03/31/13 Chris Goldstein

Chris Goldstein re efforts to change US cannabis laws & hypocrisy in customs law + Mason Tvert of MPP visits "Ralston Report" in Vegas re $900K fine for boxers use of marijuana

Program: 
Century of Lies
Date: 
Sunday, March 31, 2013
Guest: 
Chris Goldstein
Organization: 
Freedom Is Green
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Century of Lies / March 31, 2013

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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.

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DEAN BECKER: Thank you for joining us on this edition of Century of Lies. Reporting on the drug war has just become so damn easy – it’s everywhere, it’s all the time. Here to talk about that situation is our old friend…

CHRIS GOLDSTEIN: This is Chris Goldstein here in the beautiful mill garden state of New Jersey.

DEAN BECKER: Chris, you’ve been on my show many times but most of that was in years past. What have you been doing over the last few years?

CHRIS GOLDSTEIN: I’m here in New Jersey and I work in New Jersey and in Philadelphia. For some time I was on the board of directors of 4 of the local non-profits working for marijuana reform.

In New Jersey I was on the board and served as executive director for a while for NORML New Jersey and then the Coalition for Medical Marijuana for New Jersey. I was on the board there for many years. In Pennsylvania I was with Pennsylvanians for Medical Marijuana and then Philly NORML.

These are all very dynamic chapters and we’ve been doing a lot of work. New Jersey has a terrible medical marijuana regulation and, in many ways, a very restrictive law. In Pennsylvania we’re seeing some of the laws move forward. We’ve got this small amount of marijuana program in Philadelphia. We’ve got a legalization bill in Pennsylvania and also a medical marijuana bill which is much different than New Jersey’s.

That’s what I’ve been up to. I also write on my website, http://freedomisgreen.com. Since November I am the Philly 420 Marijuana columnists at http://philly.com which is the website for the Philadelphia Enquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News and sort of like a local news source.

That’s what I’ve been up to.

DEAN BECKER: The cohesive factor is that reformers keep finding new ways to educate and hopefully embolden others to the truth of this matter, right?

CHRIS GOLDSTEIN: Absolutely. You and I met when I was doing podcasts with National NORML and doing the NORML News podcast and the Daily Audio Stash. Now podcasting is something that everybody does now. We were sort of (you included) were doing it early on.

I think in this digital revolution I do a lot of work on Twitter, Facebook. I was proud to be involved with Occupy Philadelphia during that Occupy movement in 2011. The tools for activists and tools for awareness especially are really …there’s new stuff every day.

I focus on media attention, too. The press and the media have become a lot more attuned to these issues.

DEAN BECKER: You know folks talk about it a lot but since November – the new law change in Washington and Colorado – it has emboldened politicians all around this country to step forward in their legislatures and their senate chambers and to speak for this need for change.

I’m looking at some of the segments I’ve been picking up. West Virginia, Utah, even Texas – all kinds of people are starting to talk about changing these laws. The time has come. Am I correct?

CHRIS GOLDSTEIN: I agree. It’s great to see what is an obvious tidal wave of political support for what is one of the most popular issues in America. Medical marijuana is hugely supported. Legalization is hugely supported by a massive amount of Americans.

On the local level the polling for medical marijuana is above 86% in New Jersey, 82% in Pennsylvania. These are the most popular issues out there but, at the same time, here in New Jersey we’ve watched the worst, over regulation of medical marijuana with the Governor Chris Christie that really exists in the country today. That’s being replicated in states like Delaware and even Maryland has a marijuana bill that is severely limited. It just doesn’t work for real world patients.

That really throws the focus back. I mean, yes, we can work on state-level initiatives but the federal government always has this threat and politicians are very “willow in the wind” and the political climate and the political dynamic could change in the future.

We’ve got to really focus now on the federal prohibition of cannabis. It was 40 years ago just last week, March 22nd, 1973, that Pennsylvania Governor Raymond Shafer went against Nixon with his report – his “Marijuana a Signal of Misunderstanding” report which reads like prophecy today.

