01/01/17 Mason Tvert

This week: Mason Tvert with MPP on adult social use marijuana legalization, Yuri Fedotov with UNODC on Afghanistan opium, plus new research from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, and a few words from travel guru and NORML board member Rick Steves.

Century of Lies
Sunday, January 1, 2017
Mason Tvert
Download: Audio icon col010117.mp3



JANUARY 1, 2017


DEAN BECKER: The failure of drug war is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors, and millions more now calling for for decriminalization, legalization, the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century Of Lies.

DOUG MCVAY: Hello, and welcome to Century Of Lies. Century Of Lies is a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

All right, let's do this. We're going to be talking about Afghanistan, we're going to be talking about marijuana first. Mary Lynn Mathre is the president and co-founder of Patients Out of Time. She appeared recently on our sister program, Cultural Baggage. Here she is.

MARY LYNN MATHRE: Given the fact that there's more than 22 suicides a day by veterans, and 78 deaths a day by opioid addiction -- opioid overdoses, you know, state by state, we now have, what 28 states with medical cannabis laws. A bunch more with CBD-only, and we've got 8 legal states. This is a step by step, and it's just it's going so slow that Patients Out of Time launched, on the White House website, a petition to de-schedule cannabis. We're asking President Obama to use his executive power to have the Attorney General take it out of Schedule One.

Schedule One is the forbidden category, where it's been, with heroin and other drugs, and to be there, it has to meet three criteria: not safe for medical use, highly addictive, and no medical value. And I think the nation knows that it doesn't meet any of the criteria. It's an herb, it's an herbal medicine, it's been around forever and ever, and it's only since the United States started the prohibition back in 1937, with the Marihuana Tax Act, based on nothing except, you know, greed and myth, and racism, but we're stuck with it today, and it's just state by state passing laws, and every day we get calls from patients: I need cannabis, where can I get it? People having to move to get it. If they finally get their medicine, they have to, you know, they can't travel. How do you bring their daughter with some medicine across the state into another state that doesn't have a law?

So the answer is to recognize it as an herb, as it has been throughout history, and change it. So, this is a call out for folks to visit our website, PatientsOutOfTime.org, and then right on the front page, opening page, we'll have a link to the White House petition. And it's as simple as just clicking on the link, signing the petition, they'll send you an email back just to validate that that was you, and you're okeh. We need to get 100,000 signers for President Obama and his administration to take a look at it before they'll even answer us. So, we've got work to do, but I'm certainly glad that you're here to help get this word out.

DOUG MCVAY: That again was Mary Lynn Mathre, president and co-founder of Patients Out of Time. That audio comes from Cultural Baggage. Thanks, Dean. The petition to the White House -- and you know, it's to the White House, yes it's addressed to the incumbent, because that's how you're supposed to do these things. But it's also a message to the next guy who's going to be sitting in that seat after 12 o'clock eastern time on January 20th. This is about making a stand, speaking up, making your voice heard. So, hopefully folks will go to PatientsOutOfTime.org and follow the link, or just go directly to the White House website, whitehouse.gov, and look for the petitions. It is there on the list. In the interest of full disclosure, I need to mention that I do social media work and web development work for Patients Out of Time.

Now let's keep on talking about medical marijuana. There was a new report in the Journal of the American Medical Association - Pediatrics. I spoke with Mason Tvert about it recently. Here's that conversation.

MASON TVERT: My name is Mason Tvert. I'm the director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project.

DOUG MCVAY: Mason, today, the Journal of the American Medical Association - Pediatrics published a report on the effect of state adult use legalization on marijuana use by eighth, tenth, and twelfth graders. They were looking at Monitoring the Future survey data. They found that there was a decrease in the perception of harm from marijuana use in the states of Colorado and Washington. They found that eighth and tenth graders in Washington were reporting higher rates of use, past month use, but twelfth graders in both states, and eighth and tenth graders in Colorado, reported no change. I was wondering what you think about the results.

