11/25/12 Alan Clear

Century of Lies

Harm Reduction Conf III - Alan Clear, Dir of HRC, Amanda Reiman, Gretchen Burns Bergman, Nora Calahan, Steve Jones and Philippe Lucas, REPORTER: Doug McVay of CSDP

Audio file


Century of Lies / November 25, 2012


DEAN BECKER: The failure of Drug War is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors and millions more. Now calling for decriminalization, legalization, the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century of Lies.


DEAN BECKER: Alright we’ve got another great show for you from Portland, Oregon – the Harm Reduction Conference. Our reporter in the field, Mr. Doug McVay of Common Sense for Drug Policy. Once again from Drug War Facts let us begin.


ALAN CLEAR: I’m Alan Clear, Director of the Harm Reduction Coalition. I love our conference. What we provide is structure, people coming and fill everything up and make it work. It’s a type of conference where the conference is actually the people. We don’t really have…we don’t fly in big names or anything like that because everyone here is like a hero in some ways of doing stuff on the street.

So many people are involved in direct services and advocacy but at a very street level. I think over the years we’ve gone to the point where we’re doing work in Washington, work at the federal level, work at the state and local level but it’s still very rooted and connected to street drug users.

One of the highlights of this conference this year is we had a pre-conference which was drug user run and lead and it was bringing together all the drug user organizers from around the country to sort of meet, network, work out next steps because people know of each other but they rarely meet face to face. We were able to provide the space where people were able to do that.

That might be one of the first times where that’s ever happened in the U.S. - another landmark. I find all the time I talk to people and they say, “You know, I was in Cleveland and that was the first time this happened and I went back to my place and I started a program.”

Or I just spoke to someone who said, “I went back to Brazil and I started a program in Brazil.”

It’s this catalyst for change and, without exaggeration, we’ve changed the face of drugs in America, really. Harm reduction as a construct, as a policy, as a philosophy, as a way of doing things has been relatively…you know, is relatively new.

Into the 80s, early 90s and yet it’s beginning to be embraced all over the place. Even the Office of National Drug Control Policy providing support around overdose prevention and needle exchange.

I think that what we see coming out of that office is a recognition that the expertise that we have is valid and real and we have probably more of it than anyone else they’ve ever experienced.

This conference is a way for that community to come together. There’s a lot of different things happening. In the same way that overdose is a big part of this conference we’re working on overdose nationally and locally and even internationally. One of the highlights of this year is we got a UN resolution passed – first time ever that overdose was debated at the Commission of Narcotic Drugs in Vienna. We pushed for that and we got that.

The resolution that we put forward was passed and one of the things we are going to work on this year is how we actually now implement some of what we put into the resolution which means countries all around the world can go to WHO or the UN and ask for technical assistance on how to start overdose programs.

We’re going to continue working with all our partners in Washington and all around the country to get overdose programs up and running around the U.S. We’re going to fight the manufacturers of Narcan because of the price gauging that is going on right now.

In another 6 months with this new re-election of President Obama we can work on getting the federal ban on the funding of needle exchange lifted again. Then there’s some of the other things that really need looking at such as safe injection facilities.

We have them in this country just not in the same formal way as you have them in some of the other countries. Every single needle exchange program in the country has what in the past were looked as a problem in terms of people injecting in the bathroom at needle exchange programs. But people are turning them around and saying people are doing injections in our bathrooms how do we make it safer?

The larger core extension of that is having organized safe injection facilities inside syringe exchange programs. I think we’re going to see more of that in the next few years.


AMANDA RYMAN: My name is Amanda Ryman and I am the policy manager for California for the Drug Policy Alliance.

DOUG McVAY: I want to find out more about some of the work you’re doing with DPA but tell me also about some of the research you’ve been doing that you’ve been talking about here.

AMANDA RYMAN: Given that marijuana is a Schedule I drug in the United States it really puts a tight restriction on the research that can be done namely most of our studies are animal studies using synthetic cannabinoids in a lab and it’s very hard to generalize those results to the actual human population. Something that’s really interesting since California became the first medical marijuana state in 1996 and now we’ve got 17 others in addition to Washington, D.C. is that we all of the sudden have this population of hundreds of thousands of human beings that are using marijuana on a daily basis that are keenly aware of what strains they are using, what products, how cannabis affects them and we’re able to do some of this research and answer some of those questions.

