04/30/17 Jesce Horton

This week we talk with Jesce Horton from the Minority Cannabis Business Association and Patricia Sully from VOCAL-Washington and the Public Defender Association of King County, plus MAPS Executive Director Rick Doblin testifies before the US Sentencing Commission on synthetic drugs.

Century of Lies
Sunday, April 30, 2017
Jesce Horton
Download: Audio icon col043017.mp3



APRIL 30, 2017


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

DOUG MCVAY: Hello, and welcome to Century Of Lies. Century Of Lies is a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

PATRICIA SULLY: I'm Patricia Sully, I'm a staff attorney with the Public Defender Association, and I coordinate VOCAL-Washington.

DOUG MCVAY: Patricia, VOCAL is Voices -- I forget the acronym.

PATRICIA SULLY: Voices of Community Activists and Leaders-Washington. So, we organize folks who are directly affected by the war on drugs, mass incarceration, homelessness, and the HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C epidemics. So VOCAL members, you know, we have many members who are active drug users, many who are former drug users, or folks who are, you know, affected in some other way and have never used drugs.

And really the goal is to build power within that community, so VOCAL members identify campaigns that they -- they want to work on and that are meaningful to them and to their lives, and we work to develop a strategic plan, and then we begin organizing around that issue, and VOCAL members talk to their peers and other people who they know, about -- about these issues, so we do a lot of outreach to encampments, the homeless shelters, to folks who are on the street, to try and engage them, and engage them in advocacy.

DOUG MCVAY: Right on. Meeting people where they live, quite literally. That's what harm reduction's about. Do you work -- King County is doing, is starting up supervised injection facilities. Do you work with King County on any of that stuff?

PATRICIA SULLY: I was a member of the King County task force, the Heroin and Opiate Overdose Task Force, which was the task force that ultimately included the recommendation for Community Health Engagement Locations, or supervised consumption spaces.

DOUG MCVAY: As far as I know they're planning to actually roll that out. How -- what's happening up in King County with that?

PATRICIA SULLY: The Public Health Department has been tasked with the implementation, so they're undergoing an implementation process, identifying, siting, and funding, you know, from the county side. From the advocacy side, the campaign for supervised consumption spaces was something that VOCAL-Washington and the Public Defender Association was very engaged in. We continue to do a lot of advocacy and education around this issue.

DOUG MCVAY: What's -- what kind of -- what are some of the challenges that you're running into up in King County around organizing and getting -- I mean, you're giving a voice to people who have, I mean, really quite literally been voiceless, I mean, part of volitionally, people don't want to speak up and say hey, I'm, you know, I'm breaking the law on a regular. There's a lot of stigma about that. But, talk to me about that.

PATRICIA SULLY: Well, I mean, I also think it's important to recognize that we're not giving a voice to the voiceless. All of these people have voices. It's just that typically people don't listen. Right? This is not a population that many people listen to, and so we've really had to gather, right, this is the goal of organizing, right? It's like, together, it's harder to ignore this mass group of people, and there are also a lot of allies to this issue, so, you know, VOCAL-Washington works with folks who are directly affected but we've done a lot of organizing in communities and with people who are housed, or who are not active drug users, with the medical professionals and public health workers, because this is an issue that really affects almost everybody.

At this point, almost everyone can name someone they know who has struggled with -- with drug addiction, and with substance use disorder, or has lost someone to an overdose. So we really worked to build a lot of coalitions, and break down boundaries and barriers, and sort of recognize that this is not -- this is affecting all of us, and it's affecting all of us in different ways.

DOUG MCVAY: Obviously you've had a lot of success up there, because, like I say, it's one of the first -- it is the first place in the country to talk about the community health engagement locations, or supervised injection, like the Insite center up in Vancouver. What -- they are closing down literally around us. You were just -- I got here late for the session you were just on. What were you talking about, and what kind of takeaways do you hope that the students here will get from that talk?

