08/16/15 Doug McVay

Century of Lies

Cyd Maurer, a journalist who was recently fired from her job as a TV news anchor in Oregon for testing positive for marijuana, and with Kathleen Kane-Willis of the Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy about their new report on heroin in Illinois.

Audio file


AUGUST 16, 2015


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

DOUG MCVAY: Hello, and welcome to Century of Lies. I'm your host, Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org. Century of Lies is a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network. Drug Truth programming is supported through the generosity of the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy and of listeners like you. And now, on with the show.

Cyd Maurer is a journalist, formerly a news anchor at television station KEZI in Eugene, Oregon. She was subjected to a drug test by the station, and because the test came up positive for marijuana, she was fired. Oregon legalized marijuana for adults back in November of 2014, and as of July First, adults are legally allowed to possess and cultivate limited amounts of marijuana in private. Yet, Oregon employers still test for marijuana, and can still fire someone who tests positive. Rather than stay quiet about it and look for another corporate gig, Cyd spoke out. She's becoming an advocate, and she's my guest today. Cyd, it's good to finally meet you, how are you, how's things going?

CYD MAURER: Thank you, it's great to meet you too. Oh, things are going well, it's been a crazy last couple of weeks, but it's been really fun and exciting as well, so ...

DOUG MCVAY: Right on. Now, this did just happen, and I want to ask you about all that, but first, tell us a bit about your background.

CYD MAURER: Okeh. I am 25, I am a graduate from the University of Oregon and still live in Eugene, Oregon, and I worked in the local news industry here in Eugene for almost 3 years, starting right out of college. And, it was just recently, at the very end of May, when I lost my job and then just about three weeks ago that I came out of the cannabis closet and decided to speak about this issue.

DOUG MCVAY: Now, I saw from your LinkedIn profile, you worked at KMTR tv station in Eugene before your job at KEZI. Now, did you have to undergo the pre-employment drug screens at either of those?

CYD MAURER: Yes. Both stations I had to undergo pre-employment drug screening, so, you know, to get both jobs I abstained from using marijuana of any kind for months, you know, in order to get the jobs just because I knew that that was required, basically, so for both jobs I did that. And the reason I stopped working at KMTR after one year was because the station went under a sale, and 30 or so of the 50 employees were laid off, including myself, so that was unfortunate, but then I was quickly hired at KEZI along with a handful of my former co-workers at KMTR as well, so -- it was nice, it worked out in the end.

DOUG MCVAY: Now, as I understand it, so it was back in May, you were in a minor fender-bender on your way to do a news report. As a result of that fender-bender, the corporate policy called for you to have your urine tested, then you tested positive for the metabolite, and so they fired you. Do I have all that right?

CYD MAURER: Yep, that's correct.

DOUG MCVAY: Right on. Loyal listeners will know, I compile and edit a website called DrugWarFacts.org. We have actually three different sections on drug testing. One of the key points that everyone on all sides have to acknowledge is that urine tests show nothing about impairment, they don't show recent use. I mean, really, they're useless, especially when it comes to detecting marijuana use. The THC metabolite is fat soluble it stays in the system for weeks after someone stops using. Now blood tests for actual THC can almost kind of show recent use, though that doesn't even show impairment.

Well, okeh, I could go on a rant here, but this, I'm interviewing you, so let's go on. Now, given your experience, what do you think about companies that make their employees submit to urine tests?

CYD MAURER: I think that, you know, when it comes to pre-employment drug screening, I truly believe that they're limiting their job, their applicant pool. There are so many responsible, intelligent people who choose to use cannabis in their free time who will just either simply not apply to those jobs, or, you know, are worried to apply because they realize, you know, what they have to do to, you know, undergo the employment process. But, in my case, where it was, you know, a minor accident involved, I believe that since, as you pointed out, those tests do not show impairment at the time, shouldn't it be on the burden of the company to have to prove that I was not sober at the time?

