10/24/10 - Matt Elrod

Century of Lies

Matt Elrod of DrugSense.org, based in British Columbia shares insights on US and Canadian drug policy with focus on racial disparity in the drug war

Audio file


Century of Lies / October 24, 2010

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.


Hello my friends. We’re going to be speaking with Mister Matt Elrod. He works with DrugSense. He’s a computer guru extraordinaire. But first I want to make note of the fact, of the passing of a friend and associate here at the mothership station of the Drug Truth Network, Mister Matt Helfrich, was stabbed in the chest trying to stop a confrontation over a drug deal gone bad. This one is far you Matt.


(Acoustic guitar music)

A fire burns for freedom
A fire burns for freedom
A fire burns for freedom
A fire burns for freedom

The smell of dissent is high
I’m standing for the truth
Too long it’s been denied
The tide of change is rising
And hope is realized
On change’s wings and
Let angels fly…

I see hemp fields forever
Growing wild and free
I see marijuana trees
Growing wild and free
I see hemp fields forever
Growing wild and free
Wild and free…

A crime against nations
A war is waged
There’s a message in the wind
For every race
Peace and love with soul
So, let it grow
It’s good for the body
It’s good for the soul…

I see hemp fields forever
Growing wild and free
I see marijuana trees
Growing wild and free
I see hemp fields forever
Growing wild and free
Wild and free…

Denied the tree of life
You’ve told us your lies
This damn hypocrisy
Cost so many lives
No man’s greed
Can own this seed
A small farmer will survive
By planting a weed…

I see hemp fields forever
Growing wild and free
I see marijuana trees
Growing wild and free
I see hemp fields forever
Growing wild and free
Wild and free…

A fire burns for freedom
A fire burns for freedom
A fire burns for freedom…


Dean Becker: Alright, that once again was for Matt – Matt Helfrich killed a week ago, trying to stop a fight over a drug deal gone bad.

With that, let us bring in our guest, Mister Matt Elrod and Matt, I don’t know how much you got to hear there but we lost a good friend here, a gentlemen stabbed trying to stop a fight over a drug deal gone bad. It’s just representative of all of the horrors of these drug wars, isn’t it?

Matt Elrod: It is and yeah, I caught the program preceding yours that you that you’d lost your own Matt. We in Canada are also mourning the loss a medical marijuana activist, one of the BC3, Michelle Rainey. Yeah, you may recall, she was involved in Matt Emory’s seed business and kind of a marijuana mom, a mother to the medical cannabis community in Canada. I think a lot of us are still kind of getting over that. It’s kind of a sad reminder that a lot of people who’ve worked very hard on the war on drugs aren’t going to be able to see the victory.

Dean Becker: Yeah, I was just speaking of Michelle. I went up to visit Mark and his crew, now three or four years ago and spent about a week there. For a couple of days, I just hung out in the store there on Hastings Street with Michelle and we had a lot of great discussions and she was very intelligent and knowledgeable and ACTIVE, if you will, in getting things done.

Matt Elrod: And so full of life despite how fragile her life was.

Dean Becker: Yeah and again, it kind of represents the fact that a lot of people with some horrible maladies still continue to try to change these stilted and ineffective drug laws.

Matt Elrod: In fact, they’ve established or they’re going to establish a foundation in Michelle’s name to continue research on Crohn’s and cancer. We – I can’t say I knew Michelle well. We met at a couple of times but she was a web client as just about everybody is and I hosted her website for her and had a chance to swap some emails and phone calls and I – she just exuded that maternal care no matter what she did.

So, I’m kind of proud to say that I could maybe help out by keeping the website going in honor of the foundation and in honor of Michelle. We actually, It’s – I ’m sad to say, at DrugSense, we host a number of memorial websites, Cheryl Miller’s website, Peter McWilliams, you know.

Dean Becker: Rainbow Farms?

Matt Elrod: Rainbow Farms, Lynn Harichy’s website and I told her the thing is that I guess, only a non profit like DrugSense can do, which kind of segues into what you’re doing there.

Dean Becker: Matt, I want to ask you. I think we are closer than ever to solving – to unveiling the nature of this Drug War and moving in a more positive direction. Your response, please?

