08/07/15 Dana Larsen

Dana Larsen, Canadian activist & author of "Green Buds & Hash", Houston cannabis seminar with DA Anderson, Sheriff Nehls, Lauren Vazquez of MPP, Sam Sabzehzar re LEAP video "With Justice and Dignity, a Caravan for Peace"

Program: 
Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Date: 
Friday, August 7, 2015
Guest: 
Dana Larsen
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CULTURAL BAGGAGE

AUGUST 7, 2015

TRANSCRIPT

DEAN BECKER: Broadcasting on the Drug Truth Network, this is Cultural Baggage.

DR. G. ALAN ROBISON: It is not only inhumane, it is really fundamentally un-American.

CROWD: No more! Drug war! No More! Drug War! No More! Drug War!

DEAN BECKER: My name is Dean Becker. I don't condone or encourage the use of any drugs, legal or illegal. I report the unvarnished truth about the pharmaceutical, banking, prison, and judicial nightmare that feeds on eternal drug war.

All right, my friends. Thank you for being with us today. We want to reach out to you right now, we've got a great show as I always do lined up for you. We've got a live guest, we've got a couple of recorded segments, we've got the Unvarnished Truth about the drug war. And if you're a long term listener you know this is the place, people are slowly but surely over the decades coming to embrace what I've been putting forward for 15 years now.

We do have with us online a man of many talents, who lives up in Canada. I'll let him fill you in with more detail, but he's an activist, he's been a seed salesman, he's, I think, opened a cannabis dispensary. He's an author of several books, and he has a new book, which we want to share with you. I don't know, I don't know if it's for you and your children or not, but I think it's good entertainment nonetheless. And, our guest, who has written Green Buds And Hash. And with that, I want to welcome Dana Larsen. Hello sir.

DANA LARSEN: Hello, thanks for having me.

DEAN BECKER: Oh Dana, I've had a chance to preview the book, and I don't know if you caught what I said, I'm not certain if it's for the younger kids, but it's a very entertaining book, this Green Buds And Hash.

DANA LARSEN: Well, yeah, it's a Doctor Suess parody of Green Eggs And Ham, and you know, I wrote it really just for adults who might enjoy it. I'm surprised how many people have told me that they've read it to their kids and they found it's a good way to help talk about medical cannabis and help teach their kids about that, especially people who use medical marijuana themselves. But, really, it's just a parody of Green Eggs And Ham, do you want Green Buds And Hash? No I do not, Mister Stash. And then as you know it goes on from there.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. The mindset, the framework, the protocols, the laws, against marijuana are changing, adapting, morphing, all over the world. Here in Houston, it's beginning to morph, but up in Canada, you guys have, I don't understand it. Tell me what's going on up there, Dana.

DANA LARSEN: Well, it's a very confusing situation in Canada. We have a lot of quite strict laws on the books, but you wouldn't know it. Kind of city like Vancouver, where they've just licensed and regulated medical marijuana dispensaries, even though we're against federal law. So it's kind of a mixed up situation, but it's really, we're behind the many US states in Canada here, but it's a similar situation, you know.

Before California legalized medical marijuana as a state, San Francisco had declared an emergency and legalized at the city level, and before Washington and Colorado legalized medical marijuana, Denver and Seattle had done something at the civic level. So now in Canada, even though we have Conservatives in power federally, who have put in some pretty strict mandatory minimums, we've got a hundred marijuana shops in Vancouver, all operating in violation of federal law, and the city's about to give us business licenses. And many other cities in Canada are going the same way, so there's a very big difference between what the law says on the books and how it gets enforced on the ground.

DEAN BECKER: You know, that's interesting, Dana, because, I realized, you know, I was mentioning, even in Houston, we had a seminar a couple of days ago, and the DA was talking about how she's trying to convince these kids not to plead guilty, not to take the days served, but to go to treatment, and I'm not saying I'm for treatment, but what she's trying to do is to keep them from getting a criminal record, which, you know, she's trying to fight those laws, in her own way. Your response, there, Dana Larsen.

