07/29/12 Paul Armentano

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Paul Armentano of NORML, AMA report on cannabis, Doug McVay: "police always lie", MJ Borden "what is prohibition?", Terry Nelson of LEAP, Texas pot bust, hope for Texas, Dane Schiller of Hou Chron: "bath salt baron busted"

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Cultural Baggage / July 29, 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: Thank you for joining us on this edition of Cultural Baggage – another show I’m quite proud of. Let’s get started.

In our continuing series of “Peering through the looking glass” and looking at this bizarre world of drug war we hear things from folks like Hillary Clinton that we can’t end the drug war because there is too much money involved and there are other people in positions of authority who have put forward postulations that basically don’t hold any water.

Here to talk about this situation is the Deputy Director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, Mr. Paul Armentano.

Paul, you had an OPED recently in the LA Times, correct?

PAUL ARMENTANO: Yes, I did. I had OPED that appeared in their Friday afternoon or Saturday morning.

DEAN BECKER: And tell us it was in response to a doctor’s OPED as well, right?

PAUL ARMENTANO: Yes, indeed. There was an addiction specialist who had an OPED that appeared in the LA Times on Thursday where he posed the question, “Is marijuana good medicine?”

He clearly, from the tone of his commentary, was quite skeptical of this notion that cannabis is medicine despite the fact that if you actually read his commentary he, on several occasions, clearly acknowledged that the science has definitively established that cannabis is, in fact, therapeutic for a number of conditions.

He further went on to say in his OPED that the majority of people that use cannabis in moderation don’t suffer from adverse side effects yet he still was sort of locked in this drug war orthodoxy that because he was concerned that some people might abuse cannabis and because he was concerned that there may be some conditions for which cannabis might not be therapeutically useful he seemed to then be arguing that, in fact, we shouldn’t allow the use of marijuana for anybody which seemed really counterintuitive to the actual fact that even he was willing to concede to.

DEAN BECKER: Considering his stance you could then say that Oxycontin doesn’t cure insanity so…

PAUL ARMENTANO: …the common cold…

DEAN BECKER: yeah, so it shouldn’t be allowed.

PAUL ARMENTANO: Exactly. Nobody is arguing that marijuana is a cure-all for everything but that is not a standard that we, as a society, hold for therapeutic agents. In fact, you can take very potentially dangerous agents like thalidomide. Thalidomide remains a very legal drug by prescription in this country – not because it’s therapeutically useful for everyone, in fact, it’s hardly therapeutically useful for anyone and, in fact, there are certain populations that if they were to use the drug they would suffer from extremely dangerous side effects – yet, because in this country the FDA standard for a drug to be legally marketed is simply to establish limited safety and efficacy in the treatment of specific conditions a drug like thalidomide meets that benchmark. Clearly cannabis does.

DEAN BECKER: You have the situation in California some call it the wild west but the fact of the matter is there have also been many bona fide studies conducted there because of the Prop 215, correct?

PAUL ARMENTANO: Well here’s the deal and this was a point that I brought up in a separate OPED that I had published this week in the Sacramento Bee. 12 years ago the California legislature did something really revolutionary. They sought to answer critics charges that we just don’t have enough critical research pertaining to the use of cannabis as a medicine.

So the state of California, unlike the lawmakers in any other state in this country either before or since, said, “We’ll fund the research. We’ll find out these answers.” And that’s what the state of California did. They appropriated nearly 10 million dollars to setup a research center via the University of California system. They basically posed the question that we, as advocates, hear from critics all the time, “Does cannabis negatively impact the immune system? How potentially dangerous is smoking cannabis to the lungs. Is vaporization a safer option? Does marijuana have medical utility to treat neuropathy? Does marijuana have medical utility to treat multiple sclerosis? What are the potential adverse effects of marijuana on driving?”

These were all studies that were conducted and conclusions that were reached as part of this clinical trial system that was overseen by the state of California and these were FDA-approved, gold standard, double blind, clinical controlled crossover trials. And the data is in. In every single element that was looked at by these researchers they consistently found safety and efficacy when it came to the medicinal use of cannabis.

Regarding some of these other potential adverse effects the research, again, was clear. They didn’t find any adverse effects from the use of cannabis on the immune system even on subjects that are immuno-compromised. They found that vaporization was, indeed, a safe and effective delivery method for administering cannabinoids and on and on it goes.

