07/19/18 Mitch Earlywine

Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Mitch Earleywine
Drug Policy Alliance

Dr. Mitch Earlywine on cannabis science/progress, Chris Alexander of the Drug Policy Alliance re legal weed in New York, Heather Fazio re forthcoming cannabis conference in Austin, Colorado widow losing death benefits over legal cannabis

Audio file


JULY 19, 2018


DEAN BECKER: I am the Reverend Dean Becker, keeper of the moral high ground in the drug war for the world and this is Cultural Baggage.

Hi, this is the Reverend Dean, please put your ears on. Here we go.

You know, it's been a while since we talked to our next guest. He's a professor at the University of Albany, he's very much an expert on the subject of marijuana, he works high in the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws group, and an old friend ,and I want to welcome, Doctor Mitch Earleywine. Hello, Doctor Earleywine.

MITCH EARLEYWINE, PHD: Thanks so much for having me on the show, Dean, it's delightful to be back.

DEAN BECKER: Well, Mitch, since we last talked there's been a lot going on. I've got a segment today talking about the mayor of New York and many of the high officials in that state are now thinking of legalizing marijuana. It's happened in a couple of states since we last talked. There's some good points, some bad points, some price points, and all kinds of things going on, and, what's your thought? We're making progress, are we not?

MITCH EARLEYWINE, PHD: Indeed we are. I do really hope that the entire state takes a careful look at this, and understands that there's a whole lot to gain and very little to lose. Right now we have a medical program that, in all honesty, is kind of frustrating for a lot of folks so there aren't a ton of approved conditions, and unfortunately there's really no flower available, so if you do go to a medical dispensary here, they have some tincture and they have vape pens that are pretty much just THC or CBD, you don't get the benefit of some of the nice combinations of terpenes and other cannabinoids that are present in some of the flower that we have available out west.

And I know plenty of folks who, you know, could really benefit, who have ailments that are relatively rare or just not on the list, and if we had a taxed and regulated market, there'd be plenty of cash to be made, a whole lot of law enforcement time to save, and a lot of happy people.

DEAN BECKER: Well, and, as kind of an alternative situation, the state of Oklahoma just legalized medical, but they wrote the bill in such a way that it almost parallels what they did in California, where a doctor's recommendation is all that's really required, no specific malady, no other specific hoops to jump through, I guess, but then, the state authorities said, the voters legalize but we're going to curtail it and we're going to prevent flowers from being sold in the stores, kind of like what happened in New York.

MITCH EARLEYWINE, PHD: It's such a heart breaking thing, too, because I know I was not alone in really being [inaudible] when Oklahoma went that route, and it does really seem like everybody's different, each of our illnesses are different, so you work it out with your physician and have it go great guns, and then to pull away the opportunity to have different flowers, different strains, and the chance to really appreciate this neat synergy among all the different terpenes and cannabinoids, just is ending up making folks who could benefit lose out on their chance.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, sir, and, I'm aware of at least a few instances where certain children who have benefited from a certain grow, perhaps their father grew, a neighbor grew, but when they are denied that, when the police stopped them from accessing that one particular strain, they have a heck of a time finding the right mix, finding the right strain, to help them in the same way that they were helped by that prior strain. Your thought there, please.

MITCH EARLEYWINE, PHD: Well, it's such an odd predicament, too, because we are in, you know, this weird single molecule model, where we're accustomed to thinking, hey, if there's one ailment there's got to be one single chemical that's going to provide the relief, and it's -- it's just naive, when you think about something like broccoli is good for you, broccoli's a plant with hundreds of chemicals in it, and we don't need to isolate the individual one, just to go get some broccoli.

We're in that same sort of predicament here with cannabis where, yeah, we do happen to know some of the effects of a handful of cannabinoids, but now we've identified over a hundred of them. Clearly, we could, you know, wait decades and decades and isolate the exact one that might help each individual ailment, or we could just let folks have the freedom to use whatever strain works for them, and save a whole lot of agony in the long run.

DEAN BECKER: Well, you know, I've been doing -- I've been smoking cannabis for over fifty years, and even, I reach back to the old days, when I was first starting out, here in Texas we got, you know, Mexican weed, and mostly you had to smoke a lot of it to feel anything, to be truthful, but, as time went by we, the Mexicans started growing a better strain, we got this stuff that was called Oaxacan, and it was more of a, you know, a Christmas time, if you will, it was very enlightening, bubbly stuff, if you will.

We had stuff come, I heard it was from Panama, Panama Red, and it was almost like a tranquilizer, it would just knock you down in the couch. That, the stuff came in from Thailand, and the Thai sticks, and it was more of a dreamworld, that it would lead you to see mandalas in the trees and all of this kind of stuff, almost hallucinogenic.

