12/26/18 Ngaio Bealum

The UK Parliament's House of Commons debates marijuana legalization, plus Ngaio Bealum on equity in the cannabis industry.

Century of Lies
Wednesday, December 26, 2018
Ngaio Bealum
Download: Audio icon col122618.mp3




DECEMBER 26, 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.

On December Eleventh, the UK House of Commons held a debate over the legalization of marijuana.

Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament Norman Lamb, who represents the constituency of North Norfolk, used a Parliamentary rule to attempt to introduce a bill to legalize the possession and use of marijuana, and to regulate its production, distribution, and sale.

On today’s show, we’re going to hear portions of that debate. First, here’s The Right Honourable Norman Lamb.

THE HONOURABLE JOHN BERCOW, MP: Order. Ten Minute Rule motion. Norman Lamb.

THE RIGHT HONOURABLE NORMAN LAMB, MP: Thank you, Mister Speaker. I beg to move, that leave be given to bring in a Bill to legalize the possession and consumption of cannabis; to provide for the regulation of the production, distribution and sale of cannabis; and for connected purposes.

Over the last few weeks, three of my constituents have, individually, come to see me to discuss cannabis. All three suffer acute continuing pain. One has fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, and IBS.

He has been prescribed Fentanyl, which we know is highly addictive and potentially fatal. He stopped taking it out of fear of the consequences. Yet cannabis offers him essential pain relief, but he has no option but to buy it illegally.

He knows at any time that he could face arrest and prosecution. Following the Government’s reforms allowing for the prescribing of cannabis-based products for medicinal use, he went to see his GP to get a prescription. He was told that they, the GPs, were all under instructions not to refer patients to the pain clinic because there is no evidence of therapeutic value.

Yet something as dangerous as Fentanyl remains available.

Another constituent, who has rapidly advancing Parkinson’s disease, also uses cannabis. It's the only thing that helps him. He has also been told by his GP that he can't be referred to a specialist for cannabis to be prescribed.

So we leave this man, who is acutely unwell, having to break the law in order to get relief from pain. This is surely cruel and inhuman.

The third man, in his fifties, finds that cannabis is the only thing that offers him respite from pain following an injury to his leg. He has a lifelong allergy to codeine. Other painkillers have caused serious problems with his kidneys. But cannabis works for him.

Fearing the risks of buying from a street dealer, he bought some over the internet. He then faced a police raid. Despite my pleas to the police that giving him a criminal record would not be in the public interest, last week he was given a caution.

This man has been a law-abiding citizen all his life. He has found this whole thing acutely distressing. He fears that the consequence of the caution is that he won't be able to visit his son in Australia.

The treatment of this man is shameful. What is the point of doing this to him? What is the possible public interest?

Across the country, people like this are left with no option but to break the law. The Government’s reforms raised expectations but have dashed hopes for so many people.

The approach taken by the Government is so restrictive that the numbers who will benefit are minuscule. If you are lucky, you might live in an area where the police force takes an enlightened approach.

Chief Constable Mike Barton in Durham has effectively decriminalized cannabis for personal use. And a recent parliamentary answer I received reveals that, in some areas, prosecutions and cautions have plummeted.

Yet, surely we can't justify this postcode lottery, where two people behaving in exactly the same way are treated differently depending on where they live. One will be forever tarnished with a criminal record, and the other won't.

It is clear that the recent reforms are not working, so the Government should look in the round at the harm that prohibition of cannabis is causing across the country and try to come up with a more enlightened approach.?

In Canada, the Liberal Government of Justin Trudeau has implemented a new legal regulated market for cannabis for recreational and medicinal use. Their approach is instructive.

In June 2016, the Minister of Justice, the Minister of Public Safety, and the Minister of Health jointly set out the key principles that should guide reform, including:
protecting young people by keeping cannabis out of the hands of children and youth;
keeping profits out of the hands of criminals;
preventing people from receiving criminal records for simple cannabis possession offences, reducing the burden on police and the justice system;
protecting public health and safety by strengthening the law with respect to serious offences such as selling cannabis to minors and driving under influence;
providing support for addiction treatment, mental health support, and education programs to inform people about the risks;
access to quality-controlled cannabis for medicinal purposes.

