12/18/15 Paul Armentano

Paul Armentano author of new book: "The Citizens Guide to State by State Marijuana Laws" + Neill Franklin Dir of LEAP, Gretchen Burns Bergman of MomsUnited.net & Bill Piper of Drug Policy Alliance

Program: 
Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Date: 
Friday, December 18, 2015
Guest: 
Paul Armentano
Organization: 
NORML
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CULTURAL BAGGAGE

DECEMBER 18, 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.

This is Dean Becker, and I want to thank you for joining us on this edition of Cultural Baggage. A bit later, we'll have much more from the Drug Policy Alliance conference, but first, we have this great interview.

Well, it seems every day there's new information breaking about marijuana, marijuana laws, and just the overall situation here in America. We have with us today a gentleman who, I think more than anybody I know, understands this situation, and has in fact written a brand new book in this regard: The Citizens Guide To State By State Marijuana Laws, and it's written by the Deputy Director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, Mister Paul Armentano. Hello, Paul.

PAUL ARMENTANO: Hi, Dean. Thank you for having me.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. Paul, do you agree with me that things are just moving at a rapid pace these days?

PAUL ARMENTANO: They most certainly are, at the state and local level, we see changes in marijuana laws and marijuana regulations taking place quite rapidly and quite often, and I certainly understand how it may be becoming more and more difficult for folks to keep up with the changing political landscapes and the associated laws with them. So, one of the reasons in penning this book was to give people sort of a one-stop shop where they can read about what the very latest in state laws and regulations are, and hopefully there will be additional editions of this book down the road to keep up with the pending changes.

DEAN BECKER: And, Paul, I got a chance to read the book over the last few days, I saw the very timely, very specific updates which you have included. This is a new book in many ways, is it not?

PAUL ARMENTANO: Yes, indeed, and it's probably the only source that I'm aware of where individuals can get these specific materials, whether it's related to criminal laws, whether it's related to medical marijuana laws, we also talk about the legal status of hemp, cannabidiol, so again, this was really meant to be a one-stop shop that's really applicable for anybody who at some point perceives they may have interaction with law enforcement, whether they're a marijuana consumer or whether they're not.

DEAN BECKER: And Paul, for those, well, let's call them newbies, novices, there's even a chapter which talks about the history, the implementation, the recrimination, the capitulation in some areas, of, it gives a chance for the reader to learn why these laws are changing as well.

PAUL ARMENTANO: Of course. I think that's one of the most important aspects of the book, it's to let people know where we've been, how we've gotten here, and ideally, where we're going in the future.

DEAN BECKER: Right. And, you know, you have a forward by the executive director of NORML, Allen St. Pierre, as well as an afterword by the travel expert, Rick Steves. Both of which are very astute, right on the money, and it kind of underscores the fact that we have in this country, hell, around the world, opened our eyes and begun to make these necessary changes. Correct?

PAUL ARMENTANO: Oh, indeed. I think one of the most important aspects of the book, and both Allen and Rick Steves touch upon this, and particularly Rick Steves with his perspective of one who is a world traveler, is just how much, in 2015 going into 2016, the legal status of marijuana and the potential ramifications or repercussions of marijuana use has very little to do with the act of using marijuana, and virtually has everything to do with geography, the notion that, now as a society we have this patchwork system where one is not in violation of the law for their use of marijuana per se, they're in violation of the law for where they choose to use that marijuana. And we have some jurisdictions where this activity is now deemed legal, and we have other jurisdictions where this activity tends to continue to be criminalized. And so we sort of have this arbitrary system where again, the victims of marijuana prohibition, and there are more than a half a million of them every year in this country, are largely now victims of geography.

DEAN BECKER: Well, we have a prime example in Washington, DC, where, if you're standing on one street corner with a bag in your pocket, you're legal, but if you cross the street you could be arrested. It's, it's preposterous, isn't it?

PAUL ARMENTANO: Most certainly. But again, for those individuals who need information to navigate successfully through this sort of patchwork system of various laws and regulations that we presently have, you know, this is a good resource for those people to hopefully keep them safe, keep them responsible, and keep them out of jail.