Matt Elrod: I get that sense too, particularly there seems to be a sense of optimism in the US. Maybe not so much in Canada, because we have a rather backward administration. Yeah, with Proposition 19 pulling neck and neck and even if, it doesn’t pass, just the debate that it spawned has become more mature, I think.

We’re finally able to get beyond some of the sound bites and the gateways theories. I think people are beginning to recognize that propaganda for what it is. Give it a second thought and realize that it’s false.

Dean Becker: Yeah. Ok, with that, your mention of Canada and don’t take this wrong but it seems to be moving more on the back road here, so to speak. I want to try and draw a parallel and see if you agree with me, that the United States is now looking somewhat like Canada did twenty years ago and Canada is now starting to look like the US did about twenty years ago. Would you agree there’s some truth to that?

Matt Elrod: Yeah, it’s really flipped. I recall in the mid-nineties, you know, when we legalized hemp – industrial hemp and we still have that you and about that time when our courts forces our government to legalize medical marijuana, there was a sense that Canada could be like the tugboat to the US battle cruiser and help steer the states into a more rational policy, by way of example.

Because when we point to the Netherlands or Portugal and say, “Well, look they perform their drug laws and the sky didn’t fall.” The prohibitionist’s response is usually, “Well, that’s a different culture, a different language, a different form of government, etc. It doesn’t really apply to us.” But the example of Canada to the north in some ways is considered another state with mostly Caucasian, English speaking people in it.

It would’ve, I think, made life very difficult for American prohibitionists and I think they realized that and in fact, leaned on our government of the time from the states to not decriminalize cannabis as they had been considering. Since then, we’ve had a conservative government come into power who have actually removed harm reduction as one of the pillars – one of their goals of national drug policy.

They’re fighting the supervised injection site of Vancouver, Incite, tooth and nail all the way to the Supreme Court. Now, they’ve just reintroduced a bill will mandatory minimum sentences on all drug charges but a particular note is mandatory minimum for cultivating cannabis and cannabis related charges, as few as – going as few as five plants for the purposes – that would now be sentenced to a mandatory minimum, if the government has it’s way.

Unfortunately, since the last time this bill was floated the conservatives have gotten more people in the senate and the appointed rather than elected senate. I think that they don’t have quite enough seats to push something through – to ram something through.

Meanwhile, their opposition, the liberal party are being rather timid and saying, “Well, we won’t guarantee we’ll pass this,” but that’s a much as they’ll say, even though all the experts have testified before the committee considering this bill have strongly argued against this and pointed at the US as an example of why the mandatory minimums are a bad idea.

It’s very frustrating but you’re right, the shoe is completely on the different foot now and now we in Canada are hoping that you’ll guide the way and that perhaps if California legalizes that – there’s a lot of talk coast to coast in Canada that maybe that would be – would give us permission to have our own cannabis laws. The one thing holding us back is the objection that the US is hell-bent on the war on pot. When you and I know as insiders that’s not as true as it once was.

Dean Becker: Right. A couple of stories I was digging out today. This one from the LA Times, Don’t Stick with a Failed System . It’s from a former Drug Truth Network guest, Doctor Even Woods. He’s a physician and Professor of Medicine at University of British Colombia and he’s the founder of International Centre for Science in Drug Policy. He sates, “Prohibition has not achieved it’s stated objectives legalization would be a saner way to deal with marijuana.” He talks about how, “People on both sides of the legalization debate have strong feelings but science an empirical research have been given short shrift in the discussion.” He goes on to talk about, “The National Institute of Drug Abuse has concluded that over the last thirty years, marijuana has remained almost universally available to Americans. Twelfth graders from 80-90% saying that getting the drug is ‘very easy’ or ‘fairly easy’ to obtain.”

Matt Elrod: Yeah, I’m really excited, actually about this International Centre for Science in Drug Policy because it’s important to have a scientific voice at the table. The nice thing about science is that it’s neither left nor right. It’s just reality.

