09/15/13 Paul Armentano

Paul Armentano of NORML, Jasmine Tyler of Drug Policy Alliance, Doug McVay of DrugWarFact.org, Seattle/King County Sheriff John Eckhart

Century of Lies
Sunday, September 15, 2013
Paul Armentano
Download: Audio icon COL091513.mp3



Century of Lies September 15, 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: Hi, this is Dean Becker. Thank you for joining us on this edition of Century of Lies. If we’re going to get all these segments in we got to get started.


PAUL ARMENTANO: Paul Armentano, Deputy Director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

DEAN BECKER: There’s been so much news breaking about the drug war specifically about marijuana, medical marijuana, states and senators and all kinds of people are talking about that need for change. Are they not?

PAUL ARMENTANO: They most certainly are. We are clearly at a tipping point where for the first time in modern history a clear majority of the public favor ending marijuana prohibition and replacing it with some measured level of legalization and regulation.

Within the last few weeks we are seeing that tipping point transcend going from not only the voting public but for the first time in a long time we are beginning to see elected officials not just at the state level but at the federal level as well begin to engage in some sort of rational debate on this topic.

DEAN BECKER: I like to think that the book that you co-wrote with Steve Fox and Mason Tvert, “Marijuana Is Safer So Why Are We Driving People to Drink?”, I think it was instrumental in educating some of these politicians and newspaper editors. Your thought?

PAUL ARMENTANO: It certainly is a narrative that seems to be far more popular now and is discussed in public discourse far more now than when the book was initially published in the summer of 2009 so we’ve seen in this three and one-half/four year period this notion among the public that it’s almost become self-evident to them at this point that cannabis is, in fact, safer than alcohol. So much so to the point that within the last couple of weeks the administration via the National Institute on Drug Abuse felt obligated to speak publically on this narrative and offer (and I would argue they clearly failed) to offer a counter argument to the facts that are in “Marijuana Is Safer” which is that cannabis is objectively safer by any number of metrics to the individual user and to society at large than is the consumption of alcohol.

DEAN BECKER: This is something that was known, evident to those of us who had our nose to the grindstone, who had delved into this but I think through this book it has awakened a whole lot of people.

PAUL ARMENTANO: Yes, hopefully so. I give you and your audience just a few quick facts and figures that really illustrate this point. Alcohol is responsible for some 4% of all deaths worldwide according to the World Health Organization. We know that domestically, here in the United States, according to the CDC about 80,000 deaths are attributable to excessive drinking but 1.2 million emergency visits are attributable to the use of alcohol.

We saw a recent report from the National Cancer Institute published earlier this year showing about 4% of all cancer deaths in America are attributable to the use of alcohol and that includes 15% of breast cancer deaths in women.

We can use any sort of objective metric and we see that the cost to the user, the cost to society is so much greater with alcohol than with cannabis. One of the points of the book is not to simply illustrate that cannabis is the safer substance but to pose the public policy question that asks why do we criminalize and stigmatize those who would choose to use the objectively safer substance because it’s not a matter of just recognizing that alcohol is legal and cannabis is illegal it is also understanding that our culture celebrates the use of alcohol while it stigmatizes any use of cannabis. That is not a message that is in any way supported by the objective scientific evidence.

DEAN BECKER: Once again we’re speaking with Mr. Paul Armentano. He along with co-authors Steve Fox and Mason Tvert have an expanded edition of their book, “Marijuana Is Safer So Why Do We Drive People To Drink?”

It’s got more statistics, more current data and it’s got a great forward by the former police chief of Seattle, Mr. Norm Stamper – one of my band of brothers in LEAP. Your thoughts about including him?

PAUL ARMENTANO: Norm is obviously someone who has seen first-hand through his career in law enforcement that, in fact, people tend to act more aggressively, they tend to act more restlessly under the influence of alcohol and you see these reverse ramifications on society attributable to the use, sometimes the excessive use of alcohol and you just don’t see those same sort of adverse consequences associated with cannabis.

