06/21/09 - Allan Clear

Allan Clear, Exec. Dir. of the Harm Reduction Coalition on what we have wrought & Chris Hermes of Americans for Safe Access on "land mark decision" on medical marijuana + "World's Most Intersting Man" III

Century of Lies
Sunday, June 21, 2009
Allan Clear
Harm Reduction Coalition
Download: Audio icon COL_062109.mp3


Century of Lies, June 14, 2009

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.

Welcome to this edition of Century of Lies. A little later we’ll hear from Chris Hermes, spokesperson for Americans for Safe Access, who just won a major lawsuit out in California. But first up, this interview with Mr. Allan Clear.

Dean Becker: I think in much the same way the people looked at the explosion of the first nuclear weapon said, ‘What have we wrought?’ I think much the same way, we should look at this drug war and consider, ‘What we have done to ourselves, with that.’ Here to talk about this hundred year old problem is the Executive Director of the Harm Reduction Coalition based in New York City, Mr. Allan Clear. Hello, Sir.

Mr. Allan Clear: Hi! How are you doing, Dean?

Dean Becker: I’m well, Sir. My introduction talks about, ’What have we done to ourselves, with this policy?’ You want to outline some of the problems we’ve created?

Mr. Allan Clear: I’ll talk about some of the area’s in which we are heavily involved in. Harm reduction’s a philosophy of working with drug users who are using drugs as opposed to, have not started using or in treatment or in prison. So it’s a critical group of people that you want to work with, ’cause if we’re going to do anything about the drug problem in this country, you have to engage the people who use drugs and we‘ve had a resistance to doing that over the years.

One of the things you can definitely say we have brought upon ourselves is the amount of HIV and Hepatitis C infection, that afflicts the drug injection community. It’s purely brought about by the fact that there’s not enough syringes in circulation, which is brought about by changes in the law and that hasn’t been helped by a Federal Ban on the funding of needle exchange programs which has been in place since 1988, in this country. Even though we knew how HIV was transmitted, even though we knew how to stop it, we allowed HIV transmissions to occur, and did nothing about it.

Another problem we’ve had over the years, is drug overdoses. Drug users don’t know the level and quality of actual drug when they buy drugs on the street, so that could lead to packets of drugs being too strong. The basic drug education that could be supplied to drug users have been manipulated over the years, so people don’t have a basic education about how to avoid a drug overdose and the antidote to drug opiate overdose use, which is a drug called Narcan or Naloxone has been limited pretty much to EMS and EMT workers, when really you need drugs like that in the hands of people who are using drugs.

This is often interpreted as a way of allowing people to use drugs, but it’s not. It’s a way in which people begin to have a consciousness around their drug use, so it can actually do something about it if they have a problem with their drug use.

Prison’s obviously a major source of a problem. We’ve crated an industry where we have created prison cells, that we need to fill up and they’ve been filled with drug users and we removed education programs from prison’s and education is one of the ways out of serious drug problems that affect both individuals and communities and we restrict educational opportunities to people who have drug convictions.

So we actually know some of the answers to some of the problems, but we won’t apply them and that really is part of the shame and horrendous nature of this war on drugs, that we will look back on in years to come and say, ‘How could we do that?’

Gun control is another issue. Gun control in the United States is not something that you can ever bring up. It’s one of those ‘sacred cows’ and yet we allow gun manufacturers to make guns that are clearly designed to inflict massive destruction on people that buy them. We fuel drug problems in places like Mexico and then drug gangs, here in this country, by supplying them the weapons and the gun manufacturers and the Government collude in that, totally. Now why we can’t talk about adequate gun control, is beyond me.

Dean Becker: Once again, we’re speaking with Mr. Allan Clear, Executive Director of the Harm Reduction Coalition. Allan, there’s a gentleman here in town, he’s a (retired) Professor at RICE University. He wrote a piece that appeared in the Houston Chronicle, talking about the lack of needle exchange here, which by the way, the Texas Legislature once again decided was not a good idea, and Mr. Martin had indicated that, ‘We look at this situation that we would much prefer that those who use drugs and their immediate families die, rather than to provide these needles.’ What’s your thought on that?

