09/09/16 Roseanne Scotti

Roseanne Scotti, Dep Dir of DPA in NJ re bail situ in US, Kim Ogg running for DA of Houston, Sanho Tree of IPS re violence in drug war & Debbie Goldsberry Dir of Magnolia Wellnes Center in Oakland + Barbara Blaser, Debby's Mom

Program: 
Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Date: 
Friday, September 9, 2016
Guest: 
Roseanne Scotti
Organization: 
Drug Policy Alliance
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CULTURAL BAGGAGE

SEPTEMBER 9, 2016

TRANSCRIPT

DEAN BECKER: Welcome to this edition of Cultural Baggage. I'm Dean Becker, your host. We've got a great show lined up for you. We have interviews with Debby Goldsberry of the Magnolia Wellness Collective in Oakland; Roseanne Scotti of the Drug Policy Alliance, regarding bail reform; Sanho Tree of the Institute for Policy Studies on drug war violence; and Kim Ogg, who's running for district attorney of Harris County. But let's get started.

ROSEANNE SCOTTI: My name is Roseanne Scotti and I am the New Jersey State Director for the Drug Policy Alliance.

DEAN BECKER: I'm looking at an email that piques my curiosity as to how it might take effect around the country, but in New Jersey, they have come up with a new means, or new controls, over bail money. Am I right?

ROSEANNE SCOTTI: Yes. What we did in New Jersey is to basically deprioritize money bail. Our position, and the position of growing numbers of advocates across the country, is that somebody should not sit in jail simply because they're poor, or even middle class, because you know they can't come up with a few hundred or a few thousand dollars for bail. That simply isn't fair. And so we created a system that would rectify that in New Jersey, and, you know, it's an idea that is really emerging around the country.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, and as I indicated, there is a Department of Justice ruling in this regard, and I've talked to folks in Texas, and nobody seems quite certain how it might impact here or other states. What is your thought in that regard, Roseanne?

ROSEANNE SCOTTI: Well, I think it's great that the Department of Justice is increasingly taking a very public and very powerful stand against money bail. This is actually the third time the Department of Justice has weighed in on lawsuits in various states that have been filed, you know, basically challenging money bail and challenging the practice of keeping someone incarcerated just because they don't have the resources to pay money bail. So I think it sets a real, you know, precedent nationally, it sends a message to all the states, you know, that, you know, money bail isn't fair, it isn't just, and it has to go.

DEAN BECKER: Well, yeah, and you know, like, I live in Houston, Texas, and our local media has been up in arms a bit about our bail system here, already. And what's never really taken into consideration or recognized is that here in Houston, it is the bail bondsmen, contributing to political elections, that I think helps to keep this rolling as it is. Your thought in that regard, Roseanne Scotti.

ROSEANNE SCOTTI: Well, the bail bond industry is a multi-billion dollar industry, it's a very powerful industry, and you know, they have exerted their influence in any number of states to try and keep this -- the current system in place, because really the current system doesn't benefit anyone but them.

DEAN BECKER: Right. And, you know, as an example of how disparate it can be, even in one state, in Houston, I think it's about 95 percent of those arrested are required to post bail, five percent get personal recognizance. In Austin, it's about 95 percent get personal recognizance, and five percent get bail. It's, ah, it's a real quandary, is it not?

ROSEANNE SCOTTI: Yeah, I mean, as I say, it's a really unfair system, it's an unjust system, you know, people are just treated very differently when, you know, everyone deserves the same treatment, everyone deserves equal protection under the law. And that's not just what's -- that's not happening, you know, consistently in different states, different counties in states. But the great thing is, as you mentioned, that, you know, this is getting a lot of attention, it's getting more attention from the media, because I think everyone understands the basic concept, that someone shouldn't be held in jail pending trial just because they don't have the money to pay nominal amounts of bail.

