11/13/11 Richard Branson

REFORM Conf (3) with Richard Branson, Aaron Houston, Lynn Paltrow and Mexican poet Javier Cecelia

Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Sunday, November 13, 2011
Richard Branson
Drug Policy Alliance



Cultural Baggage / November 13, 2011


Broadcasting on the Drug Truth Network, this is Cultural Baggage.

“It’s not only inhumane, it is really fundamentally Un-American.”

“No more! Drug War!” “No more! Drug War!”
“No more! Drug War!” “No more! Drug War!”


DEAN BECKER: My Name is Dean Becker. I don’t condone or encourage the use of any drugs, legal or illegal. I report the unvarnished truth about the pharmaceutical, banking, prison and judicial nightmare that feeds on Eternal Drug War.


DEAN BECKER: Hello my friends. Welcome to this edition of Cultural Baggage. We have more reports from Los Angeles where we attended the great reform conference sponsored by the Drug Policy Alliance, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, Marijuana Policy Project and a whole host of other drug reform organizations. We begin:


SPEAKER: We are going to bring you Richard Branson by Skype. Richard Branson really needs no introduction but I will mention that his courageous involvement with the Global Commission has really electrified the global media and brought an entire new level of attention to Global Drug Policy Reform. Richard Branson.

RICHARD BRANSON: Thank you very much. Can you hear me alright? Good.

When President Cardoso who used to be the wonderful president of Brazil who got Brazil going on a good path invited me to become a commissioner in the Global Commission and we had a fascinating few months looking into the problem and coming out with the report. I think it became very clear to all the commissioners that the War on Drugs had failed and that what we needed to do is treat drugs as a health problem not as a criminal problem.

I think the best examples of that were Portugal, Switzerland and Germany. If you take Portugal as an example…Portugal has been not sending people to prison now for the last few years and if somebody has a problem they are helped and not criminalized. The end result has been something like 90% less break-ins, the amount of people contracting HIV has dropped dramatically and cannabis use hasn’t gone up.

And so all together I think it’s been an enormous success and the country hasn’t had to have enormous prison bills that go with putting people into prison and also it hasn’t ruined all those young people’s lives. So Portugal has been a tremendous example and one that would be fantastic to roll out around the rest of the world.

The commission has done their report and, as you say, I think it’s been well-received around the world and, hopefully, the more sensible governments will now start changing their drugs policies and, obviously, debates like you have been doing today are enormously helpful in the process.

So I just want to say congratulations to you all for getting together and trying to push the process forward. I wish I could be there in person which is always easier to talk face-to-face rather than on Skype. I hope the sound is not too bad. Good luck on everybody’s mission to try to knock some sense into governments. Thank you very much.


SPEAKER: Our next presenter is Aaron Houston. Aaron has been a key player in marijuana policy reform for many, many years and in his new role as executive director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy he is taking the youth and the student movement to a whole new level which we are going to need to succeed. Give it up for Aaron Houston.

AARON HOUSTON: I should say that in addition to having the tremendously good fortune of being the director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy I’m a few other things. I’m a father. I’m a husband. I can be a viscous campaigner I told. I’m a friend. I’m a leader but I’m also a person who uses drugs.

Today I’m going to tell you my story. I’m going to tell you a story about how I came to the place where I am now believing that we should end prohibition of all drugs – not just marijuana. That all drugs should be legal.

And I’ll tell you that it’s a very personal story and it’s actually a story that I’ve never told to a crowd of people before. And, of course, let’s be honest…we know we all use drugs. Whether you use caffeine, whether you use nicotine, alcohol, marijuana, DMT, psychedelics, MDMA….you are a drug user – we are all drug users.

But there was a time in my life that I didn’t know that. There was a time in my life that I had a dirty little secret - that I had a deep, deep, dark secret. I was a button-up campaigner. I got involved in this movement, in the drug policy reform movement coming from being a political consultant in Colorado. I was a button-up guy. I wore a suit to work every day and I yet I had this deep, dark secret – that I used marijuana.

And I could not believe that there was any possibility that there was anybody else in my mill though that used marijuana. Let along other drugs like MDMA or stimulants or who were dependent on alcohol.

And, of course, this is the problem. This is why drugs are not legal because we’re not allowed to talk about it. We’re not allowed to talk about these things. We’re a silenced majority in this country. Not a silent majority – silenced majority.

And how do they silence us? They silence us by saying that you’re degenerate. That you’re a scum bag. That you’re lazy. And you can be labeled those things by your employer, by your school, by your parents and sometimes you can be labeled that by the government – by the full force of the government.

And why is that 52% of people that are in federal prison are there for drug crimes? That is an absolute travesty and we all know it but we can’t talk about it as a society and that’s why we’re all in this room so give yourselves a round of applause for that.

