10/19/14 Eric Sterling

Eric Sterling, Pres of Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, Michael Krawitz of Veterans for Medical Cannabis, Eric Holder clip, Vanita Gupta clip

Program: 
Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Date: 
Sunday, October 19, 2014
Guest: 
Eric Sterling
Organization: 
Criminal Justice Policy Foundation
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Transcript

Cultural Baggage / October 19, 2014

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DEAN BECKER: From the 1934 movie “Murder at the Vanities”...

[music]

Soothe me with your caress
Sweet marijuana... marijuana...
Help me in my distress
Sweet marijuana... please do...

DEAN BECKER: Hello. Welcome to this edition of Cultural Baggage. Man, do we have a great show. The drug war is ending slow, ugly and bloody. We are waiting on you to step in there and do your part. Here to encourage and motivate you are some words from our outgoing attorney general, Eric Holder, speaking to Katie Couric.

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KATIE COURIC: Let me ask you about sentencing reform. One of the cornerstones of your tenure as attorney general has been reducing sentences of non-violent drug offenders. Do you see it as a civil rights issue?

ERIC HOLDER: Yeah, I certainly do. If one looks at the impact that policies we put in place that were well intentioned but the impact of those policies taken from various communities across the country – young men especially who could have been the future of those communities and who certainly did wrong but didn’t need to go to jail for as long as they did with the mandatory minimum sentences that we had – when you see the disproportionate impact on communities of color...especially when you see that drug usage among African Americans, Hispanics is roughly the same as whites and yet you see Hispanics and African Americans going to jail for far longer and a much greater rate ...it’s a civil rights issue and one that I’m determined to confront as long as I am attorney general.

KATIE COURIC: This past Spring Yahoo News reported the president may grant clemency to thousands of federal drug offenders who are serving time right now. 18,000 have already applied to clemency. Will they be released and, if so, when?

ERIC HOLDER: Well, we certainly will look at the applications that have come in. We set out criteria that had to met. They had to serve at least 10 years. They had to show that they could behave themselves while they were in prison, that they were not part of a drug gang or had not been engaged in violent crime. Those people who meet those criteria will, in fact, get the clemency that the President has said should be theirs.

KATIE COURIC: And when do you expect that to happen?

ERIC HOLDER: We just started to receive the applications at this point so we are going through them with cooperation with the members of Private Bar as well as the enhanced parole office that we have at the Justice Department. We hope that over the next months we will start to see decisions being made.

KATIE COURIC: More than 18 states have decriminalized marijuana. 2 states, as you know (Colorado and Washington), have outright legalized it for recreational use yet at the federal level marijuana is still classified in the same category as heroin. In you view should that change?

ERIC HOLDER: I think it’s certainly a question that we need to ask ourselves whether or not marijuana is as serious a drug as heroin – especially given what we’ve seen recently with regard to heroin, the progression of people from using opioids to heroin use has spread and the destruction that heroin has passed all around our country. To see how, by contrast, what the impact of marijuana use is...now, it can be destructive if used in certain ways but the question of whether or not they should be in the same category is something that I think we need to ask ourselves and use science, use science as the basis for making that determination.

KATIE COURIC: Given what we know now do you think marijuana should be decriminalized at the federal level?

ERIC HOLDER: That is something for congress to decide. I think...

KATIE COURIC: ...but what is your position on it?

ERIC HOLDER: I think we have taken a look at the experiments that are going on in Colorado and Washington and we are going to see what happens there. I think that will help inform us as to what we want on the federal level.

KATIE COURIC: For you the “jury” is still out?

ERIC HOLDER: Yeah, it is.

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DEAN BECKER: I’d like to point out here that earlier this month Eric Holder issued a memo that prohibits prosecutors from using the threat of enhanced mandatory minimum sentences to force criminal defendants to plead guilty in drug trafficking cases. These super-sized mandatory minimums called Section 851 Enhancements allowed prosecutors to ensure that defendants mandatory minimum sentences would be doubled or even increased to life in prison.

Doing away with part of the “inquisition”....we’re less inquisitory now.

Good news just keeps on breaking. Out of Washington we hear that the new acting head of the Justice Department Civil Rights Division, Vanita Gupta, who is a liberal activist lawyer and who speaks out all the time about the disastrous War on Drugs...here’s a little segment on her recently ...well, getting satirized a little bit on the Daily Show.

