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Martin A. Lee, author of Smoke Signals + Paul Armentano of NORML & Morgan Fox of MPP
Century of Lies / September 30, 2012
DEAN BECKER: The failure of Drug War is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors and millions more. Now calling for decriminalization, legalization, the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century of Lies.
DEAN BECKER: Ah it’s good to be in studio. This is Dean Becker. You’re listening to Century of Lies. Here in just a second we’re going to bring in our guest for this program. His name is Martin A. Lee. You may remember him. He came on a few years back and talked about his prior book, Acid Dreams, but he’s got a great new book. It’s a social history of marijuana – medicinal, recreational and scientific. It’s called “Smoke Signals.”
I’m a lucky guy. As I was reading through this book I’ve interviewed probably at least 90% of the people that he’s talking about in this book right here on the Drug Truth Network. Let’s welcome him right now. Martin Lee, how are you doing?
MARTIN LEE: Good. Thank you, Dean. Nice to be with you.
DEAN BECKER: Oh, it’s a privilege to talk to you my friend.
What you have compiled here is such a strong and powerful history of smoke, if you will…of cannabis - its unfolding, its mannerisms and the impact it’s had on some very fine people around this country. Your response to that.
MARTIN LEE: Well, it is a social history of marijuana meaning it’s a character driven history which focuses on individuals. It talks about how the plant first came over to the Americas which was really through the slave trade. Seeds were brought over by African slaves to the Western hemisphere. How it worked its way up through the South America to North America. What happened to make it become illegal and how, most importantly, citizens banded together, starting in the 1960s, to oppose the prohibition of marijuana.
That movement that started in the 1960s has branched out and many fold ways and is now a mass movement today still fighting that same battle. Hopefully we’re at a threshold and something is about to change.
DEAN BECKER: I would think you’re right. It’s like how much snow can the mountain side hold before the avalanche happens? There just a whole lot of snow sitting on the mountain side waiting to go somewhere. Don’t you think?
MARTIN LEE: Yeah. It could happen all of the sudden, very quickly. Yes, given what we know about the history of prohibition and the history of marijuana in the United States, it might take a lot longer.
I’m reminded of what happened in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union when the Berlin Wall came all of the sudden tumbling down. When I was growing up the Berlin Wall seemed like a fixture. It just seemed like a given. It would never change. All of the sudden, practically overnight, such dramatic changes.
I think it could happen that way for marijuana prohibition in the United States and as the United States goes on issues so goes the world.
DEAN BECKER: Well, it is our drug war. I mean let’s face it. We may be able to join in just like the cartels pay people to join in their efforts.
One of the earlier chapters talked about one of my favorites as a kid – Louie Armstrong. He was such a talent with his trumpet and with his voice and he had his troubles with cannabis along the way but he never gave up on it, so to speak. Let’s talk about him.
MARTIN LEE: Well he was arrested in 1930 in Los Angeles while playing jazz at a club – during a break actually. That arrest stayed with him as a stigma but he never would waver from his love for cannabis. He called it “Mary, Warner”. It went by many names in the jazz community – gage, muggles, so forth and so on.
Armstrong is really the first character I introduce in the story. Not because chronologically he comes first. He was born about 1900 and lived until 1970. The story starts actually much earlier but he embodies such important elements of the marijuana story. He said he used it as a medicine. He didn’t have a recommendation from a doctor. It didn’t happen like that in those days when he was alive. That was the Jim Crow era until the Civil Rights movement changed things.
When he talked about marijuana as being medicine he actually referred to how it helped him as a black man in the United States cope with the stress of living in Jim Crow’s society – the unequal society between whites and blacks. It helped him ease the chronic pain of racism.
He talked about it that way as well. Not exactly in those terms but very explicitly as something that helped him cope…a genius – an artistic powerhouse living in a society that belittled him every day simply because of the color of his skin.
DEAN BECKER: We’re talking about that it’s character driven, individual driven. I liked the way it flowed from Ginsberg to Dylan to the Beatles…or was that quite the same connection?
MARTIN LEE: Yeah, it really was. Bob Dylan grew up as a teenager in Minnesota and very much influenced by Allen Ginsberg and Jack kerouac who were Beat writers from the 1950s. Bob Dylan, as a young man, read those books. He read how the great poem. He read kerouac’s “On The Road” and it was through these books that he became introduced to the idea of smoking marijuana.
