11/26/17 Rob Johnson

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On Century of Lies this week: the city of Seattle adopted a new budget which includes money to start up a supervised consumption facility, so we hear from Seattle residents Terina James and Marlys McConnell, and also from Seattle City Councilmember Rob Johnson. Plus, the UK House of Commons held a debate recently on the human and financial costs of drug addiction, so we hear from Norman Lamb, Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament for North Norfolk, and from Crispin Blunt, Conservative Member of Parliament for Reigate.

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TRANSCRIPT

CENTURY OF LIES

NOVEMBER 26, 2017

TRANSCRIPT

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.

DOUG MCVAY: Hello, and welcome to Century Of Lies. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

The city of Seattle, Washington, is moving forward in support of King County’s plans to set up supervised consumption facilities in that area. On November Twentieth, the Seattle City Council adopted its annual budget, which included funding for these facilities, which for PR reasons they’re referring to as community health engagement locations or CHELs.

The difference is semantic, intended to reassure people and the public that the purpose of these locations is to help bring healthcare services to populations that are not currently well served, and to bring people who use drugs closer to the healthcare system.

I personally don’t care what you call them. I know from the research that whether you call them sanitary injection facilities, supervised consumption sites, or drug consumption rooms, these are interventions that work to keep people healthy and alive. I also know that you can find a lot of that research on the web at DrugWarFacts.org in the chapters on Supervised Consumption Facilities and on Syringe Exchange.

Supervised consumption facilities are in operation in cities around the world. They have saved countless lives that would otherwise have been lost to overdose, and they've prevented the spread of blood borne diseases like HIV and hepatitis C. The Insite facility in Vancouver was the first supervised consumption facility in North America. I visited Insite several years ago, and I was quite impressed. Now, there are more such facilities opening across Canada.

We’ve been much slower to adopt harm reduction interventions in the United States, which means that here in the US we have allowed many of our friends and family members to die needlessly.

So, we’ll start today’s show with the Seattle City Council’s meeting on November Twentieth, some good news. There were several members of the public there at that meeting who spoke to the Council about the need for a supervised consumption facility. Let’s hear from some of those folks first.

TERINA JAMES: Hi, council members, I'm Terina James, and I'm here to thank you for funding the -- it's okeh -- safe consumption sites here in the city of Seattle. I'm very thankful for that. But I also want to say that, I want you all to know that all the people that are out here, and are soliciting a living in these circumstances, and have these addictions, are hearing you. So please don't stop. Keep letting them know that you're working hard for them, as we are saying it, and we are doing it.

I was a heroin addict, homeless, in the streets of Seattle, and with the LEAD program, Public Defenders Association, VOCAL, familiar faces, I've been able to make it out, and start a new life, and do a lot of advocacy work. But not everybody has got there, and I would like to see a lot more people get out, get housing, and get their lives together. Thank you.

MARLYS MCCONNELL: My name is Marlys McConnell, and I'm a mother here in support of safe consumption spaces. This is my son, Andrew. Andrew lost his life to an accidental overdose January Sixth, 2015. He was just 27.

Andrew wanted very much to find recovery, and he had hopes and dreams for his future, like all of us do. Andrew's last attempt at treatment was about six months before he died.

And today, I want to share something with you that he told me before entering that facility: "I'm going to tell Courtney's parents," his girlfriend at the time, "that I'm seeking treatment for pill addiction. I'm worried they won't allow her to see me anymore if they know it's heroin. Heroin is so trashy." But they supported him regardless. But my point is, the community at large did not. He felt trashy. He felt stigmatized. And he felt ashamed.

And I feel convinced that this played a part in his death. We cannot lead people to recovery that are no longer with us. We have to do a better job of providing services for those that need help with substance use disorder. We need to make sure they know they aren't trash. For those in our region who are still with us, struggling and suffering with substance use disorder, safe consumption spaces can help do that. Thank you.