DANA LARSEN: Well, definitely, people all across the judicial system are realizing this is the wrong way to go, and that prohibition isn't working, and it causes more harm than good. Although that being said, this forced treatment kind of idea is almost just as bad if not worse in some ways. You know, somebody feels they have an issue with their drug use or their cannabis use, and they seek out help, that's fine, but to put somebody into forced treatment because they get caught with marijuana is absolutely ridiculous, and to me, really, makes no more sense than trying to put someone into forced treatment to stop them from being gay or something else like that.

And actually they've added to the DSM last year, cannabis use disorder, even though they took out many other things, like being gay, out of that old book, you know, decades ago, they've added smoking marijuana as a mental disorder, one that according to their diagnostic criteria I qualify for, and pretty much so do everybody I know. If you enjoy marijuana and seek it out, you've got a disorder, and they want to put you into treatment, and I think that's very dangerous as well, because forced treatment can sometimes actually be worse than prison for some people. So, you know, I'm looking for alternatives, but I really feel that that's still more punishment and more of the same in some ways.

DEAN BECKER: Oh, I agree, it's, Harry J. Anslinger's still alive, at least insanity, criminality, and death, you know, it's -- they cling to these old morals.

DANA LARSEN: Well, you know, we hear these same stories coming up over and over again, because you talk about Anslinger, from the 1930s, we see the same myths in the 20s and 30s and 40s and 50s, they get debunked over and over again, but they just keep coming back, and there's a lot of these, and I think we're starting to see some change. I think a big part of it is that more people have actually experienced cannabis now, and have tried it themselves, or know somebody who has, and I think it's easy to believe some of the propaganda and lies if you've never tried it or never seen it, then it's not part of your experience, and so you don't really have the ability to judge the truth for yourself.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. No, I --

DANA LARSEN: If you've used cannabis, you can really see what it's like, and it's harder for this kind of propaganda to work on you. But there's still a lot of misinformation out there that we have to fight.

DEAN BECKER: Sure. I remember the sheriff, who was at this seminar a couple of days ago, said something to the effect that we can't legaliize it, otherwise our children will have greater access. And I think that's just a preposterous notion. Your response, Dana.

DANA LARSEN: Well, I think that it's really prohibition that allows children to get access to these substances. But also this idea that we have to punish adults because we don't kids to do something, we don't want kids driving cars or having sex or drinking alcohol, but we don't ban those things for adults and put adults in jail because we don't want minors to do them, and I think that it goes the same with cannabis.

And ultimately, you know, you've got to look at other comparisons, too. If people are switching from alcohol to cannabis, whatever age they are, that's a positive step, because cannabis is far less harmful than alcohol is. And so, I think we've got to keep those things in mind. But really, we make laws for adults that deal with adult things, and if a child is using cannabis, I think it should be the same as alcohol. It's really a family issue.

You know, when I was a kid, my next door neighbors were Italians, and their son would have a glass of wine with dinner when he was like ten years old. And a small glass, and just a little bit, but to me that seemed very odd. My family didn't do that. But that's part of their culture, and the idea that, you know, we need to stop kids from drinking alcohol by putting parents like that in jail or something is just absurd. So, cannabis use should be a family matter. If a kid's caught with cannabis, they should be, you know, have their parents deal with that, not the police and the courts, that's absolutely the wrong way to do it.

DEAN BECKER: Sure. You know, I feel privileged, I'm just so ecstatic that, it was May 8th, 1985, I quit drinking, and I consume cannabis on a fairly regular basis because it just takes away that compulsion to get outside one's norm, if you will. And, you know, in the meantime I became a successful accountant project analyst for Chevron, had a very successful career, and had I stuck with the alcohol, none of that would have happened, I'm certain.

