02/16/14 Daniel Robello

Daniel Robello of Drug Policy Alliance, Doug McVay of Drug War Facts, Ethan Nadelmann of DPA + drug news from NBC, CNBC

Program: 
Century of Lies
Date: 
Sunday, February 16, 2014
Guest: 
Daniel Robello
Organization: 
Drug Policy Alliance
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Century of Lies February 16, 2014

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DEAN BECKER: The failure of Drug War is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors and millions more. Now calling for decriminalization, legalization, the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century of Lies.

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DEAN BECKER: Welcome to this edition of Century of Lies. If I seem excited this week, well, I am. The drug war seems to be crumbling at the edges and my new book is going to the printer this week.

Let’s get to it.

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DANIEL ROBELLO: My name is Daniel Robello. I am the research coordinator for the Drug Policy Alliance based in San Francisco, California.

DEAN BECKER: It’s been a year and one-half ago, basically, you and I travelled across America with the Caravan for Peace, Justice and Dignity. It was in support of about 100 family members who had lost loved ones in the Mexican violence. Now Mexico is considering a new stance, a new position in regards to drug possession. Would you like to give us a little summary of what they are considering?

DANIEL ROBELLO: As we know Mexico has suffered disproportionately the effects of the failed policy of prohibition – about 100,000 people have been killed in the last 7 years due to prohibition-related violence. Homicides are about 150,000, almost 200,000 and this new president has tried to downplay the violence. The narrative of both governments is still good guys vs. bad guys and we know that is just false by the family members that you and I travelled with in the caravan.

Their sons and daughters just simply vanished – they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. The young man or young woman in Michoacán or Tijuana that had nothing to do whatsoever with the drug trade – we know the cause is fueling the US demand for drugs and the prohibition will never get rid of that demand so you need to start thinking about regulatory alternatives to bring that market to light and eliminate the violence.

Mexico in 2009 passed a law called the Small Trafficking law. It was essentially a half-hearted attempt at decriminalizing all drugs but they set the limits so low that there are still all sorts of people being arrested. They are just users, consumers even though that behavior was supposed to be decriminalized under the law.

This new bill corrects a lot of those low threshold limits to make sure that people who are just possessing drugs of any kind for personal use don’t get swept up in the system, that that is truly decriminalized.

Additionally the bill will set up for people over the threshold limit what kind of loosely based on what Portugal has done where they’ve decriminalized everything but they’ve set up these committees called dissuasion committees which instead of a court it might have one[inaudible] but then have one social worker and a doctor. In other words, that actually understand drug abuse, misuse, dependence and addiction and not just another law enforcement officer.

These committees will offer information and support to help that consumer based on their level of consumption minimize the harms associated with their use instead of going to jail.

The bill, itself, is a little bit complex and, of course, it’s probably going to go through several different rounds of editing and amendments but then it also ( and this is the really interesting part) it creates a mechanism for establishing a safe supply of marijuana. It’s basically aimed at removing simple marijuana consumers from the illicit market and all of its associated violence which has, unfortunately, surfaced in Mexico City.

These bills have represented in the Mexico City legislature so it would just be affecting the Mexico City. Hopefully, from there – just as we’ve seen in the US from various states with medical marijuana first and now with Colorado and Washington – we hope that other state governments or local governments will follow Mexico City’s lead which is the largest city in North America. The ripple effect of this policy could be huge.

The final point is this supply of cannabis remains to be seen as a work in practice but it seems somewhat similar to the coffee shops in the Netherlands – that these spaces will not be permitted to sell other substances. It will only be marijuana. The marijuana cannot be adulterated. The cannot sell to minors or be near schools and they have to give access to government health officials to come in and to view and inspect these establishments to provide health education to the consumers that are frequenting these establishments.

DEAN BECKER: We’re speaking with Mr. Daniel Robello of the Drug Policy Alliance.