I would also add that in this revised and updated edition I would encourage people who purchased the first edition in 2009 to consider getting this as well because in addition to simply updating the material we’ve also included an entire new chapter focusing on how the “Marijuana Is Safer” message was a key component to winning the historic campaign in Colorado this past November where 55% of the voters ultimately went to the ballot box and chose to end marijuana prohibition in their state largely, as we predicted they would, in the first edition of “Marijuana Is Safer.”

DEAN BECKER: Since the voters chose legal marijuana in Washington and Colorado there have been significant other changes – a couple come to mind – the pronouncements of Doctor Sanjay Gupta I think helped persuade more politicians as well. What’s your thought there?

PAUL ARMENTANO: I would not in any way want to under-emphasize the importance of an individual with the public recognition and stature of Sanjay Gupta coming out not only acknowledging the therapeutic utility of cannabis and not only questioning the federal policy that criminalizes but acknowledging publically that he made a mistake.

That he came to this issue without being aware of the full evidence and made pronouncements some years ago based on information that was provided to him by the federal government that he now considers to be fraudulent. That mia culpa that he made publically in many ways is more influential than everything else he had to say because he acknowledged that the federal government is not an objective or fair arbiter in this public policy discussion in that were one to simply have a policy based on evidence we would, in effect, have a different policy. At a minimum we would have a policy that regulates cannabis in a manner similar to alcohol. That’s what Gupta’s final conclusion was and this is an individual who is very influential on a number of different markets.

This individual is typically on daytime TV and talk shows. He’s influential with the medical and nursing community and, as you noted, he’s also quite influential among state and federal politicians. In fact he was nominated at one point to be Surgeon General in America so we know that the president administration also thinks very highly of Sanjay Gupta’s opinions. I think he’s acknowledgements and mia culpa may have done more to move this issue in a productive manner and move it more quickly than almost any events we have seen in recent memory aside from, perhaps, the legalization of cannabis and medical marijuana by state initiatives.

DEAN BECKER: Alright, friends, once again we’ve been speaking with Mr. Paul Armentano. He is co-author of “Marijuana Is Safer So Why Are We Driving People To Drink?”

I should also note that he is Deputy Director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

Closing thoughts, point them to you website, Paul.

PAUL ARMENTANO: If people want to learn more and get involved in this issue they can go to the NORML webpage at http://norml.org. I would also encourage people to check out our blog which is updated daily on that website so they can pay attention to breaking news, breaking legislation. I would encourage people to go ahead and pick up the new revised edition of “Marijuana Is Safer So Why Are We Driving People To Drink?” It is available in paperback in bookstores nationwide. It can also be ordered online through any of the major online marketers like Barnes and Noble and Amazon.


DOUG McVAY: Law enforcement has been hoping for a simple saliva drug test for years, and they may finally have found one. The Draeger DrugTest5000 was rated highly by the DRUID Project, a European Union study on driving under the influence of alcohol and other drugs. The Draeger unit is manufactured in Germany and allows testing of saliva for traces of drugs. The results come back in about eight minutes. Other published evaluations in the past few years have also rated the Draeger highly, especially for detecting levels of THC in the blood.

While not 100% accurate, results from the Draeger unit have proven to be sufficiently accurate to merit study in the real world – even in the US. WBAY-TV in Green Bay, Wisconsin, reported recently that police in Marinette, Wisconsin, have begun using the Draeger DrugTest 5000.

Authorities in Wisconsin indicate that results from the Draeger test are not admissible in court. That means authorities will have to use a blood test in order to prove actual drug use. The Draeger unit can however be useful in screening drivers for a blood draw and further testing at a hospital.

For those wondering about cost, the WBAY story reported that the unit itself cost six thousand dollars. The one-time-use-only test swabs are only twenty dollars each. Saliva means no privacy concerns, and the test can be administered on the side of the road or at an accident scene. Positive results mean that the individual still has to be taken in for a blood draw. Negative results might mean no blood test, on the other hand, that's not a given.

