11/09/14 Doug McVay

Century of Lies

Doug McVay Reports: Following this weeks election, we talk with Sanho Tree of the Institute of Policy Studies and journalist Kristen Gwynne.

Audio file


Century of Lies, November 9, 2014

DOUG MCVAY: Hello and welcome to Century of Lies. I'm your host, Doug McVay, editor of Drug War Facts dot org. Century of Lies is a production of the Drug Truth Network, which comes to you through the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network and is supported by the generosity of the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy and of listeners like you.

Find us on the web at drug truth dot net, where you can find past programs and you can subscribe to our podcasts. You can follow me on twitter, where I'm at drug policy facts, and also at doug mcvay. The Drug Truth Network is on Facebook, be sure to give its page a Like, you can find Drug War Facts on facebook as well, please give it a like and share it with friends.

DOUG MCVAY: Now, on with the show.

Tuesday November Fourth was election day around the country, as I'm sure most of you noticed.

DOUG MCVAY: Legalization measures in Alaska, Oregon, and DC all passed. A sentencing reform bill, a sentencing reform initiative I should say in California passed. How to make sense of it all? And on top of all that, the Republicans have taken the Senate, they still hold the House. Here in Oregon we're a weird oasis of progressivism so the Democrats have strengthened their position in the Oregon legislature, the Democrat won the governor's race, the Democrat won the Senate race, and of course my Congressman is Earl Blumenauer – 'nuff said.

I need to step out of the Oregon bubble and look at the rest of the country, and to do that I want to reach out and talk to the smartest person I know, certainly one of the most politically savvy people I've ever met, Sanho Tree. Good morning, Sanho.

SANHO TREE: Good morning, Doug, how are you?

DOUG MCVAY: I'm doing great, my friend, I'm doing great. So, uh, so congratulations. You now live in a slightly more free colony.

SANHO TREE: Well, we both live in newly liberated territory in the Americas, as one might say. So Oregon, Washington DC, along with Alaska and Guam, all passed marijuana reform. So this is, it's good news. You know, it's been depressing in the sense that this is an overwhelming red tide, red wave election of conservative juggernauts, right? And yet marijuana won consistently in this election, and that should send a very strong and clear message to both parties, that in the midst of this overwhelming conservative wave, that cannabis did so well.

Even in Florida, where we quote unquote “lost”, we got 57%, they needed 60% because it was a constitutional amendment in the state for medical marijuana. But even that loss was a victory. 57%, no politician would sneeze at that, right? So this is a very important election for us as a movement.

DOUG MCVAY: I think if there's any state in the country where 57% still loses the election, it would have to be Florida. At least it wasn't hanging chads this time. So then, so now DC's results were spectacular, I mean, the last time I looked it was running 64, 65%? That's ...

SANHO TREE: 69. So yeah, it's an amazing margin, it's just such a clear signal. In some ways it's deja vu all over again, right? You and I were involved in this in DC back in 1998 when we first voted on medical marijuana, which won overwhelmingly although we weren't allowed to count the votes for many years thanks to Republicans. But this time we counted the votes and we won.

DOUG MCVAY: Now this one could be interesting. They have I guess 60 days after the results are transmitted to Congress, they have 60 days to try to stop it. When does – sixty days, thirty days, when does the period start, will the new Republican majority in both houses of Congress be seated in time to try and block it, or will uh, will the lame duck session be the ones who get to decide?

SANHO TREE: Boy, it's uh, I'm not entirely sure exactly what the chronology will, how that will work out, but it's going to be a very interesting civil war within the GOP. I think that's going to be the real interesting question. Yes, the, Congressman Andy Harris for instance from eastern shore of Maryland, a teaparty Republican, has vowed to try to interfere, try to monkeywrench this as he did with, tried to do with marijuana decriminalization over the summer in DC. But that kind of blew up in his face, he ended up with a boycott of his district, the eastern shore, which is a very popular summertime vacation spot for a lot of DC residents, Ocean City and whatnot.

And going into 2016, this question of states' rights versus federal powers is going to be a huge issue for the 2016 presidential race. So within the GOP they have to handle this issue very, very carefully so as not to exacerbate what is already a civil war between the social conservatives and the more libertarian wing of the party.

