being behind a microphone since I was a little child. This is literally a dream come true -- the good kind of dream. I left it a bit late to start, but, you know, better late than never.

The path I've taken in life brought me here, to this very seat, here behind this microphone. This microphone into which I have the great honor and pleasure to say that you are 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.

Let's get back to that interview with my friend, mentor, colleague, and one-time boss, Kevin Zeese.

People may think this is just a couple of old lefties talking about, you know, having some pipe dreams, but you've got to -- you know, just to remind people, Kevin and I started doing this stuff back when the idea of marijuana legalization, yeah, sure, it's a great idea, but that's politically impossible. It would never happen.

KEVIN ZEESE: Well, exactly. And that's the -- that really is almost always the case with every correct solution. Net neutrality, we were told, was politically impossible. And yet it happened, and now we're going to fight to preserve it. Stopping the TPP was politically impossible, and yet it became politically inevitable. It died out with a whimper. That's always our task, is to turn the politically impossible into the politically inevitable, and I think when you look at something like most, almost all of these issues, you find it's not even a left issue.

I mean, you know, I ran for office as a Green in 2006, just to challenge the Democrat who claimed to be an anti-war Democrat, but really was voting for all the war funding and is now, he's leading the effort to stop peace with Russia, Ben Cardin. I got the nomination not just of the Greens, I got the nomination of the Populist Party of Maryland, which was a Nader party, and with the Libertarian Party.

The first question I was asked by Libertarians was, but you support socialized medicine, how can you be a Libertarian? And I explained that actually single-payer provides the most choice to people, they could choose whatever doctor or health provider they wanted. It provided the flexibility for people to leave their job, come home, take care of kids, take care of an elderly family member, and still keep their healthcare. It provides businesses with the most choice, because they knew what they were going to be paying, it was not this constant premiums rising situation that we're currently in for businesses, that makes things very unstable. Allows for US businesses to compete with other countries where they had a single payer system, it had their healthcare under control.

Right now, our healthcare is approaching 20 percent of the GDP. That's not sustainable, we cannot be spending, you know one out of four or five dollars on healthcare, that's absurd. We've got to reduce that down to what other countries do, you know, which is 10 or 12 percent of their GDP.

So, when you look at the issue, and get over the labels, this is not a leftwing issue, this is a pragmatic issue, and that's true with almost everything that we work on, including marijuana legalization. That is a pragmatic issue. It makes sense economically, it makes sense healthwise, it makes sense, you know, as far as the role of police, the role of health providers, it gets everything in sense. What didn't make sense was the marijuana war. That was the radical option that made no sense.

Just like having the insurance companies in charge of healthcare, it makes no sense. It's absurd. And that's why everyone is suffering today. So, on almost every issue we face, when you actually get down to it, it's not a left or a right issue, it's a pragmatic, what works policy-wise type issue.

DOUG MCVAY: Let's, do you have any closing thoughts for the listeners?

KEVIN ZEESE: Yeah, I think the most important thing for people to take away is that we have tremendous opportunity right now, as people. And there are -- we're lucky in many ways, the challenges that we face can be overcome, and we're lucky in ways that, because we have a lot of people with experience from multiple generations, we have youth who are questioning the status quo, and that's a combination for incredible -- an incredible movement.

We're lucky to know the hundred years of resistance movements, and what's worked and what hasn't. There are books about what makes movements succeed, and we can learn from that success. And, we have people who worked in the 1960s era, 70s era movements, we have people who worked in the anti-corporate globalization era movements, we have the experience of the Obama years, and what's succeeded in those years.

And we have the challenges of Donald Trump, who is bringing forward all of the flaws of our current oligarch system of governance. He's just -- he's like an open book, he isn't, unlike Hillary Clinton, who has her two faces, you know, the public face and the private face, and Obama who was very -- and of Bill Clinton, who are both big, smiling guys who showed empathy and then went around and did things that really were totally corporate in nature.

We have a guy who's clear on all these issues of racism, anti-immigrant issues, on the corporate power, on big business power, and he's mouthing some, you know, populist falsehoods that are going to become very clear in the future. So I think we're in a really good position as, in our own strength, and in where the two parties are, both in very fragile states, and where the government is also in a very fragile state.

So, this, these next 20 years are going to be so key. So if you have any sense of getting involved, this is the time to do it, and to get in and play your role, because movements are made up of lots of people who make things happen. And every person can make a tremendous difference.

I think, you know, Doug, when I first met you in that Iowa event, there were about six people in the room. I was on this tour of Iowa, and I went to a college, and like six people showed up. Turned out like five out of 6 of the people in the room -- Sandee Burbank was one of them -- five out of six people in the room became like lifetime activists. So, you know, it's interesting that you can even speak to a small group and get a lot of action out of it. And each person in that room made a difference. You're making a difference. Each person who was in that room has made a difference in how the movement has progressed.

And so, don't underestimate your power, and recognize this is the time to use it, because we are in a critical phase in the next ten to 20 years, so, it's a great opportunity to create something that will be very long-lasting and very positive.

DOUG MCVAY: Kevin, thank you so much, for all your time, and for all your work, and for, well, just for everything, man. Just, yeah. Thank you.

KEVIN ZEESE: Thanks for having me on, I appreciate the chance to talk to you.

DOUG MCVAY: All right.

That again was from a conversation with Kevin Zeese, he's a progressive political activist, organizer, writer, radio host, and a leader in drug policy since 1979.

And, well folks, 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'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org. The executive producer of the Drug Truth Network is Dean Becker.

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

We'll be back next week with thirty 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.