01/15/17 Doug McVay

Century of Lies

This week we look at the newly released report from the National Academy of Sciences, The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids; and we continue our look at the man who might become the next US Attorney General, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, and examine whether Beauregard believes that the Constitution and civil rights enforcement are barriers to effective law enforcement.

Audio file


JANUARY 15, 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.

Let's start this week with the man who's likely to become our next Attorney General, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III. The Senate Judiciary Committee held its hearings on Sessions on January 10 and 11. The Senator's colleagues from that Committee questioned him at length on a variety of topics, and Beauregard gave them carefully scripted replies. Last week, to get a clearer idea of Beauregard, we listened to part of a June 2016 DEA oversight hearing before the Judiciary Committee. Beauregard made clear that he thought the best way to deal with opiate use, and drugs in general, is a law enforcement-centered approach, in spite of the fact that a law enforcement-centered approach has failed for decades.

This week, we're going to listen to portions of another Judiciary Committee hearing, to hear what Beauregard has to say about civil rights and the police. But first, let's look at a couple of recent news items relating to civil rights and the police, to put what we're going to hear into perspective.

Unless you've been living under a rock for the past few years you will know that the Chicago Police Department has been under investigation because of several horrible incidents of racism and police brutality. These incidents are only coming to light and getting broad public exposure because we live in the information age where many people have cameras on their phones and even more people have social media accounts. Well, on January 13 of this year, the Justice Department announced the findings of its investigation into the Chicago Police Department. According to the Department's news release, they found, quote:

“that it has found reasonable cause to believe that the Chicago Police Department (CPD) engages in a pattern or practice of using force, including deadly force, in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution. The department found that CPD officers’ practices unnecessarily endanger themselves and result in unnecessary and avoidable uses of force. The pattern or practice results from systemic deficiencies in training and accountability, including the failure to train officers in de-escalation and the failure to conduct meaningful investigations of uses of force.” End quote.

Among its findings, quote:

“The Justice Department investigation found that CPD officers have engaged in a pattern or practice of using force, including deadly force, that is unreasonable, in violation of the Fourth Amendment. This pattern or practice includes:
“-- Shooting at fleeing suspects who presented no immediate threat;
“-- Shooting at vehicles without justification;
“-- Using less-lethal force, including tasers, against people who pose no threat;
“-- Using force to retaliate against and punish individuals;
“-- Using excessive force against juveniles;

“In addition, the following practices contribute to the pattern or practice of excessive force:
“-- Failing to effectively de-escalate situations or to use crisis intervention techniques to reduce the need for force;
“-- Employing tactics that unnecessarily endanger officers and result in avoidable shootings and other uses of force; and
“-- Failing to accurately document and meaningfully review officers’ use of force.

“With regard to accountability, the investigation found:
“-- The city fails to investigate the majority of cases it is required to investigate by law.
“-- When it does investigate, the questioning of officers is aimed at eliciting information favorable to the officer, and investigators do not confront officers with inconsistent physical evidence.
“-- The city does not take sufficient steps to secure accurate and complete witness statements, including by preventing officers from concealing misconduct.
“-- Discipline is haphazard, unpredictable and does not deter misconduct.

"The Justice Department identified a number of other systemic deficiencies, including:
“-- Inadequate training and supervision;
“-- Insufficient support for officer wellness and safety;
“-- Data collection systems that impede transparency;
“-- A promotions system seen as political and unfair by officers; and
“-- Failure to adequately address racially discriminatory conduct by officers -- which in some respects is caused by deficiencies in CPD’s systems of training, supervision and accountability -- and the corrosive effect on police legitimacy of excessive force, which falls most heavily on Chicago’s communities of color.”

End quote.

The day before that announcement, on January 12, the Justice Department announced, quote:

“that it has entered into a court enforceable agreement with the city of Baltimore to resolve the department’s findings that the Baltimore City Police Department (BPD) engages in a pattern and practice of conduct that violates the First, Fourth and 14th Amendments of the Constitution as well as federal anti-discrimination laws."

