01/19/18 Lynn Paltrow

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version

Lynn Paltrow Dir of Advocates for Pregnant Women, Katherine Neill Harris of James Baker Inst, Sen Cory Booker, Rep Barbara Lee & Rep Ro Khanna

Share on Facebook Share on stumbleupon digg it Share on reddit Share on del.icio.us

TRANSCRIPT

CULTURAL BAGGAGE

JANUARY 19, 2017

TRANSCRIPT

DEAN BECKER: I am Dean Becker, your host. Our goal for this program is to expose the fraud, misdirection, and the liars whose support for drug war empowers our terrorist enemies, enriches barbarous cartels, and gives reason for existence to tens of thousands of violent US gangs who profit by selling contaminated drugs to our children. This is Cultural Baggage.

Hi, folks, I am Dean Becker, thank you for being with us on this edition of Cultural Baggage. Today, we're going to hear from Lynn Paltrow of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, Katharine Neill Harris of the Baker Institute, as well as Senator Cory Booker, Representative Barbara Lee, and representative Ro Khanna. Hang on.

LYNN PALTROW: My name is Lynn Paltrow, I'm the founder and executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, and we defend mostly women from police and prosecutors, anti-abortion advocates, and healthcare providers who believe that, upon becoming pregnant, women lose their civil rights to everything from physical liberty, the right not to be locked up, to medical decision making, to bodily integrity. And very often, those actors target pregnant women in the name of the drug war.

DEAN BECKER: And, this has been going on, well, I guess since the drug war started, it's been escalating. We've had the crack baby scare, and just, the meth scare, and every other scare, and now, we have a situation that's developing up there in Big Horn County, I think, is that Montana? Where they --- they want women to snitch on themselves if they're using drugs. They want them to self-report. Let's talk about that situation.

LYNN PALTROW: Yes. It came as a, I think I said, I shouldn't be surprised, but a statement from the Big Horn County Attorney, the prosecutor in Big Horn County, Montana, issued a statement that reads like a page or chapter from The Handmaid's Tale, if folks know what that is.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, ma'am.

LYNN PALTROW: Calling not only for pregnant women to self-report, but also suggesting that every pregnant woman should be monitored for the use of any alcohol or non medically prescribed drugs, and turned in to the state authorities by friends, family members, healthcare providers, and strangers.

And, it is shocking in its scope, in its sort of incoherence and confusion of issues, and beliefs, and ultimately encouraging other prosecutors, both in local and national US systems, and courts, and in tribal courts, to stigmatize, threaten, and threaten pregnant women, despite the fact that that request, that call for action, will do untold damage to maternal, fetal, and child health.

DEAN BECKER: You know, this ties into The Handmaid's Tale, it also kind of ties into this #MeToo thing, or #NoMore thing, whatever you want to call it. You know, men have over the centuries demanded the right to implant their seed and to control what happens to that baby and to control the mother, to -- it's just creepy. Your response to that, please.

LYNN PALTROW: Well, I -- The Handmaid's Tale, by the way, is a novel, a dystopian novel by Margaret Atwood. It's been most recently turned into a series, I think on Hulu. It's gotten all sorts of awards, and it describes a Dystopian, totalitarian future in which the women, the people are -- have a great deal of trouble procreating, and certain women become the handmaids of others for the purpose of producing babies, and they have no rights, and are treated with extraordinary cruelty.

It's a future that I think Ms. Atwood has talked about as being nothing that had -- she hadn't seen actually happen, or the equivalent actually happened, in the world. This, in terms of this particular part of that dystopian future, in the present now, these kinds of actions hurt everybody. I mean, they're talking about dividing families, of having husbands turn against wives, and children turn against mothers, and nurses and doctors turn against their patients. That is horrifying, and completely counterproductive to men and women.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. Yeah. And, we've certainly seen the results of our confidential informant program, which has often led the informant to dangerous situations, deadly situations, all for a few dollars of drugs or to diminish their sentence, et cetera. It's a horrible means to promote quote "justice."

LYNN PALTROW: Right. And as our statement said, it may be that in certain circumstances, turning in pregnant women might violate patient privacy and confidentiality, and make that, the reporter, vulnerable to certain kinds of legal action.

DEAN BECKER: Again, this is representing the thought process of men. It has been this way for generations, and they're slow to give it up, they're slow to give up that control over women's bodies. Your thought there.

LYNN PALTROW: I'm sorry I can't go quote "there" with you, because misogyny is not -- does not belong to a single gender, it's a set of beliefs that both, sometimes, women as well as men hold, and we will live in a country that targets particular communities for punishment, surveillance, and control, until the majority of everyone says no more.

DEAN BECKER: Well, thank you for that, and that's why I called upon you, Lynn Paltrow, who heads up National Advocates for Pregnant Women. I get my education through talking to good folks like you. That will help change my perspective, and maybe of the listeners out there as well.

I think about it this way, Lynn, that there's just so much confusion, and it's -- much of it is intentional, that's being put forward, you know, through the press, through the politicians, and through the media, like Facebook. It's tough keeping up with the truth. There's so much being shared, or disseminated, right?

LYNN PALTROW: Right, it is, it's very hard, as you said, to keep up with the truth, particularly on subjects that tap into sort of, not unreasonable kind of basic human assumptions, and one of those is if it comes out of the woman's body, whatever happens to that child must be her fault.

And we know or count -- and that really, we know that that's not true, that in fact what had happened to the woman herself, the environment she grew up in, the level of stress she experienced, the kind of healthcare she had access to before she became pregnant, and the contribution of men in that pregnancy, all have significant influence.

