01/22/16 Lynn Paltrow

Cultural Baggage Radio Show

Lynn Paltrow, Dir of Advocates for Pregnant Women, Jason Hernandez freed from life w/o parole by Obama & Lisa Marie Johnston interview & song Time Flies By (when you're getting stoned)

Audio file


JANUARY 22, 2016


DEAN BECKER: Broadcasting on the Drug Truth Network, this is Cultural Baggage.

DR. G. ALAN ROBISON: It is not only inhumane, it is really fundamentally un-American.

CROWD: 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.

Hi, my friends, this is Dean Becker. Thank you for joining us on this edition of Cultural Baggage. Later on, we're going to hear from Lisa Marie Johnston, who has a great new song, Time Flies By. We'll hear from Mister Jason Hernandez, a man released from life without parole by President Obama for his drug charges, but first --

Over the years I've interviewed a few people several times. Our next guest is one that I wish I could interview every week because of all the complications that seem to be coming forward about women's rights and children, things like cannabis. Here to talk about it is the director of the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, Lynn Paltrow. How are you, Lynn?

LYNN PALTROW: I'm fine, thanks for having me.

DEAN BECKER: Lynn, am I right. Maybe we're just becoming more aware of it, but it certainly seems like a growing problem.

LYNN PALTROW: Absolutely. There has been a problem always of targeting women and particularly pregnant women, but what we're seeing right now is, as there are achievements in decriminalization and legalization, there's always a backlash, and the backlash is particularly being directed to pregnant women and parents. So for example, it may be, it may almost even be that as we decriminalize marijuana, the response is to try to control and punish by saying that pregnant women who use marijuana or parents who use marijuana or even if parents who have marijuana in the house, are child abusers, either criminally or through the civil child welfare system.

And the civil child welfare system is one that operates with a great deal of secrecy, the hearings are often not public, and what that court, that system does is basically has the power to put people on parole before they've ever been convicted of a crime and released. So, what they can say is, if you don't do what we tell you to do, and allow us to surveil you, to come into your home, to open your refrigerator, to require you to have parenting classes, even if you are a terrific parent, require you to go to drug treatment, to require you to have frequent drug tests, we will take your child away.

And in fact, sometimes they get people to agree to do all those things before they are even found guilty of civil child abuse, because they are terrorized into believing that if they don't cooperate, their children will be taken from them.

DEAN BECKER: Is this just renegade child services workers, or is this kind of the mindset of many of these facilities?

LYNN PALTROW: The child welfare laws are supposed to be state by state. We know that in the aftermath of the so-called crack baby scare, when people believed that pregnant women smoking cocaine, crack, were going to have babies that were uniquely harmed, something people believed because that drug was associated with African American women, and African American motherhood has been under attack since slavery, so that white people could convince themselves that black moms don't care about their babies, so it's okeh to sell their children, it's okeh to rip apart families, and we're still doing it to this day.

States began amending, some states began amending their civil child welfare laws to make them applicable to the context of pregnancy. So some of them say that, if a pregnant woman tests positive for a criminalized drug during pregnancy, or if the baby tests positive at birth, they can, it can be reported as a form of civil child abuse. She can then be investigated and interrogated by a caseworker or social worker, and in some states, a positive tox is presumptive neglect, that you can lose your child just based on having a positive tox.

Now, what we know is that there is nothing about a drug test, I can give you my, give you a drug test today, can pee in a cup, hand it to you, it could test positive for heroin, but that won't even tell you if I'm drug dependent or addicted. It will tell you that I used the drug within a certain period of time. It is certainly not going to tell you whether I can parent, whether I love my child, whether in spite of whatever drug I'm using or not using, I put my child ahead of everything else and make sure they go to school, and make sure they do their homework, and yet, millions if not billions of dollars from child welfare, state child welfare systems and county child welfare systems are used to turn drug tests into a test of parenting.