Shafer and that commission recommended that marijuana should not be in the Controlled Substances Act at all. Until that happens – that’s what has to happen. The main focus when we talk about legalizing marijuana – what does that really tangibly mean? Legalizing marijuana means removing it from the Controlled Substances Act. It is only until it is out of the CSA completely can states really begin to rationally regulate marijuana.

Right now…in New Jersey marijuana is more heavily regulated than morphine. I think the approach that we’re seeing in Colorado with the recent audit and approaches by other states is that even states that have a medical marijuana law are looking to go back and re-regulate it very strictly. I don’t agree with that. I think that the trend to severely regulate it…I mean video cameras and the minutia of detail for regulating cannabis are just beyond the pale.

We should not be accepting that as a form of legalization. I think that until marijuana is dealt with at the federal level…at the state level even the best activists and advocates are going to have to make political concessions and it’s going to end up being very over-regulated. That doesn’t do anybody any good.

DEAN BECKER: No it doesn’t. They treat it as if it were more dangerous than plutonium. They want so many safeguards.

I want to come back to what caught my attention the other day. You mentioned where you post your website, http://freedomisgreen.com and I happen to see one that touched my heart, touched my…well, it aggravated me.

CHRIS GOLDSTEIN: Got your blood boiling there, huh?!

DEAN BECKER: We have Prince Harry, a known pot smoker, allowed to freely go in and out of America and yet there was a gentleman up in Canada just a week or two ago that happened to mention to the border guard that he had smoked marijuana and he’s been barred for life. Your thought there, Chris Goldstein.

CHRIS GOLDSTEIN: It really struck me because, again, Prince Harry (the red-haired prince) is coming to New Jersey and Connecticut on a tour of Hurricane Sandy-affected areas which we here called Frankenstorm Sandy. Prince Harry is seen welcomed by Governor Christie.

It is ironic because looking at the news this isn’t the first time. In fact U.S. Border Patrol has been pretty notorious for denying entry into the United States (especially Canadians, it seems)…I don’t know why. Maybe Canadians are a little more honest, you know? They don’t know that they need to lie.

Attention Canadians: At the border crossing just frickin’ lie. Act like an American politician – lie your way through.

Canadians tend to be honest at the border patrol checkpoint and what these border patrol agents are asking is not, “Did you smoke marijuana today?” They are asking, “Have you ever used an illicit drug?”

This particular Canadian said he had smoked marijuana once and they didn’t let him through the border that day and they essentially gave him a lifetime ban from ever entering the United States. It seems really extreme until you realize this is happening to a lot of people – especially Canadians.

Apparently you’re not allowed into the United States if you ever admit to using any illicit drugs. One of the most common on the planet that people use is, of course, marijuana. Now Prince Harry when he was 16 (back in 2002, about a decade ago) was famous for having been caught partying and smoking a lot of marijuana. This was sort of a common scandal in Britain at the time. He was sent to one day in rehab. We don’t know if he’s ever smoked pot since but he’s gone on to a military career and taking on his role as royal adult.

But he’s allowed to come and go as he pleases – into Las Vegas and into New Jersey and Connecticut now and vice versa. A lot of people are denied entry to Canada because they have a DWI on their record. George W. Bush had one of those but he didn’t get denied entry to Canada. I don’t know how often the former president has tried to get into Canada.

It really is a demonstration of how bad prohibition laws are enforced and how unbalanced they are. For the same reason mostly young, black men get arrested in New York and Philadelphia on the streets for marijuana possession is the same reason nobody cares about Prince Harry’s smoking pot and coming into the United States. If you’re wealthy and white it’s not a big deal. If you are working class and/or of color it is something that affects you every day.