Seeing as there's no correlation between cannabis users and traffic accidents, there's no correlation between cannabis users and being, you know, risky employees or dangerous employees, so therefore I don't understand why it should be my burden to prove that I was obviously completely sober during that day. You know, I, it just doesn't make sense to me, there's no rightful reason that the liability -- it really does come down to the insurance companies and liability, and I just, I want to know where those numbers really work out in favor to be drug testing people when it's not actually limiting any risk to the company, if that makes sense.

DOUG MCVAY: Oh it does. In addition to the drug testing chapters, we have one on driving and substance use, and that's what the research shows. It's, they don't show -- I mean, alcohol, yes. If a person's drinking -- of course, a lot of people, there's a big difference between how people view marijuana use and how people view use of alcohol and or tobacco. I mean, it is alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs, yet a lot of people create this artificial distinction, like there are drugs on one hand and alcohol or tobacco on the other. As far as I know, there are no companies currently testing for tobacco use. You know actually around the US some healthcare corporations actually do test for tobacco, at least during the pre-employment. Alcohol use on the job is discouraged, but you know, use on the weekend, or heck, any time after work, is generally accepted.

Now, I find that that, you know, that sort of dichotomy, how they think of marijuana versus alcohol is hypocritical. What do you think about that stuff?

CYD MAURER: I absolutely think it's hypocritical, and I think that pointing out that double standard is one of the only ways to get people, especially those unfamiliar with cannabis, to understand why these policies need to change. I mean, science has proven that alcohol is more dangerous, and more harmful, and more addictive, and intoxicating, in every way, compared to cannabis, yet it's not only accepted as a vice, it's often encouraged, and I mean, even at company parties and whatnot, it's something that is accepted, it's talked about around the office, how, you know, drunk someone got over the weekend, or how they really can't wait for their first drink when they get off, or their first drink or five when they get off work.

And it's totally okeh to talk about, and it was something that was really getting frustrating for me, for a long time. And I also would like to point out that, you're right, that there is for some reason this different treatment towards cannabis users. If someone is a cannabis user in their free time, and someone finds out, someone in their employment pool, whether it's a coworker or a supervisor who finds out, I feel like the immediate question is, how can we trust you to not show up high? Whereas it is completely accepted and known that a lot of employees drink in their free time, but they're never questioned, how can we trust you to not show up drunk? Well, if you're comparing the two, and alcohol is far more addictive than marijuana, I don't understand why it would be more questioned that someone would be using cannabis before work. It just, it doesn't make sense, and I think that we need to be talking about this double standard and really pointing out how unfair it is, if we want people to realize why these policies need to change.

DOUG MCVAY: Now, how has been the reaction that you've been getting? I mean, I'm sure people -- it's been in the news, you certainly have gotten some reaction, I've noted a few things on Facebook, I've taken a look at your blog. How, in particular, I mean friends, family, the public, but what's been your reaction from other journalists? Or has there been any?

CYD MAURER: Well, from people, I have to say, from friends and co-workers that I had that I worked with every day, who had, you know, completely no control over whether or not I lost my job, they've been completely supportive of me, and said, you know, they obviously can't vocally support me, but that they, even if they aren't cannabis supporters themselves, really, are happy that I'm standing up for something I believe in, and they understand that I should have kept my job, but, you know, they were very confused when I lost my job. The company wasn't, didn't tell anyone why I lost my job, they just sent out a very, you know, generic note saying Cyd no longer works here, please treat her as a stranger in the building.

And so, I kind of met with former friends -- or you know, former co-workers who are still my friends to explain what happened, and so far, most people have been very supportive, and you know, to be honest, I think that the people who aren't supportive just are kind of not approaching me about it, if that -- I think that does kind of make sense, that they are kind of intimidated to confront me about it.

DOUG MCVAY: Very cool. As I say, I've seen some comments on your blog, and it's been very, very positive. Now, well, your blog. You have a blog now, what made you decide to start that up? And tell people where they can find it, by the way.

