08/16/09 - Omar Figueroa

Omar Figuero of California Cannabis Initiative, Ethan Nadelmann of Drug Policy Alliance, Neal Peirce of Washington Post, Phil Smith of Drug War Chronicle, Chris Hermes of Americans for Safe Access & Jacob Sullum of Reason Magazine

Program: 
Century of Lies
Date: 
Sunday, August 16, 2009
Guest: 
Omar Figueroa
Organization: 
California Cannabis Initiative
Download: Audio icon COL_081609.mp3
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Century of Lies, August 16, 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.

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Dean Becker: Hello, my friends welcome to this edition of Century of Lies. It is pledge drive week here at the mother ship of the Drug Truth Network, so you are not going to have a chance to call in your questions or concerns.

But, we do have a great program for you today. You’ll hear from Omar Figeroa, the great San Francisco attorney. Ethan Nadelman, director of the Drug Policy Alliance. Neal Peirce, the Washington Post writer; Phil Smith. He’ll give us a report from the Seattle Hempfest. We’ll hear from Jacob Sullum, he of Reason magazine. And, we’ll hear from Chris Hermes of Americans for Safe Access.

But, first up, I want to give you an idea of guest for next week when you will get the chance to Face the Inquisition…

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Fred Gardner: My name is Fred Gardner, I edit a journal called O'Shaughnessy's for the growing group of pro-cannabis doctors in California and beyond.

Dean Becker: Fred, there is all kind of amazing news breaking of late. A gentleman in Colorado just got his two pounds of marijuana back from the state. And other news in California, people not getting sent to prison, all kinds of possibilities and actualities. Let’s talk about medical marijuana though and the fact that it’s a slam dunk as far as the science now. It’s proven, right?

Fred Gardner: Well, it’s proven like it’s proven that the earth revolves around the sun and that the earth is round and that life has evolved from more primitive forms but those scientific findings are not accepted by everybody in this country where a large part of the population has been systematically mis-educated on cannabis and other subjects too.

Dean Becker: The public being mis-educated? Well, that’s never happened before… Here to talk about the public being educated, and moving in the right direction, is the counsel for the California Cannabis Intitiative.

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Omar Figeroa: My name is Omar Figeroa. I am a constitutional and criminal defense attorney based out of San Francisco, California and my practice is focused on defending cannabis cultivators and medical cannabis patients, caregivers and members of collectives and cooperatives.

Dean Becker: Now, the sad thing is business is still booming pretty good for you, right?

Omar Figeroa: Um, yes, but I am trying to put myself out of business by submitting an initiative to the voters of California that would repeal cannabis prohibition.

Dean Becker: And, let’s talk about the California Cannabis Initiative. It’s a rather new endeavor, is it not?

Omar Figeroa: Yes, it is. It was submitted to the California attorney general about a month ago and there’s other… there’s two other initiatives also that have been submitted. So, there’s definitely a strong demand in California for reform and, as we have seen, we cannot trust our elected representatives to reform the criminal justice system because they are afraid of being seen as soft on crime. So, all of the improvements that we have had in California, as well as other parts of the country, come from the borders themselves.

Dean Becker: Now, there has been a situation that shows reefer madness is far from dead. There is a Georgia law maker who is calling for the caning and executing of marijuana offenders, correct?

Omar Figeroa: Absolutely. He wants to adopt the Singapore model of summary death penalty for suspected drug dealers and then humiliating caning for cannabis users.

Dean Becker: Now, the California Cannabis Initiative is seeking to collect many signatures for this ballot initiative, right?

Omar Figeroa: Yes. We need to get four hundred thirty-three thousand signatures to present the initiative to the voters. Then, we will be on the November 2010 ballot.

Dean Becker: Now, the website shows I think six hundred fifty thousand but that’s for duplicates or people who are not registered, right?

Omar Figeroa: That’s right. In order to get the four hundred and thirty-three thousand actual signatures, it is estimated by the experts that you need about six hundred and fifty thousand.

Dean Becker: Now, we have about six stations in the Drug Truth Network based in California and if ever there was a state with the mind set and the understanding of the need to get this done, it would be California. This is – you are seeking people to be coordinators and circulators for this petition, right?