DOUG MCVAY: I'm imagining that the results up in Alaska are going to, I mean – oh, Alaska's an odd state, I'll grant you, but a win in Oregon, “Oh well whatever, it's Oregon, they're that liberal oasis out in the northwest,” a win in DC “well yeah but that's DC and oh, you know, they're just our colony.” But uh, but yeah, 57% out of Florida, a win in Alaska. I – so let's keep on, let's keep on talking about the ramifications, what this is all going to mean.

SANHO TREE: Well Alaska's a big Republican state, they really won this year, so for them to pass marijuana legalization is also again very, very important. It's counter-intuitive in a lot of ways, but it just shows you how, how trans-partisan this issue is now.

DOUG MCVAY: And that's I think one of the things that's going to play really well for us, the fact that the Democrats and the Republicans, it transcends party, it's uh, and. Well, then comes the next question of what happens. Will they try and block it?

SANHO TREE: I was just joking with a reporter this morning that Obama should try for an inhale Mary pass, right? Because the two issues I think that could really salvage his last two years in office, one is going against the over-incarceration of people and the criminal justice system and marijuana policy, and also going up against the cable companies. I have yet to meet a voter that likes the cable monopolies that they're stuck with. Right? I don't see why that's not a bigger electoral issue. If Obama took those two things on, he could be the American Tommy Douglas. Shout out to the Canadian fans out there, Tommy Douglas was the guy who gave national health care to Canada, and is the most beloved Canadian figure in history. And I think, any president, or any party that takes on these two issues could do very well with the voters, and look very good in history, quite frankly.

DOUG MCVAY: He's got two years to try and figure something out, and it's not just his legacy, it's what we end up being stuck with for four more years, 2017 to 2020. It's um, it's – wow . Now, you mentioned sentencing reform, I need to jump over there for just a moment because that's another huge win, the victory in California for measure, for proposition sorry 47, which, um, which does sentencing reform, changes the penalty classification for some drug and property crimes. I mean, California has been under a federal court order to reduce its prison population, they've tried doing early releases of prisoners, they've tried taking people out of prisons and sentencing them to jails instead so now you have a lot of over-crowded jails, and of course trying to expand some of the private prisons but that's, that too is just backfiring everywhere. So this latest thing, Measure 47, changing the penalty, of course that's on the heels of the new, the sentencing guidelines being reformed, a set of, uh, a set of changes that the Sentencing Commission had proposed were allowed to go into effect, Congress – yeah, talk to me a little bit about some of the sentencing reform stuff we're seeing.

SANHO TREE: And California is the state that gave us three strikes, right? So they have come full circle now, they're kind of bipolar on this issue, right? But they passed three strikes, they lived with that hangover for years, and the cost of over-incarceration, and now they've passed Prop 47. So I think that's a great bellwether for the rest of the nation, and it shows you the limitations of these zero tolerance, iron fist type criminal justice policies. They do nothing but fill up prisons and really don't address any of the underlying problems that we face as a society. So I think that's one of the, you know – marijuana gets the most coverage but I think is one of the real sleeper issues of this election, is Prop 47 and the way we view criminal justice in general.

DOUG MCVAY: Well, I think that the fact that in DC, Initiative 71 was framed as a, as, so heavily with the racial component, the fact – pardon me – the fact that um, the fact – wow, 70% - uh, anyway, just, I'm still, those numbers in DC, it's just astounding. But you know, the racial component being so very, very strongly argued there, and of course legalizing simply means that the authorities no longer have that as an excuse and they'll simply find other excuses, and racially prejudiced, racially biased enforcement and prosecution patterns will still continue until we really make a change, but uh …

Well, now, yeah. One of the things that's always concerned me has been the possibility that the marijuana legalizers, and lord love you but I'm always concerned that those folks are going to say, “Okeh, well hey, got mine. You guys, you have fun, but we're going to go out and make some money.” And, now, do you see that, do you see that or do you think that we've managed to radicalize enough of these, enough of my fellow weed-heads to – because I am one of them, by gosh – have we managed to radicalize enough of my fellow smokers to actually keep them involved in this?