CYD MAURER: Well, it's AskMeAboutMarijuana.com. I just, I love to write, and I love to talk, as you've probably already guessed, and I just felt, I just feel so passionately about this, that the facts are so in our favor, and that the science and research is out there, and that if people really understood the truth about cannabis, and understood the double standards that are out there with far worse substances, like alcohol, tobacco, and many pharmaceuticals, that the social acceptance is inevitable, and I felt like I just needed to speak up, and through a blog and through my video, that was just the easiest way for me to get my message out there to as many people as possible. So, I, like I said, I feel like it's inevitable, but I didn't want to just sit back and wait for it to happen anymore. I really thought that I could hopefully make a little difference and have, be a new voice that people would listen to, that was kind of different than who was speaking out before.

DOUG MCVAY: Well, I wish you luck in the future. Now, speaking of the future, what kind of plans do you have? I notice you've got, you're doing, you're going to be doing some more writing, I guess. Any new gigs yet, are you looking, what, do you want to be an advocate or do you plan to try and stay with journalism?

CYD MAURER: I, you know, I really want to be an advocate. I really want to, you know, use my journalism skills through some sort of successful career that really kind of can go alongside my advocacy. I, you know, if that's within the cannabis industry, that's awesome, if it's maybe some jobs within the cannabis industry and other, you know, that would be also advocating for just basic rights, because I really do believe that the right to use cannabis kind of is just a basic human right, you know, that if I'm not harming anyone, I should be able to do it.

But I just, so I'm blogging for Marijuana Politics, which is a blog site that Anthony Johnson, who worked with Measure 91 has kind of helped form, along with some other partners, and then I'm also hoping to do some more speaking events, people who approach me to speak, and as far as kind of moving forward with something more stable, I've just been in touch with different companies here in Eugene and in the Portland area to see, you know, what I can do. Maybe some PR, marketing, and some sort of, something within the industry that can go alongside working with legislation and policy, and trying to promote the change that I really, really want to focus on.

DOUG MCVAY: Well, terrific. I wish you all the luck in the world. I'm sure you're going to be doing great. Now, any last thoughts for the listeners?

CYD MAURER: No, I just want to say that, you know, going back to the response that I've had, it's been incredible. I mean every day still, I get messages from people who thank me for talking about this, and there are seriously just, I mean, if hundreds have reached out to me, I believe there are millions of Americans out there who are working, responsible, intelligent, great citizens, who also are using cannabis in their free time and have to hide it, and feel, you know, trapped almost in their usage, and it just, it's not fair when it's something that's not harming anyone else. And, you know, that people should be able to do it. I'm really, really happy that I spoke out and even though some people have been against it, if people have the opportunity to speak out, I promise that the support is overwhelming, and it, you know, it's totally worth it in the end, so more people should get out there and get out of the cannabis closet and talk about it.

DOUG MCVAY: Absolutely, absolutely. In fact, well, I'll be seeing you in person in just a few days. We're recording this shortly before the Seattle Hempfest takes place. You and I will both be up there speaking.

CYD MAURER: Thank you so much. I really look forward to it.

DOUG MCVAY: I've been speaking with Cyd Maurer, she is a journalist, and now a marijuana legalization advocate out of Eugene, Oregon, and, yeah. It has been a great pleasure. Thank you.

CYD MAURER: Thank you so much.

DOUG MCVAY: You're listening to Century Of Lies, a production of the Drug Truth Network. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

I'm talking with my good friend Kathleen Kane-Willis. She is a drug policy researcher and advocate, reform advocate, in Illinois, at the Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy at Roosevelt University, I believe is the name of your organization. Kathie, how you doing today?

KATHLEEN KANE-WILLIS: I'm doing really well, Doug, thanks so much for having me on.

DOUG MCVAY: It is a pleasure. Now, your organization just released a report on heroin and treatment capacity in the state of Illinois. Could you tell us some of what you found?

KATHLEEN KANE-WILLIS: Yeah, well, we found that the heroin crisis is basically remaining at the extreme elevated levels that we've seen for the last more than five years, I would say, it's actually getting worse downstate. At the same time, treatment capacity fell by more than 50 percent. So in 2007, we ranked 28th in the nation in treatment capacity, but in 2012, we had fallen to the third worst in the nation, just above Tennessee and Texas.

DOUG MCVAY: And this is in spite of data showing year after year that we've been seeing, pointing out the escalation in use of opiate painkillers and also the growing availability of very, very strong heroin, oftentimes, some places at least, being cut with the very powerful opiate Fentanyl.