And -- but we want, because we're human beings, we want to believe that we can, particularly around pregnancy, that we can control the outcome, that if the woman is just good enough and careful enough and does everything that's in the book What to Expect When You're Expecting, she can be assured that she's going, her pregnancy's going to continue to term and she's going to have a healthy baby.

But that's not the way biology works. So, no matter what women do, fifteen to 25 percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage and stillbirth. And these kinds of statements from prosecutors and others build on a mythology, a desire to believe that somebody, if somebody could just control the pregnant woman, we could make sure that every pregnancy continued to term and was healthy, and that's just never going to be true, because that's not how biology works.

Then you have on top of that all of the stigma and misinformation that has very deliberately been perpetuated by the war on drugs. So people use the term addicted, and if you read the statement from the prosecutor, it really isn't even talking about people who have drug dependency problems.

We know that the vast majority of people who drink alcohol, and the vast majority of people who use any of the criminalized drugs, are not dependent, they're not addicted, they simply use. But according to this policy by the Big Horn County Attorney's office, he has -- he is talking about pregnant women, who he refers primarily to as expectant mothers, as using. If they use any drugs or alcohol, they should be turned in or should turn themselves in.

That just perpetuates all sorts of mythology and misinformation, suggesting that any pregnant woman who drinks any alcohol or uses any amount of a controlled substance is going to do significant harm, and that's simply untrue.

DEAN BECKER: All right. Well, friends, once again, we've been speaking with Ms. Lynn Paltrow, she's direct of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, and you can find them on the web at AdvocatesForPregnantWomen.org. You can read this post concerning the situation in Big Horn County, Montana. Lynn, any closing thoughts you'd like to share, please?

LYNN PALTROW: Yes. We need to make sure the best way, the most we can do to protect and promote health is by ensuring that everyone, including pregnant women, has access to confidential, respectful, supportive healthcare. And statements like these, from the Big Horn County Sheriff's office, or the Big Horn -- from the Big Horn County Attorney's office, are brilliant distractions from the fact that we have a current administration that is about to de-fund the Child Health Insurance Program, that will not fund or make access, enough access, to buprenorphine and methadone, and the greatest risk to America's health and children are not our own mothers.

DEAN BECKER: The following commercial aired on the Netflix series "Disjointed."

RICKY WILLIAMS: Hi. My name is Ricky Williams.

EBEN BRITTON: My name is Eben Britton.

MARK RESTELLI: My name's Mark Restelli.

BOO WILLIAMS: My name is Boo Williams.

JIM MCMAHON: My name is Jim McMahon.

CHRIS KLUWE: My name is Chris Kluwe.

KYLE TURLEY: My name is Kyle Turley. I played in one of the major North American football leagues.

JIM MCMAHON: I have two championship rings from that big game we play at the end of the season

RICKY WILLIAMS: In college, I won a trophy that looks like this.

CHRIS KLUWE: I was a punter for eight seasons, and punters are football players, too.

JIM MCMAHON: I also wrote the name of the commissioner on my headband, and everyone lost their s**t.

RICKY WILLIAMS: The men who play American football are subject to a life of injury.

BOO WILLIAMS: Pain.

CHRIS KLUWE: And disease.

EBEN BRITTON: Both during and long after their careers are over.

JIM MCMAHON: And that's why I smoke pot.

KYLE TURLEY: That's why I smoke cannabis.

RICKY WILLIAMS: That's why I smoke weed. That's why I smoked weed when I played.

KYLE TURLEY: It has without a doubt reduced the amount of pain I live with.

BOO WILLIAMS: It's my body. I know.

JIM MCMAHON: But for some reason, the major North American non-Canadian league refuses to allow players to use cannabis.

MARK RESTELLI: Instead of allowing for safe, natural healing ...

CHRIS KLUWE: The sport pushes players towards addictive narcotic painkillers with serious side effects.

TOGETHER: So let's get real, Roger.

RICKY WILLIAMS: Football players should be allowed to use medicinal marijuana.

BOO WILLIAMS: Without the stigma of it being a banned substance.

JIM MCMAHON: Cannabis isn't a drug.

KYLE TURLEY: It is a medicine.

KATHARINE NEILL HARRIS: My name's Katharine Neill Harris, I'm the Alfred C. Glassell, III, Fellow in Drug Policy at the Baker Institute at Rice University. My work focuses on drug policy research, and I also work on drug policy reform.

We take a harm reduction approach to drug policy here at the Baker Institute. Basically, we start from the standpoint that, you know, drug use is something that will be a part of society, and so our laws should be focused on minimizing the harm associated with drug use, both to the user and to society, rather than just on punishing people for drug use.

We've seen from decades of the war on drugs that trying to punish people for drug use does very little to decrease the use of drugs. It's also done very little to decrease the actual supply of drugs, and so we think that we need to take a more evidence-based approach to that.

And so here at the Baker Institute, you know, we try to, you know, we argue for reform to policy to follow those guidelines, and to scale back the war on drugs.

DEAN BECKER: Well, thank you for that. You know, Katharine, we have made I think huge strides of late. There's now eight states that are legalizing marijuana, a couple, three more on the east coast are perhaps going to do it before summer time. And, we have a general, I don't know, awakening of politicians, even locally here in Houston, politicians are calling the drug war a miserable failure.

But we have a major complication. Recently, you had a story posted in the Houston Chronicle, it was titled Why Sessions's War On Weed Won't Work. Please tell us about that piece, Katharine.

KATHARINE NEILL HARRIS: Yes, so, on January Fourth, Attorney General Jeff Sessions made an announcement saying that he was essentially reversing the Obama era Cole memo. And what the Cole memo was, it was a memo from the Department of Justice during the Obama administration that basically said, you know, to businesses and consumers in states that had legalized marijuana, if you're following state laws, then the federal government's not going to come after you for violating federal laws regarding marijuana prohibition.

