b y Dean Becker
by Steve Nolin
Guests: Dr. Al Robinson of the UT-Health Science Center
Michael Serazio of the Houston
Clayton Jones, activist
Transcript of the Houston Press story Reefer Madness available online at:
(Audio Track) Intro – My name is Dean Becker; Steve Nolin is our engineer. We invite you to join us as we examine the unvarnished truth about the drug war.
Dean: Good evening. Welcome to this special look – this “reefer madness” that runs rampant here in Houston and all across the nation. We’ll have several guests to join us here in just a moment; but first, I want to hear from a man whose opinion I think you should respect.
Cigarroa: Dr. Leo Cigarroa. I’m the chairman for the Council for Scientific Affairs for the Texas Medical Association. The Council for Scientific Affairs in the Texas Medical Association definitely supports the sanctity of the physician/patient relationship. Anything that would improve or help the patient’s health should be able to be discussed. We definitely encourage additional research into the use of any medication. In this case, we are of course talking about medical marijuana. There is some anecdotal evidence, and you have to show the proof. You know, you do the research and you show, “Okay, look, I studied this many cases, and these were the problems that were studied, and we used this medication, and it got better or it got worse.” If – in this case it is medical marijuana – that makes something better, then that’s something that should be able to be used for whatever that condition is. Several physicians on the Council have used the product that is called Marinol, but with varying success. I mean, I’ve used Marinol personally, and it has worked for some people and it has not worked for some people. One of the problems that have been faced by physicians is that the – when you use marijuana in smoked form, this has shown to be detrimental to the patient’s health. So one of the key things here, we believe, is that if we find that marijuana does help in the management of disease processes, we have to find a way to be able to administer it that is not detrimental to the person who is using it.
Dean: Yes, sir, now there is always the old standby, if you will, of ingesting it in food products such as brownies or cookies; but there are new products actually coming on the market. The College of Pharmacy at the University of Kentucky has done a study on the development of a cannabis patch, somewhat like the nicotine patch that is under a grant from the American Cancer Society. Now, I know it is hard to keep up with every aspect in this burgeoning technological society. I would like to send you some of this information. Dr. Geoffrey Guy, founder and executive chairman of GW Pharmaceuticals in the U.K., is also developing a plant extract he calls Sativex, which is an oral mucosal spray.
Cigarroa: How do you spell that, sir?
Dean: Which one, sir?
Cigarroa: The Sativex.
Dean: S-a-t-i-v-e-x. Yes, sir, and then there is a third alternative that’s called the “Volcano,” and it is produced by a German organization called VaporMed and it actually heats the THC to where it releases from the product, but no particulate matter of any consequence accrues. You know, I would love to share this information with the Texas Medical Association.
Cigarroa: Well, sure, it certainly would be wonderful to look at. We should be able to do research into this. And of course, you can imagine that there are people who may be concerned about doing the research if they don’t feel that they have the freedom to grow it, or whatever it is that you need to do in order to get the active ingredients out of it in order to be able to do the research.
Dean: The University of Mississippi is responsible here in the United States for growing what many deem to be a very low-grade, nonscientific level of marijuana. How would studies be done in the State of Texas, given that set of circumstances?
Cigarroa: Well, sir, I’m not 100% sure, but I believe the Federal government would have to issue a permit that says, “Okay, it is okay for the University of Texas to grow this cannabis plant in this determined area using these determined products. And then it’s okay for them to use this process to extract the active chemicals to perform this particular research.” So, I would imagine that it would have to be a stepwise thing. First you have to get the permission to grow it. So it sounds like it is not an easy thing, but certainly in this great country it is something that ought to be do-able.
Dean: I work probably 16 hours a day on trying to end the harms of this drug war, and I must admit I probably find a lot of information that isn’t widely disseminated, and I’ll be glad to share it with you.
Cigarroa: Yes, sir. I would appreciate it, Mr. Becker.
Dean: This is off-topic, and if you don’t want to talk about it, you just say so.
