02/10/17 Joe Moody

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Texans For Responsible Marijuana Policy visits Texas Legislature, with Tx Rep Joe Moody, Heather Fazio of MPP, Chase Bradstreet, Charles Henley, Anthony Gonzalez, Suzy Wills, Phillip Blanton & Houston Press reporter Meagan Flynn re bail reform

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TRANSCRIPT

CULTURAL BAGGAGE

FEBRUARY 10, 2017

TRANSCRIPT

DEAN BECKER: Hi folks, this is Dean Becker. Thank you for joining us on this edition of Cultural Baggage. This week I went to Austin to meet up with 350 activists from around the state. I wondered what they were there for. While they were taking their group picture, I got a chance to ask them.

What do we want?

CROWD: Legalization!

DEAN BECKER: When?

CROWD: Now!

DEAN BECKER: Thank you!

As you can tell, it was a very enthusiastic crowd. They made the rounds, I think talked to every representative and every senator, and I think they got some stuff done. Let's listen to some of the folks involved.

HEATHER FAZIO: My name is Heather Fazio, I'm the Texas Political Director for the Marijuana Policy Project.

DEAN BECKER: Now, Heather, through your efforts and, well, the support of a lot of others, you have managed to bring, I'm assuming, hundreds of people from around Texas to Austin today to talk to our legislators. What's going on?

HEATHER FAZIO: Well, we're working with a broad coalition, Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, that brings together some of the usual suspects when it comes to marijuana law reform: libertarians, the ACLU, marijuana policy organizations, but also bringing into the fold law enforcement groups, Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition, the Republican Liberty Caucus, the Tenth Amendment Center, which is a states' rights organization.

You know, the cause of marijuana law reform is something that Texans are getting behind, across the board. We see it through the polling, we see it through the political platforms of the various parties, and really what we're doing here today is helping people come to the capitol to express their views, to put a face to this issue, so that lawmakers know that their constituents are in favor of reform, and want to see it happen this year.

Well, there's no doubt that we have a lot of work to do. We know that. But people coming in droves to the capitol is the kind of thing that advances this cause. Sitting down and having professional conversations with lawmakers about how these policies are failing our families, our communities, and our society as a whole. It's what's really going to help to move the ball on this, and while, you know, we have seen the governor not be an enthusiastic about marijuana law reform. He wasn't in favor of reform before he signed the Compassionate Use Act, either.

And so what we need to do is help to humanize this issue, make sure that our lawmakers and the leadership in this state are well educated on it, they understand the issue, and it's real hard to defend the status quo when you're fully aware of the ramifications of these failing policies in our state.

DEAN BECKER: Heather, is there a website? We need to get more folks on board, writing and calling their officials, do we not?

HEATHER FAZIO: Yeah, legislative action from the grassroots level is exactly what's going to advance this cause. Our website for the Coalition is TexasMarijuanaPolicy.org, and there you can sign up for notifications via email, action alerts, as legislation advances through the process, we want to make sure that everyone's well-informed and knows exactly what steps they can take, who they can call, how they can write to legislators, and working to empower them through the legislative process, which is designed to have citizen input.

We have representative government. The capitol, the folks at the capitol represent those who show up. And for a long time, it's been bureaucrats and lobbyists, and now more than ever citizens are showing up, they're mobilizing, online via social media, and coming to advance the causes that are important to them, and today what that is is marijuana law reform.

SEAN REEFER AND THE RESIN VALLEY BOYS [MUSIC]: Well, I'm diggin in the dirt
-- Don't you know
Going to plant a crop of seeds
-- Watch them grow
Going to watch my marijuana grow
Like a big pine tree.
Going to let my marijuana grow
And I'll be happy.

DEAN BECKER: Some advice from Sean Reefer and the Resin Valley Boys. Spring is just around the corner.

Gosh, I ran into one of my long term friends in drug reform, she's with the Drug Policy Forum of Texas, but I'm sure she has other affiliations as well, but, I got to see my good friend, Suzi Wills. How're you doing, Suzi?

SUZI WILLS: I'm doing fine, I hope we do some good here today.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, Suzi, it's, I don't know, a mixed bag, so to speak, a lot of folks coming here with different perspectives, but they all have one point in mind, I would think. Don't you?

SUZI WILLS: Yeah, I think everybody is embarrassed that we do not have medical marijuana in Texas, because it's so obvious that we need it, that everybody needs it. Other points of view differ, but I think that's the most consistent.