Other states may or may not have a statute that says you can assume neglect based on nothing more than a positive drug test, but we know for example, New York does not have a law that says you can do that, but practice and policy often result in parents who test positive for, pregnant women in particular who test positive for a criminalized drug, or -- let me say that again. In New York, where we don't have such a law, when a woman gives birth in a certain hospital, testing is discretionary so it's extremely discriminatory on the basis of race, if it's positive, she may be reported to child welfare, and even if all she did was drink some marijuana tea during pregnancy to deal with extreme morning sickness, she can -- there are social workers and caseworkers in the child welfare system from, in New York, in Alabama, in California, who will argue that means she should not be allowed to parent the child she just risked her life to give birth to.

DEAN BECKER: I, you know, I think of the -- we're having an epidemic of prescription abuse, with the oxycodone and all of this, but, I suppose then, that if a pregnant woman, or even a mother, were using Oxycontin, etc,. the legal drug, that these sort of complications wouldn't arise?

LYNN PALTROW: No -- Well, let me start by saying that we need to be clear that there's no role for law enforcement of child welfare in prenatal care, birth, or delivery. None of the people who work in those systems are trained to provide prenatal care or to judge what's best for pregnant women. They are trained to look for crimes, they're trained to look for harms, and to see things as harms. Children are born every day who have health problems, and that could be from prematurity, it could be from a genetic disorder, could be any number of things. We don't typically then think that the woman who gave birth to that baby harmed that baby. It's not abuse, it's not neglect. It's called childbirth, it's called life. And yet, in our punitive culture, increasingly the idea is that if a woman can't guarantee that her baby has a perfectly healthy birth outcome, she should be punished or subject to investigation for civil child abuse. And ironically, because of the intersection of the war on drugs and the ongoing war on reproductive health and rights in this country, many women are giving birth to perfectly healthy babies but are accused of having risked harm, and therefore deserving of punishment.

So, the thing about opioids and, what you said is oxycodone, well, I would say that we often skip a step. So we've had a long period of time in which pharmaceutical companies were pushing those drugs, physicians were prescribing them, and some people became dependent on them, including women who became pregnant. Opioids are the only drug that have a particular impact on the outcome of pregnancies, babies may experience a withdrawal sequence called -- that's been poorly named neonatal abstinence syndrome. It sounds like fetal alcohol syndrome, which actually is a -- can have permanent effects. Neonatal abstinence syndrome is a treatable, transitory set of symptoms that we know what to do with it, we know how to reduce those symptoms, and those babies are fine.

But, what is happening is that a new hysteria about that, a new excuse to blame pregnant women, a new excuse to have state interference is being used to justify punitive laws. So what we have in this country, in most states, in general, we have never punished use per se. We've punished possession. And it has been a way of getting at users, but you, still, you had to have the drug on you, not in you, and that meant that if you were a man and you went to the emergency room, you didn't have to worry that if you tested positive, your doctor was going to think they had to report it to the police, or even if you were the father of a one-day-old, that they'd have to report you to child welfare.

What the drug war has done is given us, authorities in the state of Tennessee have explicitly and deliberately amended their laws to create the ability to punish women who become pregnant and do a number of things, but, including using illegal narcotic drugs. So what they have done is create, as men, as drugs are being decriminalized and legalized for men, Tennessee is passing a law, that one of its uses has been to make it a crime for women, or people with the capacity for pregnancy, to use drugs. Use has never been a crime. So they have used pregnancy, the panic about neonatal abstinence syndrome, this totally transitory and treatable set of symptoms that can be reduced by keeping babies with their moms, by letting the moms touch the babies, by letting them breastfeed, and instead, what hospitals are doing is ripping these babies away from their mothers, putting them in the most expensive place in the hospital, the neonatal intensive care unit, and then saying, these moms are bad and they're costing us money.

Most physicians in the United States of America have had no more than three hours of training on dependency and addiction, and as Ron Abraham says, Dr. Abraham says, from Vancouver, if you take a baby and put it in an abnormal environment, it's going to act abnormally. So, as -- to the extent that we want to respond to drug use and pregnancy with anger and punishment, it is the thing that we are sure will hurt babies the most. And, it has become, we have to understand that the backlash to decriminalization and legalization is taking place, directed to pregnant women and parents, and we are seeing an expansion of criminal drug laws directed specifically to people with the capacity for pregnancy.