He moved to a bohemian enclave in the student districts of the University of Minnesota. He turned on to marijuana and then moved to New York City and pursued his career as a folk singer. The rest is history.
It was Bob Dylan who actually turned the Beatles on to marijuana in 1964. That was a very important moment. There are certain archetypical moments in the story of marijuana which jumps from one culture to another, from one race to another. That’s the history. It just keeps moving along.
One of the interesting things about cannabis is whenever it went to a different culture, when it migrated around the world through trade routes and so forth from its origins in the Kush foothills of the Himalayan Mountains, whenever it went to a specific culture it always stayed there. It was never rejected. Never has marijuana come to a place and hasn’t stayed there. It is adopted by local people and it moves on.
That’s also true for what happened with the “Jazz Cats” in the 1940s and 50s. They literally “turned on” the Beats. It was Jack Kerouac, the fledgling novelist, who was turned on to marijuana the first time, so he claims, by Lester Young – the great jazz saxophonist in the 1940s – at Mitten’s Playhouse, a jazz club in New York City.
So that’s an example of how marijuana leapt from one culture to another – from the black jazz culture to the white Beat culture. The Beats introduced it to mainstream America, introduced it to Bob Dylan who introduced it to the Beatles who introduced it to the youth of the world.
So marijuana has quite an amazing story. It’s very culturally rich in large part because whenever it came to a different culture it stayed there, it was adopted and yet it moved on to other cultures from there.
DEAN BECKER: I was going to make another leap here, if you will. You mention in your book a gentleman who’s infamous here in Houston – a black militant who was sentenced to a 30 year jail term for sharing a joint with a narc. The next paragraph you talk about that leap that I’m speaking of …you know, we’re talking about from Dylan to the Beatles…from John Lennon to John Sinclair, a gentleman who got busted for a joint.
MARTIN LEE: In the late 60s it was very clear that police were using marijuana and the marijuana laws to target political radicals, to target segments in society that the established did not approve of. So you had black militants like you referred to in Houston who were busted and given ridiculously long sentences. For just a tiny bit of marijuana they would be sentenced to 30 years.
John Sinclair, who was a white cultural activist in Detroit although very close with the black community, was also sentenced to 30 years for 2 joints. Oh, actually, it was 10 years for two roaches – that was the specifics. John Lennon actually played a benefit concert for John Sinclair at an Ann Arbor stadium.
I happened to be a student in Ann Arbor at the University of Michigan at the time in 1970 and as a result of that rock concert John Sinclair was freed. That was John Lennon’s first public concert after the breakup of the Beatles. So it was an important moment. It actually changed the law in Michigan. It was ruled unconstitutional that John Sinclair should be put in jail for such a long time for such a meaningless “crime” – if you can even call it that. But it was on the books as marijuana is still on the books today.
But this is part of the story how John Lennon and The Beatles were very active politically agitating for the legalization of marijuana.
DEAN BECKER: Friends we’re speaking with Martin A. Lee. He’s author of “Smoke Signals: A social history of marijuana – medicinal, recreational and scientific.”
Martin, it occurs to me that there’s just this linkage between pot smokers in general, if you will. I remember the first time I got high I had to go to Mexico to buy it because I just didn’t know anybody that smoked pot. But when I came back suddenly I recognized those people. What’s your thought on that?
MARTIN LEE: It’s interesting that in the 1960s there was such dramatic changes within American society with respect to attitudes towards cannabis. In the beginning of 1960s the Federal Bureau of Narcotics Chief Harry Anslinger’s “reefer madness” mentality still really held sway in society. That’s how the media looked at it that marijuana is something that was very dangerous, it should be kept illegal, we shouldn’t even consider changing the law. That “reefer madness” theme still held sway.
But that changed, in part, because of the cultural revolution that occurred in the 1960s that marijuana symbolically became mixed up in it. When young people “turned on” and tried marijuana they realized that it was nothing like the government was saying. I think that helped to spur kind of a cognitive dissidency – a mistrust of authority in general. Not because marijuana was necessarily the most important issue in society at the time…I mean, heaven’s knows there was the anti-Vietnam War movement at the time, the Civil Rights movement…there were so many things happening in the cultural but cannabis was an important part of the mix – both symbolically and because it promoted a cognitive dissidence of mistrust of authority.
