09/23/12 Phil Smith

Cultural Baggage Radio Show

Phil Smith reporter for Drug War Chronicle + Good Samaritan Law: CA Assemblyman Tom Amiano, Denise Cullen & Gretchen Burns Bergman

Audio file


Cultural Baggage / September 23, 2012


Broadcasting on the Drug Truth Network, this is Cultural Baggage.

“It’s not only inhumane, it is really fundamentally Un-American.”

“No more! Drug War!” “No more! Drug War!”
“No more! Drug War!” “No more! Drug War!”

DEAN BECKER: My Name is Dean Becker. I don’t condone or encourage the use of any drugs, legal or illegal. I report the unvarnished truth about the pharmaceutical, banking, prison and judicial nightmare that feeds on Eternal Drug War.


DEAN BECKER: Welcome to this edition of Cultural Baggage. Every week the evidence against this drug war gets a little stronger and support by people like you gets a little bolder and we get a little closer to ending this madness.

PHIL SMITH: This is Phil Smith of the Drug War Chronicle – that’s the publication of stopthedrugwar.org. We’re an organization that’s interested (as you might guess) in ending drug prohibition and replacing it with a more sane and sensible policy.

DEAN BECKER: Phil, the fact of the matter is there’s so much news breaking within the drug war – pros and cons all kinds of things going on – what are a couple of the top stories you’d like to bring forward today?

PHIL SMITH: It’s six weeks out from Election Day and we have marijuana legalization initiatives on the ballot in three states. This is very interesting to me. We’ve got a couple of them that look very well placed to actually win.

In Colorado we have Amendment 64 which would legalize possession of up to an ounce by adults, 21 and older. They can also grow up to 6 plants and it would create a state registered marijuana cultivation and distribution system. It’s leading by 10 points in the polls – hovering right around 50% which is encouraging but still leads me a little bit nervous because the initiatives tend to lose a little bit in the last few weeks.

The good thing is that it has a 10 point lead. All the undecided are going to have to break against it very definitively for it to lose.

It’s looking even stronger in Washington State where Initiative 502 is leading by more than 20 points in the poll. It’s about 57% right now.

Both Colorado and Washington the campaigns in both states have lots of money. They’re going to be able to do advertising in the final weeks and that’s critical.

Unlike you and I, Dean, most people aren’t really paying attention to elections until about the last month. So we can poll all we want in July or August but that doesn’t really mean that much. It’s the final month that really counts and that’s when the opposition shows up, too, and then you start to see a drop off in support.

Still, in both Colorado and Washington, there’s a very good chance that we’re going to marijuana legalized on November 6 th.

The third state where there is a legalization initiative is Oregon. That’s Measure 80 there. It’s not doing as well. The latest polls have it down by 4 points, trailing 37% to 41%. What is encouraging there is there is a large undecided vote – 22%. Still it’s disappointing in Oregon.

There are some problems with the measure in Oregon. The biggest one, as far as I can tell, is the guy who’s operating it is controversial in the state. He doesn’t have the best reputation among people in the movement. He also doesn’t have any money. Unlike Colorado and Washington the Oregon initiative hasn’t been visited by the big donors of the movement and they are basically out of funds at this point. So it’s difficult for me to see how they’re going to turn that around in Oregon. Though, of course, I wish them the best.

You’re seeing a lot of friendly fire in Washington State – more so than in any other states. It’s reminiscent of the “stoners” against Prop 19 in California a couple years ago. I’m not certain how important that is in the overall scheme of things. It makes a lot of noise within the movement but medical marijuana people are a small fraction of the electorate in Washington or in any other state.

So even though there is some sniping from allies I don’t think that’s going to make the difference in Washington.

DEAN BECKER: Along with the for tended progress here in these United States there’s also a couple of other nations…Well, down in Central and South America that are considering changes as well. Do you want to talk about those laws?

PHIL SMITH: Sure. There’s breaking news out of Colombia last night that’s very interesting. Last month the left wing mayor of Bogota, Gustavo Petro, had proposed creating safe consumption rooms for addicts in Bogota, the capital, and proposed allowing them to get their drugs via medical prescription.