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REPORTER: Some people think there is something wrong with cops making you choose between your kids and your cash like ACLU crybaby Vanita Gupta.

[dong-dong (similar to x show)]

VANITA GUPTA: Civil asset forfeiture creates incentives for abusive police practices. In all my cases it is going to be less cost effective for innocent folks to hire a lawyer for $5,000 to try to get their money back.

REPORTER: What would police officers have to gain by taking innocent people’s stuff?

VANITA GUPTA: Money.

REPORTER: ...besides money?

[laughter]

VANITA GUPTA: Uh...you know, funding for their police department. In some places police departments are keeping 80 to 100% of the assets seized.

REPORTER: If you could claim 100% of the assets seized that [bleep] would happen all over the place.

VANITA GUPTA: It is happening all over the place. There are so many innocent people swept up in these practices. The federal government is banking on close to 5 billion dollars on civilly seized assets.

REPORTER: 5 billion dollars?!

VANITA GUPTA: Close to that.

REPORTER: That [chuckle] is [bleep] - ing terrifying!

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DEAN BECKER: And if folks would just take a good look at the drug war in general -every aspect of it – they would be terrified as well.

Some folks will remember Vanita Gupta from her time when she was cutting her “eye teeth” in this drug war with the Tulia defense where 38 black men were arrested in one night on the word of an eventually proven lying snitch.

Vanita has called for the legalization of marijuana and wants the government to eliminate (not just roll back) mandatory minimum sentences.

And now for a snap shot on the international look – William R. Brownfield of the International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs at the UN speaking on behalf of the United States...

”How could I – a representative of the government of the United States of America – be intolerant of a government that permits any experimentation with legalization of marijuana if 2 of the 50 of the United States of America have chosen to walk down that road?

“We are all required to abide by the conventions that we, ourselves, have ratified but the conventions are not rigid. The conventions were written more than 50 years ago.”

Things have been so busy I haven’t been giving the coverage I wanted to the Students for Sensible Drug Policy gathering. I’ve got many hours of that I will be sharing over the next few weeks and months as we head to the December 17th recognition of the 100 years of drug war at courthouses around this nation.

We have a new Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/100YearsIsEnough and we are starting on our website, http://endprohibition.org

We urge you to get involved and encourage your friends and family around the country to get involved. We want hundreds of courthouses, jailhouses, city halls to have protests on December 17th at noon featuring attorneys and activists and “Joe” and “Jolene citizens” decrying this War on Drugs.

Anyway... SSDP:

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DEAN BECKER: We’re at the Students for Sensible Drug Policy conference here in Arlington just outside Washington, D.C. This morning the speaker that gave us a kick start for the day was the president of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, a long time guest on the Drug Truth Network and my good friend Mr. Eric Sterling.

How are you doing, Eric?

ERIC STERLING: Dean, I’m great. Thanks. Good morning to you.

DEAN BECKER: It’s really something the fire, the enthusiasm, the life of these...I’m going to call them “kids” that gather for these SSDP conferences isn’t it?

ERIC STERLING: I’ve been coming to SSDP conferences for over a decade. I always get so energized by the students. They are passionate. They are bright. They are focused. They completely contradict any type of stereotype about “stoners.”

There are a couple of guys from Harvard Law School here, law students running for the board. These are people who graduate with high honors (Summa Cum Laude, Magna Cum Laude) They are very accomplished, focused people who not only do well on their studies to excel but also excel as political organizers on their campuses.

They get legislation passed in their state capitals. It’s a great bunch of people to work with and I’m always charged up when I’m with them. I was hanging out with students last night and I realized with the resignation of Attorney General Eric Holder there is going to be a new attorney general who is going to have to appear before the senate judiciary committee.

We have the opportunity to present a plan for how marijuana ought to be regulated or how the federal government ought to take its hands off the state experiments. We’ve got marijuana legalization, medical marijuana in the states – it’s the job of the attorney general now to make federal law comply. We have an opportunity to spell out a 5 or 10 point plan which the senate judiciary committee could present to the next nominee and say, “You want to be attorney general. Do you agree with these rational steps to create an effective working partnership between the federal government and the states or are you going to continue to allow the states to have these “half assed” programs because they are all looking over their shoulder to at you and the DEA figuring out what you are going to do next and why won’t you let us have a rational system where we can use banks, where we can use credit cards, where our doctors can give medical advice instead of worrying that they are aiding and abetting a federal felony?”