DEAN BECKER: I would agree, I mean, I'm a legalizer flat-out, legalize heroin, cocaine, and everything, destroy the cartels. But, I'm a marijuana user, I admit it freely, to my DA, my sheriff, my police chief, and it doesn't seem to bother them. And we've got to make it where it doesn't bother these legislators as well. Am I right?

SUZI WILLS: Absolutely. I've never tried to discuss it with my DA, since she's newly appointed. Yeah, I think the legislature's -- I can't understand why they're so afraid of this issue. The opinion polls all show that they're quite safe to change their positions. The only thing that occurs to me is that they're all getting fat on the pharmaceutical corporation contributions.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. Oh, we have a situation in Houston where the judges are funded by the bail bondsmen, and therefore we have, you know, continuing, these bail bonds for people that are destitute and wind up spending weeks, months, in jail, waiting for trial, losing jobs, families, you know, situations. It's time to stop being so, I don't know, vindictive, I suppose. Your thought there.

SUZI WILLS: Yeah. The bail bondsmen, they're also a big source of funding. So, heck, I'm a retired CPA. Always just follow the money. So, I know that that's a big issue everywhere, and it's not one I've looked into as much as some of the other funding sources, like the drug testing industry. They're determined that it should be kept illegal because they would be out of business if it were not, if it became legal. But, I think we are finally making some progress. People begin to understand it, the issue, more than they did 20 years ago, when I became very involved.

I'm certainly hoping that we can influence some of these, particularly the senators, since there are only 31 of them, and get some bills through this time. I've read that we have over 15 bills, I'm not familiar with all of them, but we have a really good medical marijuana bill, and I hope we make some progress on that -- along those lines.

DEAN BECKER: Alto a la guerra contra las drogas.

CHASE BRADSTREET: My name is Chase Bradstreet, I'm the Communications Director for the Houston Young Republicans, and I'm up here with RAMP, the Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition.

DEAN BECKER: Now, Chase, this is a golden opportunity to enlighten some folks, is it not?

CHASE BRADSTREET: Well, unlike most of the people here, I have experience on both sides of the drug war. I wasn't arrested or anything, but in law school, I helped prosecute drug cases, amongst others, and in private practice, I help defend drug cases, amongst others, and I had successes in both. I've put people in jail for the drug laws, and I've put -- kept people out of jail after being prosecuted for the drug laws.

I mean, that, A, that just brings a different perspective on it, but it gives me an insight into how these laws actually affect people's lives, the actual policy implementation of it. And I've got to say, it, with a lot of people, a lot of working class people, who are living paycheck to paycheck, getting a pot charge, it just, it can send them into that municipal court cycle that I saw too often.

And a lot of things can send people into that: missed child support payment, there are -- not having the money to get their car re-registered but still having to get to their job, but, the pot seemed to always be happening. It was one of the major things, and, they'd go, they'd get arrested, you know, like, their car might break down, their car might be taken away, all sorts of stuff happens. And when you're just trying to make it to your job, you might get fired. You know, some people miss their court date, get an arrest warrant out for them, and once they get an arrest warrant out for them, bam, they're back in the whole cycle, the whole system again.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah, and too often, they get caught up in that cycle of having to make payments, having to go do urine tests and pay for them, et cetera, to, you know, as you say, somebody who's on the edge, near to being impoverished, it doesn't take much to just trip them up.

CHASE BRADSTREET: No. A case that I like to talk about that illustrates some of the problems. There is this client of mine, who was walking back from work. He worked at Taco Bell, and as you know, Taco Bell's open late. And he and his two co-workers, a fellow black man and a white girl, were walking her home to make sure that she got home safe, but this Alabama cop, all he saw was these two black guys walking with a white girl in the middle of the night. So, he stopped them, got all their IDs, and he had a warrant for something that had been cleared up but was still in the system, because this was rural Alabama, sometimes that happens. They arrest him. They take him in for the warrant, and they find a baggie of marijuana in his shoe.

So now, instead of going about peacefully, going to work the next day, he gets charged, not with possession, which was a misdemeanor for a first time offense, but with felony promoting prison contraband.

DEAN BECKER [MUSIC]: The DEA's the joker,
The FDA's a joke.
The joke is on the USA
So why not take a toke?

CHARLES HENSLEY: Hi, I'm Charles Hensley, and I'm with DFW NORML.

DEAN BECKER: Charles, I was out here interviewing some others and I happened to see your service dog, he's indicating Diabetic Alert Dog. Do, you do have that condition, sir?

CHARLES HENSLEY: Yes, sir.

DEAN BECKER: You know, it's good to have the support of the dog, just in case there's a situation. But it would be better to have the support of our legislators as well, would it not?

