08/26/08 - Graham Boyd

Century of Lies

Graham Boyd of the American Civil Liberties Union + Valerie Corral of Wo/Mens Alliance for Medical Marijuana

Audio file

Century of Lies, August 26, 2008

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.

Dean Becker: Welcome to this edition of Century of Lies. I’m so glad you could be with us. Today we’re going to bring in for our guest Mr. Graham Boyd of the American Civil Liberties Union. We’re going to bring him in in just about a minute fifteen. But we’re going to be talking about a beautiful woman out in California and a beautiful organization, WAMM, and their progress: two steps forward, one step back. But I think we just made two steps forward. And with that:

Valerie Corral: My name is Valerie Leveroni Corral. I’m the cofounder, with my husband Mike and Director of WAMM, the Wo/Mens Alliance for Medical Marijuana, and that’s men and women, Wo/Men, so we’re a collective of patients and care givers who work to build hope in people’s lives when they’re facing serious illness and death and we provide marijuana at no cost and on a donation basis, that we grow in our collective gardens. And we have begun a new sister organization, it’s an outreach, from the natural evolution, if you will, from WAMM and that’s Raha Kudo, the Design for Dying Center. So it’s really tremendously enriching work and while we use marijuana medicinally in many of it’s different forms for treatment for a variety of symptoms for illness, it’s really not about marijuana. It’s about human beings helping each other and the journey we that we must all someday make which is to prepare for the moment of death and to have a good, rich life in the meantime.

Dean Becker: All right. And with that let’s do go ahead and bring in our guest, Mr. Graham Boyd, American Civil Liberties Union. Are you with us, Graham?

Graham Boyd: I’m here, thank you very much.

Dean Becker: Thank you for being our guest, sir. We do appreciate it. I hope you were able to hear that minute from Valerie.

Graham Boyd: I was, and she, I know Valerie quite well and she’s somebody I admire so much. She is just as compassionate and caring and sort of an angel walking on Earth as she sounds like.

Dean Becker: Indeed she is, sir. I agree a hundred percent. Now, it has been perhaps her leadership, her compassion and her commitment to ending suffering, diminishing suffering that has enabled them to gain some traction. The San Francisco Chronicle had a story couple of days back, ‘A federal judge breathed new life Wednesday into medical marijuana advocates' effort to ward off the federal crackdown on medical pot in California, saying enforcement of U.S. drug laws can go too far if it seeks to interfere with state authority.’ And you and the ACLU were very much involved in this effort. Tell us about that, will you?

Graham Boyd: Well, that’s right. I mean, it’s actually, it’s a story that’s been going on for a decade now, of states coming around to the idea that marijuana should not be a crime when a person is using it as medicine, when a person is seriously ill, also doesn’t have any other options. That shouldn’t be a crime. And California was the first state to do that back in 1997. There are now a dozen states that have followed that same road all over the United States. And the federal government has not liked it and it’s not really a political thing, I don’t think, because the Clinton Administration felt about it just as strongly about it as the Bush Administration has. But they’ve really insisted that federal law continues to make marijuana a crime, that that’s the right thing to do, and they’ve gone about arresting any number of people, including Valerie Corral, actually went into her house and held her at gunpoint, took a patient out of a wheelchair and put them down on the ground, face down on the ground, because they were growing marijuana there. So it’s a very extreme, I would say very un-American war on patients, war on doctors, that’s going on and I guess we’re going to talk about it a little more but this latest court decision, I think, is a turn in the right direction. I’m actually quite hopeful about it.

Dean Becker: Well, I have a follow-up question I want to interject here but first, let’s hear a little bit more from Valerie Corral.

Valerie Corral: What we’re doing is really quite something different, different from a buyer’s’ club. And its message, that we’re not an organization or group or a store that tries to sell marijuana for profit. What we’re trying to do here is to relieve suffering. That’s the greatest profit that can be afforded with marijuana is its use offers people relief from suffering. Not everyone, of course. And those people, well, we hope that they don’t trouble themselves with its use.

Dean Becker: All right. That was Valerie Corral of WAMM. And we’re speaking with Mr. Graham Boyd of the American Civil Liberties Union. Graham, she was talking about something that I think may be the key. The fact is they are not in this for profit. There are many of these dispensaries in California that border on exploitive, if you will. Your thoughts, sir?