Now President Santos had initially been skeptical about that and had spoken out against that last month but Petro and Santos had a meeting yesterday in Bogota and at the end of the meeting they announced that Santos had approved that proposal.

Now how that is going to play out and when it’s going to play out remains to be seen. Are they going to be doing cocaine maintenance for addicts in Bogota. Are they going to try wean them off cocaine? They’re talking like they’re going to give them the drug to wean them off of it. We’ll see how this works out.

But that’s very interesting. That would be more of an advance than just safe injection rooms or just prescription maintenance drugs. It could be both. It’s another sign that Latin America is breaking away from drug war orthodoxy.

Santos spoken out very critically of the War on Drugs so he hasn’t wanted to take the lead but this is one area where they can break with orthodoxy, do an experiment right in the capital city and see what happens.

DEAN BECKER: I remember hearing that Mexican President Calderon was very interested in when California was voting on legalization. There was even the thought put forward that should that happen it would give them the ability to do something similar in their country as well. Your response, Phil Smith.

PHIL SMITH: If we were to legalize in California there would be big pressure from Mexico to regularize the marijuana trade there. Mexico is a major marijuana producer. They would like to be able to take their product to legitimate markets.

Of course I don’t really see that happening. A lot of opposition from California growers but it shows that there is interest in alternative ways of dealing with the drug trade and the drug traffic. Again, it’s another sign of the increasingly tattered drug war orthodoxy. People are open to new ideas.

DEAN BECKER: Phil, as you know, last week I just returned from the Caravan for Peace. It was about 32 days, 17 states and I think 26 cities and Washington, D.C. The fact of the matter is the U.S. press gave it very minimal coverage – some local coverage, I’ll say and I don’t think any national coverage. Your response to that.

PHIL SMITH: Sadly I’m not surprised to hear that. I know that we, at the Drug War Chronicle, covered it. I wrote a couple of stories at various points but the U.S. mainstream media seems unable to focus on more than one or two things at a time.

It’s all about the day-to-day rivalry in the election campaigns right now. It doesn’t have the time or inclination to do nuanced reporting on the drug war or its impacts on other countries.

DEAN BECKER: Well that’s sad…

PHIL SMITH: It is a sad state of affairs.

DEAN BECKER: It is indeed. Now, Phil, the fact of the matter is there is hope out there. There are more and more - not that many but a few politicians willing to stand up and proclaim this drug war a failure. Am I correct?

PHIL SMITH: Yes there are. You see that at a local level more than a national level. In Oregon, for instance, you had a major state senator come out and endorse Measure 80. In Colorado you are seeing some elected officials endorsing the initiative there. You’re also seeing Democratic Party organizations at the local level and even statewide in Colorado endorsing the legalization initiative there.

I want to say one other thing about Colorado. There’s some very interesting politics there around the presidential campaign. We have both Obama and Romney against legalization. You also have Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson who is running hard on legalization and he’s running hard in Colorado.

Obama is leading by about 2 points in the average of the polls. When you factor Gary Johnson in Obama’s lead narrows and it looks like Johnson is taking 3 votes from Obama for every 2 that he’s taking from Romney. This could be a situation where on election night we see Obama losing the state arguably because of his position on marijuana legalization - voters that would have voted for him instead making a protest vote for Gary Johnson as they vote for marijuana legalization at the same time.

Also recall in Colorado it’s one of the states where federal prosecutors are cracking down on the dispensaries. They have managed to shutter dozens of dispensaries in Colorado and people there aren’t happy about it.

We always talk about politicians having to pay a price for supporting the drug war. In Colorado if Obama loses the state because of Gary Johnson polls 3 or 4 or 5% I think drug reformers will be able to make the argument that this is a case where Obama’s position on marijuana legalization cost him the state. That could be very interesting.

DEAN BECKER: Indeed it could. Well, once again, friends, we’ve been speaking with Mr. Phil Smith of Stop the Drug War, Drug War Chronicle. Phil, point them towards the website where they can learn more from your organization.