Police in Marinette were not the first in the US to use the Draeger unit. The Nevada State Police started using it in 2010, presumably they still do – the NSP did a presentation on the Draeger unit to the State of Nevada's Advisory Council for Prosecuting Attorneys in April of 2013.

For cannabis users, these tests could be a serious concern. Research on how quickly serum THC is eliminated from the bloodstream seems to show that for most users, THC levels go below the 5 nanogram level established in Washington's new marijuana law after a few hours of abstaining. One caveat, that's for most users. Some heavy users will probably remain positive for much longer, well after they are no longer impaired. New research out of New Zealand shows that cannabis users who exercise regularly may have even more to be worried about when it comes to THC testing.

Researchers from the University of New Zealand and the University of New South Wales have just published a report in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence titled “Exercise increases plasma THC concentrations in regular cannabis users.” The researchers tested cannabis-using subjects before and after a 35-minute exercise period. They found, quote:

“Exercise induced a small, statistically significant increase in plasma THC levels accompanied by increased plasma FFA and glycerol levels. Exercise-induced increases in plasma THC concentrations were positively correlated with body mass index. Fasting induced a significant increase in plasma FFA levels, and a lowering of blood glucose, but did not significantly alter plasma cannabinoid levels.” End quote.

They conclude, quote: “Overall, these results suggest that exercise may elevate blood THC levels by releasing dormant THC from fat stores. These data suggest the interpretation of blood THC levels in roadside and workplace tests might be complicated by recent exercise.” End quote.

Well, it's time for me to get back on my bike, so for the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay with Common Sense for Drug Policy and Drug War Facts saying good day. Good day.


JASMINE TYLER: Jasmine Tyler from the Drug Policy Alliance.

DEAN BECKER: Yesterday was another major event in my perspective. The U.S. Senate had a hearing about marijuana. You were there, right?

JASMINE TYLER: I was there. It was quite a historic day. The room was packed and it was very, very exciting. The most interesting thing was that the merits of legalization or the issue around marijuana wasn’t really the issue of the day. The issue was really how to regulate. In that regard it made marijuana sort of a boring issue for the Senate to deal with. You know, just another issue to create good regulations around and move forward on.

DEAN BECKER: Right. I thought the people they invited to speak .... They first had Mr. Cole with the Justice Department....

JASMINE TYLER: Right, Deputy Attorney Cole spoke and explained their recent guidance to Attorneys outlining 8 priority areas for enforcement including things like ensuring minors don’t have access, ensuring there’s no diversion and trafficking to other states that haven’t passed “tax and regulate” measures and things like that.

A number of the witnesses agreed that those 8 areas that the Department of Justice has laid out are comprehensive and don’t need to be tweaked any further and provides the comfort and confidence in moving forward on both in setting up the regulatory system and confidence that they’ll be able to enforce the regulatory system once it’s in place.

DEAN BECKER: In Washington, D.C. they now have at least two cannabis clubs open, selling marijuana legally under guidance there in D.C. It’s just another example...

JASMINE TYLER: Yeah, medical marijuana a in D.C. is underway. Patients are being licensed and dispensaries an cultivation centers are coming online. It is a slow but steady process and D.C. has some of the strictest requirements associated with the law so I think they are doing it right even though it may take a little bit of time.

DEAN BECKER: Right and, again, this is just down the street from that Senate Building where they were conducting the hearing. I guess what I’m trying to say here - you talked about – rather mundane and that’s a wonderful thing isn’t it?

JASMINE TYLER: It really is. It’s refreshing to know that this is an industry that can prosper and that will create jobs and that will really not be under constant threat – we hope. We’ll have to monitor implementation of the DOJ’s guidance but hopefully we’ll not be under threat.

Hopefully it means that medical marijuana in states that are regulated at the state level will also really be left alone. One of the concerns that continues to be raised that we at the Drug Policy Alliance share was the fact that even though the guidance articulated the parameters for federal law enforcement involvement the two major issues that continue to be unresolved are the banking issue and the tax deduction issue.

