08/05/12 Ethan Nadelmann

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Ethan Nadelmann & Laura Thomas of Drug Policy Alliance, Sean Dunnigan Fmr DEA now with LEAP, Mason Tvert re Colo MJ effort, DEA agent's threat to San Diego

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Transcript

Transcript

Cultural Baggage / August 5, 2012

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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.

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DEAN BECKER: I tell you what – the drug war is fraying at the edges, losing its steam, falling over a cliff. It’s time to put this dog to sleep.

Alright, folks, let’s get right to it here on the Cultural Baggage show.

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DEAN BECKER: I’m so proud to be speaking with the Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance, Mr. Ethan Nadelmann. Ethan, there’s so much news breaking in this drug war but there’s some astounding news coming out of Latin America. Why don’t you fill the folks in on that.

ETHAN NADELMANN: The really interesting news over the last month or two has been that the president of Uruguay, Mujica, stepped forward just a little while ago to say that he thinks it’s time for Uruguay to seriously consider treating marijuana like alcohol, more or less, to legally regulate it and try to do what the Dutch have done but sort of one step better.

And it’s all the more interesting because you had President Santos of Colombia and Otto Perez Molina of Guatemala and the others all speaking out earlier this year. President Mujca of Uruguay was quiet, somewhat supportive, nothing special but he just decided to jump out on this thing a little while ago.

And then when there was some push back from the UN and when public opinion polls in Uruguay revealed that 60% of the Uruguay public is not supportive of legalizing marijuana initially he stepped back and then he said, “Wait a second. Let’s have a serious conversation. Let’s have a real dialogue. Let’s look at different proposals for how we might do this.”

And so I think he’s actually committed to doing a significant public education effort in his own country to see if he can move this thing forward.

DEAN BECKER: This is ripples, if you will, of other neighbors there in Central America are kind of joining with his new thought process, right?

ETHAN NADELMANN: There’s all sorts of things going on. You have drug possession is already decriminalized in many countries. I think Argentina to some extent and Mexico and Costa Rica and Colombia. So there’s a lot moving forward for the general decriminalization of marijuana or even small amounts of other drugs as well and Uruguay has been very good in that respect. Basically possession of small amounts is not treated as a criminal offense.

But what’s significant about what Mujica’s done is to say let’s figure out how we can legally regulate this stuff. Let’s see how much of this stuff we can take out of the hands of the black market. Let’s see if we can do, as the Dutch has done, try to separate the cannabis markets from other “harder drugs markets”, right?

So it’s really a very interesting and bold move on his part. I was delighted to see that it landed up on the front page of the New York Times today giving it quite a lot of prominence.

I think that the President of Guatemala has been supportive of this initiative. He’s proposed his own bold initiative. I think that President Santos in Colombia has been trying to figure out what he does next.

DEAN BECKER: The situation is developing to where politicians, not just in Central America but in the U.S. we have mayors and governors and others, putting their toe in the water, daring to speak about this need for change. It’s marvelous isn’t it?

ETHAN NADELMANN: Yes. You really are seeing some nice change. I wish there was more. Quite frankly the U.S. Senate has been pathetic in the absence of any sort of democratic leadership even on the medical marijuana issue.

To think about the fact that you now have 17 legal medical marijuana states that translates to 34 U.S. senators and not one of them is stepping out on this issue. The Drug Policy Alliance is trying to make it a much bigger priority to do something about that.

But, on the other hand, you have a growing number of people in the House of Representatives – some great people like Steve Cohen from Memphis, Tennessee and Jerry Polish from Colorado and some other members. Then, when you look more broadly, you see, for example, in Vermont the Governor there, Pete Schumlin, has really been a leader – not just on marijuana reform but on harm reduction and sentencing reform. He’s made reducing the state population a major administrative priority. He’s openly in favor of harm reduction. He stood up to the feds on the whole issue of medical marijuana dispensaries. So he’s somebody that I see as really the best governor of the country right now.

And there’s actually an interesting political race there where the District Attorney of Chittenden County where Burlington is – TJ Donovan is now running for Attorney General. If he becomes Attorney General he will be the best one in the country in terms of drug policy reform as well on everything from marijuana decriminalization to working closely with DPA to reduce overdose fatalities through intelligent harm reduction measures.