DEAN BECKER: I don't know, folks, if you don't hear this, you don't have your ears working. You know? This drug war is nothing but an ongoing series of propaganda attacks, hysteria, just promulgated nationally. Let's talk briefly about the crack baby scare, how that developed, and what the hell happened.

LYNN PALTROW: Well, a researcher, Ira Chasnoff, who studied 23 babies or some, under -- 23 to 25, I can't remember. Proposed that there was such a thing as a crack baby. And what you have to think about it, imagine a mom who loves broccoli, and she ate tons of it through her pregnancy. We wouldn't say the baby born to her was a broccoli baby. We don't even call people like, whose mother smoked during pregnancy, nicotine babies. They were exposed to a variety of things, and were just babies. But, when the drug cocaine was modified to be smokable through crack, and it was seen as a drug used by African Americans and used by African American women, suddenly people were willing to think in extremely non-scientific and purely prejudicial ways, and so when people said, you smoke this, pregnant women take this drug, and by which they meant black women take this drug, their babies are damaged and it's going to cost you, society, money to deal with it.

Part of that propaganda is the same old same old, which is, if we keep the focus on individuals, bad people and particularly bad African American mothers, we're never going to get to the point of funding universal health care. We're never going to have the government support anybody, because we don't want "those" women to ever have those benefits. They just deserve to be punished, and if they would just stop having babies, we wouldn't need to have a system into which we all contribute so we can all have the benefit of that care. That mythology, the mythology of so-called, of babies born prenatally exposed to cocaine, didn't result in sort of thoughtful investigation.

Even when people began to identify fetal alcohol syndrome, which is something that can occur if you drink enough alcohol during pregnancy and you're probably also malnourished and maybe there's a genetic predisposition, there have been people, pregnant women arrested for drinking, but it's very rare, and the response wasn't primarily a punitive response, it was, let's open a research center, let's find out how we can educate, let's find out how we can help women drink less. But when it was African American women, and the drug was the smokable form of cocaine, the primary response was punishment. People did not talk to the women and say, well why are you taking this drug? And how is it helping you, and could we find something else that helps you? And is it really creating a greater risk of harm than cigarettes? And it turns out, none of the criminalized drugs, including opioids, create greater risks of harm than cigarettes. Far more women smoke cigarettes during pregnancy than use any criminalized drug, far more women drink alcohol than use any criminalized drug. And yet, we focus on that as the greatest risk of harm to children, which is absolutely absurd.

We live in a country with an absurdly high rate of infant mortality, and maternal mortality, it's been three to four times higher for African American women for the past six decades, and it has nothing to do with drug use. White women and black women use criminalized drugs at the same rate, so few of them numerically, statistically, use any criminalized drug for it to have an impact in that way. And what researchers are increasingly thinking is that, for, especially for black women, and including black women who have relative economic privilege, they have also extremely high rates of maternal and infant mortality, is the persistent harm of stress from the daily relentless racism that they live with in this country. So, you use the crack baby crisis, you use bad pregnant mothers to distract attention from the core issues around racism that is creating the stress and the removal of government support for health care and education and healthy communities, and say, we're going to say that the greatest risk of harm to children are their own mothers, not a government that fails all of us.

DEAN BECKER: Once again, that was Lynn Paltrow, director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women. Tell them how they can learn more.

LYNN PALTROW: They can go to AdvocatesForPregnantWomen.org online, that's AdvocatesForPregnantWomen.org, and I hope if are an organization that advocates for gender equality, you advocate for women, children, or families, that you will look on our website for our declaration calling for global drug policies that support women, children, and families.

In 2016, the United Nations is having a special General Assembly session on global drug policies, and we believe it's time for women's organizations, reproductive rights, health, and justice organizations, organizations that are fighting for gender equality, to join a worldwide movement saying that punitive drug policies, that responding to any kind of health issue, whether it's pregnancy, it's drug use, it's the health of your children, through the criminal justice system, through a punitive child welfare system, never works.