Surely those principles should guide us too. Carrying on as we are has dreadful consequences.

And I want to just make four key points.

First, nowhere across the world has prohibition worked. Cannabis is available everywhere.

Second, people have no idea what they are buying. We know that leaving supply in the hands of criminals puts particularly teenagers at risk. They are the most susceptible to suffering mental health consequences, including psychosis, from regular use of potent strains available on the street.

The widespread use of those dangerous strains is the result of our failure to regulate. A regulated market would allow governments to control the safety and potency of cannabis sold by legal vendors.

Yet through a misplaced desire to be “tough on drugs”, we leave teenagers vulnerable to exploitation from sellers who have no interest at all in their welfare. Through inaction, Government and Parliament are culpable.

If something is potentially dangerous to children and young people, control it and regulate it. Don't leave it freely available from those keen to make a fast buck.

Third, we know that the illegal market for drugs generates extreme violence in many communities, particularly the most disadvantaged. If a supplier faces competition, they don't resort to the courts to protect their market; they use extreme violence.

Thousands of people have lost their lives as a result of illegal trade in drugs in countries like Mexico, but on the streets of our poorest communities, violence is meted out regularly. Young, vulnerable teenagers get caught up in this violent trade and can't escape. Yet it doesn't have to be like this.

Fourth, we still criminalize thousands of people every year, taking up precious police time which could be used to fight serious crime. Careers are blighted for using a substance which no doubt many peope on the Government Benches have used at some stage in their lives.

Meanwhile, the most harmful drug of all is consumed in large quantities right here in this building. Alcohol leads to violence on our streets and behind closed doors in people’s homes. It destroys families up and down our country, yet we tax it, and the Exchequer benefits enormously from it.

Isn't there a dreadful hypocrisy, that we allow our drug of choice, whilst criminalizing people who use another, less dangerous drug, many for the relief of pain??

My Bill, Mister Speaker, offers a more rational alternative to this mess. With strict regulation of the growing, sale and marketing of cannabis, with an age limit of 18 for the purchase and consumption of cannabis, with clear controls over potency of what is sold in licensed outlets, we can at last start to protect children and teenagers.

We can at last treat all those people who suffer acute pain, or who have conditions such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, and epilepsy, with dignity and respect. We can end the shameful treatment of these people as criminals.

We can at last end the extraordinary practice of handing billions of pounds every year to organized crime. We can instead start to tax the sale of cannabis, so that revenues can be used for good purpose, public health education, the NHS, schools, and the police.

We can start to take some of the violence and intimidation off our streets and restore order in our poorest communities. We can free up police time to focus on serious crime. Mister Speaker, this is rational, evidence-based policy making.

It's time for this country to act on the evidence and to protect children and young people from harm.

DOUG MCVAY: That was The Right Honourable Norman Lamb, a Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament representing the constituency of North Norfolk in the UK. He was speaking in the House of Commons in favor of a bill to legalize marijuana.

To be painfully precise, Lamb was speaking in favor of his motion for permission to bring in a Bill under Standing Order Number 23.

Standing Order Number 23 is also called the Ten Minute Rule. It’s a way by which individual members, particularly backbench MPs and Members from minority parties, can try to bring up legislation.

According to Parliament’s website, quote:
“Ten Minute Rule Bills are often an opportunity for Members to voice an opinion on a subject or aspect of existing legislation, rather than a serious attempt to get a Bill passed.

“Members make speeches of no more than ten minutes outlining their position, which another Member may oppose in a similar short statement. It is a good opportunity to raise the profile of an issue and to see whether it has support among other Members.”
End quote.

Norman Lamb, the MP who sought to introduce this measure, is from the Liberal Democrat Party, which is a small though influential minority party in Parliament.

But this isn’t a show about Brexit. This is a program about drug policy reform and the failed war on drugs.