Cigarroa: Yes, sir.
is the stance of the Texas Medical Association in regards of the overall
harms of this drug war? In
particular, the fact that after 89-1/2 years, it is in worse shape than it’s
Cigarroa: Right. You have to understand there are a lot of physicians who are uncomfortable. They are scared if the government is going to come down and chomp on them for doing what they believe to be something that is appropriate for their patients, but it is against the law. You know, they are scared to death they are going to go to jail.
Dean: And I guess that has been my understanding and my contention that for years now, this whole drug war is run on fear – through the press, through the medical associations, and through the politicians. They are afraid to touch this third rail for fear of being seen as soft on crime.
Cigarroa: Well, or advocating something that, of course, has been taboo in society for so long. A lot of things that were done before, we’re finding out “you know what, that wasn’t necessarily the best thing to do.” You can prove that something works a certain way, and it does this and that and the other and really helps the patient – well then, by all means, you need to do it.
Dean: OK, that was Dr. Leo Cigarroa, the head of the panel of the Texas Medical Association that thinks we should be given the chance to talk about marijuana with our doctor and that they should do more studies for the people of Texas. I don’t know if you had a chance to look at the most recent Houston Press issue, but it is titled – the cover page is titled “Reefer Madness,” and it was written by Houston Press reporter Michael Serazio, who is here with us. Hello, Mike.
Serazio: Hello, Dean.
Dean: And if you see the cover page, you will see that there is a gentleman there. His name is Clayton Jones. Hello, Clayton.
Jones: Good evening.
Dean: And we are proud to have with us Dr. Al Robinson, professor emeritus of the UT-Health Science Center. Hello, Mr. Robinson.
Robinson: Hi, Dean, good to be here.
Dean: Glad to have all of you with us. Now, folks, what we are going to try to do is to recreate a bit of this story that Michael has written. Michael, tell us how this story got started. What was your impetus to get involved in looking at this?
Serazio: Well, I think I was curious about some of the politics involved with it. It kind of, like I said, stemmed from a recent cover of the National Review that had a cover story on medical marijuana, and I found that rather curious given the magazine’s traditional political stance. So jumping off from there, I found out that Dr. Ron Paul, the congressman from nearby, has been one of the biggest supporters of the medical marijuana movement. It kind of spoke – to me what really was the most interesting part of the story is this sort of political paradox that is at work. The fact that there is a very pervasive fear of looking soft on drugs among politicians, and yet at the same time, you have got pretty wide-spread consistent support in terms of the polls of the public on the issue. And secondly, the fact that despite that no one ever has been voted out of office on this issue as far as folks can tell, there remains this fear.
Dean: Now, as I mentioned, we have with us Dr. Al Robinson. Besides his involvement with the UT-Health Science Center, he has been very instrumental in forming and putting together the Drug Policy Forum of Texas. Dr. Al, what is your take on that?
Robinson: Well, you know, just listening to Michael say that – talking about that recent cover story in National Review, it brought to mind déjà vu all over again. Because just as we were getting started – the Drug Policy Forum of Texas – the previous blockbuster issue came out in the National Review. I’m getting so old, I’m losing track of time – was that 1987, ‘88, in that general ballpark. And that got all the reporters interested in it. We were getting deluged with calls. Because they got using to hearing Molly Ivans and other so-called liberals go on and on about the drug war and how crazy it was; but when William Buckley, the conservative, said it – man, that really got their attention. And he has done it again, I think, so maybe this time it will cause a little more action.
Dean: Well, let’s hope it does. Now as I said, the gentleman whose picture is featured on the front cover of the Houston Press issue. Clay, tell us a bit about your thoughts in this regard. Where would you like to see us head?
Jones: Well, all I know is that there is a real necessity for medical marijuana. We just have to point our state legislators in the right direction. We need safe access to it, and we need to be able to have a steady place that we can get it.
Dean: I think that is absolutely true. For those who may not have the chance to read the article yet – and I advise you please go get a copy of this. Let’s clean out the shelves for the Houston Press. It’s quite a profound article – some 4,000 plus words. Clay, let me ask you this. What is your affliction; for what reason do you use medical marijuana?