And, the reason that law was important was because it allowed some stability to the burgeoning industry of, you know, medical and adult use marijuana, and it, you know, gave businesses and investors some comfort that, you know, their investments would not be immediately, you know, prosecuted by federal authorities. It allowed patients to get access to the medical marijuana that they needed, and we've really seen a lot of benefit from it. We've been able to see states in, you know, innovate and experiment with different structures for medical and adult use marijuana.

So what Sessions did, though, was he essentially said, you know, and the Cole memo, I should say, you know, it didn't say that, you know, the federal government's going to stop enforcing marijuana prohibition altogether. It basically just said, you know, that it's a low priority to go after people that are following state laws, and instead, you know, federal efforts should be focused on, you know, people that are trying to sell to minors or trafficking across state lines, or that are using funding from, you know, marijuana sales to fund other criminal enterprises.

And Sessions has said that, you know, prosecutors should go back to using their discretion to also possibly enforce those laws against people who are acting within the legal boundaries of their state laws.

DEAN BECKER: I'm really puzzled by the fact that, you know, the first days in Colorado, there were some complications, I think there were two death that came about through stupidity or just irrational use of edible cannabis, but other than that, there has been very little negative brought forward over the last few years about the implementation of legal cannabis in these states, and it just seems Jeff Sessions and his ilk just reached back to the days of Harry J. Anslinger and repeat the stories often about, you know, it leads to insanity, criminality, and death. Your thought there please, Katharine.

KATHARINE NEILL HARRIS: No, I agree with you, I mean, Sessions, you know, I don't know what exactly his motivations are, I don't know if it's just, you know, it's ideology or just sort of staunch commitment to the war on drugs philosophy, but yes, I mean, the things that he says about the dangers of marijuana use are not grounded in any kind of evidence or research that we have.

You know, we know that, you know, marijuana use is not associated with an increase in crime. We've seen, you know, in Colorado and states that have legalized, that rates of use have not increased substantially among teens. You know, we don't see the evidence that, you know, this is really harming society. And, you know, Sessions's position is, it's dated, and it's not grounded in evidence.

DEAN BECKER: Right. I often use the phrase, or the -- describe the situation that these drug warriors quote "made their bones through this policy" and they can't back down now because otherwise they would have to admit that all of these arrests and in some cases deaths or dire situations were a result of their belief. Your thought there, please.

KATHARINE NEILL HARRIS: I think that that can be true for people that are, you know, you know, lifetime, you know, bureaucrats in like the Drug Enforcement Administration. You know, Jeff Sessions was a senator before he became attorney general. I don't know, you know, the full extent of his career path, but I, you know, I'm not sure, I feel like he would be fine if, you know, his career would be fine if he came out and said, you know, I was wrong about this. I don't think that that would be a huge blow to his career.

I mean, I don't, you know, so I don't think it's necessarily just that, for him, but I, you know, I don't know. It's hard to speculate about the, about his motivations. I do agree with you though in the sense that I think that that is something that, you know, a lot of law enforcement people have, you know, if you talk to a lot of people in law enforcement, you know, they might, the thing you hear a lot is, well, I'm here to enforce the law. If you don't like the laws, change the laws.

And, you know, they, that's the position among a lot of law enforcement people is that they're just going to enforce whatever the law is. And that's kind of what this brings up, right, because, and that was the point that I made in the piece, was that, you know, there's outrage over this Sessions decision. I mean, it's not popular really with anybody, I mean, states' rights people don't like it, Republicans don't like it, Democrats, libertarians, you know, the medical community, I mean, there are so many groups that are against what essentially all he's saying is hey, enforce this law that you haven't been enforcing.

And so, I mean, that really calls into question whether or not it should be a law, if nobody likes it, if everybody thinks that it's not a legitimate law, then why aren't we changing it? And, you know, my hope, if you want to look at this optimistically, is that we will see a change in responses to this, that Congress actually might be forced to take more of a stand on this issue than it has had to in the past.

DEAN BECKER: Well, friends, I want to remind you once again, we're speaking to one of my compadres, if you will, at the James A. Baker III Institute, we're speaking with Doctor Katharine Neill Harris. She's the Alfred C. Glassell III Fellow in Drug Policy at the Baker Institute, there at Rice University.

You know, Katharine, the day before this appeared in the Chronicle, they had an op-ed, I mean, excuse me, they had an editorial that pretty much paralleled what you were saying. They called it Lazy Weed: Drug Laws Need to Change but Congress Fails to Act. Now I know that we have a Congressman here in Texas who wrote a book calling for the end of marijuana prohibition before he got elected to the US Congress, one Beto O'Rourke.

And there are more and more politicians, a couple come to mind like Cory Booker, that are standing bold, demanding a change. Any thoughts or projections on when it might change here in the state of Texas, or just in general around the nation, are we gaining traction?

KATHARINE NEILL HARRIS: I think we're -- I certainly think that we're gaining traction, you know, I think it really is a matter of when, at this point, not if. You know, as far as Texas goes, it's difficult because of the Republican leadership that we have.

I mean, Governor Abbot and Dan Patrick have both been very strongly against any kind of marijuana related reform, and because the leadership is so against it, I think it makes it very difficult to get any action in the state legislature, because, you know, you're going to have Republicans who might say that, you know, sure, they're not opposed to marijuana reform, but that they're not -- they don't want to, you know, use their political capital to stand up for something that they think that the leadership is going to oppose.

You know, especially when there's so many other issues that they'd rather concentrate on. So I think that -- that that does make it difficult. The only way to change that, of course, is to go out and vote, you know. Governor Abbot is up for re-election this year, and I think that, you know, that's, that's something that, you know, the voters of Texas, you know, this is something that they really, you know, truly care about, then you need to vote into office people who support reform.