This is Century of Lies. We’re a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network. I'm your host, Doug McVay.

You can find this program and a complete archive of past shows, along with complete transcripts, on the website at DrugTruth.net.

On December Eleventh, the UK Parliament’s House of Commons held a debate on marijuana legalization. On the first half of today’s show, we heard from a proponent of marijuana law reform, the Right Honourable Norman Lamb, a Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament representing the constituency of North Norfolk.

Now, we’re going to hear from the opponent, Steve Double, a Conservative Member of Parliament representing the constituency of St. Austell and Newquay.

THE HONOURABLE JOHN BERCOW, MP: The question is, does the right honourable Member have leave to bring in the bill. Mister Steve Double?

STEVE DOUBLE: Thank you very much, Mister Speaker.

And, first, I would want to pay respect to the right honourable Member for North Norfolk for introducing his Bill. I know that he has a long record of campaigning on this issue, and whilst I strongly disagree with him, I do respect his desire that something be done to address this very important issue.

Because I'm sure, Mister Speaker, that we can all agree that something does need to be done about the current situation with cannabis use, in its current form that is wrong and unsustainable and doing a great deal of damage to our society.

But I do not believe that liberalizing it in this way that has just been proposed, and decriminalizing it, will be the answer.

Part of my view is largely informed by experience that I have had personally of seeking to help and support people who have been regular users of cannabis.

And I have seen very close up and first hand the lives that it wrecks, the impact on mental health that it has, and the costs that it not only has to the individuals but to their families, to their communities, and to wider society.

And I have to say to the right honourable Gentleman, I was slightly confused in the line that he was taking because he seemed to be confusing medicinal use for cannabis with recreational use.

And I think the Government should take great credit for the progress that has been made recently in allowing the use of cannabis products for medical use, and that is absolutely right, and I believe has a great deal of support across the country.

And I would agree with the argument that more should be done to ensure that cannabis for medical use gets to the people who really need it, and I would agree with the point that more needs to be done to get medical professionals on board and for them to adjust to the new regime.

But let's remember, these new measures were only introduced a few weeks ago, on the First of November, and I think we need to give more time to allow these changes to come into effect before we jump -- take a huge leap of faith towards decriminalizing cannabis altogether.

My concern is that, by liberalizing cannabis use, we will be sending precisely the wrong message to our young people. We will be giving them the message that somehow cannabis is safe and okay to use.

And I believe we need to make very clear that cannabis is a dangerous drug and that there is no safe use in an uncontrolled way, in an unregulated way, for cannabis to be consumed.

We are clearly in the midst of a war on drugs, but I would say that we do not win the war by raising the white flag and giving up and surrendering. We do -- no war has ever been won by surrendering.?

It's been well established, the impact of regular cannabis use on mental health. There is strong evidence that demonstrates that frequent use of cannabis is linked to the inducement of psychosis.

One study in south London revealed that there was a threefold increase in the risk of individuals having a psychotic disorder amongst regular cannabis users compared to those who do not use cannabis.

In recent years, we have seen a steady decline in -- a steady reduction in the use of cannabis. Over the past 20 years, it has declined by 30 percent.

YouGov polling conducted this year indicates that legislation could significantly disturb this overall downward trend. Over a quarter of people under 25 who have never tried cannabis indicated that they would definitely, or likely -- or would be likely to try it, if it was legalized. That is over one million 18 to 24-year-olds.

Of those who have used cannabis before, well over a third of 18 to 24-year-olds said that they would be more likely to use it more regularly if it was decriminalized.

I believe that legislation would send a very wrong message to our young people that cannabis is okay to use. And I think that we all understand that for many people, the use of cannabis is a gateway drug to more serious and more damaging drug use.

And therefore, it would be absolutely wrong to send this message that somehow cannabis is okay, because of where it would lead for many, many people.

Of course, as with most laws, the Misuse of Drugs Act is adhered to by the vast majority of people, but it is ignored by some. We must not forget that the current law does deter a great many from drug use, and this serves a very important public interest.

