01/15/12 Kevin Sabet

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Dr. Kevin Sabet, formerly with ONDCP debates Mason Tvert of Colorado's SAFER on David Sirota show + Utah bust = "officers down"

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Cultural Baggage / January 15, 2012


Broadcasting on the Drug Truth Network, this is Cultural Baggage.

“It’s not only inhumane, it is really fundamentally Un-American.”

“No more! Drug War!” “No more! Drug War!”
“No more! Drug War!” “No more! Drug War!”

DEAN BECKER: My Name is Dean Becker. I don’t condone or encourage the use of any drugs, legal or illegal. I report the unvarnished truth about the pharmaceutical, banking, prison and judicial nightmare that feeds on Eternal Drug War.


DEAN BECKER: Hello. I’m Dean Becker and want to welcome you to this edition of Cultural Baggage. Today we’re going to go up to Colorado and tune into a recent David Sarota show. We’ll have a couple of our regular features at the end of this and, of course, you’ll get a chance to “Name that drug by its side effects.”

Last week on the David Sirota show on Colorado’s AM760 Progressive Talk Radio they featured a discussion with Dr. Kevin Sabet whose a fellow at the University of Pennsylvania Center for Substance Abuse Solutions. Dr. Sabet worked for our current Drug Czar, Gil Kerlikowske and his is now a junior drug czar “wannabe”.

This discussion also features Mason Tvert, a Denverite who prefers marijuana over the more dangerous alcohol. Again, this segment is from the David Sarota show.


DAVID SAROTA: I’m David Sarota. Thanks for joining us. Right now we’re going to kick off our big debate over marijuana legalization.

The recent news is that this ballot initiative to legalize and tax marijuana in Colorado in the same way as alcohol is legalized and taxed looks like it’s going to be on the ballot after all.

A huge number of signatures turned in to get that ballot initiative on the ballot. We’re going to be discussing that in this hour in debate format.

At the same time as this ballot initiative made the ballot there was a big New York Times’ OPED by one of President Obama’s former top officials in the office of Drug Control Policy – the Drug Czar’s office. An OPED basically saying that if you support legalization you are an extremist.

Is it true? Are you an extremist if you support the ballot initiative here in Colorado? Is the ballot initiative in Colorado extremist?

Joining us now trying to break this down is the author of that OPED, Dr. Kevin Sabet, who served in the Obama administration as the Senior Policy Advisor to the Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

On the other side is one of the chief proponents of the ballot initiative here in Colorado, Mason Tvert, of Colorado SAFER. We have a link on our website, sarota.am760.net to all of the information about this debate and links to the OPED in question as well as the ballot initiative in question.

Thanks to you both for joining us. Let’s start with Mason Tvert. Mason why don’t you just lay out again for us what the ballot initiative here in Colorado proposes and why you support it.

MASON TVERT: Sure and thanks for having me, Dave. Essentially, as you mentioned, we’re trying to end the prohibition of marijuana which has been an extremely failed policy and replace it with a system that is responsible and thoughtful in which we regulate marijuana similar to alcohol.

We would basically remove penalties for possession of limited amounts by people 21 and older, license retail stores and cultivation facilities and testing facilities and product manufacturing facilities much like we do alcohol.

We would have a excise tax set by legislature - the first $40 million of which would go towards public school infrastructure programs. It would also allow for the legal cultivation of industrial hemp.

DAVID SAROTA: Kevin Sabet, your response to that. I want to read out a sentence from your OPED and let you respond. I’m curious if you would characterize this ballot initiative in the same way.

You write in your OPED in the New York Times:

“One might expect the news about increasing vehicular accidents and the like to get the politicians to explore new options for drug abuse treatment, prevention and enforcement. Instead, at precisely the wrong time, extremists on both sides have taken over the drug conversation.”

Do you think the proposal being pushed by Colorado SAFER that will be on the ballot in Colorado is extreme or coming from extremists?

KEVIN SABET: Hey, Dave, thanks for having me and for starting this live conversation. It’s a pleasure to be with you and also with Mason even though we may not agree on a couple of things.

