03/18/18 Doug McVay

Audio file


MARCH 18, 2018


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

DOUG MCVAY: Hello, and welcome to Century Of Lies. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

STEVE PHUN HADLEY: Let's hear it for Doug McVay! [applause]

DOUG MCVAY: Steve, thank you, thank you!

Hello, and welcome to Century Of Lies. I'm your host Doug McVay. Well this week: From mercenaries to marijuana, the amazing journey of Zachary Venegas. Plus, we're going to take a look at human rights in the drug war.

But first, coming up May Tenth through Twelfth, it's the Twelfth National Clinical Conference on Cannabis Therapeutics, being sponsored by Patients Out of Time. Full disclosure: I work with Patients Out of Time doing social media and website work, among other things.

With me is the Chief Operating Officer for Patients Out of Time, Laramie Silber. Laramie, tell me about this year's conference.

LARAMIE SILBER: It's going to be a fantastic line-up of faculty. We've really got a great group of people, not only for the main conference on Friday and Saturday, but also for our pre-conference policy workshop on Thursday. We're going to be looking at how to protect patients in the era of legalization, and look at a model bill for New Jersey that we're putting together.

DOUG MCVAY: Now, the theme for this year's conference is "Cannabis: Relieves Pain, Treats Addiction." Who are some of the people you're going to have talking about this.

LARAMIE SILBER: Well, with that theme you know we're going to be talking about the opioid crisis, and Dustin Sulak does some amazing work with patients on that. So we're going to be hearing from him. We're also going to be hearing from Ethan Russo, detailing the endocannabinoid system. And we're also going to hear some patient stories, really get the feel on the ground of people who are using cannabis to get off of their addictions.

DOUG MCVAY: Really sort of putting a face to all that data, putting a human side to the policy debate. That's great. And Sue Sisley, of course, is going to be here this year, right, with -- talking veterans and talking athletes and such, or is -- tell me some of the other stuff you have planned for Jersey City.

LARAMIE SILBER: Sue will be there, she's going to be talking about a very cool database project she's working on to try to track and standardize some of the treatments that are really working for patients.

Jersey City is an amazing place, it sort of gets ignored in the shadow of Manhattan sometimes, but it's been a hub of travel and transit and commerce since the beginning of our country, and is still a hub of medical advancements. So we're going to be having our benefit dinner overlooking the Statue of Liberty on Friday night, and we'll also have some cool members only things going on around the city.

DOUG MCVAY: Right on. So some terrific views of the New York City skyline, and a lot of great people talking about medical cannabis and advancements. Now, New Jersey's also looking at legalization for adult use, so the -- how patients will handle legalization, I presume, is going to be a major, major bit of discussion at this conference.

LARAMIE SILBER: Especially at the Thursday policy workshop, that's absolutely right. Governor Murphy ran on legalization as a campaign platform, so it's really going to be the first time that it's going to be done by legislation and not initiative. So it's going to be interesting to see how that shapes up. Governor Murphy seems to be looking at it for the right reasons, social justice and, you know, supporting the people most effected by the drug war, and we just want to make sure the patients are remembered in all that.

DOUG MCVAY: Loyal listeners will recall that a week or so ago we heard from some of the New Jersey legislative committee hearings that were going on in regard to adult use legalization, and again, how patients would necessarily fare under such a thing, so, so yeah, this is terrific. Now, where can people go to find out more?

LARAMIE SILBER: At PatientsOutOfTime.org. We'll have the full schedule up soon, the faculty list is up now, and registration is open.

DOUG MCVAY: Terrific. Laramie Silber, thank you so much.

LARAMIE SILBER: Thank you, Doug.

DOUG MCVAY: And now, our top story: from mercenaries to marijuana.

BioTrack THC is a company that provides seed to sale tracking, cannabis software, and dispensary point of sale systems. They’re one of the biggest players in that seed to sale tracking market, with contracts to manage systems for several state governments in addition to providing software and systems for the industry. Recently, a company called Helix TCS, Inc., announced that it had completed its acquisition of BioTrack THC.