So, Evan Wood and the ICDP are doing a – like a say, a great job. I’m very glad to see them founding and founded. They’ve already produced a number of really good reports. So yeah, I know Evan who is based at UBC in Vancouver and had been involved in the research around Incite and other harm reduction efforts in Vancouver. Perhaps they founded this new center out of frustration with having published all these marvelous papers, published in peer review journals and having them ignored. They thought well, maybe we’ll have to champion our own work.

Dean Becker: Yeah and Matt, that’s indicative of the whole problem, I mean, was it Richard Cowan who said that the whole problem of Drug War revolves around one word and that’s – well, two words: bad journalism.

Matt Elrod: Exactly.

Dean Becker: That still holds true, they still have to do the “he said, she said” and give balance when one side is obviously full of lies. It continues on.

Now, another story that I brought with me here, this is in today’s Houston Chronicle, “Gun Battle in Northern Mexico Kills Three Bystanders. Victims were a fourteen year old boy and two women agreed eighteen and forty seven. The three gunmen also died at that scene.”

This follows on the heals of yesterday, they said fourteen people – oh, excuse me, thirteen people with twenty wounded at a massacre at a Ciudad Juarez birthday party, a bunch of youngsters again. It’s now up to fourteen dead and nineteen wounded. This is another area of information, that’s being exposed, that’s being rethought about, isn’t, Matt?

Matt Elrod: It is but it’s strange. The context that we put these kind of body counts into. More people are dying, I understand in Mexico than are dying in Iraq.

Dean Becker: And Afghanistan.

Matt Elrod: And Afghanistan. And yet – and right in the border with Texas and yet because it’s just across the border it seems like the media don’t really seem to care that much. They’re not really reporting on it much. Frankly, the Americans don’t seem to be that alarmed.

If that were happening in an American city, maybe the story would be somewhat different because it is just across the border there’s almost an indifference to it. It’s really – I don’t know – it’s as though we’ve become over the years desensitized to drug related violence or I should say, prohibition related violence.

Dean Becker: Right, right.

Matt Elrod: And therein – you know, when you talk about the media, allowing both sides to get out a few sound bites but ultimately at the end of the talk show, the ten minute blurb or whatever it is on CNN or Fox. The host will say, I guess this is an end result problem and we’ll never really know who’s right and who’s wrong and we’ll save it for another day and they’ll put it down.

Dean Becker: Yeah and those days are mounting up. The decades are mounting up on making that predetermination. Once again we’re speaking with Mister Matt Elrod with the DrugSense organization. Matt, if you would, give us a quick list of the drug reform organizations that you work with and for.

Matt Elrod: Well, I guess I am best well known for DrugSense and the Media Awareness Project. The Media Awareness Project is a news clipping service but the MAP part of it, the Media Awareness Project was started in the mid-nineties to make the media aware of the science on drug policy, specifically the druglibrary.org and [unintelligible] the major drug policies of the Shafer Commission LaGuardia. The intent was to educate the media through letters to the editor and op-eds and to that end, create a library.

In my as a background of a librarian of drug related news clippings on-line at drugnews.org and there are over a quarter million clippings there now over the last ten years and letters in response. Something that I have always been prod of with MAP is that it made no effort to editorialize or sensor or only feature articles that argued for reform. On the contrary, we just basically lay it all out there.

I’m confident that anyone who actually paid attention to it would the see the sense in reform and the folly of prohibition. Having done that, once my technical skills were realized by the reform community at large, I took on the November Coalition, your website, drugtruth.net. I’ve done work with the Harm Reduction Coalition. We host several NORML chapters and auxiliary material for NORML HQ. We host Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, which have been making a lot of headlines, as always. It’s always something when cops come out against the Drug War –

Dean Becker: Yup.

Matt Elrod: And similar organizations. We’ve helped out Students for Sensible Drug Policy and not just, you know, cannabis related sites either, websites trying to reform drugs laws across the spectrum.

Dean Becker: DrugSense is, despite all these achievements could also use some support. Why don’t you point them to your website once again where folks out there listening might consider donating to your cause as well.

