09/01/13 Laura Thomas

Laura Thomas of DPA re Intl Drug Overdose Day, Bill Piper of DPA re DOJ statement on marijuana, Dr. Sanjay Gupta re DOJ, CNBC re DOJ, MSNBC re DOJ & Doug McVay re DOJ ruling

Program: 
Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Date: 
Sunday, September 1, 2013
Guest: 
Laura Thomas
Organization: 
Drug Policy Alliance
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Transcript

Cultural Baggage / September 1, 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. Welcome to this edition of Cultural Baggage. Got a great show lined up for you. A bit later we’re going to have some reports about the U.S. Justice Department’s new ruling easing up, if you will, on marijuana, medical marijuana in the 20 states where it’s allowed. But, first up, we’ve got this great interview with Laura Thomas of the Drug Policy Alliance.

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DEAN BECKER: Yesterday, August 31 st, was the International Drug Overdose Awareness Day and here to talk about it from the Drug Policy Alliance is Laura Thomas.

It’s quite a necessary recognition, isn’t it?

LAURA THOMAS: Yes, absolutely. Accidental drug overdose is now the leading cause of accidental death in the United States. It kills more people than motor vehicle accidents do so International Drug Overdose Awareness Day is an attempt to educate folks about the problem of overdose and highlight some of the responses that will help keep people alive.

DEAN BECKER: Too many people look at drug users as being expendable, that their lives don’t mean anything but to their families they mean quite a bit, right?

LAURA THOMAS: Yes, absolutely. I’m one of the many people who has lost a loved one to overdose so I think there are more of us out there than we necessarily realize. Everyone who dies of an overdose is someone who is cared about, who was a kid, who has parents, who has family so trying to minimize overdose deaths as much as possible is part of what we are trying to do.

DEAN BECKER: According to the Centers for Disease Control there were 38,329 drug overdose deaths in the United States back in 2010 and that number is really not dwindling is it?

LAURA THOMAS: Right. Drug overdose deaths have more than tripled between 1999 and 2009. They continue to go up pretty dramatically and given that they’re pretty much entirely preventable we need to be doing more to address it.

DEAN BECKER: The Drug Policy Alliance has been at the forefront of calling for certain changes that will diminish that number. Amongst them is the 911 Good Samaratan Laws. Tell us about those, please.

LAURA THOMAS: What we know from research that has been done in a number of different places is that the main reason that people don’t call 911 when they are in the presence of a drug overdose is that they are afraid of being arrested. They are afraid that the person who is overdosing will be arrested. They are afraid that they will be arrested so they err on the side of not calling 911.

The reality is that most opiate overdoses are highly survivable if you get medical assistance in time so what we’ve tried to do is pass these 911 Good Samaritan Laws that are designed to encourage people to do the right thing, to pick up the phone and call 911. They create limited immunity from arrest and prosecution for simple drug possession, paraphernalia possession for the person who is having the overdose, for the person who contacts emergency services.

We believe that calling 911 should never be a crime and that people should be able to ask for emergency services when they need to so this is one small step in pushing back those drug laws and creating a state where people can do the right thing and save some lives.

DEAN BECKER: To touch upon what you said they are easily preventable. Too often the media, television and movies show a person taking opiates and you might as well put Xs on their eyes – it’s an immediate thing – but the truth is it takes a long time to occur.

LAURA THOMAS: There are a couple of issues around opiate safety that people should know about. It’s one of the challenges around the drug war in the U.S. is that we don’t provide people with very much accurate drug information or drug education about how to make good decisions, how to be safe, how to avoid harms from drugs. One thing is making sure you are not mixing opiates with alcohol. That’s one of the biggest causes of accidental overdoses is when people are mixing the Vicodin or Oxycontin with alcohol.

The second piece is making sure people have access to naloxone. Naloxone (often known as Narcan) is a FDA-approved medication. It’s been around for over 40 years. It’s what EMS and paramedics use to revive someone after an overdose. It’s very easy to use. All it does is disrupt an opiate overdose. There’s no potential for abuse.