The reasons why so many millions of people “turned on” to marijuana for the first time during the 1960s is a very interesting issue, an interesting question. It’s something that I engage in and analyze in “Smoke Signals” and I suggest that it had to do with the overall stresses in American society.
We look back at the Cuban Missile Crisis – about 50 years ago now….we confronting that anniversary. In the early 1960s where people are holding their breath in the United States and around the world thinking there could be a nuclear war. This is the first generation, the baby boom generation, that “turned on” in mass to marijuana that had to confront the possibility that they could be the last generation…that the Soviet Union could obliterate civilization. There was no generation before them that had to deal with that possibility.
It’s that kind of stress, the unusual and unprecedented stresses of modern life that I think marijuana helped to assuage, help people to deal with the unconscious and sometimes conscious stresses and anxieties that they were confronting. I think that’s one of the main reasons why marijuana became adopted as a kind of “drug of choice” by so many people.
Not that they thought of marijuana as something you use medicinally. It was basically an attitude that you might call recreational but it had an effect of helping people cope with the anxiety of living in the modern world in an unprecedented way. I think that’s a major reason why marijuana was adopted by millions of people for the first time in the 1960s and is continued in that trajectory to the present day.
DEAN BECKER: One of the maladies for which many of the medical marijuana states allow for is PTSD. When I was a kid I remember the drills – hiding under your desk, cowering the in hallways – getting ready for the H-bomb. I think there’s a lot of truth in what you just said there, my friend.
I look at the book…you talk about how the Netherlands took seeds and enhanced them and came up with all these wild strains. You talk about the Schafer Commission which was Nixon’s call for a new position on marijuana. He didn’t like it and threw it in the trash.
A large part of your book deals with what’s happened to what I call heroes here in the United States – people who stood up and spoke the truth and got knocked down but not out for their positions. Your thoughts there about all these medical patients and groups.
MARTIN LEE: If I step back and look at the history of marijuana in America in some ways it’s almost constructed like a screenplay of a great movie. Typically in a film you have two points in the film. About 30 minutes into it something happens which sends the whole plot and narrative of the film spinning off in a different direction. Then about 30 minutes before the end there’s a second plot point that sends the story off again spinning into a new direction.
Looking back on the history of marijuana the 1960s is that first plot point – the drug is illegal, the herb is illegal and then all of the sudden the 60s happens and the whole story gets spun off in a different direction. That second plot point, that second key turning point in the marijuana story I believe is Proposition 215 in California – the first medical marijuana initiative which passed by a popular vote. It really is a revolution in a way and it paved the way for subsequent states. Now we have 16 others and the District of Columbia who have legalized medical marijuana to one degree or another.
It’s very, very important what has happened. I describe the events leading up to Proposition 215 in California and what happened afterwards when the police agencies and the federal, local and state government illegally conspired to subvert Proposition 215 in California and other medical marijuana laws.
The law enforcement story is really what initially drew me into writing about marijuana and this book. I had no idea what was going on with the science and the research that was going on in academic and even in corporate laboratories that was documenting how medical marijuana actually worked.
The irony here is the U.S. government funded many different studies, pre-clinical studies meaning studies involving animals, studies involving test tubes and petri dishes not so much on human subjects themselves. A lot of this research ended up validating what medical marijuana patients were saying. The irony is the U.S. government funded this research in order to explain how marijuana harmed the human brain and body and, instead, they ended up explaining how medical marijuana helped heal the brain and body. It’s a great irony and the science really blew me away. I had no idea about this when I started researching this book and it ended up opening up a whole new world for me and I got really involved with that.
A good bit of the book talks about the science because it’s my belief that when that is explained to people – even public officials who are unaware of the hard documentation that shows why medical marijuana and why marijuana is so effective as a therapeutic – then prohibition can no longer stand.
We are still confronted with the myth that somehow there’s not enough research that’s been done yet on marijuana. We don’t know if it really works or not. There’s claims made for it. There’s claims made against it. The news media tends to throw up its hands and say, “Well, we just don’t know either way yet.”
That’s a little bit different from the old days when they just said marijuana is bad. No debate. Nothing to say about it afterwards. Really, when you look at the science that’s been done - there’s been extensive pre-clinical research – it is astonishing what they’ve come up with. Explaining how the receptors in the brain and body respond pharmacologically to compounds in cannabis – how that works and how they interact in the body and what that actually means.