But this is no endorsement of the status quo. We all have at least some common ground here. It is intolerable to see our young people hurting themselves or ending their lives prematurely because of the effects of this dangerous drug.

Our approach must be bolder. We must be offering more meaningful support and aim to drive down consumption yet further.

This will not be achieved by a new website or a helpline.

We need to intervene and challenge, using experts in the field of drug use, recovered addicts, and recovering users, who can reach out and invite a real prospect of change for users.

A procedure that replaces the current system of issuing a relatively ineffectual warning or punitive fine given by a police officer with an alternative of offering diversion through the attendance of a local drugs awareness day would have a greater impact in reducing use.

A part of what is currently charged as a fixed penalty notice could go instead to local treatment providers to pay for the service.

The right honourable Gentleman referred to the situation in Canada. But it's nteresting, on the eve of the legislation being introduced in Canada, an article published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal referred to the legislation as:

“a national, uncontrolled experiment in which the profits of cannabis producers and tax revenues are squarely pitched against the health of Canadians.”

Yes, we can learn from experiments taking place elsewhere, but we don't need to risk the lives of some of our most vulnerable residents to do that.

This is one of the most -- one of the many substances that plagues our communities and rob both young and old, and predominantly the most disadvantaged, of a full life.

We must commit to do more, to have a person-centric approach, to show compassion, yet keep the decisiveness of criminal law to intervene when the public ?interests demands it.

I accept that there is a trend from other nations to legalize cannabis, but the evidence at this stage is still very mixed.

Legislation -- decriminalization at best is a risky step for us to take. An whilst I understand the desire for something to be done to address this issue, I do not believe that liberalization in this way is right for our country at this time.

We need to do better for our young people, but giving up the war on cannabis is not the way to achieve that. I cannot support this Bill, and if the House does divide on this issue, I will be voting against it, and I would encourage other Members to join me to not allow this Bill to progress.

THE HONOURABLE JOHN BERCOW, MP: Order. The question is that the right honourable Member have leave to bring in the Bill. As many as are of that opinion say Aye [Crowd goes Aye]. Of the contrary, No [Crowd goes No]. Division! Clear the Lobby.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Steve Double, a Conservative Member of Parliament, speaking against marijuana legalization during a debate in the UK House of Commons.

After the debate ended, Members voted on the motion, of whether Parliament should consider a bill to legalize marijuana.

THE HONOURABLE JOHN BERCOW, MP: Order. The question is that the right honourable Member have leave to bring in the Bill. As many as are of that opinion say Aye. Of the contrary No. The tellers for the Ayes, Tom Brake and Jamie Stone. Tellers for the Nos, Sir Mike Penning and Andrew Selous.

Lock the doors!

Order! Order.

PARLIAMENTARY OFFICER: The Ayes to the right, 52. The Nos the left, 66.

THE HONOURABLE JOHN BERCOW, MP: The Ayes to the right, 52, the Nos to the left, 66. So the Nos have it, the Nos have it. Unlock. Order.

DOUG MCVAY: The motion failed to pass, by a vote of 52 in favor to 66 against. I know I said this isn’t a show about Brexit but for context, here’s a little information about Parliament. I'll keep it all simple.

There are a total of 650 Members of the House of Commons, who all represent individual geographic constituencies around the UK. Think of it like the US House of Representatives, only with more than just two parties and more than just one country. I mean, remember that the UK includes Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland in addition to England.

The majority party in Parliament forms a government, including the Prime Minister and other Ministers, who head up departments. Those officials are all Members of Parliament, so, again, very different from the US.

Now currently, no party has an actual majority in Parliament. The Conservative Party was able to form a government by entering into what’s called a Confidence and Supply Agreement with a very small minority party, the Democratic Unionist Party.

The DUP is the dominant Protestant political party in Northern Ireland, which is really sad because they’re bigoted religious zealots who believe the Christian bible’s story of creation is actual, literal, historical truth. Sad for Northern Ireland, sad for the UK in general.