MASON TVERT: Well, I think that I would agree with the researchers that a cautious interpretation is needed here, and that's what they say, that you should not read too far into this because it really is not very conclusive, you know. We've always heard this notion that a decreased perception of risk is going to correlate with an increase in use, yet nationwide we've seen a significant decrease in the perception of great risk surrounding marijuana over the last several years, and we have not seen a corresponding increase in overall use.

As you mentioned, we've seen, according to this one survey, a slight increase in use among certain grades in Washington, whereas we have not seen any sort of increase in states like Colorado. We've also seen other surveys that show there's not been an increase in states like Oregon, as well, so it really, what I think is, that we don't have a fully clear picture of whether there's a significant impact on rates of use, but we really just -- it's too soon to tell. But more importantly, there's not a big epidemic here. Opponents of these laws claim there'd be skyrocketing use, and we haven't seen that.

DOUG MCVAY: In the research they mention their study has a limitation, that, since marijuana use was self-reported, there's a potential response bias associated with the legalization of marijuana. I interpret that as meaning that people are less likely to lie about having used marijuana if it's legal, at least for adults. I mean, people lie about how much they use alcohol and tobacco, their legal drugs, but people usually admit to actually using it, they just try to minimize the amount of use. Do you think we're seeing that with marijuana?

MASON TVERT: Well, if in theory people are less likely to admit to what they perceive to be illegal, or bad behavior, then we would not surprisingly see more people being open to reporting that they use marijuana now that it is legal for adults, and perhaps not seen as being as bad. At the same time, look, you know, they're saying, teens are perceiving marijuana as not being as bad as they once thought it was, so it's quite possible that more of them are willing to admit to using marijuana.

But more importantly, we just aren't seeing a big uptick in marijuana use really anywhere in the nation. It appears that the trend generally across the country has been relatively stable or moving downwards slightly. And that's a good thing, you know, we don't want teens using marijuana, and we're not really seeing any sort of major changes in any of these states.

DOUG MCVAY: One other question. In one of the editorials that accompanied this, they mentioned that marijuana use can't be examined in a vacuum, and they talked about the substitution effect, the idea that people would be using marijuana instead of alcohol. Among young people, or among adults, do you see that kind of thing happening? Particularly among adults, let's face it.

MASON TVERT: Well, it's really difficult to tell, because there's still not a very level playing field between these two substances, so it's not a very clean experiment. Yes, marijuana's now legal in states like Colorado and Washington, but employers can still punish employees or fire employees who get caught using marijuana. They still face extra scrutiny when it comes to gaining employment, when it comes to concerns over things like child custody, or simply whether or not they're perceived to be a good parent if they use marijuana. Obviously someone doesn't worry about the perception of using a glass of wine with dinner, it doesn't mean they're a bad parent.

People's access to alcohol is also substantially greater. I mean, yes, marijuana's now legal for adults, but you can use it in your home, whereas alcohol is being served at every major sporting event, ever bar and restaurant in town, every major cultural function, every major, you know, city function that's taking place, so it's really just not a clean experiment, and it would be interesting if marijuana were treated the same as alcohol and was available in the same places, and really viewed the same, and people were treated the same under the law, consumers were treated similarly. Then you would be able to really look at whether these are substitutes. So it's still unclear.

But, I think that it's certainly -- I'm still confident that we will see it, more and more adults, who are choosing to use less alcohol. They may not stop drinking, but given the opportunity to choose, it's safe to say that at least some people on some occasions might make the choice to use marijuana instead of alcohol, and that would be a net benefit for society.

DOUG MCVAY: Again, folks, we're speaking with Mason Tvert from the Marijuana Policy Project. Mason, do you have any closing thoughts for the listeners, and please tell us how folks can keep up with the work that you're doing.