It’s devastating. It’s such a powerful refutation of the premises of marijuana prohibition. It’s something I wanted to emphasize in the book and try to explain as best I could so that this rather obscure science which is full of jargon and these academic papers that are being written could be explained and understood by the general public, by doctors, by patients, by public officials. That’s one thing that I hope “Smoke Signals” can contribute to the debate over marijuana and shed some light on very important facts that generally we don’t know about.
DEAN BECKER: Martin, we are down to less than 2 minutes. It occurs to me that if we could, in one day, if in one day all the police corruption could be reported, all the failures of urine testing, if all the failures could be seen and recognized rather than dribbed and drabbed over the year’s time and people just get used to it like it’s rain or something…but there is so much evidence of the failure that just gets overlooked, the failure of prohibition, in general, especially the failure of marijuana prohibition. It’s astounding, really, that it continues.
You got about a minute left here. Close it out for us.
MARTIN LEE: Again I would urge people to look at the book, “Smoke Signals.” It’s very comprehensive. It covers a lot of ground. It’s presented in a way that I think is very accessible because the story is told through characters whether the characters are marijuana advocates or hemp advocates such as Jack Herer or scientist or doctors or musicians, athletes…it’s all in there woven together in one grand story about, really, the most amazing plant on the planet.
To think that a plant that has such benefits for human kind can be illegal is just astonishing. Marijuana prohibition is a dishonest, venal, logically incoherent and destructive policy and if there’s anything I hope this book would do it would be to contribute to a cogent debate on how to change these policies so we can move forward. So we can move the school of fish that we swim in from point A to point B because we got to get to the next point because we are in trouble on this planet.
I’m not one who subscribes to the idea that marijuana will save the world but it certainly can help people deal with the situation we are now coping with the stress of modern life in a way that is not unhealthy unlike alcohol and many other substances that people are forced into using because that’s the way the pharmaceutical and legal establishment operate right now.
DEAN BECKER: Alright, Martin Lee, author of “Smoke Signals.” Real quick, your website.
MARTIN LEE: http://www.smokesignalsthebook.com
DEAN BECKER: Alright, Martin, we’re going to have to do this again. Best of luck to you.
MARTIN LEE: Thank you. I look forward to it.
PAUL ARMENTANO: I’m Paul Armentano, Deputy Director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
DEAN BECKER: Paul, as always there’s so much information flowing forth these days about drugs, in general. Marijuana is just making a huge splash across the country, isn’t it?
PAUL ARMENTANO: Most certainly. As we look forward to this November even though the two major presidential candidates aren’t talking about marijuana policy the public most definitely is. In six states voters are going to have the final say on this issue. They are going to pull the lever and decide in many cases to radically change marijuana policy and put this policy in a very new direction moving forward.
DEAN BECKER: This has spawned interest or progress in other countries – south of our border, too – has it not?
PAUL ARMENTANO: Most definitely and I think in many ways symbiotic. I don’t think that America is solely responding to the efforts in many of these foreign countries and vice versa I don’t think the governments of these foreign countries are acting simply because America is beginning to act.
I think in both cases what we have here is a recognition that marijuana prohibition and in some cases drug prohibition itself simply does not work. These are policies that have been in place now for decades. The American public and the public at large is tired of the money that is being spent on this program, the casualties that are a result of this program and the fact that criminalization has not yielded favorable results.
Just as the American has come to this conclusion that it’s time for a change in policy so has the public in many other parts of the world and, encouragingly, so has the elected officials in many other parts of the world. There’s only so long you can continue with the same game plan, the same strategy. There is only so long the public is going to be patient as our elected officials and our law enforcement continue to wage the same war over and over again and failed to achieve any stated goals.
The American public is tired of war. They’re tired of literal war abroad and they’re very tired of this domestic drug war at home that has existed now for many, many decades. The public is ready for something new. They know this doesn’t work and they know this program is never going to work so they’re ready to go in a new direction.
DEAN BECKER: Looking for the end of prohibition if I dare throw that in there. That’s the framework for the forthcoming NORML convention, right?
PAUL ARMENTANO: Yes that is, in fact, the theme of the 2012 NORML conference. The conference is going to be taking place in Los Angeles, California starting on Wednesday evening October 3rd. We’re going to have a 3 day conference – 3 days of panels and discussions taking place Thursday, Friday and Saturday. That’s October 4 th through October 6 th. Individuals that want to attend this year’s conference can still register online from the http://norml.org website.