CHARLES HENSLEY: Yes, it would.

DEAN BECKER: Well, what brings you here to Austin?

CHARLES HENSLEY: Personally, I think we should have medical marijuana available. I know for a fact that it helps with my diabetes, helps give me an appetite. Certain strains actually help lower my blood sugar and keep it more controlled, and I wish I had safe and easy access to it. On my trip up to Colorado, I did have to pay the extra tax because I was from out of state, but my prices were a lot cheaper. I got a pre-rolled joint for a penny because I had a coupon. Believe it or not, they have dispensary directory guides up there, and they come out each month, and they give you coupons, the location of the dispensaries, if they're medical, or for medical and recreational. And it's -- it was really awesome to be able to get that, and be able to smoke my marijuana legally, and not have to worry about, you know, the police coming to my hotel room, going, no you can't have that plant.

DEAN BECKER: Right.

CHARLES HENSLEY: I mean, it grows naturally on this earth, so.

DEAN BECKER: I have made a couple of trips to Colorado as well, and, you know, they have the hundred dollar ounce, big fat buds, better than anything you see in Houston, because, I've heard tales that the stuff that doesn't pass muster, you know, a little insecticide or whatever it may have, that doesn't get bought in these states, and it winds up going to New Jersey and Texas, so, we're not getting the best stuff arriving here either, are we?

CHARLES HENSLEY: No, we are not. Nowhere near it. The stuff I had in Colorado, I, it was just simply amazing. The taste, the quality, the feeling that it made me feel, the happiness. It made me hungry, I think I ate more up there in three days than I do in a week here in Texas.

DEAN BECKER: Is there a website you might want to point folks toward?

CHARLES HENSLEY: Well, if you want to learn more about my service dog, you can look him up on Facebook. Just go and type in Scruffy the Service Dog.

DEAN BECKER [MUSIC]: Pot stinks
Up your car.
Pot lingers,
Enticing narcs.
Pot stinks
A lot.
It's why
You might get caught.
It takes
A lot of pot
Takes a lot
Of pot.
So much pot.

ANTHONY GONZALES: Hey, my name is Anthony Gonzales, I'm with the Tarrant County Libertarian Party.

DEAN BECKER: Well, Anthony, we're here in Austin to change the mindset of our elected officials. What are you going to bring to the discussion today?

ANTHONY GONZALES: Well, with my representative, Representative Bill Zedler of District 96, I'm going to be focusing on doing the conservative thing, okeh? I come from a very conservative district, and so the approach must be conservative. And so I'm going to focus mostly on the tax dollars that they are allocating to the drug war are being wasted, essentially, because we are not getting results, the results that they want, and we are trying to create a more conservative environment so that our taxes may go down. I'm a libertarian, so I do believe taxation is theft.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. I would agree with you, and, we do have better purposes, other ways, we could spend that money, do we not?

ANTHONY GONZALES: Definitely. Definitely. There are so many other avenues, education being one of them, that we could be using this money. But, the way it's being used now, the figure I saw earlier today was that for every marijuana arrest, it costs $10,000 to the taxpayer, and I think that's absolutely ridiculous. It's wasted, it's un-American to be wasting this money. This is the taxpayer's money.

DEAN BECKER: During this time of eternal war, I find it my somber duty to report the death toll from the drug formerly known as marijuana is zero.

Yesterday, we went to Austin, we talked to a handful of representatives and senators, but one that I was very pleased to meet, a gentleman who's just been named chair of the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, is State Representative Joe Moody. Thank you for being with us today, sir.

STATE SENATOR JOE MOODY: Well, thank you for having me, I appreciate the invitation. It was great to meet with you here at the capitol.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, sir. I was wondering if you'd kind of give your perspective. I guess you get busloads of people nearly every day coming to talk about one subject or another, but as I understand it there were about 350 people there talking about need for change to our marijuana laws. You had several visit you, did you not?

STATE SENATOR JOE MOODY: Oh, absolutely. We had a great group of people up yesterday, I think they were all over the capitol and talking to different members, and, you know, from all the different parts of the state. You know, it's really amazing to see how much that advocacy group has grown in a very short time. Marijuana reform, you know, whatever form it takes, whether we're talking about retail market or medical, or something like I'm working on, which is civil penalty, or decriminalization, you know, these are efforts that were fairly non-existent in Texas, and the conversation was pretty much at the starting gate. And we've gone a really -- you know, we've gone a really long way in a very short time, and so, watching those advocates work the capitol yesterday was pretty impressive.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, sir, and I think it's indicative of the fact that science and maybe common sense are starting to gain a little traction. Would you agree with that thought, sir?