As with any other regulated industry we need to make sure that business entities are legitimized so that they can move away from being a cash only business which is quite dangerous and challenges public safety and can take the business deductions that small companies around the country really benefit from and really need. We’ll continue to also work and ensure that those issues are dealt with.

DEAN BECKER: Once again we’re speaking with Jasmine Tyler from the Drug Policy Alliance.

Jasmine, I wish I could have been there but the one thing that struck me is that these senators, long-time in service to our nation really have no idea of the basis of these drug laws, the ramifications, the lack of legitimacy to the rationale for discontinuing this. They don’t seem to understand that it has no basis in reality. It’s just a pipe dream. Your thought, Jasmine.

JASMINE TYLER: It’s interesting and that certainly is the case with a number of senators but it was refreshing to hear Senator Leahy, Chairman Leahy of the Judiciary Committee, a long-standing senator say that bureaucracy just doesn’t seem to be following reality. He said it a number of times in his opening remarks and is really adamant that the response to the will of the people really needs to become much more sharp with the times.

So that was refreshing given he has watched these policies decade after decade become enacted and he has also began to take a stand against mandatory-minimums. He has tried to not pass any mandatory-minimums though sometimes he has not been as successful as he has hoped.

He has introduced bipartisan legislation with Senator Rand Paul from Kentucky to increase judicial discretion through a bill called the Justice Safety Valve Act which the Drug Policy Alliance also supports because it will provide judges with increased judicial discretion so they’ll be able to use their own analysis of the facts before them.

These are the judicial officials that we entrust to make these decisions. They will be able to review cases before them as opposed to being stuck issuing mandatory-minimum sentences and not just expanding that opportunity for drug offenses but actually applying that to all offenses.

So at a time where the Bureau of Prisons is 140% capacity and severely overcrowded posing safety risk to the individuals who have to work there and the individuals who have to live there this is huge. We’re really knocking on the wall. We’re about to knock the wall down.

DEAN BECKER: I didn’t mean to misrepresent there. I meant Mr. Grassley, in particular, and Mr. Whitehouse, the other, just didn’t seem to grasp the situation that well but I salute Senator Leahy. That was a wonderful thing he did.

If there was a star amongst those being quizzed by the panel who would you pick?

JASMINE TYLER: I think Sheriff Eckhart from Seattle, Washington from King County really did a great job of expressing the challenges that he has experienced. He has the best experience doing all types of police work from robbery investigations to homicide investigations to narcotics. He really was able to articulate the failure of the War on Drugs and the need to respect the will of the people and the ability to be able to regulate marijuana.

I think that he was probably the best witness of the day given that he is a representative of law enforcement.

DEAN BECKER: My closing thought that I want to get your response to is I thought Mr. Kevin Sabet who showed up at the end seemed like a man without a goal – just there to kind of object in general. Your thought?

JASMINE TYLER: I agree. It was refreshing to see that the bulk of the questions from members of Judiciary Committee really had nothing to do with the merits of the issue of whether or not marijuana should be legalized and what harms or benefits could come of that but really the focus was on what it takes to regulate this industry. That was a huge sea change.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah, alright friends, again we’ve been speaking with Jasmine Tyler of the Drug Policy Alliance. If you see the truth of this, if you want to learn more of this truth please go to their website, http://drugpolicy.org


PATRICK LEAHY: As the Sheriff of the state’s largest metropolitan county, Sheriff Eckhart has been in law enforcement for more than 35 years. He has been a patrol officer, field training officer, master police officer, street-level narcotics/vice detective.

Sheriff, would you go ahead and give your statements. All statements...I’ve been advised we may have another meeting but all statements will be placed on record in full so I’m going to ask you to summarize within the 5 minutes your statement. I hate to say this, Sheriff, I know you doubtless have traveled some distance to get her and I appreciate you being here. Sheriff, go ahead.