To answer your question, the reason why that statement was in the OPED and the Times printed it is that it is true. We have, unfortunately, set up a debate in this country where people think the only two options for drug policy are legalization on the one hand (exactly the kind of thing that Mason just talked about) or on the other hand strict, heavy handed enforcement when, in reality, there are tons of ways to invest in prevention, treatment and smart enforcement that don’t violate civil liberties, that don’t prevent people from, for example, obtaining social assistance or college loans or don’t haunt them for the rest of their life if they smoke marijuana a few times in adolescence or as a young person.

We also don’t have to legalize drugs in order to achieve that. What Mason has presented and what I would say really is a risky proposition to take is exactly what we have with alcohol.

We can actually look at the results of alcohol. What has been the result setup that Mason wants to transfer over to marijuana?

Well, we gain about $15 million in state and federal alcohol tax. We spend over $200 billion in lost social costs because of all the costs associated with increased alcohol use.

We have very powerful lobbies in Washington that will defend any kind of increase in taxes or any kind of regulation over this legal drug and they do have, unfortunately, a big foot hold not only, I would say, in the state of Colorado but also in the federal government. So we’ve created that kind of industry.

We’ve also done that with tobacco. You know, big tobacco for years hiding the effects of cigarettes. It’s because addiction is in the profit books of these companies and why would we create another industry – whether it’s marijuana or any other drug – that is going to promote destructing young people.

If we think prevention and treatment is going to be paid for by legalization we can look at the alcohol example.

Finally, the last point on alcohol, we arrest 1 million people per year for alcohol-related incidents than for all illegal drugs combined – that’s marijuana, cocaine, heroin, everything. That’s because it’s used at such a high rate because it’s legal and it’s promoted and it causes DUIs, public drunkenness.

Liquor laws, by the way, take money to enforce. So, unfortunately, legalization is not the remedy that its proponents are promoting. There some much more practical, sensible things we can do to stop kids from starting but also not to go fully, on the other hand, on the enforcement only approach.

I think that’s pretty reasonable.

DAVID SAROTA: Mason Tvert, what’s your response to what we just heard from Dr. Sabet?

MASON TVERT: It’s surprising that someone who’s as intelligent as Kevin is making such a logically flawed argument. He flatly is asserting that the cost associated with marijuana use will be similar to the cost associated with alcohol use just because they’re both intoxicating substances.

That’s like suggesting that the cost associated with driving 90 miles per hour is the same as those for driving 30 miles per hour just because they’re both driving.

The cost of marijuana use and alcohol use are not the same at all. In fact a recent Canadian study found health care costs associated with alcohol use was actually 8 times greater than those associated with marijuana use. So if Kevin is so concerned about the cost of alcohol use he should join our movement and really start considering allowing adults to use marijuana instead of alcohol if that’s what they prefer. Otherwise he should really explain how we’re saving money by steering it away from marijuana and towards alcohol.

And the fact that alcohol is responsible for 2.3 million arrests per year is a reason in among itself not to keep marijuana illegal. It’s actually a reason to give adults the option of using marijuana instead because the kind of behaviors associated with alcohol use – assault, property damage even murder – are not associated with marijuana use.

So the fact that Kevin cites these alcohol-related arrests and still wants to steer adults toward alcohol and away from marijuana is really quite baffling.

KEVIN SABET: I got to clear up something. Nobody is steering anybody towards alcohol. The issue is that marijuana and alcohol…the research is mixed about them being compliments or substitute. The majority of the research is actually in the fact that they are compliments not substitutes so that destroys that part of the argument and if anybody wants to substitute marijuana for alcohol today they can.

I mean there’s nothing stopping them from doing that. They’re doing that as we speak and…

DAVID SAROTA: Let me stop you there and I’ll let you go on but we recently saw the headlines that said that teen alcohol use and teen tobacco use had, for instance, hit its lowest level on record while its marijuana use had been rising. Some people say that’s bad news. Some people say that’s good news.

Mason would probably, I don’t want put words in your mouth, but folks on Mason’s side would say, “Look, teens are choosing a different drug – a less harmful drug” and we can get into the science of whether you think it’s less harmful but isn’t that an example of evidence that says that people are choosing something different?

