04/07/13 Stephen Gutwillig

The drug war is melting: Stephen Gutwillig of Drug Policy Alliance, David Van Thournout of HempSaves.net & Phil Smith of Drug War Chronicle

Century of Lies
Sunday, April 7, 2013
Stephen Gutwillig
Drug Policy Alliance
Download: Audio icon COL040713.mp3



Century of Lies / April 7, 2013


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: Hello my friends. Welcome to this edition of Century of Lies brought to you by the Drug Truth Network and Pacifica Radio. The drug war is ending slow and ugly because you are not doing your part. You know the truth. It’s time to speak up, stand up and do something about it.

Well if you read any newspaper or magazine articles over the last week or so you’re well aware of our topic of discussion. Going to be speaking here with Mr. Stephen Gutwillig of the Drug Policy Alliance. The topic of discussion for today’s feed is advances in people’s recognition of the truth about the plant cannabis. Am I correct?

STEPHEN GUTWILLIG: That’s right, Dean. We’re seeing an actual tipping point in the public support for reforming our egregiously failed marijuana laws at long last – something that’s been on the horizon for the last couple of years but now moving at a such a pace with momentum all across the country that really suggests that the tipping point has arrived.

DEAN BECKER: Even Alabama had a bill put forward yesterday or today to legalize up to an ounce and 12 plants. It is changing everywhere isn’t it?

STEPHEN GUTWILLIG: It really is. One of the most interesting tidbits from the Pew Research Center’s poll that just came out not only indicate that not only is there a significant majority (52%) across the country supporting the end of marijuana prohibition outright but also one of the things they found is that that support is relatively even across every region of the country. While, as we would suspect, there are significant majorities (super majorities) of folks on the left of the political spectrum, Democrats and progressives, but of course independents are now strongly in support of ending marijuana prohibition. It really is only self-identified conservatives who are holding this up and keeping the numbers down to 52%.

There is significant super majorities of Americans across the political spectrum under 30 (probably under 40 but certainly under 30) – major majorities (over 60%) regardless of political affiliation or ideology that say the time has come to tax and regulate marijuana.

DEAN BECKER: Let’s talk about the fact that just 20 years ago the numbers were totally lopsided in the opposite direction. A few years ago it approached that 50% mark. I feel like it’s not going to be a daily, weekly or even monthly change to these numbers but they are moving rapidly towards legalization. Am I correct?

STEPHEN GUTWILLIG: I think that’s right. What we’ve seen especially in the last 10 years is a 1 to 2% bump in favor of support for full legalization of marijuana. There has long been significant support for reducing criminal penalties particularly for low-level marijuana possession – a very high super majority support that has been certainly out of sync with the extensive enforcement of marijuana laws so that disconnect has existed for years. What we really started seeing in the last decade and the last 5 years especially is that the levels of support across the board for ending prohibition outright.

There are a number of factors that are generally believed to have been responsible for that. The demographic shift being probably the most obvious one but as we’ve seen in a number of surveys baby boomers most of whom have some experience with marijuana in their youth as they became older and became parents started to rethink their support for marijuana legalization and became concerned about consumption among young people. That has actually turned around now over the course of the last couple.

Obviously the adoption of marijuana laws across the country has helped address the skepticism among many ambivalent voters who didn’t have much experience with marijuana, didn’t really understand its values but the advent of medical marijuana laws and the hundreds of thousands of patients who have access across the country have put a face on the positive experience of people who don’t consume marijuana or never have.

DEAN BECKER: From my perspective through a decade or more from folks like you and the others at the Drug Policy Alliance, Marijuana Policy Project, NORML and others who have fought vigorously, boldly to have this information brought forward and now the media, the press, the broadcasters are all beginning to speak this same truth we’ve been echoing for so long. Am I correct?

STEPHEN GUTWILLIG: I think that’s also right. I think there’s a really interesting combination of things that are going on there. I think that’s another factor that we really can’t underestimate that the unbiased and potentially enthusiastic coverage by mainstream media of marijuana issues particularly coverage of how medical marijuana alleviates the suffering of people of all ages and with all sorts of different types of ailments has a profound impact.

One of the other elements that we’re seeing is that mainstream media outlets realize how many viewers, listeners, readers are drawn to this issue. We have simply seen a proliferation in coverage of the struggle to end decades or failed marijuana prohibition to the extent that MSNBC has been doing a whole series of documentaries. The Sacramento Bee, here in California where I live, created a blog devoted to coverage of marijuana reform on their website.