I started doing dispensary-based research back in about 2005 and just started asking medical cannabis patients what are you using, how are you injesting it, what’s you’re experience like? Something that I discovered is a lot of patients were actively using cannabis as substitutes for other things such as alcohol, illicit drugs and prescription drugs. I became very interested in the potential of cannabis as a treatment for drug addiction.

DOUG McVAY: So what did you find?

AMANDA RYMAN: After doing a study of 350 patients in Berkeley, a study that was replicated with 400 additional patients in Canada, we found that, yes, in fact about half of the patient report using cannabis as a substitute for alcohol. Around 30% have used as a substitute for illicit drugs and around 60 to 70% report using cannabis as a substitute for prescription drugs.

We’re finding that medical cannabis patients are empowering themselves to determine what is best for their own health care and many times this involves utilizing a substance like cannabis that is not giving them the same kind of negative outcomes that alcohol, illicit drugs or even their prescription drug regimes are giving them.

DOUG McVAY: Want to tell me more about all this stuff or do you want to tell me more about what you are doing in California?

AMANDA RYMAN: I will say that one of the things working in medical cannabis is that people get very confused. People outside of medical cannabis are getting these very conflicting messages from our community. On the one hand you have this amazing research being done at UCSD on the impact of cannabidiol or CBD, on the ability to shrink tumor cells.

You have research coming out of the University of New Orleans where they are giving THC and it is stopping the HIV progression in its tracks. Research on cannabis as a treatment for Alzheimer's, for Parkinsons, for epilepsy, for glaucoma…I mean, the list just goes on and on.

The thing is this is not the kind of impact you are going to get from smoking a joint. Smoking a joint is not going to cure cancer. Smoking a joint is not going to prevent you from getting Alzheimer’s.

We’ve confused this message I feel and as a result you have individuals who are outside of the medical cannabis community who are in the medical profession, who are in the addiction professions who are saying, “Look, I’m really confused. I understand that cannabis can be helpful for people but this message that smoking a joint is curing cancer doesn’t really ring true to me. I smell a rat.”

I think something that I would like to put out there for people to start thinking about is are we doing a disservice to progress by trying to push the cannabinoid-based medications like Sativex into the same policy track as the same therapeutic use of the raw plant. Is there a better way? Should we be thinking about two policy tracks – one for the therapeutic use of the plant which de-scheduled, available to anybody at any time for any reason and divorce that from the cannabinoid-based medication such as Sativex which are really utilizing these amazing powers of cannabinoids in an extremely concentrated form like a thousand joints worth in one shot and get that FDA approved and allow that to go through the channels of prescription so doctors can learn about it in med school, they can prescribe cannabinoid-based medicines and actually cure diseases and then just cut off the plants.

You know, let the plant be. Let it float away with veneran root and echinacea and everybody else who just prefers to use herbal remedies for therapeutic needs.

I think that’s a conversation we need to start having because as long as we’re trying to convince people that smoking a joint will cure cancer or that we should be putting a raw plant through FDA process it’s almost like we’re fighting a losing battle. We’re alienating a lot of the medical professionals in the process because they say, “Look, I can’t prescribe a plant. That’s not what I’m taught to do in medical school.”

I think we need to meet them half way. So that’s something that I’ve been doing through my work at Drug Policy Alliance is having that conversation about what is the appropriate policy stream for cannabis and is it the same for the raw plant versus the cannabinoid-based medications.

There actually is already an agency out there to regulate that. The American Herbal Products Association is an industry association that regulates vitamins, Nature Made, Dr. Brauners, Whole Foods…basically everything you see that says on the side, “This has not been evaluated by the FDA.” They regulate that.

Their job is two-fold. One is to make sure these projects are safe, that they are cultivated in a way that are safe for human consumption. The other is to keep the FDA off their asses.

So basically to say, “Hey, we go this. We’re not saying that you approve this. We’re being very clear that you didn’t approve this. We’re not saying that this cures anything. But there is a whole population of individuals out there that would prefer to go the herbal treatment route. We need to make sure that those are safe.”