STATE SENATOR JOE MOODY: I think that our -- I think the people that we represent want to see a change in these laws, and hopefully the people they've elected will follow their lead. You know, it's usually the folks -- the folks back home are the ones that, that are first to come to the table and they're ready to advocate for this change, and then elected leadership usually comes around a little bit later. That move has happened in, you know, different areas, in different ways.

But, you know, this is definitely I would not have envisioned myself working on when I first got elected, and, you know, here I am, you know, as one of the champions of reform in this state. So, you know, I think every member of the legislature's kind of going through that, you know, going through that process in their own way, and these advocates do a large, you know, carry a large responsibility in delivering those messages to the people that represent them.

DEAN BECKER: I was there yesterday. You guys are busy, there is so much going on there at the capitol, and I'm, if I dare say, this is of interest to those people who want to use or need to use cannabis, and it's not an issue that you guys delve into every day. It's a good thing they bring new information to the fore. Am I right, sir?

STATE SENATOR JOE MOODY: Absolutely. Before advocacy days like that for this issue, if a member of the legislature wanted to work on this issue or wanted to look into it, they'd have to reach out to get those resources. Now, those resources are coming to their door. And, I've had, you know, I've had several members approach me today about the bill that I've authored, because they got talked to about it in their office yesterday by constituents from their district.

So, you know, these are important communications that happen. And like you said, they're happening every day on various issues.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, sir. Well, I, as I say, I know you're busy, I promised you just a short interview, but I want to thank you again for your hospitality yesterday, your willingness to discuss the need for change to our marijuana laws in particular, and I want to thank you, and I wish you great success as chair of the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee.

STATE SENATOR JOE MOODY: Well, thank you very much. It was a pleasure meeting with you and so many other folks that were here advocating for some common sense reforms.

DEAN BECKER: All right. Thank you. There you have it, friends, Representative Joe Moody.

It's time to play Name That Drug By Its Side Effects! Nausea, heartburn, development of bleeding ulcers, swelling, vomiting, swelling of the brain, extensive liver damage, difficulty with mental functioning, Reye's Syndrome, and death. Time's up! The answer: aspirin, another FDA approved product.

You know, a few weeks back, we covered the story of a young lady in the hospital here in Houston with Hodgkin's Disease, and the story of her grandfather, who was driving from California to Houston to bring her cannabis medicine, and the story got kind of sticky at that point. They saw his California plates, pulled him over, and busted him.

But, he's now returned to California. His granddaughter is doing better. While he was in Texas, he went to Austin to talk to our legislators as well, and I'm proud to welcome once again to Cultural Baggage, Mister Phillip Blanton. Hey, Phillip, how're you doing?

PHILLIP BLANTON: Hey, I'm doing good, Dean, good to talk to you.

DEAN BECKER: Phillip, there were not exactly open arms, but there was a willingness to listen there in Austin. What did you encounter, sharing your story?

PHILLIP BLANTON: I was very excited, being in Austin at the capitol, going into the different offices, and talking to policy aides, and policy analysis, senior analysis people, and I was very welcomed. I felt some -- the compassion from them, the concern for my particular situation, repeatedly asking me how my granddaughter was doing, and even kept photographs of my granddaughter and I, so that they could pass those on to the senators.

DEAN BECKER: From my perspective, the visiting with several of these representatives yesterday, was that they're still barely clinging to reefer madness, willing to slough it off, if given the opportunity. What's your response to that, Phillip?

PHILLIP BLANTON: You know, I did see some of that still hanging in the, you know, in the balance there of their opinions, and, but I also saw some fresh opinions from these people, that they are looking at the fact that it is helping so many medical marijuana patients, people with different ail -- you know, illnesses, and where they need this medicine to live a better life. And they're starting to recognize that, and see that it's helping a lot of different problems with people.

DEAN BECKER: Well, Phillip, I don't think you were traveling back to California with any cannabis. The trip went well, and you're now able to visit your local dispensary, and get the medicine you need, correct?

PHILLIP BLANTON: Correct. That was one of the first things I did, getting back into California, was get back on my meds on a regular basis, with the rest of my pharmaceuticals that I take daily.

DEAN BECKER: Well, Phillip, I do appreciate you taking time to talk with us. How is Michaela doing?

PHILLIP BLANTON: I talked to her mother just last night, and Michaela is doing some ongoing therapy, while she's out of the hospital, and in the next two weeks, she's going to have an MRI done to determine what to do with the swollen lymph nodes in her neck, and the tumors and they may go on with radiation and some more chemo, just to be sure.