It’s not an avalanche. Some people are proceeding cautiously. When Rahm Emanuel, the new mayor of Chicago, proposed not arresting people for marijuana anymore he was very quick to say, “I’m not talking about decriminalization.” So you get a lot of that wariness but then Governor Cuomo pretty boldly said, “Let’s just stop treating marijuana as a criminal offense. Let’s treat it as a ticketable offense like a parking violation.” And that’s, to some extent, what Governor Schwarzenegger signed on to a couple years ago.

So we are really seeing some movement in that regard.

DEAN BECKER: Alright, friends, we’ve been speaking with Mr. Ethan Nadelmann, the Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance.

Ethan, this is the time for our listeners, for those who support the work of Drug Policy Alliance, for those who know this drug war position needs to change to speak up, to stand up and to do something to help make that change happen. Am I right?

ETHAN NADELMANN: Definitely. Last week was the International AIDS conference in D.C. and there was a lot of attention brought to the whole problem of the War on Drugs and the ways in which that is undermining the effort to reduce HIV/AIDS by stigmatizing and demonizing drug users, by pushing them away from health services, by incarcerating them where there is a greater risk for HIV.

So you had a whole…I mean, Nancy Pelosi speaking out on this issue repeatedly. You had Elton John speaking out on this issue. I have to tell you all of the sudden my phone started to light up Friday afternoon because Bill Clinton in giving the closing speech on Friday afternoon all of the sudden pops out and tells everybody to read a thoughtful piece in the Huffington Post by Mathilde Krim and me. Mathilde Krim is the founder of the American Foundation of AIDS Research as well as a board member of the Drug Policy Alliance.

So there was Bill Clinton mentioning Matil and me by name at the closing plenary of the AIDS conference so I felt like our message, our perspective is increasingly, not just getting out there, but is increasingly being embraced by people who are in the mainstream.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. It’s hard to argue with fact and logic when you get right down to it.

ETHAN NADELMANN: Well they do a mighty good job trying to do so.

Dean, listen, thank you for doing what you’re doing. It’s really great the outreach you have and not just what you’re doing in terms of getting the word out there and keeping people informed on cutting-edge developments in drug policy reform but the fact remains that these interviews you’re doing with all sorts of people around the world are going to represent the best oral archives of this growing movement. So, thank you for what you do.

DEAN BECKER: Ah, Ethan, thank you so much. We’ll be talking to you soon.

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[electric can opener sound]

Opening a can of worms and going fishing for truth.

[casting and water sounds]

This is the Drug Truth Network, http://drugtruth.net

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DEAN BECKER: You know it seems that the news, the relevant information is coming forward daily in regards to the drug war. Just last week we had a great position taken, great stance taken, if you will, pointing out the fact that we can’t end the AIDS epidemic until we end the drug war.

Here to talk about it, from the Drug Policy Alliance, is Laura Thomas. You were involved in this last week. Tell us what went on.

LAURA THOMAS: Last week was the 19 th International AIDS Conference. It was back in Washington, D.C. It was back in the U.S. for the first time in 22 years. And it was back in the U.S. because the United States finally lifted its ban on people living with HIV traveling to the U.S.

Unfortunately the U.S. still has a ban in affect saying that people who use drugs or people who are sex workers can’t come to the U.S. so that was a big focus of the protests and the activism pointing out that people who use drugs, particularly people who inject drugs, are one of the groups hardest hit by the HIV/AIDS epidemic and they were not able to travel to the United States for this conference.

DEAN BECKER: Much of the problem associated with AIDS, the acquisition of the AIDS virus, is based in ignorance. Your thought there.

LAURA THOMAS: Yeah, absolutely - ignorance and stigma. At this point in the epidemic we know very well how to prevent the transmission of HIV. We know how to treat it and for the first time it feels like there’s an end to the HIV epidemic but we still have a lot of barriers that are keeping us from actually implementing what we know.

One of the biggest examples of that is sterile syringe access to prevent the transmission of HIV for people who are injecting drugs. We know that it works. It’s incredibly cost effective. There was some great research presented at the conference at just how cost effective it is. We also heard from some people from Amsterdam who have brought HIV transmission among people who inject drugs down to zero.