[audience applauds]

You know, I came into this work becoming a marijuana lobbyist. I was the chief marijuana lobbyist on Capital Hill for about 8 years and I found out that as I took this on that being a marijuana lobbyist is actually like being a priest. My dirty little secret transformed into something that I realized a lot of people shared with me. Because I would go to a congressional reception and there’s that congressman who spoke native Spanish and would put his big arm around me when I showed up at his event and he would say, “Mota! This guy’s the mota lobbyist, man!” And this guy’s a congressman, man. A United States congressman.

But then there was also, there was also the sad stories. There was a young man named John who wrote me from his pre-trial confinement facility, prison, in Florida and explained to me his story. And I read that story and it brought tears to my eyes. My tears stained this handwritten letter that he had taken so much time to write. 5 pages of single-spaced, handwritten – front and back.

And John’s story was this. John had a girlfriend who was pregnant and they were having a baby but they didn’t have health insurance. So he was growing marijuana like a lot of people do and he had the misfortune of being caught. And so John writes to me and he says that he’s never met the daughter that he knows is out there. Who’s been in this world for a year that he’s never met her before.

There’s the story of the woman who I worked with in New Hampshire on medical marijuana who talked regularly about ending it all because of the pain and the agony that she was in. Because of the agony of the multiple schlerosis that rattled her body every day. And she talked about ending it all because she couldn’t simply get the medicine that worked for her. She was part of that silenced majority who couldn’t speak up honestly about it and get the medicine that works for her like people can get in states like this.

Now I was a marijuana lobbyist but I didn’t know if I believed in full drug legalization. I didn’t know if I could actually support that. It seemed so crazy. It seemed so far out there. Marijuana, OK, but drug legalization? All drugs? Cocaine, heroin, crystal meth?! And yet, I’ve come to that spot now. I’ve come to the place where I believe that and I want to tell you about an even deeper, darker secret that I had than being a marijuana user.

And that is that I was addicted to Adderall. Let me tell you something about Adderall. It makes you really smart. It’s fantastic for staying up for a couple days in a row doing a political campaign. In fact, it’s pretty much custom made for that. In fact, anybody’s who’s ever heard of “go pills” – veterans in the audience who may have been pilots - would know that they actually feed pilots Adderall and Ritalin before missions so they can stay awake.

Well I used it too. And, I went downhill and now I’m using it for…I found myself working through ever-increasing amounts of it…and it’s 2002 and election day is coming up and I’m not even involved in drug policy reform yet but I need more Adderall. And now, I’ve stayed up for 3 days straight and I didn’t even realize it. And I didn’t eat for 3 days. I maybe had a liter of water during that time and now I take a drag of a cigarette and I’ve burned my lip and my lip doesn’t heal for days. And that’s my dirty little secret.

It’s that I’ve been addicted to a drug that is way, way worse than marijuana in many, many respects. But imagine a place, imagine a world where a crystal meth addict…you know, I didn’t use crystal meth, I used the privileged form of speed – I used Adderall…but the thing that people will not tell you and the drug companies especially will not tell you about Adderall is that it will have all the terrible side effects that crystal meth has…just about all of them…pretty much all of them with the exception, perhaps the degredation of teeth because of battery acid.

And that is …that’s a dirty little secret out there that most people don’t know. Imagine a world where a crystal meth addict who’s used to cooking it up in his kitchen, contaminating the entire apartment building, potentially killing his kids, killing the kids next door, giving them respiratory problems for life…imagine a world, instead, where that meth addict could go to his doctor and say, “Doctor, I am addicted but I need this stuff.” And the doctor said, “You know what? Here’s your recommendation. Here’s your prescription. I’ll give it to you and here’s some literature about getting better. I don’t think this is good for you but this is what’s best – not jail.”

And so I’ve journeyed to a place now where I’m at home in an organization, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, that creates safe spaces for people to have honest conversations about drugs and drug policy. After all, I am a person who uses drugs and I am very much at home in a place at SSDP where we say, “The War on Drugs is a war on us. It’s a war on all of us.”
And my moral imperative is to tell you my story to inspire you to tell yours. Thank you.


(Game show music)

DEAN BECKER: It’s time to play: Name That Drug by Its Side Effects.

Changes in sex drive, pounding heartbeat, shortness of breath, chest pain, difficult speech, dizziness, seizures, believing things that aren’t true, feeling suspicious of others, hallucinating, mania and hostile behavior….


Time’s up!

The answer from Shire-Richwood Incorporated: Adderall.