Graham Boyd: Well, you know, I certainly think that what Valerie does is fantastic. I mean, it’s done with such care and it is non-profit and there is, it’s just beyond reproach from anybody’s point of view. In fact, I remember her saying that when the federal agents came in and were holding her at gunpoint, by the time she had talked to them for fifteen or twenty minutes they clearly were feeling really bad about what they were doing. Everybody loves what they’re doing and loves her and I think you’re right, there is a fair amount of judgement of some of the other dispensaries that are out there but, at the same time, I would say that as long as you’ve got the federal government working in the background with armed agents wanting to shut down any kind of avenue to provide medicine to patients, you’re going to have a system that has some disfunction to it. You’re going to have some things happening that the average person wouldn’t like and so that’s why I say I don’t want to cast judgement here on the people who are providing medicine to patients because I think who’s really to blame here is the federal government. They need to back off and not treat this as a crime and let the cities and states and, I mean, even the federal government could, you know, make this a regulated market, set up some system saying this is where you can have a dispensary, this is how much profit if any you can make, this is the kinds of patients you can serve. I mean, we do that for other pharmaceutical drugs, many of them are quite powerful. It’s not rocket science, it’s quite easy to do. But if you make it a crime and drive it into this sort of unregulated way then you’ve got great folks like Valerie doing what she does and you may have some other people who are doing it with less scruples. So again, I don’t think it’s right to judge those people as much as it is to judge the federal government for being so unbending in their approach.

Dean Becker: Absolutely right, Graham. I didn’t mean to allude to the ‘they were criminals.’ What I was trying to, I guess, was get to that same point. That it is the policy of the government, it is their insistence on the black market that creates this opportunity for some, perhaps, criminal types to get involved. And if it were taxed and regulated that would all disappear and the price would plummet through the floor. Am I right?

Graham Boyd: That’s absolutely right. I believe that’s true. I mean, you could make that argument more broadly and I think it becomes more controversial when you extend it out beyond marijuana but. my goodness., for patients who are ill, who are dying in many cases, there shouldn’t be any, any hoops to jump through and there certainly shouldn’t be the threat of prosecution. It shouldn’t be hard to get your medicine. I think the federal government is just dead wrong and they have been for a decade now. So I’m looking forward to that changing.

Dean Becker: Indeed, sir. Now, there are other major stories breaking in California. There’s a new situation where an employee can be fired for using medical marijuana under the recommendation of his doctor but that was just, if not reversed, it’s in limbo now. Could you discuss that?

Graham Boyd: Sure. Well, you know, it really comes back to the same thing. California State law is quite clear in saying that medical marijuana is legal. It’s just as legal as penicillin is. But the problem is, from an employer’s point of view, you’ve got an employee who’s using medical marijuana and that employer might say ‘OK, I understand you’re not breaking state law, here, but you’re breaking federal law.’ And by ‘using it,’ I don’t mean on the job, I don’t mean somebody’s who’s impaired while they’re doing work. I’m talking about somebody who uses their medication just like you or I or anybody else would, in a responsible way and comes to work and can do the job. Well, the employers were saying ‘I’m not sure I can hire somebody who’s breaking federal law.’ And the State Supreme Court in California ending up agreeing with that, saying that an employer is justified in not hiring somebody who is using medical marijuana responsibly because of the fact that they’re breaking federal law. Well, that’s about to change because the State Legislature has stepped in and said ‘You know, in our state, that’s no excuse. You can’t discriminate against that medical marijuana patient.’ Period. And that bill has passed through the legislature. It’s sitting on the governor’s desk. We expect the governor to sign it and that’s going to broaden out the protection and just making normal the life of somebody who is a patient using medical marijuana.

Dean Becker: You know, I had a long discussion yesterday with Valerie Corral of WAMM and we’re using a couple of slices of it here. And we talked about the fact that these Supreme Court justices who seem so adamant in maintaining this position. She was talking about the fact that they haven’t suffered, they haven’t needed medicine and so forth and they just don’t have the true perception with which to make a more proper decision. And I want to just share one more slice of that interview with Valerie and we’ll delve into this subject a little bit further.

Valerie Corral: I think that there’s a misnomer that when people do opiates, when they take morphine, that maybe they’re doing it just so that they can get high. I will admit that people are taking morphine, taking the anti-emetics, the anti-nausea medicines so that they can feel better but not ‘to get high.’ Getting high is a different, altogether a different story. Now, I also want to say that really, in my opinion after being by the bedsides of more than a hundred people when they’re facing death, there’s really nothing wrong with them feeling better.

Dean Becker: And that’s the point. I’ve heard John Walters say, ‘Well, you could do a line of cocaine or you could do a shot of whiskey and you’ll feel better,’ but it is not, it should not be the concern of the government how we feel. Is it?