Mr. Allan Clear: Know that this is a way of stopping this spread of infectious diseases. We also know that when you have a syringe exchange program, you’re reaching the people that are most marginalized and disenfranchised by our communities and society. What happens is, syringe exchange programs become the outreach component’s for drug treatment programs. They become their mediators for helping people either change the way they use drugs or help them stop. They can work with the parole and probation on helping people get back on track. They’re a tremendous resource.

When we block legislation or we reject legislation that will support syringe exchange or when we deny funding to programs, we’re really denying a really positive experience for everyone. We’re not just talking about drug users, we’re talking about ------ and their families, we’re talking about the communities and we’re talking about cost savings too.

What we have right now is people who disconnected to services and syringe exchange programs make those connections, drug treatment programs don’t. It’s rare for drug treatment programs to have outreach components to the work they do. You really have to be sick and suffering and falling down on your knees to get into drug treatment and even then there’s a waiting list and even then, it’s difficult to get in.

Syringe exchange programs provide a valuable service, an invaluable service to the community. We’ve seen tremendous reductions in HIV transmissions in New York City, where we’ve had syringe exchange programs now since 1990. It’s kept epidemics under control in the Northwest, in Washington State and Oregon and it‘s really short sighted in many, many ways, not to implement syringe exchange programs in Texas.

Dean Becker: You probably get a lot of these calls and emails from folks whose children have ran into scrapes with the law. My most recent one was from a lady up in Belton, Texas. Her eighteen year old son, actually he just turned nineteen in jail yesterday, was arrested for one ecstasy pill and here in Texas, they have this law whereby on your first drug arrest, you‘re forced to go to treatment and they‘ll exonerate your record, if you do.

But the problem is, they don’t have a treatment bed and this boy has been in jail for five months now, waiting for a treatment bed and yet these politicians talk out of both sides of their mouth, ‘The need for treatment’ and yet they don’t provide it and they force these young people into such situations. Your thoughts on that?

Mr. Allan Clear: Yeah, exactly. I was working in the field of harm reduction for about twenty years now. We’ll often hear from people, ‘We don’t need what you’re offering, we need drug treatment.’ Well, I’ve been hearing that for twenty years and I don’t see our politicians making ‘drug treatment on demand‘, available to people. You don’t have anyone advocating for drug users to help them stop using drugs. As you say, there’s waiting lists and there’s lack of beds in different places.

The other issue is, I mean I obviously don’t know the story of this young man, but for one tablet of ecstasy, do we know he actually had a drug problem? So you have a person who may not have a drug problem what-so-ever, and people do use drugs recreationally and we tend to ignore that fact. There’s many people who actually derive a certain amount of benefit from taking drugs, which is why people take them, in the first place and yet our society decides that we’re going to punish rather than help.

So this poor kid is now locked away, taken off of the streets, disappeared from our communities. It’s much stress and distress for their families and what’s he going to learn in jail? Society doesn’t work. The system doesn’t work. He can’t get into college now. That’s not the message you want to be sending.

Dean Becker: Allen, the fact is, this poor lady has gone through three attorney’s now, all of whom have failed her. Yesterday, I tried to get in touch with the judge and the prosecutor. Of course, neither one of them called me back. I’m going to release the name of that third defense attorney if he does not step up to the plate and get something done. I even talked to the head of the Atascocita Correction’s Center here who does handles treatment and he says, “One ecstasy pill? He doesn’t even qualify to come to our facility.” It’s such a conundrum, it’s such a roundabout, is it not?

Mr. Allan Clear: It is. You talk to law enforcement, you talk to cops on the beat or you talk to people who’ve been involved in this drug war on the law enforcement side, since we ramped it up at the end of the 70’s thru the 80’s and 90’s. They’re not interested in this drug war either. By default, they will arrest people and put them in jails and prisons and put them into the criminal justice system, but they recognize the futility of it, because they see the same people out and on the same corner an hour later or, if it’s not the same person, it’s someone else who’s stepped up and taken that position.

They recognize that and they don’t see that as an answer, which I think having the new drug czar, Gil Kerlikowske, he’s actually acknowledged that in his first month or so on the job by saying, ’We’re going to change the language. We’re going to change the way we think about this. We’re not going to have a war on drugs anymore, because that’s a war on people. That’s a war on our own US citizens. We need to think about how we address this as a health issue. As a public health issue and as an individual health issue.’

Dean Becker: I like the words that he put forward, but I’m not so sure I like the lack of change that they promised. Because until they stop that prison industrial machine, it’s still the same old bunch of crap, is it not?

