04/15/16 Maia Szalavitz

Maia Szalavitz author of Unbroken Brain + Dana Larsen traveling Canada giving away 2 million cannabis seeds is busted then continues giveaway

Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Friday, April 15, 2016
Maia Szalavitz



APRIL 15, 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.

You know, over the last 15 years, I've interviewed about, I don't know, 100 authors about a hundred different books. A lot of times, it's a fun read, sometimes it's rather boring, but this one just took my breath away. This is a book written by Maia Szalavitz. She's written a new one, Unbroken Brain. It's a force to be reckoned with. I want to first read just one of many gems contained therein. Quote: "Harm reduction is the opposite of tough love. It is unconditional kindness and imbues what looks to outsiders like irredeemable ugliness with startling moments of transcendent beauty." End quote. And those are the thoughts of the author, Maia Szalavitz. So, welcome, once again, to Cultural Baggage.

MAIA SZALAVITZ: Oh, thank you so much for having me, I'm glad you enjoyed the book.

DEAN BECKER: Oh, I really did. You know, as I indicated, sometimes it's a chore to read these books. This one, it just took my breath away. I just kept reading and reading. You know, I want to get into the details, some of the signposts and the means of understanding addiction you bring forward with this great book. But I want to start off with personal. I've heard a couple of your other interviews, and they get to this, but what's startling to me, what you did, what you opened up, what you shared, and gracefully presented, was the real life of an addict facing down any potential blowback with what seems to work quite often: the truth. How hard was it to release this book?

MAIA SZALAVITZ: Well, it was a lot harder than I expected, actually. I have, you know, written about bits and pieces of my story over the years many times, and, you know, I felt very -- you know, occasionally felt sort of exposed by it, but, this was -- it was interesting because I thought, oh, you know, I've written, like, six other books, most of them with co-authors where I have to sort of interview the co-author and track them down and make sure that they get their part of this stuff done, and I thought, well, this is easy, I don't have to do that, it will just be me. But then I realized, oh my gosh, it's like, in the other cases, you know, that was, like, their traumatic childhood, and, you know, difficult experiences, and now I had to deal with my own. So, yeah, I ended up feeling like a lot more exposed, and vulnerable, and it was a lot harder emotionally than I expected it to be, but I am glad I did it.

DEAN BECKER: Well, and so am I, and, you know, it kind of offers up an opportunity for the rest of us to speak what we learned through our own proclivities, addictions, if you want to use that word. But through our life experience. Most of us as youngsters have done some sort of drugs, done some sort of mischief, gotten in some sort of trouble. And you and I, we've been phone friends, I guess, for a few years now, and I leaned on you to open up, and I'd like to follow suit.


DEAN BECKER: About my two separate lives as an addict. And I think you'll like this. First, I smoked weed in 1966, joined the Air Force in '67. They made me a policeman, put me on perpetual alternating shifts. The brass recommended that we keep a supply of Ritalin. The base hospital knew about this, and when we walked through the door they'd just put a pill bottle on the counter, and soon enough, I was out of the Air Force and using biker meth, Disoxin, and LA turnarounds, and it's just another example of, you follow a path for a little while, pretty soon that path may latch onto you. Your response, there.

MAIA SZALAVITZ: Yeah. Yeah, well, I mean, I think, you know, there are very few people who can actually claim external authority for exposing them to drugs repeatedly, but it sounds like your exposure was, you know, a bit due to the government. You know, and, I mean, I think, obviously, the question of addiction and responsibility is one thing that sort of runs through all, you know, all of my books pretty well. And I feel like, you know, it's like, exposure matters, but what matters even more is the way we feel and how we connect to these drugs or not, and those of us who do connect to them, and get in bad relationships with them, are the ones who develop addictions, and those who, you know, do not, or who just have good relationships with them and are able to manage and avoid negative consequences, don't become addicted.

DEAN BECKER: You know, I got to fill in the part there, that is, when I learned that my first wife was having a baby, and I realized who I was hanging around with and what I was up to, I did manage to give up speed, never did it again, never have had the desire to do so. Now, the second part of my quote "addiction." The 1970s are rolling along, I've got a kid now, and a wayward wife. I file for divorce, and despite the fact that I'm perfectly happy smoking Panama Red and eating an occasional peyote button, I figure it's my Texas obligation to take up drinking, which is something I'd never done before, and that produced another lost decade. Your thought there, Maia.