DEAN BECKER: You know, I made note of the fact that in your book, you know, you do list the laws for all 50 states, for the main laws and penalties, but you also have a section that deals with the medical marijuana laws as well. Correct?

PAUL ARMENTANO: Of course, because those are also changing quite rapidly. We've seen numerous state legislatures in recent years go back and amend, and oftentimes expand, existing medical marijuana laws, in addition to the new laws that are being passed, including, again, this sort of broad range of states trying to tackle the issue by permitting cannabidiol, or other states that are now licensing dispensaries that had not in the past. So again, the medical marijuana laws are becoming, in some cases, very different from state to state, in some cases quite convoluted in their regulations. So again, we want to try and keep up with that, we want to try and give people the best information that's available at the time, so they can, particularly patients, can navigate those waters.

DEAN BECKER: All right, friends, once again we're speaking with Mister Paul Armentano. He's deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, and is author of this brand new book, the Citizens Guide To State By State Marijuana Laws. We have situations like in Montana and a couple of other states where the laws have kind of been drained, depleted over the years by the machinations of certain politicians. This is an example of time to stand tall, time to stand up and speak out. Isn't it?

PAUL ARMENTANO: Well, again, the saying goes that all politics is local, and there's really a of truth to that, in particular when we're talking about marijuana law reform. Changes tend to take place most rapidly at the local level, and typically it is the local laws, the state laws, that are most likely to have actual ramifications on individuals. Most people are not affected by federal law, but they most certainly are affected by the laws of their state or the laws of their own county or municipality. So that's really at the level where the rubber meets the road and people need to get involved in their own liberation, and they can do so by impacting local and state laws. And that's of course where we've seen the greatest level of change over the last two decades, is at the state and local level and I expect that will continue in the future.

DEAN BECKER: Paul, the fact of the matter is, you know, we have politicians at every level though that try to negate this progress, and I guess by knowing these laws, by getting involved, people can stand against their BS, if you will. What's your thought there, sir?

PAUL ARMENTANO: Well, I agree, we always have hurdles that we have to face, and many of those hurdles are political. But more and more, we're seeing fewer and fewer politicians stand up and be impediments to this type of common sense reform. Florida's a great example at the moment, where we are seeing one city after another, one county after another, move to significantly mitigate marijuana penalties at their local level, and take on, sort of, the state prohibition of marijuana. And these lawmakers are largely doing it organically, there's not a large organized presence in Florida that's going from city to city and advocating for these changes. City council members, board of supervisors, they're recognizing on their own that the criminalization of marijuana doesn't make much sense, it's costly, it destroys lives, and they're taking the initiative to make these changes and their choices are being reinforced by the public, who's coming out and being supportive of these changes. And that's the way democracy is supposed to work, and that's what we're now seeing more and more. Again, largely at the local and at the state level.

DEAN BECKER: Folks, this, we've been speaking with Mr. Paul Armentano, the author of The Citizens Guide To State By State Marijuana Laws. I highly recommend it. Whatever state you're in, it can provide some assistance to understanding and making progress. Paul, any closing thoughts, website you might want to share?

PAUL ARMENTANO: Sure. I would encourage people who want to get involved in this issue, want to learn more about it, and want to keep up with the breaking news, changes in laws, and the evolving science surrounding cannabis and cannabis policy, to visit the NORML website and the NORML blog. You can check out both of those by simply going to www.NORML.org, and I would also encourage folks who want to learn more about this issue to obtain a copy of my other book, Marijuana Is Safer So Why Are We Driving People To Drink, co-authored with Steve Fox and Mason Tvert.

DEAN BECKER: It's time to play Name That Drug By Its Side Effects! Decreased sex drive, excessive milk whether nursing or not, loss of menses, hallucination, aggression, depression, hepatic impairment, renal impairment, chronic obstructed pulmonary disease, sleep apnea, rebound insomnia, withdrawal, new feelings of depression. Time’s up! From Takeda Pharmaceuticals – they say it doesn’t have the side effects of Lunesta – the answer, Rozerem for a good night’s sleep.