Day passes are also going to be available for individuals who might not be able to attend all three days but want to attend at least one or two days of this conference.
We’re going to be taking a look back at the failed 7 decade policy of prohibition. We’re also going to be reflecting upon the present situation - looking at issues like this upcoming election, looking at the flip-flopping of the Obama administration and its policies towards state laws reforming marijuana – and we’re going to be looking toward the future. We’re going to be looking at a time that we believe is imminent when, in fact, there will no longer be criminal marijuana prohibition. That’s why we’re calling this conference “The Final Days of Prohibition.” Because this is a policy that began federally in 1937 and we believe that this is a policy that is going end very, very soon because the public simply no longer is going to put up with it.
MORGAN FOX: My name is Morgan Fox. I’m the Communications Manager for the Marijuana Policy Project. We’re the nation’s largest non-profit marijuana reform organization and focused primarily on state and federal lobbying and on ballot initiatives in all 50 states.
DEAN BECKER: Morgan, the fact is there’s all kinds of news breaking on the drug war front. 3 states are going to vote on legalizing it but there is a surprising, to some, occurance going on in Arkansas. Tell us about that, please.
MORGAN FOX: We just got approval from the state supreme court to put the language for the marijuana bill in Arkansas on the ballot after a challenge by a couple religious special interest groups who unfortunately didn’t realize that this is an issue about compassion and decided to fight the language.
But since the language has been approved and all the necessary signatures are in Arkansas will be the first people in the south to get a chance to vote on a medical marijuana initiative.
DEAN BECKER: Now this is news because it is in the south as you say. Most of the medical marijuana states are on the west coast or around New England way but this is the first for the south. Tell us what this means.
MORGAN FOX: I think it’s going to show legislatures around the country that this issue isn’t just an east coast and west coast issue. This is something that affects all Americans and the public support around the country is in favor of removing criminal penalties for marijuana users – particularly for sick people.
DEAN BECKER: Yeah and this …I heard that for the Democratic National Convention that the Texas liason, if you will, sent in their recommendation and that was to reexamine the whole of the drug war. The South is rising again. What do you think?
MORGAN FOX: I think it’s entirely possible. Grassroots support throughout the south has been growing steadily particularly in the face of their legislators just refusing to discuss the issue on most levels.
Public opinion has been behind marijuana in the south and throughout the nation for quite some time. Hopefully with ballot initiatives starting to pass and people starting to more actively consider policy alternatives they’re going to start getting more and more constituents and we might be able to see the possibility for substantial change.
DEAN BECKER: Friends, we’ve been speaking with Mr. Morgan Fox. He of the Marijuana Policy Project.
Morgan, please point them to your website where they can learn more about this issue and many others that we need to deal with.
MORGAN FOX: We’re at http://www.mpp.org and you can find ways to learn about what’s going on in every state in the country as well as on the federal level. We also have very easy ways to contact your law makers and tell them that they don’t have to worry about reelection if they start supporting these issues.
That’s http://mpp.org and we’re also available on Facebook and Twitter.
They nailed me for possession.
Lord, they nailed him to a tree.
But Jesus was a felon just like me.
DEAN BECKER: From the demo “Jesus.” By Jolynn.
I want to thank you for being with us on this edition of Century of Lies. I especially want to thank Martin Lee, author of “Smoke Signals.” Please check out his book. It will educate you, hopefully motivate you, get you to do your part to help end the madness of drug war.
There is no nexus with reality. Please visit our website: http://endprohibition.org. Do it for the children.
For the Drug Truth Network, this is Dean Becker asking you to examine our policy of Drug Prohibition.
The Century of Lies.
This show produced at the Pacifica Studios of KPFT, Houston.
Transcript provided by: Jo-D Harrison of www.DrugSense.org
The James A Baker Institute
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Sat - Kim Ogg, candidate for DA of Houston: no jail, no bail, no record for pot if elected 1/2
Fri - Texas Representative Beto O'Rourke on failure of drug war to protect anything let alone the children
Thu - New York Times Editorial: Repeal Prohibition Again 2/2 from ABC
Wed - New York Times Editorial: Repeal Prohibition Again 1/2 from ABC
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Mon: Texas Representative Beto O'Rourke on forthcoming "Summer Reading Assignment" for all US officials