These laws have always been like this. These laws of marijuana prohibition have this sort of racial and class bias built into them from the very first day that they were put onto the books. This was understood by the people at the time. When we think about how racist Harry Anslinger was in his portrayal and demonization of marijuana and, again, President Nixon himself in the Oval Office in audio tapes that I’ve heard very clearly wanted marijuana prohibition through the method of the Controlled Substances Act to really come down on certain groups.

We have evolved out of that. 40 years later in the year 2013 we should be able to recognize that marijuana prohibition and its enforcement is institutional racism, institutional classism and that if you’re wealthy and white…we got to stop acting like it’s OK that if you’re wealth and white and white college students getting busted for weed is no big deal but 4,000 in Philly, 50,000 in New York – young, black men – it’s a big deal.

It’s a demonstration, Dean, of just how out of whack these prohibition laws are. I think that it’s an apt demonstration. If they want to follow the laws then Prince Harry shouldn’t be let into the United States or they should stop the practice of denying entry to anyone who admits smoking marijuana. I think it’s just ridiculous.

DEAN BECKER: Indeed it is. The offsets, the comparisons…banks laundering a billion dollars are too big to jail and yet welfare recipients…Texas is now considering forcing then to take urine tests. It’s outrageous.

Well, Chris, we’re going to have to wrap it up. Is there a website you would like to recommend and any closing thoughts…

CHRIS GOLDSTEIN: If you do a quick search for Philly 420 you’ll find my columns at http://philly.com. You can check out http://freedomisgreen.com and follow me on Twitter at freedomisgreen. I’ve got all the latest stuff up there.

Dean, it was great speaking with you. Thanks, again, for having me on the show.

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[can opener]

Opening up a can of worms…

[sound of fishing line being cast]

And going fishing for truth – this is the Drug Truth Network, drugtruth.net.

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DEAN BECKER: The following comes to us courtesy of KSNV TV, Las Vegas. It’s a segment captured from the Ralston Report featuring John Ralston. Here he’s interviewing Mason Tvert with the Marijuana Policy Project and the man who was the Director of the effort to legalize cannabis in the state of Colorado.

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JOHN RALSTON: The Nevada Boxing Commission fined boxer Cesar Chavez, Jr. for testing positive for marijuana? But the group behind legalizing pot in Colorado and hoping to do it here, too, commends Chavez for making what it calls a safer choice than alcohol. We’ll tell you about it.

Plus another day - another marijuana grow house bust. This while cops want more money to fight crime. Is the war on pot, which is legal in some states, worth the law enforcement resources?

Boxing causes brain damage – marijuana? Not so much, yet, the Nevada Athletic Commission which oversees the sport is fining boxer Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. almost one million dollars for testing positive for pot before a fight last year. The people who helped legalize pot in Colorado are publically urging the Nevada officials to come to their senses – that’s the billboard. It’s the latest in a series of high profile efforts to end what some call the senseless and wasteful use of police resources on a substance many say is safer than alcohol.

Nevada would seem a natural place to make that case. We have a Libertarian ethos. We have medicinal marijuana and now there are efforts to legalize pot here as it has been done in Washington State and Colorado.

When we come back on the program we’ll talk to a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project which is highlighting the Chavez fine and may try to make pot legal here, too.

An effort is on the way at the Nevada legislature to legalize the recreational use of marijuana and raise an estimated half a billion dollars a year for education. Police want more money in Southern Nevada to fight crime would save too.

Last year Metro Police busted 142 grow operations - the estimated cost in man hours about 2,000 hours per bust. On top of that Metro paid a hazmat company 85,000 dollars to dispose of what it calls hazardous materials involved in marijuana grow operations.

We invited Metro Police to join us this evening but they said no one was available but guess who is available? One of the men who helped legalize marijuana for recreational use in Colorado and hopes to do the same here, I guess, Mason Tvert of the Marijuana Policy Project. He’s also the co-author of, “Marijuana is safer so why are we driving people to drink?!”

Welcome to the program, sir.

MASON TVERT: Thank you for having me on, John.

JOHN RALSTON: So what are you doing here? Are you going to try to get it legalized here?