And you know, here in New Jersey, we released a report that found that 75 percent of the people who were in our jails weren't serving a sentence, they were there pending trial. They had not had their day in court yet. And the average length of time that someone spends in New Jersey is ten months, and that's an average, some people are there for years. So basically, it's a 10 month jail sentence for being poor.

DEAN BECKER: Right. And then, we've also had the local media talking about the fact that because of this requirement for monetary bail, so many people are pleading guilty just to get out of jail and, you know, take the consequences, and then on top of that, they're finding out many of these people that pleaded guilty, once the evidence is tested at the crime lab, they weren't guilty at all. They pleaded just to get out of jail because they couldn't afford bail. It's preposterous.

ROSEANNE SCOTTI: It's, yes, it's outrageous, and this is one of the many, many consequences of having money bail. When someone is being held in jail, we know they are much, much more likely to plead guilty to a crime, whether or not they committed that crime or not. We know that when people are held in jail they often lose their jobs, their housing, connections to family, because they are taken out of the community in that way. We know that people who are held in jail prior to a court date, as opposed to people who are free prior to a court date, actually get more severe sentences and have higher rates of recidivism, because what you're doing is, you've weakened the person in terms of their negotiating possibility, and since most cases plead anyway, that's what it is, it's a negotiation, there's not even a jury involved. And, you know, you're destabilizing their lives, you are robbing them of their jobs, their homes, and all the stability they had.

DEAN BECKER: Okeh, once again, we've been speaking with Roseanne Scotti, she's deputy director for the Drug Policy Alliance in the state of New Jersey. Roseanne, the drug war is coming apart at the seams, all of these components are losing their significance, they're being demonized almost on a daily basis around the country. It's time for folks who recognize this failure to step up and do their part, is it not?

ROSEANNE SCOTTI: Well, absolutely, and I think, you know, bail reform, pre-trial justice reform, is, you know, one of the motivating factors that's opening a lot of people's eyes, you know, different people, you know, come to the conclusion that the war on drugs is a failure, from, you know, they all come from different places, and you know this is just another way where we can highlight the, you know, what a failure that has -- this has been, and what a, you know, corruption of our criminal justice system it has been, because obviously a large percentage of the people who are being arrested are being arrested for drug offenses.

DEAN BECKER: Right. It's time to recognize, they say it's about 50 million US citizens have been arrested for drugs, and you look at the total population of adults, that's about one out of every 5 or 6 of us. It should get some recognition folks. Once again, speaking with Roseanne Scotti of the Drug Policy Alliance. Their website, drugpolicy.org.

Alto a la guerra contra los drogas.

It's that political season of the year, and I made contact with Houston's district attorney, Devon Anderson, invited her on my show. That's still TBD. But I'm proud to have today our guest, her opponent in this forthcoming election for district attorney, Kim Ogg. Hello, Kim.

KIM OGG: Hey, Dean, how are you?

DEAN BECKER: I'm well. Kim, you know, I've been doing this 15 years. And, to me, it's just becoming aggravating, that the truth doesn't come forward, that the truth about this situation is not respected. But you have recognized many of the truths about this drug war, its failure, its futility. Have you not?

KIM OGG: I think it's obvious to anyone, professional or otherwise, lawyer or not, that the drug war is a total failure, that the expense in human lives, in lost opportunities, in race relations, has set our country back, not moved it forward. And locally, I want to change that.

DEAN BECKER: The DEA has decided not to reschedule marijuana, in their ruling they handed down, but they did refute the idea that use of marijuana leads to use of other drugs. They said that's just -- has no credence. There are signs of progress, right, Kim?

KIM OGG: Yes, it's good news, bad news, it's one step forward and a half step back. I was personally and professionally disappointed that they did not reclassify marijuana, that it retains this incredibly dangerous position. It's time for change, and I'm sorry that the federal government's not getting there, but we're going to do what we can here locally to change that. For example, if I become the Harris County District Attorney, as I've told people during this campaign and in 2014, we're not going to arrest for misdemeanor marijuana. It's simply not worth it, doesn't make any of us safer, and it wastes millions of dollars and thousands of lives.