But this isn’t a program about Brexit, this is a show about drug policy reform and the failing war on drugs. A quorum in the House of Commons, according to the Parliament website, is just 40 members. So if that motion had been approved, Parliament would have been discussing a bill to legalize.

All things considered, 52 to 66 is pretty good. And what's most important is, he brought it forward. All too often, you hear politicians say, well, it's a great idea, I'd love to, but it would never get passed, I wouldn't introduce it because it won't get passed.

Why would you do something that won't get passed? Well, the answer is: leadership.. That's called leadership. And it's good to see it happening somewhere.

NGAIO BEALUM: My name's Ngaio Bealum. I've been an activist for more than -- a marijuana activist for more than 20 years. Mostly a comedian, I also write, I'm the marijuana advice columnist for the Sacramento News & Review, Monterrey County Weekly, I write -- I've written for AlterNet, and Guardian.

I write for THC News, the national edition and the Colorado edition. I used to publish West Coast Cannabis Magazine, I write for Cannabis Now Magazine, blah blah blah blah blah blah blah.

I love marijuana more than most people. No, wait. I love marijuana more than I love most people. But look, the thing about the diversity issue is, we have to make sure, when we first started on this cannabis legalization, it was mostly because social justice. Right?

And stoners didn't want to be bothered, stoners just wanted to be able to smoke weed and be stoners. And now that we see this gigantic explosion of business and commerce, we have to remember the social justice aspect. Right? And so cannabis freedom can't still mean exclusion of minorities. Right, you see where I'm coming from?

When you're an outlaw, it's easy. You get a pound and a pager, you're a businessman. Right? But now -- a pager, because I started in the 1980s.

ED FORCHION: You're dating yourself.

NGAIO BEALUM: Just beep me, dawg, I'll call you back from the payphone. But now, it's a whole different thing. Right? Some states, you need a million dollars in the bank before you can even ask to get a medical marijuana license.

And so we have to make sure that the barriers to entry are relatively low, and then people who have been most adversely effected by the war on drugs get a chance to a get a slice of this new cannabis pie. You know?

I think Oakland's been doing some things to ensure that minorities and women of color get first crack at it. Crack maybe not the best word to use.

But, I think that's the biggest thing, is, we have to -- it's incumbent upon the people who are reaping the benefits to make sure that everybody else gets a chance, too, and to open it up for everybody else. We can't just be selfish, because that's not what weed is about. That's all. All right.

I think one of the challenges is, the people who are coming in with all the money have to make sure that they're including other people. Right? Like Chris Rock says, white people created racism, white people need to deal with it. You know what I'm saying?

So it's not up to black people always to stand up and be like, hire me, hire me. You all need to be out looking for cats, y'all need to be out trying to find women, y'all need to be out trying to find people who might know things, especially if you're new to the cannabis industry.

Maybe you want to talk to somebody who's been in the cannabis industry, whether underground or aboveground for a few years, and bring them on board, and figure out how stoners actually work, because it will save a lot of money and hurt feelings if you have an idea of that first.

I don't think Oakland's is the right thing. I just think we have to make sure not to over regulate it, and make sure that people who want to get into it, have a chance. I mean, the challenges before, the reason you didn't see more black people owning dispensaries in the outlaw, illegal days, is because they come after black people first.

My boy Virgil Grant had three dispensaries in LA, all by the book. All by the book, the man is a mother f*****' stickler. And he just got out of jail, for six years, from the feds. You understand? And everybody else still has a club. Right?

So, now that it's more legal and more open, we just have to make sure that everybody gets a chance, and that's on the cats coming in.

DOUG MCVAY: And well, that's it for this week. I want to 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, including this show, Century of Lies, as well as the flagship show of the Drug Truth Network, Cultural Baggage, and of course our daily 420 Drug War News segments, are all available by podcast. The URLs to subscribe are on the network home page at DrugTruth.net.

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We'll be back in a week with thirty more minutes of news and information about drug policy reform and the failed war on drugs. 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.