Omar Figeroa: Yes, we are and you can sign up at californiaccannabisinitiative.org.

Dean Becker: Now, Omar, I live in Texas and we have legislators here that want to take the homes and the children of people who might be smoking marijuana in the house – not with the children – but just have it in the house where there are children. It’s necessary to alert other folks across the country that they too can be bold, and in my opinion patriotic, by standing for the truth and just changing these insane laws. Your thoughts.

Omar Figeroa: Absolutely. I think, for example, cannabis prohibition breeds disrespect for the law because the law is not followed when it comes to cannabis and so people think, ‘Well, you know, why should we follow these unjust laws?’ I think it’s better to have a law that is obeyed by the people because otherwise it would breed contempt for the law. So, if a law is not being obeyed by the people, it shouldn’t be a law.

Dean Becker: Now, there was a recent bust by the DEA of two more cannabis dispensaries. This, despite the pronouncements of Obama and his attitude, right? Your thoughts.

Omar Figeroa: That happened recently in California, in southern California. Yes, two dispensaries were raided by DEA and FBI. And it doesn’t make sense because the Obama administration pronouncement was that they would not target anybody who was in compliance with state law. Well, who is the judge of whether somebody is following state law? It should be the state courts, the state prosecutors.

So, why is this a federal raid? It doesn’t make sense for the federal government to say somebody is not following state law without allowing the state justice system to determine whether or not they are following a state law. It’s very telling that these dispensaries were not raided initially by state authorities. This was, from my understanding, a federal investigation. And, so now, the feds are basically aggregating power to themselves and claiming that they are the judges of state law.

Dean Becker: Well, they tend to aggregate every which way they can to maintain this ongoing policy. Am I right, Omar?

Omar Figeroa: Yes. The current cannabis prohibition makes no sense at all fiscally and not only is it a disaster because we are locking up people who are no harm to anybody else. But, it is also depriving the local governments from a huge source of tax revenue.

The legislative analyst’s office estimated that if cannabis were taxed at the rate of fifty dollars an ounce, which is what our initiative proposes, the benefits to the state would be fourteen hundred million dollars a year and that is only counting tax revenue. That’s not counting the benefits from saving on incarceration and prohibition.

Dean Becker: Now, California seems to serve as a harbinger of things to come and you guys have seen the light, I think, so to speak, in this regard. But, many other states are going to be following in the fiscal failure that California faces now in the coming years. It’s time for us all to take a look at this issue.

Omar Figeroa: We simply can’t afford to keep on incarcerating people for non-violent cannabis offenses. It’s just not sustainable. And so, whether people like cannabis or not, the cost of prohibition is too high. It simply cannot be sustained and so it’s going to take, unfortunately, a budget crisis for people to have to re-examine their core assumptions and this is certainly one of the core costs of government that does not make sense.

Dean Becker: We have been speaking with Mr. Omar Figeroa of the Pier 5 Law Group. Hangs out with the likes of Tony, Sarah and other great attorneys out there, trying to bring justice, logic and proportion back to our justice system. One more time, Omar, that website for California Cannabis Initiative…

Omar Figeroa: …is californiacannbisinitiative.org. Please support the initiative because whatever happens in California will be happening in your state in a few years.

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This is [ ], former attorney general of Columbia talking about the drug problem to the Drug Truth Network

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Dean Becker: You know, I try like hell, but I am never going to get the President and the Pope on this show. Probably not either one of them. Because nobody can defend this policy of everlasting war on our own people over their selection of intoxicants. The following comes courtesy to us of a Newsweek video. How Ethan Nadelmann, a former Princeton professor became the public face of marijuana decriminalization.

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Ethan Nadelmann: For decades now the objective of drug policy should be to reduce as close as possible the number of people using drugs: to get as close as possible to a drug free society. And I reject that as an objective.

I think as an objective, that is impossible and pursuing it risks imposing almost totalitarian polices against as close to a drug free society as possible.

We need to redefine the objectives of our drug policy.