Trying to figure out how to get naloxone into the hands of people who might be present at an overdose is something that we’ve been working on and our partners at the Harm Reduction Coalition have been working very hard on this. Working with doctors to get doctors to prescribe naloxone if they are prescribing pain medication. Working with needle access/syringe exchange programs to train people who inject drugs how to use naloxone and getting it to them. Making sure that insurance companies pay for naloxone, that Medicaid pays for naloxone – thing like that.

There’s a lot more work to be done. These overdose death rates are so preventable and the folks who are dying of drug overdose are a significant part of the casualties of the War on Drugs in the U.S. right now. We can be reducing those deaths and preventing those families and friends from going through the grief of losing a loved one.

DEAN BECKER: Once again we are speaking with Laura Thomas with the Drug Policy Alliance.

Laura, this increase in overdose deaths is not teenagers, it’s not the 20-somethings. Tell us who is most impacted by this.

LAURA THOMAS: According to the CDC data that you were just quoting the highest death rate is among people 45 to 49 years of age by in large that who have 35 to 45-year-old group is the group that has the highest rates of drug overdose deaths.

Again, as you mentioned before, most of these are deaths from prescription opioids not heroin and cocaine. We’ve actually seen those numbers stay very flat. Essentially all of the increase in accidental drug overdose deaths has been because of prescription opioids. There are a number of different theories as to why that is. Some of it is people being prescribed these medications for chronic pain whether it’s from sport’s injuries or other types of injuries but it’s sort of surprisingly this set of sort of middle-aged folks who are most vulnerable to accidental drug overdoses.

DEAN BECKER: I’m beyond that age group. I’m in my 60s now. It is the older folks who perhaps have not had any access to information, to education that might educate them to the fact that mixing those pills with a couple of beers in the evening is just not a good idea.

LAURA THOMAS: I’m smack in that middle-aged category that I just referenced and I don’t think I got that kind of drug education either. Certainly doctors could be doing a much better job of educating people when they are writing prescriptions. We also know that part of what’s happening is these drugs are being diverted outside of ...they are not necessarily ending up with the person who has the prescription for them.

In this country we don’t really like talking in real terms about the dangers or the harms for drugs. The federal government will tell us that marijuana is the most dangerous possible drug out there and people try it and realize maybe this isn’t so dangerous and proceed to ignore all the rest of the information that the government or other authorities are trying to say about drugs.

So while marijuana is very, very safe these opiates are not benign substances. They are pretty powerful especially when you mix them with alcohol. Unless people are really careful and know what they are doing they may be opening themselves up to more harm than they really want to be.

DEAN BECKER: An email I got from the Drug Policy Alliance talks about 11 states (Virginia, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, North Carolina and Washington State as well as the District of Columbia) have enacted laws providing legal protection for civil or criminal liability under a 911 law.

People living in states across this country who are not afforded that protection need to get in touch with their legislators. Do they not?

LAURA THOMAS: Absolutely. We’ve now got the naloxone laws. We’ve got 14 states and the District of Columbia with 911 Good Samaritan Laws in place. We’re in touch with advocates in pretty much every state in the country trying to get these laws passed. There are a number of states that came very close this year or are very close to doing it so if you live in a state that doesn’t have some of this legislation in place and you want to be a part of the movement to make it happen reach out to us at http://drugpolicy.org on our website. Let us know what state you live in and what it is that you want to work on because we are always looking for more people to move these laws forward in other states.

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BILL PIPER: I’m Bill Piper, Director of National Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance.

DEAN BECKER: Bill, there’s some astounding news breaking today. Tell us about it, please.

BILL PIPER: The Justice Department has said that they are going to let Colorado and Washington State move forward with their legalization and regulation of marijuana and are changing the guidelines by the U.S. Attorney when they are supposed to prosecute people for marijuana in a way that signals that they are going to allow state regulation of marijuana to move forward even though they reserve the right to prosecute individuals in individual cases. They obviously could reverse themselves but all around it’s really, really good news.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah, they talk about they want to prevent distribution to minors and revenue going to criminal enterprises – that sort of thing – which is good and logical, right?