So, while we look to our lawmakers to change laws, our district attorneys still have the authority and the power to decide which crimes will and won't be prosecuted. And in the instance of misdemeanor possession of marijuana, it's just not worth it to prosecute.

DEAN BECKER: I had a guest on my show who just returned from Rio, and she was talking about her tour of the favelas, where they have actually wiped out neighborhoods of drug sellers et cetera to clean up Rio for these Olympics. And, I guess what I'm saying here is, what they have done is just an extrapolation of what we have done in many of the neighborhoods here in the United States, particularly in black communities here. Am I right?

KIM OGG: You are. I think that there's no question that the way enforcement has occurred, has been racially discriminatory, especially when it comes to possession of marijuana, but also possession of crack cocaine. You know, we saw the feds revise their laws and their sentencing terms after it was discovered, unfortunately after many years and wasted lives, that powder cocaine users were being given less time under the federal system than crack cocaine users. Same drug, no difference, except that crack was more prolific in African American and communities of color, and powder cocaine was more prolific in Caucasian and upwardly mobile communities. And yet, you had this huge disparity in the sentencing laws, and a disparity in who was being sentenced. And so, why keep trying the same thing and excepting a different result?

DEAN BECKER: Kim Ogg is running for district attorney of Harris County on the Democratic ticket. Her website, KimOgg.com. Her office tells me that she should be able to schedule more time with us here on the Drug Truth Network in the coming weeks. Here's hoping that the Republican incumbent, Devon Anderson, will be with us next week.

It's time to play Name That Drug By Its Side Effects! Reye's Syndrome, destructive effects on the heart and blood flow in newborn infants, severe constipation, diabetes, dysentery, hemophilia, kidney disease, gout, upset stomach, and ulcers. Time's up! The answer, from the manufacter: Pepto-Bismol! Nausea, heartburn, indigestion, upset stomach, diarrhea, yo! Pepto-Bismol! Pink does more than you think! Word.

SANHO TREE: I am Sanho Tree, a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, Dc, and I've been studying drug policy for the past, almost two decades now.

DEAN BECKER: Sanho, you know, they're, the wave is breaking, or the wall is crashing, or something. The drug war is beginning to be suspect on many fronts. And one of the areas where people are starting tor recognize the horror that this drug war inflicts is in the Philippines. Rio de Janiero. Chicago. The violence is becoming recognized for what it is, a component of this policy of prohibition. Am I right?

SANHO TREE: Well, yes and no. So, I think we're moving in two different worlds now, as we saw at the recent UNGASS meeting in New York, where you have North America, South America, western Europe, and other countries are moving towards a more reform oriented direction, and realizing the futility of the old policies. At the same time, you've got Russia, China, Indonesia, the Philippines especially, and a lot of the Middle Eastern countries, are moving in a very, you know, backwards, reactionary direction.

So in the Philippines, and Indonesia, they really want to ramp up their drug war in a bloodthirsty way, I mean, it's absolutely frightening what's going on there.

DEAN BECKER: Well, and I would agree with that. I guess I'm saying, in the quote "civilized" world, it's being, the idea of ending the drug war is being investigated more thoroughly. And I guess what I'm wanting to get to here, Sanho, is that, you know, it is the embrace, the recognition that prohibition has merit, that I think giving the Philippines, Indonesia, and these other countries the approval to do what they're doing. And in the US, we need to recognize, it is our embrace of this that's giving them this weight, this ability to do what they're doing. Your response to that, please.

SANHO TREE: Well, I think the United States has evolved quite a bit, thanks to the work of a lot of, you know, committed activists and NGOs and that sort of thing. And at the cultural front, and political front, we've reformed a lot of things now, but that's because we've had a long, a prolonged effort at doing this. Now, in places like Central America, Mexico, there's still a lot of support for the drug war, because they haven't had the same kind of saturation of news stories and media coverage, such as your radio show, amongst others, where people talk about, you know, why prohibition has failed, and dissected why the prohibition economics is doomed to fail. Right?

