Diane Goldstein chair of Law Enforcement Action Partnership, Frederick Cortes Diaz of Intercambios, Shaleen Title Mass. Cannabis Control Commissioner & Basillio H. Sepe journalist with The Nights Watch in the Philippines
Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Wednesday, January 15, 2020
Tue, 01/28/2020 - 14:27
JANUARY 15, 2020
DEAN BECKER: This is Dean Becker, the Reverend Most High and you are listening to Cultural Baggage on Pacifica Radio and the Drug Truth Network.
All right friends, we are here in St. Louis at the Drug Policy Alliance Reform ’19 Conference. I am thrilled to be speaking with the chairperson of the board of my favorite organization, Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP). She has devoted long term service to her community as a law enforcement officer. I will let her tell you more about it and with that I want to welcome Diane Goldstein. Diane, how are you doing?
DIANE GOLDSTEIN: Dean it is always a pleasure being here with you both at the conference and throughout the years with your work with Drug Truth Network.
DEAN BECKER: Thank you, Diane. Give the folks a little background on your law enforcement experience.
DIANE GOLDSTEIN: Sure. I spent almost 22 years working for Redondo Beach Police Department in California. I started as a patrol officer and retired as a lieutenant division commander. During that time I worked a variety of assignments including a surveillance narcotics unit for a couple of years as a sergeant.
DEAN BECKER: You were also there during the years when the transition from America’s original (moralized and feared) drug war turned in to something quite different. Am I right?
DIANE GOLDSTEIN: Yes. My career started in 1983, and I retired in 2004. I really saw the ramp up of our tough on crime drug war policies and how they impacted people including my own families. What brought me to activism is that I had a brother who died from a drug overdose and I saw how criminalizing him for having a public health issue and a mental health problem didn’t do anyone any good including the criminal justice system because what he had was a health issue, not a criminal issue.
DEAN BECKER: Thank Gosh that is being recognized more and more by the media, politicians, preachers, etc. People are beginning to see that more obviously I think. Hopefully it is changing America’s perspective and means of “control” of these drugs. Your thought, please?
DIANE GOLDSTEIN: I think we continue to move many steps forward and then we take steps back. Drug policy and prohibition is such a significant problem because we continue to try to drive down supply versus really doing harm reduction and working on the demand issues where we have smart policies like drug treatment on demand, a safe drug supply, and that we actually have the ability to send people to get the help that they need and it is not coercive. As we move forward one of the big things that you will see in the United States is the drive and the move toward Portugal-style decriminalization which is really a diversion program. Portugal is a country that has sponsored a diversion program outside of the criminal justice system that is working very well. What I love about the Drug Policy Alliance conferences is that they honor people including researchers, grass roots activists, and law enforcement for the work that they do. Last night they honored a Vancouver Police Inspector who notably works hand in hand with InSite and who understands harm reduction and who most recently called for the safe supply of drugs so that people wouldn’t die from fentanyl. You see that and it makes you really think about how far we have come but we continue to move that line through legislation by changing policing and changing the criminal justice system because ultimately with the work that LEAP does is we are trying to reduce the harms of the criminal justice system on people in our communities.
DEAN BECKER: The other day I got a chance to visit with Richard Van Wickler who was one of the past chairpersons for LEAP. He was talking about how since the name has changed from Law Enforcement against Prohibition to Law Enforcement Action Partnership we have been able to attract more and perhaps a different group of supporters and speakers for our organization. What he found very important is that we have more and more cops and others who are still on the job and calling for the end of this prohibition. Right?
DIANE GOLDSTEIN: Correct. They are doing it by not necessarily talking about legalizing all drugs but they are doing it in ways that because they are active duty and because they are actually working in the criminal justice system that supports the conversation and they recognize the damage that the drug war has had. One of the things that we have seen in recent years especially with the legalization of cannabis across the United States both medically or adult consumption is that a lot of the work that we did there has come to fruition because what we are recognizing is that crime has not gone up, the kids are not smoking more marijuana because of this, and there is a lot of push for more empirical research on the efficacy of cannabis. Additionally, you are seeing less importation of marijuana in particular from outside of the country in to the country. There have also been less seizures –
DEAN BECKER: A safer supply, certain.
DIANE GOLDSTEIN: Yes. Absolutely a safer supply. The vape cartridge issue is all based on the illicit market and because of that we have identified the bad actors who are putting bad products in to the system and we are using appropriate resources to make certain that they don’t endanger the community. You are not seeing illicit vape or licit vape cartridges having the same problems as the illicit vape cartridges are.
DEAN BECKER: This comes back to prohibition itself. When you prohibit something you are leaving control of quality, quantity, and distribution to the criminals who really have a lot less care of the health of the people that they are providing these commodities to.
