10/14/20 Doug McVay

Century of Lies
Steve Bloom
Drug War Facts

Live from this year’s virtual Seattle Hempfest, a discussion of activist journalism featuring Kymone Freeman, a writer and organizer whoco-founded and operates a radio station in DC called WeAct Radio;Vanessa Maria Graber, a journalist and radio producer from Philadelphia;Angela Bacca, a freelance writer from California; Tauhid Chappell, a journalist in Philadelphia and a board member of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists; and Steve Bloom, a journalist based in Brooklyn, New York who is publisher of and a former editor at High Times Magazine.

Audio file

05/20/18 Steve Bloom

Century of Lies
Steve Bloom

This week on Century: Raymond Brown, a distinguished attorney in New Jersey, speaks at the Patients Out of Time conference in Jersey City on the topics of marijuana legalization, racial bias, and cultural competence; plus an interview with Steve Bloom, editor-in-chief of Freedom Leaf Magazine and publisher of

Audio file


MAY 20, 2018


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

The Patients Out of Time conference was held May 10 through 12 in Jersey City, New Jersey. The first day was devoted to a policy workshop. A lot of great information, several knowledgeable and truly inspiring speakers. One of them, who we’re about to hear from, was Raymond Brown. Mister Brown is a distinguished attorney in New Jersey, so before any ado can possibly be furthered, here’s Raymond Brown:

RAYMOND BROWN, ESQ.: Many of you know, or some of you know, that the greatest person I ever knew was my father, who was an extraordinary lawyer, and human, and civil rights leader. I am his biological child, but some of his non-biological children are here with us today. Joe Hayden, who's a fine lawyer, Kabili Tayari, who is a former deputy mayor here and now a muckety-muck at DPW. And even Alan Silber, who has been the moderator of this great program today.

There's a second hero I have, a man named Charles Hamilton Houston, a man I never met. He was the dean of Howard Law School, and he was the father of the strategy by which ultimately the Supreme Court was confronted with Brown versus Board of Education, and struck a blow against white supremacy.

One day, we should have a symposium on how it was that in the '30s at a time when lynching confronted black folks, he came, along with others, to a strategy of challenging segregation in education.

But for the moment, I want to dwell on a statement he was wont to make, which is that a lawyer is either a social engineer or a parasite.

And while you may take great opportunity to make fun of lawyers in light of that, it's also true about almost every one of us, indeed, I venture to say that this is a gathering of social engineers. And the confusion that Alan Silber alluded to earlier is not just the confusion between state laws and federal laws. There's confusion on the ground, there's lots of confusion, and there has to be a commitment to racial justice.

I think of justice as a verb. There needs to be a commitment to racial justice as part of this movement, else it will fail in achieving its goals. I was born about a mile from here in the Margaret Hague Maternity Hospital, over on what was the upper part of Montgomery Street.

And this was, when I grew up, a Jim Crow town. I was raised initially in a Jim Crow housing project, and the other night I had dinner with Kabili and a couple of other friends from Jersey City, and we had an argument about where the Jim Crow lines were. Needless to say, the Loew's Theater [sic: the conference venue at which this speech was made] was not in our territory, and you didn't come up here by yourself.

It's important to understand that historical perspective, but one of the perspectives it left me with was, because my dad was well known and my grandmother was well known, as was my mom, frequently I'd be summoned by one of the oldtimers, either down in the projects or up by Jackson, and they'd say come over here young blood, bring your buddies over here.

And we would be regaled with the fact that we didn't love our god, we didn't respect our elders, we didn't care about our people, and the world was going to hell in a handbasket and we were carrying it there pretty fast.

Afterwards, there would be a lecture about whether King was right about nonviolence, whether Joe Louis was better than Muhammad Ali, and why the Yankees never had any black ball players other than Ellie Howard.

But I remember that, and I remember resenting those oldtimers, who would always be chiding us and threatening to tell our parents about what they saw us do last night. And now it appears I've turned into one of those guys myself.

Which creates some contradictions, because it seems to me that if we look at the question of legalizing marijuana, because we really have three buckets to look at here. There's the criminalization bucket, which I think almost everybody is on board with. There is the compassionate use concept, which seems to be expanding and the governor's executive order and the department of health analysis seem to suggest a slightly more enlightened view of how this should go about.

But legalization remains controversial. Now, Alan Silber is a good friend of mine, and I love him dearly. I'm a little pained that after Deborah Small had this elegant sexual metaphor about fornication, Alan had one that was somewhat more crude when he talked about sodomy in Lawrence versus Texas, and I'll explain that, because it is important, not to have a discourse about sodomy, but to talk about the fact that the Supreme Court does in its analysis, especially Eighth Amendment jurisprudence, look at a concept called evolving standards of decency.