Graham Boyd: I completely agree with you but, you know, the hypocrisy is really, it’s amazing here on the Drug Czar’s part. John Walters is President Bush’s Drug Czar and his predecessor in the Clinton Administration, General Barry McCaffrey, just as bad. Both of them really just scorning marijuana as a medicine, saying ‘it makes you feel better, it’s just to feel good.’ Well, the clip you just played of Valerie talking, I think anybody who has been through the process of having a family member die, especially of cancer but any kind of lingering painful disease, you know that in the final days of life the hospital is giving them ever increasing doses of morphine. And that’s entirely -- and morphine is chemically quite similar to heroin, but it is a powerful drug that is dealing with the symptoms of pain but also just making their final days more tolerable, more pleasant. I mean, that’s, that is one of the things that pharmaceutical drugs do and are used for and you can talk to any doctor, that’s completely appropriate. Now that’s a very different issue if you’re talking about somebody who doesn’t have any medical condition and is using a substance of any sort, whether it’s a pharmaceutical or an illegal drug, to change the way that their mind works. It’s different. I still don’t think they ought to be arrested and sent to jail but it’s different. And marijuana is, this in now just beyond dispute, it is a legitimate medicine that helps patients, that treats symptoms, that keeps people from have being nauseous, to deal with pain, it works. And it’s just crazy that any politician would say that they would rather see that patient locked up than have access to medicine.

Dean Becker: Once again, you’re listening to the Century of Lies program on the Drug Truth Network and Pacifica Radio. Our guest today is Mr. Graham Boyd of the American Civil Liberties Union. And you know, Graham, in our kicking this show off, I didn’t give you the chance to tell the folks about the work you do. But please, clarify your job title and what you guys are up to.

Graham Boyd: Sure. I’m happy to and thanks for that opportunity. I’m the director of our national project that deals with drug law issues, the ACLU Drug Law Reform Project. If you go to the web at ACLU.org you can read all about the work we do but medical marijuana’s always been a big part of our agenda and our work. We’re a group of, staff of about eighteen people that work nationally on a lot of litigation but a lot of public education too. And beyond medical marijuana our priorities include a big emphasis on the way that the war on drugs is used to target people of color for prosecution, for arrest and eventually for prison. You know, and our prisons have doubled and redoubled and redoubled again in recent years to the point now that they are just bursting at the seams and a lot of the folks in prison are there because of non-violent drug crimes, because of what they use and put in their bodies or what they sell to somebody else to use and put in their bodies. And, boy, that’s just much better ways to deal with that. It’s a public health issue, not a criminal issue. And if you target that against people of color, as many of the police forces have been doing, you end up just clearing out neighborhoods, especially African-American/Latino neighborhoods, of a lot of the young men who live there, putting them in prison. And it’s just a cycle. I mean, it’s devastating to communities, it’s devastating to the families of people that are affected by that and, you know, I’m hoping that we’re not too far from a different day. When we’ll look at that and we’ll say ‘well, if somebody’s addicted let’s get them help.’ Let’s get them to treatment. If somebody’s selling drugs because they think that’s the best job opportunity around, let’s deal with that. But prison? I mean that’s the most expensive and most destructive way you can deal with it. And so that’s what we work on in the ACLU along with a lot of other issues that are important to Americans and people throughout the United States.

Dean Becker: Yes, Graham, it’s been stated on this program numerous times that if we took the 25 to 50 thousand dollars per year needed to incarcerate these individuals we could educate them. We could send them to a good college. We could help them build a better life but we tend to just squander it and flush it down the toilet.

Graham Boyd: Yeah. Well, I think, you know, I think we, I think for a generation now we’ve been just locked in this political death spiral of each politician wanting to be tougher than the last one and, you know, you can’t ever be the politician who says ‘I’ll tell you what. Let’s try something different and not lock people up,’ because you’re going to get accused of being soft on crime, soft on the war on drugs, all that sort of thing and I think that’s, it’s tough to break out of that. But at the same time I feel like the political rhetoric is shifting some and, you know, we’ve been working, I’d say, in a more quiet way to do the right thing and use an argument that works. But, you know, in the last, oh, I guess the last decade anyway, half of the United States, half of the states have actually scaled back on drug war incarceration, mainly for economic reasons because it costs so much. And we’re working hard on the other half of them, saying ‘you need to take a new look at this thing. You need to spend your money in a way that’s smarter and, at the same time, more compassionate.’ I think we’re heading in the right direction but we’ve got a long way to go.