MASON TVERT: I think there’s a significant majority here in Nevada who think marijuana prohibition has failed and it’s time for a more sensible approach. We should be treating marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol. It’s less harmful than alcohol and we could, as you pointed out, be generating tax revenue and no longer throwing money away on law enforcement that could be focused on violent crime.

I think people here are more than ready to do that.

JOHN RALSTON: We’re going to show some poll results that you had the Public Policy Polling do in a little while which mirrors a poll that was taken earlier by the Retail Association and it does show support here. Of course that’s only on paper.

I’ll go back to the question I asked you…are you going to mount an effort here, fund an effort here if that bill does not pass in the legislature to get marijuana legalized here in Nevada?

MASON TVERT: We’re exploring the options that’s why a poll is being done to begin with but when you look at Nevada versus Colorado in 2006 both states voted on marijuana legalization. Colorado got 41%, Nevada got 44% so I think it’s safe to say there is plenty of support here.

We’re in this interesting position where there are so many states that are now looking at making marijuana legal for adults and regulating it like alcohol it’s time to decide where we can have the most impact.

JOHN RALSTON: One of the things you unveiled today is a billboard here very similar to what you ran in Colorado. Am I right?

MASON TVERT: Yes, we’ve done billboards like this before to get people talking about the fact that marijuana is objectively less harmful than alcohol.

JOHN RALSTON: So you’re here as a prelude…here we’re showing that right now “Marijuana over alcohol”. I guess what you’re going to do is just build support here, build awareness – am I right? So you can get those numbers up and then you’re going to fund an effort here to legalize marijuana. Is that generally how it works?

MASON TVERT: Yes, we’ve got to get people talking about the issue. The bill that was brought forward by Congressman Hogan is a great opportunity to be talking about …

JOHN RALSTON: That’s the legalizing pot bill in case people don’t know…

MASON TVERT: Correct. We’re talking about something very similar – taking marijuana out of the underground market, making it for adults 21 and older and having a tightly regulated system of cultivation and sales – much like what we see with alcohol.

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DEAN BECKER: We’re listening to the Ralston Report featuring John Ralston. He’s interviewing Mason Tvert of the Marijuana Policy Project and co-author of “Marijuana is safer so why are we driving people to drink?!”

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JOHN RALSTON: This fine of Julio Cesar Chavez – who cares if he smoked pot?! Except for one little thing….except for one little thing – you seem to forget – it’s illegal.

MASON TVERT: What’s interesting is that Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. admitted to using marijuana while he was in California and he was using it to release stress and anxiety. It’s a $100 fine generally. It’s a petty offense in California.

He was fined 9,000 times more than that. That’s insane so we really need to take another look at this. Marijuana by any stretch of the imagination not a performance enhancing drug when it comes to boxing – maybe for some things – but not for boxing. There’s just no excuse for this.

What we’re doing is we are sending this very dangerous message to athletes like him that, “Hey, if you want to go out and have a bunch of drinks that’s fine but by no means should you sit at home and maybe use a little marijuana.”

That’s crazy.

JOHN RALSTON: Highlighting that find the majority of Nevadans support Julio’s safer choice. Driving athletes to drink – that’s a little strong, don’t you think?

MASON TVERT: I don’t think so. I think that we are without a doubt artificially inflating the amount of alcohol that’s being consumed…

JOHN RALSTON: Because marijuana is illegal?

MASON TVERT: Yeah. Why did you not use marijuana initially?

JOHN RALSTON: I was not ever interested in it.

MASON TVERT: A lot of people decided not to try it or never to use it because it’s illegal and they don’t want to get in trouble, they’ve got responsibilities…

JOHN RALSTON: Oh, yeah – there’s that, too.

MASON TVERT: They do choose to try alcohol. Many people choose to consume it. Every person elected to office in this entire state probably entice people to come to their fundraisers with free drinks or with alcohol.