So there’s lots of examples of this out there and yet, here in the U.S., our own congress is saying that they don’t want any federal money to be spent on this - essentially saying that they don’t care about people who use drugs and don’t care if they get HIV. It’s very short-sighted because in many cases it’s the tax payers who will be paying to provide health care for folks who do acquire HIV.

It’s not only not following the science and the evidence but it’s incredibly short-sighted and it’s going to create bigger problems in the future.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, Laura, the fact of the matter is that the cost of a new syringe is a few pennies and those who acquire AIDS and then, if I dare say, a burden on the tax payer may cost us hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep them alive. Your thought.

LAURA THOMAS: Yeah, exactly. What you said is exactly the case.

There was a researcher, Dr. Don Dejarley, presented at the conference about the cost effectiveness of it. We’ve also seen some other countries when they provide better interventions. You look at Portugal which has decriminalized personal use of drugs and greatly increased the availability of treatment of methadone and buprenorphine treatment and as a result they’ve seen their HIV rates go down pretty dramatically.

Another good example is Vancouver in British Columbia where not only do they have really good access to HIV care and treatment for people who are HIV positive they’ve done a great job of doing HIV testing so that everybody knows their status, getting people into care but they also have a supervised injection facility in Vancouver which provides people with a legal, safe, supervised place to inject their drugs and they’ve also seen really dramatic reductions in their HIV rate.

So we’ve got a number of good example on what to do and it’s really the stigma and the laws criminalizing people who use drugs that are keeping us from being able to implement those strategies in the United States.

DEAN BECKER: Alright, we’ve been speaking with Laura Thomas. She’s with the Drug Policy Alliance.

As we’re closing out here, Laura, I want to make mention of the fact that you and an associate were arrested at a protest in Washington, D.C. in this regard. Am I correct?

LAURA THOMAS: Yes, you’re right. 13 of us were arrested in front of the White House. There was a huge mobilization and march on last Tuesday called “We can end AIDS” and part of the point of it was that we know what will end AIDS. We have the tools but it’s up to our elected leaders, our elected officials, the politicians to develop the will to actually implement the tools.

Some of the tools we have are treatment, condoms, syringe, housing and the money to pay for that. So we took symbols of each of those things like pill bottles that people had contributed and we tied them to the White House gate with red ribbons. We were arrested and spent the rest of the afternoon in jail.

It was civil disobedience designed to draw more attention to the fact that we can, in fact, end the AIDS epidemic is we want to.

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(Game show music)

It’s time to play: Name That Drug By Its Side Effects

Breast enlargement, impotence, corneal opacity, deafness, anaphylactic shock, pseudomembranous colitis, bloody diarrhea, rectal hemorrhage, myocardial infarction and death.

(gong)

Time’s up!

From Bristol-Myers Squibb, the answer weirdly is Aciphex, for heartburn and obviously not for your ass affects. By the way, the number of potential complications is more than one hundred.

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DEAN BECKER: OK, we’re speaking with Mr. Sean Dunnigan. He’s a speaker for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

Sean, inform the audience about your experience in law enforcement, please.

SEAN DUNNIGAN: I was with the Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. DEA, for about 13 years from ’98 until last year. I was an intelligence research specialist with them and I worked for a few years in Miami, few years in Guatemala, Mexico as a DEA rep for National Intelligence Center and for a little while in policy union headquarters.

DEAN BECKER: A lot of reports are being issued that seem want to tie agents of the CIA to the drug cartels. Some have said that the CIA was running drugs and the FBI busting them. How much truth is involved in this? Is there some involvement between all these players?

SEAN DUNNIGAN: Firsthand, you know, in my time with the DEA I never came across that directly. But those reports are from fairly credible sources including former Director Bonner who quite famously came out and said that the DEA had intercepted CIA drug shipments.

I think when you look at the relationships that agency has established with some pretty seedy characters around the world including what’s going on right now in Afghanistan where our government is essentially protecting poppy fields for the purpose of keeping our implanted ruler in charge over there, Karzai, it doesn’t surprise me. I can’t say categorically that it happened because I don’t have firsthand knowledge of it but, again, the people making those claims are very credible. I think they’re certainly consistent with what we see, roughly, that agency doing and also how the drug war is waged.