And even back then, we saw, we knew, there were these various strains with various components that did various things for your body and your mind, and over the years, the decades, there's been plenty of science looking into these possibilities, these strains, what they do, but the government tries to quash that or at least ignores that when writing the laws. Your thought there, Doctor Earleywine.

MITCH EARLEYWINE, PHD: It's strange, because it's -- the ignorance that leads to the fear, so, a completely harmless terpene like limonene, literally the thing that's present in lemons and oranges and tangerines and things like that, we're slowly discovering that by itself has a nice impact on comfort and can be mildly arousing. What a surprise it's in a lot of the sativa like strains, and seems to be a helpful contributor to making sure you can have, for example, pain relief and a very functional day.

Do we really want to sacrifice that, and just limit folks to no you can only have supplemented THC and that's it? It seems so counterproductive, and, you know, really undermines the whole ideas behind medicine, which is often to get folks functioning again so that that way they can be proud, be happy, do the sorts of things that they enjoy, and get back in the workforce, which puts -- we, you know, we seem to love it in this country so much, generate those tax dollars, make sure you're out there fulfilling obligations as a citizen.

And then to shortchange folks, simply because of these naive notions of a single molecule as a cure for any ailment, it's just naive.

DEAN BECKER: Well, and then there, let's switch over for a moment to the edibles, which I think are allowed in most states, but again I'm certain probably not in some, but, the edibles have other properties, other impacts, on the body and the brain, one that I ought to say it out loud, I think edibles are really great for having sex with because it just enhances the hell out of the experience, but, there are other proponents, components, and other situations. Your thought there, please.

MITCH EARLEYWINE, PHD: Absolutely. So the key issue with edibles is, THC gets into the GI tract, eventually ends up in your liver, and is broken down into what's called 11-hydroxy-THC. 11-hydroxy-THC crosses the blood-brain barrier more rapidly than fine old THC, and tends to create that more dramatic, somatic experience, and tends to have it last a long time, so edibles have a big advantage when it comes to things like sleep aid.

If you really need to make sure you're going to sleep all the way through the evening, nothing like an edible or a tincture right before bed so that it can kick in and metabolize slowly and make that kind of thing happen.

Unfortunately, folks have been frightened of the edibles, in part because of some highly, you know, glamorized, I'm not sure how else to describe it, incidents where folks had a bigger dose than they realized, and we're doing all we can to spread the word that, you know, you want to be super careful about dosage with these kinds of things.

But again, we only have tinctures here in New York, and we've got some hugely talented chefs here in our state who could make some delightful chocolates or cookies or lemon drops, or things along those lines, which I think would be intriguing for folks who don't want to have, you know, every edible experience feel like you're mowing your lawn or something.

And then the hope would be too that if we give folks the opportunity to experiment with these, with different dosages, and get a feel for their own responses, if you had a whole plant extract instead of THC by itself, you'd have a better opportunity for doing more good.

DEAN BECKER: Well, folks, we're speaking with Doctor Mitch Earleywine, he's a professor of psychology at the State University of New York at Albany, and a true expert on marijuana, medical marijuana. Doctor Earleywine, are there any gender specific thoughts we should be discussing as well?

MITCH EARLEYWINE, PHD: It's intriguing because right now my lab is entirely women, so I'm getting into some delightful issues in women's health. We've got new data published on cannabis and PMS, pre-menstrual syndrome, as well as some intriguing data on cannabis and responses related to menopause.

I've got to admit, these were brand new areas for me, but, as many female users have sworn for years and years, we really do have some delightful expectations about how cannabis could help PMS symptoms, for example.

Now, it's kind of a long term joke, but of course, cannabis is not going to intervene on things like over-eating or food cravings, which is sort of stereotypical of PMS, but folks report a lot of good responses to other symptoms related to PMS including some of the moodiness, the discomfort, the tendency to feel bloated, the depression, the insomnia, even some of the joint pain, and it's just delightful to get some confirmation.

We had over a hundred women report on this, and report almost uniformly that cannabis, particularly at the right dosage, is super helpful for PMS and then the extreme version, what they're calling pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder, as well as the menopause crew, so, again, there are, you know, certainly some symptoms where cannabis isn't going to help, but the intervention for that has often been this rather controversial hormone replacement, which, you know, any time you're adding hormones to your body, there -- the potential for some negative health consequences, whereas cannabis is markedly easier on your body for those kinds of things.