So I would see cannabis under the umbrella of that organization as a raw plant and under the guise of the FDA as a cannabinoid-based medication such as Sativex which we already know is approved for use in most industrialized countries in the world. It is also being made by Novartis and Bayer which are both located in the Bay area but it is not approved for use in the United States.


GRETCHEN BURNS BERGMAN: Gretchen Burns Bergman is my name and I’m with a new PATH – Parents for Addiction, Treatment and Healing. I’m actually one of the three co-founders. We started in1999.

Parents for Addiction, Treatment and Healing is an advocacy group. We reduce the stigma associated with addictive illness and we work for therapeutic rather than punitive drug policies.

I have also started in 2010 the Mom’s Unite in the War on Drugs Campaign. Although we’re a local organization we’ve taken this campaign to a national level. We are partnering with different people across the United States who also believe that while drugs may be dangerous and destructive to our families the drug war has been far more destructive to our families and communities.

As mothers we are taking the lead, leading the charge to end the War on Drugs and to end the stigmatization and criminalization of people who use drugs or who are addicted to drugs like my two sons who have addictive illness. That’s really what brought me into this movement.

The experience with my first son was that he was arrested for marijuana possession and that became 10 years of cycling in and out of the criminal justice system. I saw how destructive that was to him as an individual, how painful it was to our family and I saw how many other people are dealing with the same thing and decided it was time for families, parents, mothers to speak out to end this destruction.

We’re right in the middle of a campaign right now that’s called the Empty Chair at the Holiday Table Campaign. There are so many people that have been missing from holiday tables. It’s a tremendously painful time for families who are dealing with incarceration of a loved one or the overdose death of a loved one.

We are asking people to send in a chair, a picture of a chair with a picture of their loved one and either labeling it stigma because a lot of times it’s just stigma that keeps a loved one away for the holiday table.

“Oh, you’re son is just a bad kid using drugs. Don’t invite him it makes everyone uncomfortable.”

There’s that or like in the case of my one son incarceration has kept him away from holiday table many times or overdose. We ask that we put a sign of either stigma, overdose, or incarceration or drug war violence. We do have members of Moms United who lost their loved one to drug war violence.

DOUG McVAY: How would people get in touch with you? How would they send you some of those photos? Do you have a website?

GRETCHEN BURNS BERGMAN: It’s http://www.momsunited.net We’re also on Facebook. We’re collecting the photos on Facebook so just type in Mom’s United and we’ll pop us. There’s a picture of a fist and that’s us and you just upload it to the photo gallery.

I’ve been at this for 13 years. I remember when we first started talking about harm reduction people would look at you aghast like, “How dare you talk about harm reduction. Aren’t you just trying to encourage people to use drugs?”

Now I’ve seen a change over the years. People have become more educated because so many families are dealing with these kinds of problems. One in four families is actually dealing with addictive illness and the problems that go along with that.

It’s wonderful to be at a conference like this where people are really talking about harm reduction and it doesn’t mean just needle exchange. It means any number of harm reduction stances. We encourage parents to stay connected with their loved ones not to do the tough love thing because that old idea of let them hit bottom. I knew pretty quickly that the bottom for my son would be death and I wasn’t willing to go there.

A lot of the things we’ve heard over the years really aren’t true and we’ve seen too much loss of lives, loss of liberties because of those kinds of philosophies. Being here in a room full of people, large rooms full of people who really understand and care about people living and surviving is wonderful.


NORA CALAHAN: I’m Nora Calahan and we’re here at the Harm Reduction Conference with the November Coalition.

DOUG McVAY: Fantastic. Tell me about some of the things the November Coalition is up to these days.

NORA CALAHAN: These days is sort of the same. We have a drug war injustice problem so we continue to work on that. Right now we’re involved in some freedom campaigns. We have a medical marijuana grower out of Montana who’s facing 80 years come January sentencing so we’re working to publicize this case and let people know about the problems with the federal interference with state will. That’s one project.

We’re working on a collection of stories from the prisoners because so many of them around the country have developed in “big house” programs and we’re trying to highlight what they’re doing as working on harm reduction and re-entry.

When a person leaves prison and they are ready to be in the world but the government has cut so much funding that it’s becoming a community projects to re-enter people back from prison. In doing that we raise up new generations of people who are willing to stand against the War on Drugs.