PATRICIA SULLY: The task force in Seattle recommended not supervised injection facilities, but supervised consumption spaces, as a part of the community health engagement locations. And that's an important distinction. In a supervised injection facility, it's limited to injections. So injection drug use only. And that's what Insite is, so, because Insite is the closest center to the United States, it's the one we look to. But more commonly these are supervised consumption spaces. In Europe, that is the dominant model. They're drug consumption rooms. And the difference there is that in consumption spaces, inhalation is possible. So someone can inject, or they can inhale.

And that really makes sense, both from a pragmatic and a public health perspective. It makes, from a public health perspective, injection drug use is the most dangerous way to consume, and in a harm reduction paradigm, there's always an encouragement. If you're going to use, let's use in a safer way. So when someone is willing to switch from injection drug use to inhalation, that's a positive thing. That's success. And it makes very little sense to have that success and then say great, wonderful, you're not injecting anymore, you can go back out to the alley. Right?

We really want to keep people in this continuum of care, not kick people out of it. And then just from a pragmatic standpoint, for neighborhoods that are struggling with outdoor drug use, for many of those neighborhoods, they don't really care what kind of drug use it is, they just don't want the drug use happening outside. Whether that person is smoking crack or injecting, you know, it really doesn't matter to that neighbor, they just don't want it happening in their doorway.

And finally from a racial disparity perspective, crack cocaine use really drove racial disparity in our criminal justice system, and now that we are taking a more public health approach to this issue, it's really important that we recognize what community has been most impacted by the war on drugs, and that's people who are black and brown, and they were incarcerated at and are incarcerated at a higher rate for drug, you know, for drug offenses, and so, now that white people are dying and young white people and middle class white people, we are approaching this in a different way, but we need to make sure that, you know, we don't do that to the exclusion of people who have been most deeply impacted, and don't leave those people out on the street to continue to be arrested. So that's just an important distinction.

DOUG MCVAY: Okeh, this may sound facetious, but I'm quite serious. Inhalation, smoking, I mean, smoking tobacco in this state and yours, smoking marijuana, is legal, but good luck finding a place to actually do that. Would a person be able to smoke their tobacco or their marijuana in one of these?

PATRICIA SULLY: No. So, these centers are not intended for tobacco or marijuana. They're for -- those are actually, in the task force recommendations, explicitly excluded. And those are not illicit drugs in Washington state, so these are intended for drugs that are still currently illegal.

And it is important that it wouldn't, you know, just be back -- back in the days when people did smoke inside, right, and it sort of -- everyone can just light up a cigarette. In a supervised consumption space, there's ventilation systems, and things to really make sure that -- that smoking does not impact, doesn't have a negative health impact on other utilizers, so there is separation of space from folks who are injecting drugs, and folks who are in an inhalation space that has proper ventilation, and, you know, makes sure that this -- it is ultimately a public health facility and, you know, that is taken into consideration, and the models in Europe all do that. So we wouldn't have to make that up, we know there are other places that have already done it that can be looked to to model after.

DOUG MCVAY: Right on. They really are closing the place down around us, so, really quickly, any closing thoughts for the listeners? And where can people find out more about some of the stuff you're doing?

PATRICIA SULLY: Sure. VOCAL-Washington is on Facebook, VOCAL-WA. We also have a website, VOCAL-WA.org. And you can find out more there.

DOUG MCVAY: Excellent. Patricia, thank you so much.

That was an interview with Patricia Sully, she's with the Public Defender Association in Seattle, Washington, and she also is a coordinator of VOCAL-Washington.

You're listening to Century of Lies, a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. I'm your host, Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

JESCE HORTON: Hey, my name is Jesce Horton, I am the co-founder of the Minority Cannabis Business Association, Panacea Valley Gardens, and a new cannabis lifestyle facility called Saints Cloud, in Portland, Oregon.

DOUG MCVAY: Well, let's start with the MCBA. Last time talked to you was at an event here in Portland, and, so, how -- Minority Cannabis Business Association, how are things going with that?