Daniel, I feel the morphing that’s going on in the United States, the new recognition of not just the harms or potential of cannabis are being considered but with the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman many politicians are now beginning to reconfigure their stance, their position and, if I dare say, to walk away from the more draconian policies of this drug war. Your thoughts there, sir?

DANIEL ROBELLO: I couldn’t agree with you more, Dean. Every day we’re seeing a new politician finally catching up with the people. It’s clear with marijuana but, yes, it’s so tragic that it takes the death of someone like Philip Seymour Hoffman to get people to think differently about the other drugs.

We know that overdose from opioids like heroin or like prescription narcotics are almost always preventable overdose fatalities if there is somebody there and if they respond rapidly and correctly. That correct response is to call 911 and to not be afraid to do something. Drug Policy Alliance along with Eugene and with many of our other allies across the country and around the world have been promoting “Good Samaritan Medical Amnesty Laws”. Now we’ve got 14 states plus the District of Columbia. A couple others have weaker types of laws but basically there are 15 jurisdictions who have strong laws providing legal protections for people who report an overdose. We are trying to get rid of the fear that researchers have pointed out which is the number one reason why people don’t pick up the phone and make the right response to save a life by calling 911.

In addition we have an antidote to heroin overdose and we need to put it in the hands of everybody who will be in a position to respond to an overdose. It is called Naloxone. The brand name is called Narcan. It is used by EMTs, by first responders routinely. We are advocating to put it in the hands of not just other first responders like law enforcement - if they are responding to an overdose they not arresting people but instead are trained to use this. Also in the hands of lay people, in the hands of people who use drugs and in the hands of friends and families.

Most often there is a witness to an overdose. In the case of Mr. Hoffman, unfortunately, it seems like he was alone. He probably retreated to his hotel room or to his apartment to shoot up and instead of having somewhere safe to go. Vancouver is the only place in North America but there is about 90 different programs in over 60 cities in 10 countries which have supervised injection facilities. People who inject heroin or other substances bring their own drugs to the setting. The setting does not dispense any drugs. It is a clinic. It’s got a nurse. In the event of an overdose they are there to respond and to revive.

In Vancouver (which has been studied very closely) they’ve had thousands, tens of thousands, perhaps, thousands of overdoses and not a single fatality in ten years. Those are the types of policies we need to move towards.

We have seen a flurry of this conversation going. The director Erin Sorkin of “West Wing” fame said 10 lives have been saved because of Hoffman’s passing. That’s perhaps a way to look at tragedy and turn it into a positive.

DEAN BECKER: Speaking of that morphing of politicians’ attitudes we have Governor Perry here in Texas on his way out talking about how maybe decrim may be a good idea. I don’t have cotton to that idea myself but we have Wendy Davis, the democratic candidate, who is saying medical marijuana should be considered and she would be in support of it. Things are changing. Are they not, Daniel?

DANIEL ROBELLO: They certainly are. Sometimes it’s baby steps and sometimes it’s giant leaps. I think we are going to see a combination of both in the years to come.

What’s going on in Texas is very exciting. The Texas democratic party made marijuana reform part of the state platform last year or in 2012 (I can’t remember). To see someone like Rick Perry who previously said he supports state rights and to see him come out a little bit farther is promising as he is one of the least likely supporters of any type of reform.

Unfortunately at the World Economic Forum Rick Perry joined Koki Anon, the former Secretary General of the United Nations, to call for some sweeping reforms but Rick Perry seems to not really understand what decriminalizing or eliminating criminal penalties for possession of drugs is. He’s complating it with stuff like drug courts which certainly help some people and when given a choice between a jail or prison cell or a treatment program that you don’t need most people take the latter but we’re wasting money on a lot of these programs. The evidence around them is usually not that great.

Every drug court is different and they have been proven not to reduce the levels of incarceration in this country. When people fail a drug court (which often happens just from a positive urine test) then they end up serving more time than if they had been traditionally sentenced.