JOHN ECKHART: Thank you Mr. Chairman. At the risk at stating the obvious I am a police officer. Thank you for having me here today.

My name is John Eckhart. I am the Sheriff of King County, Washington. Seattle is located in King County and with almost 2 million residents we are the 14th largest county by population in the United States.

I have over 1,000 employees in the Sheriff’s office and a budget exceeding 160 million dollars. As Sheriff I am, therefore, the top law enforcement official in the largest jurisdiction in the country that has legalized marijuana.

I’ve been a police officer for 37 years and was elected as King County Sheriff last year. During my career I’ve investigated everything from shoplifts to homicides. But I’ve also spent almost 12 years as a narcotics detective.

My experience shows me that the War on Drugs has been a failure. We have not significantly reduced demand over time. We have incarcerated generations of individuals – the highest incarceration rate in the world.

The citizens of the state of Washington decided it was time to try something new. In November of 2012 they passed Initiative 502 which legalized recreational amounts of marijuana and, at the same time, created very strict rules and laws.

I was a strong supporter of Initiative 502 last year and I remain a strong supporter today. The reason for that support... most of all I support 502 because that’s what the people want. They voted for legalized marijuana. We, the government, have failed the people and now they want to try something else.

Too often the attitude of the police is, “We’re the cops and you’re not. Don’t tell us how to do our job.”

That’s the wrong attitude and I refuse to fall into that trap.

The title of this hearing is, “The Conflict Between State and Federal Marijuana Laws.” I don’t see a huge conflict. The reality is we do have complimentary goals and values. We all agree that we don’t want our children using marijuana. We all agree we don’t want impaired drivers. We all agree we don’t want to continue enriching criminals.

Washington’s law honors those values by separating consumers from gangs and diverting the proceeds from sales of marijuana toward furthering the goals of public safety.

Is legalizing and regulating the possession and sale of marijuana a better alternative? I think it is but I’m willing to be proven wrong. The only way that we will know, however, is if we are allowed to try.

DOJ’s recent decision provides clarity on how we, in Washington, can continue to collaborate with the federal government to enforce our drug laws while, at the same time, respecting the will of the voters. It’s a great step but more needs to be done.

I hate to be a “dead horse” here but, for example, we are still limited by not knowing the role of the banking institutions as we go forward. Under federal law it is illegal for banks to open checking, savings or credit card accounts for marijuana businesses. The result is the marijuana stores will be operating as cash only creating two big problems for me as a police officer.

Cash only business is a prime target for armed robberies and cash only businesses are very difficult to audit leading to possible tax evasion, wage theft and diversion of the resources we need to protect public safety.

I am simply asking the federal government to allow banks to work with legitimate marijuana businesses who are licensed under this new state law.

In closing let me make one thing abundantly clear. What we have in Washington State is not the “wild, wild west.” As Sheriff I am committed to continued collaboration with the DEA, FBI and DOJ for robust enforcement of our respective drug laws.

For example, I have detectives right now that are assigned to federal task forces including a DEA HIDA Task Force. It’s been a great partnership for many years and that partnership will continue.

Furthermore the message to my deputies has been very clear – You will enforce our new marijuana laws. You will write somebody a ticket for smoking in public. You will enforce age limits. You will put unlicensed stores out of business.

In other words the King County Sheriff’s office will abide by the standards and laws voted on and adopted by the citizens of the state of Washington and the guidance provided by the Department of Justice on August 29th.

Mr. Chairman, I say to you and the members of this committee I do appreciate the deference the federal government has shown to my constituents and I look forward to continuing that cooperation. Thank you.


[sound of electric can opener]

Opening up a can of worms...

[sound of fishing pole casting]

And going fishing for truth.

This is the Drug Truth Network. Drugtruth.net


DEAN BECKER: That’s it for this week. Please check out http://drugwarfacts.org

You need to educate yourself. The drug war is ending – slow and ugly – but mostly ugly because you’re not doing your part to bring it to an end.

It’s evil. 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