DOUG MCVAY: We just heard Seattle residents Terina James and Marlys McConnell. They were speaking in support of supervised consumption sites at a Seattle City Council meeting on November Twentieth. Now, let’s hear from a Seattle City Council member, shortly before the city budget was adopted unanimously. This is Seattle City Council Member Rob Johnson:

ROB JOHNSON: This is the part for speeches, I take it. So I'm just going to take a minute, and say thanks, Council Member Herbold, to you, for working so collaboratively with me throughout this process. I'm really proud of a lot of the work that we did in this budget: the work on expansion of the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program, which I'm sure Council Member Juarez will talk about in a minute, as well as some of the work that she and I did on access to those living inside food deserts, which is common in both of our districts.

I'm also really proud of some of the transportation work that we did this year, on pedestrianizing a two block section of our city connecting the University of Washington to the future lightrail campus, funding for small but important things like wading pools and green stormwater infrastructure, a small but important remodel of a community center at Magnuson Park and the appropriate staff necessary to make that facility work well.

But I think the biggest and boldest thing that I'm proud that we led on this year was around the creation of the safe consumption site, and that $1.3 million -- that's deserved -- that $1.3 million is without a doubt going to be controversial. We're seeing cities all throughout the region take up resolutions in opposition to these kinds of concepts. And I want to highlight one of the reasons why I've been such a champion.

I got an email earlier in the week from a constituent named Rose, and I asked her for her permission to read parts of this email, and, if you'll permit my indulgence, Council President, I want to read to you all why she believes it's so important that we set up safe consumption sites in the city.

Rose is a first year medical student at the University of Washington, and says, 'All of the available public health and medical data says that safe consumption spaces reduce public drug use, reduce drug paraphernalia in public spaces, and do not increase drug use in the surrounding communities. Having a space to go and interact with non-judgmental healthcare workers, and access services, has been shown to improve rates of seeking and completing detoxification programs by as much as thirty percent.'

Rose's brother is in recovery, and clean from drug use disorder for four years. He and his partner, also clean and in recovery, are expecting their family's first grandchild this Christmas, and Rose says, 'Even when he was using drugs, and his brain chemistry and body wouldn't let him walk away from using, he was still my brother, and I still loved him very much. People suffering from drug use disorders are valued, and loved by their families and friends, and they matter to society as a whole.'

And I'm going to follow the trend of you, Council President Harrell, that is an important enough line that I feel compelled to repeat it twice: People suffering from drug use disorders are valued and loved by their families and friends and they matter to society as a whole.

The country's watching Seattle as we endeavor to join the rest of the developed world in responding to drug use disorders with empathy, and scientifically sound, evidence based approaches. Properly funding safe consumption sites is critical to establishing their credibility and proving Seattle as a city ready to take on the challenges of the future.

I'm really proud of the work I did with you, my friends out in communities, particularly Patricia, Alison, and Lisa, and really grateful to my colleagues for support for such an important step in preventing future lives from being lost in our city.

BRUCE HARRELL: Well said.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Seattle City Council member Rob Johnson speaking at their meeting November Twentieth, at which the city’s budget was adopted, a budget which included funding to start up a supervised consumption facility. You can hear that meeting and much more at SeattleChannel.org. You're listening to Century of Lies. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

From Seattle we go to London, England. The UK House of Commons held a debate on November Twentieth on the human and financial costs of drug addiction. We’re going to listen to a portion of that debate. Here’s Norman Lamb, a Liberal Democrat and Member of Parliament for North Norfolk.

NORMAN LAMB: Let me start with where I agree with the honorable gentleman, and I congratulate him for getting a debate on a really important issue. As a father myself, I share the horror of the impact of dangerous drug use, and my starting point, in a sense, is to be hostile to dangerous drug use, whether they are legal or illegal. And that's a really important point, because according to the evidence the most dangerous drug of all is alcohol, one that is used very heavily within these buildings. We must remember that, and there is an enormous hypocrisy therefore about the debate on this issue.

For me, the most depressing thing that was said in the Chamber of the House of Commons today was the Prime Minister’s reaffirmation of the commitment to the war on the drugs, the catastrophically disastrous war on drugs, and it was in response to the Right Honorable Member's question, the honorable Member for Reigate, who raised a totally rational case, and got it rejected with what I would say was a rejection of the evidence, an approach based on stigma and based on an ignorance of the facts of the disastrous impact of the war on drugs.