Dean Becker: You bet we do. Just a few weeks back, your associate Mr. Jay Rorty was here in town attending the American Bar Association convention. They had a major panel there talking about drugs. And I had a chance to ask a question at the end, you know, as a LEAP member. It went something like: ‘I want to destroy the cartels. I want to kill Osama’s cash cow. I want to eliminate the reason these violent gangs exist in America. And that reason, of course, is selling drugs to our kids. And the logical, common sense way to do it is to tax, regulate and actually control drugs.’ And I was speaking to an audience of, you know, clerks and judges and federal authorities and I could kind of see a shock in their face, that these words were being said in such a venue. Your thoughts in that regard.

Graham Boyd: Well, it’s hard. It’s hard to break through the conventional wisdom and I say even more than that the fear. Because, you know I’d say that anybody whose listening to your show and probably a lot of folks out there agree with what we’re saying. Go and try to have a conversation with somebody who doesn’t agree with you and I think you’ll find within about two minutes the person on the other side will say, ‘Well, I agree what we’re doing now doesn’t really work. I agree we ought to try something different. But I’m afraid that if we ease up, if we back off, if we get softer then it’s going to be like this flood gate opens up and everybody’s going to, they’ll be more drugs, they’ll be more addiction.’ And all that sort of thing. Especially with kids. Everybody’s afraid for the kids. And so I say ‘You don’t have to, it’s not an all or nothing proposition, you don’t have to win this debate with every single person but let’s go a step at a time.’ And we’re already doing that. If you go a step at a time with marijuna, so there’s medical marijuana that’s accessible for patients, that’s what we started out talking about. Well, the sky doesn’t fall. When medical marijuana passed in California in 1997, Barry McCaffrey, the Drug Czar, said ‘I can tell you right now that the use of marijuana by young people in California is going to skyrocket because it sends a bad message to kids about marijuana.’ And he funded a special study to look at drug use rates and marijuana rates in California and, guess what, it didn’t change at all. In fact it went down a little bit among young people. So, you know, you can take these incremental reforms -- let’s ease up on our sentencing practices and see what happens. I think what we’re going to find is that every step we take in the direction of treating this as a public health issue is going to be a step towards actually better polices, safer streets, safer communities, less addiction, and so let’s keep on moving in that direction. I think the proof will be in the pudding, if we just keep on moving in that direction.

Dean Becker: I agree with you sir. You know, there are many organizations, in fact many players in the media that are starting to recognize the futility of this drug war. This is from yesterday’s Colorado Springs Gazette. I want to read just a quick paragraph out of it.

‘The problem is drug prohibition, not drugs. Those who support the drug war seem to fall into two main camps: those who believe drugs are bad (no argument here) and must be banned, and those who support the war simply because drugs are illegal. The latter concern can be solved by removing prohibition. Then drugs wouldn't be illegal. The former must be addressed with an appeal to freedom, if not economics.’

Your thoughts there?

Graham Boyd: Well, I think that that’s right. I mean, that’s very much the, I think, the philosophical case for it. And I think that for a lot of people who are serious thinkers about this issue on both sides of it, that’s the debate to do. But, you know, I got to say for my part, I think the real sticking point here is just the political courage of our leaders, the people we elect, to do the right thing or at least to try some small steps in that direction. So the thing that all of us can do, anyone listening to your program today can do, is whenever you see a debate out there about prison sentences for drug dealers or treatment or whatever the thing is, take the time to pick up the phone and call your elected official representatives. If it’s a federal issue in Congress, it it’s a state issue in the state legislature, call them, send them an email, write them a letter and say ‘you know what? I’m one of those people who’d like to see you do the right thing here.’ The right thing is, say what it is. And, you know, if they hear from us that is going to help them have the courage to do the right thing. Because, for sure, they’re going to be hearing from the other side. The other side is organized and they are out there just trying to make us as scared as we can possibly be by pointing to the horror story and scaring everybody into thinking we’ve got to lock everybody up. That’s, we got to push back against that.

Dean Becker: And, you know, you’re right, Graham. I have over the years met with at least dozens of my elected officials, be it state, federal or even city officials and, you know, behind closed doors they can agree that there is a need for change. They can agree that it’s just not working. But as you have stated earlier, they’re afraid to step up and take that swing at the plate. They’re afraid to be the first one to say these things out loud.

Graham Boyd: That’s right. And we’ve got to claim the moral high ground, too. And we’ve got to claim the values here. It’s not, I think it’s easy to paint anybody who believes in, in re-examining the drug laws, to paint them as being hedonistic or somebody who’s just out for everybody having a good time. And I think it’s, some of the best talking I’ve heard on this is from religious leaders who say, ‘My notion of religion, my idea of christianity,’ I heard somebody say, ‘is about redemption, about, you know, you don’t punish the sinner forever but you allow for redemption.’ You’re compassionate, if you care for the poor. All of these, all these sentiments that I think are part of any kind of value system, any kind of faith, to bring that out into the public sphere, too. To use that to talk to the politicians because in calling for drug policy reform I think we are on the morally correct side. I think we care about people, we care about children and we care about our society being a place where people are safe and are healthy. We just happen to think that the best way to do that is by not locking everybody up in prison.