JESCE HORTON: Things are going very, very well. We're staying very busy, growing each and every day, we at least have a couple members that come on each day. We hired a brilliant guy named Gabriel Pendas, who was one of the co-founders and driving forces of another nonprofit group called the Dream Defenders, that sparked up in the southeastern United States as a result of the Trayvon Martin case. So, he's come on recently to help us with more organizing, figuring out how we can grow in a sustainable way, and also service our members in a better way.

Also, we recently met in DC with a number of different groups, including the DPA, National Cannabis Industry Association, ACLU, MAPS, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, and other business owners and activists in the cannabis industry, to get our arms around how we felt about what we feel are the, or what we think are the major issues preventing people of color from benefiting from the cannabis industry by way of employment, ownership, as well as tax appropriations, and we put together that bill and recently released it, this past month, for kind of a review amongst our peers and different legislators.

DOUG MCVAY: What, what kind of -- what did you come up with? What are, what can you share?

JESCE HORTON: Yeah, essentially, the idea from a business standpoint is lowering barriers, making sure that we don't inundate the system and the industry with license limits that aren't reasonable, making sure that we don't have fees that are exorbitant for what really it costs in order to have a cannabis business. Ensuring that other policies, or other pieces of the city that touch cannabis, such as housing, such as law enforcement, again tax appropriation and where we feel some of these funds should be spent in order to really recognize, but also reconcile, some of the issues that the cannabis industry has had with the war on drugs.

And it's not really just about doing the right thing, but we really feel that because of the history of the cannabis industry, we will never be able to become a sustainable industry or to grow at the rate that I think we're all capable, unless we take some of these steps, and really reach out to these communities that are big cannabis users and can benefit from the industry, but that are not utilizing the industry and utilizing the illegal market instead.

DOUG MCVAY: Tell me about this -- the lifestyle project you mentioned, could you -- what?

JESCE HORTON: Yeah, it's definitely, you know, I bit off a lot on this one, but you know, what I really believe is that people want -- people use cannabis in so many different ways, and they want to figure out how they can use it more effectively, and by providing them a place where they can really see and have a transparent understanding of how cannabis is produced, give them a place where they can utilize cannabis doing different lifestyle activities, giving them the ability to learn more about how cannabis can fit into their lives, I think is something that we want to be able to provide, and I think that is a benefit for people locally in cannabis, locally in Portland, nationally, and also internationally, and we want to be able to do that, to help them experience cannabis culture within what we think is an amazing place to do so, Portland culture.

DOUG MCVAY: Neat. Neat. So, you're rolling this out? What's the plans here?

JESCE HORTON: Yeah, so it's a phased approach. Our first phase will be our indoor grow facility and our retail facility as well as processing. The second phase will bring on greenhouse cultivation, which we think is a very, very important part. And then, a little bit of R&D as well, that's so we can do a little different work with strains and efficacy in growing methodology. And the last piece, the last phase, is what I kind of mentioned, is this lifestyle facility, where we'll have an event space, where we can do cannabis-friendly activities but also hold different events. We'll also have a boutique bed and breakfast, to give people about 8 to 12 rooms, to open up again locally as well as internationally to people who want to experience the cloud, the cannabis cloud, is what we call it.

And the last piece, of course, working closely and understanding the different social consumption laws that will hopefully come into place. We want to develop a facility where people can have a lounge to consume cannabis. And we're right in between the airport and the city, so we think it's a great location for people, again, who are traveling or people who are local to have that very comfortable cloud type of atmosphere, to be connected to cannabis, and the different uses and the different strains, but also to be comfortable, and use it in a place that is -- is enjoyable.

DOUG MCVAY: You were just, you were just talking, you were on a panel on the environment and drug war, and drug policies. What was the message you were hoping people walk away from it with?