DIANE GOLDSTEIN: You are absolutely correct. I think it is also important to note that part of the issue with drug prohibition is simply a reflection of the public health policy and that ultimately is a chronic Substance Use Disorder issue but because we can’t adequately address them through a public health system since they are not adequately funded is we rely on drug prohibition in some aspects to try to make people safe and it doesn’t; it only makes it worse.
DEAN BECKER: That is at the heart of it, isn’t it? That we have had this dream for approximately 100 years that we were going to make it safe for our kids and the drug supplies would be safe. It was to destroy the snake oil salesman back in the early days, but we have created cobra snake oil salesmen in our current situation with the cartels supplying us wholly contaminated crap. What are your closing thoughts there, Diane Goldstein?
DIANE GOLDSTEIN: I would absolutely agree with you, Dean. I think that what is important, especially in this realm of significant cannabis policy that we are making is that we make certain that we are not just addressing the harms of drug prohibition with cannabis legalization but through social justice and equity programs as well as ensuring that we are supporting small businesses, mom and pop crop farmers, and that we are working toward expunging people’s records automatically. What I think is also critically important is that we can’t just do this with cannabis. We continue to fear that people who use marijuana or people who are in the marijuana industry are kicking other drug users to the curb. There is this marijuana exceptionalism or elitism. We have to stop that because we are not going to end the damages of the criminal justice system and drug prohibition in our society until we deal with every single drug in the same manner. Maybe we are not going to have a commodification model for heroin and there won’t be heroin on the corner but we are going to have heroin assisted treatment programs using diamorphine. We are going to base policy and have the relationship that drug users have. In Vancouver you have safe consumption sites and you have diamorphine. The cops don’t even deal with people who possess drugs. I was talking to an inspector and he said that in the last couple of years they are down to 1-5% of all drug arrests are possession. Their goal is to eliminate drug possession arrests.
DEAN BECKER: Somewhat like Portugal is doing.
DIANE GOLDSTEIN: That is exactly right. I don’t know if American’s are really to adopt full legalization of all drugs but I think from an incremental standpoint we have got to minimally adopt the Portuguese model that uses dissuasion courts, public health models, and does not criminalize drug users in any way, shape, or form.
DEAN BECKER: There you have it. Diane Goldstein, Chairman of the Board for Law Enforcement Action Partnership. You can find them on the web at: www.leap.cc
All right folks, we are still out here in St. Louis at the Drug Policy Alliance Reform ’19 Conference and I walked by the Frederick Cortes Diaz of Intercambios Puerto Rico table and I got the chance to speak with Frederick Cortes Diaz who is one of their spokesman. How are you doing, Frederick?
FREDERICK CORTES DIAZ: I am doing good. How about you?
DEAN BECKER: I am well, Sir. We know what brings you here which is outreach, learning and more but at the heart of it there is a problem there in Puerto Rico that you are trying to solve, right?
FREDERICK CORTES DIAZ: Yes. There are different problems at the political level, which is why we are trying to organize around here. We are a colony of the United States so the drug policies in Puerto Rico are heavily influenced and dominated by federal regulations so it presents a special challenge in our case because culturally Puerto Rico is a different place from mainland United States. Politically we have to operate in the same framework so we come out here to learn what other people are doing to push through the changes that need to be done for the better of our communities.
DEAN BECKER: Here in the U.S. we have had a massive increase in the number of overdose deaths, particularly in regards to the contamination of so-called opiates with a horse tranquilizer and it is called fentanyl which is killing tens of thousands of people each year because they don’t know what they are taking. Is that the same situation you are having there in Puerto Rico?
FREDERICK CORTES DIAZ: We are having it, too. We used to do drug testing out in the field just as an educational service to our participants so they can know what they are consuming and 98% of the samples we collected had fentanyl in it. Anything from cocaine, heroin, even marijuana is getting laced with fentanyl because usually they are working on the same table and there is no quality control so it gets contaminated with anything that is there.
DEAN BECKER: They use the table to mix the fentanyl in to the white powder and then they clean it but there is still some white powder which gets in the cocaine batch and then the marijuana batch.
FREDERICK CORTES DIAZ: Yes. We are even getting reports of people saying that the drug is already coming cut with fentanyl before it reaches Puerto Rico and that is pretty common in the market place right now. This is the latest iteration of this war on drugs and one of its latest, most visible consequences. Before that it was Psilocin, horse anesthesia. There was in the drug supply in Puerto Rico and that caused a lot of problems with skin dying off where people were shooting up. This is just another consequence of what prohibition means on a human scale. We think of prohibition in abstract terms of law and order and how to order society but the reality is that what we have been doing for the last 30 years is not working. It is working as it was assigned to benefit some particular actors in the political game but for our communities it is a disgrace. We see the consequences. We see the reports of people dying. We also see the reports of people getting saved by using naloxone that we have provided to them through our services. I think we are at an important point in this social movement in the United States and internationally to push through a new vision on how we should handle drugs as an issue and a topic in our society.