Right, it's day two of the Drug Policy Alliance here in our nation's capitol. I'm privileged to be sitting with one of my many bosses, the director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, Mister Neill Franklin. Hello, sir.

NEILL FRANKLIN: I'm great, Dean, thanks for interviewing me today.

DEAN BECKER: Oh, hey, Neill, first off, let's tell the folks a little bit about your law enforcement experience so they'll understand why your opinions matter.

NEILL FRANKLIN: Well, before I became the executive director of LEAP, I had 34 years of law enforcement in the state of Maryland, beginning with the Maryland State Police, 23 years there, worked undercover, commanded drug task forces around the state, had 9 at one time. Locked up a lot of people, Dean, and was responsible for commanding guys and gals who locked up hundreds, right? If not thousands. Then I went on to Baltimore Police Department, I was the head of training for them for four years, and then on to another Maryland agency for six years, and in 2000, during the middle of that career, had a close friend of mine, Ed Toatley, who was killed in Washington, DC, working undercover with the FBI.

He was making a buy of cocaine and the buy went south, and the guy wanted to keep the drugs and the money and he figured in order to do that he'd need to kill my friend Ed Toatley. And that's what he did is, he shot him in the head during the transaction. That, unfortunately, that tragedy caused me to pause long enough to see that this war on drugs was actually counterproductive to the one thing that I wanted to make better, and that was public safety. It set the foundation for violent crimes, supporting cartels, neighborhood gangs and crews, and you know what? They use that money to buy guns to fight each other on street corners, and this year, for the first year in over a decade, my city, my hometown Baltimore city, will exceed 300 murders, unfortunately, and this city only has 600,000 people in it.

DEAN BECKER: Holy crap. Another of our speakers, James Gierach, in Chicago, talks about the horrible violence in his city as well. It's worse than when it was under Al Capone. We have to rethink what we're up to, don't we, Neill?

NEILL FRANKLIN: Oh, big time. Not just rethink it, we have to act upon it. Science based, look at the data. Look, I think every cop out there who has spent time on the streets, clearly understands that this is a war within our communities, it's not a war against drugs, it's a war against people. It's drug dealers fighting each other, it's cops fighting drug dealers, and before you know it -- when you call something a war, you know what, everyone automatically becomes a warrior.

DEAN BECKER: They have to, to survive.

NEILL FRANKLIN: Absolutely. And, so, you know, I think that we have to be very careful what we give our police to do. All right? So we've led this so-called war on drugs, this battle against addiction. We've led with criminal justice solutions when it's actually a public health crisis. Let's get the, put the cops in the caboose, and let's put our doctors and our nurses and our clinicians and counselors up front, driving this train. And I think before you know it, a couple of things will happen. Number one, the overdose deaths that continue to increase in this country under these failed policies of prohibition would drastically decrease. And along with that, I also think that you'll start to see simultaneously the number of murders in this country start to decrease. And then, when we finally get to the place of really ending prohibition, legalizing, regulation, and control for these drugs, murders, oh my god, will take a drastic decline.

DEAN BECKER: So many related to drug war battles, skirmishes.

NEILL FRANKLIN: Absolutely. And then, think about this, man. Then our police can spend time on those things that are really important within community: rapes, murders, domestic violence, crimes against our children, and so on, and once again become the guardians. Now, maybe I really shouldn't say once again, because I don't know if we were really there, but we would have an opportunity to do something that's never before been completely done in law enforcement, and that is to make us guardians of the community and not warriors within the community, and what this, what I'm saying here is, for everyone who's listening right now, what I want them to do is go to their computer or their smart phone and to google Peelian Principles. Peelian Principles. Those nine principles, if we in law enforcement follow this basic model of modern day policing, you know what? It immediately gets us out of this war on drugs, and it makes us champions within our communities and it makes us responsible to our communities.

DEAN BECKER: All right. We've been speaking with Mr. Neill Franklin of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. Before we go, Neill, I want to talk about our organization, the growth of our organization, and our desire to educate the populace further. Tell us what, what we're up to, how many members and supporters these days?