JESCE HORTON: I think the main thing that I wanted people to understand is that, we hear a lot of horror stories about cannabis cultivation and the strain that it puts on the grid, and I think that there are a lot of things that we can do, a lot of low-hanging fruit, to help to bring this industry to a more sustainable place.

But I really think that, instead of necessarily looking at just the methodology of cannabis cultivation, because cultivators, again, this kind of comes into differentiation, in our industry it can't all be just be grown under the sun, it can't all just be grown under greenhouses, because we have to create a lot of differentiation amongst the different products, and I think that's only going to be better for the whole industry, but also better for small producers, to where we can develop this craft level or at least again differentiable level of cannabis there.

So, in looking at this energy topic as it relates to cannabis and as it relates to the industry, growing, there's a lot of different things that we can do from a policy standpoint to incentivize people to make their facilities or to make their operations more environmentally friendly. It helps with their bottom line, but it also helps with the marketability and then differentiating their brand, not just their products, but how they feel in the market, and who they are in the market.

So, I think the more we can focus on those things, incentivizing people, understanding and giving people the knowledge on what it takes, these operators who have been in facilities years and years, we can make more of an impact on the greater sustainability of the industry, but also create an industry that has products that can be easily distinguishable, that we can be proud of, and that we can help to use to grow the market.

DOUG MCVAY: How do people keep up with the work you've got -- give me your website and if you have any closing thoughts for the listeners.

JESCE HORTON: Yeah, sure. Our website, of course, for Minority Cannabis, www.MinorityCannabis.org. You can check us out also on Instagram, @MinorityCannabis. From an environmental standpoint, I'm working with Resource Innovation Institute, you can look them up on Google, I think that's also the website address is ResourceInnovationInstitute.org, where you can learn more about the standards and the different practices that we're helping to promote, along with a wide, wide array of people from across the country, across the world, who sit on our technical advisory committee to help us to develop these standards and best practices.

And of course, you can catch up with me at, you know, @JesceHorton, and on Instagram, and our new facility that we're building, on Instagram, we're building that following as well, it's SaintsCannabis.com.

DOUG MCVAY: Very cool. Jesce Horton, thank you so much.

JESCE HORTON: Thank you, Doug.

DOUG MCVAY: Good to see you.

JESCE HORTON: Good to see you as well.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Jesce Horton, he's the executive director of the Minority Cannabis Business Association. You're listening to Century of Lies, a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. I'm your host, Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

Next up, our good friend Rick Doblin was in Washington, DC recently testifying before the United States Sentencing Commission on synthetic drugs. That was on April 18. Here's Rick's testimony.

RICK DOBLIN: Thank you very much for having me back here, after testifying 16 years ago in 2001, with other colleagues, about the evaluation of the scientific research around the risks and benefits of MDMA, both in clinical contexts and in non-medical settings. Our views were largely discounted at the time, in favor of risk estimates about MDMA that have since been shown, according to the last 16 years of scientific research, to have been excessive.

There was images of holes in the brain, all sorts of things that were not factually accurate. There are now over 5,000 papers in Medline on MDMA, or ecstasy, and it's one of the most well-studied substances that we know of, probably about 350 million dollars of research has been spent, mostly looking at the risks of MDMA.

According to Doctor Paul Hofer, a policy analyst the Federal Defenders and author of the paper Ranking Drug Harms For Sentencing Policy, the Sentencing Commission guidelines now penalize MDMA more severely than PCP, LSD, methamphetamine, heroin, and powder cocaine.

Two federal courts have since concluded that the MDMA guidelines need not be followed, because MDMA sentencing severity was found to be disproportional to MDMA's actual harm.

I'm deeply grateful for this new opportunity, after 16 years, to present written and now this oral testimony to aid in your deliberations reviewing the current sentencing guidelines for MDMA.

To begin, I want to quote reports from a few PTSD patients from our MDMA-assisted psychotherapy studies, to give you a sense of how pure MDMA can be used in a beneficial way with a high safety profile in controlled medical settings, and there are some relationships between the work we're doing and risk estimates for use in non-clinical settings.