BILL PIPER: Yeah, it’s good and logical that they not only say they want to do that but they also suggest that state legalization efforts are a good way to do that. That’s what I thought was most interesting that the Justice Department is now saying that the regulation of marijuana might reduce organized crime and might reduce access by young people. That’s the first time the Justice Department has ever said anything like that. That’s also ground breaking.

DEAN BECKER: They have about 8 disclosures they still want to work against and I can agree with each one of them. It is a logical and common sense approach that they’ve taken.

What worries me, Bill, is the devil’s always in the details and there wasn’t a whole lot of detail to give me total comfort. What’s your thought?

BILL PIPER: I read the memo that the Justice Department sent to the U.S. Attorneys. It’s not full of an enormous amount of detail but what details are in there give me a lot of comfort specifically they say that the size of the marijuana operation and whether or not it’s for profit or not shouldn’t matter that what matters is the things they lay out – are they selling to children, are they using the legal marijuana business as a way of selling other drugs, are they in bed with the cartel, etc. – all of which arguably is of federal interest in preventing. Much would depend on what each U.S. Attorney does but this is about as good of an announcement as anyone could expect by the administration. I think it far exceeds anything that most drug policy reformers were expecting.

DEAN BECKER: This gives some space for state and local officials to perhaps change their stance as well. Am I right?

BILL PIPER: Yeah, definitely. They definitely say if a state is regulating marijuana they are going to give them more of a benefit of a doubt, trust but verify, I think is the language that Holder used so this is definitely a green light for other states to move forward with legalization. It’s a good day for drug policy reformers to celebrate but, obviously, the fight’s not over. We still have to win in other states and we’ve got to change federal law and we need to reschedule marijuana or completely un-schedule marijuana altogether but this is a really good step forward.

DEAN BECKER: Alright. Once again we’ve been speaking with Bill Piper with the Drug Policy Alliance in the forefront of educating our elected officials and their website is http://drugpolicy.org

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DEAN BECKER: The following segment courtesy of MSNBC.

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ANNOUNCER: California was the first state to make medical marijuana legal back in 1996. Now, for the first time ever, a federal agency has recognized that marijuana does have medical benefits.

Last week the National Cancer Institute added a summary of marijuana’s possible benefits to its treatment database. It reads, “The potential benefits of medicinal Cannabis for people living with cancer include antiemetic effects, appetite stimulation, pain relief, and improved sleep. In the practice of integrative oncology, the health care provider may recommend medicinal Cannabis not only for symptom management but also for its possible direct antitumor effect.”

So that’s a lot of medical benefits. This new assessment from the National Cancer Institute could have an impact on the classification of marijuana as a Schedule I drug – that’s the harshest possible degree classification.

One of the main criteria for a Schedule I drug is that, “the drug or substance has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.”

Now if a federal agency is recognizing the medical benefits of marijuana technically it should be moved down to a Schedule III drug but a change of scheduling for pot could also mean an end to the federal government using a tax law loophole to put medical marijuana shops out of business.

For years the IRS has been citing Section 280e of the tax code that blocks medical shops from getting business tax deductions. It reads, "No deduction or credit shall be allowed for any amount paid or incurred during the taxable year in carrying on any trade or business if such trade or business (or the activities which comprise such trade or business) consists of trafficking in controlled substances (within the meaning of schedule I and II of the Controlled Substances Act)”

So if pot ends up becoming a Schedule III drug this loophole that the feds are using would have no standing. You understand the importance of this? They could not bust all those shops who are selling marijuana. Finally the government is admitted, “You know what? Medical marijuana does have benefits.”

Now can we stop this madness? It’s been nearly 75 years on this War on Drugs. It’s not working.

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DEAN BECKER: The next segment courtesy of CNBC.

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MALE REPORTER: The Department of Justice announced the other day that it would not be challenging Colorado and Washington’s marijuana laws. Joining us now on what this could mean for the businesses in that sector is Danny Danko. He is a Senior Cultivation Editor at High Times. Danny, it’s good to have you.

Seems like a lot of people in your community did not expect this.