The current system is crazy. We have a chance right now. I am inspired by these students to realize that a campaign around this is possible.

DEAN BECKER: It was Jake Agliota, Scott Cecil and a couple of others from SSDP that assisted me a couple months back. I handed out copies of my book to every senator, representative, the cabinet and the Supreme Court. They have the “boots on the ground” right here in D.C. to help get some of that work done, right?

ERIC STERLING: SSDP has a very good staff. It is primarily focused on helping student chapters obtain their full potential but there are numerous interns who can do the tasks like bringing a book like yours...your book is a goldmine of wisdom, of insight into what to do about the drug policy and just a tremendously rich resource for people to use.

DEAN BECKER: We have signs of intelligence...people are starting to look at medical marijuana more logically and even have those people who are attempting to prevent overdoses in this country as well. It’s a good thing is it not?

ERIC STERLING: What essentially I realized last night...I have sort of a slogan which is kind of a prayer, “God save drug users lives - everyone, no exceptions.”

If you accept that - “God save drug users lives – everyone, no exceptions.” - we are talking about people who are injecting drugs, people who we think of as heroin addicts. We think about people who are on the streets. Their lives need to be saved.

There is a drug called naloxone which you spray into the nose of someone who is having a drug overdose and in 2 minutes their life is saved - that is if it is an opiate overdose. I have a naloxone kit in my pocket. Many government agencies are training people to use naloxone and writing a prescription and giving naloxone out.

We want to make sure it is not simply a matter that “first responders” have access to naloxone but people who hang out with drug users, the parents of drug users, the lovers of drug users, the fellow drug users. Wherever opiates are being used whether it is grandma taking it for her pain or someone who is injecting there should be naloxone available with people trained on how to use it.

We are going to see that...Georgia passes a law to make it available...Tennessee passes a law – from conservative places to California, New York City – many, many places. In my own state of Maryland is where the program is to help family members of people who are drug addicts get their hands on naloxone to save lives.

DEAN BECKER: For too long and I’ve used the term that drug users have been considered to be unconditionally exterminable. If they are overdoses or lost in a police shootout or however the circumstance might be that they were somehow better off dead. What do you think there?

ERIC STERLING: Tragically, Dean, there is a societal contempt. I remember Newt Gingrich proposed the death penalty for people who might bring 100 doses of a drug into the country in the 1990s and compared drug users to vermin to be exterminated. This, of course, is much too resonate of the last century in terms of how politically unpopular...more importantly socially unpopular people would be defined as a “problem.”

In the 1980s and 90s we would talk about demand reduction and drug users were the problem and they weren’t seen as people with dignity and lives to be respected. They were “tools” to be manipulated. If they didn’t conform they were put in a gulag in our prison system or they were left to die. We would cut them off...there are current laws on the books, “Let’s cut people off from food stamps. Let’s deny health care. Let’s kick them out of housing.”

Those laws, unfortunately, are still on the books even though there’s been a real revolution in thinking about how to save the lives. It gives the last drug czar, Kerlikowske, some credit for that. He really “got it” on this. The new drug czar, Botticelli, he “gets it.” There is a real change.

Once the public begins to understand that drug users’ lives are worth saving, that the drug policy really ought to be about benefitting drug users first that becomes a paradigm shift in thinking about, “Well, what else about drug policy?”

Maybe drug users shouldn’t be getting contaminated and poisonous drugs from criminal organizations. Once you accept the humanity of drug users the inhumanity of drug laws becomes untenable.

DEAN BECKER: That’s what drives us, isn’t it?

ERIC STERLING: It drives all these people – people from LEAP, people from SSDP, people from Drug Policy Alliance, MPP, NORML. There is a recognition that throughout history groups of people who were not seen as people. The most obvious were the slaves. They were by decree of the Supreme Court not people. They had no rights to be respected. They couldn’t bring a suit. That was the Dred Scott decision that focused on the Civil War and led to the14th amendment which struck down that notion that said everybody born in America is a person who is entitled to the privileges and immunities.

The privileges and immunities of citizenship are not something we sort of go around thinking of. They don’t teach us in school the privileges and immunities of citizenship are to be left alone to have autonomy over your own life.