MASON TVERT: Well, I think the most important thing here is that, what opponents predicted, which is a huge increase in teen marijuana use, has not occurred in any of the states that have passed these laws. What we're seeing is that rates are stable, and ultimately that's what we were hoping for, so, we're going to have to keep an eye on the data, see what's happening, but without a doubt, the benefits that are being experienced in these states are controlling marijuana, so not just taxing it, but keeping it under control, knowing who's producing it and who's selling it, far outweighs the potential harms, which we've seen very few. And, you know, that is, in my mind, it's thus far a successful experiment, so to speak.

Our organization is working to pass similarly laws in other states. We've now passed another four measures in this last election. We're going to be working to pass a few more this year through state legislatures, and it's, you know, of course there's going to be a big, big fight in Congress, as there has been for years, to continue moving the ball forward, and then there's the wild card, which is what the administration of the incoming president, Donald Trump, is going to do on this subject. So we're really waiting to see, but we are cautiously hopeful that things will continue to progress as they have been.

People can find out more about our organization, the Marijuana Policy Project, at MPP.org.

DOUG MCVAY: Terrific. Again, folks, we're speaking with Mason Tvert, from the Marijuana Policy Project. More about them on the web at MPP.org. Mason, thank you so much.

MASON TVERT: Thanks for having me, Doug.

DOUG MCVAY: Again, of course, you're listening to Century of Lies. We're a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

Now, let's shift over to Afghanistan for just a moment. The head of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Yuri Fedotov, spoke to the Security Council on November 7th about Afghanistan and the resurgence in opium production there. Let's hear what Yuri had to say.

YURI FEDOTOV: Thank you, Mister President. Members of the Security Council, thank you for this invitation and opportunity to update the Council on UNODC's work against illicit drugs, and the impact on health, development, and security in Afghanistan.

Since I last reported to you, UNODC has published its Afghanistan Opium Survey 2016, which is referred to in the Secretary General report, showing a worrying reversal in efforts to combat this persistent problem. Opium poppy cultivation has increased by 10 percent and production by 43 percent. Production has been driven by a 30 percent rise in the average opium yield.

The number of poppy-free provinces has fallen from 14 to 13, compared to last year, while eradication is in freefall, dropping more than 90 percent. It is against that background, as well as the bitter ongoing insurgency that UNODC's efforts and those of our partners continue in Afghanistan.

The Brussels Conference and the resulting communique underlined the need for these activities. Countries and organizations committed themselves to a sustained and integrated approach to dealing with the production and trafficking of illicit drugs and precursor chemicals. Fighting organized crime, including money laundering, corruption and the financing of terrorism was highlighted, as well as the need to treat and rehabilitate drug users.

The communique expressed the international community's determination to counter all forms of terrorism and violent extremism. UNODC's activities, delivered through our integrated and comprehensive projects and programs, are targeting these and other challenges.

UNODC's Afghan Country Program, linked to our Regional Program for Afghanistan and Neighboring Countries, assists in building capacity in the ministry of counter narcotics and the counter narcotics police. Earlier this month, I visited the "Domodedevo Project," supported by Russia and Japan, which, through professional training, is improving the capacity of the Afghan counter narcotics police.

UNODC is promoting cooperation in the region through our Regional Program; the Triangular and AKT Initiatives; the Central Asian Regional Information and Coordination Center; the GCC Criminal Information Center to Combat Drugs. To build links between these regional bodies operating along the major opiate trafficking routes, UNODC has introduced a "Networking the networks" initiative to leverage information sharing.

Our work forms part of an overall interregional drug control response to drug trafficking. These activities also include support, including in the field, for the Paris Pact Initiative. UNODC recently established an Air Cargo Unit at the Kabul international airport. Afghanistan is now one of the first countries to implement the AIR Segment of the Global Container Control Program.

In the essential area of health, UNODC supports treatment services founded on scientific evidence and human rights, especially for vulnerable children and youth exposed to drugs, as well as their families.