MAIA SZALAVITZ: Wow. Yeah. I mean, I think one of the most interesting things about addiction is that, it kind of takes both exposure and a sort of vulnerable transition period in life. So we usually see addiction, you know, starting in youth and adolescence, 90 percent of the time, and then, yeah, people get, you know, spouses and families, and they realize that those responsibilities do not allow them to be addicted the way they were, and an enormous proportion without treatment just stop. However, you can also be vulnerable when another transition, like a divorce, comes along, and, you know, you can relapse back into a pattern of behavior that was previously soothing. And it doesn't, you know, I mean, I think, when people focus on specific drugs, I often think unless you're talking about a particular risk like overdose, I think that, you know, we really need to focus on the person's relationship with altering consciousness, not so much the substance, because it seems like, you know, for you, you weren't necessarily looking to go up or down, you just kind of wanted to get out.

DEAN BECKER: Yep. Yep. Definitely wanted out. Once again, folks, we're speaking with Maia Szalavitz, author of a brand new book, I highly recommend: Unbroken Brain. It gets right down to the heart of this addiction problem. It talks to the, I don't know, the hysteria, the lack of, I don't, a need for a lack of hysteria maybe is a better way to put it. You know, I want to stick here in Texas for one more moment, if we can.


DEAN BECKER: And, I'm going to leave them unnamed, but I have relatives that are using, you know, alcohol, some using crack. Now, they're aging in what I perceive is the recovery window number of years, you know, they're not quite old enough to quit in some fashion, I guess. Now, I still have high hopes, but, in the way you recognize your own father's determination to keep you around, the way he handled your situation. What can you say to dads like me, who know the truth, share the truth, do whatever is possible to educate and motivate, and yet who still fail. I feel like a failure. Hell, I guess I'm asking for a pep talk.

MAIA SZALAVITZ: Oh, sure, I mean, I feel like the thing to do there is really to, you know, never give up hope. To make sure you take care of yourself so that whatever -- you know, people with addiction can sort of exasperate their relatives and friends, so you need to, like, you know, take care of yourself so that you minimize that. But, you know, just keep letting them know that, you know, you love them, and that you're there for them, and that there are ways they can become healthier, even if they don't want to stop yet.

You know, this is where I think harm reduction is so valuable, because, I think oftentimes people get into power struggles with relatives, particularly parents, and particularly teenagers tend to think, oh, she doesn't want me to get better, she just wants to take away my fun. And when you realize that that's the position they're coming from, you can reframe what you're saying so that you're allied with them, which is basically like, look, I want you to have fun, I want you to be happy, I want you to have a good life. This actually isn't helping. I can see it from the outside, and you might not be able to see it. Let's work to find ways to make your relationship with substances more healthy, and to find out why you seem to be so wrapped up in this.

I mean, you know, for me, I had depression, and I didn't know that's what was going on, but, when I finally got on anti-depressants, I realized that I had for years sort of been living with this intense self-hatred and intense discomfort, that was partially cognitive, it was partially around me thinking that, oh, people couldn't possibly like me. And was partially chemical in the sense of that, I just couldn't feel that they did actually like me. I couldn't perceive the pleasure in the relationship. And, you know, somehow, the Prozac really helped that for me, and so I was able to say, wow, like, okeh, I'm not so overwhelmed anymore, that's good. And, wow, like, I can just, you know, I can see these people care about me. I think one of the most horrifying and isolating things in addiction, and addiction particularly that includes depression, is you just feel so disconnected and cut off, and misunderstood and hated and rejected. And so, the more you can try to help people feel accepted and safe and warm and comfortable, and that they will be able to have those feelings without the drugs, the more you can move people towards recovery.

And obviously this can be a very slow and long process, but I think another lesson of harm reduction is, is that, if you have a traumatic, distressing life, and you try to take away the one thing that makes that life bearable before providing alternatives that are going to work, you may not succeed in taking that away, because it may be just too scary for the person. You may need to teach them safer and healthier ways to cope before they stop using.

DEAN BECKER: All right. Maia, thank you. To kind of underscore that point, I will read from your book, here, what am I at, Chapter Seven. Quote: "When you wear of groove of self-denigration into your brain, your thoughts simply tend to slide into it more often. Like a muscle that gets repeated use, the pathway of negative thinking gets stronger." Would you say that kind of underscores your thoughts, there?