Now, Helix originally provided “security, compliance, and technology services to the legal cannabis industry” through its two subsidiaries, Security Consultants Group LLC and Boss Security Solutions. On October 9, 2015, it acquired a corporate shell called Jubilee4Gold and became Helix TCS, Incorporated.

Helix is owned by Zachary Venegas, a West Point grad and former infantry officer with a background in security as well as finance and corporate dealmaking. Before starting up Helix, Venegas worked with Spruce Investment Advisors’ Strategic Advisory Group. He was also the co-founder and managing partner of Scimitar Global Ventures, a Dubai-based private equity and venture firm.

Venegas founded and ran another company in Dubai, from 2006 through 2011 he ran Omega Strategic Services, a private security firm. According to the Helix website, Omega Strategic Services was quote: "a dynamic corporate/competitive intelligence and security advisory firm with operations in the Middle East and Africa that supported investors and corporations in creating successful operating environments and helping them to succeed by providing them with distinct, actionable intelligence and real-time data analytics.” End quote.

That's certainly one way to describe Omega Strategic Services. A less charitable way to put it is that OSS ran mercenaries. In 2009, various media reported that OSS was providing South African mercenaries to the military dictatorship in Guinea.

According to a report by the South African news organization Independent Media and Independent Online, quote:

"The South Africans are training the presidential guards, marines and intelligence agents and providing security in some of the country's mines. The South Africans have also escorted considerable quantities of military equipment bought from Ukraine and smuggled into Conakry in defiance of an international arms embargo against Guinea, the sources say. They allege that OSS is being paid in gold and other mineral resources and that all the South Africans are armed and are acting as a special independent sub-unit of the presidency." End quote.

A report in 2010 to the UN Human Rights Council by the Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination noted that, quote:

“On 9 December 2009, the Working Group sent a communication to the Government of South Africa concerning reports of presence of South African mercenaries in Guinea. According to the information received, a group of two to three thousands Guinean from the Guerze and the related forestier tribes is being trained by foreign mercenaries in a training camp in southern Guinea. Several sources stated that among those mercenaries were South African nationals that were recruited to provide protection and security and military training to the Guinean Government led by Captain Moussa Dadis Camara. The South African mercenaries appear to be former employees of the private military company Executive Outcomes and are allegedly operating under the leadership of Mr. Daniel Oosthuizen, a South African police veteran. They are reportedly employed by the Dubai-based company Omega Strategic Services.” End quote.

Now, according to the European Sanctions website, quote:
"EU sanctions were first imposed on the Republic of Guinea in October 2009 in response to the violent crackdown on protests by the country’s military regime in September of that year. These measured included an arms embargo, an embargo on the supply of equipment which could be used for internal repression; and also travel bans against the members of the government." End quote.

Those restrictions weren't eased until after a presidential election of November 2010 and remained in effect until 2014.

You are 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. I’m your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

And now, let's turn our focus to human rights and the drug war. The Commission on Narcotic Drugs held its sixty-first annual session March Tenth through Sixteenth. In addition to the plenaries and discussions by delegates, there were also side events organized by national delegations and by the NGOs. One of those side events was on "Human Rights Defenders Under Attack." We're going to listen to a portion of that side event.

Maricela Orozco is from Mexico, and she's a member of Familiares en Búsqueda María Herrera collective, a group of family members of the disappeared, organized in several states across Mexico. She'll be speaking Spanish. The English language interpretation is provided by Daniel Joloy, senior policy analyst, Amnesty International.

MARICELA OROZCO [interpretation by DANIEL JOLOY]: Good morning. My name is Maricela Orozco. I come from Mexico. I am here today because, unfortunately, my kid, Gerson, of 19 years old, was kidnapped a little bit more than three years ago, and that same day, my son, Alan, who was an architecture student, and my son in law, Miguel, were also killed when they were looking for Gerson.