At the federal level, you know, it's difficult to say because on the one hand, there is bipartisan support for this. You do have Republicans and Democrats who support marijuana reform, but, you know, given the kind of, what's going on in Congress right now, and how difficult it is to get things done, you know, I still think that this is a relatively low priority issue for them.

I'm -- I hope that, that this at least is going to, you know, that they're going to want to provide some kind of protections for medical marijuana patients in states that have legalized, but I, you know, I do still think that we are a few years away from, from substantive change at that level.

On a positive note though, I think that, you know, we're going to continue to see changes in the states. I think that this decision by Sessions isn't really going to affect state decisions to legalize medical or adult use marijuana.

DEAN BECKER: Well, last summer the Texas Legislature was bandying about the idea of legalizing medical marijuana. There was even a bill put forward, didn't go anywhere, to legalize adult use. But, it's -- it's an indication that there are at least a few politicians willing to discuss that need for change, and of course here locally, the sheriff, district attorney, and the police chief have all been on my show talking about it's a miserable failure and how friends of theirs benefit from medical marijuana.

And I guess what I'm leading to here, Katharine, is that, it's okeh to call these people, it's okeh to visit them, write them, email them, to let them know your feelings in this regard. It is not the taboo subject that it once was. Your thought there, please.

KATHARINE NEILL HARRIS: Oh, absolutely, I absolutely agree with you. It's not a taboo subject. They need to hear from constituents. That's what elected officials care about. They care about public opinion, and, you know, even though one of the -- one of the things, a major piece of feedback we heard from the 2015 legislation, and probably also in 2017, was, among Republicans, you know, you can show them polls that show that a majority of Texans support some sort of marijuana reform, you know, decriminalization, or a legalization for medical use, and they say, well not the voters in the primaries. Not my primary voters.

So especially for voters in, you know, more rural and more staunchly conservative districts, it is very important to let your elected officials know that, where you stand on this issue. And I think if, you know, if we continue to show support for this, I mean, we have to be consistent, you know, and we have to stick through it, I mean, change does not happen overnight.

So, you know, the popular saying is, you know, it's a marathon, not a sprint, and that's just very true. You know, and people shouldn't get discouraged, you know, I think we need to continue to let our elected officials know where we stand.

DEAN BECKER: Indeed we do, and that's one of the outreaches of the James A. Baker III Institute. I was really proud of the paper that our boss, Professor William Martin, put forward just a week or two ago, kind of underscoring that thought, that the taboo is gone, the ability to discuss this is wide open. Our politicians are ready. Right?

KATHARINE NEILL HARRIS: Yeah, I mean, and especially in Houston and Harris County, you know, we're very lucky to have law enforcement leaders in the city and the county that are very open to drug reform, not just on marijuana, but, you know, with other drugs also, that, you know, the war on drugs is more about -- about more than just marijuana.

And, we have leaders locally that understand that, and, you know, want to reflect in policies a more pragmatic approach to drug use. And so, you know, we have to see changes locally. We've certainly already seen some, District Attorney Kim Ogg's Marijuana Diversion Program is one example. The Harris County Jail is experimenting with vivitrol injections for people who, you know, have opioid use disorders.

So, you know, there's attempts to deal with drug use in different ways locally, and, you know, Houston is the fourth largest city in the country, so what we do here can certainly set precedent for the state and the nation.

DEAN BECKER: Now, kind of off our original topic, but, you and I are both supporters, advocates if you will, for a safe injection facility in our city. I see that New Jersey and California, Oregon, Washington state, Kentucky, if I remember a story I saw this morning, there are cities that are investigating that need for safe injection facilities. And here in Houston, we certainly need one as well, don't we?

KATHARINE NEILL HARRIS: Yes. Absolutely. I mean, a safe injection facility would be ideal. I mean, what we, you know, as far as opioid use goes, I mean, the best thing that we could really do is kind of have a one stop shop for people, where they could exchange dirty needles for clean ones, where they could inject their drugs safely, and where they would also have access to other medical services.

You know, a lot of people might just need basic medical care, you know, and, you know, mental health and substance use services as well. So, that's, I think, really what would be best for the city is to just have kind of a center for -- that people could go to that are, are suffering from, you know, opioid misuse and that could access clean needles, and could use safely, get access to Narcan, and put all those services together in one spot.

It would be great if we could see that kind of thing here. Of course, we would need the state legislature to approve, both, you know, a needle exchange and a safe injection program.

DEAN BECKER: Once again, we've been speaking with Doctor Katharine Neill Harris, she's the Alfred C. Glassell III Fellow in Drug Policy at the Baker Institute, Rice University. Katharine, any closing thoughts, a website you might want to share?

KATHARINE NEILL HARRIS: Yes, so, I invite people to check out our website, Baker Institute Drug Policy Program website. We have a lot of good information on there, all of our most recent publications are there, we also have lots of data that we've compiled from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health about trends in drugs use over time. So we have a lot of really good resources on there, so I encourage people to check that out.

DEAN BECKER: The following courtesy ABC Denver.

ANNE TRUJILLO: It may be one of the most controversial proposals this year, a bill that would allow Denver to start a supervised drug injection site. It's a pilot program, and an attempt to deal with the escalating opioid crisis. Denver 7's Lance Hernandez is at the state capitol and Lance, some lawmakers are going to Vancouver, Canada, tomorrow to see how that city's program works.

LANCE HERNANDEZ: Anne, Vancouver is one of a hundred cities worldwide with such a program. They started theirs nearly 17 years ago, after logging 5 or 6 overdose deaths a day. Well, Denver's death rate isn't anywhere near that, but, in 2016, 174 people died from overdosing in the Mile High City.