DEAN BECKER: Alright, you are listening to Cultural Baggage on the Drug Truth Network and Pacifica Radio. I’m reporting from Los Angeles where I attended the reform conference - 1300 attendees. That was Aaron Houston of Students for Sensible Drug Policy we just heard from. Let’s continue.


SPEAKER: Our next speaker is one of my personal heroes. Lynn Paltrow works in one of the toughest areas of drug policy reform – pregnant women and drug use. Lynn knows what a challenge is and she has repeatedly shown that she knows how to overcome and how to move forward protecting rights and the lives of women. Lynn Paltrow.

LYNN PALTROW: Thank you. So the mandate for those of speaking here was to talk about the challenges of movement building with certain groups and I start by showing our logo and you can see I have a challenge. People read my name tag and they’re like, “We’re glad you’re here but we don’t really get it.”

My organization is probably the only reproductive rights group that works to bridge the reproductive rights and justice movement with the drug policy reform movement. One of the biggest challenges - and it goes both ways – but I’ll start this way, is how to explain to people who are committed to preserving the right to choose abortion, who care about reproductive rights that they also have to care about drug policy reform.

I should explain that the plenary speakers got an email from Ethan not too long ago that explained what he wanted including a high-level of intellectual content. So I’m hoping the next two slides satisfy that.

We have been working on looking at the rest of every pregnant woman between 1973 and 2005 in which that arrest, unnecessary factor included, that she was pregnant. Though the cases we’ve found and identified by no means only involve women who’ve used illegal drugs – many of them have – and if you’ll see by this high-intellectual content slide and you are among the first audience anywhere to see it.

That tracks the arrests in which a pregnancy is a necessary element of the crime and you’ll notice that the greatest number of arrests occur between 1989 and 1991 which coincides with the hyperventilating media scare about pregnant women and prenatal exposure to drugs for newborns.

So I explain to the groups that I speak to, when I’m speaking to reproductive rights, birthing rights organization, that they have to understand how this works. So you get arrests of pregnant women who use drugs but the interesting thing is that the vast majority are not arrested for a drug crime – they’re arrested for child endangerment.

So what’s going on? It works like this. In South Carolina, the only state we’ve lost in, Cornelia Witner gives birth to a healthy child but the baby tests positive for cocaine. She’s charged with child endangerment. She pleads guilty hoping to get treatment but the judge says, “No. I think I’ll send you to jail for 10 years.”

And the state supreme court, the only one in the country to uphold these kind of actions thus far, says, “We have interpreted our child endangerment statue (risk of harm) to apply to viable fetuses and any woman who engages in, uses an illegal drug or engages in any other behavior that might endanger the fetus can go to jail.”

Well, very shortly after that decision they started arresting women in South Carolina who used marijuana and then women who used alcohol and then they arrested Regina McKnight, a woman who suffered a still birth. They blamed it on her cocaine use but let me just tell you cocaine is not associated with pregnancy losses. If you live in a state where it’s hard to get an abortion – don’t use cocaine – it’s not going to help you out.

So what she was convicted of depraved heart homicide. Any pregnant woman who unintentionally heightens the risk of a stillbirth can go to jail as a murderer with the help of the DPA and the DKDT Liberty Project we were able to eventually get the unanimous South Carolina Supreme Court to say her lawyer failed to adequately represent her because the actual science does not find even an association much less a causal relationship.

But that law, that a pregnant woman who suffers a stillbirth can be charged with murder is still on the books having started with a case around drugs. Now if you have an unintentional still birth and you can be charged with murder in South Carolina – what do you think is going to happen if Roe is overturned and you intentionally end your pregnancy?

Shortly after that a woman named Jessica Clyburn was pregnant. She got very depressed and so depressed that when she was 8-months pregnant she jumped out of a window. She landed on an awning and survived. She lost the pregnancy. She was severely injured. What did the state of South Carolina do? They arrested her for homicide by child abuse.

The papers only reported the loss of her fetus and not the harm she suffered. In order not to face a homicide charge she pled guilty to manslaughter. Then I got an email from a South Carolina midwife who said, “You know I took a woman into the council. She was breach and the doctor said, ‘You know you can have any birth you want but if something goes wrong, in South Carolina, you could be prosecuted for a crime.”

So that’s how it works. In Alabama they passed a law, chemical endanger law to punish parents who take children to a meth lab. Sounds reasonable. Who’s been arrested? 50 pregnant women who have given birth, gone through pregnancy and given birth and tested positive for an illegal drug because in Alabama, apparently, a pregnant woman’s womb is no different than the meth lab.

But it also works the other way. We know that because when Texas passed a prenatal protection act in response against pregnant women, what did they do? They first applied it to pregnant, drug using women and said that doctors had to turn in their patients.