Dean Becker: You betcha. We’ve got about three or four minutes left. I want to get one more clip from Valerie Corral and we’ll come back to you and close out our discussion. But we’re going to hear from Valerie once more.

Valerie Corral: At one point we had, following the Raich decision, before Raich lost in the Supreme Court, we had the first injunction and the first legal, and only known legal, medical marijuana garden in the nation aside from that, that’s ElSohly’s in Mississippi, the federal government’s garden. Mike and myself could arrested at any time. However, we feel that it’s important to continue our work. We’ve never missed a meeting since we were arrested in 2002 and I doubt that the federal government will come after us. They certainly shot themselves in the foot with that. My hope is that we will go ahead and conquer this absurd harmful law and create new laws. And, if not the Supreme Court, will be able to convince Congress that it’s wise of them act in the behalf of its people.

Dean Becker: The harvest, following that Supreme Court ruling regarding the Raich case, must have a good harvest.

Valerie Corral: It was joyous. It was fabulous, yes. We grew a lot that year.

Dean Becker: Valerie, if folks wanted to learn more about WAMM and the work you do, please point them where they need to go on the web.

Valerie Corral: Please see WAMM.org. And if you’re out in California, at the end of September, September 27th, we’re having WAMMFest. It’s a great day in the park to party, to thank our community and to celebrate our freedom after six years of being, since the September when we were arrested by the DEA. Again, WAMM.org.

Dean Becker: All right. We are back once again. You are listening to the Century of Lies program on the Drug Truth Network. Our guest today is Mr. Graham Boyd of the American Civil Liberties Union. Graham, that last segment with Valerie reminded me of our, my closing discussion with her. And they’re losing their land. This bust by the DEA has cost them their savings, it has destroyed their ability to keep this land and, I guess, the gardens. It’s, it just continues, does it not?

Graham Boyd: Well, it’s not, you’re right about that but it’s more than that too. I mean, what WAMM is, also it’s a hospice. It’s a place where people who, in the Santa Cruz area who are dying, who are dying of cancer or other conditions that they would end up in a home or in a place that just wouldn’t be as good for them as the kind of care that Val and her colleagues who are able to give. It’s a support group for people who are ill, which can be a very isolating experience. But they come together and meet together. It’s a wonderful, wonderful organization. And I mean everybody in Santa Cruz recognizes that. They get recognized and they get awards from the city council, from the mayor. They’re heroes. They really are. And I second what Val said: go to their website, WAMM.org. Look at what they do and I think anyone who does will be real impressed.

Dean Becker: You bet they will. Well, Graham, once again give us a website for the ACLU, where folks can learn more about the work you do.

Graham Boyd: Sure. It’s www.ACLU.org. And there’s a tab over towards the right side of the page that says ‘Drug Policy.’ Click on that and you’ll see all of the good stuff we do.

Dean Becker: All right. And, Graham, I want to thank you for the work you’ve done over the years and for the awakening of so many people to what’s really going on before our eyes here. It’s time to speak up and participate in this government, to be a full citizen, right?

Graham Boyd: Well, thanks for saying that but you keep on doing what you do, too. This show is fantastic. I hope that everyone who’s listening will tell ten people about it and they’ll start tuning in too, ‘cause you’re getting a lot of real good information out there. So thank you for that.

Dean Becker: Well, all right. Mr. Graham Boyd of the ACLU. Thank you, sir.

Graham Boyd: Thank you. All right. Bye-bye.

Dean Becker: All right, my friends. You heard my thought that you have to participate. You have to be a citizen. You know, you hear me say it, I’m going to say it again. Write a fifty word paragraph, email it to the newspaper editors, to the, you know, to your state and federal representatives. Do your part. Let them know what you think of this drug war. Only in doing that will we begin to make this change happen. You gotta do it, my friends.

And as always I remind you that there is no truth, justice, logic, scientific fact, no medical data, in fact no reason for this drug war to exist.

We’ve been duped. The drug lords run both sides of this equation. Do your part to help end this madness.

Visit our website, EndProhibition.Org.

Prohibido istac evilesco.

For the Drug Truth Network this is Dean Becker asking you to examine our policy of Drug Prohibition.

The Century of Lies.

This show produced at the Pacifica studios of KPFT, Houston.

Transcript provided by Gee-Whiz Transcripts. Email: glenncg@zoominternet.net