That's, for example, how young people are not subject to the death penalty anymore, because more states outlawed it, and even other countries outlawed, so it is relevant jurisprudentially that there are an increasing number of states not just looking at compassionate use, but looking also at legalization.

Then something happened yesterday in New York, and New York is a complex puzzlement, and any community of which you're a part, you have to be careful talking about the politics, but, Cynthia Nixon, who you may know is running against the current incumbent in the Democratic primary, on a marijuana legalization platform, said that blacks should be given preferences for licenses in New York as a form of reparations.

And the principle attack against her came from black Democrats: Al Sharpton, #BlackLivesMatter people, and other folks, and it's not to be ignored, how that happened. Now, there are nuances, I'm sure, of New York politics that explain that. We need to understand that dynamic, and what it means if this is going to be a successful effort at social engineering.

It should be clear that I favor, myself, as an individual citizen, legalization of marijuana. But I also understand that it faces hurdles, and those hurdles are raised by people who are thoughtful and important.

Now, Rick Jones is fond of adding this quote, this is even better for me than the nasty one from Nixon about Jews and marijuana. This was Ehrlichman, his domestic security adviser, in 1994: We knew we couldn't make it illegal to be against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities, we could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.

So there is no doubt that the current structure of drug prohibition, which ignores both the health component of drug use, which is critical, and ignores the role of market forces, which is critical, that is, why is there violence surrounding the black market in drugs, is it because of the pharmacological effects of drugs, or is it because we create this black market and violence sustains it? And then sustains law enforcement, that makes arrests.

But nonetheless, the war on drugs was a horrible thing motivated by racism, and by political convenience of the lowest kind, perhaps lower than anything we've seen prior to the current administration in Washington.

But on the other hand, there were people of good will who were not as shocked as we were by the concept of the war on drugs. Now, Alan Silber led me to be involved with a lot of anti-war on drugs people, including, now I've had to read stuff I wrote in 1990, nothing more horrible than reading something you wrote 28 years ago. But while I was railing against the war on drugs, the chief justice of our supreme court put me on two committees which were special task forces to look at sanctioning in the criminal justice system here in the state, and to assess criminal division needs.

And the reports that were produced were pretty good in terms of trying to shift resources away from criminalization, especially in the drug area. But I threatened to write a dissent, because both used the term "war on drugs," capitalized in quotes, as an affirmative concept, at least in their introductions.

And so after I threatened to write a dissent, I got a call from the chief justice, who insisted that I come down and see him in his chambers. And he put me on the committee to punish me in the first place for some critical remarks I'd made, because the committees met like at exit 8A at the Forest Gate County Club on 8:30 on Thursday nights, so that was a sanction in and of itself.

And I remember going down, he said, Brown, is there anything in these reports you don't like? I said no. He said, half the stuff in there is stuff you recommended or supported. I said, right. He said, so what's your problem? I said, but you can't have the judiciary endorsing a concept called "the war on drugs."

And he said, Brown, because this is a court that was known for social engineering, there was Mount Laurel, there was Abbot, they managed to destroy the death penalty without ever overturning a capital case. So this is a court that has done some social engineering, he said, Brown, I've got a legislature for funding, and I have people in the AOC, the Administrative Office of the Courts bureaucracy, and if they don't support this, I'm not going to get anywhere. So I've got to have a term like that.

So, we compromised that we didn't make it in quotes and we didn't put it in capital letters and it was only in the introduction, and I sold my soul for a pre-trial intervention program that was expanded to include drugs.

I mention that because he wasn't a rabid racist or a Klansman, or even somebody who didn't see it, but he said, your metaphorical concern is not going to be met by your friends with open arms, but by your enemies. But there were other folks in the black community, right here in Jersey City, a great many ministers, not just law enforcement people, who didn't like the idea of a war on drugs, and the incarceration rates, but deeply concerned about the impact of heroin and cocaine, and other drugs that were flooding our community, and most of them didn't see marijuana as distinguished because that quote from Ehrlichman is not just redolent of racism and political oppression. It's redolent of a non-rational approach.

We heard from the first panel about how irrational it is to have a classification system with schedules like the one we have. They're not based on a pharmacological analysis of the kinds of things Doctor Burnett talked about in his first presentation, which is about the benefit versus the harm, and some pharmacological, rational system.