We accept that alcohol is part of our society. It’s something adults use. Most people use it responsibly and it should be legal. But for some reason when it comes to marijuana we feel the need to punish adults and that sending this dangerous message that if you want to go drink we’ll accept that but by no means should you make the safer choice to use marijuana.

JOHN RALSTON: That it’s a gateway drug – is that why you think there’s the demonization?

MASON TVERT: I think most people have recognized the gateway theory is outdated and really makes no sense. If anything alcohol is used before marijuana and all other drugs but we don’t consider it a gateway drug.

Government officials, some law enforcement officials, people who do not like marijuana or marijuana consumers have decided to try to keep it illegal and the way they’ve done that is to exaggerate the harms. We’ve heard for 80+ years…it started with marijuana is going to make people kill people. It’s going to make you an addict. It’s going to make you go crazy. Now it’s going to make you a loser is what they’re starting to say.

Ultimately they’ve made it sound far more dangerous than it is. It is less toxic, less addictive and does not contribute to the violent crime and reckless behavior we see with alcohol.

JOHN RALSTON: It’s hard to make that nexus and I think you see police departments spending resources. I think there were 2,300 marijuana arrests (around that number) last year and you fear how much man power that (by the way that’s just in Clark County – not for the state) …I guess you think to yourself what better use of those resources could there be to be fighting (I hate to say it this way) real crimes.

MASON TVERT: I couldn’t agree with you more. When you’re walking down the strip I don’t think anyone is worried about someone starting a fight with them because they are high on marijuana. I don’t think that anyone is starting trouble, getting beligerant in the casino because they smoked too much pot. It just doesn’t happen and if an adult would like to use marijuana privately in their own home instead of going out, getting drunk – why on earth would we want to punish them for that? It makes no sense.

JOHN RALSTON: I mentioned Michael Phelps, the Olympic swimmer, he’s riding high and then suddenly awful he’s caught with this bong. Here’s what you wrote about the Michael Phelps incident, Mr. Tvert.

“Let’s review, shall we? The most successful Olympian in history attends a college party, pounds a few beers and allegedly behaves like a drunken ass. At some point during the evening he inhales a bit of marijuana. When all of this becomes public he is run through the social, corporate and legal ringer but only for his suspected pot use.

“So what lesson has our champion swimmer learned? That’s simple. Next time he goes out in public he should just stick to being drunk and obnoxious.”

Michael Phelps is supposed to be a role model to millions of kids out there. He’s caught right there in a picture committing a crime. You don’t think that’s a bad thing?

MASON TVERT: Who’s to say what other crimes …are people drinking under age at a college party? The notion that marijuana is illegal and thus it should remain illegal is …

JOHN RALSTON: While it’s illegal maybe prominent athletes shouldn’t be doing it.

MASON TVERT: In theory no one should be doing it but that’s what happens when we have irrational laws that the majority of people don’t support. You foster this disrespect for the law and, even worse, you foster disrespect for law enforcement.

I think that if marijuana were legal for adults a lot of people would probably feel a lot more comfortable around police and that would be very evident to them but what we’re doing is pitting law enforcement against the 50% of American people on this issue. That’s just bad policy and it’s making people feel like this is a silly law that they shouldn’t have to follow.

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DEAN BECKER: Once again I want to alert you this is from the Ralston Report from KSNV TV, Las Vegas. John Ralston is interviewing Mason Tvert of the Marijuana Policy Project and co-author of “Marijuana is safer so why are we driving people to drink?!”

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JOHN RALSTON: On the Cesar Chavez fine Campbell and Williams, the law firm representing the boxer (by the way that’s my lawyers, too. They represent a lot of people.) they put out a statement this morning saying their client “does not condone the illicit use of marijuana. That having been said he is nevertheless most grateful for the very visible and vocal support of the Marijuana Policy Project as well as that of many news and sports commentators nationwide who have condemned this unconstitutional and, indeed, draconian fine of $900,000 leveled against him by the Nevada State Athletic Commission for having smoked a marijuana cigarette nine days before the Martinez fight.”