But, we're talking about a lot of people who are very -- not very wealthy, they're working, you know, long, long hours, and they don't have time at the end of the day, the luxury of sitting down with a copy of The Economist, or listening to podcasts about, you know, drug policy theory and the problems of prohibition. They see a lot of violence and bloodshed and drugs, and they want it to stop. And so that's a very normal reaction, that was a common reaction in the United States, it's the dominant reaction both here, in western Europe, all these places that are undergoing all these reforms now, they were like that, you know, just a generation ago, that was the normal position.

And so that's the number one problem of drug control, is that the solutions are very often counterintuitive, so that the kneejerk reaction, if you think with your gut, you're going to want to get a bigger stick and lock up more people, throw more police at the problem, because that's how you solve other types of problems. And people don't realize that prohibition is like a catch-22, the more you fight it, the more valuable the drugs become, and therefore you get all these other knock-on effects.

And so we talk about these other parts of the world, it's -- I wouldn't say that they were uncivilized or backwards or in any way different from the west. It's such that they're at a different stage, they have not had those, you know, two decades, at least that's as long as I've been involved in this, of reform minded messages, and news reporting, and that sort of thing.

So they're only starting to learn that there are other options available besides, you know, lashing out in a tantrum, in a very Trumpian tantrum, if you will, you know, and we have to, you know, we're not immune from this, by any means. It in many ways explains a lot of the popularity of Donald Trump. Right? That people want simple minded, kneejerk solutions to things, and thanks to your broadcast and others, people are learning that, you know, the obvious solution is not always the right solution, that being tough is not the same as being effective, that it can be very counterproductive, in fact, because of unintended consequences. That's the message I think we need to get out.

DEAN BECKER: Well --

SANHO TREE: But, when people see the violence in Mexico, for instance, their number one reaction is, well, wow, the country's on fire. Do you want to throw water on the fire? Water being a metaphor for police and military security assistance. And that's common sense, you throw water onto a fire, unless you think about your own kitchen, if you've ever had a grease fire or an electrical fire the last thing you want to do is throw water onto that fire because it will explode. That's the nature of prohibition. And it's hard to explain to people when they're panicking, and their kitchen stove just caught on fire, don't throw water onto it. It takes a lot of cool-headed thinking to realize, okeh, grease fire, put the lid on the pot, don't try to throw water onto it.

DEAN BECKER: Very good summary there, I think, for our situation. I thank you, my friend. Once again we've been speaking with Mister Sanho Tree with the Institute for Policy Studies. Sanho, please, point them to your website.

SANHO TREE: Yeah, it's IPS-DC.org. @SanhoTree is my Twitter handle.

DEBBY GOLDSBERRY: My name's Debby Goldsberry, I'm the Executive Director of Magnolia Wellness, a medical marijuana collective licensed here in Oakland, California.

DEAN BECKER: You have made this, at least for the last couple of decades, your life's work, to educate and distribute cannabis to those in need. Am I right?
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DEBBY GOLDSBERRY: Yeah, well, the thing is that cannabis is a medicine. The stigma against its use has been so severe that people have been afraid to even try it. Now that the science comes up and shows that things like taking one puff of marijuana a day can prevent Alzheimer's, more and more people are interested in trying it. And because cannabis users have been in the closet for most of the last hundred years, it's important that we create places like dispensaries, where people can come and get info about cannabis, how to use it best, and we can actually model good behavior so people can see what it means to be a cannabis user. This isn't running in the streets acting crazy, this is a dignified medicine that people use at home in a safe manner.

DEAN BECKER: I went to the Magnolia Wellness Collective website. Gosh, I'm sure there are dozens of flowers available, all kinds of edibles and other things. In total, gosh, it looks like you guys have about a hundred different products that you sell at your collective, right?