MDMA-assisted psychotherapy works by allowing the participant to address the root cause of his or her trauma in a safe and supportive manner, and reprocess that trauma without the debilitating associations of fear and anxiety. MDMA reduces activation of fear in the amygdala, which allows participants to revisit past traumas without the emotional reactivity normal in PTSD, and this also explains why it has found a widespread use in non-medical settings.

One study participant, military veteran C. J. Harden, explained in the New York Times in November 2016, "MDMA changed my life. It allowed me to see my trauma without fear or hesitation, and finally process things and move forward. Before I just felt hopeless and in the dark, but the MDMA session showed me a light I could move toward. Now I'm out of the darkness and the world is all around me."

Another veteran, Jonathan Lubecky, wrote, "I cannot emphasize how much this treatment changed my life. I went from constant daily suicidal ideation, anxiety, depression, to almost nothing. The best part was this was not lifelong treatment and medication." By that, he means that we only administer MDMA three times within a three and a half month process of more or less weekly non-drug psychotherapy.

Another study participant, Hania Withem, who survived sexual assault, recounts, "For the first time in my life I was able to actually look at everything I had been running away from my whole life. That pretty much changed everything for me. I feel like the luckiest person in the world because I think I've been given something that very few people have, which is a second chance to create the life I want."

Since 2001, my nonprofit MAPS has sponsored nine FDA approved drug development studies evaluating the safety and efficacy of MDMA assisted psychotherapy for PTSD, for anxiety associated with life threatening illness, and for social anxiety in autistic adults, at research sites across the US and in Switzerland, Canada, and Israel.

On November 29, 2016, MAPS had an FDA end of phase two meeting, and the FDA approved our move to large-scale phase three trials of MDMA assisted psychotherapy for severe PTSD, the final phase of research required for full FDA approval for prescription use.

FDA's greenlight for phase three studies was based on the results of a meta-analysis from phase two pilot studies and a 107 chronic treatment resistant PTSD subjects. At the 12 month follow up after the last MDMA session, two thirds of them no longer had PTSD, and we're working with leading VA affiliated researchers blending MDMA with existing non-drug psychotherapies, prolonged exposure in cognitive behavior and conjoined therapy.

We anticipate completing phase three in 2021, after evaluating at least 300 more subjects with the goal of obtaining approval from the FDA and the European Medicines Agency.

Though MDMA has a favorable risk benefit ratio in clinical settings, what does this mean for the risks of MDMA in non-medical settings? There are tragic but fortunately very rare outcomes from over-heating and dying after consuming MDMA, usually after dancing in hot spaces.

Even rarer are cases of people drinking too much water after taking MDMA and dying of hyponatremia. However, with simple public health harm reduction focused policies, like cool down rooms, access to free water, and better education, those harms can be minimized significantly.

Despite the lack of proactive harm reduction measures, emergency room statistics from 2001, the most recently available data, show that MDMA related emergency department visits only amounted to 1.8 percent of drug or alcohol visits that year, and a majority of these cases were acute psychological distress, and most cases resolved after supportive care.

Additionally, some fraction of non-medical users of MDMA use it quite often for periods of a year or two, with such use almost always self-limiting due to the diminishing subjective effects of MDMA. With normally addictive drugs, when tolerance develops, users just take larger amounts. With MDMA, that fails to restore the early effects but produces more of the speedy side effects. We don't see long term, decades abuse patterns the way we see with cocaine and methamphetamine and other drugs.

The main concern about repeated use has been focused on neurocognitive effects, since there are no significant harms to the body that have been reported. In 2001, Doctor John Halperin at Harvard affiliated McLean Hospital, conducted a NIDA funded study that demonstrated minimal impaired cognitive performance in heavy ecstasy users. This is the most methodologically sound study ever conducted in heavy ecstasy users. We actually found a population of people in Utah, we called them Fallen Mormons, who had not done any other drug but have only done ecstasy, so this was a good way to separate out what ecstasy did.