What Portugal has done and what we hope that Mexico City will be moving towards with this new bill is to say let’s take these people out of the court systems. Let’s have like an administrative system where we could process them and only give treatment to the people who really need it and that ask for it and we will offer it to them but we will make sure that’s it’s voluntarily accepted and that they’ve had enormous success rates because it’s voluntary.

Here very few people are succeeding in treatment whether it’s voluntary or coerced. It’s because most people unfortunately need to be arrested in order to access treatment. That’s just wrong.

So Perry...that’s just cautious optimism that folks like him are seeing things in a different light but we need to make sure that they don’t stop short at real reform, that they don’t just latch on to something like drug courts which is basically “drug war lite” which these programs also usually deny the best treatment modalities. You’ve got judges and prosecutors in charge of what passes for treatment.

There is all sorts of problems but instead of latching onto “drug war lite” we need to push for real reform.

DEAN BECKER: Folks, once again, we’ve been speaking with Mr. Daniel Robello of the Drug Policy Alliance, my fellow canarvanero from 2012. If you folks out there listening hear what we’re saying – the drug war can be brought to an end and we’re just waiting on you for support for your endorsement. You can learn much more by going to http://drugpolicy.org

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DOUG McVAY: The Monitoring The Future Survey Project at the University of Michigan has issued a new report: 2013 Overview: Key findings on adolescent drug use.

Annual prevalence of use of some drugs, such as synthetic marijuana, inhalants, vicodin, and salvia divinorum, all showed declines in 2013. Use of several others, including cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, lsd, and mdma, all remained steady.

The drugs most widely used by young people are of course alcohol. Marijuana, and tobacco. According to the report, quote:

"Thirty-day prevalence of cigarette use reached a peak in 1996 at grades 8 and 10, capping a rapid climb from the 1991 levels (when data were first gathered on these grades). Between 1996 and 2013, current smoking fell very considerably in these grades (by 79% and 70%, respectively). However, the decline in use had decelerated in recent years, and in 2010 there was a suggestion of some increase in smoking rates among 8th and 10th graders (though not statistically significant). In 2011, and again in 2012 and 2013, use decreased among 8th and 10th graders (the 2013 drop was significant for 10th graders). For 12th graders, peak use occurred in 1997 at 37%, and has shown a more modest decline since then, dropping to 16% in 2013. Because of the strong cohort effect that we have consistently observed for cigarette smoking, we expect use at 12th grade to continue to show declines, as the lighter using cohorts of 8th and 10th graders become 12th graders. "

End quote.

And quote:

"Alcohol remains the substance most widely used by today's teenagers. Despite recent declining rates, seven out of every ten students (68%) have consumed alcohol (more than just a few sips) by the end of high school, and three out of ten (28%) have done so by 8th grade. In fact, about half (52%) of 12th graders and one eighth (12%) of 8th graders in 2013 reported having been drunk at least once in their life. "

End quote.

And finally, quote:

"Annual prevalence of using any illicit drug increased in all three grades: by 1.5 percentage points in 8th grade (s), 1.6 percentage points in 10th (ns), and 0.6 percentage points in 12th (ns). For the three grades combined the rate was up by 1.3 percentage points (s) in 2013.

"These modest overall increases in the index of any illicit drug use are driven primarily by increases in marijuana use. Indeed, the index of using any illicit drug other than marijuana was fairly stable this year. Annual prevalence of marijuana was up in 8th and 10th grades, albeit by non-significant amounts, increasing by 1.2 and 1.8 percentage points respectively. In 12th grade, annual use of marijuana remained unchanged (0.0). For the three grades combined, annual prevalence of marijuana was up by 1.1 percentage points (ns). "

End quote.

You can find this report at the monitoring the future webite, monitoringthefuture dot org, you can also find links to it from new and updated items on drug war facts dot org.

For the drug truth network, this is doug mcvay with common sense for drug policy and drug war facts.