MAIA SZALAVITZ: Absolutely, yeah, and, I mean, it's like one of the reasons I think it's so important to look at addiction from a developmental perspective is that these things feed on each other. You know, you sort of build that groove in there, and then you tend to fall back into it.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. Here's another one, where am I, Chapter Eight, I think: "Shame and guilt didn't provide any new tools that would allow me to change without a clue as to alternative ways of coping. I couldn't see any way out. I was just like the prisoner in the cell with the hidden trap door with no hope for escape, or information that would make it possible." It is a feeling of being trapped in this situation and nothing you can do about it, when perhaps there are people, there are tools, there are ways and means, if you get the chance to look around. Right?

MAIA SZALAVITZ: Yeah. Yeah, I mean, I like that image of, like, you know, being in a prison cell, and there's like a hidden way of escape that only information will allow you to access. Without that information, you are completely trapped, as anybody who's in a cell that is, you know, that you can't possibly break out of. But once you have that information, you have the key inside of you, and you can get out. And I think, you know, one of the things that is so terrible about the way we've treated addiction is that, you know, we're trying to force people to change by punishing them, but if you're punishing people, and you're not teaching them how to change, you're just going to repeatedly punish them for the same thing over and over again. So, you know, I mean, it's like punishing a baby for wetting their diaper, like, you know, they can't help it. They don't know how to control that.


MAIA SZALAVITZ: And, you know, it's just awful. So, I think, you know, we need to find ways to get information to people, and to understand that, you know, from the perspective of the addict who is trapped, there are no other alternatives than using, and that will, you know, create some pretty messed up behavior sometimes. But once they realize that they can be safe and comfortable and okeh without the drug, then you can start to see recovery.

DEAN BECKER: All right. Friends, once again, we're speaking with Maia Szalavitz, she's author of a brand new book I highly recommend. Please get a copy, it may help your family more than you realize. Maia, I'm reading from what, here, the problem with bottom. Quote: "In this context, however, it's not surprising that the criminal justice system is seen as an appropriate tool to fight addictions. There are few better ways to make people feel powerless than locking them up and controlling every aspect of their lives. There's no conflict between viewing addiction as a disease and as a crime, if you believe punishment is the cure for the disease." Your response, Maia.

MAIA SZALAVITZ: Yeah. I mean, that's where America has been stuck for the last hundred years. We know that addiction is clinically defined as compulsive behavior despite negative consequences, and yet we continue to try to think that negative consequences, A.K.A. punishment, is what's going to fix it. So, we keep trying the same thing and expecting different results. And then we keep blaming addicted people for keeping, trying the same thing. And we go in this really nasty cycle where we are basically trying to treat a condition that is defined by its resistance to punishment, with punishment.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. It's crazy. It's just crazy. Now I hope we have time for this thought, and maybe more. But let's talk about the Kiwi approach, and this guy, what is his name, Bowden, and his tonics. Real quick, my solution has always been a return to the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act that forced producers to label their tonics so people knew what they were taking, and I thought that was brilliant. Anyway, the Kiwi approach. Your thoughts, there, Maia.

MAIA SZALAVITZ: Sure, sure. So, in New Zealand, this unfortunately may not ever go into effect now, but they had very briefly what was essentially an FDA for recreational drugs. And the idea was going to be that we test these new chemicals that, you know, people are selling as legal highs. And we approve and allow the regulated marketing of the least dangerous ones. I think -- I was fascinated by the whole thing because this guy Matt Bowden was, you know, a guy who made legal highs, and wanted to be regulated, he wanted to do harm reduction. And he went and actually got this legislation passed, which then unfortunately shut down his business, because of political things that happened afterward. But, I think the point here is that the only way to reduce the harm associated with drug use and with drug dealing in an illegal market is to create a regulated market that will provide what people are always going to want, but in the least harmful way, and without giving massive profits to gangsters who will be violent around it because they don't have recourse to the law to settle disputes.

DEAN BECKER: So true. So true. We're empowering terrorists, cartels, gangs, ensuring overdoses, and, you know, mislabeled or misused drugs, for sure, and doing nothing to stop our kids getting access. It's a really quirky set of laws we've put in place, isn't it. Well, once again, we've been speaking with Maia Szalavitz. She's author of the new book, Unbroken Brain.