What we need is healthcare, not punishment, and we want the UN to hear from women and families and children, that the excuse for the war on drugs is often that it's protecting children, when what it's doing is putting moms in prison, creating the basis in the United States for surveilling and arresting pregnant women. It is destroying families, and yes, people whose drug use, the small percentage of people who use drugs who do have dependency problems, yes they need help, and that help should come through universal health care, and the promise that if you seek help, what you're going to get is help and support and respect for your human rights, not a one-way ticket to jail.

DEAN BECKER: It's time to play Name That Drug By Its Side Effects! Loss of personal freedom, family and possessions; ineligible for government funding, education, licensing, housing or employment; loss of aggressive mind set in a dangerous world. This drug’s peaceful, easy feeling may be habit forming. Time's up! The answer: Doobie, jimmy, joint, reefer, spliff, jibber, jay, biffa, jazz, blunt, steege, greener, cracker, hogger, bone, carrot, maryjane, marijuana, cannabis sativa. Made by god. Prohibited by man.

JASON HERNANDEZ: My name is Jason Hernandez. I'm the first Latino to receive clemency from President Obama, wherein I was serving life without parole. Twenty years, twenty years, twenty years, twenty years, forty, forty, sixty, and an eighty year sentence for a nonviolent drug crime, and the drug involved, crack cocaine and marijuana. At the early age of 15, I ended up, I started selling drugs on the corner. Dimes and joints, and, it's just, everybody in my community was doing it, so it was something that I did. And my older brother sold drugs, and I wanted to be just like my older brother. So he skateboarded, I skateboarded. He was a breakdancer, I was a breakdancer. He started selling drugs, so naturally I wanted to sell drugs. And in 1998, that's when the federal government came and indicted me, and I had like 15 drug charges. And that's what eventually led to my sentence of life without parole.

My crime involved no gangs, no guns, cartels, violence, or anything like that. And I filed, I did everything I possibly could to try to get out of prison. I took paralegal classes, I filed my own legal work. Everything got denied. And my last opportunity was asking the president of the United States to set me free. And at that time, it was a long shot. There was tens of thousands of petitions filed a year, one percent were granted. And never in history has a person serving life without parole received clemency.

DEAN BECKER: Well, Jason, is there a favorite website where you might want to point folks towards?

JASON HERNANDEZ: Yeah, I have a website, it's called CrackOpenTheDoor.com. I advocate for first-time nonviolent crack cocaine offenders serving life without parole, so you could go on there. You can see the faces, everybody knows the statistics, but they don't know the faces. They go to my website, they can see these people that are serving life without parole, they can see their families and their kids, and just kind of humanize them, and that these are somebody's mothers, these are somebody's fathers. These are somebody's children, and they're people. And they did bad, but -- and they've paid their price, a lot of these guys have been in prison for 15, 20, 25 years, but, I don't think they deserved to die in there. I know they don't deserve to die in there. So, just ask President Obama to, you know, give them a second chance. That's all we're asking.

LISA-MARIE JOHNSTON: [MUSIC] Pass me that doobie,
Let's put some records on,
Go ahead now toss the lighter to me,
Somebody pack the bong.

DEAN BECKER: All right, folks, that was Time Flies By, just a little extract. You're going to hear more of it when we close out the show. But here to tell us more about it is the artist, Lisa-Marie Johnston. Hello.

LISA-MARIE JOHNSTON: Hi, how're you doing?

DEAN BECKER: Oh, Lisa-Marie, I want to tell you, you know, in my position here, I get a lot of songs from around the country, heck, around the world, dealing with drugs, dealing with marijuana. But yours is the sweetest song that's come along in a long time.

LISA-MARIE JOHNSTON: Oh, thank you so much. I appreciate that.

DEAN BECKER: Marijuana in particular is a very hot subject these days, is it not?

LISA-MARIE JOHNSTON: It is, yes. One of my goals for that song was to sort of bridge the gap between my friends and their parents, and so, it's really neat now because I'll have friends tell me, well, my mom was washing the dishes the other day and she was singing "Pass me that doobie," and we started talking about it, and so, I don't know, it sort of makes the subject a little bit easier for some of my friends to talk about their parents about, which I think is cool, it's good progress.