And so if you don't have a rational system and you lump those things all together, so actually at the first debate at the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers in 1990-something between -- I debated against Alan Silber's resolution in favor of legalization of marijuana, because, you take a drug that concerns primarily the suburbs, and you're going to use political force to drive that in the direction, hopefully of a more rational discourse, and leave the rest of the community without?

And I'm not accusing that of Alan -- Alan of that, but to say that's part of the dynamic here. That's the discourse. That's why the Black Caucus in this state has not been uniformly supportive of the notion, although almost everybody there is going to vote in favor of decriminalization.

We still have to deal with people who are elected by and large by seniors, the ladies with the big hats in church, those people, who are going to say, you're going to put these places in our community? Jersey City, the place where you are right now, the city council has twice refused to vote on a resolution that would determine how many dispensaries are going to be permitted in Jersey City. Because it's a hot potato. It's controversial.

My suspicion is, oh I can't read the tea leaves, that most councilmembers would favor it, but it's very dangerous politically.

And why is that so? Because this process of moving forward hasn't faced the revolutionary implications of the war on drugs. When Doc was talking about cultural blindness -- oh god, just met you, hope you don't mind my calling you Doc -- the question is, which of those consequences are we willing to face?

Let's look at just two areas. One is expungement. Expungement is a favorite of mine. If you look at the [New Jersey State Senator] Scutari bill, which is at the moment the leading bill, who knows what will come out, for legalization. There's an expungement provision that basically refers you to the expungement provision in our current 2C Code, and by the way, we have a criminal code, both federally and state, which were offered to us. The sentencing guidelines and the model penal code were offered to us as ways of equaling out the justice system so race and class didn't play a factor.

And yet blacks overwhelm the criminal -- the federal criminal justice system and it's a 12 to one racial ratio in this state. Even though the model penal code and the guidelines were sold to us as a matter of social justice.

So social justice doesn't come easily. It doesn't come without a fight. And it doesn't come with blinders on on the part of advocates. Like I say, I'm turning into one of those guys.

So let me mention that expungement provision is so crazy, because first of all, we, my firm, does some work in the re-entry program at the federal district court. Greg Hilzer is a young lawyer who's with me today, initially during the first segment, the video, he ran out of the room because his first name is Greg and thought he was talking to him, but he's back now.

But, we do work there, and first of all, the guys, mostly guys, but also gals, who come into that system, it's an effort to try to get them a driver's license, to get a municipal court warrant expunged somewhere, let alone do the work it takes to get an expungement of a record, not to mention the fact that the statute itself bars expungement for anybody who's had a violation of probation, so one dirty urine, one missed show-up at the probation officer's office, anything that ever happened, the judge has no discretion.

If you've got two marijuana possession convictions, you're out. The second one you're stuck with -- I mean, the first one you're stuck with. So a statute that gives judges no real discretion, and that leaves people with a stigmatizing conviction with collateral consequences. You can't get student loans without filling out a form that asks about convictions. Pell Grants, which are already the subject of controversy, are limited.

I've got two minutes left, okeh, so, the collateral consequences are severe. The expungement provision here is a joke. And the provision that deals with social equity simply says the division shall establish licensing goals for minority owned and female businesses, and have to use good faith goals.

Now, why would we leave to an enforcement entity the question that the young lady, Shaleen, was talking about is so complex and nuanced in Massachusetts they set up a whole commission to deal with, and we're going to leave that to regulators, who have a primarily enforcement mandate?

When the kinds of varieties of social equity experiments that are carrying on -- being carried on throughout the country need to be studied, looked at, they need to be in the legislation. Now, I'm not arguing that we go through a detailed analysis of what's in Scutari's bill. We don't need to get that deep into the weeds at this moment. But if the best draft right now gives short shrift to expungement, has a social equity provision that's a joke, you shouldn't be surprised if you get opposition from black Democrats.

You know, the interesting thing about the Parkland kids, to me, is that at some point, somebody said, if we're going to deal with guns nationally, we can't do it without black Democrats. The Republican party is a sick joke. The Democratic party is only saved by the fact that there's some black fiefdoms within it. It's not much better, but it's a little better because it's an equal opportunity place for everybody to fight.

But you can't change, bring about social reform that comes through legislatures if you ain't got black Democrats, so they said, wait a minute, we've got to talk about what happens in black communities. Are we showing the same sophistication in terms of marijuana? If we let expungement, not to mention questions when it comes to social equity, about capital formation, the cost.

One last point, because I can see the guy, I hope -- you have a weapon? You don't have a weapon, right? I'm going to steal one more minute, then.