SANHO TREE: Well you know a lot of people I think enter this movement based on personal interests. They might skew libertarian or they might, you know, want to do this as a personal liberty issue, but the more they learn about what's going on – it's the way most people get involved in drug law reform, is you realize holy cow, this is so much deeper and more complex than, and more oppressive than I had any idea of when I first started in this movement, you know, personally, over twenty years ago. We come into this movement through various points of entry but we tend to end up staying for the long haul when we learn about how interdisciplinary and how interconnected these problems are.

And, a lot of people start out with personal interest but they stay for social justice. And I think DC's initiative 71 was a great statement about social justice. This marijuana legalization measure was passed not because of individual liberty or any kind of libertarian platform, but because it was front and center a problem of racial justice and fairness. That's how it was sold in DC, and that's why it passed in DC. So I think that's another good message to take out of this election.

DOUG MCVAY: Well, and let's make sure that folks realize, you know, that the, uh, that the DC initiative legalizes cultivation, it legalizes possession, people can have up to two ounces, they can grow some plants for themselves, but it does not set up any kind of regulatory system for sales, it doesn't set up marijuana shops, it's uh, it's – this wasn't a measure that was being pushed by businesses and by entrepreneurs hoping to get in on the green rush. I mean, maybe down the road they're hoping to, the city council I understand is looking at how to do a regulated, uh, a regulated system. But, uh, this was a, this was – I think this was in a way more of a pure legalization measure, much more along the lines of some of the – I mean some of the folks who object to regulation, who object to the notion of state control over the marijuana market, this initiative doesn't do that, it's uh ...

SANHO TREE: And even if the federal government chooses to try and intervene, if the Republicans try to mess with this in Congress, we still have the right to grow our own in DC, so that doesn't require any act of Congress, that's done. People can grow up to six plants, three of them mature, and gift, you know, a certain amount to friends, not for profit, or without payment rather. And so that is a big deal, and I think, you know, in theory everyone can get behind that one. That, you're not actually asking any kind of taxation or regulation or anything else, you're not asking to set up a marketplace, this is simply a grow your own and be left alone. Even if that's all we're left with, that's still a huge victory, I think.

Mark Kleiman, the drug reform gadfly, is now promoting the idea of grow and gift as a possibility for DC. Although the city council have been very proactive and terrific on this issue. The city council, led by councilmember David Grossa, who's a really up-and-coming progressive star in DC politics, you know, championed this for a long time now, and last week held epic hearings, I mean really day-long, monumental, it was really long to listen through and to watch, but this is how responsive local government should behave. Even before this thing was passed last week the city council already held hearings on how we're going to implement this, and have a tax-and-regulate model.

So that's really being proactive. And I think people should really watch those hearings and try to push similar things in their own regions. This is what accountable governance, responsible democratic politics looks like.

DOUG MCVAY: They did a tremendous job, I'm hoping I can get Adam Eidinger from DC Marijuana Campaign and also of course Dr. Malik Burnett from Drug Policy Alliance. Spoke to him yesterday briefly on a, on a different show, and uh, yeah. This is – well of course, yeah, it's two things: How is this going to unfold in DC, and, uh, and, you know, and there – here's the question. Now, DC legalization means that 535 members of Congress are going to live in a place where it's legal. It's not something they're going to read about, it's not something happening in somebody else's constituency, which they visit once in a while, it's going to be in the place where these, people – for want of a better word – where these people – and I think that I am using that word quite wrongly in some cases – it's where these congresspeople live, they're going to be living around legal marijuana, and legal marijuana users, they're probably going to have marijuana users on staff, who can actually admit to it now. What kind of impact do you think that's going to have on the, on the Congressmembers, do you think it will have any?

SANHO TREE: I think it's profound and I think it's under-rated, under-acknowledged. In legal theory there's something called the normative power of the actual: because it exists, because it is normalized and people are familiar with it, it has a tremendous power to, to change their perceptions of how things can work and should work. The same reason that the Supreme Court doesn't want to touch gay marriage with a 10-foot pole at this point, even though they're a very conservative Supreme Court and some of them would love to take on this issue. They dare not because so many states and so many lower courts have passed this, it's a done deal for so many people, voters and constituents, that if they try to overturn, at that point it becomes, their own legitimacy comes into question.

And so I think when marijuana is so normalized in the nation's capitol, which not only sets the agenda for, politically for the rest of the country but also the world, I think this is going to be a huge issue, and one that's only going to be more prominent. You can hear all over the world, I think, you've got journalists coming to DC to look at what's happening in the nation's capitol as the last of our drug warriors try to salvage the drug war overseas. It's going to be a very difficult, uphill battle for the drug warriors at this point.