Afghan heroin is also linked to terrorism and the insurgency. The bulk of opium cultivation takes place in the areas controlled by the Taliban, and they are receiving tens of millions of dollars by taxing drug trafficking. UNODC welcomes the Afghan government's decision to develop a national action plan on violent extremism and we assist in its implementation.

UNODC appreciates donor interest in alternative development projects carried out in Afghanistan in cooperation with other UN agencies and the government of this country, however, much more needs to be done. The adoption of the 2030 Agenda of Sustainable Development is driving momentum for more ambitious alternative development projects for Afghan farmers currently growing illicit crops.

Illicit drugs fuel corruption. UNODC, as the guardian of the UN Convention Against Corruption, is working with Afghan counterparts in drafting a new comprehensive Anti-Corruption Law based on international standards and best practices.

Goal Sixteen of the 2030 Agenda promotes peaceful and inclusive societies. UNODC is working with the competent Afghan authorities to enhance the capacity of financial intelligence units, the regulator, and criminal justice institutions to analyze, detect, investigate, and prosecute economic crime cases.

The new National Peace and Development Framework, and the National Drug Action Plan, underscore the Afghan government's willingness and determination to counter illicit production, trafficking, and to reduce demand.

Mr. President, UNODC will continue to work over the long term with partners, including the Afghan government, to counter illicit drugs, crime, corruption and terrorism in Afghanistan, in West and Central Asia, as well as along the main drug trafficking routes to the rest of the world. In pursuit of this strategy, UNODC is helping to integrate these activities into planning for the economy and national security. Afghanistan is hard pressed by the impact of illicit drugs and I would call on the international community to remain fully committed to helping to alleviate this destructive threat. I thank you.

DOUG MCVAY: That again was Yuri Fedotov, head of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, speaking to the Security Council in November about a resurgence in opium production in Afghanistan.

Well, folks, this is being recorded at the very end of the year for release in the very first week of January. The last week of December was extremely busy. There were a handful of really important pieces of research that were published, and Drug War Facts is in process of being updated with those bits of research as we speak.

The Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics releases annual reports on the number of prisoners, on the correctional population, parole, probation. They keep postponing these reports, putting them out later and later in the year. December 29th was the release date for, in fact, three different reports from the BJS. One was their report Prisoners in 2015, the other is Jail Inmates in 2015, and the big report: Correctional Populations in the United States 2015. A little bit more than a week before, the BJS released Probation and Parole in the United States 2015.

So, all the major reports coming out at the very end of the year, buried in the holidays, which is really quite surprising because it's rather good news.

According to BJS, an estimated 6,741,400 persons were supervised by adult correctional systems in the United States at yearend 2015. That population decreased 1.7 percent during 2015, dropping below 6.8 million for the first time since 2002. At yearend 2015, about 1 in 37 adults, or 2.7 percent of all adults in the United States, was under some form of correctional supervision. That's the lowest rate since 1994.

It's still much too high. But, there does seem to be some progress being made. The state prison population decreased by almost two percent from 2014 to 2015. Twenty nine states recorded a decrease in the total number of prisoners under their jurisdiction. There were also fewer admissions and more releases from state and federal prisons, which contributed to the overall decrease in the prison population.

At yearend 2015, an estimated 2,173,800 persons were either under the jurisdiction of state or federal prisons, or in the custody of local jails, in the United States. That's down about 51,300 persons from yearend 2014. That was the largest decline in the incarcerated population since it first decreased in 2009.

So we do have some good news that's been coming out. Of course, this is about the drug war, so, you know, we've got the news about the number of drug offenders. Now, that data is always a little bit older, from the states at least. So, for the states, we know that as of December 31st, 2014, in the state prisons, only about 16 percent of state prisoners were serving sentences for drug-related offenses. That comes to 206,300 people in state prisons, serving time for drug offenses.