NEILL FRANKLIN: Oh, wow. Well, we're well over 160,000 supporters and of course, of those supporters, thousands of them are law enforcement professionals, and of that group, we have many who speak for the organization. They come to you to educate you within your communities, and what I mean by that is your Rotarian organizations, Kiwanis Clubs, your colleges, your universities, your churches. It doesn't matter if you bring people together, we'll come and speak to them about being on the front lines of the war on drugs, why it doesn't work, and we'll give you some ideas and a vision for the future of what this could look like if we abandon these failed policies of drug prohibition. That's what we do, we do it well, and you know, in the famous words of Peter Christ, who is one of the co-founders of our organization, he says, you know what, you may not initially, and remember I say initially, agree with us. You may not initially agree with us, but you cannot tell us we do not know what we're talking about.

DEAN BECKER: Damn straight. Mr. Neill Franklin, our group, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, on the web, LEAP.cc. Please, check it out.

Every two years, the Drug Policy Alliance recognizes excellence in work to end this drug war, and to expose the harms of this drug war. This year's recipient of the Robert C. Randall Award for Achievement in the Field of Citizen Action, in the field of drug policy reform, will be awarded to Gretchen Burns Bergman. She's with us right now. Hello, Gretchen.

GRETCHEN BURNS BERGMAN: Hi. Yes, it's quite an honor, I'm very, very pleased and proud to be amongst these other recipients, and the people that I know at Drug Policy Alliance do such wonderful work, that I'm very, very proud of this honor.

DEAN BECKER: Well, Gretchen, you deserve it. You've certainly committed your life to this work, from my understanding, and you've recruited others to work with you to expand your efforts, correct?

GRETCHEN BURNS BERGMAN: Right. I actually started this work sixteen and a half years ago, in California. My son was incarcerated for a nonviolent drug offense, and I met other mothers who were going through the same kind of thing and just started speaking out, and grabbing other people to speak out with me. Started A New Path in 1999. That's Parents for Addiction Treatment and Healing. And then, in 2009, in our efforts to really expand and have a louder voice, we started Moms United to End the War on Drugs. It's a campaign that was started out to be in California and then moved really quickly to a national level, because we realized the power that could come from a lot of moms, that moral prerogative of moms, speaking out together to end the war on drugs for the sake of our children and our children's children.

And we brought up the fact of the stigmatization and the criminalization of people that are, because of the war on drugs, and we say, ask mom about the casualties of the drug war. We say, ask mom how to save a life with naloxone, we have several campaigns in and around that. But we've grown, Dean, we're really, we've got 26 states represented and now we have, we're really international because we have Canada and Mexico represented, and a formal partnership with Transform UK, and so, I think that we're, well, we're definitely a parent-driven advocacy, and it's nice to see that people are listening, I mean, we're hearing legislators now, speaking the language that we've been, you know, speaking for so many years, so I think that we have been driving some policy and I'm just very pleased to have been a part of this movement. Now, we still have a long way to go, of course.

DEAN BECKER: Well, and you know, Gretchen, it's through the good works of you and many others that are represented here at the Drug Policy convention, who have incrementally, slowly educated these politicians, and forced their hand. Am I right?

GRETCHEN BURNS BERGMAN: Absolutely. And now we see more groups like, we have a Moms and Cops with LEAP, as you know, and A New Path, Moms United, I think, looking at who your partners can be in moving policy and really working together in a more unified way. I've been very lucky, I think, to be able to have mobilized so many people and brought them in, because there's so much shame and stigma that people have been afraid to speak out, so I've been able to encourage people to speak out and join us, and I think that it's been helpful to ease their pain, certainly for mothers who've lost their children to accidental overdose, or people are so angry that they've lost a loved one to incarceration. Speaking out has given them purpose, and in some ways, peace.

DEAN BECKER: Gretchen, we've known each other for years now, we've watched the progress that each of our organizations have made, and it's gratifying to know that, I don't know that we've won, or that we're exactly winning, but we're sure as hell not losing, are we?

GRETCHEN BURNS BERGMAN: No. I think we're at the tipping point. A lot of people have said that at this conference, and a lot of our colleagues, and I feel that, too. But we can't get cocky about it. We know that, you know, two steps forward, one step back, it's kind of that, there's backlash to efforts, so the important thing in my opinion is to stay unified, stay strong, keep moving the ball forward. Sometimes it feels like a boulder up the hill, but now it's kind of like, feeling like we're just moving the ball forward.