It's certainly not going to help things like vaginal dryness, but all the other symptoms that often go with it, including the intensity of hot flashes, some of the discomfort, irritability, joint pain, and swelling associated with the menopause symptoms.

It's, again, we've got over a hundred people reporting, and they claim that this has a ton of potential. It was just really delightful to get into the women's health area with the medical cannabis world.

DEAN BECKER: All right, Doctor Earleywine, now, what am I leaving out? What am I, as I'm just a layman here, what am I forgetting?

MITCH EARLEYWINE, PHD: Well, so what's intriguing, it's kind of an intense story, but my student Rachel Luba lost her father recently to cancer, and it was super sad, but she really turned it around and tried to make good use of it, and ended up gathering data on cannabis in end of life care.

And, what we all sort of knew was that everybody thought, certainly on our very last days, we ought to have access to whatever we can have in order to just make things easier, and she found almost uniformly, folks who are really in the thick of it there, folks who do that end of life care, which is an admirable task and I've got to admit I'm not sure I could do it, they almost to the person think that cannabis availability would be just a big plus for folks who are really nearing the ends of their lives.

But they emphasize that it's just not available, and not available in an easy way, for folks who are, you know, literally stuck in hospice. And, it's, you know, it's great to know that people are recognizing that this could be helpful, but it was also super sad to realize how hard it is for anybody in hospice to get access to a plant that could really make their last days so much better.

DEAN BECKER: Well, and it brings to mind a situation, a couple of years back, a woman who lives in Tennessee was here on my show, emailed me, asked me if I would help her brother who lives down near Galveston. He's dying, he's about 84 years old, he's got brain, bowel, and liver cancer. He's on his way out.

And, but, she convinced me, and she actually drove down, and I met her, and we met her brother, and I brought them some cookies and some cannabis and some butter. And --

MITCH EARLEYWINE, PHD: Ah, man, what a great deed.

DEAN BECKER: And he -- he had been on the opiates, and he didn't want to die on his couch, you know, incapacitated so to speak. He switched over to cannabis. He only lived two more weeks, but he died on the living room floor playing with his great granddaughter, and I just -- I take great pride in helping that man reach that situation.

MITCH EARLEYWINE, PHD: That really warms my heart, I mean, what a pleasant way to envision going out, when the contrast would have been really sad, of him, you know, stuck in some hospital bed around people he doesn't know and who may not care a whole lot for him. So, that's a really, a charitable act on your part, man, I've got to tip my hat to you.

DEAN BECKER: Well, it still feels good, thinking about it, what I heard from his sister. I --


DEAN BECKER: In the end, he couldn't eat the cookies, but he could still take a little spoonful of butter, and --


DEAN BECKER: And, I don't know. Compassion. We talk about --


DEAN BECKER: -- compassionate conservative Christians. Where are they, really? That's what comes to mind.

MITCH EARLEYWINE, PHD: Well, I understand the fear, and unfortunately the biases against both cannabis and people who use it are still there. One of my grad students, who was here for years but who now has a lab or her own, out at University of the Pacific, has started studying what she calls marijuana stereotypes "jadar," as we used to call it, when High Times used to run that portion of the magazine.

And she's showing that neuropsych assessors and just lay people tend to have these stereotypes about anybody who they think might be a cannabis user, and they tend to think that their short term memory's going to be poor, or their working memory isn't going to be as good, and then unfortunately it shows up then on the way they seem to administer some of these memory related tasks, so that the subtle communication of this bias actually shows up in some of the scores on these neuropsych tests.

So by all means, if you are a cannabis user and you're in a situation where you're going to be tested for anything, I hate to say it, but do all you can to make it so you're not with somebody who could be basically biased against you.

DEAN BECKER: And that's, you know, there's so many weird complications. I think I was working for a major oil and gas company, they wanted to hire me full time, I was doing contract, but I had to take a urine test. And, I tried my best, I drank water, I took the kidney rinse from the head shop, all of this stuff.

I was actually getting paychecks. Two weeks later, they kicked me out. I couldn't even get my stuff out of the desk, Mister Becker you've failed your urine test. The next week, someone from that same company called me back and hired me back on a contract basis.

The -- that still hurts. That still hurts. Just to realize that my work is good enough, but my urine is not. It's just -- it's --

MITCH EARLEYWINE, PHD: It's heartbreaking. So, I have a colleague who literally was just joking about giving an edible to a manager after he had returned from the west coast, and the next thing he knew, he got an intention to distribute meeting with human resources, and lost the job.

And I'm thinking, wow, you know, this is the twenty-first century, and we're still judging people by, you know --

DEAN BECKER: Nineteenth century.

