05/24/18 Mason Tvert

Mason Tvert goes back to work for Marijuana Policy Project, Matt Elrod Canadian drug reformer, Dr. Melanie Dreher re long term use of cannabis

Program: 
Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Date: 
Thursday, May 24, 2018
Guest: 
Mason Tvert
Matt Elrod
Organization: 
Marijuana Policy Project
Patients Out of Time
Mason Tvert
Matt Elrod
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CULTURAL BAGGAGE

MAY 24, 2018

TRANSCRIPT

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

Hi folks, I am the Reverend Dean Becker. Thank you for being with us on this edition of Cultural Baggage. Today we've got three great interviews, from around the US and up into Canada, talking about this stupid drug war. Let's just get started, what do you say?

It seems like just yesterday I met this young fellow. I think I was in Seattle, maybe it was San Francisco, but we were near some boats and I was talking to this young fellow about marijuana laws, about the drug war in general, and damn if he didn't just take off like a rocket, joined forces with some other drug reformers, and helped to swing the cat so to speak in Colorado, and move things around the US.

He's with us right now, I want to welcome, now with the Marijuana Policy Project, Mister Mason Tvert. Hey, Mason, how you doing?

MASON TVERT: I'm great, Dean, thanks for having me.

DEAN BECKER: Well, it does seem like just yesterday that you got your foot in the water and, hell, you really got things moving there in Colorado. First off, just tell us how are things in Colorado. Is it full of people ODing on weed, what's going on up there?

MASON TVERT: Things are quite lovely. It's, you know, really just business as usual for the state, and adults are simply able to purchase cannabis legally, like they are able to purchase alcohol. It's really not much different for the typical person.

Of course it's created tens of thousands of jobs, so it's certainly changed the lives of a lot of people in that way, and it's generating, you know, hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue that's been benefiting state programs at our schools and providing other services that were needed, and, you know, it's really, you know, marijuana was here already, it's not as if it was, you know, dropped into the state the day it became legal. So not much is different, with the exception that it's now a legal, regulated product.

DEAN BECKER: Now, you know, I mentioned early on there that you were involved with many different organizations, heck, you even co-wrote a book, what was it? Marijuana Is Safer, So Why Are We Driving People To Drink? Was that the right title.

MASON TVERT: Correct. Yep.

DEAN BECKER: And that, it kind of generated a wave, a recognition, that the old, you know, the lies, the propaganda, the reefer madness, is losing its luster, very few politicians are leaning in that direction these days. Right?

MASON TVERT: Absolutely. I think that the more people hear about cannabis, the more they learn about it, the more that they see and hear, you know, other people that they know and respect supporting an end to prohibition, the more likely they are to support an end to marijuana prohibition.

You know, a lot of people only heard negative things about marijuana for most of their lives, and it was really just a matter of exposing them to the debate, and letting them hear the other side, letting them see the facts, and once that became pervasive enough, we now have just seen support for prohibition crumble, and there's a desire for a more sensible approach.

DEAN BECKER: Well, even at the federal level, McConnell, Boehner, some of these die-hard, well, no longer die-hard prohibitionists are coming forward and changing the equation as well. Right?

MASON TVERT: Yeah, you know, it's really becoming an industry, much like other industries, and people are going to be seeing these opportunities. This is perhaps the fastest growing industry in the country, the legal marijuana industry, and there are people in, you know, looking into it, and examining the opportunities, and recognizing that there are big opportunities, and that it would be foolish to not get involved out of fear of marijuana in general, and a prohibitionist mindset.

It's, you know, being looked at like any other business opportunity, with potential risks and potential benefits. And it's not surprising that we're seeing former elected officials deciding to get involved in this, as well as current elected officials recognizing that there's really nothing to fear politically if they get supportive.

DEAN BECKER: I think it's actually a vote getter, if they just want to dig down to the bottom of it.

MASON TVERT: Yeah, potentially, I would say that it probably depends on, you know, what office they're running for, where, and, you know, the general makeup of the race, but, it's certainly not something that seems to be hurting anyone politically. It also certainly does seem to have benefits for a whole lot of candidates.