DEAN BECKER: Oh, I -- yeah, the perils of getting too cocky. I remember, it was, I don't know, 15 years ago, the Houston Oilers were up 35 to 3 at half time against the Buffalo Bills, and they were partying on the sideline. They lost that game. We can't get too cocky. Your website, please, Gretchen.

GRETCHEN BURNS BERGMAN: WWW.MomsUnited.net.

BILL PIPER: Bill Piper at the Drug Policy Alliance.

DEAN BECKER: Bill, you're based here in DC, correct?

BILL PIPER: That's correct.

DEAN BECKER: And, I want to reach back to July of last year, to just talk about something. We presented my book, To End The Drug War, to every state governor, to every Senator, every Representative, the President, his cabinet, and all nine Supreme Court justices last year. To absolutely no avail. Nobody responded other than Justice Sotamayor, and yet I think many of them are being influenced by this truth about the drug war, that's chasing at their heels. Am I correct?

BILL PIPER: I mean, I think there's definitely a bipartisan consensus that the war on drugs has failed. People are beginning to talk about it, I think that people are still somewhat afraid to really, to, you know, come out for legalization. But people are definitely talking about moving beyond incarceration.

DEAN BECKER: Well, we've certainly gone well beyond the pale with our incarceration efforts, have we not?

BILL PIPER: Oh yeah, definitely. I mean, I think everyone recognizes that we need to end mass incarceration. Everyone agrees on that. The problem is, is that when we start talking about the details, that's when people get scared.

DEAN BECKER: No, we're here at the Drug Policy Alliance conference. I'm here, and over 1,500 people now. What's your take away from this event?

BILL PIPER: Well, this is our biggest conference. I mean, more than 1,500 people. When I started at DPA 15 years ago, we only had 800 people, so we've doubled it. And there's a lot of energy, because every issue is moving forward, whether it's marijuana legalization, harm reduction, sentencing reform, asset forfeiture reform, you name it. Everything people have been working on for decades is now starting to move either at the federal level or at the state level. And we obviously have a long ways to go, but I'm optimistic and I think everyone here is very optimistic.

DEAN BECKER: You know, it occurs to me that each one of these component parts, these forces fighting against the inequities of the drug war and of the criminal justice system itself, need to combine thoughts, because to display the parameters, the wide reaching, the wide reach of the drug war, and how it effects so many areas of life on this planet, just seems you could make more progress by stepping beyond one section of the objection to this drug war. Terrible question, hopefully you understand what I'm saying.

BILL PIPER: Yeah, I mean, you know, yesterday, or Tuesday we had a lobby day, in which we brought 200 people to the Hill to lobby Congressional offices. What was interesting is that we tied a bunch of different issues together, like, for instance, my delegation, which met with two members of Congress from Michigan, plus some of their staffers, we had a mother who lost her son to an overdose, we had someone who served two decades in prison, and then we had two people working on marijuana law reform, and it really blew people's minds to see those issues connected, and so I think presenting this, elected officials are so used to doing it as one issue at a time, and connecting the dots and showing them, no, this all connects back to the failed war on drugs and to prohibition, and it's all one issue, is something that they rarely hear. And it was great, you know, for the lobby day, but also the book that you dropped off and the forum that we did, etc. We need more of that.

DEAN BECKER: Once again, we've been speaking with Mr. Bill Piper, senior director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. Closing thoughts, Bill?

BILL PIPER: I'm very optimistic about the future. I think the war on drugs is coming to an end. I think people are going to be surprised at how quickly this all unravels.

DEAN BECKER: I want to thank you for being with us on this edition of Cultural Baggage, and urge you to join us next week, when we'll have a great discussion between Mr. Chris Mizanskey, a man who served 22 years for little bits of weed, talking with Mr. Peter Christ, one of the founding members of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. It's quite a discussion. I hope you'll join us. And as always, I remind you, because of prohibition, you don't know what's in that bag. Please be careful.

To the Drug Truth 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.