DEAN BECKER: Through the use of naloxone and other remedies for overdose there are cities in the U.S. where that is embraced and taken to heart and yet there are other cities where the cops say that they don’t want that in their backyard and they don’t allow it to happen. In essence they are saying that they don’t give a darn if these people die. What is the response to law enforcement on your island?
FREDERICK CORTES DIAZ: We were operating in a grey area where we were not supposed to be handing out naloxone without a prescription to people but we got ahold of it and we knew we had to put it in people’s hands for it to be effective. It didn’t make any sense for us to expect people to come to our office looking for it when they didn’t even know it existed. So we started handing it out and nobody really intervened with us but we knew that we had to push through for a policy change so that this could go beyond our small actions at the local level and that this needed to be part of a national discussion. As a result of that we got a standing order from the Department of Health in Puerto Rico saying that it would allow open dispensation of naloxone to anybody.
DEAN BECKER: Once again friends, we have been speaking with Mr. Frederick Cortes Diaz, he is with Intercambios Puerto Rico. I am looking at your website here which is www.intercambiospr.org. Thank you so much Frederick. Do you have any closing thoughts you would like to share with the listeners?
FREDERICK CORTES DIAZ: I think it is important that we start looking at the possibility of real change when we put in the work to organize and build coalitions and to listen to the people to collectively construct solutions to the problems we are facing as a society.
It’s time for Name that Drug by Its Side Effects. Thirst, obesity, high fever, rigid muscles, shaking, convulsions, sweating, increased heart rate and blood pressure, neuroleptic malignant syndrome, uncontrollable movement, Tardive Dyskinesia, stroke, diabetes, coma, and death. Times Up! Then answer: from Bristol Meyers – Squibb; aripiprazole or Abilify for psychosis and schizophrenia. It’s probably for use after you smoke some of that high grade marijuana the government keeps talking about.
DEAN BECKER: Please introduce yourself and tell us the nature of the work that you do.
FEMALE VOICE: My name is Shaleen Title. I am one of five commissioners of the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission, which is the agency implementing legalization and medical marijuana in Massachusetts.
DEAN BECKER: Thankfully perceptions, attitudes, and laws are changing influx reaching towards actual positive means of control these days. Am I right?
SHALEEN TITLE: Yes, there is absolutely a change in perception.
DEAN BECKER: Tell us how it is unfolding there in Massachusetts. What is going on?
SHALEEN TITLE: We have done a lot of things for the first time and we were lucky enough to have the benefit of Colorado, Washington, and Oregon going before us and we could see the data coming out of those states as well as getting advise from regulators and I think we were able to improve upon those systems in many ways. I would say that our policies are evidence based and science based. We have a focus on equity and reparative justice for those communities that were disproportionately harmed.
DEAN BECKER: I am so happy to hear that because I have this great fear about big marijuana taking over things denying individuals the right to grow. Please tell us more about this equity you are speaking of.
SHALEEN TITLE: The concept of social equity is basically the concept of fairness when you consider that legalization is not starting from scratch. We are using our ability to regulate as a way to create fairness for those communities. I am really glad that you mentioned big corporations and reckless behavior because I think that the public health knowledge that we have trying to avoid the lessons we have learned from big tobacco are very much in line with the social equity goals of fairness. In both cases we want to encourage smaller businesses that are more focused on giving back to their communities and ensure that those that have already been involved in the industry have a pathway to becoming a legally regulated company.
DEAN BECKER: In some states it has been that those that had the experience as growers or providers and knew what they were doing got caught – they got busted – and they in many cases are denied the opportunity to be a part of the industry which they helped to create. What is your thought there, Shaleen?
SHALEEN TITLE: That is absolutely right. That is one of the things I was mentioning when I said we learned from earlier states. Colorado and perhaps others had banned people with conviction from participating in the industry and there is probably some regret there from a lot of the leaders who had to do that for political reasons. We did the opposite. Not only do we not ban people with marijuana convictions, but we actually give them benefits in terms of the Social Equity Program.
DEAN BECKER: Please describe some of those benefits. Is it a leg up in obtaining licenses, etc.?