KEVIN SABET: No, you got to take a statistics class before we make those kind of assertions and there’s no way that you can extrapolate from those kinds of surveys alone that various people are making a substitute versus a compliment choice. That’s a public policy analysis discussion that I’m happy to have but it’s nothing to do with looking at a few surveys and making that grand conclusion. That’s the problem when you have people who don’t have specialties in policy analysis trying to make policy.

The issue is, and you’re right David, that alcohol and tobacco have been going down where marijuana has been going up recently but marijuana is still used far less than alcohol or tobacco among all age groups and the reason why is because alcohol and tobacco are far more available. They’re promoted and they’re really cheap and they’re cheap on purpose.

There’s an industry that makes sure they are cheap. If you look at, for example, alcohol taxes they haven’t risen, if you adjust for inflation, since the Korean War and that’s because there’s an industry behind it.

The issue, Mason’s right, 8 times great for alcohol in terms of the public health cost. I wouldn’t disagree with that at all but I would say that alcohol is used far greater than marijuana. About 70% of Americans admit to using alcohol in the past month. That’s about to 7 to 8% for marijuana use.

So whereas 100,000,000 Americans may have tried marijuana once in the 60s or 70s when they were young – most of them stopped. It’s not used anywhere near alcohol, for example, and so the issue is want to obviously prevent alcohol and tobacco as well as those are harmful drugs as well.

I would agree with Mason and David that in many respects that alcohol is more harmful but that doesn’t mean that you necessarily legalize marijuana to just be consistent. Consistency is not necessarily a virtue in policy making.

We made the cultural mistake of alcohol. If you talk to people in public health they would tell you that the reason alcohol should remain legal – and they’re not in favor of prohibition and I’m not in favor of prohibition, incidentally – is because there is a culturally element.

Alcohol has been used in a widespread fashion since before the Old Testament. Now marijuana has also been used for thousands of years and I would totally admit to that but nowhere near in the widespread fashion as alcohol.

It’s obviously very difficult to prohibit that kind of cultural icon as alcohol. Let’s not make the same mistake with marijuana or any other drug again.

Again, that does not mean that you arrest everybody smoking a joint or destroy their whole life by throwing them in jail and not allowing them to go to college. I’m not advocating for that either but we don’t need to take this risk of legalizing marijuana and risk the price to drop dramatically.

Rand reported in the summer that the price would drop and use would increase and Rand is a nonpartisan think tank.


DEAN BECKER: Hi, this is Dean Becker. We’re tuning into a recent David Sarota show on AM760 Colorado Progressive Talk. The speaker you just heard was Dr. Kevin Sabet. We’re fixin’ to hear from Mason Tvert.


DAVID SAROTA: Let me let Mason Tvert respond. And, Mason, I want to ask you the question because it follows on what Kevin just said. What do you say to those who would look at Portugal and say Portugal’s way of decriminalizing and not full legalization is the right way to go precisely because of what Kevin just said.

MASON TVERT: Quite frankly I’m really glad to hear that Kevin essentially agrees with just about all of the initiative when he says we shouldn’t be arresting adults for marijuana. Basically we should be trying to keep it away from young people which, as you mentioned David, we’ve seen alcohol and tobacco use plummet since we’ve had them regulated and had the “We card” program which has been incredibly successful. Right now young people aren’t being carded.

But when it comes to alcohol and marijuana, marijuana is, in fact, an alternative. Kevin is suggesting that it’s not and no evidence shows that it is but, you know, Kevin’s been working for the last several years for an office in the federal government that has completely hindered any sort of research into that.

They’ve ensured that no one can study whether or not marijuana is an alternative…

KEVIN SABET: There’s tons of research on substitutes…

DAVID SAROTA: Let’s let Mason respond.

MASON TVERT: Ultimately they have hindered every effort at research around this but the research that has been done recently such as that at the University of California, Berkeley has found that there is an instance in which many, for example alcoholics, do reduce their use or even cease their use when they are able to legally use marijuana.

Now Kevin is correct that alcohol use is still far more prevalent than marijuana use but as he notes it is because marijuana is illegal. There are millions of people who would otherwise use it who are not because they are scared of being arrested and punished.

When we’re talking about adults 21 and older, if those people had the opportunity to make that choice – not necessarily to drop alcohol use entirely – but simply on a night when they might otherwise go out and get drunk and start a fight, they decide that it was OK for them to use marijuana at home without fear of arrest – we might not see as many serious problems.