DANA LARSEN: Oh, there's absolutely lots of people, not just alcohol, but people who also get off other drugs as well, and find that cannabis helps them to abstain from heroin or cocaine, or alcohol, or tobacco. I know people who have used, substituted cannabis for all of those things. And whatever you might think about somebody smoking a joint, there's no question that if somebody is quitting heroin and using marijuana instead, that's a positive step for them, and for everybody around them. And the same thing, what I would say, with tobacco or alcohol or pretty much any other drug.

And so you may not like somebody using marijuana, but you've got to look at it as to what else they could be doing, and what it's helping them deal with, and, and then compared to any other drug somebody could be taking, cannabis is incredibly safe and quite beneficial, and there's all sorts of medicinal aspects that also make it very wonderful.

DEAN BECKER: All right. Friends, once again, we've been speaking with Mister Dana Larsen. He's author of several books, including his new one, Green Buds And Hash. Dana, as we close out here, is there a website where folks could learn more about this book?

DANA LARSEN: Yes. You go to GreenBudsAndHash.com, and you can check it out there, and I've written a few other books as well. There's one called Harry Pothead And The Marijuana Stone, which is actually soon to be reprinted for the fourth time now, and it's a fun story, if you like cannabis you'll enjoy it. And, you know, we're looking now to you guys in the US to help lead us at this point, to help make some better laws. We've got an election coming up in Canada in 11 weeks, and if we see a change in government, we're going to see legalization up here, and we're going to see some positive things happen, but this war is an international thing, it crosses all borders. I wish you great luck down there in Texas, and in the US, and, you know, together we're going to end prohibition. And check out GreenBudsAndHash.com to get a copy of my book.

DEAN BECKER: All right. Thank you again, Dana Larsen.

DANA LARSEN: Hey, my pleasure. Thank you.

DEAN BECKER: It's time to play Name That Drug By Its Side Effects. Body odor, headaches, thinning hairline, increased sex drive, depression, mood disturbances, agitation, high blood pressure, severe anxiety and rage, kidney and liver disease, suicidal thoughts, rape, murder and war. Beware: nearly 50 percent of the world’s population produces large amounts of this drug and seeks to inject into the remaining population. Time’s up! The answer: Testosterone. It’s in the bag.

In cooperation with the Houston Young Republicans, Texas Federation of Hispanic Republicans, Downtown Houston Pachyderm Club, and MLK Association of Texas, earlier this week, Talento Bilingue de Houston sponsored a seminar: Marijuana Policy in Houston and Beyond. It featured Harris County's District Attorney Devon Anderson, Representative Gilbert Pena, Mark Levin of Right On Crime, and the sheriff of Fort Bend County, Troy Nehls. This is the District Attorney of Harris County, Devon Anderson.

DEVON ANDERSON: Well, I'm one of the policy makers, and one of the decision makers, since I am the District Attorney. Obviously I have to work within the law, and what I've noticed is, and kind of what we're facing in Harris County, is that they're not building any more jails. I'm not getting any more prosecutors. We're not getting any more courts. But we're filing over 10,000 cases a year of possession of marijuana. What I've noticed as a judge and a defense attorney is that when you get a conviction, your life is over, pretty much.

You have an uphill battle from that point on trying to get a job, trying to get an apartment, and so taking those two problems together, I started the First Chance Intervention Program, which is the first pre-charge program that's ever been done by the DA's office, where you are diverted before you get to court, and I'll go into detail later. But the main purpose of it is to keep people who've never been in trouble before from having something on their record, and I'm targeting zero to two ounces of marijuana.

We are kind of at a huge turning point in criminal justice in Texas. There's a recognition that we can't, nor should we, lock up everybody. That we need to save our jails for the worst of the worst the people who are robbing us, and killing us, and raping us, the people who are, we're mad at. The drug addicts, we need to help. We need to try to figure out why they keep committing crimes, get them the help that they need so that we can stop that revolving door. And my drug court background and defense background is what has been very valuable in this job, in being able to talk to people and making them understand, we're just not going to be able to lock everybody up, and we shouldn't be. So, I'm glad to be able to talk about these issues tonight.