Examples across the country where editors and publishers are realizing just how much stories about marijuana whether it’s advocacy or coverage of what law enforcement is up to or debates or just talking about strains of medical marijuana all drive coverage and, to2 some extent, capitalism in the struggling media market has been a real friend to the movement to end prohibition.

DEAN BECKER: I’ve noticed that a lot of times if you’re watching a TV news program and they say something about marijuana it’s the hook and it usually ends up being the last story of the program to keep you there. It is used as an enticement to keep the viewers around. Your thoughts, sir?

STEPHEN GUTWILLIG: I think that is a reflection of a number of things. Marijuana is such a widely consumed substance that there are a lot of us who really do want to hear these stories but I also think there is just something about our movement – this movement to end this disastrous public policy of marijuana prohibition – that there is so many of us in it that we are very active, we are very articulate and we’re really successful at reaching out and sharing our opinions.

Whenever outlets whether it’s a newspaper, website or TV show does some story the folks behind it in the media are inundated with response and they will go where the energy is. We’ve done an incredibly good job of letting them know that this is an issue that million s and millions of Americans care deeply about, that we are fed up with the status quo, fed up with the waste of billions of dollars on the scarce law enforcement resources, the selective enforcement of marijuana laws particularly disproportionate among communities of color, the waste of billions of dollars on potential tax revenue – all of that has now become fodder in mainstream media.

DEAN BECKER: I look at this way that there is kind of an aside or attendance issue that the Mexican war on drugs and the violence, the madness, the mayhem, the butchery that has gone on down there has awoken a few people to the reality of the complications…

STEPHEN GUTWILLIG: I agree. The carnage that has taken place, the senseless loss of tens of thousands of lives since the former Mexican presidential administration in 2006 basically declared war on drug syndicates has really driven coverage and outrage. The results of that disastrous policy – the militarization of their approach to drug control has resonated with people on both sides of the border particularly with folks of Mexican descent in the United States who are hearing, reading and watching coverage of the unbelievable atrocities.

For many Americans they’re sort of getting it either second hand or they’re not paying that close of attention to it but for folks in border states or folks with connections to Latin America this has really been eye opening and a call to arms to the extent of which U.S. policy helps drive this disaster in Mexico and that it has got to stop. This has had impact on the election, the change in parties in Mexico last year and ultimately the change in policy that is taking place in Mexico now.

DEAN BECKER: We’re going to have to wrap this up in a minute but I want to kind of tie a couple things together. In the beginning I talked about even Alabama has a bill put forward in their legislature and this story about the results of the Pew poll have been in newspapers/magazines everywhere. Even in Houston, Texas the Houston Chronicle had a poll in this regard. Last I looked it was at 95% in favor of legalization. I realize we get out the vote, we care about this but this indicates the American people are fed up with the status quo.

STEPHEN GUTWILLIG: That’s absolutely right. The thing that we have to bear in mind is that polls are often done of all respondents – they are polls of the American political opinion and there’s a little bit of a disconnect between polling public opinion and who voters are. Likely voters tend to be somewhat older and more conservative so that is something to bear in mind.

With that said this is an issue whose time has come, who has penetrated the consciousness of the mainstream. Marijuana legalization is going to happen in this country. It is going to happen one day at a time until there is so much pressure on the federal government that federal prohibition will fall. I’m not going to make any promises about when that’s likely to happen or predictions about that.

The other point is marijuana is going to be legalized but it is not going to legalize itself. There is still an enormous amount of work to do. The end is in sight but there is still a lot of money to be raised. This is not going to be cheap. It is not going to be easy. We have to do this primarily using the ballot initiative process within a number of states most likely looking at the 2016 election cycle with California, Oregon, Maine being the states being eyed by lots of activists organizations most prominently. There are activists in states that you’ve mentioned all across the board including southern states that national organizations like Drug Policy Alliance are going to take a hard look at anyone who is putting together a serious, broad-based coalition and where the polling numbers indicate there is a strong possibility of victory because our goal, of course, is to reach the finish line as quickly as possible and to extend freedom to millions of responsible consumers instead of criminalizing them.

DEAN BECKER: Once again we’ve been speaking with Mr. Stephen Gutwillig of the Drug Policy Alliance. Stephen, please share your website.

STEPHEN GUTWILLIG: http://drugpolicy.org. We’d love for folks to get involved in our work.



Dueling the prisons nationwide.
More drug war more.

Stuffing the prisons deep inside
More drug war more.


DAVID VAN THOURNOUT: My name is David Van Thournout. I am a web developer. Prior to that I was in prison for almost 6 years for growing marijuana.