I represent, by sheer accident, not ability and not because I'm a hero, some huge corporations that are involved with sales at airports and other places, so I -- the distributors of alcohol and tobacco are huge. I mean, the conglomerates that exist would boggle the mind. The capital they have access to would overwhelm us if we knew the numbers.

They're waiting for a coalescence between federal and state statutory schemes. So the second generation of owners here is not going to be mom and pop, or little people. But the question is, who is going to be in that first generation? And maybe you have a chance to sell to them. If you're not talking about controlling what gets dispensed where and when and having black communities and other disadvantaged communities involved in serious discussions, and in the legislative process, you're not going to be successful.

If you're not willing to take a revolutionary approach to the ownership structure of how there is dispensation, and growth, and the development of what is going to be a short-term cottage industry, and then a buy-out by big guys, it's a joke, and you're not going to get the kind of support you want, and more importantly than that, because justice is a verb, you're not going to get a result that's just, or any more equitable, than the war on drugs, and then this is just not a gathering of social engineers but just another interest group. Thank you.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Raymond Brown, an attorney from New Jersey, speaking at the Patients Out of Time Twelfth National Clinical Conference on Cannabis Therapeutics. Full disclosure: I work with Patients Out of Time doing website maintenance and social media. We’ll have more from the Patients Out of Time conference next week.

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

I don’t mean to brag, but I consider myself a very lucky person, partly because I have so many great friends. One in particular, the big brother I never had, is Steve Bloom. Steve is the editor-in-chief of Freedom Leaf Magazine, he’s also the publisher of Full disclosure, I write for both of those outlets. A travel snafu meant I was stuck on the east coast for a couple of extra days last week, which gave us the opportunity to hang out and record an interview. Here’s part of that.

You, back in '89, and into '90, were -- you and High Times, as a -- High Times as a magazine and you personally, were extremely supportive and, I would even say instrumental, in the development of the Hemp Tour, of the Cannabis Action Network, the support that you and other folks provided helped all of us get that thing going. The -- that issue of High Times where, in which you had -- got a great cover shot, the women of CAN.

STEVE BLOOM: Yeah, Debby Goldsberry, Maria Farrow, Missy --

DOUG MCVAY: Monica Pratt.

STEVE BLOOM: Hendrickson, Monica Pratt, and Sarah, yeah.

DOUG MCVAY: Yeah. Ah, Dee-Lite playing in the background as we're doing the photo shoot, and that was a helluva -- but, as I said, you personally, and High Times magazine, were instrumental in CAN, in Hemp Tour, and in spreading the word about decrim and legalizing and all the rest, back at that -- it was, yeah, you're right, it was a very dark era.

But you, you know, the blending of activism and journalism is what I'm trying to get over toward, and that's a thing that you have done -- you, my experience, that's something that I've seen you doing, and very well, and very effectively.

STEVE BLOOM: Maybe -- maybe it's a, you know, thinking of New Journalism right now because of the death of Tom Wolfe, and they talk about him being, you know, one of the founders of New Journalism, and I was really influenced by that idea of immersing yourself in the subject of what you're writing about, that you become sort of part of the story.

I guess I became a little bit part of the story here, with, you know, marijuana legalization, because High Times, you know, let me wear a lot of hats. And, you know, if you worked in most places, you couldn't be an advocate, you know, there's probably a handful of places, maybe Mother Jones, or, you know, where could you really be an advocate for anything?

You know, you're, you know, as a music journalist, you know, maybe I would have been writing more for Rolling Stone and, you know, you're not advocating, you're writing about articles and music and you're writing about, you know, things that are important in a way, but not significant like changing laws and people's lives.

So, you know, I just kind of lucked out in that respect, that High Times just suited me. When I first went there, it reminded me of my college newspaper, and that was my feeling in the first office, was I felt like I was back at Meridian, which was the Lehman College newspaper, which I was editor of in 1974 and started in '72 as a cub reporter.

And, just a fun office and a fun place, and we just all just had a blast together, and we still have reunions to this day, and High Times had just a real fun vibe, you know, just felt like -- like this is going to be fun, you know? There was going to be a little bit more than just doing what I do, there was going to be more than just writing and editing, you know, it's going to be more to that.

And so, you know, I kind of jumped on the bus, so to speak. There was literally, like, a psychedelic bus that, you know, that we took to Hash Bash in 1989, and I kind of like, getting on that bus was really me jumping aboard to make a commitment to be involved in this movement. Maybe I was a little hesitant until that exact moment, but I decided to get on that bus, I mean, is this something where -- where I want to be? I mean, yeah, I want to cover this, and write about it, but I really, do I want to be part of it, too?