KATHLEEN KANE-WILLIS: Yes. In fact, in Illinois, we do see Fentanyl in the heroin pretty commonly. I think it's the new normal, actually. I think it's, that's my suspicion, that when you think about drug trafficking, it's much easier to bring in something that's so much smaller and more powerful, because Fentanyl is 100 times more powerful than heroin, or morphine, and so if you're going to smuggle something in, it makes sense to put Fentanyl in the heroin, because the potency would be high, and the quantity you would need would be much smaller. So, it makes sense from a trafficking perspective that that would be the way that things are going, not just in Illinois, but across the nation.

DOUG MCVAY: Well now, give me some of the numbers. What are some of the, how, in terms of treatment for instance, what kind of treatment access do people have in the state of Illinois, how does it, and how's Chicago?

KATHLEEN KANE-WILLIS: Well, one of the issues that we have in Illinois is the fact, so, there's state-funded treatment, and that's usually, that's funded by general revenue dollars with matching grants from the feds. In Illinois, because we've had such a dire fiscal situation, and we, there have been a lot of cuts to treatment, in terms of funding, that the cuts to treatment funding, which represent, it's about 30 percent of general revenue funding has been cut, although this next year it's going to be cut even further, it's going to be like a 61 percent decrease since 2007.

But that's not the whole picture. People don't understand that the uncertainty of funding, meaning there would be a cut to funding then maybe it would be reinstated a couple months later, that kind of uncertainty in funding human services means that the availability of treatment goes down too, at a much higher rate than actually the dollars in and dollars out. It's not so simple as that, because a treatment facility, for example, if they don't have funding, it's not as though they can take in folks and then the next month take in double the number, if they get the funding restored. Do you understand what I mean?

So, you know, that, when there's a cut made, and even if it's partially restored later down the road, the capacity is diminished, even if that funding is restored because you can't -- it's not like you can double the number of beds or double the number of treatment slots. So, that's the situation that we have in Illinois, and then on the Medicaid side, we have a serious problem because medication assisted treatment is not funded in Illinois, methadone is totally not funded under Medicaid, not at all. Zero. The only way you can get methadone is under state funded treatment facilities, which have been, the capacity has dropped by more than 50 percent.

So, we've got that issue, and then buprenorphine, we have the most restrictive time limits for buprenorphine, lifetime time limits in the nation. The longest you can get buprenorphine treatment is one year, and so Illinois is arguably having one of the, you know, it's one of the worst states in terms of this issue, the heroin and opiate issue, and then we don't have the medications to be able to treat people with methadone, and then we have the huge decrease in funding, which brings us -- and this is shameful for Illinois -- just above Texas and Tennessee as the worst in the nation. So, that's in a nutshell basically the finding of the report.

And, you know, one of the things that, we did look at downstate Illinois, and for people who are familiar with downstate Illinois, from a Chicago perspective, that's anything south of Chicago metro area, the increase in places like Decatur, which are very rural, you know, it is really staggering, in terms of people entering treatment for heroin. In 2012, that's the last year that data was available for comparison with all of the states, we hit a new high in terms of the number of people, the percentage of people entering treatment for heroin. It went up to 16 percent of all treatment admissions across the nation were for heroin, that's the highest level since data collection began in 1992. In Illinois, one out of 4 people enters, 25 percent of people enter treatment for heroin, of all publicly funded treatment. So, it's significantly higher and the Chicago metro area, 35 percent are entering treatment. So you can see, there's an absolute need, and at the same time, a giant decline in treatment capacity.

And, just to say one thing, one of the other findings that we found, and it's not necessarily been so much in the media, is 15 percent of our, of Illinois's treatment capacity is taken up by criminal justice system referrals for marijuana. And so when you think about this scenario, you've got to say, we have to triage treatment, we can't be giving treatment to folks with marijuana use disorders over people with opiate use disorders, just from the perspective of, you know, marijuana's not a lethal drug, it's not associated with acquisitive crime, it doesn't have the same public health risks that heroin and opioid use does. And so, you know, that's another place that we could think about in terms of, even if the funding isn't restored, maybe we could use this limited capacity in a more, in a smarter way.