Matt Elrod: Well, all you have to do is go to drugsense.org and we make our donation as obvious as we possibly can with our donate link. We also make it as painless as we can. You can pay – donate through Paypal or through credit cards, secure credit card. Failing that we have the 1-800 number and a P.O. box in California, which is where our HQ is.

Dean Becker: Alright.

Matt Elrod: Yeah, if you help out DrugSense, you’re not just helping out DrugSense. You’re helping out those client sites. We even offer ways to people to earmark their donation for a given DrugSense client. So, even if you’re not too keen on what we specifically are doing, maybe you want to help to help keep the Michelle Rainey memorial on-line or maybe you want to help keep the Peter McWilliams memorial on-line and you can do that.

Dean Becker: Or help the keep the Drug Truth Network on-line.

Matt Elrod: Well, now that you mention it.

Dean Becker: Yes, I think Matt, now you agree with me. We need folks to get these folks on board. We need people to do a few hours of work. There’s less than 1% of the population that’s actually helping drug reform at this point. A little more help and I think we can get ‘er done. Your thought?

Matt Elrod: Yes, I think you’re right and that was always one of the aims of DrugSense, to make volunteering a low threshold way to get involved – to get involved in reform. You don’t even have to hold up a sign or get pepper sprayed or lose your job even. You can do it. You can help drug reform anonymously on-line.

So, we’re before the stigma of being branded pro-drug when really what you are is anti-prohibition. Even that can be avoided now through on-line activism, but that’s not to detract from people who put their feet on the ground and in the trenches. I have nothing but admiration and respect for people with that much courage.

Dean Becker: We’re speaking to Mister Matt Elrod of the DrugSense organization, based up in Canada. Matt, the situation is coming to a head in California regarding Prop 19. I’m looking here at The LA Times, “The first major advertising in the campaign against the marijuana legalization initiative hit the airwaves from the California Chamber of Commerce spending $250,000 for radio ads. The spots say in part that Prop 19 is worded so broadly that it would hurt California’s economy, raise business costs and make it harder to create jobs.” Your response, Matt Elrod?

Matt Elrod: Well, that’s not the analysis I’ve read, the economic analysis I’ve read and I think just about any analysis – negative analysis I’ve read has not taken into account of the fact that cannabis is an economic substitute for alcohol and other isotropic drugs. It’s a glaring oversight, really.

For example, the opponents of Prop 19 will say that the social cost of cannabis will skyrocket, that use will skyrocket. Evan Wood just pointed out that’s not going to happen but even if it did to the extent that cannabis use goes up, alcohol use goes down, social costs go down, workplace accidents go down, productivity goes up. So the doom and gloom, sky’s going to fall predictions are just not born out by the evidence.

Unfortunately, I think everyone anticipated that opponents would come out with their checkbooks soon and then in addition to that, I see where the Drug Policy Alliance has just published a report by Levine, pointing out the racial disparities of cannabis law enforcement in California.

Dean Becker: Yup.

Matt Elrod: And meanwhile you’ve got – who is it? – Bishop Ron Allen, one of the most visible spokespersons for the anti-Prop 19 side, a black bishop who’s calling for Proposition 19 to be defeated because cannabis legalization would hurt the black community which is really quite bizarre.

Dean Becker: Yeah, well, then again, they keep dredging up these old fables and trying to recycle them. Are we going to buy them again? I don’t know.

We’re speaking with Mister Matt Elrod. Matt, I wanted to share with you. I got part of an email. This came from Richard Evans of Massachusetts cantaxreg.com and he’s talking about Prop 19.

He says, “The supposed conflict between state and federal law and lessons learned from alcohol prohibition. He talks about how Prop 19 is criticized on grounds that it conflicts with federal law.” But he says, “In 1920 to 1933 commerce in intoxicating beverages was outlawed under the Eighteenth Amendment. Yet in 1923, New York repealed its state prohibition laws, replacing them with nothing. For the remaining ten years of prohibition booze was legal under state law. In 1930, the voters of Massachusetts repealed its state law, replacing it nothing. In ’32 the voters of eleven other states voted to repeal or modify their state’s prohibition laws and California was among them voting by 3-to-1.”

Matt, I wanted to get your response to that point made by Mister Richard Evans.