I mean, it's moving toward the point, we're not there yet, but moving toward the point, like, with alcohol. I mean, could you imagine being supportive of a candidate who said they thought alcohol should be illegal, or even a candidate who said they'd never drank alcohol before, or thought it was bad to drink alcohol. I mean, that would be very difficult for a lot of voters to relate to, and, you know, we're going to sooner or later see that type of situation with cannabis as well.

DEAN BECKER: Well, and you know, at the state level, we have a lot of voter referendums, people trying, some states have two or more, as I understand it, we have a situation where many of the state politicians are trying to circumvent or pre-empt these referendums, try to legalize it where the, in a fashion that suits the legislature better than it does the citizenry.

It's a real bundle of energy insofar as people trying to change the marijuana laws at this point, right?

MASON TVERT: Absolutely. I mean, you know, we've always seen lawmakers with a lot of disdain for the ballot initiative process. They don't like the idea of not having that control. But unfortunately, a lot of lawmakers have not been proactive on this issue, so it has resulted in citizens taking it up and moving it forward through ballot measures.

And, you know, if it -- it's great that that's forcing a lot of lawmakers to take it more seriously and consider passing these types of measures, and if they pass measures that are, you know, poorly written or way too restrictive, then they can expect to see efforts to change those laws, through ballot initiatives, and it's really a, quite frankly, I think a great aspect of the, you know, the democratic process in this country, at least in those states that have a ballot initiative process.

DEAN BECKER: You know, it was just over a year ago, my city of Houston came up with a, what they call the Misdemeanor Marijuana Diversion Program, that under four ounces of weed would not result in an arrest or jailing, none of that, they'll just write you a ticket, and whenever possible at the local level I think a lot of local officials, district attorneys, and in the case of New York City, the mayor, are trying to change the perspective, trying to change the number of arrests, trying to do away with much of that reefer madness. Your thought there too, please.

MASON TVERT: Yeah, I think that we are reaching a point where, you know, they can't ignore this anymore, I mean, the number of arrests taking place in a city like New York, the extreme disproportionate impact on communities of color, it's just not something that people are ignoring, the media's not ignoring, and as a result elected officials can't ignore it, and they're having to at least do something about it, and measures like the one in Houston are certainly a great step, and will make people realize that you don't have to arrest and, you know, seriously punish every single individual who gets caught with a small amount of marijuana.

But, there's obviously still room for improvement. We shouldn't see any punishment associated with simple possession of marijuana, this is at least a big step toward recognizing that.

DEAN BECKER: All right, friends, once again we've been speaking with Mister Mason Tvert, now aligned with the Marijuana Policy Project. Mason, what am I leaving out, what would you like to share with the listeners?

MASON TVERT: Well, I think there's, you know, a lot of progress has been made, but there's still a lot of work to be done, and, you know, even in states, whether it's like Colorado or California or Washington, where marijuana's now legal for adults, there's still efforts to paint these systems as being horrific and causing so many problems, when they are not in fact problematic.

We need to make sure that the facts are getting out there. And then of course there's a lot of places where we still need to see changes made, and it's going to be an ongoing battle that's not really going to end at any point. It's going to be, just like with alcohol, constant discussions and debates and fights over certain policy issues to make these laws reflect the facts, and make them more sensible.

DEAN BECKER: All right. Once again, that was Mister Mason Tvert, Marijuana Policy Project, their website, MPP.org.

We're going to shift countries right now. We're going to go north, going to Canada, up in BC, going to talk to my computer guru and to a long time friend, associate, fellow drug reformer, for well over a decade now, and my friend, Mister Matt Elrod. Hey, Matt, how you doing?

MATT ELROD: I'm good, Dean.

DEAN BECKER: Thank you for being with us. You know, Matt, it seems the dam is cracking, you know, there's certainly fissures showing up here and there in the US, we just heard some great thoughts coming out of the UK, and Canada's fixing to legalize this summer, I guess, is the word, cannabis, and there's a reexamination of the whole of the drug war up there as well. Am I right?