While non-clinical use of ecstasy can be problematic for some people, there are thousands of people who have experienced healing benefits from MDMA, even when taken outside of clinical settings. The 2014 Verge documentary tells the story of Vietnam veteran Bob Walker, who decided to take MDMA outside of clinical settings for self-healing, and reported overcoming decades of PTSD, calling it a cure.

Thanks to a comprehensive review of peer-reviewed scientific research into the risks of MDMA published since the sentencing guidelines were increased in 2001, data from MAPS's multi-site studies of therapeutic risks and benefits of MDMA, and hundreds of anecdotes of self-healing from non-medical users of MDMA, it is clear that the sentencing guidelines are disproportionate to its potential harms. Thank you.

I guess, if I could just add one point, I think that there is no doubt that at certain doses, MDMA can be damaging to the serotoninergic nerve terminals. But the doses that -- even the 140 milligrams are below those levels, and the doses that we use in therapy are 125 milligrams, followed two hours later by 62 and a half. So, from the perspective of the FDA, these intermittent uses, neurotoxicity is no longer an issue, because there's corresponding benefits.

I think, in most evaluations of the non-medical use of MDMA, that people are using it because they experience some benefits as well. So I do think that there are risks, but a lot of the risks are controllable through harm reduction policies, and I don't think they're anywhere near as severe as they've been portrayed in the past.

And we also have now, since the middle '70s, MDMA was used as a therapeutic drug, so we have 40 years almost or more of experience with MDMA, and so the concerns that were expressed during the 2001, about the sort of the time bomb theory that these neurotoxic effects, we didn't see really functional consequences of the severe nature, but they would come with aging as people's brains were aging, that's not proven to be the case.

So, I think it's a much more reassuring picture than it's been in the past.

DOUG MCVAY: That again was our good friend, Doctor Rick Doblin, speaking before the United States Sentencing Commission on the topic of synthetic drugs.

NGAIO BEALUM: It's like this, when it's time to renew my driver's license picture, I get high as hell. You understand? I pull into the parking lot of the DMV, and I hotbox the bleep out of my car, like I got three or four other people with me, right? Because I want them to think that I look like that all the goddamn time. You understand? Right.

So when they pull me over, I'm all like, what seems to be the trouble? You can go, sir.

Right? I told that joke one time, and this dude in the crowd was all, man, I get high before a job interview. I was like, dog, that's crazy talk. He's like, hey man, if I can't handle the interview, I can't handle the job. Like, all right, that makes sense. I would hire him. If he did well at the interview I would hire him for knowing that about himself. Right? Because he won't be different after lunch. Some dudes come back after lunch a little different, can't count the money as fast. Right?

I love marijuana, did I mention that? I go hard for weed. Can we legalize weed? I know you've got it here, but can we, can we improve and refine it? Can we legalize weed in California, there's some Californians here, can we get it done in California? Go hard.

Go hard, become a Weedhovah's Witness. Go door to door. I have some good news about weed, can I share it with you? Good morning, I'd like to talk to you about my personal relationship with marijuana, do you have a few moments? Right? Hi, have you accepted wee into your life? I have some papers ... here ... somewhere ....

DOUG MCVAY: And well, that's all the time we have. Thank you for joining us. You've been listening to Century Of Lies. We're a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. The executive producer of the Drug Truth Network is Dean Becker. Drug Truth Network programming is also available via podcast, the URLs to subcribe are on the network home page at DrugTruth.net. You can follow me on Twitter, I'm @DougMcVay and of course also @DrugPolicyFacts.

We'll be back next week with thirty minutes of news and information about the drug war and this Century Of Lies. For now, for the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay saying so long. So long!

For the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay asking you to examine our policy of drug prohibition: the century of lies. Drug Truth Network programs archived at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.