Now that we have more context, let's turn back to Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, who's likely to become our next Attorney General.

In November of 2015, the Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Oversight, Agency Action, Federal Rights and Federal Courts, held a hearing titled “The War on Police: How the Federal Government Undermines State and Local Law Enforcement.” The hearing was chaired by Senator Ted Cruz. The witnesses you're about to hear were Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division; and Ronald L. Davis, Director of the Justice Department's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. They're being questioned – well, harangued, really – by Beauregard. Before any more ado can be furthered, let's hear that audio.

SENATOR JEFFERSON BEAUREGARD SESSIONS III: Thank you, Mister Chairman, and, this is a hearing I think is important. We need to talk about some of these issues, and there is a perception, not altogether unjustified, that this Department, Civil Rights Division, goes beyond fair and balanced treatment, but has an agenda. That's been a troubling issue for a number of years, frankly.

Your predecessor nominee was rejected for this job, the Civil Rights Division job, was, according to the Fraternal Order of Police, they wrote a letter that noted that under his leadership, the Legal Defense Fund for the NAACP volunteered their services to represent Wesley Cook, better known as Mumia Abu-Jamal, our country's most notorious cop killer.

This nomination can be interpreted only one way, is a thumb in the eye of our nation's law enforcement officers. It demonstrates a lack of regard or empathy for those who strive to serve you and everyone in our nation, and keep them safe in their streets and homes, and we believe that law enforcement and minority communities need to build even greater bonds of trust and respect, yet your Civil Rights Division, under the leadership of the prior officer, Thomas Perez and Roy Austin, has increasingly built obstacles to this goal, with this punitive approach to local law enforcement agencies.

So. Now, you're nomination, you've been named as acting. Is that right? But have not yet been nominated?

VANITA GUPTA: That is correct.

JEFFERSON SESSIONS: And you are, prior to joining the Department of Justice, you served as Deputy Legal Director for the American Civil Liberties Union, and Director for its Center for Justice, and prior to that, you were an attorney for the Racial Justice Program, and prior to that, you served as a lawyer for the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund. So I'm just saying that you come from a background that indicates an aggressiveness in these cases. Now, Civil Rights Division can fulfill a [sic] important role, I've seen attorneys, I've worked with them in a grand jury, investigating police, and the goal is, and must be, to obtain truth, and find out what the real facts are.

So, let's talk about this a bit here. First, Mister Davis, I talked to an experienced law enforcement officer in Alabama, who's, he said the kind of problems that we're seeing, and the legal actions that have been taken, and the marches and protests about police, do have the tendency to cause people, as he said, to stay under the shade tree, and not walk the streets like community based policing, that you advocate, promotes. We won't go into details about it, but I truly believe community based policing is a great thing. And police are going to be in dangerous situations, I know you'll agree, and sometimes they'll confront people who are violent, and they have to be able to defend themselves, do they not?

RONALD DAVIS: Yes, sir, they do.

JEFFERSON SESSIONS: And sometimes, that can lead to misunderstandings and false claims about the criminal against the police officer. Sometimes.

RONALD DAVIS: That is correct, Senator, and I would tell you, and I'm sure your, the esteemed colleague in your state will share this with you, when it comes to the evaluation of those decisions, the officers are more concerned about the decisions within their local department, and local elected leaders, and how they're going to be treated for those decisions. So that's always a concern, because the officers just want fairness and want people to understand the nuance and the difficulties of being police.

JEFFERSON SESSIONS: Well, it's difficult. I keep thinking that, Gilbert and Sullivan, I think it's Pirates of Penzance. Constabulary duties are to be done, to be done, the policeman's lot is not a happy one.. So it's not easy, to go out and arrest people, and have to make these decisions and put them in the slammer, sometimes.