My son, Gerson, was disappeared in the context of the violence and impunity that the war on drugs has brought to Mexico. This war has consisted in the militarization of public security, resulting in the increase of violence and human rights violations that has reached a number of more than 30,000 people disappeared since 2006.

In the case of the disappearance of Gerson, and the killing of Alan and Miguel, are involved state and non-state actors. Even the secretary of defense has participated in covering up for the evidence of this tragic case, and judges have currently also covering for organized crime.

Because of this, I began my struggle to try to find my son. While looking for Gerson, I met other families, and I -- we gathered together to found an organization, Families in the Search María Herrera, a network of other family collectives, of people looking for their disappeared, across all the country, called the Network of National Groups.

That's how I became, from searching only for my son, to look for many other people disappeared in Mexico. This is how I became a woman human rights defender.

From these two organizations, I have joined actions to look for the disappeared alive, and also in mass graves. I also participated in the process to draft the general law against disappearances, which was recently approved in Congress, and we also resisted a recent law on interior security, a law that was sadly approved just a few months ago. I have also joined active efforts to demand a stop of this war against drugs.

Besides the damages that this war against drugs has signified to thousands of families that, as my family, have lost their loved ones, or are searching for their loved ones, defending human rights in this context, it's very, very dangerous.

In our work, for searching for the disappeared, many friends have been killed, like Miriam Elizabeth Rodríguez Martínez, who was looking for her daughter, Karen Alejandra, and was killed in May of last year at her house, or our friend José Jesús Jiménez Gaona, who was looking for his daughter Jenny Isabel, and was killed in June 2016.

The search for our loved ones make us be uncomfortable, both for criminal actors, but also for the state, because evidence their omissions and their collusion with organized crime. By organizing ourselves and taking on all the other cases, as if they are our own cases, our vulnerability increases.

On the other hand, in Mexico, it's almost zero that reparation of damages or effective remedies for victims of human rights violations and human rights defenders.

I am part of the mechanism of protection for human rights defenders and journalists that has evaluated my risk as extraordinary. The mechanism has granted me some protection measures, such as a panic alert, installation of strong doors and windows, a GPS sensor, and lights across my house. However, the risk situation me and my family are facing is very, very high, and that's why the attorney general's office has been forced to intervene as well, and to give me some police to protect me and my family, because the measures proposed by the mechanism are insufficient.

The panic alert is a privatized measure that, when you activate it, it puts you in touch with a private corporation. Besides, it is inefficient, because it doesn't have the capacity to react adequately and before an emergency, and frequently the button doesn't work.

In emergency cases, the police would only send some people to police around your house, but they wouldn't be able to protect you when they are trying to kill you or to attack you directly.

In addition, being able to be considered by the mechanism is very complex, and you necessarily need the follow-up of a civil society organization that is specialized in dealing with the mechanism, just in order for the authorities to take your case into consideration, and be kept within the mechanism, and to have -- to demand constantly that the specific measures granted are evaluated and changed according to the necessities.

The mechanism will always be insufficient, while the cases of human rights defenders attacked are increasing. The mechanism does not implement measures to prevent these attacks, nor comprehensive measures to reduce the rates of impunity for these attacks. Without this, the cycle of attacks and threats against human rights defenders and journalists will definitely continue.

The cycle of impunity and corruption that fuels the war against drugs has not allowed us to find for our disappeared, and increases the risks for those of us who defend human rights. This is why it is urgent to meet the strategy and drug control policies in Mexico towards one that guarantees the full protection of human rights.

Thank you very much, and I just want to share that this last December, we found the body of our son who was kidnapped for more than three years.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Maricela Orozco, she's a member of a group of family members of the disappeared that are organized in several states across Mexico. The English language interpretation is provided by Daniel Joloy, senior policy analyst, Amnesty International. They were speaking at side event at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs sixty-first annual session. The event was on "Human Rights Defenders Under Attack."