I really don’t understand why he wants to take this public standpoint. He’s against allowing adults to make a rational, safer choice to use a less harmful substance.

KEVIN SABET: If the federal government wanted to arrest everybody whose smoking marijuana it would be very easy to do so. We would go to every single college campus around the country within a 1 mile perimeter and knock down the doors of every single apartment building and dorm. It would be very easily to arrest millions of young people if you wanted to do it and jail them for marijuana. That’s not happening today.

If you look at the statistics about whose in jail it’s something like 0.1% of state prisoners are there for marijuana only. It’s not a reason why people are in jail. In fact, dozens and dozens of states and localities have already formally decriminalized marijuana including California meaning you really won’t get more than a parking ticket for smoking marijuana. That’s actually the status quo in most of the country. Not everywhere, you know, are there law enforcement organizations that are trying to send a message by detaining people for 24 hours like Rudy Giuliani did in the 90s or other…

DAVID SAROTA: Michael Bloomberg is doing today…

KEVIN SABET: Yeah, there is that happening – the 24 hour detentions but the idea that people are in jail for a long period of time for only smoking marijuana is totally contrary to the justice evidence that we have on it.

You mentioned Portugal also. I think it’s important to emphasis that Portugal…and people label it as a sort of “dream” of decriminalization, etc. We actually talk to the Portugal officials when I was in the White House and they said, “You know our policy has been mischaracterized. It’s a modest public health approach. We’re referring people to treatment.”

They actually said that they’re taking the page out of the book of many of the localities of the states in the U.S. right now that refer people to treatment and drug courts instead of jail. In fact, if you look at the people who go to treatment in the rest of Europe versus Portugal it’s very similar numbers.

So Portugal’s not doing anything so radical. Unfortunately the legalization groups have sort of hatched onto Portugal and said, “Look, the sky hasn’t fallen. We can legalize drugs.”

Portugal never legalized drugs, first of all. They’re use rates are going up and down depending on what age group and what drug you’re looking at. Drug-related deaths are going up and down depending on what year you’re looking at so that experience has been totally, unfortunately generalized and overblown by people who haven’t really dug down into the statistics.

DAVID SAROTA: Alright, Mason Tvert for Colorado SAFER, your response.

MASON TVERT: Ultimately Kevin at one point said that he thinks that people shouldn’t have their lives disrupted, they shouldn’t potentially lose jobs, they shouldn’t potentially lose public housing assistance or college financial aid and yet he’s saying, “Oh, well they can just use in their house without getting arrested and put in jail.”

Yet the threat of arrest is there and a lot of people don’t want to break the law. They want to follow the law.

Ultimately I never said that people are going to jail. I said that people are being hurt and you acknowledged that people are being hurt and they’re being hurt simply for responsibly using a less harmful substance than alcohol.

One reason that we manage to keep people from going to jail is that we recognize that it’s absolutely ridiculous to keep sending people to jail for marijuana. But number two we’re now referring people to drug treatment and taking up all these drug treatment spaces that could be used for more significant problems.

It’s not surprising that Mr. Sabet is arguing in favor of continuing to send people to treatment and keep marijuana illegal because he consults for the treatment industry and he’s merely protecting that industry by advocating to keep marijuana illegal….

KEVIN SABET: Hold on. That’s totally incorrect, Mason. I’m not going to let you talk on radio and say something like that. I’m not receiving a penny from the treatment industry today and I ask anybody who wants to look at my records that I will gladly show them.

And B, if I was consulting for the treatment industry, I would be advocating for legalization. The number one thing that anybody who runs a treatment center would want are more clients and that’s what you’re going to have under legalization so this idea that people are making so much money by keeping drugs illegal is totally a farce...

DAVID SAROTA: Let me …let me…

MASON TVERT: People who would not otherwise need treatment would not be going to treatment solely for marijuana so you are ensuring that people keep coming back more and more and more.

By keeping marijuana illegal you’re also ensuring people only have the option to use alcohol and so therefore you’re keeping the alcohol treatment profits coming in.

