08/19/16 Phil Smith

Cultural Baggage Radio Show

Phil Smith, reporter with Alternet & Stop the Drug War recaps recent blunders of US Govt, Vivian McPeak on Seattle Hempfest & Paul Armentano of NORML re DEA ruling on cannabis

Audio file


AUGUST 19, 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, this is Dean Becker. Thank you for joining us on this edition of Cultural Baggage. Let's get started.

PHIL SMITH: I'm going on NPR, on the Dallas NPR affiliate on Monday for a podcast to talk about amphetamine songs in post-war trucker culture.

DEAN BECKER: Well, I know here in Texas, in the '60s, maybe even the early '70s, just about every major truck stop outside of cities, you could buy 10 "preludes" for a dollar.


DEAN BECKER: Wrapped up in little foil tube looking things.

PHIL SMITH: I remember those days, man. That was -- I was just a young teenager when they made speed illegal, like 1969 I think.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. Yeah. It became evil all of a sudden.


DEAN BECKER: All right, let's get to this. All right. If you will, sir, please introduce yourself, your organization, the work you do.

PHIL SMITH: Hey, this is Phillip Smith, I am the drug editor, the drug reporter editor for Alternet. I also write the Drug War Chronicle for StopTheDrugWar.org.

DEAN BECKER: Now, long-term listeners, for years, Phil did a weekly segment, corrupt cop story of the week. There was usually several cops involved. But he's gone well beyond that now. Tell us about some of your recent writings, please, Phil.

PHIL SMITH: Well, marijuana legalization is keeping me pretty busy these days. I just did a big piece for Alternet and the Drug War Chronicle about the states that are going to legalize it in November, or we hope they're going to legalize it. It's on the ballot in five states, those are Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada. It looks really strong in California. Just yesterday, I saw a poll where it was 63.8 percent in favor of legalizing it. That's the highest ever. It also looks pretty good in Nevada, where the only poll, the only recent poll, has it up by nine points. Also looks pretty good in Maine, where it's polling in the mid-50s.

Doesn't look so promising in Massachusetts and Arizona, somewhat surprisingly in Massachusetts, but that's the state where they have the most well-organized opposition. You have the Republican governor of the state against it, you have the Democratic mayor of Boston against it, you have the Democratic speaker of the state assembly against it, and they also haven't done real well at raising money in Massachusetts, for some reason that I don't know.

Similarly, in Arizona they have strong, organized opposition. It's a traditionally Red state, but this is an interesting year. Arizona, which should be rocksolid Republican may actually vote for Hillary in November, and that could have an impact on the fate of the marijuana legalization initiative. So, I'm fairly confident that we're going to see it pass in three states, including the nation's largest, in terms of population, sorry Texas. And we may see it in four or even five.

DEAN BECKER: Well, Phil, this brings to mind that, it indicates the mindset of not just the voters who're becoming more educated on the subject, but I think the politicians as well. Now, you mentioned recalcitrance in Massachusetts and Arizona, but I think many politicians are beginning to look down the road a bit to see that they want to get on the right side of this issue. Would you agree?

PHIL SMITH: Yeah. I think they are seeing that marijuana legalization is becoming inevitable. It's just a matter of time, depending on which state you're in. And they're also seeing dollar signs in their eyes, and I think that's really important. Tax revenues are a big deal, they're a big deal for politicians and they're a big deal for people who don't really care about pot, but they do care about not having to pay bigger tax bills. You see nationwide, too, that we're consistently polling above 50 percent for legalization, so politicians who are smart recognize the signs, and as you said, they want to get on the right side of history.

DEAN BECKER: Phil, even in the state of Texas we're starting to hear some embrace, some acceptance of that longer look into history. More and more, well, a few more politicians are starting to speak boldly in that regard, including our candidate for district attorney here in Harris County, Houston, as well as the Democratic candidate for sheriff, they're both opening up this discussion, and that's a good sign. Is it not?

PHIL SMITH: Indeed. When Texas starts talking seriously about legalizing weed, we know we're making progress.

DEAN BECKER: Phil, tell us about some other stories that you've been working on.