So, personally, I do tend to believe it. Whether that’s still going on I don’t know. I can’t say categorically that it is. I don’t see much reason to doubt that and I think that to imagine that our government is incapable of such a thing is pretty naïve.

DEAN BECKER: OK, now Sean, here’s an area I’m sure you have more expertise in and that is where we see the newspaper says they busted an organization and they confiscated x million dollars worth of drugs but in many cases that’s just some sort of extrapolation without much science involved. What’s your thought there?

SEAN DUNNIGAN: Absolutely. They do that for the impact and to make the press release sound good and to kind of pad their stats. The reality is they seize 10 kilos of cocaine that were selling for 18 to 25,000 dollars depending on where in the country rather than give the value of the drugs based upon the kilogram price they’ll break it down to the gram price and kind of extrapolate what the value would have been not only if it had been broken up but also if it had been cut and repackaged to retail sale.

Those statistics like a lot of statistics that are put out are really salesmanship. Something that the agency and the police departments and U.S. Attorney offices do to kind of give the illusion that there’s some kind of success going on in the drug war.

When they do a press release saying, “2 million dollars of drugs were taken off the street.” Of course what they’re doing is trying to fill the public with the understanding that that’s a significant reduction in the amount of drugs that are available on the street.

“We’ve made a dent.”

As Nixon said, “We’ve turned the corner on the War on Drugs.”

It’s completely dishonest. Nobody really believes that, I don’t think, within the agency. That’s kind of a shell game and really a misrepresentation of what’s going on.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah they have some nerve talking about success I would say. Now the fact of the matter is, Sean, in your experience well over a decade working for the DEA did you make a difference? Did you stop the flow of drugs? What happened?

SEAN DUNNIGAN: No, certainly not. And that’s kind of where later in my career I came to LEAP, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and ultimately left the agency. It became very apparent that we could quadruple the size of the DEA, we could quadruple the drug war budget, I could have worked there for another hundred years and the problem really would have gotten worse. Not only would things not have been better but they would have gotten worse.

So, you know, prohibition, the policy of prohibition is really what causes so many of the problems with the drug war. Of course by artificially inflating the value of drugs, putting the entire 400 billion dollar a year market into the hands of criminal gangs…so, the more we kind of clamp down and try to enforce prohibition the worse the problem becomes. It’s very much an inverse relationship.

Now I can honestly say that aside from the education gains and the preparation for working for LEAP in this capacity those were wasted years.

DEAN BECKER: Friends, we’ve been speaking with Mr. Sean Dunnigan, a speaker for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. They’re website http://leap.cc

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DEAN BECKER: This fall three U.S. states will vote on legalizing marijuana for adults. Colorado has perhaps the best chance and here to talk about their situation, their chances is Mr. Mason Tvert.

MASON TVERT: Yeah, things have been moving along very well and people are getting excited here. We’ve got an opportunity to make history this November and we’ve got our eyes on the prize and are moving forward.

DEAN BECKER: The numbers keep increasing. What are the latest poll numbers showing for Colorado?

MASON TVERT: Generally we’re looking at between 48 and 52% in support to about 38 to 42% opposed but ultimately this is going to be a very close and roughly 50-50 so we need everyone possible getting involved and helping out.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah, this is a …you know we still have forces of the government and even today the American Society of Addictive Medicine came out disapproving of this effort. They base their “facts” primarily in “Reefer Madness” and just paranoia. Do they not?

MASON TVERT: Yeah, there still a very significant effort to spread disinformation about marijuana. We’ve been working very hard here in Colorado for the last 7 years to make sure that voters and people in general are aware of the fact that marijuana possession is probably less harmful than alcohol. It’s less addictive, less toxic, poses far fewer social and health problems. Once people really understand that fact we know that they’re far more likely to appreciate the notion that we should end marijuana prohibition.

DEAN BECKER: One of the objections that I hear from the other side is that it will lead to increased use, more use by our adolescents and so forth. It’s, again, it’s kind of a minority report perspective if you will. They see great harms in doing so. How do you counter those thoughts?