What I’m pointing to is on your website you said that your clients include the Community Antidrug Coalition of America which claims to be the voice of treatment providers in the…

KEVIN SABET: I don’t know what you’re talking about that’s….

DAVID SAROTA: Let me…let me…Everyone hold on a second.


DEAN BECKER: Alright, the guy interrupting David Sarota on Am 760 Colorado Progressive Talk radio…the two debaters, Mason Tvert of Colorado SAFER and Dr. Kevin Sabet, former Drug Czar assistant and now some kind of drug war handyman.


DAVID SAROTA: I want to get to one final question because we’re running out of time here and I would be remiss in not getting to this question.

I want to get to the question which has been raised repeatedly - the cultural question. Kevin Sabet, you made the point that we have a culture in this country of alcohol and tobacco. You’ve acknowledged that there’s been a culture over thousands of years of using marijuana.

One thing that I hear from you that I’d like you to address – and Mason I’ll let you respond as well but we’re running out of time – there is to me a kind of paternalistic elitism in you insisting that one culture is OK because you’ve decided that you think it’s OK but another set of cultures, of cultural norms, is not OK even though you acknowledge there has been that culture in the past.

I’m still hung up on this idea that you can make the argument that we have a culture of alcohol and tobacco – more dangerous drugs scientifically to the human body than marijuana – and that’s OK because of the culture. And then you can acknowledge that there’s a marijuana culture over thousands of years in human history but that culture somehow is not OK because you’ve deemed it not OK.

Isn’t there an elitism there?

KEVIN SABET: I couldn’t agree with you more if that’s what I was conveying so obviously I haven’t made myself clear enough. Let me make myself clear here.

I’m saying that I’m acknowledging that marijuana has been used in the past. That’s very different than saying it’s been used in the same extent as alcohol. I don’t think anybody could credibly argue that marijuana has the cultural foothold that alcohol does and that’s my point about making …I’m actually saying the opposite of what I think you thought I was saying.

I’m saying there is actually a distinction. I’m not making that distinction. That’s a distinction that cultures and society made, first of all.

Second of all, when you talk about the harms of the drugs I think it’s very difficult to compare one drug to the other because they have very different outcomes. For example, tobacco has absolutely no effect on driving and no effect on mental health.

Today we know that marijuana is linked to schizophrenia more than any other illegal drug that’s out there according to the research from all around world – from Britain and Europe, the U.S. and South America, over and over again. We know that cannabis affects driving in profound and fundamental ways in a way that tobacco cigarettes don’t.

On the other hand we know that tobacco obstructs lungs and contributes to bronchial dysfunction in a way that marijuana hasn’t been shown to do. So there are all these differences with these drugs and people get caught up by saying one is more harmful than the other so therefor we should legalize both of them to be consistent.

It just doesn’t make sense from a policy perspective but from a cultural perspective, David, I agree with you that that would be very paternalistic and elitist to make that assertion.

The assertion that I’m making is that there is a cultural distinction and there’s a cultural foothold that alcohol has that marijuana doesn’t.

DAVID SAROTA: Alright, fair enough. Mason Tvert, I want to let you close it out for us if you want to make your final pitch. We’re going to have you back on. There’s going to be a lot of ads going on about this ballot initiative in the coming months in the election season.

If you want to address any final issues, if you want to make your final pitch about this -go ahead.

MASON TVERT: Ultimately, Kevin’s conceding the fact in most ways if not all that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol and he’s saying that that is not a reason to make it legal for adults to use it responsibly.

I’m wondering if the alcohol industry announced that it developed a new kind of alcohol that’s far less toxic, far less addictive and far less likely to produce violent behavior would Kevin fight to keep that illegal because it would be adding a new vice to society? I highly doubt it and ultimately what we’re going to see here in Colorado is hopefully an open and honest debate amongst Coloradans about whether this the best way to move forward and right now, despite Kevin’s suggesting this is an extremist view, polls are consistently showing the majority of Coloradans support ending marijuana prohibition and regulating it like alcohol.

Kevin won’t have the ability to vote on that because he doesn’t live here in Colorado but we all will and we’re looking forward to it. We had 160,000 people sign this petition to put this forward and we are expecting that if we can have an open and honest debate about marijuana, about the fact that it is far less harmful than alcohol both for those who use it and for society – the people of Colorado are ready. They are going to make that choice and we are going to take a step forward when it comes to marijuana policy and really set an example for the rest of the country and hopefully the rest of the world.