We can’t build a movement if we say it’s OK for some people to use drugs but not others. Gil Kerlikowske defended our drug policies, opposed/wrote an article about the Global Commission, and said we still have to have criminalization, why? Because drug use is not a victimless crime. How does he know it? He visited newborns in a prenatal care clinic who had been prenatally exposed to prescription drugs.


DEAN BECKER: Please note Gil Kerlikowske is the current U.S. Drug Czar.


LYNN PALTROW: I am proud that it is no longer a discussion of collateral damage at conferences like these. But a challenge is also having the time and space to talk about child welfare.

Child welfare laws in this country and this system is a major vector for the drug war. L. Wallace Pait, it you’re here, has been challenging it in L.A. We have a situation where we have federal dollars being spent to teach that children of parents who use drugs are 2-3 times more likely to be abused. That’s not only junk science – it’s defamation.

We need to be working with the child welfare advocates. We need more than one group. Why do have this problem? Why do we focus on illegal drugs as the greatest risk to children? It keeps the focus on individuals. We don’t look at societal factors. Only 3-5% of pregnant women use illegal drugs. There are all these other risk factors which we are not focusing on because it keeps the conversation limited.

Now Ethan also asked that we give a personal perspective. I just wanted red-head over there as me. I’m a nicotine baby. I can’t tell by looking at you if you’ve had an abortion, if you’ve suffered a stillbirth, if you’ve had a home birth, if you’ve refused to cesarean surgery, if you’ve used illegal drugs, if you’re addicted, if you’ve been arrested, if you’ve served years in jail…we have a lot of “coming out” to do before we can come together. And whether we think of them as mistakes or sins we need to forgive ourselves and each other and come together.

When I went down to Occupy Wall Street this was the sign I carried. Something’s wrong. People are talking about economic justice. We’ve got to change the subject. And here’s the picture to prove it. I was really there. This is what it’s about.

If we keep talking about abortion and gay marriage and drugs then we don’t have to talk about the economic inequality that the racism behind the War on Drugs but the fact that we’re willing to spend billions of dollars to imprison people rather than provide them with health care.

I heard Ethan talk about the Civil Rights movement and that might make it hard to build our movement but I have to say that we are a civil rights movement. We are a reproductive rights movement. We are a movement for economic justice. We are a movement for reproductive rights and we need to come together.

For those of you who are working hard with people formally incarcerated or people in the child welfare system trying to get their kids back, you spend a lot of time helping people to learn compliance so they can stay out of jail so they might have a chance of being with their children again. But we have to figure out – and this is a really big challenge – that while we’re helping people comply with systems so they are not punished and families destroyed, how do we teach them also political defiance?

Pregnant women when they’re told that they can’t have abortions - they do political defiance and they have them anyway. Pregnant women in other countries are told that they can’t have more than 1 child – they engage in political defiance and they have those children anyway. We are told that we can’t use drugs – we use them anyway.

Prohibition doesn’t work except unless it is designed to what it is designed to do – just control populations which is another way of population control which is why reproductive rights and drug policy movements need to come together.

My challenge is to make sure that we go beyond ending a drug war so that we are also talking about drug policy justice because we know what happens when we leave from a country and we don’t make sure that there’s the infrastructure for health care and housing and meeting the economic needs of people.

My challenge is making sure that the people I talk to understand that we cannot have a culture of life if we don’t also value the women who give that life including women who use drugs. Thank you.


DEAN BECKER: That was Lynn Paltrow speaking at the reform conference in Los Angeles before 1300 attendees. We have much more from that conference on this week’s Century of Lies. We close this program with the words of a Mexican poet whose son was butchered by the cartel.


SPEAKER: Our next speaker is Javier Sicilia who has sparked a social and political movement in Mexico with his courageous stance against the War on Drugs. He has turned his own personal tragedy into a movement to save the lives of others in his country and in other countries.

Interpreting for Javier will be Ana Paula Hernandez.

JAVIER SICILIA: (via interpreter) The drug war and the war that is also being caused by guns here in the United States is killing many, many people in my country and that is going to continue until we find a different drug policy, an adequate drug policy and a different policy in terms of guns and guns trafficking.

And the answer really lies in the citizens of both countries. And the answer also really needs to face and give an answer to the structural problem or the cause of this which is the economy. Because everything is about the economy and the gains.

The guns that kill leave a lot of money. The drugs that are prohibited also leave a lot of money. There’s an Occupy Wall Street have and all those that are called the indignaros have also know that – can see that.

It’s that 1% that is causing all of this.


DEAN BECKER: This is Dean Becker saying that because of prohibition you don’t know what’s in that bag. Please be careful.
Transcript provided by: Jo-D Harrison of www.DrugSense.org