PHIL SMITH: It’s http://www.stopthedrugwar.org


[crowd noises]

How bassakward can a nation be?

Watch America and you will see.

They fight and die forever more.

They love to wage unwinnable wars.

Drugs and terror…world wars forever.

Drugs and terror…world wars forever.


MEAGAN RALSTON: The passage of AB472 or more coloqually known as The Good Samaritan Act and 911 Bill. My name Meagan Ralston. I’m the Harm Reduction Manager for the Drug Policy Alliance. I’ve worked for quite a long time to help get this bill passed.

I would like to open this teleconference by inviting Assembly Member Amiano to make his remarks.

TOM AMIANO: We had to struggle to get this bill signed and we had a setback last year. The Governor wanted more data and it was a little frustrating because we think we have a lot of data so we really worked at honing that in the language of the bill and the research behind it.

Something that was gratifying to me was that we did get republican support and they were very eloquent about it in their speaking and, of course, the Governor did us a favor by signing this early. He still has a couple of weeks for bills to be sitting on his desk.

It’s been a terrific rush to know that this is going to open the door to many other areas and pervues particularly the issue of addiction which we’re just beginning to understand and not always side on doing the punitive route but looking at programs and therapy and rehabilitation and just removing this criminal aspect to it. I think, again, let light shine on this issue in a way that it has not before.

I just wanted to also thank the republican congressional from…Representative Mary Bono Mack who went to the bat for us by calling all the republicans in my house and in the senate urging them to support this bill.

Again, a tremendous team effort. Everyone needs to stew and feel really good about it and now our work, our real work will begin.

Thank you all.

MEAGAN RALSTON: Thank you Mr. Amiano. For the sake of the journalist who may not know any specifics about the bill or may be hearing about the bill for the very first time would you like to take a moment to briefly explain what the bill does?

TOM AMIANO: Sure, yes. We’ve seen a lot of these cases over the years, not exclusively to young people but many times young people, they’re experimenting with drugs (we don’t condone that) or they may be addicted with a friend or friends and they overdose. The friend or friends have been very, very intimidated by being criminally involved in whatever might happen if, in fact, they are good Samaritans and report this to 911 particularly or go to an ER room.

This bill gives them limited immunity to save that life and not suffer a consequence for the reporting of the overdose. That’s a very big step. If there’s any other criminal activity happening (selling, procuring or involvement in some criminal act) there’s no immunity for that.

The good Samaritan gesture alerting those who can save this person’s life is now protected by this bill. We’re probably one of ten states that have done this. It’s a terrific tool for harm reduction and I also think that there’s great ability with this bill to educate the public.

MEAGAN RALSTON: I want to make it very clear that the law provides very narrow, very specific, very limited immunity from arrest and charge from very low-level drug law violations. If it’s not included in the bill it’s not covered so things like driving while intoxicated, for example, are not shielded under this bill.

Denise Cullen is the co-founder of GRASP, Grief, Recovery After a Substance Passing, as well as Broken No More. She is a surviving mom of Jeff, her beautiful young son who unfortunately died from a drug overdose and she is a powerful advocate for change. She’s worked for quite some time to raise awareness about this bill.

I would like to introduce Denise Cullen.

DENISE CULLEN: Thank you, Meagan. As Meagan said my husband and I lost our son, Jeff, at age 27 to an accidental drug overdose four years ago after struggling with addiction illness for around 12 years.

He was a great kid and we miss him a lot and as a result of that we decided to do some activism. We founded Broken No More – a non-profit organization based in Palm Desert that works to change drug policies among other things.

A large part of our organization is about grief recovery and that’s GRASP – Grief, Recovery After a Substance Passing. We administer and help create face-to-face groups for people who have lost a loved one through substance use – usually an overdose. We have 45 face-to-face chapters across the country and more are being added regularly.

We also have a very active online support network through Facebook for people who can’t get to a group. We needed 45 groups in California alone and across the United States but we’re working on that.