DAVID SAROTA: Both of you have been very gracious guests. Just to remind folks…Mason Tvert is with Colorado SAFER. We have a link on our website to Colorado SAFER;s website. Kevin Sabet was one of the former top administration officials in the Obama administration and in the Bush administration in the Drug Czar’s office. His OPED in the New York Times also linked on our website, sarota.am760.net

Thanks to you both for the good discussion. I’m sure that the discussion and the debate over this issue will continue.


DEAN BECKER: Indeed, this debate will continue. I want to thank David Sarota for that fine program and for having the courage to ask that question about the cannabis culture and how they’re demonized by the alcoholic culture.


(Game show music)

DEAN BECKER: It’s time to play: Name That Drug by Its Side Effects.

Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, psoriasis, psychosis and dementia, and the number one contributor to domestic violence and deaths on American highways…

{ { { gong } } }

Time’s up.

The answer: Beer. Taxed, regulated and freely available in all non-Muslim countries.



SCOTT MCKANE: This is Scott McKane for Fox13 News, Utah.

ANNOUNCER: The DEA has an agent assigned to the Weber Morgan Strike Force. There is evidence the suspect may have been growing marijuana. Fox13’s Scott McKane spoke with head of the DEA in Utah and joins us now in studio.

SCOTT MCKANE: Good evening, Bob. Frank Smith has been involved in the war on illegal drugs all over the globe including covert operations in other nations and he’s quick to dismiss any arguments about legalizing drugs like marijuana especially after fellow officers were shot and killed presumably after trying to take down a so-called indoor grow-op.

FRANK SMITH: They’re heroes. They’re protecting the public.

SCOTT MCKANE: Frank Smith is talking about Jared Francom who was murdered and five other officers shot Wednesday night while serving a drug warrant in Ogden.

FRANK SMITH: Right now the appropriate thing to do is to ensure that these families are well taken care of. Let the families grieve and we’ll support them in any manner that we can. That’s our focus and that’s the only important thing right now.

SCOTT MCKANE: All of the officers belonged to the Weber Morgan Narcotics Strike Force.

FRANK SMITH: We have an agent who’s assigned to that task force. He was not on this occasion but he is assigned to that task force. These are brothers in law enforcement. Whenever there’s a tragedy we feel we’re part of the family and this hits very close to home.

SCOTT MCKANE: Army veteran Matthew David Stewart is the suspected trigger man. Cops won’t say exactly why the Strike Force raided his home but Stewart’s dad says Matt has issues and may have been growing pot in his home to self-medicate.

Thursday it appears agents did indeed haul away the remains of an indoor marijuana grow operation.

FRANK SMITH: It’s ironic. Marijuana is not a victimless crime.

SCOTT MCKANE: Smith is talking about those who say possessing, even growing pot shouldn’t be against the law and that cops should have left Stewart alone.

FRANK SMITH: It’s not a legalization issue. It’s not an immigration issue. It’s a public safety issue. If someone is willing to shoot it out with the police who is self-medicating on marijuana – what’s to say he’s not willing to walk out of his house and start shooting his neighbors?


[ country music intro ]

DEAN BECKER: I’ve got 99 bullets in my gun
I’m gonna put those dirty hippies on the run

Class war they want – they will get
I’ll buy a billion more bullets for their heads

Rich man’s greed will make him dead
Each poor man’s got a single bullet for his head

Class war is such a bitch
But now it’s payback time for the rich

And the final score is 99 to 1


DEAN BECKER: Look folks, you know I’m a legalizer across the board – all drugs – but in so far as marijuana – it is absolutely ridiculous that we continue going down this same, failed path so we can pretend we’re doing some sort of good.

As always I remind you because of drug prohibition – you don’t know what’s in that bag. Please, be careful.


DEAN BECKER: To the Drug Truth listeners around the world, this is Dean Becker for Cultural Baggage and the Unvarnished Truth.

This show produced at the Pacifica studios of KPFT, Houston.
Transcript provided by: Jo-D Harrison of www.DrugSense.org
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