SHERIFF TROY NEHLS: My name is Sheriff Troy Nehls from Fort Bend County. I guess you would, you know, consider me the outsider, being that, but we do a suburb of Harris County and proud to be affiliated with such a group of professional elected officials and law enforcement officers from throughout the region, because we do participate in the HIDTA task force, which is High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas, so we have a strong working relationship with law enforcement officers, not only just in Fort Bend County, with the municipalities, but also outlying areas in the other counties such as Harris County.

It is an honor and a privilege to be up here with such a distinguished group, a panel, to have some meaningful dialogue about marijuana and the way ahead. Fortunate, for Texas sheriffs, you know, we are law enforcement officers, we enforce the law. We are not policy makers.

DEAN BECKER: This year, the Texas Sheriffs Association repeatedly went before the Texas Legislature, trying to influence them not to change any of our drug laws.

SHERIFF TROY NEHLS: You know, some, some could, you know, you knock on a door, tell me you're running for sheriff, and they ask your position on Rowe Versus Wade, and I said, I'm not a policy maker, I'm a county sheriff that's out there to enforce the laws that individuals like my friend here enact and make up there in Austin, so what we do is we just try to help encourage our lawmakers in our areas and ask god to present them with wisdom so they can make meaningful, logical decisions while they're in Austin for those hundred and forty days.

I do know that the Sheriffs Association of Texas, their position on marijuana was very strong. They, very little bend as far as the 254 sheriffs across this great state regarding loosening any of the marijuana laws, I do know that. That may not be my personal opinion, or how I feel about it, but I just know that in the legislature, they were actively lobbying against loosening any of these laws on marijuana. So, I'm proud to be here.

DEAN BECKER: This panel was moderated by ABC reporter Ted Oberg, who asked the following question of the audience:

TED OBERG: But, by a show of applause, since we can't see your hands, let's just get a sense of the audience, of where you are on the spectrum of marijuana reform, and I'll give you four choices. One is, hey, we're okeh where we're at now. We have this bill for oil, and we're okey with that. Let's make the second option sort of a medical option, not quite what California does, but somewhere between where we're at now and where they are. The third one would be decriminalization, along the sense of a fine, and the fourth would be full legalization. So, just by a show of applause and don't jump up and down and try and skew the results. But, who says we're okeh now?

[silence]

I figured as much, otherwise you wouldn't be here. Who's for, and you only get to pick one, so don't go with all three. Medical marijuana?

[some applause]

Okeh. The decriminalization option?

[some applause]

And full legalization?

[much more applause and some cheering]

Okeh.

LAUREN VASQUEZ: My name is Lauren Vasquez, I'm deputy director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project. I've been working in cannabis for about ten years. We're working on a lot of different campaigns across the country. I'm helping with those and also with the California 2016 initiative.

DEAN BECKER: Well, Lauren, even here in Texas, there is rumblings and grumblings, we recently had a panel featuring a DA, a state rep, and a sheriff, and they all seemed to be backing down from their prior pronouncements, if you will. And I was wondering if you would kind of talk about a recent publication from the Marijuana Policy Project talking about the National Conference of State Legislatures are urging the federal government to respect the state marijuana laws. Please tell us more about that.

LAUREN VASQUEZ: Sure. It really is an unprecedented vote. We have the National Conference of State Legislatures, it's an organization where the legislators get together and talk about policy and put forth resolutions declaring what they would like to see. And so they have voted to direct the federal government not to interfere with their state marijuana and hemp policies, because they would like the opportunity to try something new, to end punitive policies and see what might work better in their states and their communities.