Unfortunately federal public policy in this regard has never been driven by science. If it was we would have an entirely different policy than the one we have now. Instead we have a public policy that is divorced from what the scientific records says. Unfortunately that hasn’t changed.

California funded this research. The research is in and it hasn’t altered public policy one iota.

DEAN BECKER: Once again, we’ve been speaking with Mr. Paul Armentano, Deputy Director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

Paul, in closing here, I just want to say thank God you’re out there and getting this news out through the OPED pages of these major newspapers. Please, share your website with the listeners.

PAUL ARMENTANO: They can go to http://www.norml.org to learn all the latest research as it pertains to cannabis. They can also become involved on how to change the laws on both the local level and on the federal level.


DEAN BECKER: A study published earlier this year in the Journal of the American Medical Association tested the lung function of over 5,000 young adults between 18 and 30 years of age and after 20 years of testing researchers found some results that you should know about.

Regular marijuana smokers – that’s defined by up to one joint a day for seven years – had no discernible impairment in lung function from non-smokers. In fact, researchers were surprised to find marijuana smokers performed slightly better than both smokers and non-smokers on the lung performance test.

Why? The most likely explanation seems to be that the act of inhaling marijuana, holding each puff in for as long as possible is a lot like pulmonary function tests giving marijuana smokers an edge over their cigarette smoking counterparts.

So breathe easy tokers. Marijuana in moderate amounts may not be so bad for your lungs after all.


DEAN BECKER: Last week I had a letter to the editor published in the Oregonian newspaper. It was in response to an editorial that said it was time to have an adult conversation about marijuana. Here’s my letter.

“Marijuana conversation

My great thanks for your editorial and the simple knowledge that an adult conversation is taking place somewhere about the adult use of marijuana ("Talking marijuana without the giggles," July 18).

I live in Texas, and we have no conversation about marijuana at the state or local level, just thousands of arrests each year for minor amounts. We have also been infiltrated by Mexican drug cartels and their thousands of spin-off gangs selling contaminated drugs to our children.

Belief in the drug war is akin to belief in witchcraft. How long must we believe it possible to overcome the law of supply and demand? Remember the folly of alcohol Prohibition? Why in these last 100 years did humans begin to believe it possible to control the non-injurious habits of their fellow man?

Legalize marijuana for adults. There will then be lots of room in prison to hold anybody who dares sell drugs to our children.

Do it for Oregon, but please, for Texas, too.”

They then listed my affiliation with the Drug Truth Network and as a speaker for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.


TERRY NELSON: This Terry Nelson of LEAP, Law Enforcement Against Prohibtion.

Do people that smoke cannabis in America deserve to be locked in a cage?

This is the question that our politicians and supporters of our failed drug policy a policy that classifies cannabis as a Schedule One drug: which means; The drug or other substance has a high potential for abuse. The drug or other substance has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States. There is a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or other substance under medical supervision.

Considering that sixteen states and the District of Colombia have declared that cannabis does have medicinal use in treatment of certain ailments, then this is a bogus schedule. But as it stands many in our government want to see you locked in a cage, given free food and medicine at taxpayer expense, released under probation with absolutely no rights and ordered not to consume any drugs to include legal alcohol. Wow! And we call ourselves “the land of the free”.

I cringe when I hear politicans and others call this the freest country on earth. That is total bunk, we are in all probability one of the least free nations with government sticking their noses in all phases of our lives.

If you think not then wait until the next time you are stopped by a policeman for a minor traffic violation and he or she tries to intimidate, cajole or other persuade you to give up your fourth amendment right so that he may dig through your belongsings searching for something to arrest you for. The searches often turn up girls personal things that are very embarassing. But the point is that he/she had absolutely no right to dig through your personal belongings because you were stopped for a faulty tail light or illegally crossing the middle stripe of the road.

These are just some of the transgressions that are a direct result of our declared “war on drugs” but instead is a “war on our civil rights”. A war on our rights because these drug laws are impossible to enforce. You cannot legislate morality to include only your moral beliefs and not the other guys.

The momentum is growing to legalize cannabis. Polls show a majority of our citizens think it should be legal. Three states, Colorado, Washington and Oregon have placed legalization on the fall ballot for the people to decide if it should be legal or not. If the laws are passed by the citizens then we are in for a bigger states rights struggle if the government insists on not respecting the will of it’s citizens.