DOUG MCVAY: You know, and it would be one thing if we had unlimited resources, but resources by their, by the nature, this is limited, and it -- leaving aside the question of how ridiculous it is to force people into treatment because they get caught with a joint, but then again, they're going to have a high, they're going to have a high probability of success for treatment, so that kind of explains why they would be shunted through the system and put into a treatment slot, I suppose. Keep those numbers up.

KATHLEEN KANE-WILLIS: It's absolutely true. I mean, I think that, you know, in our drug court system in Illinois, there isn't, you know, there's a mandate federally, with federal money for drug courts, that you must, you must use, you must follow evidence based guidelines and allow for all medication assisted treatment to be used, but in Illinois, that's not the case. And so when you've got people who are criminal justice system referred for heroin or opiate use, and you don't allow them to use the best treatments that are available, the evidence based treatments, because you don't like them as a judge, or probation officer, then you're going to have worse outcomes among that population.

So, this is about matching the science and following the federal guidelines, and the Centers for Disease Control and SAMHSA and even the ONDCP recommends this. So, you know, we've got a pretty dire situation in Illinois. Someone asked me, is this a cautionary tale, and I kind of think it is. You have to be, people don't pay attention to these issues really, because they're kind of in the weeds for them. You know, they don't understand what treatment is, they don't understand necessarily, you know, treatment to them is this, you know, sort of magic box where people walk into residential and they come out quote unquote "cured", you know. But really, what effective treatment looks like isn't necessarily that. It's using these medications that have been proven so effective for so many years, you know, with methadone we're talking about 40 years of efficacy.

And the reduction, from a fiscally conservative point of view although this isn't necessarily where I come from on this issue, methadone saves 12 dollars for every one dollar invested. So it's, it has a bigger bang for its buck in terms of cost savings then, say, just traditional treatment. Because it has a harm reduction component, you know, and generally harm reduction practices save a lot of money.

DOUG MCVAY: Well, and looking at it from the public safety standpoint, if you have someone who is going to a methadone or buprenorphine, and they're maintaining, and they're, you know, doing this stuff, they're able to simply, you know, get the dose that they need legally, without having to commit a crime, without having to give money to someone who may be committing other crimes, then you have, that's a public safety win, you know?

KATHLEEN KANE-WILLIS: Absolutely. Absolutely, and, you know, we looked at, in terms of the prison population, expansion of methadone. We believe that providing methadone for 2,500 people would save the state one hundred million dollars, but would also probably reduce the prison population by at least a thousand folks, at least. I mean, that's a very conservative estimate, based on a number of different populations. So, you know, Illinois is really embarking on criminal justice reform, the problem is, you can't just cut the prison population and not provide people with some services, especially when they are suffering from addictive illness related to, you know, heroin or opioids, because when they can't get those, you know, when they're suffering from that and it's not like they can just stop, because they go into withdrawal and the withdrawal syndrome is pretty severe, so unless you give somebody some medication to deal with that part of it, I mean, the success rates are very, very, very poor without medication assisted treatment.

So, in some respects, Illinois has done everything wrong to deal with this crisis. I mean, advocacy has done much to help on the overdose prevention side, and so I think that's what's maybe keeping our deaths a little bit less high than they would be otherwise with naloxone access and the "good samaritan" law. But on the other pieces, we're just failing.

DOUG MCVAY: Well, Kathie, good luck. I've been speaking with Kathleen Kane-Willis, she's the director of the Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy. She's at Roosevelt University, an advocate and drug policy reformer, a very good friend, and you do good work, Kathie, we're very lucky to have you, Illinois is very lucky to have you there.

KATHLEEN KANE-WILLIS: Thank you so much, Doug, and thanks for taking the time to talk to me today.

DOUG MCVAY: You're listening to Century Of Lies, a production of the Drug Truth Network. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org. Well, that's all the time we really have today. Thank you for listening. Recordings of this show and past shows are available for free download from the website DrugTruth.net.

We'll be back next week with more news and commentary on 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.