DOUG McVAY: Fantastic. You’re going to be presenting here at HRC. What about?

NORA CALAHAN: Dope and revolution. We’re talking about drugs and revolutionary process and all the things that that means. What it is like to organize around that.

DOUG McVAY: Tell me more about harm reduction as it relates to your work as, obviously, you work with the prisoners and the families of prisoners and are working on the mandatories. Tell me more about harm reduction relates.

NORA CALAHAN: If you think about a 30 year sentence that’s a very harmful thing for a non-violent drug offender to know that society is mad at them – not really even afraid of them. So we believe that we could reduce a lot of harm by reducing the criminal penalties around human behavior. That’s it in a nutshell.


STEVE JONES: My name is Steve Jones. I’m a public health physician who used to work for the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta.

DOUG McVAY: What kind of projects are you working on these days?

STEVE JONES: My main interest is in prevention of deaths from drug overdose – particularly opioid overdoses – and the use of Naloxone in the community and trying to make that happen more widely and working on getting better policy on Naloxone and getting policy so the American Pharmacist Association and the boards of pharmacy will take positions that support the availability of Naloxone.

I think there’s a lot of interest in that but that remains to be seen.

When I was working in the federal government more or less you couldn’t use the words “harm reduction.” You could say “risk reduction” because that didn’t have the red flag qualities of harm reduction. One of the striking things of this meeting was to have a video from the director of ONDCP (Office of National Drug Control Policy) in which he said harm reduction. He talked about needle exchange. To me that was just an extraordinary change as over the years I’d had contact with previous Drug Czars and none of them would have mentioned harm reduction or wanted to talk about needle exchange. It was just an extraordinary change.

I think that’s real progress. I think that’s probably because of who is president. In the past that was just impossible for that sort of thing to be said by the Drug Czar.

What’s happening is that people are recognizing the fact that people are putting so many people in jail for drug crimes – particularly for marijuana – it doesn’t make any sense. I think that’s probably the main driver for…although I don’t know the details in Washington or in Colorado, but I think it’s beneficial that it opens the discussion even more about what to do about the prohibition attacks on marijuana. I think that’s a very great and wonderful step.


PHILIPE LUCAS: My name is Philipe Lucas. I’m a researcher with the Center for Addiction Researches and I’m also a member of the steering committee of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition.

My background in drug policy really starts in the mid-90s when I was diagnosed with Hepatitis C. I found that cannabis helped me quit using alcohol and tobacco and that subsequently found that it was really helpful in helping me address some of the symptoms of Hepatitis C.

In 1999 because I was having some challenges finding access to a safe, consistent source of cannabis I started a medical cannabis, non-profit dispensary called the Vancouver Island Compassion Society. I ran that organization for about ten years where I focused on cannabis reform, medical cannabis advocacy for Canadians and also cannabis research to try to fill in some gaps that existed around medical marijuana at the time.

Since then I’ve gone on to…I continue to do cannabis and medical cannabis research. I’ve also expanded to do research on psychedelics – looking at the potential of ibogaine and more recently ioowanska to treat both trauma and addiction.

My real focus over the last 7 or 8 years has been looking at addiction and the therapeutic potential of some of our current illicit substances. The more I study addiction I find that I’m really studying trauma.

When you look at substances like cannabis that are very effective and helping people address this trauma and get on and deal with their lives in the day to day basis and being able to exist within trauma but also give them a kind of stability that allows them to deal with their addictions as well certainly refining that…so my focus on cannabis which has been a cannabis substitution theory which is both a conscious and unconscious substitution of cannabis for alcohol or tobacco and for other licit and illicit substances including pharmaceutical opiates which, as we know, is substances associated with the highest rising rate of addiction in North America and also the greatest mortality rate in North America.

So the general theory is that if people have greater access to cannabis for personal purposes you are going to see subsequent reduction of alcohol, alcohol-related violence, drinking and driving rates, etc. but you’ll also see a reduction in the use of injection drug use. You’ll see less disease transmission and so ultimately you’ll see maybe a slight high rise in dependence on cannabis and cannabis use if you actually open up the flood gates and give people access to it but, on the other hand, you’d see from a net public health public point of view a great improvement in the health of people in North America and all over the world.