Jones: Back in 1985, I was crushed. I broke 31 bones at one time. With that, I broke my spine in 10 places; and I’m in chronic pain all the time.
Dean: Well, it is a sad state of affairs. Now, Dr. Al, back when you were at the UT-Health Science Center, you were one of the first to conduct studies of the – I don’t know, leaf, if that’s the right word. Tell us about those findings, if you will.
Robinson: Yeah, Michael did a pretty good job of summarizing that in the Press article. Yes, this was long before I realized how bad the situation was. Way back in the Sixties I was a lot younger then than I am now, and I think I was an assistant professor at Vanderbilt University Medical School. We got the job – back then it was amazingly different, the attitude of NIH back in those days. They genuinely wanted to know what this stuff did and – this stuff being tetrahydrocannabinol, which had just then been synthesized by some Israeli scientists. And so we had, my God, a lifetime supply of that stuff in little vials; and we were asked to perform the specific task of finding out how toxic it was in animals. Whenever you get a new drug, the first thing you need to know is how toxic is it. And you do that by measuring what we call an LK50 – the dose that is required to kill half of a population of rats – or mice are actually what are more commonly used. In effect, that’s what we did to begin with. We tried to determine the LD50 in mice. And to make a long story short, we just simply couldn’t do it. No matter how much of this stuff we injected, we could not kill a mouse.
Dean: And to this day, it hasn’t killed any humans. It is still nontoxic, despite the protestations of John Walters, who says it has become so potent we no longer call it “marijuana.”
Robinson: (Laughter) It is just crazy.
Dean: Yes, sir, it is.
Robinson: You cannot kill anything with that drug.
Dean: All right, y’all. We are going to take just a one-minute break here, and we will be right back.
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Ron Paul: And then this whole idea of medical marijuana, providing it to someone who may get some relief from the nausea of chemotherapy and the physicians aren’t giving them any help – to say you are not going to give them freedom of choice – I mean this is just preposterous. And yet, that is what we have accepted here in this country. That has not been our tradition. Most Americans aren’t aware of that. Most Americans think that “oh, these drugs must have been illegal throughout our history,” but this is a recent phenomenon and the insanity of the drug war is just 30 years old.
Dean: OK, that was Ron Paul, U.S. Representative Ron Paul, one of the people also featured in this Houston Press reefer madness story. Let me ask you, Michael, you had a chance to talk with Ron Paul. What was your feeling? He’s not your typical marijuana advocate.
Serazio: No, not at all. And that’s sort of, I think, what certainly drew me to him as a character in this story. You know, he is a Libertarian-Republican. He says that he comes to the issue partly as a doctor in terms of a compassion issue and partly from his political matrix, which is Libertarianism. So he was a compelling figure, I think, in the story in terms of this background and, definitely, his image. I think that a really big factor in all this is the fact that he was an OB-Gyn doctor down there, and he delivered a lot of folk’s babies down there. This all plays into his image on the issue and with regard to election time, I talked to a consultant by the name of Dr. Ken Bryan down there who had targeted or had run campaigns against Dr. Paul several times, and said that the drug issue they had gone after and it just didn’t stick. And this may have just been a case of, you know – Dr. Paul’s image was, I guess, immune to that maybe? I’m not sure. But certainly it is certainly an important factor because Ron Paul’s district is, like he says, not San Francisco – South Texas, and that is a factor, I think.
Dean: Those are strong points of consideration; and in that district, he can still get elected. I want to – Ron Paul is no friend of the Patriot Act either, or many of these ramifications. I’ve got a little clip I did with him that I would like to take a listen to right now.
Ron Paul: The drug war and the war on terror in many ways they are very similar. And of course, Ashcroft is involved in both. They provide the same kind of danger, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the motivation for both might not be the same and that is, yes, it is convenient to have a war on drugs because that way they can make an excuse for doing so many of these snooping type of things that they do. And terrorism just gives them another excuse.