LISA RAVEL: In a very magical world, there would be no drugs.

LANCE HERNANDEZ: The evidence that we don't live in a magical world is all around us: used syringes in our parks and along our bike paths. Bill Burman of Denver Health told Denver City Council's Safety Committee it's not just an issue affecting adults.

WILLIAM BURMAN, MD: At any one time now, we often have four or five, six babies who are coming off addiction.

LANCE HERNANDEZ: State lawmakers will weigh in on the issue this session. One proposal would allow Denver to start a supervised use site pilot program. Proponents say it will help curtail the spread of disease and prevent overdoses. Medically trained personnel could administer Narcan if a user ODs. What about liability?

STATE REPRESENTATIVE LESLIE HEROD: We'll provide immunity to the building and to the folks who actually are running the shop, and the nurses who are providing that supervision. It will not keep law enforcement from doing its job.

LANCE HERNANDEZ: The head of the Harm Reduction Action Center, a needle exchange program, says Denver already has an unsanctioned use site: the Central Library. She says in 2017, 13 people who ODed in the library's restrooms were saved when they were given Narcan. Lisa Ravel says addicts are currently shooting up in parks, alleys, and business restrooms. Sometimes, they die in those locations.

LISA RAVEL: We want to bring people out of the public sphere and put them into a controlled environment, where it prevents HIV, hepatitis C, promotes proper syringe disposal, decreases skin tissue infections, and saves people's lives in the event of an overdose.

DEAN BECKER: It's time to play Name That Drug By Its Side Effects!

NARRATOR: Side effects may include dizziness, nausea, vomiting, incarceration, erotic lustfulness, loss of motor control, loss of clothing, loss of money, loss of virginity, delusions of grandeur, table dancing, headache, dehydration, dry mouth, and a desire to sing karaoke and play all night rounds of strip poker, truth or dare, and naked twister.

Also may cause you to think you can sing, or may lead you to believe that ex-lovers are really dying for you to telephone them and at four in the morning. It may create the illusion that you are tougher, smarter, faster, and better looking than most people. And it may lead you to think people are laughing with you. May cause pregnancy, and it also may be a major factor in getting your ass kicked. So what are you waiting for? Stop hiding, and start living, with Tequila. Tequila!

DEAN BECKER: Earlier this week, the Drug Policy Alliance held a teleconference moderated by Queen Adesuyi, the Policy Associate at the DPA. It featured the thoughts of Representative Barbara Lee, Represenative Ro Khanna, and Senator Cory Booker.

QUEEN ADESUYI: Attorney General Sessions continues to threaten states with medical and recreational use, however 70 percent of US voters oppose federal government interference.

It's time to legalize marijuana, protect patients, and the right -- and right the wrongs of prohibition. This is where the Marijuana Justice Act changes the game. Until recently, federal marijuana legalization bills have failed to thoroughly address the lasting impacts of decades of prohibition and punishment that disproportionately impacted communities of color, low income communities, and veterans.

This is not just another legalization bill. The Marijuana Justice Act is the first bill in Congress to de-schedule marijuana while also providing retroactive expungement for people with previous marijuana convictions, convictions that oftentimes shut off folks from, especially people of color, from the now-booming legal market.

I am honored and thankful for the leadership of everyone at this table, and with that said, I'd like to turn to our first House lead -- our House lead sponsor, Congresswoman Barbara Lee of the Thirteenth District in California, representing Oakland, for her comments.

REPRESENTATIVE BARBARA LEE: Thank you very much, Queen. And I have to thank Senator Booker, for your tremendous leadership on each and every issue of justice and equity. You're not only there, you've been leading, for so, so many years. And to my colleague, Congressman Ro Khanna, boy, he has hit the ground running.

SENATOR CORY BOOKER: Yes he has.

REPRESENTATIVE BARBARA LEE: Here, from silicon valley, right next door to my district, and it's such an honor to introduce this bill, a House version of Senator Booker's bill, with you.

And I have to just say to Drug Policy Alliance, your work has been remarkable. We never would have gotten to this point had it not been for you. And, believe you me, this legislation will end this destructive war on drugs. We intend to do that.

So, we're here to announce of course the introduction of the Marijuana Justice Act, and believe it or not, here on the first day we have twelve co-sponsors in the House.

SENATOR CORY BOOKER: Great.

REPRESENTATIVE BARBARA LEE: Which is really remarkable, really remarkable. It's a road map, not only on how we're going to end this war on drugs, but also begin to address mass incarceration and the disinvestment that has taken place in communities of color.

But it goes much further also than just legalization. This bill is really an essential step in correcting the injustices of the failed war on drugs, as Queen said, namely the racial disparities, and marijuana arrests and incarceration. The bill provides a path for people with certain federal marijuana charges to expunge their records. It would also help those currently serving time for marijuana convictions to petition for resentencing.

It also forces states with records of racial bias in sentencing, and there are many, and arrest to clean up their act, finally, by cutting funds for law enforcement and prison construction for the worst offenders. And finally, it would provide for a new reinvestment directed toward communities that have been devastated by the failed war on drugs.

Restorative justice is extremely important in this effort. We all know that it's not just enough to expunge records, and end over-incarceration. These victims of these failed policies deserve support during the re-entry process, including job training, legal assistance, and more.

This issue has never been more urgent than it is today. Attorney General Jeff Sessions's decision to rescind the Cole amendment [sic] could have devastating consequences not only in my home state of California, but states throughout the country. And we know who is most likely to suffer from a revival, and that's what his actions would precipitate, and that's a revival of the war on drugs, in terms of marginalized communities and people of color.

