05/12/13 Tony Newman

Tony Newman Dir of Communications for Drug Policy Alliance, Carl Hart Prof at Columbia author of "High Price", Kristen Gwynn Assoc Editor of Alternet, Beth Baker of Indiana's "Healty Communities"

Program: 
Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Date: 
Sunday, May 12, 2013
Guest: 
Tony Newman
Organization: 
Drug Policy Alliance
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Cultural Baggage / May 12, 2013

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[music]

DEAN BECKER: 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.

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DEAN BECKER: Hello my friends. The following program was recorded mostly in Brooklyn, New York as part of the Drug Policy Alliance Allies gathering. Let us begin.

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TONY NEWMAN: My name is Tony Newman. I the Director of Media Relations at the Drug Policy Alliance.

DEAN BECKER: We’re here at the DPA gathering here in Brooklyn, New York. So many profound ideas being brought forward. What are you going to take with you?

TONY NEWMAN: It’s really inspiring to see people from all over the country (I live in New York) at this meeting. We have people from Dallas. We have people from Louisiana. We have people from Georgia, California. It’s inspiring to know that all across the country in pockets in small cities, in small towns and larger cities we have people who are in the trenches and doing things that are saving people’s lives.

We’re watching people who are passing Good Samaritan Laws in New Jersey so that when someone is overdosing you can call 911 without fear of arrest. Because of peoples’ work hundreds of thousands of people will live. Without that people are dying. There is an overdose crisis in our country. It is one of the leading causes of accidental death. More people are overdosing than dying in car accidents. More people are overdosing than by guns.

That’s the terrible tragedy. The good news is that we can change laws that will help people live. When someone is overdosing they are usually with other people and if you call 911 that person will live but because of our criminal justice system and the way our society handles drugs people are afraid to call for help because they are afraid they are going to get arrested. By us passing these laws…we heard a presentation yesterday about how it happened in New Jersey – how they were able to get Governor Christie to turn around his veto and sign a law that people can call 911. We know people will live.

Someone who works in our New Jersey office had an overdose and was lucky enough to get help with 911. If someone dies you can never bring them back. There is so much pain.

So sitting around at this Brooklyn gathering with people around the country who are helping to pass these laws, getting people out of jail by changing some of the mandatory minimums and other stuff that is happening, seeing people who are passing law so that people can have access to clean syringes to reduce HIV is inspiring to know that we are a part of a movement that is changing the way our society deals with this problem.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah – saving lives, families, sometimes neighborhoods.

TONY NEWMAN: You know it’s amazing. Right now is an interesting time for our movement. I’ve been at the Drug Policy Alliance for 13 years and I think everyone who has been doing this work feels this incredible optimism right now. We just saw Colorado and Washington legalize marijuana and really make history by being the first two states in the country to say the criminal justice system, cops arresting people – no more of that. We want to regulate this and recognize that marijuana is not going anywhere and we want to reduce some of the harms.

It’s not only just Colorado and Washington. We now have 52% of Americans supporting legalizing marijuana. This is red states, blue states, all ages – 52% saying we want to do this. That is historic. There are now legislatures around the country that are introducing their own bills. I think we’re going to see what we’ve seen around medical marijuana and issues like marriage equality where one state starts doing it and it almost feels like you can’t turn back the clock. You can’t put the genie back in the bottle. This momentum is going to continue.

We’re very optimistic on things like that. This overdose legislation that I talked about has now passed in 12 different states and about 6 of them just in the last year alone. Now people are starting to recognize that. We feel like there is now momentum.

Even the Drug Czar and President Obama are trying to adopt our language and say we need to treat this as a health issue, the War on Drugs is not working. We see all this momentum. We feel this but at the same time of this momentum the drug war continues to grind on. It’s this schizophrenic juxtaposition where we have all this progress, we have all this momentum, we feel like Americans are starting to get it. Not only American as we see Presidents of Latin America, Guatemala, Uruguay try to become the first country in the world to try to legalize marijuana. We see the OAS…all the Latin American presidents are going to get together in two weeks and the main topic on the agenda is the failed War on Drugs.

We see all that momentum yet there is still 70,000 deaths in Mexico because of drug prohibition violence in the last 6 years and the heads continue to get chopped off and roll in the streets. Even with all the progress around marijuana and now it’s kind of this mainstream issue and people joke about it – we still have 750,000 marijuana arrests happening every year.

One of the things we’re seeing at this meeting – if you get arrested for marijuana even if you don’t spend a lot of time in jail you can get kicked out of public housing, you can lose your financial aid, you can lose your kids. It’s this thing where we have momentum, we have optimism, we feel like we’re going on the offensive after 40 years of failure, it feels like things are changing but as this happens we still have the deaths related to prohibition violence, we still have the overdose crisis, we still have too many hundreds of thousands of people being arrested for small amounts of marijuana.