It was an enormous pleasure just the other day to meet with some parents, together with the honorable Member for Inverclyde, from the organization Anyone’s Child. ?And far from what the Prime Minister said about the families of those who have lost their lives through drug use all rallying around to demand ever-tougher sentences, these brave people are making the case very powerfully that the disastrous consequences for their families criminalization of drug use has left them distraught for the rest of their lives.

And in a way, the great irony I found in the honorable gentleman's contribution today is that he pointed out to a whole series of disastrous consequences of drug use, drug use under a criminal market. I mean, this is the extraordinary thing, that he's, I'm completely with him about identifying and recognizing these disasters, but it's happening here and now. It's this false thinking that suggests that, because there are dangers of drug use, the automatically sensible thing to do is to ban them, but we should know by now that that doesn't work, and the Home Office’s own study in 2014 confirmed that it has no impact on the level of drug use in society, so let's start thinking afresh about this issue.

Far from protecting people --

CRAIG MACKINLAY: Will the right honorable gentleman give way?

NORMAN LAMB: Well, I'm conscious that time is really tight.

Far from protecting people, the current framework of our drug laws has resulted in 3,744 drug-related deaths in 2016, the highest ever level, a 44 percent increase over five years. So it's not just the States we're talking about here, it's arrived in this country with a vengeance. Heroin and morphine deaths risen by 109 percent under a criminal market. It is not working.

Criminalization, he said he doesn't see many people ending up in prison, but just last year there were still 45,000 people ending up with criminal convictions for possession of drugs. Now this has a dreadful blighting effect on their careers. We waste human capital in our country. One of the families that came to talk to us on Monday talked about their son, a really clever scientist who now can't work as a scientist because of the effect of his conviction several years ago now. This is just ludicrous, but it's the effect of criminalization. And the Australian study from a few years ago confirms the negative impact of criminalization on all those people who end up with a criminal record.

And it hits many people who self-medicate because they're experiencing mental ill health. So it has a massive impact on people who are already vulnerable. Because they choose to use a substance to perhaps take away the pain of what they are going through, we then give them a criminal conviction. It's the most ludicrous response imaginable. And then there are all those people who suffer from conditions such as multiple sclerosis, who use cannabis to ease their pain, and then we give them a criminal conviction for their trouble. Again, it is a ludicrous way of responding to a real problem.

And the billions of pounds in profits to organised crime, we just hand vast sums of money, not just in this country, but globally, to organized crime, and it's the most extraordinary waste of resources. It promotes extreme violence in our communities. And of course, it's always the poorest communities that suffer the most.

And in the United States, there's very clear evidence that it's poor black communities that suffer the most. In this country, black people are targeted for stop and search, they're nine times more likely to be stopped and searched for drug use than white people are in our country.?

So, instead of those awful consequences of criminalizing drug use, let's think about an alternative approach which may be more rational, which may be based on evidence, not based on ignorance and stigma. Let's instead regulate the market for cannabis. The evidence that the honorable gentleman raised from the states in the US that have legalized are highly contested data. And there are very respected organisations, and I hopefully can refer to the Drug Policy Alliance, which addressed some of the misclaims about the impacts of cannabis use in Colorado and Washington. One of the conclusions, teen marijuana use is unchanged. The overall conclusion's so far, so good, in terms of the impact of legalization.

So, there's a lot of misclaims being made about the impact in the United States, but a legalized, regulated market has the potential to take the trade away from criminals and instead to raise pounds in taxes, which can then be used on health and education and supporting people out of addiction, rather than simply criminalizing them. Let's treat it as a health issue, not a criminal justice issue.

Let's accept across our country the principle of safer drug consumption rooms. They are already saving lives in eight European countries, in Canada, in Australia. It's endorsed by the BMA. No one dies of an overdose in a drug consumption room. Let's accept that evidence and apply it in this country before we continue the carnage of loss of life that we're experiencing now. And heroin-assisted treatment where other treatments have failed. I recognize that the honorable Member acknowledged that that may be appropriate in some cases, but it;s a policy based on evidence of what works.