SHALEEN TITLE: I think there should be reinvestment in general in to those communities. Our agency handles business licensing so our benefits revolve around job training for those who are interested in entry or re-entry level jobs as well as entrepreneurship training, fee waivers, technical assistance, help navigating the application and the barriers, and most recently when we were not seeing the data and results we wanted to see for our new licenses regarding delivery in particular they will be exclusively for these applicants that we want to encourage for the first two years to make sure that there is room for them in the market.
DEAN BECKER: We are here at the Drug Policy Alliance Reform ’19 Conference. It is heartwarming to me to see panels on decriminalization, legalization as well as newspapers, broadcasters, authors, politicians and so many more are starting to speak more openly in that regard. Is that happening in your state of Massachusetts?
SHALEEN TITLE: Yes. I think “serious” people are starting to see the benefits of decriminalization particularly as we look at the Portugal model and see the data coming out. We don’t see the results we want to see when we criminalize people so we need to talk more about public health focused interventions, whatever they may be. I think the benefit of talking about decriminalization is that we are not necessarily ready to talk about the commercialization of other drugs but we are definitely ready to talk about shifting away from criminalization.
DEAN BECKER: Yes. Punishment has been going on for 100 years and it doesn’t seem to have done much good, does it?
SHALEEN TITLE: It has never worked and it is never going to work. It is time for us to accept that.
DEAN BECKER: Friends, we have been speaking with Shaleen Title, she is the Cannabis Control Commissioner up in Massachusetts. Shaleen, thank you. Is there a website you want to share or some closing thoughts?
SHALEEN TITLE: Thank you for having me. You can follow the Commission at www.masscannabiscontrol.com, and you can follow me on Twitter: @ShaleenTitle.
MALE VOICE: My name is Basillio Sepe. I am a freelance photo journalist based in Manila, Philippines and I was invited to attend the Drug Policy Alliance Reform ’19 Conference to receive an award for the Night Crawlers who I represent. The Night Crawlers is a group of photo journalists and journalists who have worked and continue working on the drug war in the Philippines.
DEAN BECKER: I have been following the story in the Philippines. President Duterte claims some imperative necessity to go after people who use drugs and to remove them from your society. The police are encouraged to take out poor people and people who may be suspected of drug use. There is very little outrage or condemnation and it continues with impunity. Right?
BASILLIO SEPE: The killings in the Philippines have become the new norm. When there is a crime scene it is not new to them anymore. As you said, people are saying it is not just a drug war anymore; it’s a war against the poor. Most of the people who are being affected are from the poor communities. Most of the crime scenes are in the poor areas.
DEAN BECKER: You and your fellow photo journalists and journalists hear of these stories and you get on your motorcycle or however you can get there and you take those pictures and share them with the world. Right?
BASILLIO SEPE: We started in 2016, during the height of the drug war. In my case, in 2016 I was still a student in college when I started doing coverage of the drug war. For me it was a bit of a challenge because I had to balance my time for school, for documenting, and other personal matters. Everyone has their own challenge. Some of us are freelance, some of us are with agencies. We all go to the crime scenes as a group from the police station. As the drug war continues, the police have become stricter in terms of putting up the yellow lines keeping us further from the crime scene. Sometimes we go to the morgue and from the morgue we can reach the crime scene faster than the police investigators because the police always contact the morgue first so they are one of the first responders.
DEAN BECKER: I am aware that the drug problem in your country, there is a drug problem in every country on this planet to be truthful. What would you like to say to my radio audience?
BASILLIO SEPE: We are just doing our job, which is to tell the truth and not just to Philippino’s, to you guys. The harsh truth and the harsh reality of what is going on in my country and this is the least that we could do to also help the families and people who have been affected by the drug war. This is our way of telling them that we are also here to help them by spreading the word about what is really going on and that there is something wrong with this campaign.
DEAN BECKER: Thank you for that, Basillio. Is there a website where folks can learn more?
BASILLIO SEPE: We have a Facebook group called The Nights Watch where you can look at the profiles of all of the journalists and photo journalists. You can also visit my personal website where I put all of my work at www.basilliosepe.com.
DEAN BECKER: I want to congratulate you for receiving that honor. As a journalist, I know how important your work is and I want to thank you.
BASILLIO SEPE: Thank you very much. Thank you to all who invited us here to receive the award.
DEAN BECKER: We have more than 7,000 radio segments available at www.drugtruth.net. Again, I remind you that because of prohibition you don’t know what is in that bag. Please be careful.
Again, I remind you because of prohibition you don’t know what is in that bag. Please be careful.
To the Drug Truth Network listeners around the world, this is Dean Becker for Cultural Baggage and the unvarnished truth. Cultural Baggage is a production of the Pacifica Radio Network, archives are permanently stored at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy, and we are all still tap dancing on the edge of an abyss.