PHIL SMITH: Well, marijuana keeps me pretty busy. I mean, I do write about the entire world of illicit drugs. But, marijuana is in the news all the time. I mean, last week we had the DEA refusing once again to embrace science and place marijuana in an appropriate schedule of the Controlled Substances Act. They insisted that it must remain Schedule One, alongside killer drugs like heroin. And that's what they've been doing for the past 45 years, they totally ignore science, and they claim there's no medical use. I mean, we have medical marijuana in 25 states now, and cannabis oil in 13 more, I think. I mean, I don't understand how the DEA can claim there's no medical use. There's also a huge and growing mountain of peer-reviewed research papers on medicinal applications for cannabis. But the DEA ignores all that.

DEAN BECKER: Well, I think we have to, I don't know, I don't know if forgive them is the word, but recognize that that's their cornucopia.

PHIL SMITH: That's their bread and butter.

DEAN BECKER: And they're going to lie, twist, cheat, and steal until we just tear it away from their control. Am I right?

PHIL SMITH: Indeed. Now, I want to say one thing about rescheduling. I mean, there was a lot of anticipation that they might reschedule it to Schedule Two, which would mean that it has some medical use but it's still considered a very dangerous drug, and could only be available by prescription. You know, some people thought that would be progress but in my opinion, what's really appropriate for marijuana is for it to be removed entirely from the Controlled Substances Act and be descheduled. That's what we do with alcohol, that's what we do with tobacco. They're not in the Controlled Substances Act. And I don't think it's an appropriate place for marijuana, either.

DEAN BECKER: Well, I would agree. They should move marijuana to the category of the dangerous drug tobacco, and have those same controls, I suppose.

PHIL SMITH: Either that, or treat it like an herbal supplement, and regulate it like an herbal supplement.

DEAN BECKER: Exactly. Again, friends, we're speaking with Mister Phil Smith of Stop The Drug War, the Drug War Chronicles, Alternet. Phil, it wouldn't be right to speak with you without talking about a few corrupt cop stories. You got a couple to share?

PHIL SMITH: Oh, man. Yeah, I just did this week's batch yesterday. It was an interesting selection. There was an Oregon state crime lab worker who kept gobbling up the pills she was supposed to be sampling. There was a detective in North Carolina who didn't get arrested, but he's the subject of various civil suits from women who accuse him of -- these are drug using women who he approached and intimidated, forced into non-consensual sex, and then fed them drugs, kept harassing them, and made them make nude fetish catfight videos for him. So now he's in trouble.


PHIL SMITH: That's just a couple of this week's. You know what, Dean, I've been doing that for 15 years, and there's been maybe two weeks out of all those years where I didn't have a single corrupt cop. There's always something. There's a lot of them that come from south Texas, for some reason. Might have to do with all that action on the border.

DEAN BECKER: The ability to bribe or sway immigrants, that sort of thing, I'm sure.

PHIL SMITH: Yeah, yeah.

DEAN BECKER: Phil, I think about the, you know, you talk about, you've been doing that 15 years, and it's the horrors that are inflicted, you know, daily, weekly, just corrupt cops ruining people's lives. If they were all to happen in one week, then perhaps it would make a difference, then perhaps people would notice, but they just accept this as if it's leaning into the wind, or enduring a rain storm, it's just part of winning the drug war. Your response to that thought, please.

PHIL SMITH: Well, I think that's absolutely true, Dean, and it shows up in another thing that I do regularly, and that's keeping track of killings that take place in the course of the drug war. Now, I've been doing that for, this is my sixth year of covering that. And every year it's 50 or 60 people who get killed in the name of the drug war. You know, if that happened in a single incident, it would be like the Orlando nightclub massacre. But it doesn't, it's just one incident here, one there. You know, it gets a very tiny little notice in the local newspaper, and that's it.