The message is we know we’re on the winning side of history, we know momentum is with us but this war is not going to end itself and everyone who is listening to this please get involved. There are so many groups that are doing work. Whatever issue you care about – if you want to reduce overdose deaths there’s groups like the Harm Reduction Coalition and the Drug Policy Alliance who can help you with that.

If you are trying to deal with the marijuana arrests that are happening – Drug Policy Alliance, Marijuana Policy Project, NORML are groups who are working on this. If you’re are a student and you want to get involved and mobilize your campus because we know that young people are often the victim of the War on Drugs there is Students for Sensible Drug Policy.

If you are former law enforcement and you feel terrible about your 30, 40 years of arresting people there are groups like Law Enforcement Against Prohibition saying, “We know first-hand of how destructive the War on Drugs can be and now we’re speaking out.”

There are groups out there. There is momentum. There is a movement that is growing but the War on Drugs is not going to end itself.

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DEAN BECKER: That was Mr. Tony Newman, Director of Communications with the Drug Policy Alliance. Their website is http://drugpolicy.org.

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CARL HART: I’m Carl Hart. I’m a Soc professor at Columbia University. I do drug research where we bring people into our laboratories, give them drugs to assess the effects on brain behavior.

DEAN BECKER: You are going to be giving a presentation tonight to the gathering. If you could give us just a little summary of what you are going to present.

CARL HART: It’s going to be a question and answer session with me about my new book, “High Price: A neuroscientist journey of discovery that challenges everything you know about drugs in society.”

DEAN BECKER: There are a lot of folks beginning to observe and challenge the logic that holds this whole thing together. Am I right?

CARL HART: That’s right. I think a lot of people are challenging the War on Drugs and the results of the War on Drugs. The results being that the amount of money we’ve spent and the large sums of people who are incarcerated and the racial disparities related to it.

One of the things that they are not challenging is this narrative that effects that drugs produce are so awful. And that’s just simply not true. People are not saying that because they don’t know. As long as the population believes that drugs are so dangerous it’s going to be difficult to change what we are doing.

I hope that what I have to say and the education that I am trying to transmit goes a long way in helping people change the current situation.

DEAN BECKER: A little ways back I was in Oakland attending the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies Conference and those folks – not necessarily in the same avenue – but, again, they are challenging the perception that these drugs are so bad and that, in fact, in many cases they are beneficial.

CARL HART: Yes, they’ve been around for a while – this conference that you described. I think that they mainly focus on psychedelics and they mainly focus on psychedelics for therapeutic reasons whether it’s altering one’s mind to reach a higher consciousness…I’m not even talking about that.

I’m talking about drugs like marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin – not just psychedelics but they are all pharmacologically active, psychoactive drugs. I think that they can all be put in a similar bag.

DEAN BECKER: We talk sometimes about the cost of the drug war – a trillion dollars, some say a trillion and one-half, two trillion – who knows because it is hard to track. Over the lifetime of the drug war we have demonized tens of millions, truthfully one hundred million pot smokers in this country are being call addicts to this day by the Drug Czar…Your thought in that regard?

CARL HART: Beginning in the Bush years they really went at the marijuana because there are more marijuana smokers in the country than any other illicit drug use so if you want to show that you are tough on drugs go after the marijuana smokers. It is a lot easier than going after methamphetamine users. By comparison there are 50 million current marijuana smokers in the country whereas there is 300,000 methamphetamine users so it’s a small number.

If you want to make a dent or if you want to really show that you have numbers of people that you are arresting you go after the marijuana. That’s an easy one. One of my concerns about the marijuana focus that we have had recently in this country is that people try to separate marijuana from the other drugs as if marijuana is not as dangerous or a better drug and that’s simply potentially dangerous.

Marijuana is a psychoactive drug just like heroin, just like methamphetamine. All these things have potentially powerful psychoactive effects and all of these things can be used safely without harm. My concern is that the people who are advocating change for marijuana forget about those other drugs and they separate them and I’m deeply concerned about that.

DEAN BECKER: I applaud you for that thought because that has been a major concern of mine. We are so fragmented within drug reform looking at just a little avenue of approach when it’s wide open and we all need to speak more broadly about change.

CARL HART: Absolutely. I hope that partly what I try to do in my new book is to explain how all of these drugs have powerful effects on the brain just like therapeutic drugs but these therapeutic drugs we harness their effects and we decrease the risk and we enhance the benefits. We can do the same thing with heroin, with marijuana but first we have to be honest about it. As long as we are trying to separate them that’s not honesty.