This has been a production of the drug truth network, online at drug truth dot net.

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DEAN BECKER: Courtesy of CNBC.

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PETE WILLIAMS: Brian, these rules deal with the fact that the same federal government that regulates banking transactions also says that producing, possessing or selling marijuana is a crime so marijuana dealers have been unable to get the banks to do any business with them and, as a result, dealers operate strictly with cash and that creates a tempting target for thieves.

Treasury department says these revised rules should help with that so under the new rules banks that want to do business with marijuana dealers can if they verify that those dealers are properly licensed and if the banks gather information about the type of products they sell and the nature of the customers they serve. The banks also have to be on alert for any signs if the dealers are engaged in any improper transactions.

Current rules require banks to notify federal regulators of suspicious activity by their customers, which currently would include any marijuana dealer because of the prohibitions under federal law. Under the new rules, those notices will still be required but now there are two kinds. Banks that believe the marijuana dealer is reputable will file a marijuana limited report. If the bank believes the dealer isn’t behaving under the guidelines they will file a marijuana priority report.

The banks in the past have been skeptical that rule changes alone would solve this problem. They want congress to change the law. What administration officials say is this may not be for everyone (these new rules) but banks will have to assess the risks. They expect, though, that demand will be heavy from banks in both Colorado and Washington to try to do this under these new rules.

ANCHOR: Pete, that’s fantastic stuff. Thank you very much. I want to also bring in Jane Wells because, Jane, you’ve covering the booming marijuana industry. What do you see as being the biggest impact here?

JANE WELLS: It sounds like it is an important start but it creates these new rules – a lot of work for these bankers. I have been talking to the Colorado Bankers’ Association where the business is fully up and running and what they are telling me is that what the federal government is suggesting will probably not change much of anything. Most banks will still probably avoid knowingly handling cash from any pot business. For one thing they have other regulators. There is no one regulator. They have like three regulators which have not all said they will look the other way.

Bankers could face issues with a banking examination report, cease and desist orders and other regulators concerned about money laundering. The association says, “Banking marijuana business is not a big business opportunity.”

They are saying this in Colorado. Some banks want this business. Others won’t do it even if legal and most don’t know and it isn’t a high priority for them.

Not a big business opportunity?! Look at the Artvue group which invests in and advises marijuana startups and says legal pot will top 2 billion dollars this year, top 10 billion dollars by 2018. The Bankers Association (as Pete said) bankers want congressional action because any federal agency policy could change.

Here in California, by the way, they are really watching this closely because voters will again be able to assume truth whether or not they want to legalize recreational pot. This is the biggest market for legal and illegal marijuana.

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DEAN BECKER: The following segment courtesy Bloomberg TV. It features a discussion with the executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, Ethan Nadelmann.

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ANCHOR: It’s one thing for Treasury to come out and say or for Eric Holder to advice Treasury to change the rules here but it’s another thing for the Wells Fargo and the Bank of America’s of this world to say, “Yes, we’re going to allow essentially ‘this drug money’ to have an account with us.”

Are they really going to buy into this. Do you think they trust what the government is saying?

ETHAN NADELMANN: You know it’s business and they can make money. Banks will be able to make money by dealing with a state legal medical marijuana industry. I think some are going to put their toe in the water and begin to do it. When they see that the federal government and the federal prosecutors don’t respond then more will go and more will go...

ANCHOR: How do you know that they won’t respond? This is one of the issues. I met a guy out there who got into the business, thought he was fine, talked about it a little bit on the local TV station and the next thing he knew the feds were busting him down the next morning.

When I met him he was wearing an ankle bracelet, basically stuck in his home and on his way to jail. This is despite the fact that Eric Holder had said...

ETHAN NADELMANN: When was that?

ANCHOR: It was in Colorado and it was before the legalization for recreational purposes.

ETHAN NADELMANN: And that’s the point. The world has changed so quickly. I can’t believe it myself.