So I believe that the Trump administration has made a, really a major miscalculation. People understand that marijuana criminalization has failed, that's why more than 60 percent of Americans support legalization. We're committed to this goal, but we also need to get it right, and people of color, the victims of the policy, need to be at the forefront of this effort.

With the Marijuana Justice Act, we have an opportunity to forge a new path, one that's inclusive and one that is just. So I want to thank you again. This is a new day. Not only are we fighting back, but we're moving forward. Thank you.

SENATOR CORY BOOKER: Amen. Amen.

QUEEN ADESUYI: Thank you so much.

REPRESENTATIVE BARBARA LEE: Now, I would like to yield now to Senator Booker.

SENATOR BOOKER: Did Congressman Khanna -- ?

REPRESENTATIVE RO KHANNA: I think you should go.

SENATOR BOOKER: Okeh. So, I just, first and foremost, want to thank everybody who's at this table right now. These are friends of mine, and heroes of mine. The Drug Policy Alliance, by the way, I was a young city councilperson, in New York City first ran into a man named Ethan Nadelmann, who was the original head of it, and he was the first person to sit down and talk about marijuana policy with me, and enlightened me on a lot of the data that I wasn't aware of, and to have you at the table here today, many years later, is really extraordinary. So thank you for being here.

Barbara Lee is a champion for justice, has been, not since she's been in Congress, but she's been a champion for justice as a career of doing that, a lifetime of doing that, since you were a teenager, frankly. You've been an activist, I've seen the pictures. She and I both had different hair -- well, I had hair, back in those days, and I'm just so pleased. She's been a partner and a friend for a long time.

And Ro, Congressman Khanna, is like a brother to me. We are so similar in our work and our approach. He's a passionate pragmatist, and really has, as you said, hit the ground running, one of the bright stars here. So to have them lead this bill in the House, these two folks, it makes a big difference to me.

And I want to be very brief because I'd like to get to your questions, but I just want to pull out a couple of pillars. Number one, there's this, all this rush of enthusiasm about legalization going on everywhere from California to New Jersey. To me, it strikes as hypocrisy and injustice if you legalize but don't try to undo the damage that was done by this awful war on drugs.

The fact that there are people wallowing in prison right now, or who are having lifetime sentences -- in other words, with a criminal conviction, you can't get a Pell Grant, you can't get food stamps, you can't get many business licenses -- for doing things that three out of the last four presidents admitted to doing, publicly.

We have a real depth of hypocrisy if we don't make sure that as we move towards decriminalization, legalization, medical marijuana, that we undo the damage that was done, not to every community, but that was targeting certain communities, vulnerable communities.

And we now have a devastating reality in America, where communities of privilege still flaunt their use of marijuana, still talk about it in a cavalier manner with no fear of consequences or retribution, but there's communities like the one in which I live, in the central ward of Newark, New Jersey, where you can see the devastation, the punishing impact, of young people who get caught up in this web, because they're targeted for marijuana enforcement.

So I see this as not just opening the gates to using marijuana, I see this as trying to restore some sense of justice, some type of restoration for the decades and decades of damage done to this community. This is one of the greatest assaults upon low income people, the war on drugs has been one of the greatest assaults on people of color since Jim Crow, and it's time that we undo that damage.

And that's why this is a very happy day for me, to be sitting here with these two Congresspeople who have the courage to lead, tell the truth, and to continue to try to make this nation live up to its promise of being a place of liberty and justice, not for some, not for the wealthy amongst us, not for the privileged among us, but liberty and justice for all. With that, I turn to the Congressman.

REPRESENTATIVE RO KHANNA: I'll be brief and just talk a little bit about the economic part of the bill, and there are two points I want to make on that.

One is the estimates are that the legalization of marijuana industry would be about $40 billion, nearly a million jobs, and a tax base of almost $7 billion. And that $7 billion will more than cover the $500 million in your and Barbara's bill to help invest in these communities. So this is actually a net gain for the government, it's a net gain for job creation, and it is economic -- makes economic sense.

But I think the economic impact is so much broader than just that $40 billion. You talked about the disparity of treatment, and I had read Chris Hayes's book, A Colony In A Nation, and he talks about, very openly, having weed at a stadium and being given a second chance, and not having a criminal conviction.

Now, he became, and has become, one of the lead journalists in the nation. How many people of color are there who may have been Chris Hayes? But, at 19, 20, 25, did something where they didn't get that leniency? I mean, you're probably talking about hundreds of billions of dollars of lost economic potential, and that's what's so bold about this bill. It's not just talking about legalization. It's giving people a real second chance by getting rid of that criminal past, which is stifling their opportunity and their future.

TELECONFERENCE OPERATOR: Our first question comes from David Matthau with New Jersey 101.5 News.

DAVID MATTHAU: Senator, the question is for you, as being Senator from New Jersey, of course. You know I'm sure that efforts are moving forward in the Garden State to legalize marijuana. It's an issue that really does seem to be gaining momentum all of a sudden. Do you agree, sir, that now is the time to address this issue comprehensively, and why do you think things are changing the way they seem to be changing right now?

SENATOR CORY BOOKER: Well, I think that we've seen some early states move, and there were definitely some stumbling blocks with edibles, and proper labeling, and things like that, that we all agree should be done when states are given that opportunity to be laboratories of democracy and reform. But the successes we're having, I mean, as I stood after Jeff Sessions put forward the Cole Memo, and I saw a person who was an opponent of legalization in Colorado, Cory Gardner, he's part of the Cory Caucus in the Senate, when I saw him stand on the floor angrily defending his state's decision, you can see how much it's moved from the experience of a lot of legislators.

And so, I think that we see momentum growing, people who were skeptics or cynics before are being converted. And we're just gaining momentum. So I'm excited about what's happening in New Jersey.