DEAN BECKER: Going back to my thought a while ago about the trillion and one-half dollars spent and 45 million arrests – what’s never given much focus is the fact that the rate of hard drug usage, of addiction remains at one and one-half to 2% just fluctuating for decades on end. Your closing thoughts there, Carl.

CARL HART: When we look at the people who use any illicit drugs including the current President and the previous two all of those guys have used illicit drugs, none of those guys have ever met criteria for addiction. That’s just like the vast majority of people who use heroin, marijuana, methamphetamine – they don’t have a problem so the notion that either prisons or treatment is ludicrous when most people don’t need either of those things.

DEAN BECKER: Is there a website you might recommend?

CARL HART: http://highpricethebook.com

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(Game show music)

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

Problems breathing in large breaths, bearded women, 2-year-olds entering puberty, increased sperm count, increased risk for prostate cancer, swelling of the ankles leading to a heart attack and death…

(((gong)))

Time's up! The answer: from Avian, Inc. AndroGel for low testosterone.

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IRISH MAN 1: So what’s that you’re holding? A controlled substance is that? Brilliant – what do you do with it?

IRISH MAN 2: I found a way to incarcerate 1.6 million Americans every year.

IRISH MAN 1: Can you arrest them in their own homes and wherever they are?

IRISH MAN 2: Yes!

IRISH MAN 1: Arrest people wherever they are? Brilliant. What else are you working on?

IRISH MAN 2: Claiming that marijuana is more dangerous than crack!!

IRISH MAN 1: More dangerous than crack?! Brilliant. Brilliant!

DEAN BECKER: Prohibition – the drug trafficker’s dream. Enjoy it everywhere.

IRISH MAN 1: Brilliant!

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DEAN BECKER: When I go around the country attending conferences, caravans one reporter I’m almost sure to run into is the Associate Editor at Alternet, Kristen Gwynn. I ran into her this past week in New York City at the Drug Policy Alliance gathering.

How are you doing, Kristen?

KRISTEN GWYNN: I’m doing good, Dean. How are you?

DEAN BECKER: I’m well. I’m always astounded at the caliber of your writing. Just recently you had a piece put up there on Alternet which talked about 5 shocking revelations from the Cleveland kidnapping. Do you want to delve into that? Tell the listeners a bit of what you were writing there?

KRISTEN GWYNN: I wrote that a day or two after the news broke. It’s a nightmare. It’s one of the worst cases you can imagine and all of the details coming out are shocking. Basically these three young girls were kidnapped and tortured for almost a decade until they were able to escape with the help of some neighbors.

The neighbors had called 911 and reported that they had seen naked girls outside and different weird things outside of the house and the police didn’t really seem to respond as one might expect them to. Now it’s is starting to seem like the girls were never outside so it might be that the neighbors are exaggerating what they saw or what they said to police.

One thing that is clear is they were there for way too long.

DEAN BECKER: I started doing some number crunching. I’m a retired accountant. I started scratching my head – 1.4 million drug arrests each year and even if just the one cop involved only spent 100 hours investigating drug crimes each year and you extrapolate that times the lifetime of the drug war it comes out to 6 billion, 400 million man hours and works out to about 800,000 man years that they’ve been going after drug users rather than looking for these people with the violent tendencies. Your response?

KRISTEN GWYNN: When you prioritize drug arrests and give police officers incentives to make asset forfeiture or federal grants then you are going to have police officers who give more on drug arrests than on other crimes or, at the very least, spending a lot of time pursuing drug arrests. We have a limited resource of police officers and police officers have limited resources so all the time that they are spending going after marijuana and spending SWAT teams busting down doors is time that they could be spending investigating or preventing more serious crimes and not even just necessarily going into houses and freeing kidnapped women but spending more time in the community harvesting better relationships with people so that if neighbors are seeing something suspicious they are aware of that.

Just to know that they have more resources to put into crimes that are more important. People seem to be upset that the cops didn’t do enough in Cleveland and if that’s true then we need to ask why and look at the crimes that we’re incentivizing police to go after and compare that to the crimes that we think are really important and really want police to focus on to make us safer.

One thing that I think is interesting and I’m looking into more for an article is as a follow up is that in Cleveland and in cities across the country there are rape kits that are backed up by the thousands. There are thousands of rape kits dating back decades so women who have been raped are waiting on them to get evidence that could help them take steps toward the person who raped them. In America and everywhere rapes are still rarely reported let alone prosecuted. The fact that there are these rape kits that are sitting there untested is really disturbing.

One thing that a retired police officer who served in LAPD at one point told me is that people are asking why these rape kits are backed up and one thing that we need to realize is the labs that run these rape kits are understaffed, under-resourced and those labs will test drugs for prosecution quicker than the rape kit because rape prosecutions are harder to prove and less lucrative so I think that’s just really a stunning example of how the drug war effects policing and forces police to focus on issues that are not really safety orientated and in our best interest.