DEAN BECKER: Well, that coincides with this panel that just went on, where even the sheriff was talking about, he was for medical marijuana, and, you know, another state rep had put forward a bill that ultimately failed to just study PTSD for our veterans, you know, coming back from all these wars. It's a glimmer of hope here in Texas, and I guess there's hope kind of spreading across the US now, right?

LAUREN VASQUEZ: There is a lot of hope, you know, a lot of common sense turnarounds, where we've just seen the problems with our punitive marijuana policies building up to the point where, you know, cities and counties just can't afford to run the war on marijuana anymore, and they're not seeing any benefit. It's ineffective, they're not having communities that are any safer, and so right now, they are open to new possibilities and new ways of approaching marijuana and people who use it.

DEAN BECKER: The district attorney felt that she was constrained, that she was forced to make all of these convictions and to ruin the futures of so many young kids caught with small amounts of marijuana. It's troubling the conscience of many in positions of power now, isn't it?

LAUREN VASQUEZ: Absolutely. You know, nobody wants a law that causes more harm than the problem it's trying to solve, and, you know, you know, many young people can use marijuana without long-term consequences, stay in school, get jobs, but if you get a criminal conviction, getting a job is not going to happen and your education is going to be interrupted, and your opportunities for the future are going to be quashed, and, you know, it is hopeful to hear district attorneys saying these things, because we have far too many people that have minor criminal convictions that are really just destroying their opportunities.

DEAN BECKER: All right, folks, well once again we've been speaking with Lauren Vasquez, she's the deputy director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project. Lauren, any closing thoughts, a website you might want to relay?

LAUREN VASQUEZ: It is www.MarijuanaPolicy.org. Marijuana Policy Project. I would like to say that it was a really great year for Texas. We did see a lot of movement forward, and you know, we still have a lot more work to do, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel and we are working with people, legislators who do want to see change, and do want to go toward more rational policies, so all the work you guys are doing there, thank you so much.

RODGER PARSONS: In 1973, under President Nixon, the federal government set up five drug classifications based on risk, Schedule One being the most dangerous. What is considered a Schedule One drug? Marijuana, LSD, and heroin. What is a Schedule Two drug? Cocaine. What is a Schedule Three drug? Anabolic steroids. What is a Schedule Four drug? Valium. Schedule Five drugs are considered the least risky. What is considered the least risky drug? Cough preparations with less than two hundred milligrams of codeine. And what drugs are not scheduled at all? Alcohol and cigarettes. Why does the federal government consider tobacco and alcohol a low risk, and marijuana a high risk? If you answered "I don't know", you answered right. We don't know either. End prohibition now.

DEAN BECKER: Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. These men and women have served in the trenches of the drug war as prosecutors, judges, cops, guards, and wardens. They have seen firsthand the utter futility of our policy, and now work together to end drug prohibition. Please visit LEAP.cc.

Just last week, we had on air with us Mister Steven Downing, one of the producers of With Justice And Dignity: The Caravan For Peace, and we have with us now the director, the editor, my compadre on this 7,000-mile trip, Mister Sam Sabzehzar. How are you, Sam?

SAM SABZEHZAR: I'm doing really well, Dean, how are you doing? Really good to hear your voice.

DEAN BECKER: Well, you too, Sam, I mean, it was a couple of years back but it was quite an adventure, quite an experience, was it not?

SAM SABZEHZAR: It was an incredible experience, a trip of a lifetime, really, and to be with you the entire 7,000 mile journey through, you know, every city, through every state, you were alongside there with me, capturing audio, I'm capturing video, and it was just such a great honor to work with LEAP on such an important issue like the Caravan For Peace.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, and Sam, thankfully LEAP now has a video presentation, a summation if you will, of that journey available through folks on the LEAP website.

SAM SABZEHZAR: That is fantastic news, and many of your listeners are already aware of the tragic failures of our policies of the drug war, and how it affects the people around the world, especially our neighbors south of our border in Mexico. And, out of Houston, you guys see the battlegrounds, all of the stories of death and destruction, and all of those border towns along the border in Texas, so we're really honored to be able to work with Pacifica Radio.