Again, New Jersey is a tale of two states. I grew up in the northern, northern parts of Bergen County, first African American family to move in in a predominantly white neighborhood. My friends, as Ro was telling the story about Chris Hayes, those are the experiences of my friends. And, there was just a different justice system for there compared to kids in Camden, compared to kids in Newark, compared to kids in Passaic.

And so I think that a lot of people are aware, from all over our state, how unjust this has been, how people's lives have been destroyed, and I think that people are reacting against that, and especially now, moving with more confidence, seeing early mover states like Colorado be so successful.

TELECONFERENCE OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Lois Kazakoff with San Francisco Chronicle.

LOIS KAZAKOFF: Hi there. This is a question, probably for Congresswoman Lee. So, the bill would expunge the records of people who've been found guilty under the federal laws. What are the parameters of the expungement? Now, I --

REPRESENTATIVE BARBARA LEE: Sure. This bill, what it actually does is provide a process for victims of these overzealous and quite frankly often racist marijuana enforcement policies. This process is for people who have already served their time, and they are out of jail, and now they deserve a process that would allow them to expunge their records. It's for possession and use.

And so the parameters of this bill, I think, are very narrowly written, and it focuses on nonviolent offenses, and these are for people who have already done their time.

SENATOR CORY BOOKER: And I just want to emphasize that they're -- the people in prison have to appeal, have to file for expungement. So if you're sitting in prison for possession or use, there's a process, you don't just get out, you have to make sure that you're evaluated in a fair process to make sure you're not a threat in some other way.

But I think Barbara really put it, laid it plain, when there's no difference in America between blacks and whites for marijuana usage or marijuana distribution, no difference, but African Americans are 3.7 times more likely to be arrested for that. This law has a patently racist impact, disparate impact on African Americans, and we should be moving aggressively to do that.

Now, some places, and I think it was mentioned earlier, some places, I think you mentioned it earlier, that all of a sudden this is a big business in some communities, and people are rushing to get their licenses, but it's so ironic that this disproportionately affects the ability for African Americans to get into the legal marijuana business.

So, again, this bill is about correcting action. There's -- and this has been a very narrowly written bill, and my hope's that we can get some more Republicans on as well as just anybody with common sense. Then, we don't -- we're not -- this is not going to put anybody in danger, but imagine, and I've met these folks, who are trying to get a job. I met somebody with New Jersey Transit when I was online one day, at the DMV, who got a job, got hired, but they ran a record check and found out something like 18 years earlier they had one of these nonviolent drug charges, and it crushed him, crushed his family, and left him in economically challenging straits.

So I'm grateful for Congresswoman Lee, who just lays it plain.

.... She was just asking about the process, we can explain that -- go ahead.

TELECONFERENCE OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Dominic Holden with Buzzfeed News.

DOMINIC HOLDEN: My question is about the support that you can find for it. If you've got new converts like Cory Gardner, who are not co-sponsoring the Senate version, as far as I can tell there's only one co-sponsor in the Senate version, why do you believe that this has meaningful momentum and can change the dialogue, and won't just essentially die on the vine?

SENATOR CORY BOOKER: Well, it's changed the dialogue already. The bill itself, and the other aspects, beyond legalization, have definitely changed the dialogue. It's something that I'm so excited, the momentum, the movement behind it. When we launched this bill, and this is actually giving it a tremendous more momentum to have a House version being supported by courageous people. Seventeen co-sponsors.

In the United States Senate, I met with Cory Gardner about how, what are we going to do about the marijuana issue. In that bipartisan meeting we had, they talked about trying to do a fix on Jeff Sessions's recent issues, but to have a larger dialogue now about how to do something more comprehensive and long term.

So we'll see how that's going to develop, but I'm excited about the national dialogue that's changing, I'm very excited that people are now pushing not just legalization, but also doing something to deal with the other aspects of the injustices surrounding marijuana enforcement.

But again, the fact that I'm sitting here right now with two of the premier members of the House of Representatives, and they're leading on this, shows that we're gaining more momentum.

REPRESENTATIVE BARBARA LEE: Yeah, there have been over 30-some states that have passed legalization or decrim or medical marijuana initiatives, or laws, and so I think it's a matter of time. The grassroots and Drug Policy Alliance and democracy is working, and I think you will see members of the House and Senate move forward, because people are, like I said earlier, over 60 percent of the public support what legalization and decriminalization really is about, and so I don't think this democratic movement can be stopped now, at all.

REPRESENTATIVE RO KHANNA: And you see this I think with some of the newer members of Congress, both Republicans and Democrats, Republicans like Tom Garrett and others who have spoken out for legalization. So it's amazing that we've already gotten 12 co-sponsors, and I anticipate we're going to get many more, and that there's no reason to think that we won't get some Republicans on this bill. I don't think it's partisan in that way.

TELECONFERENCE OPERATOR: The next question comes from Carla Marinucci with Politico.

CARLA MARINUCCI: Wanting to just gauge your thoughts about California getting into the legal market as of January First, the impact of California being the largest legal cannabis market in the world at this point. What do you think the impact's going to be there, and also, what does this legislation say about the growing clout of the cannabis movement?

REPRESENTATIVE RO KHANNA: Well, Carla, you're absolutely right. I mean, this is going to have a huge impact on California's economy. It, like I said, nationally it's almost $40 billion, and I think California itself is $5 to $6 billion potential. And with the Cole Memo, that has a lot of people in California concerned, about what the Justice Department could do to interfere with the ballot proposition that was passed.

I mean, here you have the irony of someone who claims they believe in fed -- believes in federalism, undermining states' rights to do things that people in these states have passed.