Mr. Allan Clear: It is and it’s also, when we’re still not coming up with solutions in places like Columbia, Mexico…

Dean Becker: Afghanistan.

Mr. Allan Clear: …and Afghanistan, that we keep pursuing the same policies that have not worked that, as you say, we need to see some concrete action. To be fair, it’s fairly new in this administration. We have a whole bunch of people that work for the office of National Drug Control Policy who, living on what we’ve done in the past and trying to do more of it and I think, when you put appointed officials in there, such as Gil Kerlikowske, it’s going to take a little bit of time for them to turn the engine around.

Dean Becker: You are listening to Century of Lies on the Drug Truth Network. We’re talking to Allan Clear, the Executive Director of the Harm Reduction Coalition.

Congressman Jim Webb has put forward the idea of a Blue Ribbon Commission to study the ’Prison Industrial Machine’ and more specifically, I think, the ‘drug war’ itself, but unless and until they put somebody like you, Allan Clear, or say Nora Callahan from the November Coalition or Norm Stamper, former Police Chief, or Eric Sterling who worked with Peter Rodino, to crack these mandatory minimums; until they put somebody knowledgeable of the harms, I hope they don’t just stick with current Law Enforcement officials.

Mr. Allan Clear: My organization, we’ve done our best over the years, but when we had the Bush years and a very right wing fundamentalists kind of approach to everything in this country that wasn’t based on science, it’s based on ideology, you know we have very little input into any of the Federal systems.

Now, we’re beginning to have some inroads, because we’ve been doing this for a long time and there’s people that we know now, with-in the administration and as you get closer, you realize that some of the people that have been there for a long time, are absolutely clueless, about what needs to be done. They can’t differentiate between things like legalization of drugs, decriminalization of drugs. It’s all one thing to them.

Part of our challenge now, we’ve actually getting in there and educating people about what works and what doesn’t work; what direction we need to go in and how it all works together. We’re not going to end imprisonment in this country, but we’ve got to figure out a way of completely reforming the system and how that fits in with drug treatment and how that fits in with drug prevention for younger people and how that fits in with how we actually work with people who have drug problems, because at any one time there’s a sizeable amount of people in this country that do have drug problems that you want to address, without them dying or getting some kind of infectious disease.

Dean Becker: You were speaking about, now we’re starting to be called upon for our knowledge; our experience and expertise in that regard. You’re going to Geneva, just this weekend, right? To attend a conference. Tell us about that.

Mr. Allan Clear: Yeah, that’s right. I’m going off to, it’s a UN AIDS meeting and UN AIDS, over the years, had been pretty supportive of interventions that help drug injectors stop the spread of HIV, so they haven’t been shown using the words ’Harm Reduction’ or ’Needle Exchange’ or ’Drug Treatment’, such as Methadone or Butanol and very often, our government has been reluctant and resistant, because it conflicts with National policy to endorse some of those approaches.

Some of the work I’ve been doing lately has been in Vienna, at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting that took place in March at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and this meeting I’m going to in Geneva this weekend for UN AIDS and really, what we hear - and there’s been a shift since President Obama has been elected. He has said that his administration supports needle exchange. They do accept that the science behind it works, but they won’t work with the term ’Harm Reduction’, because they find it a vague term.

What we hear more of now is, that they link harm reduction to drug legalization or they link it to safer injection places, where people can get help as they inject their drugs, and they have them in fifteen different countries around the world. But they don’t have a fundamental understanding of what this all means.

So, I feel my role out there is to actually present a different side of what we do in the US and all sorts of network with some of our officials out there, because there’s good people within our administration that need some support, and then there’s; you’ve all of the advocates who say that this is wrong, you can’t do this. So I see myself very much in, and the advocates and people from other *NGO’s around the world who have that role in advocacy, were there to represent drug users and people living with AID’s and HIV at this meeting. So that’s were I’ll be this weekend.

Dean Becker: We met a few years back. The time I remember most was the conference in Salt Lake City…

Mr. Allan Clear: That’s right. The Crystal Meth Conference.

Dean Becker: …crystal meth and it was an outstanding conference with so much information. Most folks out there that are for this drug war, don’t realize that the stuff made by Merck and Phiser, kill thousands more than do these concocted drugs and unknow quanities and quality that are sold out on the streets. It’s time to really evaluate what we’re up to, is it not?