MAIA SZALAVITZ: You know, I'm just so glad that you liked it and that you really got what I'm trying to say, and, you know, I just hope that more people will be able to, you know, benefit from a more compassionate and evidence-informed perspective.

DEAN BECKER: It's time to play Name That Drug By Its Side Effects! Dehumanization. Solitude. Degradation. Deprivation. Dehydration. Starvation. Injury. Humiliation. Torture. Suffocation. Untimely teenage deaths. Time's up. The answer is not a drug. It is drug treatment. Tough love.

It seems every day, the truth about this drug war just gets a little larger, gets a little more recognized. And there's a situation up in Canada that's just baffling to me. They're fixing to legalize marijuana at some point, hopefully within the next year, and yet there's a gentleman up there who's giving away marijuana seeds, with the intent to, in essence, overgrow the government. As far as I know, cannabis seeds are legal in Canada, and yet, this gentleman, Mister Dana Larsen, has run into a bit of trouble on his travels and his distribution effort. Dana, what in the heck's going on in Canada?

DANA LARSEN: Well, you know, the laws in Canada are very confusing right now, and they've been this way for a long time because, we've been engaging in a very massive and successful campaign of civil disobedience against Canada's cannabis laws. And so, in Canada we have very strict laws against bongs and pipes being sold, we have laws against books about marijuana, we have laws against dispensaries and seed banks, and you're wrong, actually, marijuana seeds are illegal in Canada.

But these laws are not enforced anymore, and so it creates this bizarre dichotomy. There's bong shops all across Canada, there's hundreds of dispensaries openly selling medical marijuana. There's seed banks, there's books and information -- all these things that are banned are available pretty much everywhere. And so the laws aren't really enforced, and it's because we've resisted these laws. People used to get busted for selling bongs, you know, people like Marc Emery and others, did get busted for selling seeds, but we just kept doing it and we've overgrown the government on these campaigns.

And so now, I wanted to finish that campaign, to go past the final frontier of marijuana, which is being able to grow it openly and freely. That, to me, is what legalization is about, and so I've acquired a very large number of cannabis seeds, over two million seeds I have now. There are -- a lot of them are marijuana seeds that are high THC, but the vast majority are high CBD seeds, that will produce a nice plant about five feet tall with a big central cola, they'll make, you know, around 8 to 12 percent CBD if grown outdoors, and this strain, as I said, I've got millions of these seeds and I'm giving them away from coast to coast. I'm doing a national tour. But I got busted a couple of days ago in Calgary, and spent the night in jail there.

DEAN BECKER: And, I don't know what Canadian jails look like compared to the ones here in the States, but, it's never any fun, I'm sure.

DANA LARSEN: Well, it wasn't super fun, but it wasn't that bad either, I have to say. It was the second stop on my tour, and so far we've had five stops, six stops so far, and they've all been packed rooms, standing room only. There's a lot of interest in this. But there's a woman in Vancouver who really is against marijuana. She's part of a group called Smart Approaches to Marijuana, SAM Canada, there's a similar group in the US. And she was calling all the venues I was going to be speaking at and threatening them, telling them that I was going to be breaking the law, that she was going to call the police, that there was going to be action. And two of my venues, in Kelowna and Calgary, they both actually cancelled on us after her threats and intimidation.

So we found new spots in both cities fairly easily, and I'm not sure, but I believe that she also called the police in Calgary, and she might have called the police in Kelowna as well, and encouraged them to arrest me and charge me for trafficking in seeds, and in Calgary, they did her bidding, and they sent a bunch of police officers down there.

They didn't actually arrest me first, they arrested one of our volunteers who had run back to our van to get some more seeds. The police were just kind of milling about and trying to be intimidating, but when they had one of us alone and separated, they grabbed him, threw him in a police car. So I went out there to see what was going on, and I told them, look, if you're going to arrest anyone for trafficking in cannabis seeds at my event, it's going to be me. And I grabbed a big bag of a hundred cannabis seeds and I openly shared them with some people at the rally around me, and then they all started saying, arrest me, I've got seeds, arrest me! And I went to the officer and said, look, I've got six seeds in my hand, you just saw me traffic them. You should arrest me. He said, all right, and he wouldn't arrest anybody else, but he took me in his police car and took me away.