Matt Elrod: Right. It’s another scare tactic, I think, on part of the opponents that even if California would to legalize cannabis, it would conflict with federal law and therefore would be meaningless but we’ve already seen with [Proposition] 215, the regulation of medical marijuana, that the feds don’t have the resources. They don’t have the people on the ground.

The DEA has typically limited their involvement to large scale trafficking. It looks really stupid to be going out and busting medical marijuana dispensaries particularly those that comply with state law, collectives, non-profit collectives, outfits like WAM, when right across their southern border, people are being shot in drug wars.

You’ve got issues with methamphetamine and cocaine and harder drugs. So, I seriously doubt that the federal government has either the resources or the political stupidity – well, I would hope – to try and enforce cannabis prohibition. If California decides it’s not going to anymore.

Dean Becker: Right.

Matt Elrod: It’s just logistically too difficult.

Dean Becker: Well, you know, I’m looking at a couple of more screens I captured here, one from The Washington Post, “California’s Prop 19 on legalizing marijuana could end Mexico’s Drug War, it could begin that process.”

It just comes down to this. We can keep throwing money into this wishing well of drug prohibition, hoping that our wish will come true or we can stop doing that. We can use that money for something else and actually deal with the problem head on rather than wishing that somehow people will quit using drugs, right?

Matt Elrod: Well, this is it, that unfortunately for the politicians, it’s almost a no win situation or perhaps it is that they just don’t realize just how little support there is for prohibition and just how much hunger there is for policy reform.

As people begin to realize, to make the – to see that what they had considered to be drug related harm is really prohibition related harm, I think it will be like a flood gate. Unfortunately though, politicians are slow to gauge. They’re always behind the populace.

Dean Becker: Yeah.

Matt Elrod: But it’s my hope that it won’t be long before even the most cynical of them, who are really out for votes and more than anything else. You know, who we see speaking out publicly for drug policy reform is the tip of a very big iceberg. It’s not only politicians but as you discovered with your work with LEAP, law enforcement, judges, prosecutors, everybody on the front line on the war on drugs, in the locker room, in private will tell you, “Yeah, I realize that this is a socially destructive policy.”

Again, and in a way I can forgive, I think, people who put feeding their kids and paying their mortgage ahead of coming out for social change but unfortunately that’s the choice that a lot of people are forced to make.

Dean Becker: Alright, once again we’re speaking with Mr. Matt Elrod out of DrugSense. Matt, I’m looking at what I guess is yesterday’s New York Times, Smoke and Horrors by Charles M. Blow.

He’s saying that, “Attorney General Eric Holder’s recent chest thumping against the California ballot initiative underscores how the war on drugs in this country has become a war focused on marijuana.” This is was a piece which Ethan Nadelmann, the Director of the Drug Policy Alliance, called perhaps the one of the most important contributions yet from the media. Your thoughts?

Matt Elrod: Well, yeah. Of course The New York Times is THE paper. It is the paper of note, despite a couple of stumbles recently. It’s still highly respected and considered the flagship paper of the country. So, when you get a really high profile op-ed in the The New York Times it can make quite an impact.

It was – I read it and it was a brilliant op-ed. It’s on the DrugSense blog by the way. Along with some of the other stories that you and I have discussed today, if people are interested in reading those headlines.

Yeah, that op-ed talks about the report I mentioned earlier out of the DPA, showing the racial disparity. I think it’s 7-to-1, that black people are arrested for minor cannabis offenses, versus their white counterparts and they use cannabis at a lesser rate than their white counterparts. So, the disparity is so glaring and the racial – even if it’s not intentional racism, it’s been systemic racism on a huge scale.

Dean Becker: Please be advised that the discussion continues on the Friday and Saturday 420 Report. Once again that was Matt Elrod of drugsense.org.

As we close out, remember that there is no truth, justice, logic, scientific fact, no reason for the Drug War to continue. We have been duped.

Please, 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 Pacifica Studios at KPFT, Houston.

Drug Truth Network programs, archived at the James A. Baker III Institute for Policy Studies.

Transcript provided by: Ayn Morgan of www.eigengraupress.com