DANNY DANKO: No. To be honest it’s really the first federal acknowledgement of the failed war on marijuana. We weren’t expecting it and the other alternative is that they were going to sue the states – go through a process by which they would fight the decision of the people in those states so we’re very excited.

MALE REPORTER: Does it mean that there aren’t federal laws that they won’t still enforce?

DANNY DANKO: Oh, no, absolutely. There are 8 guidelines in there that they will still enforce – state to state trafficking, trafficking to minors, money from sales going to criminal organizations or cartels and that sort of thing. We’re hoping that as long as these companies in Colorado and Washington stay within those parameters they will not be attacked by the federal government.

MALE REPORTER: We’ll talk about some of the business owners in those states in a moment but in terms of other states who might be on the cusp of following suit how many are there and which one would you look to first?

DANNY DANKO: There’s over a dozen that have passed medical and now there’s many who are looking into passing recreational including Massachusetts, Oregon – the dominos are falling very quickly.

FEMALE REPORTER: It would seem that the weak economy and pressure on budgets across the states and the national government would probably be the biggest gift to the pot industry that could have been.

DANNY DANKO: Absolutely, Kelly. There’s a tremendous amount of job creation happening in this industry and these businesses as they grow. There’s positions for growers, bud tenders, people who are trimming the pot and drying the pot. There’s hundreds of jobs being created in Washington and Colorado.

MALE REPORTER: But presumably they have to produce locally.

DANNY DANKO: Absolutely. They have to keep the marijuana, the edibles, anything that they make from the cannabis they have to keep that within the state.

MALE REPORTER2: Does that undermine contract law across the United States that what is legal in one state should be legal in elsewhere? Shouldn’t you be able to produce in California and transport to..

DANNY DANKO: Yeah, absolutely and that’s what we are hoping for in the end game of all of this - a federal re-scheduling of all of this. Right now it’s in Schedule I which is no medical value and in there with some very, very harsh drugs so we want a re-scheduling or even an un-scheduling of marijuana off of that list.

MALE REPORTER2: At what point would business come in – the kind that tobacco companies...at the moment it’s kind of “mom and pop” – is there a future, you think?

DANNY DANKO: Absolutely. Big business is looking into our industry in a big way because it’s such a growth industry right now in the midst of an economy that’s kind of questionable. So, yes, big business is coming in but they are going to need the expertise of the people within our industry to help them.

MALE REPORTER: If your goal is a return to interstate commerce or any type of interstate commerce with regard to marijuana thinking about how the policies have already come...do you think you might be getting a little bit greedy?

DANNY DANKO: I don’t think our goal is necessarily interstate commerce. I think each state as it changes its laws can produce the marijuana that its citizens need and voted for. We’re not necessarily looking for California to expand into selling all over the states. We’re looking for the government to recognize states’ rights on this issue.

MALE REPORTER: It’s amazing how far it’s come in such a short time. Thanks for coming in.

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DEAN BECKER: Next up this segment is from CNN.

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WOLF BLITZER: What do you make of this decision, Sanjay Gupta, of the Justice Department now saying they are not going to get involved in Washington State and Colorado where recreational use of marijuana is legal?

SANJAY GUPTA: It may represent a bit of the softening of the stance towards this overall. They had some very specific areas that they wanted to continue to enforce but less sort of an enforcement on individual users.

Wolf, as you know part of the reason we did the documentary is really to talk about this substance marijuana, cannabis that can be a very effective medication for people and a medication where no other medications existed for certain conditions.

What I did not hear is this idea that the studies, the science behind this could be more easily done because of a loosening of the law so the researchers could have more access to studying this. Also the fact that it is still listed as Schedule I, the most dangerous category of substances in this country.

Finally one thing we didn’t talk about much is this little girl, Charlotte, for example, in the documentary. She lives in Colorado. She is able to use her medical cannabis in Colorado but she can’t leave the state. She’s sort of locked into her state. I’m not sure that that’s still being fully addressed.

People going to Colorado who live in states where it’s not available because they can get it there ... I think that may be something that’s going to change down the road.