But I do want to say one thing about drug war killings, I think we are starting to finally see a decrease in them. As I said, it's been at the rate of about one a week for the past five years, and this year, it's a little bit lower than that. Now, I don't know why for sure, but I suspect part of it could be because in a number of states, we have marijuana legalization, so the cops aren't out prosecuting the war on weed, and in California for example, even though we don't have legalization yet, we have a pretty wide open system, that's, the medical marijuana system makes it pretty easy for people to get access to marijuana without having to deal with the drug war. Though that's not entirely true, the Drug Policy Alliance just today put out a report saying that in the past 10 years in California, 500,000 people have been arrested for marijuana offenses.

But, I think we're starting to see a lower level of enforcement, especially in the legal marijuana states and the medical marijuana states, and that may be contributing to a slight decrease in the number of people getting killed in the drug war every year. That's progress.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. Yeah. You know, you're mention of the 500,000 arrests in California, I thought about it a second. Here in my city of Houston alone, in the last 10 years, we've arrested 120,000 ourselves. It's, just such a destruction of potential for so many lives.

PHIL SMITH: Yeah, it is so stupid, on so many different levels.


PHIL SMITH: It just, I mean, it puts a black mark on a person for the rest of their life. And it's a waste of police time and resources, honest cops will tell you that. Honest prosecutors will tell you that. But there's a whole bunch of inertia.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. We, as I mentioned earlier, here in Texas, we do have a few politicians willing to step forward, you know, state reps and senators, going to bring some more laws forward and see how much progress they make, but, in this next session. But I feel, again, coming back to the thought that so many politicians now realize they don't have the mental ammunition, the verbiage with which to wage their side of this drug war anymore. I see progress, soon.

PHIL SMITH: Well, there's also progress on another related front, Dean. Speaking of the DEA and marijuana, another item I wrote about in the last few days was the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco slapping down the Justice Department and informing them that they cannot use federal funds to prosecute compliant medical marijuana operations in states where it's legal. This is a result of a vote in Congress two years ago. We actually got something like this through Congress. That would not have happened 10 years ago or even 5 years ago. So, you know, there are signs that politicians, not just in Austin or in Houston, or at other statehouses, but even in Congress, are listening.


PHIL SMITH: Now we just have to get them to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act.

DEAN BECKER: I do think that will happen under Hillary, or at least they're saying as much.

PHIL SMITH: Well, she has said she would reschedule it to Schedule Two, and I say, gee, thanks, but that ain't much.

DEAN BECKER: No, but it would allow more studies to be conducted. Right?

PHIL SMITH: It would allow more studies to be conducted, and that's about the only real world effect of it. It wouldn't make medical marijuana federally legal. It would be a Schedule Two drug, you would have to get a prescription from the doctor to be able to legally obtain it, and since it's still illegal under federal law, the DEA will take away any doctor's license who writes a prescription for it.

DEAN BECKER: Ah, such a conundrum, such a -- I don't know, a puzzle. But I think we're going to make progress. Friends, once again we've been speaking with Mister Phil Smith of the Drug War Chronicle, Stop The Drug War, and please check out his stories on Alternet. Phil, closing thoughts, please.

PHIL SMITH: We are making progress, Dean, I mean, it's happening before our eyes, and by the end of the year we may have one fifth of the country living under marijuana legalization.

DEAN BECKER: It's time to play Name That Drug By Its Side Effects! Fever, anxiety, nausea, delayed ejaculation, shakiness, profuse sweating, decreased appetite, bedwetting, suicidality, and death. Time's up! The answer: Zoloft, from Pfizer Incorporated.

This next segment was recorded in Seattle. It features DTN reporter Doug McVay.

VIVIAN MCPEAK: My name is Vivian McPeak, and I'm the Executive Director of the world's largest annual cannabis policy reform event, the Seattle Hempfest.

DOUG MCVAY: Vivian, this year Seattle Hempfest will be August 19, 20, and 21 up in Seattle. Three full days. Could you tell us, just tell us a little bit about what you have planned.

VIVIAN MCPEAK: Yeah, this is our 25th anniversary, and we are going to basically have 120 bands, and 120 speakers, on six stages, on a mile and a half of beautiful waterfront park, downtown Seattle. And we're going to have 400 arts, crafts, food, and informational vendors. And we're going to have 1,000 volunteer staff of 118 crews, working to make it happen. We're going to spend the next four days building Hempfest, and erecting everything, and then we'll spend three days raging against the drug war, and then we have three days to tear it down, clean up, haul it out, and return the parks back to pristine condition.