DOUG MCVAY: Well, and in fact of course we've got the uh, the UN General Assembly is preparing for its special session on drugs in 2016. We've had meetings and reports in the UN in New York and meetings in Vienna on – which I've covered in a couple of shows actually, some fantastic, fantastic, you know, reports from different countries talking about legalization and drug policy and the need for change. There is still a lot of resistance from people like Fedotov, the head of UNODC, and the folks over at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, but now it's in DC and so the foreign journalists and also every country in the world that has an embassy in the uh, in the District, is going to be – again, they're living in a place where it's legal. It's not something they're going to read about in a state that's someplace in the middle or on the far coast which they never visit, it's right there in their back yard.

SANHO TREE: And it also, I think puts the drug warriors in Washington under the microscope, under the international microscope as well. Because when, you have the GOP controlling both houses of Congress now, they control all the chairmanships, all the chairmanships, and they have subpeona power in the Senate. And so you have hardliners still, like Senator Charles Grassley, who along with Senator Dianne Feinstein controls the Senate Narcotics Caucus, the dead-enders of the drug war, and you have, you know, people like Andy Harris threatening to mess with DC's legalization, that sort of thing. They have to move very carefully within their own party now, because you have senators like Rand Paul who has come out, you know, in respecting DC's vote on this issue. So they have to be careful not to set off and really highlight those tensions within their own party.

I think we will get pushback. I think there will be, you know, the drug war got a shot of adrenaline last night, in the sense that, you know, some of the hardliners are now going to have some more leverage to make trouble. But on the other hand I think that the pushback from within their own party could be quite interesting as well.

DOUG MCVAY: Oh, and gosh, you had to mention one of the senators from Iowa, Chuck Grassley. I – we've talked before, you know I'm originally from Iowa, and um, I have never been more embarrassed for my home state than I am now. They've got that joke of a, that joke of a – but yeah ...

SANHO TREE: Now there's Joni Ernst.

DOUG MCVAY: And now we've got Joni Ernst, and for heaven's sake! Wow, my gosh, I mean, oh … there's an old joke we used to have about how when an Iowan moves to Missouri it, when an Iowan moves to Missouri it raises the IQ level in both states. Unfortunately I think it's been going in reverse. I don't know what on earth is the problem with that place. And out here in Oregon of course, we have one of the only senators who actually endorsed a marijuana legalization initiative. He did it softly, but Jeff Merkley, the senator from Oregon who won last night, you know – against a rather well-funded opponent. He took it and, uh, and I think that has to be proof that endorsing legalization is, even at that level, a positive thing.

SANHO TREE: Absolutely. I think Mark Udall in Colorado should have taken some advice on that front. It became almost a single-issue candidate, running on reproductive rights, which are hugely important in Colorado, but Colorado also has a lot of other issues as well, and he kind of neglected that, I think. Yeah, marijuana is the wave in this election. Journalists keep talking about the red wave, but the marijuana wave I think is even more surprising, and important, since it defied such conventional wisdom.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Sanho Tree, Sanho is a fellow with the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC, and director of IPS's Drug Policy Project.

We're going to take a short break. You are listening to Century Of Lies, a production of the Drug Truth Network. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of Drug War Facts dot org. Century Of Lies is heard on 420 Radio dot org on Mondays at 11 am and 11 pm, and Saturdays at 4 am, all times are pacific. We are heard on time4hemp dot com on Wednesdays between 1 and 2pm pacific along with our sister program Cultural Baggage. And we're on The Detour Talk Network at thedetour.us on Tuesdays at 8:30pm. A few of the stations out there that carry Century Of Lies include WERU 89.9 FM in Blue Hill, Maine; WPRR 1680 am 95.3 fm in Grand Rapids, Michigan; WIEC 102.7 FM in Eau Claire, WI; WGOT-LP 94.7 FM in Gainesville, FL; KRFP 90.3 FM in Moscow, Idaho; and Free Radio Santa Cruz 101.3 fm in Santa Cruz California.

Welcome back.

Let's stay with the election results for a bit. I spoke on the phone recently with a journalist named Kristen Gwynne.