The feds, well, about half of sentenced federal prisoners on September Thirtieth, 2015, were serving time for drug offenses. As I say, folks, a lot of numbers, a lot of statistics. DrugWarFacts.org is your best source to find these things. We have links back to the original source materials, so you can download copies of the original publications and do some more research on your own. And also check our work, please, if you find anything, any typos, on Drug War Facts, send me an email. Thanks!

Now, let's listen to some words from Rick Steves. Back in August, he was at the Seattle Hempfest, and he received an award for national level activism. He spoke to the crowd, that was the Friday night, at the speakers and VIP party. Here's Rick Steves.

RICK STEVES: And we're going to have it snowball! And in so many ways, that snowball started with a nice little tight ball right here in Seattle, and now this thing is going all over the United States, and if you're like me, and an internationalist, you would know that we have laws that we have inflicted on the rest of the world, forcing nations to sign the law that promises they will all wage trade sanctions on any country that dares legalize marijuana, because of the United States.

Now that we've got so many states legalizing, our country doesn't have the standing to assert that law on other countries, so there are global ramifications of what we're doing, which is very exciting. What I was talking about, four years ago, we had hunches, we had common sense. I strongly believed that yes, people smoke pot, and if you legalize, more people will not smoke pot, they will just do it legally instead of doing it in secret, and that has panned out. There's not a reservoir of decent people that would love to ruin their lives smoking pot if only it was legal. People who smoke pot, smoke pot, whether it's legal or not. And the laws have borne that out.

There's no society on earth where there's any correlation between how many people smoke pot and how strict the laws are. In Europe, the Dutch are famous for being progressive with their marijuana laws, and by all estimates, the Dutch smoke less than the European average, and they smoke less than Americans do. There's no correlation between how loose the laws are and how many people are going to enjoy marijuana.

A lot of people also are worried about that whole gateway effect, you've probably heard of that. My European friends have been thinking out of the box for a long time, and my European friends tell me that the only thing gateway about marijuana is when it's illegal, you've got to buy it from a criminal on the street who's got a vested interest in selling you something more profitable and more addictive.

It is the illegality of marijuana that makes it, if it is a gateway drug, a gateway drug, and legalizing it overcomes that. Anybody that knows how to help kids and young people and people who are inclined to be taken over by drugs, the best way to control drugs is not to make it illegal, but to tax and regulate it. So we are making smart law, we are public policy law, we're laws that all sorts of mainstream organizations can embrace, and I'm excited to be able to promote that as I try to go around the country and raise awareness of this.

I'll tell you, we enjoy our marijuana, but fundamentally, this, and I know what Vivian's been after for so long, is something even more fundamental than the freedom to smoke pot. It is civil liberties. Civil liberties. I'm a board member of NORML, and we are about the civil liberty to smoke pot as a responsible adult American. I am a tax paying, church going, hard working American citizen, and if I work hard all day long and want to go home and smoke a joint and just look at the fireplace for three hours, that's my civil liberty!

And I'm going to be telling people in Massachusetts that, and I'm going to be telling people in Maine that, and until every state in this country has given up this ridiculous war on marijuana, we all need to make that case. This is not pro-marijuana, this is pro-civil liberties, because this is the United States and that's what we're about.

So I'd like to thank you for whatever this award I'm getting here, but my award is to be associated with Hempfest, and in seeing how far we've gone with this over the years. And In closing, I would just like to say, like I do on all my TV shows, happy travels, even if you're just staying home. Okeh? Thank you!

DOUG MCVAY: That was Rick Steves, NORML board member and travel expert. And well folks, that's it for this week. Thank you for joining us. You have been listening to Century Of Lies. We're a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org. Drug Truth Network is on Facebook, please give its page a like. Drug War Facts is on Facebook too, give it a like and share it with friends. You can follow me on Twitter, I'm @DougMcVay and of course also @DrugPolicyFacts.

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

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