DOUG MCVAY: It is a massive effort, it's a massive effort. How many people -- rough estimate of how many folks will be coming through the park?

VIVIAN MCPEAK: You know, in the last couple of years, we worked with the city of Seattle to hire people to count heads coming in and going, and as far as I'm not completely satisfied that they're able to keep up with everything, they counted about 110,000 last -- two years ago, and about 106,000 last year, so must be something close to that.

DOUG MCVAY: Now, is that per day, or is that for the whole thing?

VIVIAN MCPEAK: That's for the whole thing.

DOUG MCVAY: For the whole thing. Wow.

VIVIAN MCPEAK: Like I said, I'm not confident that they can absolutely catch everybody coming in, they're coming at such a tremendous volume, but that's -- you know what, we're at at least 100,000 people coming through.

DOUG MCVAY: Talk to me for a moment about the Ric Smith Hemposium.

VIVIAN MCPEAK: Yeah, the Hemposium, the Ric Smith Hemposium, is a 40 by 100 foot kind of circus tent type structure where we have a stage inside, and we have panel discussions all three days taking place. And we also have the coveted VIP party Friday night that takes place in there for VIP members and all the kind of cannabis luminaries who show up. And it's a really special thing where, you know, sometimes we have keynote speakers, sometimes we have product sampling, that kind of stuff. And in a way, it's a little of the heart and soul of Hempfest.

DOUG MCVAY: I've got to ask the question, because, you know, people are asking. If it's legal, why are you bothering? And I have here in front of me a Seattle Hempfest platform agenda, with 25 national and regional movement goals, so I could have, I realize, answered that question myself. But, you know.

VIVIAN MCPEAK: Well, there's more of an answer to that. Not only of course do we have a lot of goals and a lot of work to do, but while we're having this conversation, somebody in America -- many people in America, I think one every 19 seconds, is going to be arrested for cannabis and their life is going to change. They may lose their job, or their reputation, or their money, or their freedom, or their children, you know, all kinds of things. But there's something else, too. I mean, not only do we have a lot of work to do, and just because you can have a half ounce in each pocket and walk down the street of Seattle, and just because our drug dogs don't smell for pot anymore, is no reason to give up. But you know, in Germany, every year they have this thing called Oktoberfest, and as many as a million people celebrate the culture of beer, and I'm not sure that beer has ever been illegal in Germany. So we don't see any reason why, if cannabis is completely legal, that there wouldn't be a reason to have a huge cultural celebration of all things cannabis.

DOUG MCVAY: You, when do you think Seattle Hempfest became a truly national event?

VIVIAN MCPEAK: I know when we became an international event, and that's when the police handed out Doritos at our event instead of arresting people, in 2012, I think and we got international headlines, I mean, gosh, I was getting interviews with China and France, Mexican, I mean, journalists all over the planet.

DOUG MCVAY: Well again, Vivian, I'm looking forward to seeing you. Well, thank you so much, Vivian McPeak, Executive Director of the Seattle Hempfest. Viv, thank you so much.

DEAN BECKER: Marijuana: threat or menace? According to the US Office of National Drug Control Policy, marijuana use can lead to depression, suicide, and schizophrenia. Never mind that the rate of schizophrenia is unchanged since 1945, and that schizophrenics often self-medicate with marijuana. If you don't believe, you must be crazy.

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

DEAN BECKER: Now, Paul, I know you've been on hiatus for a few days, but you did have a chance to look at the latest ruling, if you will, handed down by the Drug Enforcement Administration. If you would, kind of outline what they put forward for us, please.

PAUL ARMENTANO: Well, the DEA are the modern equivalent of the Flat Earth Society. They are in the reality denial business. So not surprisingly, last Thursday, they once again denied reality. They rejected a pair of administrative petitions asking the agency to consider rescheduling marijuana to a classification that would acknowledge its therapeutic use in the United States. The DEA, predictably, refused to do so. So now, we have a reality where 26 states, by statute, recognize marijuana's medical utility, yet the DEA refuses to do so. And although the agency tried to dress their decision up in science, there is nothing scientific about willful ignorance.