I grew up in an ordinary suburban community. My dad was always a rabbi and my mom came from a traditional Jewish family, and so it was a strong sort of moral sensibility. And then around eighteen, I go to college in McGill, in Montreal and people are drinking and I started smoking cannabis. I enjoyed it. Many of my friends did too. A few of them had problems with it but some of them were getting arrested. They were getting stopped at the border. They were getting in trouble. And something just hit me at that time: there is nothing wrong with this.

This sense of the drug war was wrong. It wasn’t just my own personal sense about being potentially victimized by these laws but that the fundamental way that we were dealing with drugs in our society was flawed. That is was grounded in fear and ignorance and prejudice and profit.

cuts to an announcer

It started two years ago with marijuana cigarettes.
“Gee, I feel awful… funny.”
Several weeks later, after smoking reefers, Marty’s befogged brain hit on a clever way to open pot bottles.
Marty badly cut the inside of his mouth though he didn’t even know it at the time…

Ethan Nadelmann: That said, this to drive our drug policy, actually is responsible for two million Americans being arrested each year. It’s responsible for half a million or more of our fellow citizens being locked up behind bars tonight. It’s responsible for the country spending fifty to a hundred billion dollars a year trying to enforce these unenforceable laws.

Welcome to my office. You know, when you are in my line of work it is interesting what you get for presents and so here’s a couple of the boxes of the Kellogg’s boxes of Corn Flakes… this is crazy. Michael Phelps, international hero, age 23, smokes a joint, which something that about half of all other 23 year olds might do and in his case, the guy has spent half his life underwater. Right now, he’s finally taking a break, so for us that was kind of a – in some respects almost a turning point because you began to hear more and more people including on talk radio and elsewhere, op ed columnists, saying enough is enough already.

It used to be until recently that people did not talk about the issue of making marijuana legal as a serious policy option. Why is Governor Schwarzeneggar saying we need a debate on legalizing marijuana? Why is the attorney general of Arizona, Terry Goddard, son of a governor, wants to be a governor himself - fairly conservative guy. Why is he saying we need a debate on legalizing marijuana? Cause he is looking at the fact that the Mexican drug gangs are making over half their money from the marijuana business and he recognizes that the best way to hit them hard is to make the stuff legal and take it away from them, just like we did with Al Capone during alcohol prohibition.

I think the greatest obstacle right now is the fear of the unknown. When people voted in 1933 to repeal alcohol prohibition, they could remember a period when alcohol was legal. But, with marijuana almost nobody alive today remembers when marijuana was legal.

It’s the fear of the devil we don’t know over the devil we do.

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Dean Becker: The following audio is a little difficult but sometimes when you are dealing with a major columnist like Mr. Neal Peirce with the Washington Post Writer’s Group, you take what you can get. He told me he had a deadline coming up – didn’t have time to re-record.

“Prison Spending Hits a Brick Wall” so says the heading for the most recent column from Mr. Neal Peirce of the Washington Post Writer’s group and here to talk about it is Mr. Peirce. Tell us about this column.

Neal Peirce: Well, we are simply taking a look at what’s happening out there on the incarceration front and where you would expect – and there was some progress on states using the occasion of the gargantuan fiscal crisis they now have to begin to cut back on some of their prison spending which had ballooned so incredibly over the last several decades.

Some states are trying, at least twenty-two or so states, according to Institute of Justice, made some cutbacks but it seems to me we have just a long, long ways to go and it will take forever at the current speed of cutbacks to really make the adjustments that we need to.

Dean Becker: Now, in this column, you talk about California being an extreme case. You want to talk about that?

Neal Peirce: Well, sure. California has been just spending like a drunkard on prisons and incarceration over the last several decades. In the 1970s, it has 20,000 people behind bars and it now has 168,000 which is an increase seven hundred and forty percent and was already spending four billion dollars a year - a lot of money to operate these prisons in 1999. Currently that figure tops ten billion dollars a year.

Dean Becker: Now, you also reference the – there was a three judge federal court panel just on august fourth that ordered California to reduce its prisoner roles by forty-three thousand people over the next…

Neal Peirce: That’s a lot of people…

Dean Becker: That’s a lot of people, yes, sir. Immediately following the release of that there was a major riot at the state prison in Chino, kind of illustrating the problem.