DEAN BECKER: More and more people are beginning to recognize the truth about the cannabis plants and its effects. Am I right?

DAVID VAN THOURNOUT: Yeah, it’s really an amazing explosion that kind of took us all by surprise. It’s not like we hadn’t laid the groundwork for this. I’ve been talking about it for years to everyone.

DEAN BECKER: One of the your recent pieces up on your website, http://hempsaves.net, talks about the other side still trying to cling to that hysteria, still trying to hold us accountable for what’s in our bloodstream or our urine. Your response there?

DAVID VAN THOURNOUT: I knew this was going to happen I honestly thought about 20 years ago. What kind of conversation was going to happen around this and I just compared it to…I’m a chronic pain patient so I have Oxycodone occasionally prescribed for some bad pain. It says right on the bottle, “Don’t operate heavy machinery until you know how it affects you.”

We actually already have in place the kind of behavior that you could use. The statistics that I point out in that article is there has been a net gain – a 19% reduction in the deaths of 20-year-olds just because of medical marijuana being used traced to the probability that they’re not drinking as much alcohol.

When you look at marijuana and you look at the fact that it is in your bloodstream for so long and you’re not high. You could be not high for a week and still not be able to drive. I just think that’s draconian. It’s wrong headed. It’s obvious why we do it for alcohol. It’s clearly obvious why we shouldn’t do it for marijuana. It’s apples and oranges.

DEAN BECKER: I’m a cannabis consumer myself. I think the situation, as you said, the label says, “Don’t operate machinery or drive until you know its affect” and the same is true with cannabis. If I’m smoking a new batch I don’t necessarily want to be out driving for a half an hour or an hour until I adjust to this new strain. Would you concur with that?

DAVID VAN THOURNOUT: Absolutely, I agree completely with you. You’re exactly right about that. You never know whereas with cannabis and with Oxycodone you can actually do a huge amount of either of those things if you’re acclimated and you know how it behaves.

With alcohol there’s a strange thing where you actually believe you’re completely functional and you’re not.


DAVID VAN THOURNOUT: It really sad because the more - this the thing and I know you know this is true – the older I get and I was talking to a friend of mine and I’m like so dependent on it. I’m a musician and I can’t even feel creative without. It’s really sad that I have to eat food, too but that’s where it’s at. It becomes more and more necessary for a happy, healthy person later in life so it’s really sad but the very crowd that it could help the most is the most reticent in adopting a new medicine.

DEAN BECKER: This past summer I went with the Caravan for Peace across America and we toured many of the more impoverished and desperate cities – Detroit, Baltimore, and others – and the downfall, the ruination of these neighborhoods has much less to do with drugs then it does with the prosecution of those who are using and selling drugs. Am I right?

DAVID VAN THOURNOUT: I think that the poverty of those neighborhoods is the collective responsibility and that, yeah, it is a systemic thing and we like to point at, “Oh, here’s the problem and let’s throw more money at this” but I don’t see anything but failure to recognize what the problem is.

A huge amount of what has happened is the police state has risen on the backs of the drug war which is really a version of “Jim Crow” – a modern version of “Jim Crow.”

DEAN BECKER: We’re going to have to wrap it up here. I want to recommend folks read your post, that they attend your websites and hopefully motivate themselves to do their part. Please share your websites and closing thoughts.

DAVID VAN THOURNOUT: http://hempsaves.net From there you can get everywhere – go to Facebook and like that Facebook page and our Twitter feeds as well.



I am the Reverend Dean Becker of the Drug Truth Network standing in the river of reform, baptizing drug warriors to the unvarnished truth. http://drugtruth.net


DEAN BECKER: Speaking of the Unvarnished Truth – please check out our television programs at http://unvarnishedtruth.org


PHIL SMITH: Hello this is Phil Smith. I’m with the Drug War Chronicle for http://stopthedrugwar.org

DEAN BECKER: Things are changing are they not?

PHIL SMITH: At some point last year after the November elections when voters in Colorado and Washington approved marijuana legalization we’ve seen a number of national polls all of them showing marijuana legalization is hovering on the cusp of majority support.

Several polls had legalization at 47, 48, 50, 54 and 57%. Now we have the new Pew poll at 52%. It looks like we have reached the tipping point on public attitude towards marijuana legalization.

DEAN BECKER: This brings to mind that not only does the Pew poll indicate as much it also has inspired media everywhere to make note of this fact. Your response, Phil.