Mr. Allan Clear: It certainly is. In the field in which I’m working lots of ways, to me, there’s not actually much difference between a legal drug use and drugs that are produced by pharmaceutical companies and ellicit drugs. Obviously we know the quality control for one, but there’re harms and dangers associated with both. We need to look at how we minimize the problems associated with all substance use, including alcohol and nicotine.

The role of ’Big Pharma’ needs to be looked at in the same way that’s been met before, with gun control stuff.

Dean Becker: We’re about out of time here, but I want to talk about an upcoming event, another conference I think’s going to be very powerful. The conference in November, 12th thru 14th. Could you tell us about that?

Mr. Allan Clear: You mean ours or you mean the DPA one?

Dean Becker: It’s the **DPA, isn’t it?

Mr. Allan Clear: I’ll give ours a plug too. Ours is actually going to be in Austin, Texas but it’s not this November, it’s the following November, so keep your eyes open for our conference in Austin.

Yeah. The Drug Policy Alliance conference is coming up. We’re one of the co-sponcers of it. It’s going to be in Albuquerque this year and it’s a great gathereing of people who are looking critically at what the war on drugs has done and looking at solutions, ‘cause I think it’s easy to say, ’This drug war has failed,’ but unless we offer an alternative, than we’re not doing our job and the DPA conference is always a great place to network and get ideas.

I find with our conference, we do a harm reduction conference every two years, it’s a way for people who, let’s say work in Iowa, get to compare notes with people who work in Florida and they go back and implement new systems and new stategies for working with people. I’m very much looking forward to the conference in Albuquerque and then ours, a year later. Hopefully you guys will have ‘needle exchange’ in Texas, by that time.

Dean Becker: You brought up a point, that due to the fact the legislature just turned thumbs down to it, I’m actually trying to build a Board of Directors, a doctor, a warden and perhaps Professor Martin, out of the James A. Baker Institute, as a Board of Directors, and just start one here.

I’ve been wanting to take a tour of the jail facilities here for years, and if that’s what it comes to, it’s time to just broach the subject. It’s time to get ‘real’ about this, is it not?

Mr. Allan Clear: Absolutely. I think this is all opportunity, too. I think there’re some good signs coming out of the new Obama Administration. I think that, in some ways, instead of framing things in terms of the ‘war on drugs’, they’re beginning to look at it’s ventures like needle exchange as a health issue, that begin to look at prison’s as a civil rights issue, and maybe that takes some of the controversy out of using the word ‘drug war‘ or ‘drug policy‘. I think that there’s some kind of hope to be gleened from the steps of this new administration.

Dean Becker: I like to use the phrase, ’Let’s open this can of worms and go fishing, for truth,’ and that’s what you guys do at the Harm Reduction Coalition. We’ve been speaking to their Executive Direcor Allan Clear. Allan, y’all’s website?

Mr. Allan Clear: www.harmreduction.org

He once dug a tunnel through the Himalaya’s, to help Al-Qaeda smuggle opium.
When his house gets raided, his dogs shoot the SWAT team.
He developed a strain of marijuana so strong, that even Tommy Chong won’t smoke it.

He is the most interesting man in the world.

‘I don’t always do drugs, but when I do, I prefer marijuana.’
‘Stay informed my friends.’ drugtruth.net

For the salvation of the Nation,
This is the unvarnished truth
On the Drug Truth Network
With Reverand Dean Becker.

My name is Chris Hermes and I’m a spokesperson with Americans for Safe Access.

Dean Becker: Chris, I saw some of the latest news that the city of Garden Grove was forced to settle over the failure to release some medical marijuana. Is that correct?

Mr. Chris Hermes: The case involves a medical marijuana patient that was a resident of Garden Grove in Southern California. He was stopped by local police, back in 2005 I believe, cited with possession and they seized approximately three eights of an ounce of his medicine, even though he provided documentation that he was a qualified patient and his case was then subsequently dismissed and he obtained, at that time, a court order for the return of his property.

Unfortunately, the city of Garden Grove balked at having to return his medical marijuana and refused to do so, instead appealing the case to the California Appellate Court. That’s when we got involved and it was a very long drawn out process which resulted in the State Attorney General filing an Amicus Brief and the Law Enforcement Associations in California, many of them actually share this association.