And I had to stay overnight, and in the morning I got bail. My bail conditions are quite interesting, because I'm forbidden from having in my possession or giving away or using any drug without a doctor's recommendation, except when I'm at work, because I work at a medical marijuana dispensary that I founded seven years ago. We're -- because the judge acknowledged that I should be allowed to do my work in my dispensary, I can sell marijuana there and buy it, and presumably I can mail out seeds to people there. But I can't do that anywhere else. And yet my dispensary is still illegal in Canada, it's probably more illegal than the act of giving away cannabis seeds is, you know, in that same gray area. So it's a really bizarre situation, but, the seed give-away continues, the tour continues. I've done four stops since Calgary and there's been no police or problems or anything like that anywhere. I'm not personally handing out seeds anymore, but my friend and assistant is doing that for me, and we're going to continue giving out seeds, and most of them are going out by mail order anyway.

So, I've distributed over 400,000 seeds across Canada now, and I'm on target to get to the two million that I promised to give away. We're going to have cannabis growing in every city and town across Canada, openly, in fields, in parking lots, in planters and traffic circles, at people's homes and property, and we're going to make it impossible for the police to enforce this law anymore.

DEAN BECKER: Well done, Dana. Look, I, you know, you have such heroes up there, Marc Emery being one that certainly comes to mind, but it's time to force this issue. It's time to say, where is the problem, and just bring it on home, isn't it?

DANA LARSEN: Well, you know, we have a government in Canada now that promised to legalize marijuana, which is wonderful, and certainly better than the last government we had, which had promised to eradicate marijuana and imprison everybody, so it's very good, but unfortunately, the laws haven't changed, so we're still living under the mandatory minimums, these very extreme laws that were passed by our last prime minister, Stephen Harper. We're now over 6 months into the new regime and they haven't even repealed those mandatory minimums at a start. And what we really want to see in Canada immediately is an end to arrests for possession, an end to arrests for personal cultivation.

We understand it will take a few years to get government stamped, approved, legal marijuana in stores, and that's okeh, we can wait a while for that. We've already got great marijuana and a great distribution network, and high quality products in Canada. What we don't have is a stop of the arrests. And so, you know, this campaign and part of this effort is to convince the government to stop busting people, and to show how silly these laws are. Our prime minister admitted that he smoked pot, not in the distant past, his last joint was a couple of years ago, while he was an elected member of Parliament. And when he admitted that to Canadians, we didn't punish him, we didn't look down on him, we elected him as the leader of our country. And yet if we get caught with a joint now, doing something he did quite recently, will he forgive us? No, we still get charged, we still get busted.

A guy in Ottawa recently, or in Ontario recently, got charged with cultivation of one cannabis plant. He was charged and will be going to court for this, and in Trudeau's Canada. To us, this is absurd, you know, so this campaign to get everybody growing cannabis openly and freely. We're going to be actually stopping in Ottawa, Canada's capitol, in a few days, as part of our tour, and I'm going to be leading a plant-in at the Parliament buildings, our center of government there, and just to show how ridiculous this is and to continue planting these seeds and overgrowing Canada. And hopefully, this will spur the government to make some change sooner rather than later.

DEAN BECKER: All right, friends, we've been speaking with Mister Dana Larsen, another Canadian hero. Dana, is there a website you'd like to share with the listeners?

DANA LARSEN: Absolutely. OvergrowCanada.com, but I will warn you, I'm not sending seeds to the US, this is for Canadians only, but you can find out more at OvergrowCanada.com. And you can also go to GreenBudsAndHash.com if you want to find out about my funny books and parodies, and what other things that I'm up to.

DEAN BECKER: Well, we're going to have to wrap it up. I just wanted to let you know I'm headed to Baltimore to attend the Patients Out of Time conference, then to the District of Columbia for the Students for Sensible Drug Policy conference, then I'm headed to New York City to report on the UN's UNGASS conference and protest. It's a great sign, a powerful show for the next week or two, and as always, I remind you, because of prohibition you don't know what's in that bag, please be careful. The drug war's ending, slow, ugly, and bloody. Please do your part to end this madness.

To the Drug Truth Network listeners around the world, this is Dean Becker for Cultural Baggage and the unvarnished truth. Drug Truth Network archives are stored at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy. Tap dancin' on the edge of an abyss.