PHIL SMITH: It’s becoming increasingly evident to the media that just like with gay marriage that attitudes are shifting rapidly on this issue. I applaud the media for paying attention.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah, it’s about time, though. What was it said that the main reason for the drug war is bad journalism. I think that’s been the case. Do you agree?

PHIL SMITH: Historically the media has been a cheerleader for the drug war back to the crack epidemic of the 1980s and CBS news doing 14 hours on “crack street” to really hype the fear and paranoia and pave the way for tougher new laws, mandatory minimum sentences and things like that. That’s historically been the role of the media.

It’s only been in the last few years that you’re seeing skepticism in the media towards official accounts of drug policy and you still don’t see very much skepticism on drugs other than marijuana.

DEAN BECKER: Something that just came to my attention yesterday is that next week the move, “The House I Live In”, is going to premiere on PBS taking it rather mainstream. Your response to that.

PHIL SMITH: I’m glad to see it. I haven’t seen the documentary myself so I intend to watch it Monday night.

DEAN BECKER: It’s got LEAP speakers and a lot of people saying some very intelligent things about this drug war. I hope folks will tune in.

What else is on your plate? We haven’t talked in a while. What have you been doing?

PHIL SMITH: I’m keeping awfully busy just trying to keep up with what is going on with the state legislatures. I’ve got to tell you, Dean, I’ve been doing this for a dozen years and when I first started writing the Drug War Chronicle I had trouble coming up with story ideas to fill the issue. That’s not the case anymore.


PHIL SMITH: There is so much activity in state legislatures and a lot of it good activity. We have legalization bills in 8 states. We have decrim bills in another dozen states. There’s medical marijuana legislation pending.

There’s also bad stuff going on. For instance the Indiana legislature just passed a bill that would increase penalties for small time pot possession making possession of over one-third of an ounce a felony. So it’s not all good but there’s a lot good going on.

DEAN BECKER: As two sides of the coin let’s look at Florida for a second. They just recognized Bobby Jordon’s, Kathy Jordon’s husband, right to grow medical marijuana and at the same time they’re putting forward a bill to outlaw bongs. It’s crazy.

PHIL SMITH: Right and they also killed medical marijuana legislation in the legislature last week. State legislatures are a tough road to haul.

I talked about there being 8 legalization bills in state legislatures – well, I would be very pleasantly surprised if any of them passed this year. It often takes 2,3 or 4 years to get anything through a state legislature.

Getting back to Florida – after three years of trying the legislature there and getting absolutely nowhere it looks like there will be a good chance of an initiative there in the coming year.

DEAN BECKER: Even in Texas there was some decrim bills put forward and lower penalty bills put forward but we have more and more politicians willing to stand up, speak and present these bills and I think it’s because of good work that people like you and I have done over the years that have opened up this can of worms and shown people it’s time to go fishing for truth. Your response to that.

PHIL SMITH: I think that is true. I think that attitudes are shifting in state legislatures but the one thing that I want to say is we now have 14 or 15 states that have medical marijuana, we have a light number of states who have decriminalized marijuana, we have 2 states that have outright legalized it and then there’s Alaska which legalizes possession. I haven’t seen that translated into changing behavior by U.S. Representatives and U.S. Senators from those states. It seems like people in the states where voters have said, “We don’t want any more war on marijuana” it seems like the federal level elected politicians need to get the message from their constituents.

DEAN BECKER: Indeed they do. I’m not pointing fingers or naming names but you’ve got to stop and think about it – who benefits from this? It’s the cartels. It’s the banks. It’s a whole host of other people but it is these very same politicians who benefit through their silence and thus permit this abomination to continue.

PHIL SMITH: The politicians are beholding to interest groups and there are some very powerful and well organized interest groups who are absolutely in favor of continuing the status quo on the drug war. Law enforcement is a very big one. Politicians do not want to get on the wrong side of cops. I understand that but they have to have some courage at the same time.

DEAN BECKER: I have been remiss on not contacting you more because you always hit the nail right on the head. I’d like to continue this discussion in coming weeks. As you said reporting on the drug war is like shooting fish in a barrel after you drain the water.

Closing thoughts, Phil Smith.

PHIL SMITH: I look forward to talking with you in the future. There is always plenty to talk about and increasingly it’s good news. After a dozen years in the struggle I’m happy to keep on going. I always said I wanted to see marijuana legalized in my lifetime. I was in Denver on election night. That was thrilling. That’s just a start.

Check us out online at http://www.stopthedrugwar.org


DEAN BECKER: Well, that’s it for this week but as always I remind you that there is no justification for this drug war. It’s is sham, scam, flim-flam. 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