DEAN BECKER: But, it's a rather unique song, in that it's a little country, it's a little pop, it's lightweight in a way, and it's very powerful in its phrasing as well, and it's just a great song. I thank you.

LISA-MARIE JOHNSTON: Well, thank you so much.

DEAN BECKER: I wanted to add this, that you did have some support and a co-singer, I guess that's the word, from perhaps the best known marijuana smoker in America, his son, Mr. Lukas Nelson. Correct?

LISA-MARIE JOHNSTON: Yes. That was a shot in the dark. I'm a huge fan of that band, Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real, and they moved to San Francisco last year to record their record they're going to release in March. And, I saw that they were in town and I needed a drummer for this record, and so I reached out to Anthony, their drummer, and he agreed to jump on, so their drummer is playing all the drums on my new record. And I just sort of sent the song to Lukas and said hey, I'm a big fan, would you sing on this with me, and he said yeah. And it was awesome. So, I got really lucky there.

DEAN BECKER: Oh man, indeed you did.

LISA-MARIE JOHNSTON: Just really grateful.

DEAN BECKER: Oh yeah. And, you know, it was unique. I think it was in November, I was flying into DC, and a lady sitting next to me said she was going that night to the, oh what -- I can't think of it, an award they gave to Willie Nelson at one of the --

LISA-MARIE JOHNSTON: Oh, the Gershwin Award.

DEAN BECKER: Gershwin Award, and I was trying to wrangle her to take me with her, but, you know.

LISA-MARIE JOHNSTON: Didn't work out.

DEAN BECKER: Willie Nelson is the most known pot smoker in America, and yet he tours the nation, hundreds of cities every year, and except for a couple of loony cops down in El Paso, he gets away with it because they know it's not harming him, it's not harming anybody, is it, Lisa-Marie?

LISA-MARIE JOHNSTON: I don't think so, no, and I'm, I mean, I'm one of the biggest Willie Nelson fans there is out there. I just think that he's done so much for helping people understand that it's not a terrible thing, and certainly shouldn't be putting people in jail for it, I don't think.


LISA-MARIE JOHNSTON: I love me some Willie, he's awesome.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. And his boys ain't too bad either, they're coming along strong. Sound a lot like Willie.

LISA-MARIE JOHNSTON: They're so awesome. Really really talented kids.

DEAN BECKER: All right. Once again, folks, we've been speaking with Miss Lisa-Marie Johnston, she's got a great new song, I urge you to check it out, it's Time Flies By.

LISA-MARIE JOHNSTON: Yeah, you know, the album's not officially out yet, but it is up for streams on my website, which is www.StompAndGroove.com. And it's also on my SoundCloud, and my Facebook is /StompAndGroove.

DEAN BECKER: As we're wrapping it up, I will indeed play Time Flies By by Lisa-Marie Johnston. But I wanted to just share this thought with you, folks, that if you're not standing against this drug war, through your silence you're counted as standing with this eternal war on plants and plant product users. Again, I remind you, because of prohibition you don't know what's in that bag. Please be careful - as time flies by.

LISA-MARIE JOHNSTON: [MUSIC] Well it’s sure been a long week,
But Friday's finally come.
Now standing before me
Is my 3 foot bong.
This weekend's about to fly by.
One thing that I know
Time Flies by when your getting stoned

Some call it colitas, and some call it drone
Some say that its all right, and some say its wrong.
Based on empirical research, one thing that I know,
Is time flies by when your getting stoned….

Pass me that doobie, lets put some records on
Go ahead now toss a lighter to me, somebody pack the bong.
This weekend's gonna fly by, one thing that I know,
Is time flies by when you’re getting stoned.

Riding shotgun in Reno, puffin a doobie down
I see the cops in the rear view, better put the joint out.
But soon as we cross that state line, oh, you already know
I'm gonna light this shit back up an ill be gettin stoned.

So Pass me that doobie, let's put some records on.
Go ahead now toss a lighter to me, somebody pack the bong.
This weekend's gonna fly by, one thing that I know,
Is time flies by when you’re getting stoned.

Time flies by when you're getting stoned.
Smoke weed.