The study that I’ve got right now that’s just about to be published…it’s in press at the Journal of Addictions Research and Theory is the biggest study of substitution and affect that’s been done up to date. It’s done on 4 dispensaries in British Columbia, 3 in Vancouver and one in Victoria. Out of 404 patients that we talk to about substitution and talked to through surveys, 75% cite that they substitute cannabis for other substances. Most frequently it’s for pharmaceuticals so it’s for serious health and cost savings associated with this cannabis substitution.

Second most frequently is alcohol and so we see that people are using cannabis in order to stay away from alcohol so it’s not a gateway drug as most people thought. It may actually be an exit drug to addiction- also the more dangerous substances out there – cryrstal meth, cocaine and injectable opiates. Overall we’re seeing people’s health are improved not only from the use of medical cannabis within the study but also because it helps them use less of these other substances that may potentially be more dependence forming or cause more harms to them.

It’s been a really interesting and emerging field of research. The next steps to this is to look at the specific factors that lead to substitution. I think we have some great opportunities with the legalization initiatives in Colorado and Washington to really see what the potential health benefits and also negative impacts might be around the legalization of cannabis for adult use.

DOUG McVAY: And you’re, of course, in B.C. and just to the south of the state next door people are going to be able to take a short drive from Vancouver, B.C. and legally buy marijuana as a non-patient in a very short time.

What are your thought on this legalization thing?

PHILIPE LUCAS: It’s quite remarkable because from a public safety point of view I think what Washington State is effectively done is put the first nail in the coffin of the illicit cannabis production and black market distribution of cannabis in British Columbia. I think this is going to have a serious impact on criminal control on cannabis that’s being imported to the U.S. from Canada.

Washington State, I think, will still see cannabis flow into it but it’s going to be a through state. It’s going to go through Washington State and into the other states. From my point of view this is a really good way to take away the profitability associated with cannabis shipping and importing from the U.S.

From the B.C. point of view I think it’s going to be excellent. I think also it opens up the channels because Canada on the federal government particular is often cited the fact that the U.S. was not considering legalization or decriminalization at the federal level as an excuse for us not to move forward and look at that as a policy option in Canada. Now, of course, with Washington and Colorado essentially border states to Canada, now opening up those floodgates I don’t think that our own government is going to be on as strong standing by saying that the U.S. would never tolerate as us looking at alternatives to prohibition.

On that note the folks in B.C. are going to hopefully vote at our next provincial election for an initiative that would essentially depenalize the use of cannabis by adults. It doesn’t go far as to tax and regulate but it does call on the province to work with the federal government towards a tax and regulate model. Initially it’s just going to depenalize cannabis use in B.C.

British Columbia is a place where 75% of residence say that they want a new approach around cannabis. I think when you put that kind of question before the voters they’re going to make a compassionate and common sense choice and choose to end cannabis prohibition for adults.

I just want to congratulate all of the people who work so hard in Washington and in Colorado but also in the state of Oregon and all over the U.S. because this really was a national push to get these few states to legalize and to consider legalization and involve research from all over North American and all over the world. It involved activists who put their time and energies and in some cases their money into these initiative.

I just want to say that this is far more significant than just allowing cannabis use for adults. This is the beginning of the end of the War on Drugs. I have no doubt about it. I think that once we see that the sky is not going to fall on the heads of the residents of Colorado or Washington and, in fact, quite the opposite is going to happen. You’re going to see that public health approaches being put toward access to cannabis, education-based being used in cannabis education but, perhaps even more significantly from a political point of view, you’re going to see the taxes rolling in from the adult sale of cannabis instead of going to the black market.

I think it’s going to create a domino effect that’s going to go throughout the U.S. and, as we’ve already seen in terms of reactions from South and Central America, is echoing well beyond the chambers and beyond the borders of the U.S. and into Canada and the rest of America. This is an incredibly exciting time and by far the most exciting development in drug policy that I’ve seen in my lifetime.

I’m just pleased to be here at the Harm Reduction Coalition Conference and to be able to share in this moment with fellow reformers and my American friends.


DEAN BECKER: Wow, time sure flies when you are sharing the truth. There is no justice in this drug war. Please visit our website, http://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.

Transcript provided by: Jo-D Harrison of www.DrugSense.org