There is a rumor out that the Obama Administration will probably legalize cannabis if he is re-elected. Rumors be damned. Don’t kick this cannabis down the road…do the right think now.

We will better be able to address our drug abuse problems through education that we can ever hope to through arrest and incarceration. This is Terry Nelson of LEAP, www.leap.cc, sighing off. Stay safe.


[Dragnet-type music]

Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. These men and women have served in the trenches of the drug war as prosecutors, judges, cops, guards and wardens. They have seen, first-hand, the utter futility of our policy and now work together to end drug prohibition.

Please visit http://leap.cc


[game show music]

It’s time to play, “Name That Drug by Its Side Effects”.

Hives, fainting, pains, swelling, tiredness, headache, fever, nausea, dizziness, vomiting, itching, bruising, stomach ache, shortness of breath, chest pain, swollen glands, weakness, tiredness, seizure, blood clots, and death.

{{{ gong }}}

Time’s up. The answer from Merck &Co., Gardasil, which may help prevent cervical cancer in your teenage daughter.


DEAN BECKER: You know when my letter to the editor said not much is happening in the way of marijuana reform in Texas – let’s hope I’m wrong.

The following segment refutes a bit of what I said in my letter to the editor – thank God. It comes to us courtesy of KENS, San Antonio, Texas.


REPORTER: Legalize pot in Texas? One organization is pushing for it. But who are they? Myra Marano has more on this push for pot tonight. Myra…

MYRA MARANO: Hey there. It’s an old organization somewhat new to San Antonio and chances are you may have already seen the founder of the San Antonio chapter driving around town.

Behind the wheels of this decked out, smart pot car is Carly Duran.

For the pro-marijuana activist it’s great advertisement.

CARLY DURAN: It’s amazing the people that are starting to come out. Still scared to speak up.

MYRA MARANO: Which is why she is founder of a San Antonio chapter that’s pushing to legalize marijuana.

CARLY DURAN: The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

MYRA MARANO: Or NORML for short. The SA chapter meets once a month and Duran says, “No, it’s not a stoners group.”

CARLY DURAN: We’ve had people who are cancer patients who have shown up saying, “I want to know more about this.”

MYRA MARANO: Aside from educating the public about the medicinal effects of cannabis SA NORML aims to decriminalize small amounts of pot.

CARLY DURAN: You got with 3 ounces you could just be given a ticket.

MYRA MARANO: Their goal is to help people who may need it to cope with an illness.

CARLY DURAN: They could just go to a legal store and find a different route.

MYRA MARANO: In conservative Texas it may just be too taboo to see pot being dispensed at a shop around the corner anytime soon. Duran is not losing hope.

CARLY DURAN: We can do whatever we put our minds to. We’re “one of a kind” kind of states.

MYRA MARANO: Under a bill that passed in 2007 Texas law enforcement officers have the option of ticketing someone who has under 4 ounces of marijuana instead of taking them to jail but right now Travis County is the only jurisdiction that is actually doing so.


DEAN BECKER: But then again maybe I was right.

The following segment comes to us courtesy of KOHU TV.


MALE REPORTER: Law enforcement in Tyler County made a huge pot bust today.

FEMALE REPORTER: As many as 5,000 marijuana plants were found. The crops were in a heavily wooded area several miles east of Hillister, south of Woodville. Reporter Tiffany Craig is at the scene where investigators are having to use bulldozers to get in there. Tiffany…

TIFFANY CRAIG: They are and we didn’t have to get all the way in there to smell it. Trust me on that because they managed to pull up 2,000 of those plants already and brought them out to an area where we could get some video of it. It really is a sight to see.

Air-11 was up over the scene earlier and some of these plants are as tall as 14 feet. They estimate around 5,000 plants are back there and this sophisticated operation included pipes with generators that pump water from a creek that they dammed up. They even believe that 6 or 7 people live on a campsite back there to keep an eye on this place.

We talked to the chief deputy who’s been out here since early this morning.

What is your overall reaction to this?

DEPUTY: I’ve been here 22 years and never seen nuthin’ like that in our small county. You’d think it wouldn’t happen here but it’s happened.

TIFFANY CRAIG: And, like we mentioned, the Texas Forest Service came out here to clear some land so officials could get back there with trucks and trailers and load this stuff up because they originally thought they might be able to do it on foot and carry it in their arms but realized it was such a massive operation that they couldn’t.