DEAN BECKER: Once again we are speaking with Kristen Gwynn. She’s Associate Editor at Alternet.

We have over the lifetime of the drug war squandered the opportunity too many times, too many politicians talking BS and leading us down this same failed path. Your response there?

KRISTEN GWYNN: I think that what is clear with all the polls that are coming out right now is people are way ahead of politicians and people are ready for a change. I think there’s a very small minority of Americans who would say that they think police should be focusing on drug crimes but as long as we beat the drum for drug war that is what the police are going to do.

We just really need the federal government to follow the will of the people. We also need them to not just adopt rhetoric but adopt real change so that we can stop wasting money destroying communities and invest in them instead and make them safer and stronger which we know the drug war does not do.

DEAN BECKER: I appreciate your thoughts and your wonderful writing and all your views on Alternet. Please check them out at http://alternet.org.

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BETH BAKER: I am Beth Baker. I’m from South Bend, Indiana. I’m Executive Director for non-profit Healthy Communities initiative. We work primarily with getting individuals access to treatment. We do some prevention education with youth and parents and we do public policy work.

DEAN BECKER: Now Indiana has had some splashes in the newspaper in regards to medical marijuana this year. Like most of the these United States we have politicians beginning to talk about that need for change. Is it making progress in Indiana?

BETH BAKER: Medical marijuana specifically hasn’t made really any progress. We’ve had one bill that was introduced 2 sessions ago that died in committee. What’s actually gained a little more traction in Indiana is decriminalizing small amounts of possession of marijuana although even that didn’t make progress this last year and, again, was killed in committee.

Interestingly enough the chairman of that committee’s reason was that he needed more information.

DEAN BECKER: There is so much information if you just want to open your eyes and your ears, right?

BETH BAKER: Absolutely and that’s what is so frustrating about doing the work in Indiana because it’s very evident that there is still a whole lot of educating that needs to be done and a whole lot of changing these paradigms that are stuck with our elected officials that date back to the “reefer madness” years with marijuana is a gateway drug, marijuana can kill you and these kind of ludicrous assumptions.

Our primary goal right now is we are still in the state of needing to educate our officials and our community about why we’re at a point in time where we need to shift our paradigm and change marijuana policy in Indiana.

DEAN BECKER: Going back to our though a moment ago that all that is necessary is for one to open one’s eyes and ears and the information is readily available. Newspapers and broadcasters around the country are beginning to speak boldly of what is necessary and yet these politicians in Indiana, Texas and elsewhere tend to put their hands over their ears.

BETH BAKER: Yes, they continue to think that what they see as “relaxing marijuana laws or drug laws, in general” that they will be perceived by the voting constituency as the dreaded “soft on crime politician” and that is simply not true anymore. They need to pay more attention to the polling that’s going on not only nationwide but in Indiana as well.

We’ve had several polls back to back that have shown a majority of support of Indiana voters who are ready to see marijuana policy rolled back and changed. That goes along with the educating that we have to do. We have to get the message out, spread the message, show them the data that backs it up and help them understand that voting to do the right thing is not going to cost them their elected position necessarily.

DEAN BECKER: Is there some closing thoughts you would like to share with the listeners?

BETH BAKER: Keep your eyes and ears open for what is going on in Indiana because we are going to continue to fight and push back against this. We grow more and more supporters every day. That is evident by our different websites and advocacy groups that are set up across the state.

We have a new chapter of Moms for Marijuana that’s established, believe it or not, in the southern part of the state which is really key because that’s typically not where we’ve had support previously.

So keep your eyes and ears open and hopefully we will begin to progress on this matter and stay in step with what the rest of the country is doing.

Our website is http://healthycommunity.co There’s also an Indiana NORML which is http://inorml.org

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[bagpipe music]

This is the Abolitionists Moment.

Just over one hundred years old, the drug war give no pretense of ultimate success. Deaths, from both contaminated drugs and turf battles, are on the rise. More lives are being ruined by AIDS and Hep. C. Terrorists are thriving. Cartels continue reaping their bloody harvest and the US gangs afford their high powered weaponry, by selling dubious concoctions to addict our children. Surely there must be a better way.

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DEAN BECKER: So we got to wrap it up but I got to ask you, dear friends, you know the truth about this drug war and yet you fail to do anything about it, to challenge your elected officials or the media or anybody in this regard. Please, do your part to end this madness.

As always I remind you that because of prohibition you don’t know what is in that bag. Please be careful.

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DEAN BECKER: To the Drug Truth Network listeners around the world, this is Dean Becker for Cultural Baggage and the Unvarnished Truth.

Drug Truth Network archives are stored at the James A. Baker, III Institute for Policy Studies.

Tap dancing… on the edge… of an abyss.

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