In your speech, that you made to the United States Attorneys in New Jersey, Miss Gupta, you say there, that, you talk about the charges made against police and what police say in their own defense, and conclude, there's truth in both these perspectives. Presumably what both sides say about, the criminal, or arrestee, or not. And you also close by saying, if we would take time to listen, really listen, why protesters take the streets, why police officers risk their lives everyday, we would find that while perspectives may differ, people's aspirations and their values tend to be very similar. We all want safe streets. We all want stronger communities, we all believe in justice. This was an article written by Roger Clegg and Hans von Spakovsky, both former members of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, your division.

And, they say, we find it hard to imagine that, for example, #BlackLivesMatter protesters in Saint Louis, chanting pigs in a blanket, fry them like bacon, right after two New York police officers were assassinated, have the same aspirations and values as law enforcement officers who risk their lives every day. Do you see the concern that police officers might have about those kind of comments?

VANITA GUPTA: I find those kind of comments abhorrent, and I think that they do a disservice to the legions of peaceful protesters that are raising attention to serious issues around the country.

JEFFERSON SESSIONS: Well, I was really referring to your comments. In 2013, while working for the ACLU, you wrote an op-ed in the New York Times in which you stated you were elated when you learned that Attorney General Holder had quote directed all federal prosecutors to exercise their discretion toward ending the relentless warehousing of inmates, the vast majority of whom are minorites, in federal prison for low-level drug crimes. Do you think most of the prisoners are for low-level drug crimes?

VANITA GUPTA: Senator, at the helm -- at my job --

JEFFERSON SESSIONS: I don't think you could find a low-level drug crime. There are only 15 in the federal penitentiary, I understand, for simple possession of drugs.

VANITA GUPTA: Senator, as the head of the Civil Rights Division, I enforce the civil rights statutes that we are given, and do not have a say-so in our sentencing policies at the Division.

JEFFERSON SESSIONS: Well, I'm troubled by your comments, that's all I'm saying. You want to be the head of the Civil Rights Division, I don't feel good about that comment. How about this. In the Fordham Law Review in 2005, you wrote, we do not have criminal justice system whose subjugation of people of color is contingent upon -- excuse me. We do have a criminal justice system whose subjugation of people of color is contingent upon individualizing all cases. It is how we have managed to rationalize racism in the criminal justice system. Now, as I understand this theory, and it's been about for some time, it says you should not valuate individual cases based on whether or not a person is guilty of that crime or not, but some other theory involving racism. Do you think a case should be evaluated simply on the facts? Whether a person is guilty of the crime or not?

VANITA GUPTA: Senator, at the Civil Rights Division, I oversee career prosecutors and lawyers who are committed to investigating the facts and the evidence, and going where the law takes them based on that, and that is what we are committed to at the Civil Rights Division.

JEFFERSON SESSIONS: Well, I'm very troubled by that radical statement you made in that article. You go on to say in that article, critical race lawyering is about transforming business as usual in the criminal justice system, a business that is usually masked as being racially neutral, bias-free, and just a crime facts ma'am industry. We have to transform that business as usual into a counter-narrative about police practices, racial bais, and the irrationality of many of our criminal justice policies. Do you still adhere to those views?

VANITA GUPTA: Senator, that was an article that I wrote I think over a decade ago, but at the Civil Rights Division, I, as I said, enforce the statutes that Congress has given us to enforce, and that is what I do, and that is what the career lawyers and prosecutors do at the Civil Rights Division each and every day.

JEFFERSON SESSIONS: Well, it's clear that police officers all over America are concerned about the Department of Justice, and I think based on those writings that, acting head, you now have about law enforcement and police, gives them a basis to be concerned.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III; Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of DOJ's Civil Rights Division; and Ronald L. Davis, Director of the DOJ's Community Oriented Policing Services.

Beauregard is the nominee for Attorney General in the Trump administration. The Judiciary Committee held its confirmation hearings on January 10 and 11. I thought of playing in some of the audio from that, and we still might in the next week or so. Thing is, that was a carefully scripted performance. Beauregard was playing not just to the Committee, he was also playing to the American public, trying to allay their fears and to convince us that he's not as extreme as he actually is.

Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III is the wrong person for the job of Attorney General. His nomination should be opposed. Many organizations are working to stop the nomination, including the NAACP, the Drug Policy Alliance and the DC Cannabis Coalition. More information at drugpolicy.org #StopSessions

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 for the last half of today's show, we're going have a segment on this new report by the National Academy of Sciences on the Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids, which was issued January 12th.

This report was a follow-up really to the 1999 [sic: 1998] report on Cannabis and Health, which was itself a follow-up to the 1983 report. They've all found that health concerns regarding marijuana are minimal. Compared to alcohol, certainly, marijuana is relatively benign. That sort of comparison was beyond the remit of the Academy. As far as public policy is concerned, they had this to say, quote:

“The political landscape for the commercialization, decriminalization, and use of cannabis is constantly evolving. As federal and state agencies continue to grapple with these important public policy issues, it is important to consider that each political decision may have significant public health implications.

“As laws and policies continue to change, research must also. Unfortunately, research on the health effects and potential therapeutic potential of cannabis use has been limited in this country, despite enormous changes at the state level. As such, there is currently limited research evidence to guide policy. This lack of aggregated knowledge is a significant impediment to not only scientific understanding of cannabis, but also the advancement of public policy and the nation's overall public health.”

End quote.

The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids was released on January 12. They held an online news conference to announce the release and summarize the results. Here's some of that audio. The first voice you hear will be that of Sean Hennessy, PhD, a Professor of Epidemiology at the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine.

SEAN HENNESSY, PHD: So, the committee found three indications for which there was either substantial or conclusive evidence for the efficacy of either cannabis itself, cannabis-based products, or synthetic cannabinoids.

The first of those is nausea and vomiting associated with cancer chemotherapy. That is an FDA-approved indication for two synthetic cannabinoids.

Further, in adults with chronic pain, and in persons with muscle spasms associated with multiple sclerosis, there is good quality evidence that some patients obtain substantial relief based -- from either cannabis or cannabis-based products.

With the other conditions that we examined, there was either limited, no, or insufficient evidence either for or against a therapeutic effect.

I'd now like to move to potential adverse effects of cannabis, starting with respiratory disease. So the committee found that there was substantial evidence that long-term smoking of cannabis results in worse respiratory symptoms, including an increase in the frequency of episodes of chronic bronchitis.

There are a couple of physiologic measures of lung function that are effected by long-term cannabis smoking, although the clinical importance of those physiologic metrics is unknown.

There's also moderate evidence that stopping smoking of cannabis results in improvements in some of the respiratory problems, including chronic bronchitis, that I mentioned above.

There was really limited evidence of associations between cannabis smoking and one set of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and of onset of asthma and asthma exacerbations.

Now, for the discussion on injury, I turn the briefing over to Bob Wallace.

ROBERT B. WALLACE, MD: Let me start with issues related to injury and overall mortality. We did find that cannabis use prior to driving increases the risk of being involved in a motor vehicle accident.

With regard to children in states where cannabis use is legal, there's been an increased of unintentional cannabis overdose, injuries, and the evidence for that was moderate.

With regard to all-cause mortality, that is general causes of death, we found insufficient evidence, unclear and insufficient evidence that recreational cannabis smoking was associated with all-cause, or in fact with occupational injury.

Let me turn next to the cancer issue. There was moderate evidence of no statistical association between cannabis smoking and the incidence of lung cancer, and that was also true of another smoking related, tobacco-smoking related set of tumors, and that is head and neck cancers.

There was limited evidence of a positive association between current, frequent and chronic cannabis smoking and one particular type of testicular cancer.

On the next slide, we list a number of cancer site, other cancer sites, where there generally have been few or single studies, and in all these instances, there was insufficient evidence to support or refute an association, and that included esophageal cancer, and the second bullet you can see a number of cancers including prostate, cervical, brain tumors, Hodgkins lymphoma, penile cancer, anal cancer, and other tumors.