DEBBY GOLDSBERRY: That is true, because the thing is is that, you know, cannabis, effective cannabis varies on what type of cannabis you use, are you using an indica or sativa, so what strain are you using? On the potency of the cannabis, are you using something with five milligrams of THC, or 60 milligrams of THC, and then on the method, do you ingest it, so are you eating, are you smoking it, using a tincture, or vaporizing? So, there is a spectrum of medicines that people need. It's important that we have flowers, extracted really potent cannabis, edibles, and tinctures, all at the same time.

And then we have to expand sativa, indica, and we have at least five different potency breaks that we like to provide people, from low to high dose.

DEAN BECKER: And I think that's important, especially for the beginner. I heard tales coming out of Colorado, when they first legalized.

DEBBY GOLDSBERRY: That's right. In fact, we make sure that anybody who's a new user, or even an experienced user who's trying a new medicine, is paired up with a patient consultant here who's actually a peer counselor, somebody that's going to share their experience about what they had using the medicine with somebody who hasn't tried it before, so that the new person can get as much info as they can about dosage, how much to take, and what to expect from the effect. And also then to have the feedback loop, right? You didn't like it, come in and tell us about it. If you had a serious adverse effect, we absolutely need to know so we can inform the supplier, or manage a recall.

Look, we're kind of happy that Colorado went first, because we learned a lot from Colorado, and we make sure that on our shelves there's extremely low dose medicine instead of only sort of, you know, high dose medicine. If people eat a higher dose of cannabis ingestible, like a cookie or a brownie, than their dosage, their size or their medical need, they can actually have the opposite of a good experience, they can have a very negative experience. Just like with any drug, you don't want to take twice the amount of Valium you need for your treatment, you'll be floored. Take three times the amount, you'll be in the hospital.

With medical cannabis, luckily, there's no real serious adverse effect, but you can still have a very unpleasant experience from using two or three times the dosage you need. This is the difference between when you see people sort of ODing, where you see this nationwide problem with people ODing, even dying, of opiates. Cannabis has no affect whatsoever like that. Nobody's ever going to die on cannabis, because it's not toxic and it doesn't create a serious adverse effect. It just creates an unpleasantness that might last two to three hours, that can be avoided by coming to a dispensary that's licensed, talking to a peer counselor, and getting real good information about how to dose your own medicine properly.

DEAN BECKER: Folks, once again, we're speaking with Debby Goldsberry. She's the executive director at Magnolia Wellness Collective. They're in Oakland, California. In Colorado, the use of opiates and other detrimental medicines has gone down, the use of cannabis has gone up. And secondarily, that more and more seniors, more and more elderly, like me, have begun using cannabis for the same reasons you were just talking about, it's non-toxic, and it does help. Correct?

DEBBY GOLDSBERRY: That's right. Here, as you probably noticed on our website, we have an RN on staff here, who's here for days a week, to talk to members about medical cannabis, and also she's a peer counselor, 70 years old, she started using medical marijuana, and basically can hardly believe that it actually accomplishes all the stuff that we've been claiming all this time that it does. So, by using a topical, you can reduce the pain with your osteoarthritis. By ingesting a small amount of edible at night, you can sleep through the night, whereas maybe you're waking up fifteen times a night before. So, I think it's important that people get the information from their peers, and, you know, seniors want to talk to other seniors about their experiences, and it's really key that we can get people to these collectives where older people can gather and exchange this information.

DEAN BECKER: Now, I'm sure if the genetics you come from, your mother doesn't look like a senior, but she --

DEBBY GOLDSBERRY: That's very nice.

DEAN BECKER: But she recently became a cannabis user, and she now works with you at the collective.