Neal Peirce: Yeah, indeed. There was a major clash between inmates of ethnic groups and they burned a dormitory down. A lot of people were injured. So, what the court was saying was is that they have a system that actually pushes prisoners and parolees to more crimes through the amount of crowding that they have - triple bunk beds in many gymnasiums or dayrooms. About three times over their stated capacity so that inmate on inmate violence becomes very difficult to prevent.

Dean Becker: You also reference the fact that two thousand plus members of the California Prison Guard’s Union earn over a hundred thousand dollars per year. They don’t like the idea of fewer inmates. Your thoughts?

Neal Peirce: Well, when the proposal has been made to have a more moderate approach with more rehabilitation and the diversion of offenders in the drug courts and that kind of thing. There was a major proposal put out on the ballot last fall. The prison guards came out against it.

Spent three and a half days hollering and they spent three and a half million dollars on a scare campaign. ‘I know you wouldn’t want to do that, That would put more dangerous people on the streets.’ And they were able to, through the scare campaign, to prevent approval of that ballot measure.

Dean Becker: And I have also heard that those prison guards also contributed mightily to various candidates running for office which kind of helps to keep this momentum, right?

Neal Peirce: Yeah, they are a powerful lobby. One of their current allies apparently is the guy we once thought was once the liberal governor moonbeam, Jerry Brown. Now the attorney general, he is getting ready to run for governor all over again next year. He is taking the same line as the prison guards. …can’t – California can’t afford any more moderate approach, it has to continue the way it is going.

There is really no logic to it - why any state would have to add that many more prisoners over time. Are Californians really ten to fifteen times more evil now than they were twenty or thirty years ago? I mean, you could argue there is some increase in crime anywhere based on census – way out of proportion to the amount of money that they are spending.

Dean Becker: Alright we have been speaking with Mr. Neal Peirce of the Washington Post Writer’s Group. Neal, I appreciate the candor and the truth that you put forward.

Neal Peirce: We try hard.

Dean Becker: Alright. Thank you, Neal.

Neal Peirce: Thank you.

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Dean Becker: You are listening to Century of Lies on the Drug Truth Network and Pacifica radio. Earlier today I was dreaming about seventy-five degrees and beautiful breezes off Puget Bay. Yet, I couldn’t afford to get there this year. Let’s hear what was going on…

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Paul Smith: This is Paul Smith with the Drug War Chronicle for stopthedrugwar.org. I am at the Hempfest. This is day one. We expect about 200,000 people to show up over the course of the weekend. They just opened the gates here on day one and people are starting to file in by the thousands.

We have four stages here and there is all kind of speakers who will be speaking, there are all kinds of bands who will be performing. We have about a mile of guys selling glass pipes and other kinds of paraphernalia. It is a huge event. It’s the largest marijuana pro-festival in the world and it goes on every year in this beautiful location right on the waterfront just north of downtown Seattle.

Dean Becker: As I understand, Seattle had a major heat wave not too long ago. How’s the weather?

Paul Smith: The weather is beautiful. It’s always, 75 degrees, breeze coming in off Puget Sound. It’s sweet. I look out at the mountains across the sound, mountains behind me… I mean, this is really a spectacular natural setting and it’s a spectacular cultural setting when it comes to marijuana reform.

They have a Lowest Priority Initiative here, they have medical marijuana here. There are police present here at this event but you have to try awfully hard to get yourself arrested at Hempfest. I look forward to seeing all of you at Hempfest next year. You don’t want to miss it. You should check it out once in your lifetime like the pilgrimage to Mecca.

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Dean Becker: Just how far from reality are these drug warriors? Here to talk about it, Jacob Sullum.

Jacob Sullum: I am Jacob Sullum, I am a senior editor at Reason Magazine. I also write a syndicated newspaper column and I write about drug policy among other things. I have been doing that for quite a while now.

Dean Becker: Jacob, there’s recently a proposal was put forward to solicit marijuana growers here in the United States and the reaction has been kind of mixed on that but you had a piece that you posted in Reason: people will be so stoned they won’t care about the death boards. You want to elaborate on that for us?