This bill will help prevent the deaths of countless Californians. It might have saved our son. I personally know many, many people whose loved ones would still be here if this law had been passed earlier and was in every state.

We’re elated that it’s finally become law and we thank Assembly Member Amiano so much for that. We are so grateful for his never giving up. So many of our members have asked us to pass on their gratitude as well. There is such relief in knowing that human lives will be saved because people are not afraid to call. Those people who are saved will be given a second chance because of this bill.

It really is that simple – lives will be saved and they are mostly young lives.

Now our job is to get the word out so people will know that they don’t have to be afraid and that they can call for help without fear and not leave their friend or the person they’re with or dump them somewhere. That’s going to be so huge.

Many organizations will be involved in this effort – drug rehab centers, grief groups like ours, parent advocacy groups, drug policy reformers – anyone and everyone who cares about life will be doing outreach to get the word out.

Please call for help. Don’t leave someone when they’re overdosing.

We would love to see public service announcements on TV, information given out in schools when they talk about real drug education – not scare tactics (the kind that don’t help our kids.) This is info about protecting young people from sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancy. This should be normal conversation.

It does not mean we want to promote drug use. We just want people to have the knowledge they need to minimize the harm. This effort has been one of many things we have done that my husband and I have felt has helped in our healing process.

I know that my boy is happy about this wherever he is. He always wanted to help others and now he has in a small way contributed to this huge step that will at last, as Mr. Amiano said, lead to further enlightenment about the issue of addiction and addictive illness.

Thank you very much for listening.

MEAGAN RALSTON: Thank you, Denise, really appreciate that powerful statement.

Just to make a little bit of context for the OD problem in the state of California and how urgently necessary and important the passage of this bill was. For the first time in the state of California in 2009 according to the California Department of Public Health death records there were more deaths attributed to overdose and drug poisoning than from motor vehicle accidents. This really mirrors a trend that’s happening all across the country. So it’s really a significant problem. Thousands of Californian families are impacted every year.

This bill, itself, the notion of protecting people who call 911 to report an overdose in progress is really a response to a big body of research that has been done over the years that has shown time and time again that the number one reason that people delay or fail to call for emergency at the scene of an overdose is the fear of law enforcement involvement particularly the fear of arrest even for just low-level, nonviolent, small amount drug possessions. People are very scared of what could happen to themselves or to the overdose victim. So this law is really a response to the research that helped us to determine that this law would help to make some sense and encourage people to call and do the right thing.

I’d like to now turn this over to Gretchen Burns Bergman who, as I mentioned, is the lead organizer of Moms United to End the War on Drugs as well as the Executive Director of A New Path: Parents for Addiction Treatment and Healing.

GRETCHEN BURNS BERGMAN: Good morning and thank you for your attention to this really important issue. As Meagan said I’m the co-founder and Executive Director of A New PATH with stands for Parents for Addiction Treatment and Healing. We’re a nonprofit organization that advocates for therapeutic rather than punitive drug policies. We’re based in San Diego and out of Los Angeles as well.

I’m the lead organizer of our Moms United to End the War on Drugs national campaign. This is an effort for mothers to lead the charge to end the mass incarceration, violence and overdose deaths that are the result of the stigmatization and criminalization of people who use drugs and who are addicted to drugs.

Most of all I’m on this call as a mother of two sons who have addictive illness. Heroin is their drug of choice. My oldest son is in long-term recovery and the younger son is still struggling.

In 2011 I testified at the capital in favor of this life saving public policy so I speak for thousands of mothers and family members who are grateful for the passage of AB 472, the Good Samaratan law. California has one of the highest overdose death rates in the country and many of these overdoses could have been prevented with timely medical assistance. Unfortunately all too often witnesses of an overdose don’t call 911 for emergency services because they’re afraid of police involvement and arrest as Meagan stated.

My oldest son is from either of both the criminal justice system and of overdose. He’s in long-term recovery now and works as a drug and alcohol counselor. He survived two potentially fatal overdoses that I know of. The most dramatic is when I got a call in the middle of the night from the mother of his girlfriend that he was in the hospital in serious condition.