MATT ELROD: Absolutely. Yeah, as you mentioned, Canada's got a legalization bill going through the Senate right now, and a companion bill to strengthen drugged driving laws, to allay fears about carnage on our highways when we legalize cannabis.

And, you're right, right on the weight -- on the heels of that, there's a lot of talk in Canada about at least decriminalizing all illicit drugs, in light of the opiate overdose crisis we're facing. And, you know, the voices for -- calling for that are growing louder, the opposition parties in Canada, or at least two of them, have been calling for that. So, it's hopeful.

DEAN BECKER: You know, all the hoopla and the reefer madness that still lingers somehow, that gives the cops and the prosecutors this idea that they -- they really need to crack down on cannabis drivers, when, I think the truth be told there haven't -- hasn't been that many cannabis caused wrecks in the first place, it's just this inherent built-in fear of what might happen. Am I right?

MATT ELROD: Yes, and you know, fear stems from ignorance, and that's what we're facing, is just a lot of ignorance about cannabis. And there's also some deliberate misleading going on from groups like Smart Approaches to Marijuana. Three of the senators who are currently studying our legalization bill made a trip last month, I believe it was, down to Washington to meet with Jeff Sessions, and with Smart Approaches to Marijuana, to get some tips on how to fight legalization.

And they came back with a stack of SAM reports, I guess you could call them reports, SAM propaganda, that makes the case, or attempts to make the case, that cannabis related accidents have doubled in Washington state and Colorado. Now you and I know that what has really gone up is the number of fatally injured motorists who are testing positive, whether or not that caused their accident, whether or not they were impaired when they had the accident, and this is largely due to testing going up, by drivers who are tested more frequently now.

I think where before, if a fatally injured driver tested positive for alcohol, they wouldn't bother doing the cannabis test, because they had their culprit, whereas now they do. So for all those reasons, you know, what we're seeing is an increase in the number of reported so-called cannabis related fatalities.

And this is being deliberately twisted and used to mislead some of the fearful and the ignorant.

DEAN BECKER: That's the hell of it, isn't, leading the fearful and the ignorant, that's been the, I don't know, the cause, and the solution to all of life's problems. Drugs, I guess.

MATT ELROD: You know, it's sometimes difficult to tell who's delusional and who's dishonest.

DEAN BECKER: Right.

MATT ELROD: And for that reason, I try to give such people the benefit of the doubt and think, okeh, this person's just uninformed, but at root I know that there are people like, you know, Kevin Sabet and others who deliberately mislead the public, who know better.

DEAN BECKER: Right.

MATT ELROD: And, and I think some of our senators fall into both camps. Some of them are sincerely ignorant, and understandably fearful, while others are ideologically opposed to the legalization, sometimes for partisan reasons, they just don't want Trudeau to succeed in this endeavor.

And -- or, or maybe they're fighting a culture war, maybe a pothead stole their girlfriend in high school, you know, which is often the case.

DEAN BECKER: Well, and I, of late, I've really come to the conclusion that it's alcohol versus marijuana, and other drugs, but, about a hundred years ago, the alcoholics lost their moral standing, if you will, here in the US, when we had that first prohibition, but then they kind of gained back and meantime they had passed the Harrison Narcotics law [sic: Act], and other anti-drug laws, and it just seems the alcoholics have the upper hand and they're just not going to let go. Your response to that, Matt.

MATT ELROD: Yeah, it's a tough one. I mean, the records show, so, historical record shows that Anslinger et al. wrapped the war on drugs with the end of alcohol prohibition, they had all these drug agents, you know, that they had to keep busy, and, you know, there are a lot of vested interests in drug prohibition, so it's clear that there was a transfer there.

It's also clear that there's the racial element to the roots of drug prohibition in both our countries. And, I think some of that still remains. Certainly, systemically we see that's the way the law is enforced. So ....

