11/23/14 Michael Botticelli

Century of Lies

Doug McVay reports: Acting Drug Czar Michael Botticelli goes before the Senate Judiciary Committee to be confirmed as director of ONDCP, and Representative Earl Blumenauer speaks on the House floor about marijuana legalization.

Audio file


Century of Lies, Nov 23/, 2014

This week: Acting Drug Czar Michael Botticelli goes before the Senate Judiciary Committee to be confirmed as director of ONDCP, and Representative Earl Blumenauer speaks on the House floor about marijuana legalization.

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.

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DOUG MCVAY: Now, on with the show.

Michael Botticelli is a tobacco-addicted recovering alcoholic who has been the acting director of the Office of national Drug Control Policy ever since the last director, former Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske, moved over to head Customs and Border Protection. Recently, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a short hearing on his nomination.

The fact that the Senate Judiciary Committee has oversight and confirmation responsibilities for the Office of national Drug Control Policy underscores one basic fact: In spite of any politically-correct rhetoric, drug control policy is primarily law-enforcement focused, drugs are crimes and drug users are considered criminals.

The question of course is, who should have jurisdiction over the drug czar's office? I used to think the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs was appropriate, because they look at the entirety of the federal system. ONDCP is supposed to help coordinate efforts across all federal agencies, so to an extent that made sense. Now however that committee has become the Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs, and I'm not convinced that ONDCP would be a better fit there than Judiciary.

These days, I'd say that a better alternative would be the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions. The HELP Committee's remit is quite broad, among other things they have jurisdiction over measures relating to education, labor, health, and public welfare. Public health and individual health fall well within that remit, and if substance use is to be considered first and foremost a health issue, then HELP is the only choice.

This issue hasn't really been a high priority for reformers, not yet, but I think it should be one. I know that the Judiciary Committee will do its best to maintain its jurisdiction over ONDCP – giving up power is not something that US Senators and other successful politicians are good at – but ultimately that's beside the point. Even the prohibitionists these days agree that substance use needs to be treated as a health concern. Surely it's time that we started doing that.

I started this rant by talking about Michael Botticelli's recent confirmation hearing. Let's get back to that, and listen to some audio from the hearing. It was a relatively short hearing, Botticelli was crowded onto a panel along with three others who had all been nominated as district court judges. This segment starts with Botticelli's opening statement, then we skip to a couple of questions first from Senator Mazie Hirono, Democrat of Hawaii who chaired the hearing, and then from the ranking member Senator Charles Grassley, Republican of Iowa.

MICHAEL BOTTICELLI: For the sake of dialogue and discussion I'll submit my formal statement for the record to really preserve time but I do want to thank you as chair of this committee and ranking member Grassley. It's an incredible honor for me to be in front of you today. I'd also like to acknowledge Sen. Markey for his willingness to introduce me and for his support. I had the privilege when he was in the House to be one of his constituents when I lived outside of Boston, sort of a long association with him.

I really want to thank President Obama for nominating me for this position, it's a tremendous honor for me to be here. I would like to introduce and acknowledge my husband David Wells for his love and encouragement, I know that I would not be here today without his love and support. Watching by way of webcast, my two older brothers, who were instrumental in guiding me to this point and continue to provide support and guidance for me. I'm also joined here today by many friends and colleagues that I've known for a long time who've given me a tremendous amount of guidance and support not only during my time at ONDCP but also my time at the state level.

I would also like to recognize my parents who are no longer here. My parents were first-generation Italian immigrants and to have their son nominated to this position, I can't thank them enough for all of the hard work and sacrifice that they gave me and my brothers to be in this position where we are today. And finally I'd like to thank my staff at ONDCP, many of whom are here today. I really have the privilege and honor of representing their fine work as we think about protecting the American people from drug use. Thank you.

SEN. MAZIE HIRONO: Thank you very much and just for purposes of clarification, Mr. Botticelli, you are being nominated to be the director of the National Drug Control Policy. We know that opioid addiction is on the rise and the result is an increase in overdoses, death, and costs. I co-sponsored the TREAT Act, which I believe you are familiar with, earlier this year which would expand the number of patients that a provider can treat for opioid addiction as well as the type of provider, providers eligible for providing this kind of treatment. Can you comment on how the TREAT Act fits into a national plan for dealing with opioid addiction?