DEBBY GOLDSBERRY: That's right, because she retired, her last job was running a 300-bed hospice, and so when I took over as executive director here at Magnolia, I asked her to come and to help coordinate where the rubber meets the road, to be the person that interacts between our peer counselors and our patients, that are going to help them with their healing. It's not just cannabis alone, you know, we build a community, that Barbara leads, and we have classes and courses, peer counseling groups, a monthly tea party. Whatever we can think of that's going to create more community, help people that are seriously ill get out of their house and feel better. That's what we're trying to do.

DEAN BECKER: Well, I tell you what, is your mother Barbara there? I'd like to talk to her a moment, please.

DEBBY GOLDSBERRY: Yeah! I'm giving her the phone right now.

DEAN BECKER: Thank you.

BARBARA BLASER: Hi, this is Barbara. How can I help you?

DEAN BECKER: Hi, Barbara, it's good to talk with you. First off, I'm sure you're quite proud of your daughter Debby and the work she's doing.

BARBARA BLASER: Absolutely.

DEAN BECKER: And you're working with her, in the Magnolia Collective, to educate some of the seniors coming in?

BARBARA BLASER: Absolutely. And not just the seniors. I work with any new patient, number one, my goal is to meet every single solitary new patient. If I get a call, and it's a patient who's not just new to Magnolia but new to the entire process, I try and meet them out front, because coming through that first door can be kind of frightening. So I want to be the person that leads them in, introduces them to our products, and introduces them to our staff.

DEAN BECKER: Well, and Barbara, I think this is indicative of the fact that the stigma, the reefer madness, is fading away for many, is it not?

BARBARA BLASER: It is for many, but not for all. I, if I could, I'll share a personal story.

DEAN BECKER: Go ahead, please.

BARBARA BLASER: Because, I don't know if Debby told you, I used to be at the University of Chicago, in the Department of Psychiatry. And we did a lot of work on stigma for patients who were living with mental illnesses. And so I try and be astute, and connected to the phrase stigma. But on this particular day, someone had raised a question with me, how many patients did I think were abusing the system, and didn't need medical marijuana, were just, you know, scamming the system. And so, I tell people all the time, not my business, the doctor makes the decision, as a nurse I don't prescribe, I don't dispense.

But on this particular day, and I should have started this off with, in a way that really sometimes makes me upset, but a very nice looking young man, well dressed, nice looking, well dressed, singularly put together. And I thought, oh, yeah, right. So I went over and introduced myself, and I said, you look pretty upbeat today. And he said, well, it's my birthday. I said, oh my god, that's so exciting, it's your birthday, what are you going to do? And this is what he said to me, he said, I'm going to pick up my baby's casket, my son died yesterday, and I have to pick out a casket. Well, what the young man told me was that he had been a patient for depression, and that he had run out of meds, and that there was no way that he could pick out a casket for his baby without first getting his medication.

I think that was very significant for me, as a new nurse in the medical marijuana system. You can't look at a person and understand what their lives are like, and what a difference medical marijuana can make. So when I think about stigma, I want everybody to think about the number of times that they have said, oh you don't look sick, and had no idea what the patient was going through. So that's what stigma for me really is, it's the grandmother who after 50 years of telling their children and grandchildren just say no, now is so debilitated by opioids that the only thing that's going to make a difference is to come off of them and go on medical marijuana. So we have to work on that stigma issue.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, indeed, we do. Again, that was Barbara Blaser, the mother of Debby Goldsberry, the executive director at Magnolia cannabis collective in Oakland, California. I want to thank both of you ladies for sharing this truth. It may make others decision a little easier, to hear these thoughts from you two, and I thank you very much.

BARBARA BLASER: All right, thank you for the opportunity to share.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, ma'am. All right, tell Debby thank you, and I hope to see you all soon.

BARBARA BLASER: All right. Thanks a lot. Bye bye.

DEAN BECKER: All right, bye bye, Barbara.

Well, folks, that's all we can squeeze in. Hope you'll join us next week. I want to remind you once again that because of prohibition you don't know what's in that bag. Please be careful.