You're listening to Century of Lies. I'm Doug McVay. And finally, on March Fifteenth, Veterans Affairs Secretary Doctor David Shulkin testified before a House Appropriations Subcommittee on the president's 2019 budget request for the Veterans Affairs Department. He had this exchange with Representative Barbara Lee, the California Democrat who represents the Thirteenth District, Oakland, Berkeley, and San Leandro, California.

US REPRESENTATIVE BARBARA LEE: Thank you very much, thank you Mister Secretary for being here, and once again, as the daughter of a World War Two and Korean veteran, I'm really pleased to know that we have a Secretary dedicated to ensuring that veterans receive the quality healthcare. I know the VA intimately as a result of my dad, so thank you very much.

I -- a couple of things I want to mention to you. First of all, I have a letter to -- that I'm going to give to you regarding Alameda Point. We're now -- this is the new outpatient clinic in my district. Now, it appears it will be two years now off track, in terms of timing. So I'd like, and I'm asking you in this letter, to give me monthly updates on the status of this, because I'm quite concerned about what's taking place. So, okeh, that's for the record and I'll give that to you.


US REPRESENTATIVE BARBARA LEE: And then secondly, okeh, now coming from California, of course, you know we have a variety of dispensaries which make marijuana available to patients and veterans. We use it for PTSD, or chronic pain, and it works. Okeh.

Now, you've said that the VA can't recommend medical cannabis in accordance with state laws until the federal law changes. But marijuana's Schedule One status does block formal prescriptions, but it does not block the ability of doctors to fill out questionnaire forms in those states.

So what's the problem? What's the federal statute that blocks the VA from doing this? And not letting physicians simply recommend cannabis to veterans who need it, and it's proven that it works.

SECRETARY DAVID SHULKIN, MD: Congresswoman, so, would filling out a questionnaire, isn't that the step towards prescribing? Somebody has to write the prescription.

US REPRESENTATIVE BARBARA LEE: It's not a formal prescription, no. It's just a recommendation form, that's all the state requires. Not a prescription.

SECRETARY DAVID SHULKIN, MD: So who writes the prescription for the medical marijuana?

US REPRESENTATIVE BARBARA LEE: The physician would write -- would just recommend cannabis.

SECRETARY DAVID SHULKIN, MD: My understanding is VA, federal law would not allow the physician to write the prescription, but, so, I have to understand what the questionnaire would be, in order to make a recommendation but not write a prescription?

US REPRESENTATIVE BARBARA LEE: Well, could we show you that questionnaire, Mister Secretary?

SECRETARY DAVID SHULKIN, MD: Absolutely. Absolutely.

US REPRESENTATIVE BARBARA LEE: Because veterans need this. It works, and it's a shame and disgrace that the VA is preventing this type of treatment, that works. So, and we know the federal statutes and what all, but this is merely a questionnaire, so I'd like for you to review that.

SECRETARY DAVID SHULKIN, MD: I'd be glad to review that, yes.


DOUG MCVAY: That was Veterans Affairs Secretary Doctor David Shulkin, failing to understand the point that Representative Barbara Lee was making about the very basic distinction between making a recommendation, which is legally protected, and writing a prescription, which is not. He was speaking before the Veterans -- he was speaking before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Veterans Affairs budget for 2019.

And for now, that’s it. Thank you for joining us. You have 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. I’m your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

The executive producer of the Drug Truth Network is Dean Becker. Drug Truth Network programs are available via podcast, the URLs to subscribe are on the network home page at DrugTruth.net.

The Drug Truth Network is on Facebook, please give its page a like. Drug War Facts is on Facebook too, give its page a like and share it with friends. Remember: Knowledge is power. Follow me on Twitter, I'm @DougMcVay and of course also @DrugPolicyFacts.

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

DOUG MCVAY: 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.