Dean: Al, you are a bit older than me, but I am old enough that I have seen the change in my lifetime. The 30 years that they were talking about earlier has made a huge impact on our liberties and just how this nation is run. Al, talk on that aspect.
Robinson: Well, yes, it has made a big difference. I hadn’t thought about that for a long time, but I just mentioned that back in the Sixties, NIH was genuinely interested in figuring out what this drug did and, in fact, what a lot of currently illegal drugs did. Back then, for example, LSD was sort of a new drug. When I was a graduate student at Tulane, I got to try LSD, namely in the Department of Psychiatry. They wanted to know – what did that thing do? So, that was actually quite interesting.
Dean: My first use of LSD was about a week before it was made illegal. I do remember the day. Al, I wanted to ask you about this. There is a situation of late – two big stories breaking on national news about the FDA not having better oversight over products like these antidepressants which cause teenagers sometimes to commit suicide, and the Vioxx which doubles people’s possibility of dying of a heart attack or a stroke. Aren’t they supposed to have better oversight than that? What is going on?
Robinson: You know the role of the FDA, I guess that hasn’t – well, that has changed, actually. And they used to be nothing but good, at least in my opinion. They were always unpopular with the pharmaceutical industry.
Dean: Now they are best friends, it seems.
Robinson: Yes, well, yes they are. But back then the big thing was the drug that causes –
Robinson: Thalidomide. The lady who blew the whistle on that was working for the FDA.
Dean: Well, now they seem to bounce back and forth between pharmaceutical house and government office.
Robinson: Science and research, in general, has been just terribly politicized over the years.
Dean: I want to let y’all know that you are listening to Cultural Baggage on Pacifica Radio and the Drug Truth Network. We have with us – you just heard Al Robinson. We have Michael Serazio, a reporter with the Houston Press. And I’m going now to Clayton Jones. Clay, you work on a weekly basis to try to change these drug laws. Tell the folks a little bit about some of the things you do.
Jones: I go down to the courthouse at least once a week and pass out literature. I have the prosecutors – the district attorneys get to swear at me, tell me how much they would like to put me in jail. We are starting something on our political candidates – we are going to start reporting just where they stand on each one of the issues on medical marijuana. That’s all my interest is, is medical marijuana.
Dean: Thank you, Clayton. Now, we have within our grasp the chance to change these laws. It’s as simple as looking at the facts. As I have stated dozens of times, there is no one in government willing to come on this show and defend the need for further drug war, and they are really waiting for you to write that letter, to make that phone call. And in that regard, there is an effort very current. As of today, there is a push to contact the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tommy Thompson, and it’s being sponsored by an organization called Americans for Safe Access. I want to give you their phone number. Please get out a pen. I’ll try to repeat this later in the show, but call 877-696-6775 and tell them your feelings in this regard. What they want to do is – they have ruled that there is no currently accepted medical use for cannabis. Which is a load of bull. The American Nurses Association and dozens of very influential and knowledgeable organizations have come out in support of medical marijuana, and the government lies on a daily basis.
Robinson: Not to mention, lots of states.
Dean: Yes, sir, this is true. Ten states now have provisions. Several states – in fact, Alaska, this coming fall, is going to vote on outright legalization for adults 21 and over. Now, Steve, if you would, let’s set up and play that cut from Keith Stroup.
Keith Stroup: For about 34 years now, NORML has been the voice of marijuana smokers in America. We attempt to make sure that the otherwise law abiding citizens who smoke marijuana are involved in the public policy process that sets those laws. In fact, if marijuana smokers would simply vote their conscience – in other words, there are enough marijuana smokers in my country, and I suspect in Canada, too, that we could very easily change these laws if we would simply agree that we would never again vote for an elected official that wants to treat us like a criminal. And I dare say if the 27 million Americans who smoked marijuana just in the last year, or the 16-1/2 million Americans who are considered regular smokers by government surveys – if they would take the pledge to never vote for a candidate that wants to treat marijuana smokers like criminals, we could end marijuana prohibition and legalize marijuana in this country.