DEAN BECKER: Well, here's hoping that you guys get it straightened out, and that the cops and the prosecutors don't take over the whole industry and they let some good folks like Marc and Jodie Emery get involved, after all the hard work they've done. But, the good news is that the Drug Truth Network has a new website design, new ease. Tell folks what's going on with our site, please.

MATT ELROD: Yeah, we've finally gotten you upgraded to a newer version of the content management system running at DrugTruth.net, and this version is much more mobile-friendly. That's, I think, the biggest plus at all, because we were certainly starting to lose people who've become accustomed to surfing on their phones and their personal devices.

So, that's good. While we were at it we decluttered it a bit, I think, made it a little easier to surf around and find what you're looking for. We've added the ability for you to attach images to individual programs, which I think will be helpful for your listeners, to see who they're hearing. And, I particularly like -- you've always had this functionality, but the ability to search the entire website by guest or organization.

In particular because I'm a vain man, and I can see that, with just a couple clicks, all the interviews you've done with me. So similarly, you know, any guest you've had, or any organization they to, NORML, what have you, can link to directly the programs that they've been featured in.

DEAN BECKER: Well, this is all good news, and, you know, and the heck of it is, dear listeners, I worked towards this, Matt has worked towards this, is to educate and to embolden you to do your part to end this stupid god damned drug war.

MATT ELROD: Amen.

DEAN BECKER: Amen.

BILL MAHER: We have this fantasy that our interests and the interests of the super rich are the same, like somehow the rich will eventually get so full that they'll explode. And the candy will rain down on the rest of us. Like there's some kind of pinata of benevolence.

But here's the thing about a pinata. It doesn't open on its own. You have to beat it with a stick.

DEAN BECKER: It's time to play Name That Drug By Its Side Effects! Euphoria, drowsiness, nausea, confusion, constipation, sedation, unconsciousness, coma, tolerance, addiction, respiratory arrest, and death. Time's up! This drug, 80 times stronger than morphine and heroin, is available via schedule two prescription: Fentanyl. For major pain.

All right, as promised last week, we have some more interviews and speeches coming out of the Patients Out of Time conference, which happened just a week and a half ago up there in New Jersey. This is all thanks to Doug McVay, who produces our other half hour program, Century of Lies. But, well, let's just get to it.

MELANIE DREHER, PHD, RN, FAAN: This is really my personal odyssey, from being a scientist to being an activist.

DEAN BECKER: This is Doctor Melanie Dreher.

MELANIE DREHER, PHD, RN, FAAN: And, I think that it's something that many scientists go through, so let me just share with you some of this. Nineteen Sixty-Nine, the summer that Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon, and 400,000 of my very best friends were at Woodstock, New York, I was on a mountain top in Jamaica, in a journey of discovery.

I was sent there by my major professor at Columbia University to find out about cannabis. Now, I have to tell you, at that point I had never smoked anything, not even a cigarette. I had never done field work before, although I was a graduate student in anthropology, and I knew nothing about Jamaica. So, I was obviously exquisitely qualified to undertake that study.

And, I was at that time, I was helping my professor, who had just been funded to do a study of the chronic use of marijuana. At that time, all the research had been focused on what happens to you when you smoke, the acute effects of smoking, and no one had really looked at, well, what happens to people after they smoke for years, on a daily or weekly basis.

So that was my job, was to just find out about cannabis use in Jamaica. He had done his field work there, and he knew that it was used. So, I, on that mountain top in that small community, I discovered, and it was the summer of discovery, that cannabis was not only a substance that was smoked and used recreationally, but it had religious connotations among the Rastafarians, in fact it was their sacrament, is their sacrament.

And then of course this rich medicinal use. And that time, and still, herbal medicine is an important part of the Jamaica folks pharmacopoeia, but, as they showed me this bush and that bush, and another leaf, and a tree, they would say, but ganja, which is the Indian word, marijuana, ganja, that is the king of it.

And -- meaning that it was a substance that had so many uses, and could be used in so many ways. Topically, as an edible, cooked in soup, smoked.