DEAN BECKER: Well friends, we've been speaking with Mister Phillip Blanton, a Californian who had a situation in Texas that, hopefully it will be resolved. Have they -- they haven't even indicted you yet, have they?

PHILLIP BLANTON: No, no indictment yet. It could take six months, up to a year. I'm hoping they'll just forget about old Grandpa Phil out there in Texas.

DEAN BECKER: Following on the heels of what Suzi Wills spoke of earlier:

I find it really intriguing that a lot of other reporters around Houston, around Texas, are starting to more thoroughly examine what's going on in the criminal justice system. And there's a great new article in the Houston Press, written by Meagan Flynn, who focuses in on our bail system. And with that, I want to welcome her to the program. Hello, Meagan.

MEAGAN FLYNN: Hi Dean, well, thanks for having me.

DEAN BECKER: Meagan, this is a situation that's, well, it's just not accomplishing much positive, is it?

MEAGAN FLYNN: Well, the bail situation has certainly been going on for decades before this. But the lawsuit itself is accomplishing some pretty positive things. Harris County, simply because it was sued, and it was looking at reforms before that, but the lawsuit, basically calling the bail system unconstitutional and alleging that the bail schedule that's in place just stringently assigns bail based on what you're charged with, it doesn't really look at any other circumstances. It was alleging that that's unconstitutional.

And, Harris County, they have shown a willingness to want to make improvements to the system. They're going to be revising the bail schedule, and that's something they haven't done in like 40 years, I believe. They're going to be, they have a new risk assessment tool, which basically helps the bail hearing officers decide who goes home, or who continues to be detained, whether they're a public safety threat, or a flight risk. It will be more objective, so things like race, things like the neighborhood that you're from, are not supposed to get in the way of that decision.

But that said, I mean, the attorneys, the plaintiffs on the bail suit, they still don't think that all of these reforms will address some of their underlying Constitutional concerns. So the fact that the bail lawsuit is happening has caused some really big changes, that are good for Harris County's criminal justice system.

DEAN BECKER: Well Meagan, the truth of the matter is, you know, many of the people that are arrested for marijuana or other minor charges, these often are homeless, destitute, totally unable to make any kind of bail, even a hundred dollars, and I think many people think that this is somehow a savings to the county. But the truth be told, by the time they spend several days in jail, they've more than offset any bail amount in charges for housing, and food, and medical services. Would you agree with that?

MEAGAN FLYNN: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. One challenge when you're writing about criminal justice is, you know, a great majority of your readers need to understand that they have some stake in this too, like, they're footing the bill. So when we talk about, you know, a stranger, they don't know anything about this person, going to jail, booked on a low-level charge, like, they're paying for that.

And so, the more that the county can do to eliminate those very low-level offenses, with especially poor people who are just sitting in jail before trial, simply because they can't pay bail. Yet they're not a public safety threat, you know, do those people belong in jail? That's certainly what this bail lawsuit is about, which is the answer is no.

So, yeah, with the taxpayers, that's, I think, the key thing for people to know is, like, these changes are good for everybody, not just the people who are sitting there in jail.

DEAN BECKER: Right. And I think a lot of folks don't understand, making bail doesn't go to the city or the state.

MEAGAN FLYNN: No, no, no.

DEAN BECKER: It goes to some rich cat who can afford the risk. Correct?

MEAGAN FLYNN: Yes, it goes to -- I mean, the bail industry's a multimillion dollar industry. Here in Harris County and everywhere, really, that's obviously the big impediment to bail reform, is you have a lot of these bail bondsmen, they're involved in this process. They lobby, they have a huge stake in this, I mean, there's -- you'll see them everywhere, the bail bonds businesses.

So that's been kind of a longstanding opposition to reforming Harris County's bail system. But we see now, we have some public officials, such as the new district attorney, the new sheriff, who are really, they seem to be ignoring a lot of those forces, and that's not factoring into their commitment to bail reform, which is a really positive thing.

DEAN BECKER: All right, friends, if you want to learn more, her story, in the latest Houston Press, is titled Claiming Some People Want To Be In Jail: County Loses Argument To Delay Bail Lawsuit, and that's written by our guest today, Meagan Flynn. Thank you so much.

MEAGAN FLYNN: Yeah. absolutely.

DEAN BECKER: Today's close is in honor of 350 heroes who went to Austin, and the 181 legislators who might make a difference. Again I remind you, because of prohibition, you don't know what's in that bag. Please be careful. Thank you, Mister Bowie.

Dean Becker Wants YOU to Call the Drug Czar