DEAN BECKER: More and more people are becoming aware of the glaring failure of this drug war, the fact that it has never accomplished any of its stated goals, and has wreaked havoc around the world, am I right, Sam?

SAM SABZEHZAR: Yeah, absolutely correct, and, you know, there, they have stated goals, and I think they have many unstated goals that, you know, through the failures of public policy and the war on drugs around the world, as we see states around the country and countries around the world take a second look at drug policy, and recognize that prohibition is not helping anybody else other than the cartels, the corruption, and those in law enforcement that remain at the funding mechanism of enforcing these laws.

DEAN BECKER: We have in these United States kind of the soft side of this, I mean, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, hell Afghanistan, Bolivia, Peru, you -- Colombia, you name it. All of these other countries have ultra-violence going on to control the supply side of these drugs, and it's way more than the violence we have here trying to defend the sales of these drugs, though that in itself is outrageous. Your thoughts, Sam.

SAM SABZEHZAR: Well, you're absolutely right. The list goes on and on, and some of the violence, death, and destruction that drug policy, through prohibition laws being implemented, the failures are all across the board, and we don't get to see the violence that actually these policies are affecting people on a daily basis. We see communities destroyed, we see families ripped apart, we see other laws applied north of the border to the drug consuming market, but make no mistake about it, violence is used at every step of the way to ensure that a black market goes through a trade route that can only use violence to secure the trade route, just to get north of the border to our drug consumption market.

And it's because of our policies that they have to have violence to secure those trade routes, instead of businesses being taxed and have courts determine when businesses don't operate fairly, but whether it's alcohol prohibition, a in now everybody can go and get a drink somewhere, and it's a safe access fight, you know, they can buy it as some form of distribution model, and in a free society like America, we really do need to examine, you know, why we have 25 percent of the world's prison population. We're not more criminal, we just have more laws that criminalize, you know, the type of behavior that a free society has no business criminalizing.

DEAN BECKER: Exactly. And which, you know, brings us back to this DVD that's now available, today, from the LEAP website, which by the way is LEAP.CC. And it just exposes the futility of this, it tells the story of about a hundred friends and family of those who were literally butchered in Mexico and South America, to ensure the transport of these drugs to our shores, right?

SAM SABZEHZAR: Well, that was one of the most powerful things about the Caravan, where we took, you know, around a hundred victims from Mexico's war on drugs, and taking them through 27 cities in a little over a month, and every stop along the way, when they would give their testimonies about what it was like for them to grow up, seeing their loved ones disappeared or dead, it really changed the hearts and minds of how people saw the war on drugs being fought, and I think that, that's how all wars are fought, and so winning the hearts and minds, but we want to encourage everybody to distribute it and share it with everybody that they know, so that they can continue the dialogue, so we can help save lives south of the border, and help reconnect families ripped apart north of the borders from our failed policies.

DEAN BECKER: All right. Well, friends, once again, we've been speaking with Mister Sam Sabzehzar. He's the producer/director of With Justice And Dignity: The Caravan For Peace. Sam, any closing thoughts you want to relay, sir?

SAM SABZEHZAR: Well, I just want to thank you again for having me, Dean, it's a pleasure listening to you, and seeing your work, and it was such an honor to be alongside the entire journey with you. I want to encourage all of your audience members listening to this to support community-sponsored radio, and support LEAP. Move the needle to a brighter future so that we can change the landscape for people around the world.

DEAN BECKER: Well, that's it, as always I remind you, because of prohibition, you don't know what's in that bag. Please be careful.

To the Drug Truth Network listeners around the world, this is Dean Becker for Cultural Baggage and the unvarnished truth. Cultural Baggage is a production of the Pacifica Radio Network, archives are permanently stored at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy. And we are all still tap dancing on the edge of an abyss.