DEAN BECKER: Well, Paul, I want to reach back if you will. I don't know, was it Judge Francis L. Young, had a deep investigative study done and he determined that it was perhaps a therapeutic medicine, that the DEA should just back away. Am I right?

PAUL ARMENTANO: So, to clarify, this was not the first time administrative petitions have been filed before the DEA asking them to consider reclassification. In fact, NORML filed the first rescheduling petition in 1972. Yet, the DEA refused to act on that petition and hold rescheduling hearings until 1986. Two weeks of hearings were held before DEA Administrative Law Judge Francis Young in 1986, and in 1988, Judge Young ruled that it would be arbitrary and capricious to keep marijuana classified as a Schedule One prohibited substance. And he ruled that the agency should in fact reschedule marijuana. The agency refused to do so, and in 1994, the US Court of Appeals upheld the decision of the DEA to set aside a ruling of its own administrative law judge in the matter of marijuana rescheduling.

DEAN BECKER: Well, it's baffling, for lack of a better word, this nexus to science, to reality, on behalf of the DEA. Am I right?

PAUL ARMENTANO: Again, the DEA is a political entity. They are a political organization, they are not a science based organization, and they made a decision that was entirely political, as one would predict that they would do. Notably, the DEA issued two notices last week. The first notice they denied the petitions to reschedule. In the second notice, they made some very curious, potentially significant statements with regard to changing federal policy. For the first time, they acknowledge that there ought to be multiple sources of marijuana for FDA approved clinical trials, including sources outside of the NIDA University of Mississippi monopoly. Now, that in and of itself would be noteworthy, but what was really interesting, and potentially significant, is that the DEA acknowledged their motivation for making this change was not solely to increase the supply of marijuana available for FDA approved research, but they acknowledged that they also wanted to create for the first time a clear and legal pathway for domestic marijuana drug development.

So, it is clear that the DEA's vision, going forward, of medical marijuana policy in this country, is to continue to argue this flat earth position that marijuana the plant is without medical value, and that it is not safe for human consumption, whereas they are inviting for the pharmaceutical development of marijuana based drugs, which clearly the DEA in their ideological zealotry finds to be safe and effective, and it believes ought to be promoted. And that's what this change in policy is about.

DEAN BECKER: Wow. There you have it, my friends, Mister Paul Armentano. Always up to it in regards to marijuana. Paul, I realize that it seems there's just a flood of information coming forth about marijuana these days, and I don't know, don't these guys in the DEA realize that at some very near future date, they're going to be seen as just callous, hell, damn near evil. What's your thought, sir?

PAUL ARMENTANO: Well, what's interesting is, everyone who listens to this program is aware that there is an emerging narrative that is taking place in America with regard to marijuana policy, in that the majority of the public now recognizes that there ought to be legal regulatory alternatives to marijuana prohibition. Even lawmakers are beginning to understand that they need to be on the right side of this conversation. If the DEA is ever going to have a seat at the table, as this narrative goes forward, if they're ever to be seen as an agency that has some semblance of credibility with not just the American public but with lawmakers themselves, the DEA is going to have to abandon this sort of ideological zealotry, but there's no indication that they're getting that message, and there's no indication that they are going to change their tone or the content of their messaging. And as a result, they're simply going to be left behind. They are not going to have a seat at the table.They are not going to be part of this conversation.

DEAN BECKER: All right, friends, Mister Paul Armentano, Deputy Director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. They're out there on the web at NORML.org.

Well, that's all we can squeeze in. All I can ask is that you stand a little taller, speak a little bolder. There's very few people left who want to defend this drug war. It's time to end this madness. And as always I remind you, because of prohibition you don't know what's in that bag. Please be careful.

To the Drug Truth Network listeners around the world, this is Dean Becker for Cultural Baggage and the unvarnished truth. Cultural Baggage is a production of the Pacifica Radio Network, archives are permanently stored at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy. And we are all still tap dancing on the edge of an abyss.