You know, am I part of this story? I think that's kind of when I became part of the story, not just standing back and writing about it, you know, and editing the stories about it and putting them in the magazine, now I was kind of in the middle of it. That was a fun trip, and we did go to Hash Bash, and we did march in, and, you know, helped, you know, helped that event, and a lot of that was, you know, Steve Hager's doing, he was editor in chief of High Times back then, he was kind of a, you know, he had, sort of this vision of, you know, being like a Merry Prankster and getting on the bus and touring around, and you know, he had his way of doing things.

And I, you know, was new on the High Times team, and, you know, Hager was the editor for a while, and I just, you know, I said, okeh, I'll -- I'm with you. You know, I'll roll with you, and see how this goes, and then, you know, the fun part of it was not just the High Times scene, it was really getting out amongst the people, and meeting, you know, people like you and the CAN crew that you were referring to.

There was -- you know, the big star of the CAN crew is Debby Goldsberry. You know, she is, you know, a big player in the California scene, has been for years, and, you know, runs Magnolia Wellness, and just starting her new dispensary, the High Fidelity.

Yeah she's, you know, so she's -- she was, her and her friend Maria Farrow, who I became very friendly with, they -- I kind of, I liked their vibe. You know? I liked what they were about, and I think the women back then weren't getting a fair shake, and it was mostly dudes, and guys running things, and I kind of just got a kick out of, you know, the women's vibe behind CAN, and Cannabis Action Network, and, I know you and me were, you know, involved, but, you know, we're kind of the guys. It's kind of Women Grow now, you know, Women Grow, you go to a Women Grow event, there's 75 percent women, you know, but then there's 25 percent guys, you know. We're allowed to be there, but it's, you know, I kind of felt like CAN was a little like that then, too, it was mostly a women's vibe around it.

You know, that there was -- there needed to be a place for women in a very male-oriented, you know, community. And Debby and Maria and the others struck out to do that, you know, and I think it was very important. They were way ahead of the curve. Look at Women Grow now, they were Women Grow then, essentially, doing it in their way, in a more of a hippie way, you know, going to Dead shows and giving out flyers, and doing it that way, and running around Hemp Tour with Jack Herer and Ben Masel, and, you know, and Steve DeAngelo, all different people were involved back then.

My role in Hemp Tour was just covering it, but, you know, but you know High Times had such a big impact in the marijuana world back then. Now, it's considered still a great brand, and important, but it really was the only place in town back then to get significant information about marijuana, and so everybody just read the magazine. It was just like, if you were into marijuana, High Times. It was just a given.

So, so whatever High Times wrote, kind of was like blasted out to this community in a way that, you know, people wanted to believe, hey, if High Times said so, got to be true. You know, so we, we're going out and promoting Hemp Tour, well, you better go, you know, it's important, High Times says so, you know, so we had that megaphone of this magazine to reach a lot of people, and we did it through activism. You know, that was really where, I think, we really, you know, High Times made its mark in, you know, in jumping in.

Steve Hager did Freedom Fighters, I really did more involvement with CAN and NORML. Everybody did their thing, you know, but, but I think High Times had a very big impact, you know, in changing things at that time.

DOUG MCVAY: Which is why doing the news coverage of Hemp Tour was so important. I mean, people -- they might have heard about it, they might have heard rumors, there might have been somebody stopping through their town, but, you know, some random hippie shows up and talks about doing this thing, that's fine, but, then you read about it and you find it, no, there's a bunch of these folks and they've been going all around the country, and they're doing these things, and they're doing them like twice, once or twice a year.

Before there was a web, before there were videos and Youtube and things like that, this was one of the few ways people could find out that that was really happening. I mean, if you're living in the middle of Iowa, and the only things you have are the three major networks and the Des Moines Register, nothing's out there. You know? It was sort of a beacon of hope.

Haven't had a chance to say it publicly -- I've probably said it before but I'll say it publicly: I'm really grateful to you for all that, because I think that without your support, I think your personal support and without High Times's support, I don't believe Hemp Tour, Cannabis Action Network, I think we'd have been set back -- we'd be a good decade back.

That was my interview with Steve Bloom, publisher of and editor-in-chief at Freedom Leaf Magazine.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be bringing you more from that interview as well as more audio from the Patients Out of Time conference. For now however, that’s all the time we have.

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 I’m your host Doug McVay, editor of

The executive producer of the Drug Truth Network is Dean Becker. Drug Truth Network programs are available via podcast, the URLs to subscribe are on the network home page at

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

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

DOUG MCVAY: 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.