First of all you look at the Obama administration which was sort of an exemplar of bad faith on drug policy and marijuana in their first term. It’s like they’ve done a 180. Obama does that interview and says this was ...

ANCHOR: How can you guarantee that’s going to stay? So if you...

ETHAN NADELMANN: There’s no guarantee.

ANCHOR: And, by the way, the president changes. Does that mean the law changes?

ETHAN NADELMANN: But you know something? There’s three more years to go. Other states are going to legalize this stuff. There is already 20 that have legalized for medical purposes.

ANCHOR 2: That brings in a great question in terms of what congress is going to do and where that leaves congress, Peter.

PETER: I think the three years remaining in the Obama administration and the tone that we’ve heard from the president in that New Yorker interview I think Ethan is absolutely right. The Genie is out of the bottle here. The question is how quickly does this spread to other states. It’s hard to imagine that this is going to roll backwards in the other direction at this point unless something goes horribly wrong in Colorado and Washington.

Certain critics are watching very carefully for that to happen but this genie is out there and I don’t see this being rolled back at all.

ETHAN NADELMANN: Remember also it’s not just the two states Colorado and Washington that have legalized for recreational it’s 20 states that have now legalized for medical marijuana and now there is a chance that Florida and New York will both do the same thing.

Florida has got a medical marijuana initiative on the ballot this year and New York has got a good chance. So you’re talking about maybe the majority of the population now living in states where this is now legal.

ANCHOR 1: What would you estimate this business to be? I’ve heard many different ...some say...

ETHAN NADELMANN: There is an overall industry and what it basically is is in the beginning stages of transition from an entirely illegal industry into an entirely legal industry. The total value in the United States – 20 billion, 30 billion – nobody knows for sure.

ANCHOR 2: And the question is will this bring consolidation? You have a lot of companies like Philip Morris that’s struggling with its tobacco sales. The question is will they want to diversify?

ETHAN NADELMANN: That’s a good question. I think with tobacco, with big alcohol, with big pharma – they’re all on the sidelines right now. They’re all looking at the players that often times are illegal and now legal – new players, state-based players. They are seeing them emerging. I think they are hoping that a day will come when they can grab their share but, for now, they are not involved.

ANCHOR 1: I have met so many dispensary owners out there in Colorado that are hoping for exactly that so they are building up this business, they are building up this brand and their hope is this all goes away with prohibition where you have these small little distilleries that got bought up by bigger conglomerates.

ETHAN NADELMANN: I, personally, am rooting for the micro-brewery and vineyard model. That’s what I’d like to see happen all around the country.

PETER: Ethan, do you think what you’ve seen of this guidance goes far enough. I saw, for example, the head of the Colorado Bankers Association who was pushing for the government to be as explicit as possible about this safe harbor for banks. Does this go far enough? Are you worried that maybe it’s not enough protection for banks to jump in there?

ETHAN NADELMANN: I think what Holder and the Treasury Department basically told their people was the following. They said, “Here’s federal law. Here’s what’s going on there. Now do the best you can. Make this work in Colorado and Washington State the best you can given federal law.”

I think the Obama administration really pushed the envelope on trying to make this thing work.

ANCHOR 1: Let me just remind people how difficult it is for some of these dispensary owners. If you are in a cash only system that means you have to pay everyone on your staff in cash. It means your customers can only pay in cash. Then they have the added bonus of having to deal with all this cash that it can’t actually smell because if the banks smell marijuana on it they ...

ETHAN NADELMANN: And extra security. You got to pay for security and armored guards to move you money from one place to another. If they are going to hold Colorado and Washington to a certain standards to reduce crime then the quid pro quo is they have to enable these banks and these industries to do so legally. That’s the quid pro quo. That’s what everybody is working on right now.