And then finally, there have been mostly single studies that have looked at whether maternal use of cannabis during pregnancy leads to cancer in the offspring, and again, there are single studies that have suggested an association for the variety of tumors that you can read in the third bullet, and we found insufficient evidence for all of these associations.

So, I'd like -- I want to finally talk about cardio-metabolic risk, and we found limited and unclear evidence about the association between cannabis use and heart attack, stroke, and diabetes.

So now I'd like to turn it over, back to Professor McCormick, to talk about some of the other issues.

MARIE MCCORMICK, MD: When we looked at the literature on the effects of cannabis and cannabinoids and immunity, we found that there was a paucity of data on the effects of cannabis or other substances on the human immune system. In essence, there's insufficient data to draw overarching conclusions concerning the effects of cannabis smoke or cannabinoids on immune competence.

There's some evidence that suggests that there may be limited anti-inflammatory activity, and there's insufficient evidence to support or refute a connection between cannabis and cannabinoid use, and the effects on the immune status of individuals with HIV.

Turning to prenatal, perinatal, and neonatal outcomes, we found strong evidence that smoking cannabis during pregnancy is linked to lower birth weights in infants, however, the relationship between smoking cannabis during pregnancy and other pregnancy and childhood outcomes was unclear.

And now I'd like to turn over to Sachin Patel to talk about the psychosocial outcomes.

SACHIN PATEL, MD, PHD: So, with regard to cannabis use and psychosocial outcomes, the main findings were that recent cannabis use was found to impair performance and cognitive domains of learning, memory, and attention, with recent use being defined as use within the past 24 hours of evaluation.

In addition, a limited numbers of -- a limited number of studies suggest that there are impairments in cognitive domains of learning and memory in attentional -- attention in individuals who have stopped smoking cannabis.

And lastly, that cannabis use during adolescence is related to impairment in subsequent academic, achievement, education, employment, and income, and social relations, and social roles.

Turning now to mental health outcomes, we found that there was substantial evidence for a statistical association between cannabis use and the development of schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders, with highest risk being associated with the most frequent cannabis use.

In individuals with schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders, a history of cannabis use may be linked to better performance on measures of learning and memory tasks.

In addition, cannabis use does not appear to increase the likelihood of developing depression, anxiety disorders, or post traumatic stress disorder.

For individuals diagnosed with bipolar disorder, nearly daily use may be linked to greater symptoms of bipolar disorder relative to non-cannabis users.

In addition, heavy cannabis users are more likely to report thoughts of suicide than non-cannabis users.

Lastly, regular cannabis is likely to increase the risk of developing a specific type of anxiety disorder known as social anxiety disorder.

Those highlight the mental health outcomes with the strongest evidence.

DOUG MCVAY: You just heard Professor Sean Hennessy from the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine; Robert B. Wallace, MD, the Irene Ensminger Stecher Professor of Epidemiology and Internal Medicine in the Department of Epidemiology at the University of Iowa College of Public Health; committee chair Marie McCormick, MD, who is a Professor at the Harvard School of Public Health at Harvard University; and Sachin Patel, M.D., Ph.D, he's an Associate Professor and Director in the Division of Addiction Psychiatry at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center. They were speaking at a news conference announcing the release of The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids.

This was a review of what the evidence clearly shows. There are certainly a lot of things for which we have a good reason to believe cannabis can be useful, but there's just not enough of what they would consider decent research to be able to prove it. And, the fact that marijuana is still in Schedule One is one of the reasons why we don't have the ability to get that research done. By de-scheduling marijuana entirely, we eliminate the problem and can actually engage in the research that's needed.

The thing is, whether you agree that this report is the current state of knowledge in marijuana science, you have to know that this is the report that lawmakers and policymakers around the US, and around the world, are going to be looking at and referring to as we move forward with medical cannabis and with adult social use marijuana.

A full-text copy of the report is available on the web from the National Academy website, and that's NationalAcademies.org. Everyone should download a copy and become familiar with it.

And well folks, that's it for this week. I 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.