Women have been in many cultures...we see this in many cultures right now around the world. We are still a long way globally from understanding the dignity of half the human population – more than half the human population.

We’ve seen this with respect to religious minorities in various countries. We carry in our country and in many countries around the world the idea that if you are “chemically contaminated” you are subhuman.

DEAN BECKER: There you have it, my friends. That’s why he was invited to speak and wake us all up this morning at the SSDP conference – Mr. Eric Sterling, president of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation (http://cjpf.org)

ERIC STERLING: Thanks, Dean.

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[solemn music]

During this time of eternal war I find it my somber duty to report the death toll from the drug formally known as marijuana is....zero!

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I know you can get this one. It’s on the TV every day.

(Game show music)

It’s time to play: Name That Drug By Its Side Effects

Runny nose, skin rash, swollen tongue, dizziness, vertigo, fainting, abnormal ejaculation, priapism, a persistent painful penile erection leading to permanent impotence.

(Gong)

Time’s up!

The answer from Boehringer Ingelheim: Flomax, for male urinary problems.

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DEAN BECKER: The following segment also from the Students for Sensible Drug Policy conference.

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DEAN BECKER: It’s day one of the Students for Sensible Drug Policy conference. I’m here with Mr. Michael Krawitz and he’s had the experience of attending the UN conventions on drugs and he has some unique experience and observations he can share with us about the entanglement of the treaties on drugs and the UN and the US obligations and such.

Michael, can we break through all this madness?

MICHAEL KRAWITZ: Absolutely. The United Nations’ treaties are not a self-executing law like some of the treaties that we see sending “blue hats” to various places. There are no “blue hats” that are going to come in and enforce the international drug treaties. The drug control treaties are kind of “gentlemen’s agreement” amongst the nations and, as such, when the nations decide to change as there certainly is a little bit of a groundswell of support for change now coming from South America and elsewhere I think it’s very likely that change is going to happen at the UN.

The flip side of that is the UN moves so slowly. You are talking about over 180 countries that are signed on these treaties. Just getting documents in everyone’s hands takes 18 months so you can’t expect change to happen quickly but I think the big drug summit coming up in 2016 we will certainly see some “sunlight” starting to break through this iron wall of prohibition.

DEAN BECKER: Some say because of that entanglement with UN Convention on Drugs we can’t necessarily change our laws here but, as you say, the “blue hats” aren’t going to come if we do. They legalized in Washington and Colorado and no “blue hats” so far.

MICHAEL KRAWITZ: To be clear treaties are “gentlemen’s agreements” amongst nations - not amongst states in nations so having a state like Colorado or Washington change a law is not necessarily the United States changing the laws. The United States federal government is still quite adamant that they have remained true to keeping marijuana illegal at the federal level and that’s essentially our treaty obligation.

Now someone like Uruguay where they’ve actually changed the law at the national level that is where they are going to have to really address the treaty and address the room of nations when they get over to the meeting in Vienna (the Commission of Narcotic Drugs) which I think is 53 member nations that get together as a committee to decide on these things. That’s where in 2015 we’ll see at least some dialogue because of Uruguay. It’s not guaranteed but 2016 is more than likely that that little bit of dialogue on the margins might actually lead to something on the agenda.

DEAN BECKER: The president of Uruguay seems like a very pragmatic “common man’s man” and I don’t see him getting too upset about the UN over his legalization of marijuana. Do you?

MICHAEL KRAWITZ: The Drug Policy Alliance has done such a fantastic job of coordinating NGOs (non-government organizations) and activists in these countries that are in the vanguard of reform. The members of the government of Uruguay came to the meeting and spoke about what they are going to say at the meeting. They basically talked about 2 different arguments that they are going to present. I would call it the inside argument and the outside argument.

The outside argument was basically, “Hey, we’ve got all these treaties. We’ve got treaties on human rights and how we are supposed to treat our people and then we have the drug control treaties that seem to be conflicting with that. Which one of those should we follow?”

I think that’s a very compelling argument. Inside they have even a different argument because they’re talking to the United Nations Drug Control Program and saying, “Hey, the treaty is not fit to purpose. The treaty has a purpose and it is supposed to be protecting people. It is supposed to be ensuring that you had medical access.”