The Police Chiefs’ Association, the Police Officers’ Association, the District Attorneys’ Association all lined up on the side of Garden Grove, with the California Attorney General on the side of Felix Kha. Ultimately, the Appellate Court issued a fourty-one page ruling on the side of Kha saying that, ’Federal Law in no way preempts state law,’ which was the main argument that Garden Grove was putting forth, ‘They didn’t have to return Felix Kha’s marijuana because it was a violation of Federal law.’

Well it’s now the law of the land, as a result of this Appellate Court ruling. It’s a ‘land mark’ decision that ‘Federal Law’ in no way preempts ‘State Law’ and actually it’s explicit obligation, by local Law Enforcement to uphold State Law and not skirt around it, in order to apply Federal Law in situations where someone like Felix is abiding by local and state law.

Dean Becker: Now this was a very expensive endevor for the city of Garden Grove, as I understand it. It’s estimated they spent approximately a quarter of a million dollars and the actual ruling was that they were to hand over a hundred and thirty-eight thousand dollars. Is that right?

Mr. Chris Hermes: Yeah. A hundred and thirty-nine thousand, to be exact, is being paid to Americans for Safe Access for it’s legal work in the case. The city of Garden Grove spent well over a hundred thousand dollars on it’s end to appeal the case, all the way to the US Supreme Court. So for the cost of a two hundred dollar bag of mediacal marijuana, the city of Garden Grove end up putting out, as you said, approximately a quarter of a million dollars to fight against Felix Kha’s right to have his medical marijuana.

Dean Becker: This comes in the face of very serious economic crisis that’s facing the Nation and especially California...

Mr. Chris Hermes: That’s right.

Dean Becker: They have the expensive camp raids, where they go tear marijuana off the mountain sides and they track down these dispensary owners… and marijuana is excepted, almost universally, in California.

Mr. Chris Hermes: Well, yeah. Now we’re seeing polls come out that a majority of Californians would tax and regulate marijuana in order to help a lagging budget and Americans for Safe Access certainly is not in the business of advocating for full legalization.

However, I think it’s well established that millions and millions of dollars are being funneled from the sale of medical marijuana into the state budget and it makes no sense at all to have local or state Law Enforcement, fight a law that’s been established for more than twelve years now.

I think it’s indicative also of the Federal Government and it’s war on medical marijuana, and marijuana in general, that at a time when we’re making budget cuts - social spending budget cuts - that we would ludicrously be spending money to stop marijuana from being cultivated and used in states where it’s legal, like California.

Dean Becker: Now, as you say, they’re cutting down on social funding in order to keep these prison’s full. It’s not making any sense, is it?

Mr. Chris Hermes: The statistics show that a huge number of prisoner’s, not only in California but around the country, are being imprisoned for simple marijuana use or possession and that really doesn’t make any sense at a time when the cost of incarcerating people are higher than ever. We can’t find room to incarcerate all the people that we arrest. It just makes sense to change the laws so that we can eliminate the spending in this way, for non-violent offenses like marijuana possession.

Dean Becker: We’ve been speaking with spokesperson for Americans for Safe Access, Mr. Chris Hermes. Chris, give them your website.

Mr. Chris Hermes: americansforsafeaccess.org We encourage anyone and everyone to get on our website and take action around this issue. There’s plenty to do. You can write to your local Public Official or you can write to your Member of Congress so we can change the laws Federally and acutally have some sensible and humane policies with regard to medical marijuana.

Dean Becker: Here’s hoping that you will help bring about more sensible drug policies. Be sure to join us on our next Cultural Baggage program when our guest will be Moisés Naím, hope I pronounced that right. He’s Editor and Publisher of Foreign Policy Magazine and as always I remind you, there is no truth, justice, logic, scientific fact, medical data. In fact no reason for this drug war to exist. We have been duped. The drug lords run both sides of this equasion. Do your part to help end this madness. Visit our website: endprohibition.org

Prohibido istac evilesco.

For the Drug Truth Network this is Dean Becker, asking you to examine our policy of Drug Prohibition.

The Century of Lies.

This show produced at the Pacifica studios of KPFT, Houston

*NGO Non-Governmental Organization
**DPA Drug Policy Alliance

Transcript provided by: C. Assenberg of www.marijuanafactorfiction.org