And so, I went back with my little report for the summer, and then the next year I went to recruit the sample of men who were going to be in a study of chronic use, the impact of chronic use, a medical anthropological study, and at that point, I very much realized, and this has stayed with me the rest of the time, that -- the rest of my career -- that in fact cannabis really depends, as our -- previous speakers have said, on set and setting.

It's really important to understand the context before you can interpret the results of your research. So, we found, for example, that all of our cannabis users, compared to our non-users, were significantly psych -- on every psychological test, better adjusted.

And, but then when we looked at, when I shared my experience with recruiting, it was very easy to recruit cannabis users. I could hardly find any non-users. So you know that the people who were not using it are already a little weird. You know, there's something different about them, they're not part of normal male social life, so there we go.

And, so, again, it was not -- all we could say with that study is that probably cannabis doesn't do any harm. Then, I went back, and studied the amotivational syndrome. We all know what that was, but in Jamaica, men were using cannabis to work harder. And it was actually distributed to cane workers, who, as a little coffee break to get, sit down, have a smoke, get up and cut more cane, load more cane, sugar cane.

And while I was there I also of course started working with women, and when I first went, very few women smoked. They drank the tea and men were the smokers, men claimed that women didn't have the brains to smoke, so, they had to stay away from those psychoactive properties, but, women were preparing teas, and poultices, and infusions, other infusions, for their children, to keep them smarter, and healthier.

And, really? You're making marijuana tea for your children, three times a day? Yes, miss, it really helps them in school. Well, let's see, so I got funded to do a little study of children, and, comparing the children who drank tea on a regular basis and other children who didn't drink tea. And again, we found out, tea drinkers did significantly better in their studies than the children who didn't drink tea.

But, it had to be put in the context of parents who were willing to share their precious store of cannabis with their children were also the mothers and fathers who made sure their children had pencils and paper and clean uniforms, and went to school on a regular basis.

But it was associated with good parenting, and not bad parenting. And while I was looking at children, I was looking more at women and women who were smoking during pregnancy, and at that time, the United States was still reeling with the thalidomide crisis of the 1960s, very interested in the teratogenic effects of cannabis. And, I though, okeh, this is the time to do a study of the impact of marijuana during pregnancy.

And we tested these neonates, we used standard measures, we had thirty exposed neonates and thirty non-exposed neonates, and once again, the results were counter-intuitive, and our exposed neonates did significantly better on every dimension of the Brazelton neonatal scale than the non-exposed infants. So, here we were, and this became one of my first challenges about the social and political realities of cannabis use. It was very hard to get that study published.

We did get it published in Pediatrics, finally, but it brought to fore the editorial bias that exists in most journals, and has actually been cited, a wonderful article in Lancet in 1989 actually evaluated various studies on not just cannabis, but other drug studies, studies of substances as well, and found that the more positive your findings are, in other words, that actually negative, that cannabis does not have cocaine does not have a bad effect or as serious effect as we thought it would have, the less likely you are to get published.

And, that editorial bias has continued to exist, in my own profession, which is nursing, as well as anthropology.

DEAN BECKER: To dream the American dream,
To lie still and hope
With both of your eyes closed.
To ignore
The nightmare that surrounds you
Just to try, try to reach
The American dream

All right, I apologize, that was me singing, but it's designed to get your attention, to think about this American dream, this dream of an eternal war on drugs, where the number of deaths increases every day, the number of diseases, where the amount of violence, where the expenditure of trillions of dollars just continues and continues on.

Kind of recapping the show, our new web page, designed by Matt Elrod, is up and ready, that's at DrugTruth.net. It's phone friendly, as I understand it we already have an increased number of listenership. You know, share it with your friends, your family, your relatives, and again, I remind you, because of prohibition, you don't know what's in that bag, and I urge you to please, be careful.

Drug Truth Network transcripts are stored at the James A. Baker III Institute, more than seven thousand radio programs are at DrugTruth.net, and we are all still tap dancing on the edge of an abyss.