DOUG MCVAY: Kristen Gwynne is a journalist, her work has appeared on alternet and in Rolling Stone, and I'm, and I'm happy to say that she's on the line with me today. Kristen Gwynne, thanks for joining us.

KRISTEN GWYNNE: Thanks for having me, Doug.

DOUG MCVAY: So last night was just a madhouse. We had election victories all over the country for ballot measures. The, we won't talk about, well maybe we will later, about the Senate. But the good news was that we had some legalization measures pass. What's your take on this?

KRISTEN GWYNNE: I think it's a big step and definitely proof that the zeitgeist has definitively shifted toward the legalization of marijuana. I mean last night you had three initiatives to legalize marijuana, in Alaska, Oregon, and in Washington DC, and all three of them passed, so that's three for three, which is looking really good. In Florida we had medical marijuana fail because it didn't reach the 60% threshold but considering that about 57% of Florida voters actually voted yes on medical marijuana, I think that's also a good sign. Florida is a bellwether state, meaning that its population is reflective of the nation's population at large, and so anything that happens in Florida in a midterm election is considered, uh – it kind of just sets the stage for national politics in 2016, and so legislators and policymakers all around the country are always looking to Florida. Even though we saw a failure there, the fact that the majority of voters want medical marijuana there is really significant.

DOUG MCVAY: There were a lot of people saying “don't try in 2014, if it's close, if it fails, oh it will set things back.” Others of us were arguing that hey, if you want to get momentum for 2016 then you should try the waters and get up in some of these states, like Oregon, which has had a ballot measure attempt almost every election cycle for the past several. Actually this was the third ballot measure in Oregon to attempt to legalize marijuana. The first back in 1986, ballot measure 5, was actually a lot more similar to DC's, it legalized possession and cultivation, they left out plant limits and such. Anyway, that's all history now.

So, going into the, going into 2016, how do you think this is going to effect not just California's hopeful attempt at a measure, but some of the other states out there that will be considering legalization?

KRISTEN GWYNNE: I mean it's hard to say whether or not they'll pass at this point, but I think that at the very least they'll be able to get more funding. Because you've seen, Alaska was a conservative state and less sure to pass than Oregon yet we saw success there anyway. So I think that at the very least all the initiatives to legalize marijuana in 2016 going forward should have the funding and support from bigger drug policy groups that have the cash to throw behind these campaigns. But, it's obviously important and could be really helpful. I mean in Florida, part of the problem was that the opposition campaign had more money than you've ever seen for anti-marijuana, ever.

So I think that just the idea that this is all possible will give advocates more money to get things done and that that will be important, at least in getting things ready for 2016. As far as the outcome, I'm not sure, you know, we'll see what happens over the next couple of years but I think it's looking good and it definitely seems to be a domino effect right now. Even if we don't see as high a rate of success in 2016, I mean if all the states proposing marijuana legalization don't pass it, I think it's only a matter of time until they do.

DOUG MCVAY: Now then we have the, in California we have the Proposition 47 which reduced the penalty classifications for a number of different offenses, drug and property crimes, effectively reduce – well no, actually reducing the penalty from a felony down to a misdemeanor for simple possession. Do you think we're going to see more of this going on around the country?

KRISTEN GWYNNE: I would certainly hope so. I mean, I think that part of the momentum behind marijuana legalization right now is that prisons are over-crowded and we don't want people in prison for low-level marijuana arrests, and really that idea just needs to be extended to all drugs, beyond marijuana. So hopefully if there's more activism around that issue we will see reductions in the criminal penalties for all types of drug possession, not just weed, but I don't think that it has the same kind of popular support as marijuana right now.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Kristen Gwynne, she's a journalist, and you can find her work on Vox, on Alternet, Rolling Stone, among other outlets.

And that's it for this week. I'm Doug McVay and this was Century of Lies. Thank you for listening. You can find a recording of this show and past shows at the website drug truth dot net, where you can check out our other programs and subscribe to our podcasts. Follow me on Twitter, where I'm @ Drug Policy Facts and @ Doug McVay. The Drug Truth Network is on Facebook, be sure to give its page a Like, you can find Drug War Facts on facebook as well, please give it a like and share it with friends. Spread the word. Remember: Knowledge is power.

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!