And then finally, Mister Gapes, the attitude of this Government. I've mentioned the 2014 Home Office study. This was whilst the Prime Minister was Home Secretary, and her own Department concluded that there was no international evidence at all which shows that tougher drug laws reduce the use of drugs in society, so why don't they follow the evidence? Secondly, the evaluation of the Government’s drugs strategy last year, their own evaluation, raised some extremely serious concerns. It concluded that enforcement expenditure has, and I quote, 'little impact on availability.' And I quote again, 'Illicit drug markets are resilient and can adapt to even significant drug and asset seizures.' It doesn't work.

Contact with the criminal justice system for drug offences can, and I quote, 'bring with it potential unintended consequences including unemployment and harm to families'. And then finally, 'Incarceration may also negatively impact on the indirect and unemployment harms that drug-related enforcement activities' seek to improve. The conclusion of the Government’s own analysis is that it's not working.

And then there's the real hypocrisy, that there will be loads of Ministers in this Government who have used cannabis, and probably other drugs as well, in their younger years, and yet they are prepared to see fellow citizens convicted of offences which -- for something that they themselves did in their younger years, and they've gone on to enjoy good careers. Let's stop the hypocrisy. Let's recognize that we should apply the approach of reduction in harm, not criminalization, because it hasn't worked and it's led to awful consequences internationally.?

DOUG MCVAY: That was Norman Lamb, Member of Parliament in the United Kingdom, speaking in a House of Commons debate on the human and financial costs of drug addiction. You’re listening to Century of Lies, we're a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. I’m your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org. Now let’s return to that Parliamentary debate and hear from Crispin Blunt, a Conservative and Member of Parliament for Reigate.

CRISPIN BLUNT: And a pleasure to follow my, the right honorable gentleman for North Norfolk. And I want to congratulate him on his speech, and I agree with his analysis entirely. And I do want to congratulate today my honorable friend from Thanet South for raising this issue. And he's quite right to point out the dramatic risk of fentanyl-associated harm that is maybe coming our way following what is happening in the United States.

But any examination of the global evidence is that the costs he pointed to, financial and human, are infinitely higher than they should be due to the global policy of prohibition and criminalization of drugs ever since the 1961 UN single convention on narcotic drugs. It has been an unmitigated global public policy disaster. He rightly drew attention to the dangers of drug-driving and his concern at the increasing number of road deaths caused by drug-driving, that's coming in the United States, and it's going to require strong enforcement action to catch, warn and punish offenders, in the same way as drink-driving here in the UK has met with effective policing and societal attitude changes.

JIM SHANNON: Will the honorable gentleman give way?

CRISPIN BLUNT: I'm so short of time because of the -- if the honorable gentleman will forgive me.

I come to this debate from the criminal justice perspective, having seen for myself as Minister for Prisons and Criminal Justice the time and costs incurred by the police, courts, prison and probation service in managing the effects of drug-related crime. My honorable friend also drew attention to the problems of cannabis, particularly street cannabis, which, with its high levels of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is more potent and liable to cause schizophrenia in long-term users.

However, those looking to use cannabis recreationally often have little to choose from and have no idea where their cannabis, acquired on the street from drug dealers, what it's got in it. So legalization and regulation would allow consumers to access less harmful forms of cannabis with lower levels of THC and higher levels of CBD, cannabidiol, giving the desired high, in just the same way as drug users of tobacco and alcohol can be assured of the regulated quality and provenance of their products, together with the health warnings and all the necessary restrictions on advertising and sales and regulation that a properly regulated market can deliver.

Licensing and regulation proportionate to the risks of each type of drug and signposting users to services when they get into trouble would be the right place for public policy if we follow the evidence of what works. At a stroke it would deliver the massive good of eliminating the huge costs associated with criminal possession and supply. By permitting a legal but regulated market, we would decouple hundreds of millions of consumers in the world, and millions in the UK alone, from funding and facilitating a world of criminality.

Just as prohibition in 1920s America provided a financial basis for organized crime to flourish in American cities, so our policy of prohibition has gifted an industry worth the order of half a trillion dollars a year to serious and ?organised crime producing and supplying untested substances. Their interest is hardly the health of their consumers, but far more to produce the addiction that will sustain this vastly lucrative business model.

Alongside the addiction, we then have to deal with the awful consequences of drug market violence as gangs and dealers vie for control of the trade, quite apart from the enormous lower-level criminality of burglary and other acquisitive crimes as addicts seek to fund their addiction.