And how did all of this come about? A tipster in Montgomery County alerted officials that something was going on back there. They put the helicopters up there twice. They couldn’t see it from the air but they finally found it on the ground and so far two people have been arrested. They’re expecting to make more arrests and, of course, they’ll be back out here in the morning loading up even more of that marijuana.


DEAN BECKER: Or maybe I was mistaken.


DANE SCHILLER: I’m Dane Schiller, a reporter with the Houston Chronicle. I cover a variety of issues by specializing in drug trafficking, cross border crime with Mexico and the United States.

DEAN BECKER: Well, Dane, we have a situation that really doesn’t involve cross border crime this time. You had a recent story in the Houston Chronicle talking about nation-wide busts on those making bath salts and other “fake drugs”, if you will. Tell us a bit about that story. How it panned out.

DANE SCHILLER: What we know is this. We know that the federal government has taken the other seizures and arrests all around the country and put them together under something called Operation Log Jam.

We understand that they raided smoke shops, some convenience stores, some places that sell cigars in this operation. They also, apparently by surprise, found a full-blown warehouse manufacturing facility here in Houston. I don’t know why it was a surprise but I do know that they weren’t expecting to find it here – an actual supplier of this stuff to ship it all over the country. I’m told it was a first class facility.

DEAN BECKER: The fact is that these artificial drugs, if you will, that give people a high are labeled as food supplements and plant foods and all kinds of ways to get around the FDA labeling, correct?

DANE SCHILLER: That’s what I understand. I’ve seen some cases where it’s labeled “not for human consumption”, etc. but if you look at these packages and you see the names, you know, we show online “Rush” and “Impact” and all these things. They’re pretty interesting. Some spend a lot of time putting together these little packets. Colorful drawings on them. They’re clearly trying to entice you. I mean you wouldn’t package plant food in something like this.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah and this brings to mind another repercussion, another scenario and that is the government keeps defining these new drugs as illegal and the manufacturers then come up with a new chemical formulation to offset or bypass…

DANE SCHILLER: This is fascinating to me. It’s something that I’ve thought about for years. Could you write on a chalkboard the formula that’s illegal and then get your best brains together and say, “OK, what can we do with this formula to no longer meet that definition.” It appears that they’re doing just that. Some people with some really big brains are going along saying, “OK, we’ll cross that off and add this and move this over to that column and here we go.”

DEAN BECKER: And, Dane, you talked about that normally you report on the international drug trade – mostly in Mexico and Central and South America – but this is another example of how success in the drug war always seems to be an additional step away, always out of our grasp. Your thoughts on that.

DANE SCHILLER: These bath salts, of course, started being sold in Europe and they moved over to the United States. I’m told organized crime is not part of this. This is just going on, even though they’re sophisticated and they have their networks, it’s relatively small groups making big money.

But here it is they’re not having to import this from South America or anywhere else. They’re just manufacturing it right here and using it right here and the whole bit.

DEAN BECKER: This brings to mind a rather puzzling situation and that is currently it is legal prescription drugs that are the cause of most overdose deaths in this country now. Your thought there, sir.

DANE SCHILLER: Incredible how that’s sweeping our country and so many people are just going to their doctor and saying, “Refill. Please refill. Please refill, please.” And it’s just a circle. Everybody working together and it’s massive.

DEAN BECKER: Alright, friends, we’ve been speaking with Mr. Dane Schiller, a reporter for the Houston Chronicle. They provide a very good coverage of what’s going on in this drug war on a, I would say, daily basis these days. Please check out their website which is http://www.chron.com.


DOUG McVAY: Attorney Bruce Harvey from Atlanta has three rules of law enforcement: 1) Police lie. 2) Police always lie. And 3) police always lie about drugs.

I'm a court-qualified expert witness on marijuana cultivation, distribution, and use patterns. Back in 1989, while I was working for national NORML, I testified in a case in DC Superior Court. The question at hand was the value of some seized marijuana, the defendant faced a possible mandatory minimum sentence oddly based on the estimated final retail value of the drug. The government's valuation came from John St. Valentine Brown, a DC police detective and consultant to the House Select Committee on Narcotics, who asserted that all marijuana in DC was ultimately sold on the streets at the rate of $5 per half-gram. I testified that the final value would depend on who was purchasing the marijuana, that many consumers chose to acquire marijuana in larger amounts than a half-gram at a time so that they could get a better deal. At the time, commercial marijuana in DC was going for about $100-120 per ounce – much less than the $280 per ounce rate which the government was asserting. We were able to raise enough reasonable doubt with the judge that the mandatory sentence was avoided.