Dean: Okay, that was Keith Stroup, the national director of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. He was one of the subjects that Michael Serazio, the Houston Press reporter, spoke of. I told you I was going to give you that number. I hope you have that pen in hand. This is for Health and Human Services, and the number again is 877-696-6775. We need you to help. We need you to stand up, or else these guys will just flush us down the toilet – because we let them. Michael, you got a chance to speak with Keith Stroup. Tell us a little bit about that discussion.
Serazio: It was very interesting, actually. We had talked about a number of different things, especially with regard to politics, because I tried to keep the story fairly narrow in terms of focusing on the medical use of marijuana and the politics as it relates to that. He made a couple of interesting points. He talked a lot about how the images from the 1960s – the counterculture period – have continued to linger in the public’s mind, and he also said that whenever you have a conservative who is willing to come out and take the forefront on the issue, that’s an important thing for the movement, too. Because, as he puts it, it gives credibility; it gives cover. With that last clip, it struck me as interesting, the fact that he mentioned that people don’t vote on the issue. In other words, if all the marijuana smokers out there were to vote according to this issue, they could probably have removed the politicians from office. I don’t know if that is the case, but certainly the reverse hasn’t been true. Alan Bock, who wrote a book on the subject, has said that if it was true that you could vote someone out for looking soft on drugs, Ron Paul would have been gone 20 years ago. So certainly, I think part of the question is at what point does this become an issue that folks vote on? At what point does it become important enough?
Dean: Clay, you have some information there in front of you. I want you to share it with the listeners. Tell them what this study has shown.
Jones: Well, this is a study that’s been done by Rice University every year – it’s done annually in Harris County starting in 1982. In 1995 and again in 2003, the survey respondents were asked this question: “For each of these public issues, please tell me whether you are generally for it or against it.” Now here’s the question: What about making marijuana legally available for medical purposes? In 1995, 53% of the respondents were for it, 42% were against it, and 5% were undecided. This last year, it was 62% of the respondents were for it and 32% were against it.
Dean: I find it profound that the vast majority of people are for changing our stance, are for ending the arrest of medical marijuana patients – and yet, the politicians are unable to move. Dr. Al Robinson, your thoughts in that regard. What is it going to take to move these politicians?
Robinson: I think we are getting close, Dean, but it is a complicated – it is a tough political problem. That poll that Clay just reported on – it definitely showed that a strong politician could get away with running on the platform. But the problem is nobody seems to feel strongly enough to actually vote the drug warriors out of office on that ground alone, but they are definitely afraid that the opposition will tar them with the “soft on drug” thing. You know, watching the Democrats and the Republicans this year, where their political lives are at stake, I can sort of understand that. But I think we are going to see some good movement if we can just get rid of the Bush administration.
Everyone: Hear, hear!
Dean: Okay, well we have about just a minute and a half here, and I did want to mention that you can pick up this current issue of the Houston Press. It’s on newsstands now. Or for you out there on the network, you can actually tune in if you go to houstonpress.com; and Michael, you got a word you want to add?
Serazio: Yeah, I just wanted to say that you know folks should feel free to give us a shout if they have new stories, ideas, events, related to the drug war – certainly, always interested. Feel free to give us a shout.
Dean: All right, and if you want to learn more about the Drug Policy Forum of Texas, you can also visit their website. It is at dpft.org. I want to thank my guests here – Clay Jones; Michael Serazio, a reporter for the Houston Press; and Dr. Al Robinson. Thank you, gentlemen, for being with us.
All: Thank you, Dean.
Dean: A couple of program notes before we go out. We have scheduled for next week Preston Peet. He is a former editor of High Times, and he’s the author of a book that has just been released, Under the Influence, the Disinformation Guide to Drugs. And as always, I must remind you because of drug prohibition, you don’t know what is in that bag. Please be careful.
For the Drug Truth Network and on behalf of my technical producer, Steve Nolin, this is Dean Becker on Cultural Baggage, the unvarnished truth. This show is produced at the Pacifica Studio of KPFT, Houston – tap dancing on the edge of an abyss.