His friends who had partied with him left him unconscious afraid to call for help. Thank God this good Samaratan got him to the emergency room. I waited there for hours not knowing whether he would live or die. I have many friends now like Denise who weren’t so lucky. Drug addiction is a life threatening disease and we are losing countless young people unnecessarily.

My youngest son is still in the throes of drug addiction and still very much at risk. Now prescription drugs are complicating the issue for him and so many others. Drug overdose has become a plague. My son has actually been in the position to save the lives of several of his drug abusing friends even though he risked arrest himself. Now, with the passage of this law, I hope others will step in to save the life of a friend or a loved one.

This is just the beginning. We must adopt more strategies like this that will keep people with drug problems alive for the cure. Providing limited criminal immunity for the witness or the victim of an overdose is the right and humane thing to do. It can save valuable lives and create more hopeful and positive outcomes for these individuals as well as the families that won’t have to experience this devastating, tragic and avoidable loss.

Whether it saves the life for someone like my son who some might feel, because of discrimination and judgment, doesn’t deserve another chance…or is a smart kid in an elite college taking a cocktail of drugs for the very first time or a pain patient who had a bad drug interaction.

This law is about harm reduction. It’s about reducing the roadblocks to recovery and it’s about saving lives. Now we must all work together – mothers, family members, educators, health care providers, media and community leaders to raise awareness about this important new law.

Thank you so much for listening.

MEAGAN RALSTON: Thank you so much, Gretchen for that powerful statement.

California has been particularly hard hit. We are an enormous state with an enormous population. As you might expect we have a pretty enormous overdose problem and a fatal overdose problem at that.

So the bill is really in response to wanting to do the right thing. With no cost to taxpayers we can immediately implement this law but life-saving laws are only as good as the number of people who know that they exist so it’s really critical for all of us to work together going forward to help get the word out that this law exists.

We are really hoping that drug treatment facilities or any kind of rehabilitation facility that receives state money certainly, colleges and universities, public health facilities – any place where you might encounter someone who is at high risk for an accidental drug overdose – those are the partners that we’re really hoping to call upon to help us get the word out.

It may seem like, you know, are we really helping the right kind of people with this law and how many lives will we save. Well, the right kind of people to help are your loved ones who may be at risk and the right number of lives to save is the lives that you want to have saved whether it’s a sorority girl away from home for the first time as Gretchen said experimenting with drugs or whether it’s someone who has had a long-standing drug problem.

There are so many people who are at risk for an accidental drug overdose from all walks of life, from every socio-economic background. Every race, every ethnicity is impacted by this so this is really just a common sense, no-cost way to help save lives, to encourage people to do the right thing because even delaying a few minutes as you sit and frantically discuss, “Should we call 911?” can result in traumatic injury to the person experiencing the overdose particularly if they are unconscious and not breathing.

We want to eliminate those panicked conversations. We want to get people to that phone as quickly as possible by assuring them that they don’t need to worry about being in possession of very small of amounts of drugs or drug paraphernalia that what we really want to focus on is the health aspect of the drug overdose not the criminal justice or punitive response to it but just get medical help for that person as quickly as possible.



Criminals get so embolden.

Rip you off thinking you’re holdin’

Can’t tell the policeman what you know.

Got no recourse to the law.

Bad guys duct tape and beat you.

They’re just looking for that easy score.

They will rob, rape and kill you.

Cuz we got no recourse to the law


DEAN BECKER: Well, that’s about it. Please be sure to check out this week’s Century of Lies show which features an interview with Professor William Martin of the prestigious James A. Baker, III Institute for Public Policy.

As always I remind you that because of prohibition you don’t know what’s in that bag. Please, be careful.


DEAN BECKER: To the Drug Truth Network listeners around the world, this is Dean Becker for Cultural Baggage and the Unvarnished Truth.

This show produced at the Pacifica Studios of KPFT Houston.

Tap dancing… on the edge… of an abyss.
Transcript provided by: Jo-D Harrison of www.DrugSense.org