As well as keeping criminals, many of them young people, out of drug supply, licensing and regulation allows us to tackle the health-related harms associated with drugs and drug addiction that my honorable friend was so right to draw attention to. Criminalization means that users are hidden from health practitioners, and there's a lack of guidance about how to find and access services. Taxation of sales by licensed retailers would pay for better prevention, treatment and public health education, available at the point of purchase, and particularly public health education, for instance from a dispensing pharmacist.

Colorado has now already raised half a billion dollars in state taxes and fees since it licensed recreational cannabis in 2014. And as the honorable gentleman just said, the Home Office evaluation of its own drug strategy says, 'There is, in general, a lack of robust evidence as to whether capture and punishment serves as a deterrent for drug use.'

Translated out of bureaucratese, that means we know that current policy does not work. And since we have been fighting the war on drugs for more than half a century, it might now be an idea to examine the evidence. So I say to my honorable friend, instead of doubling down on a failing policy and demanding yet more higher sentences for particular parts of the supply chain, the failing policy which, in the example he gave, has led to the highest level of opioid drug deaths since records began, we should be learning from decriminalization and public health approaches in other countries.

In Portugal, for example, where the possession of small amounts of drugs has been decriminalized since 2001, a step well short of licensing and regulation, usage rates are amongst the lowest in Europe, and drug-related pathologies, such as blood-borne viruses and deaths due to misuse, have decreased dramatically. Compare the drug mortality of 5.8 per million in Portugal to Scotland. It's 247 per million in Scotland. The Portuguese state offers treatment programs without dragging users through the criminal justice system, where it becomes harder to manage addiction and abuse.

And I can tell my honorable friend, from the effort to establish drug-free wings in prisons, this it is not easy to do. I accept that it is a perfectly sound policy objective, but do not think for a minute that there is a magic wand to be able to deliver some part of the prison system that is going to be proof against drugs getting into it.

And in the criminal justice system, as I can testify from my own experience, it is hard to manage addiction and abuse. And the reshaping of our drugs policies should be informed by the growing body of evidence that is going to come in from the legalization of cannabis sales in several US states and, from next July, in Canada. And we will be able to learn, too, from the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany and others who have drug consumption rooms, an ?example of the kind of regulation we could deliver around heroin consumption in supervised, safer environments where, as the honorable gentleman says, no one has ever died of an overdose.

And so we must listen to the Global Commission on Drug Policy, which seeks a balanced, evidence-based approach. In the UK, our commission could be a royal commission to make evidence-based policy recommendations free of the politicians’ trite response: drugs are bad, they must be banned. This can give us a route to reframing the debate on drugs and find evidence-based policy approaches which will truly reduce the costs of addiction, both financial and human.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Crispin Blunt, a Conservative Member of Parliament, speaking in a House of Commons debate on the human and financial costs of drug addiction on November Twentieth. You can hear that debate in full by going to parliamentlive.tv.

NGAIO BEALUM: How about this one? So, marijuana's legal in Nevada now, right? And I heard a story about this guy who won a lot of money, won like a hundred thousand dollars, and this stoner came up to him and said, hey man, I know you won a hundred thousand dollars. I normally wouldn't ask this, but my girlfriend's very sick, I need ten thousand dollars so she can have an operation. And the gambler says, well how do I know if I give you this ten thousand dollars, you're not just going to buy some marijuana? And the stoner goes, man, I have weed money.

DOUG MCVAY: And that's it for this week. Thank you for joining us. You've been listening to Century of Lies. We're a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. I’m your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

The executive producer of the Drug Truth Network is Dean Becker. Drug Truth Network programs are available via podcast, the URLs to subscribe are on the network home page at DrugTruth.net.

The Drug Truth Network is on Facebook, please give its page a like. Drug War Facts is on Facebook too, give its page a like and share it with friends. Remember: Knowledge is power. Follow me on Twitter, I'm @DougMcVay and of course also @DrugPolicyFacts.

We'll be back next week with thirty more minutes of news and information about the drug war and this century of lies. For now, for the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay saying so long. So long!

For the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay asking you to examine our policy of drug prohibition: the century of lies. Drug Truth Network programs archived at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.

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