And so that's why I think Senator Booker and Representative Barbara Lee's propo -- introducing this legislation is so timely, to stand up for these states, saying even though the Justice Department may not believe in federalism and what Senator Booker said, having our states be laboratories of democracy, people in Congress do. And I think this is going to give a lot of reassurance to people in California.

REPRESENTATIVE BARBARA LEE: Carla, I also, you know, I want to call your attention to one aspect of this, which is extremely important in terms of the expungement provision and the licensing of this industry, because now, at least in one of my cities, in Oakland, now there's a process for those how have been actually, who live in certain areas where marijuana arrests were higher, or where people were incarcerated for use or low level marijuana possession crimes, they, there's a process for licensing for people who have been tragically hurt by the marijuana laws.

And so in California, I think we will see, and we've been pushing very hard on this, a more inclusive industry from the ground up. You know, it's very difficult, once an industry is established, to fight for inclusion and equity in businesses given the current climate. But this is a new -- new, new day, and I think we'll see more businesses, legal businesses, that have actually complied with all of the requirements, will be headed and run by people of color, and people who have been negatively impacted by the laws.

TELECONFERENCE OPERATOR: Our next question comes from [inaudible] with the Guardian.

REPORTER: I have a question about the racial discrimination ramifications of the bill. After Jeff Sessions rescinded the Cole Memo, I took a look at the BJS numbers on federal marijuana prisoners, and was actually surprised to find that black Americans are actually proportionally represented in that population, and so I'm curious what federal lawmakers can do to push states -- to push states, and local jurisdictions, away from punitive marijuana enforcement?

Because that's actually where the racial disparities mostly start to appear. And because federal prosecution of marijuana is really a very small portion of the overall criminalization picture.

SENATOR CORY BOOKER: So -- so, just so you know, one of the pillars of the legislation is trying to do the reverse of what the 1994 Crime Bill did, which gave tremendous incentives to states to create more mandatory minimums, tremendous incentives for them to build prisons, resources and the like, it really helped to supercharge, the Crime Bill.

Well, this does the absolute reverse. It takes states that have not gone towards legalization, and creates incentives for them to change their marijuana laws. And so by -- we believe by offering that pool and that incentive of resources, and potentially sanctions, frankly, that we can actually move states to do the right thing.

But you're absolutely right, the overwhelming lion's share of the incarcerated people for marijuana are in the states. And that's why a number of components of this bill gets the federal government out of the states' business by de-scheduling it, by allowing banks, frankly, to do, to give banking services.

A lot of the things in this bill are helping states to do what they can, and I think that by the federal government, by passing a bill like this, you're going to see more state legislators, Republican, Democrat, feel liberated, to follow the direction of California, Colorado, Alaska, and others.

REPRESENTATIVE BARBARA LEE: Also, in the bill we just outright cut federal funding.

SENATOR CORY BOOKER: Yes, that's what I meant by sanctions.

REPRESENTATIVE BARBARA LEE: For state law enforcement, that means, cutting the federal funding --

SENATOR CORY BOOKER: Yes. Yes. As I said, you lay it plain.

REPRESENTATIVE BARBARA LEE: -- for state law enforcement -- for law enforcement and prison construction.

SENATOR CORY BOOKER: Yes.

REPRESENTATIVE BARBARA LEE: If a state disproportionately arrests and incarcerates low income individuals and people of color for marijuana offenses. Is that accurate, Senator?

SENATOR CORY BOOKER: You are -- you are saying it plain. Absolutely right.

REPRESENTATIVE BARBARA LEE: Federal funding. Okeh.

SENATOR CORY BOOKER: So basically, it takes away the money.

QUEEN ADESUYI: Money talks.

DEAN BECKER: The following slice comes to us courtesy of CNN. It features Doctor Sanjay Gupta, as well as the resident of the White House.

DONALD TRUMP: An astonishing 90 percent of the heroin in America comes from south of the border, where we will be building a wall, which will greatly help in this problem.

ERIN BURNETT: Sanjay, you went to the border. You talked specifically about whether a wall would stop heroin and other opioids from coming in.

SANJAY GUPTA, MD: Well, what you hear, Erin, is that, many of the people will say, heroin and many of those things, they're coming across the border, they're coming in through legalized ports of entry. They're in deep concealment in vehicles, typically. That's what's happening, and it's a totally different sort of war on drugs, because when you start to look at opioids like fentanyl, for example, such a small amount, a hundred times more powerful than morphine, can create a million pills in this country, so it's easy to get across through just normal ports of entry or even the mail.

DEAN BECKER: Doctor Gupta is right on, but apparently, resident Trump has never heard of ladders, tunnels, rope, drones, catapults, or even the ingenuity of these amazing drug cartels. They always find a way.

As we're wrapping up here, I want to make note of the fact that here in Houston, we have thousands of homeless people now, thanks to Hurricane Harvey. Just saw a video in California where they have thousands of homeless out there now from the fires, and the floods. And it makes me wonder, where is the modern Woody Guthrie?

DEAN BECKER: Again, I remind you that because of prohibition, you don’t know what’s in that bag. Please be careful.

WOODY GUTHRIE: [music] My brothers and my sisters are stranded on this road,
A hot and dusty road that a million feet have trod;
Rich man took my home and drove me from my door
And I ain't got no home in this world anymore.

Was a-farmin' on the shares, and always I was poor;
My crops I lay into the banker's store.
My wife took down and died upon the cabin floor,
And I ain't got no home in this world anymore.

Now as I look around, it's mighty plain to see
This world is such a great and a funny place to be;
Oh, the gamblin' man is rich an' the workin' man is poor,
And I ain't got no home in this world anymore.

Dean Becker Wants YOU to Call the Drug Czar