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ANNOUNCER: Here are 50 white guys. Here are 50 black guys. Here’s how many white guys can expect to go to prison in their lifetime. The chances are 1 out of 17. Now here’s how many black guys can expect the same thing. The chances are 1 out of 3.

Why? Lots of reasons. It’s complicated. But one thing is clear there is a racial bias at every level of the criminal justice system.

When blacks and whites commit the same type of crimes blacks are more likely to be arrested. Once arrested they are more likely to be convicted. Once convicted they are more likely to serve longer sentences.

Look at the numbers in America’s so-called War on Drugs. About 14% of America’s drug users are black as are one-quarter of America’s drug sales yet blacks are 34% of people arrested for drug crimes and those convicted of drug crimes – 46% are black.

By the time we factor in sentencing there are actually more black drug offenders than white in state and federal prisons. In the end the incarceration rate for drug crimes is 10 times higher for blacks than it is for whites.

These are the facts. Racial disparities in America’s War on Drugs is one big reason that one of three black men can expect to go to prison in their lifetime.

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DEAN BECKER: The following segment courtesy NBC, Denver, Colorado.

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ANCHOR: We can tell you tonight federal agents say drug cartels are coming to our state and using the front of legal marijuana to make money illegal. There are widespread rates in November targeting marijuana businesses and grow operations and Will Ripley has details on the ongoing federal investigation.

WILL RIPLEY: November 21st, 2013 – the largest federal raids ever on medical marijuana in Colorado. More than a dozen targets - dispensaries, warehouses, homes...

Federal investigators are gathering evidence proving that Columbian drug cartels are operating in Colorado.

[interview]

Does the business lend itself to drug trafficking right now?

TOM GORMAN: Well, absolutely because you have a very desirable product with 48 other states as a potential customers – my God what a market that is.

WILL RIPLEY: Tom Gorman is director of the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area connected to the Whitehouse National Office of Drug Control Policy.

Gorman's team put out a report in August showing a 407 percent increase in marijuana smuggling busts since 2005, before medical marijuana was legal in Colorado.

Most of the pot was coming from Denver, Boulder, and El Paso counties. It was being smuggled primarily to Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Texas, Wisconsin, Florida, and Nebraska.

TOM GORMAN: Our intelligence tells us that all indications are that they are going to move in if they haven’t already.

WILL RIPLEY: When you say “they are going to move in” you say drug cartels?

TOM GORMAN: Right.

WILL RIPLEY: Gorman says any cartel activity in Colorado creates huge potential problems for police and citizens.

TOM GORMAN: They are treacherous and they have no sense of morality.

WILL RIPLEY: Drug-related violence has killed tens of thousands of people in Mexico in the last decade, but Gorman says we won't see that level of violence. He says cartels will keep a lower profile in Colorado, and avoid drawing any attention to their activities.

MEG COLLINS: I think it shows vigilance by law enforcement.

WILL RIPLEY: Meg Collins is executive director of the Cannabis Business Alliance, which advocates for the marijuana industry.

[interviewing]

How easy would it be for a criminal to set up something that local law enforcement might assume is legal when, in fact, it is not?

MEG COLLINS: I think that speaks to needing particularly now good law enforcement.

WILL RIPLEY: Collins points to safeguards in place in Colorado to prevent drug trafficking, like seed to sale tracking, and says the increase in marijuana smuggling busts is a good thing.

She says a change in federal law could eliminate the black market altogether.

MEG COLLINS: I mean if you legalize [marijuana] in every state in the country, then you're not going to see people transshipping across borders because it's legal. You can get it anywhere in your state.

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DEAN BECKER: To End the War On Drugs: A Guide for Politicians, the Press and Public will be hitting the bookstands here real soon.

As always I remind you the drug war is nothing but a scam.

Prohibido istac evilesco!

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For the Drug Truth Network, this is Dean Becker asking you to examine our policy of Drug Prohibition.

The Century of Lies.

This show produced at Pacifica Studios at KPFT, Houston.

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