WOLF BLITZER: I think that your documentary may have had a big impact with that other little child in New Jersey with Governor Christie. Talk a little bit about that.

SANJAY GUPTA: In July Governor Christie was very adamant about this he said we are not going to allow New Jersey to become one of these states who has legalized cannabis for medicinal purposes. He said that back in July. One month later he basically is allowing it with some stipulations.

The story was of a little girl who had uncontrollable seizures for which nothing worked. Lots of different medications had been tried. Nothing had worked. She was very similar to this girl, Charlotte, in our documentary for whom now there is plenty of evidence, not just in Charlotte, but in hundreds of kids around the world that get benefit from cannabis. It’s an oil form of cannabis that does not get you high. They are not smoking it. I think Governor Christie in some ways reversed his position on this and now a child living in New Jersey is going to have better access to that eventually.

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DOUG McVAY: A new memo has been issued by the US Department of Justice, regarding marijuana legalization in individual states. It was written in response to the successful legalization initiatives in Colorado and Washington in 2012, and has been cast as a followup to the famous Ogden Memo of 2009 and the Cole Memo of 2011, both of which focused on medical marijuana. This new memo is also from Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole.

A lot is being said about this, at least among people who talk about drug policy. Some advocates are over the top pleased, some are cautious. Opponents, for example former DEA head Peter Bensinger, are terribly upset. The question is, are they reacting to what's actually in the memo, or just the idea of it?

In its new Guidance Memo, the DOJ first calls marijuana a dangerous drug, listed by Congress in the Controlled Substances Act, and states that, quote: “the Department in recent years has focused its efforts on certain enforcement priorities that are particularly important to the federal government:

- Preventing the distribution of marijuana to minors;

- Preventing revenue from the sale of marijuana from going to criminal enterprises, gangs, and cartels;

- Preventing the diversion of marijuana from states where it is legal under state law in some form to other states;

- Preventing state-authorized marijuana activity from being used as a cover or pretext for the trafficking of other illegal drugs or other illegal activity;

- Preventing violence and the use of firearms in the cultivation and distribution of marijuana;

- Preventing drugged driving and the exacerbation of other adverse public health consequences associated with marijuana use;

- Preventing the growing of marijuana on public lands and the attendant public safety and environmental dangers posed by marijuana production on public lands; and

- Preventing marijuana possession or use on federal property.” End quote.

Eight priorities on which the Justice Department claims it is already focused. Yet we know that's not true, there are plenty of state-legal, law-abiding, medical marijuana growers, providers, and dispensaries caught up in the federal justice system who could dispute that.

The DOJ also gives itself more than mere wiggle room, at the conclusion the memo states flat-out, quote: “This memorandum is not intended to, does not, and may not be relied upon to create any rights, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law by any party in any matter civil or criminal. It applies prospectively to the exercise of prosecutorial discretion in future cases and does not provide defendants or subjects of enforcement action with a basis for reconsideration of any pending civil action or criminal prosecution. Finally, nothing herein precludes investigation or prosecution, even in the absence of any one of the factors listed above, in particular circumstances where investigation and prosecution otherwise serves an important federal interest.” End quote.

So as far as policy goes, I'm cautiously optimistic but see no reason yet for celebration. Politically, on the other hand, this is huge. What the Justice Department seems to be saying is that they will step back and let states legalize marijuana for adult social use if the states put together regulatory programs to implement those laws. This means to me that the Administration realizes that marijuana legalization is no longer politically taboo. Far from it, legalization is credible, even becoming popular to a degree. I don't believe we've yet reached the tipping point. With Washington and Colorado's successful votes to legalize however we have proven that the issue has a leg to stand on, and this new memo helps us to get leverage. Now is the time for all of us to push together, so we can finally knock prohibition off its foundation.

For the Drug Truth Network this is Doug McVay with Common Sense for Drug Policy and Drug War Facts.

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DEAN BECKER: Well, that’s about all we can cram in this week. I urge you to go to YouTube and search for F. Dean Becker. I’ve got 19 one hour videos posted there already. We’ll have more there soon.

As always I remind you that because of prohibition you don’t know what’s 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