Years later, John St. Valentine Brown pleaded guilty to perjury, he'd been lying and misrepresenting himself throughout his career. Countless defendants had been put away for longer sentences than they should have been given because of his bad numbers.

Some things never change. The Philadelphia Daily News reported this week on the tendency by police and prosecutors to exaggerate the value of seized drugs. One case to which they referred was a heroin and meth bust in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. First reports had authorities claiming that they had seized $10 million worth of drugs, later they upped the number to $11.7 million. A big splash in the media, you can almost hear the commendations being printed out. Yet, the Daily News reported that according to the DEA and other law enforcement sources the actual value of those seized drugs was probably closer to $1.6 million. That's still a lot of money, yet it's not going to get as big a headline and as a former narcotics prosecutor pointed out, quote, “the bigger the bust, the more money they can ask for for their budgets.” End quote. These big numbers are also used to justify civil forfeiture laws – which have become yet another way to fund law enforcement.

This exaggeration occurs at all levels. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime issued a report in 2011 estimating the financial impact of transnational crime. That agency estimated that the global market for drugs was worth some $320 billion dollars a year. According to the UNODC, gross profits for cocaine sales were estimated at $84 billion in 2009, of which about $1 billion were production costs going to farmers in the Andean region. Sixteen years earlier, in 1995, the UN drugs agency estimated that global illicit drug sales to consumers was a market worth $400 billion dollars a year. They may have stopped listening to Mr. St. Valentine Brown, but plenty of other shills have stepped up to take his place.

Spend enough time looking at the numbers and you realize that my acquaintance who I mentioned earlier, defense attorney Bruce Harvey with his three rules of police, is an optimist.

For the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay with Common Sense for Drug Policy.


DEAN BECKER: Thanks, Doug. The website for Common Sense for Drug Policy is http://csdp.org


MARY JANE BORDEN: Hello drug policy aficionados! I'm Mary Jane Borden, Editor of Drug War Facts.

As a multiple part series on drug control models, the question for this week asks, What is prohibition?

The King County Bar Association Drug Policy Project in 2005 termed a "strict prohibition model" as one in which, "proscribed drugs and their use are subject to control by the criminal justice system and only complete abstinence is permissible under the law."

A 2006 article in the NYU Journal of International Law and Politics preferred the term "Punitive drug prohibition," which referred to, "policies that rely on penal sanctions (incarceration) to punish those who use 'illicit" drugs,'" The article went on to agree that, "The basic assumption of punitive drug prohibition is that it is possible to attain a society free from illegal drug use."

The primary objective of prohibition as a drug control model is therefore "use reduction" or "prevalence reduction." According to the KCBA, "...the eventual goal [is] eliminating all illegal drug use. The possession of "soft" drugs, such as marijuana, is either a criminal or a serious civil offense and possession of "hard" drugs, such as heroin or cocaine, is always a criminal offense. Distribution and manufacturing are always punished even more severely."

But prohibition hasn't worked. The famed Global Commission on Drug Policy acknowledged that prohibition as a drug control system has, "degenerated into a war on users, farmers and petty traders. The excessive negative consequences and negligible effectiveness have now been broadly acknowledged and a process of de-escalation is in full motion in many places."

To what drug control models prohibition is being de-escalated and what other models are possible will be the subject of next week's segment.

These Facts concerning prohibition and others like them can be found under the new Drug Control Models subchapter of the Drug War Facts Economics Chapters at www.drugwarfacts.org.

If you have a question for which you need facts, please e-mail it to me at mjborden@drugwarfacts.org. I'll try to answer your question in an upcoming show.

So remember when you need facts about drugs and drug policy, you can get the facts at Drug War Facts.


DEAN BECKER: You know in the 10+ years we’ve been doing these Drug Truth Network programs it has been a slow process but the major media, even the politicians and some of them major, are beginning to echo what we have been saying and sharing all these years. What’s truly lacking at this point is the initiative, the endeavor, the drive, the involvement of good folks like you and writing their elected officials and letting them know that you are not on the side of prohibition.

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


DEAN BECKER: To the Drug Truth Network 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.

Tap dancing… on the edge… of an abyss.

Transcript provided by: Jo-D Harrison of www.DrugSense.org

Dean Becker Wants YOU to Call the Drug Czar