MASON TVERT: Well, we’ve seen some evidence here in Colorado where we do currently have a system of regulated medical marijuana production and sales. Here in this state where we have been regulating marijuana we’ve seen youth use by those in high school go down over the last few years since we began regulating marijuana. Nationwide, where it’s not really being regulated at all, we’ve seen use increasing steadily so hopefully what this shows is that even the partial regulation of marijuana is having a significant impact on teen use and, in particular, it’s making marijuana less available and resulting in fewer high school students using it.

So we think that should be applied across the board to all marijuana sales and in so doing we could very well reduce teen marijuana use even further.

DEAN BECKER: You know, Mason, the fact of the matter is SAMSA has issued a report for decades now that shows that for our high schoolers it’s much easier currently to get their hands on a bag of weed than it is a bottle of alcohol, correct?

MASON TVERT: Yeah, we see high school students consistently report that they can access marijuana better than alcohol and tobacco. When it comes to something like tobacco it really demonstrates the benefits of regulation. We’ve seen tobacco use go down significantly among young people over the course of the last several years whereas, meanwhile, nationwide you’ve seen marijuana use increasing amongst younger people.

You know, it’s that type of regulation and control – things like the “We card” program that have been very successful and we want to apply that lesson to marijuana and that’s exactly what this initiative will do here in Colorado and it’s unfortunate that we do have some folks out there who would prefer to keep marijuana entirely uncontrolled and make it more available to teens than it would be otherwise.

DEAN BECKER: Alright, friends, we’ve been speaking with Mr. Mason Tvert.

Mason, please share your website and tell folks up in Colorado, we’ve got a couple stations up there, why they should get involved.

MASON TVERT: For anyone who’s interested in getting involved you can go to http://regulatemarijuana.org and whether you’re in Colorado or not we encourage you to check out the website and sign up to hear about what’s going on. We encourage people to take action in a variety of ways whether it’s contacting those you know in Colorado and we’re also about to be having an online phone bank here in the next few weeks where people from all over the country can help out by contacting folks here in the state and encouraging them to vote yes on Amendment 64.

So, again, that website is http://regulatemarijuana.org

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DEAN BECKER: A week ago Patrick Kelly, acting Assistant Special Agent in charge of the DEA San Diego Field Division, paid a visit to the Del Mar city council to try to prevent them from putting a ordinance to tax and regulate marijuana.

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PATRICK KELLY: Mr. Mayor, members of the city council, thank you so much for allowing me to speak for you this evening. My name is Patrick Kelly. I’m the acting Assistant Special Agent in charge of the DEA San Diego Field Division and for the the San Diego Narcotics Task Force.

I understand how passionate people are about marijuana issue and I understand how emotionally charged this is so I hope that my remarks tonight are well received because they are well intentioned.

As you know DEA is apolitical. My intention tonight is not to persuade your vote one way or the other on this ordinance. It’s just merely to provide you with the facts and inform you of federal law.

As you know marijuana has been placed by the United States congress under Schedule I of the Drug Control Substance Act and as such that means, in essence, two things. One, that it has a high potential for abuse and that it has no currently accepted, uh, medical usage.

As such, if you distribute, grow or possess marijuana of any kind it’s a violation of federal law. It’s my job to enforce that law. I’ve worked closely with the United States Attorney’s office throughout the state of California and, in particular, in the Southern District to enforce federal laws as it pertains to medical marijuana and marijuana dispensaries. I think we’ve been very successful but there is still more work that needs to be done.

The one thing that I’d like to leave you with tonight is this. The one take away is that individuals and organizations that are involved in the cultivation, manufacture, or sale of marijuana whether it be in Del Mar, Encinitas, or Solana Beach or anywhere in the Southern district are in violation of the federal law.

Those individuals do have the potential to face civil and criminal actions. It’s my job to keep the community safe and I take that responsibility very seriously to protect the citizens from drug trafficking organizations.

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DEAN BECKER: Astounding words coming from a DEA agent. Don’t you think?!

I’ll be in San Diego next week as part of the “Caravan for Peace.” We’re going to tour 25 major cities in the U.S. in 30 days trying to stop the violence of the drug war. You can learn more by visiting the website of http://globalexchange.org/mexico/caravan. I hope to see you on the tour.

Thanks for joining us on this edition of Cultural Baggage. Keep in mind that drug war is a rusty bucket that cannot hold even a single drop of water.

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

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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