MITCH EARLEYWINE, PHD: -- casual references and jokes.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, sir. Well, friends, we've been speaking with Doctor Mitch Earleywine. Again, he's a professor of psychology at the [State] University of New York at Albany. Doctor Earleywine, is there anything you'd like to share with the audience as we part ways here, perhaps a website?

MITCH EARLEYWINE, PHD: Folks are always welcome to check out my website at the University at Albany, State University of New York, but, what I'm really hoping to do is have folks head to amazon, if they're willing, and check out my book Understanding Marijuana by Oxford University Press, and I'm just hoping it's the kind of thing you might hand off to somebody who may be riding the fence, whether they can decide do they want to support us or not.

By all means, have them read a chapter or two, and I bet you they'll come to our side.

DEAN BECKER: It's time to play Name That Drug By Its Side Effects! Clammy skin, pinpoint pupils, shallow or absent breathing, dizziness, sedation, loss of consciousness, nausea, vomiting, weak or absent pulse, heart failure, death, thousands of deaths. Time's up! Designed to sedate adult elephants, this drug is one hundred times more deadly than fentanyl, ten thousand times deadlier than morphine, a portion smaller than a grain of salt can be fatal, the drug lord's dream fulfilled: carfentanyl.

The following comes to us out of New York City, courtesy Spectrum News.

NICK REISMAN: New York Department of Health released the results of a long awaited report concerning marijuana legalization, findings that say the positives far outweigh the negatives. From taxation, prospects in proper regulation, Governor Cuomo is on board. Supporters are also happy as they say it will further erode [sic] policing policies and arrests that unfairly target communities of color if the legislature follow through on the recommendations.

Joining me now from New York City is Chris Alexander. He is the policy coordinator with the New York policy office of Drug Policy -- of the Drug Policy Alliance, he's here to talk more about these findings and what they mean for New Yorkers. Chris, welcome, thanks for being here.

CHRIS ALEXANDER: Thanks for having me.

NICK REISMAN: So, what I found very interesting about the report was it didn't kind of go deeper than just simply we are going to recommend, you know, the legalization of marijuana for recreational, commercial purposes. It kind of goes into, you know, kind of the business side of this, the taxation of something like this, hypothetically, what this could mean potentially in terms of revenue for the state.

When you looked at this report, what -- what sort of conclusions did you draw from what the DOH found?

CHRIS ALEXANDER: Well, I mean, I think the first thing is that it made very clear that the state is concerned about a lot of things, but they also did their due diligence, not just looking at the other states who are regulating marijuana currently for adult use, but really taking a deeper dive into what's the certain lessons that have been learned from those states.

You know, what are the challenges that they've had and how do we address those head on here in New York?

NICK REISMAN: So, what sort of challenges have we seen in other states? I mean, you know, one issue that I've heard from some state lawmakers is how it was rolled out, say, in Colorado, where there was some concern about just how a commercialized recreational marijuana program there had occurred, and how there was some concern about people who had imbibed and then had gotten behind the wheel of a car.

I know a lot of people are watching Massachusetts, what Massachusetts is ultimately going to do here, just, what sort of lessons should New York learn in terms of, were this to be allowed to happen in New York, what New York could do differently.

CHRIS ALEXANDER: Absolutely. I think one good example that came up in the report was, a good deep look at what happened in Oregon as it relates to tax rates. You know, Oregon was one of those states that set a pretty high tax rate initially for marijuana that was coming to the market, and they realized that, you know, individuals saw that it wasn't cost effective, and so they continued to visit the illicit market to access their marijuana.

But when they dropped the tax rate a bit, they saw a lot more people coming into those stores, they saw their revenue jump, but they also saw the illicit market side shrink.

[sic: This is incorrect. Prior to implementation of the law, Oregon lawmakers changed the system from an excise style tax imposed on producers, based on weight, to a percentage sales tax paid by the consumers. The initial rate was set at 25 percent to be lowered after a short period of time to 17 percent with the option of an additional 3 percent imposed by the local city or county government.]

And those were one -- that was one of the key things, that kind of thing came up. I think related to public safety, what is evidenced in the report was that the sky hasn't fallen. That roads are no less safe, that, you know, there's no increase in crime in our communities and in communities across the state where marijuana's being regularly -- regulated and legally sold.

And so I think that also was a concern but something after some research, the state has concluded is not as harmful as prohibition has been on our communities.

DEAN BECKER: This pot's so good that when I smoke it, the government freaks out.

HEATHER FAZIO: I'm Heather Fazio, I'm the coalition coordinator for Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, which is a diverse group of individuals and organizations working to advance sensible changes to our marijuana laws here in Texas.