That’s what the treaty is supposed to do. I asked you, Dean, is the treaty protecting people? Do we see drug prohibition actually protecting people and creating a less harmful situation? It is an absolute ridiculous thing to say so I think that is a very good argument. I think Uruguay is right on target saying that they are not wrong – the treaties are wrong.

DEAN BECKER: Truth is starting to be recognized. Eric Holder is leaving but he is talking about perhaps we should consider rescheduling – let the science decide. Now, my God, the science has said for decades now but it was a positive statement from him was it not?

MICHAEL KRAWITZ: I lament the fact that it occurred on the eve of his leaving office...

DEAN BECKER: ...as always...

MICHAEL KRAWITZ: ...as always but it is certainly a profound statement. What he was saying certainly seems to me to be a trickle-down effect from Congressman Cohen and Congressman Blumenhauer’s effect on the congressional hearing because they sounded just like what they were saying – why on earth would cannabis be Schedule I meaning that it is in the same schedule as heroin. You are trying to tell me that heroin and cannabis are on par?!

Anyone...anyone looking at that with just a microscopic amount of insight into drug effects would find that a ridiculous assertion.

DEAN BECKER: Besides your involvement with the UN and these scheduling concepts you are also very much involved with the veterans’ use of medical marijuana as well. Talk about those efforts of recent times.

MICHAEL KRAWITZ: Since 2010 we’ve had a policy at the VA that said if you were being treated with controlled medications and their pain treatment program that if you were using medical marijuana that wasn’t a violation of their drug testing protocol which was a very small thing but a very meaningful thing. It was the only place in the federal government where they had ever said anything nice about medical marijuana so it was very powerful.

Because they also said that they weren’t going to be able to recommend - they felt the DEA’s statements to them made it clear they weren’t allowed to recommend cannabis so to us that became a mandate to work on state laws. We’ve been working around the country making sure that state laws that allow for medical cannabis access provide beneficial conditions for veterans – the conditions that veterans most likely suffer from like Post Traumatic Stress, traumatic brain injury, long-term pain, cancer. You see more cancers in the veteran population.

We are working in the various states. We’ve had great success. We’ve had several states just recently where we’ve added Post Traumatic Stress as a qualifying condition. We’re continuing that effort.

Also we are working with the congress to try to change the schedule number and to work on counselling the VA to come up with guidance from congress. We’ve got two different efforts. One is Congressman Griffith with the LUMMA (Legitimate Use of Medical Marijuana Act. We helped him with that. We also worked with Congressman Blumenhauer’s office and Congressman Farr’s office on the MILCON VA amendment which would allow veteran affairs doctors to recommend. It would change that policy through a budgetary process to allow veteran affairs doctors to recommend cannabis.

Finally, we are working inside the VA. We had some input and were able to help steer the VA to a new pain contract program. You’ve heard me in the past rail against pain contracts. They hurt me, too. Now they are not even calling it a pain contract anymore. Now they are calling it an informed consent document. They’ve removed a lot of the onerous kind of punitive language and they specifically mention medical marijuana, again, in that document which is from the ethics board of the VA not the pain management board so it is one more puzzle piece inside the VA that specifically exempts out the use of medical marijuana from their anti-drug program.

We are having some good success in various places. What we’re trying to do overall is just make sure that when you go into the VA hospital you are not hassled and harassed for things that you say to them that you should be able to say in confidence to your doctors. It is not too much to ask.

DEAN BECKER: Exactly. We are speaking to Mr. Michael Krawitz.

Michael, what’s a website you might want to share with the listeners?

MICHAEL KRAWITZ: Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access. You can find us on Facebook as the most convenient place to get the best updates which is http://facebook.com/USA.VMCA

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DEAN BECKER: As we start closing things out we have another message from the 1930s from New York’s Mayor La Guardia...

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LAGUARDIA: Prohibition cannot be enforced for the simple reason that the majority of American people do not want it enforced and are resisting its enforcement. That being so the only thing to do under our form of government is to abolish it – a law which cannot be enforced, a law which the people of the country do not want enforced.

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DEAN BECKER: Please go on Facebook to http://www.facebook.com/100yearsisenough or visit http://endprohibition.org. Dare to go on December 17th at noon to your local courthouse, jailhouse or city hall to have attorneys and activists and citizens stand up and decry the eternal war on drugs.

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.

This show produced at the Pacifica Studios of KPFT Houston.

Tap dancing… on the edge… of an abyss.

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