MASON TVERT: Again, this is silly. As his attorney pointed out in that very eloquent statement and fantastic to hear someone coming out and saying this was not a reasonable punishment…

JOHN RALSTON: They said it’s unconstitutional. Here’s what you said about that fine:

“Issuing such harsh penalties for marijuana does nothing to promote the health and safety of athletes. If anything it puts them in danger by steering them towards using alcohol and away from making the safer choice to use marijuana instead.

“The NSC (Nevada Safety Commission) should change its marijuana policy and stop driving athletes to drink.”

I don’t understand why you’re making the argument this way – that because of the stigma of marijuana athletes are going to drink instead. To me that sounds a little bit over the top to be honest with you.

Just make the argument on its merits. Marijuana is not harmful. There’s no real evidence that it impairs people if they’re driving as alcohol does. It’s not as dangerous as alcohol.

Instead you’re stretching to say, “Oh, this is a stigma so they’re going to drink instead of smoke pot.”

Come on – that’s a stretch.

MASON TVERT: I don’t think it’s a stretch at all. A lot of people (I’m not suggesting this is the case with you) just haven’t really thought about how much our society reinforces the idea of adults using alcohol.

I come from Denver, Colorado where our baseball team plays in Coors Field and the college students go to a campus where there’s a Coors Events Center. Alcohol is just made abundantly available. There’s advertising for it everywhere.

I’m not saying that should be the case with marijuana necessarily but we are giving adults every opportunity possible to consume alcohol and saying by no means should you use marijuana. There are a lot of people that might make that choice.

In this line of work and having made this argument I hear from a lot of people ranging from soldiers abroad to people who are former alcoholics who say, “Listen, I go to a party and everyone is drinking. I can’t drink. I’ve learned that I have problems drinking. Everyone is having fun. I want to relax, too. I want to use some marijuana but I’m not allowed to because it’s a crime.”

That’s insane. Why shouldn’t that person be allowed to use marijuana.

JOHN RALSTON: Why do you hate booze so much?

MASON TVERT: I don’t hate …

JOHN RALSTON: Do you want to bring prohibition back?

MASON TVERT: I think talking objectively about the harms of alcohol is something that we should be doing…

JOHN RALSTON: If I want to sit and relax at home and have a glass of scotch do you want to stigmatize that?

MASON TVERT: Not at all. I’m not trying to stigmatize that I’m just trying to point out the potential harms of each product. If I was sitting here telling you that having sushi is going to be a lot healthier for you for dinner tonight than going out and having a double cheeseburger would that be stigmatizing double cheeseburgers and saying people shouldn’t use them and they shouldn’t be allowed to?

No, of course not. I’m just pointing out that there are relative harms to these products and we should be honest about them and we should acknowledge the fact marijuana is a less harmful product and not punish people for using it.

JOHN RALSTON: Let me ask you a question. You did this polling here in Nevada which indicates to me you’re getting ready to do something and we’ll talk about that in a second. I thought the question was very fairly worded. Here’s what it said,

“Last year voters of Colorado and Washington passed ballot initiatives related to marijuana. These initiatives did three things. First the initiatives made the possession of marijuana legal for adults age 21 and over. Second, the initiatives made the legal sale of marijuana by state-licensed stores to adults age 21 and over. Third, the initiatives taxed the sale of marijuana by state-licensed stores.

“If a similar initiative appears on the ballot in Nevada would you support or oppose it?”

Strongly support received 38%, somewhat support received 16% and strongly oppose received 39%, somewhat oppose received 4%.

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DEAN BECKER: Once again I want to thank KSNV out of Las Vegas. I want to thank John Ralston and my good friend Mason Tvert for that excellent discussion.

By the way on May 8 th in just about a month I will celebrate 28 years without alcohol thanks to the good lord’s invention of cannabis.

There is no logically explanation for this drug war. Please investigate and do your part to end this madness. Prohibido istac evilesco!

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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.

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