And, in just a few weeks, August 10 through 12, we're hosting the first statewide marijuana policy conference. It's going to hosted in Austin, Texas, downtown near the capitol at the Sheraton. And we're looking forward to a full weekend event featuring keynote speakers, breakout sessions, and an awards banquet where we look forward to honoring the legislative sponsors who have championed sensible and compassionate reforms to marijuana laws here in Texas.

The public opinion on this issue has shifted dramatically over the years, and we're seeing Texas is no exception. We just saw the University of Texas and Texas Tribune release the results of their recent poll, where they found that 53 percent of voting Texans are in favor of repealing prohibition entirely.

And that is exciting news for those of us who know that prohibition has failed, and we need to replace it with sensible regulation so that it can be a market that is regulated, much like other markets for responsible adult consumption.

But what maybe is more exciting is the consensus that we're seeing built around at least stopping the bleeding when it comes to prohibition. Let's stop arresting people for low level possession. Not only are 70 percent of Texans in favor of that, according to the UT poll, but we just saw the Republican Party of Texas include in their platform for the first time a call on the legislature to replace criminal penalties for low-level marijuana possession with simple civil penalties, making it a ticketable offense, and eliminating the threat of arrest and jail time, and most importantly getting rid of the criminal record that's currently associated with even small amounts of marijuana.

And that means that we're going to be able to mitigate the harms caused by this offense, and the collateral consequence that currently come with it, with regard to hindered access to education, employment, housing, a person's driver's license is currently suspended, and their license to carry, their right to self defense, is suspended for five years even just upon being charged with a marijuana possession case under current law.

And we're seeing people coming together and calling for a change to these laws. We've seen momentum building in the legislature. And 2019 is going to be a great year for people uniting on an issue upon which we agree, which is reducing penalties for low level possession of marijuana.

DEAN BECKER: All right folks, once again we've been speaking with Heather Fazio, she's with Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, and I guess the main driver of this forthcoming conference. Please, tell the folks the details, when where and how they can get involved, please.

HEATHER FAZIO: The conference is going to be over the weekend of August 10 through 12. The website with more information including discounted registration earlybird prices is TexasMarijuanaPolicyConference.org. And again, that's August 10 through 12, the TexasMarijuanaPolicyConference.org is the website.

DEAN BECKER: Pulling the plug on the prison industrial complex, DrugTruth.net.

The following courtesy ABC Denver.

MARC STEWART: Using pot may be legal, but a Colorado widow and her children are paying the price, denied thousands of dollars in death benefits because her late husband legally smoked marijuana.

ANNE TRUJILLO: And she reached out to Contact Seven, and tonight, Chief Investigative Reporter Tony Kovaleski introduces us to Erika Lee, and her fight to protect her family's financial future.

ERIKA LEE: I'm very scared. I have no idea how we're going to make it.

TONY KOVALESKI: She's a widow, a teacher, and a mother.

ERIKA LEE: We don't even know if we'll get any money at all.

So, I'm looking at right now, maybe just trying to survive. I'm very frustrated with the system.

TONY KOVALESKI: A frustrating journey that started 20 months ago.

DISPATCHER: Loveland Valley CPR in progress.

TONY KOVALESKI: Her husband Adam died on the job, an electrician at the Loveland Ski Area.

AMBULANCE DRIVER: Georgetown, Medic One, confirming, he's stuck in the magic carpet.

TONY KOVALESKI: He was crushed under the ski conveyor belt.

ERIKA LEE: He got caught in the magic carpet, and when the magic carpet stopped, they just started it again, and again, and again, and again, seven times total.

TONY KOVALESKI: The pain of losing her husband magnified when she learned that a state law will now greatly impact her monthly family budget.

I mean, the story here is your husband's smoking of legal marijuana is now hurting your family.


TONY KOVALESKI: Does that make sense?


TONY KOVALESKI: Let's take a moment to really understand this issue. Toxicology reports after Adam's death here at the Loveland Ski Area showed high levels of marijuana in his system. But here's the critical point: current science and the testing were unable to confirm if Erika's husband was impaired or intoxicated at the time of his death.

Despite that critical fact, current Colorado law allows state workers comp to cut Erika's benefit in half.

DEAN BECKER: So, which is worse, the harms of marijuana, or the harms of marijuana prohibition. I remind you once again that because of prohibition you don't know what's in that bag. Please, be careful.

Drug Truth Network transcripts are stored at the James A. Baker III Institute, more than 7,000 radio programs are at DrugTruth.Net, and we are all still tap dancing on the edge of an abyss.