Jacob Sullum: laughs. OK. Well, basically this is a column – this is in response to a column that appeared at forbes.com by Rachel Arenfeld that I noticed because Marijuana Policy Project mentioned something about it on their blog. But, she looked at this request for proposals, which is looking for a contractor that can produce marijuana, roll joints and distribute them and concluded from this that the Obama administration is planning on giving medical marijuana to everybody under their health care plan. Or at least she suggested that and was apparently alarmed by that possibility.

But, in fact this was a request for proposals from the National Institute on Drug Abuse and they have been having people produce marijuana for them under contract for many years. They use it mainly for research – something that Rachel Arenfeld would probably be surprised to hear is that they also send some of the marijuana to patients. There are only a handful of patients remaining in this program but dating back to 1978 the federal government has been sending marijuana cigarettes to a select few patients who qualify for what’s called a compassionate investigational new drug program.

So this is not some new thing that Obama came up with. This is something that has been going on for a long time. She was surprised to hear that the government was planning to distribute joints to people but in fact they have been doing that for more than thirty years now.

It surprises a lot of people I guess because it seems to contradict the federal government’s official policy which is that that medical – that marijuana has no medical value. But, here they are on the other hand actually sending government approved pot to patients. So, it is a surprising policy but she probably should have looked in to it a little bit more before she concluded this was some new idea that the Obama administration came up with.

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Chris Hermes: My name is Chris Hermes. I am with Americans for Safe Access and I am a spokesperson for the organization.

Dean Becker: Chris, we have heard from the Obama administration that they are going to ease up on raiding the cannabis dispensaries but this week they changed their mind apparently. What’s going on out there?

Chris Hermes: Well, yeah. It does seem strange given the statements – the public statements that have come from the Obama administration since he was elected. We have unfortunately seen more than half a dozen such raids since he took office. So, we had not had a raid in at least a couple of months, actually since March in San Francisco. This most recent one occurred in the Los Angeles area.

As far as we can tell, we don’t have all of the information yet, but it appears that the raid was conducted because of some alleged tax evasion. That would be a sales tax evasion on the part of the dispensary. Certainly, you know, even if it’s true, that someone had failed to pay their sales taxes to the state of California, that doesn’t compel the federal government, namely the IRS, the FBI and the DEA, to come knocking down the door and taking everything - and then arresting five people for something that should be a civil offense.

They even shot a dog that was on the premises. I am told that the dog is going to survive but it seems like drastic measures to take and yet again reflecting the tactics of the Bush administration. These are para-military style raids with automatic weapons and intimidating tactics where they swoop in and seize everything and leave you with nothing basically and having to potentially deal with criminal charges. We’re unclear in this case whether either the feds or the state is going to proceed with any charges but, people were arrested.

Dean Becker: Now, Chris, we have heard this story too many times. It’s happened not only in California but in other medical marijuana states on occasion. But it’s time for people; the vast majority of those listening to this program know what a hopeless failure this drug war is and especially in regards to marijuana, medical marijuana. It’s time for them to get involved. It’s time to support the need for change, right?

Chris Hermes: Well, definitely and I don’t want to undercut the effort that has occurred so far. I mean, we’ve mobilized patients and activists, supporters all over the country to act in opposition to these types of raids and the tactics of what was the Bush administration for many years was aggressively opposed to medical marijuana.

We have had people engaged in putting pressure on the administration – at that time the Bush administration – and the Department of Defense and other entities to stop this senseless war on medical marijuana. I think the time again has come to make sure that president Obama keeps his promise about not using justice department funds to circumvent state laws like that – like the law in California.

So, what we are doing is putting out alerts to the public - to patients and supporters and others - to contact the Obama administration and make sure that they know they are being watched and that it is not acceptable for his administration to say that no more raids will occur and yet continue to conduct them. So, we are hoping that hundreds if not thousands of people put that pressure on immediately to make that happen.

Dean Becker: And Americans for Safe Access is making that a little easier if folks will visit your website, right?

Chris Hermes: Absolutely, yes: americansforsafeaccess.org

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Dean Becker: Please be sure to tune in to kpft.org next Sunday evening, 6:30 central, when it will be your chance to ask Fred Gardner, the editor of O'Shaughnessy's, to Face the Inquisition.

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 equation. Please, do your part to help end this madness. Visit our website: endprohibition.org.

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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.