MICHAEL BOTTICELLI: Senator, as you indicated, we have been significantly concerned about the dramatic increase in opioid use, both prescription drugs and heroin use, throughout the country and as you indicated the devastating impact that that's had on mortality. The recent yearly data show that 110 people are dying every day of a drug-related overdose, and these are deaths that are entirely preventable. In 2011, our office sponsored a prescription drug abuse plan that we're making significant progress on, and one of those principles I think is very much in keeping with the intent of your legislation, that we have effective medications that we know are highly effective not only in treating opioid use disorders but preventing mortality.

And so we are very supportive of looking at ways that we can work with our federal agencies and state and locals to increase access to these life-saving medications. Part of what I started as deputy director was convening a treatment work group of all of our federal partners to look at not only how could we increase access to treatment that we know is effective, but especially focused on increasing access to all the FDA-approved medications for opioid use disorders, so we would be happy to work with you to look at how we can continue to focus our efforts on making sure that people with those disorders have access to those life-saving medications.

SEN. MAZIE HIRONO: My five minutes are up. Senator Grassley, would you like to proceed?

SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY: Just let me explain to our judicial nominees so you don't think you're less important, normally I would be asking questions orally and I'm not today because we got started so late, and it's neither one of our faults, as you probably know it was caucuses for the Democrat and Republican parties that held us up, so I'm going to just ask to Mr. Botticelli.

You've been a leading voice against legalization of recreational marijuana. First of all I would thank you for that. Could you explain why you are against legalization and tell us what the latest scientific studies have shown about the effects of marijuana use on young peoples' brains and the potential for facilitating addiction?

MICHAEL BOTTICELLI: Thank you, ranking member Grassley, and as you indicated we have been opposed to legalization efforts, and that's a direct result of the abundant scientific evidence we have about the public health harms and public safety harms around marijuana. We know that about one in 11 people, or 9 percent, become dependent on marijuana when they use it on a regular basis, and we know that the earlier people use and the earlier youth use, the more likelihood they have in developing a more significant substance use disorder.

While we've made progress in many of the areas on reducing drug use in the United States, marijuana is unfortunately not one of them and we have more youth in the United States now who are smoking marijuana than they are tobacco, and that's directly tied to the lack of risk that youth have in the United States of using marijuana, and that's directly tied to the messages that youth are getting both in terms of legalization efforts as well as medical marijuana, that these substances are not harmful.

Part of what I do when I go across the country is talk to youth about the messages that they hear, and we've made considerable progress on tobacco, and youth will tell you that it's harmful. But I'm really disturbed by what they say to me about marijuana, and they see it as benign, and in some cases they see it as healthful because of a medical community prescribing this medication. So, you know, we have significant issues already with marijuana and we're really concerned about the commercialization of marijuana and what that's going to mean in terms of increased access to youth.

SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY: Some have said that legalization of marijuana should only be a first step, that the use of other drugs like cocaine – cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, should be legalized. Now you've publicly described and you've got to be complimented for doing this, your courageous story, personal story of recovering from addiction. Are you in favor of legalizing the use of these drugs, and what would legalizing use of these drugs do to public health, especially those at risk of addiction?

MICHAEL BOTTICELLI: We do not support that and I do not support that, and, you know, as you indicated, Senator, I only have to look back at my own story around addiction and recovery to know the devastating impact that alcohol and other drugs have on people, and, you know, I know that it's entirely preventable and I know that legalization is not the solution to our problems. And, you know we also know that many of the folks who are promoting the legalization of marijuana see this as a first step, and they want to legalize other drugs which we think is entirely antithetical to a public health approach.

We want to make sure that we're preventing drug use from happening. We want to make sure that we have safe communities that are free from these substances to improve the probability that our youth are going to make healthier choices in their life. So I do not see legalization of marijuana or any other drugs as, as enhancing that public health approach and have significant concerns about the availability of these substances and what it says to the youth of our country.

SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY: We have a situation where a person by the name of Vanita Gupta has been nominated as acting assistant attorney general for civil rights, in addition to being in favor of marijuana legalization she has written that quote, states should decriminalize simple possession of all drugs, with emphasis upon all drugs. So based on your recent statement, I assume it's your view that Ms. Gupta's recommendation would be disastrous for public health if adopted.

MICHAEL BOTTICELLI: I can't speak to exactly what her positions are other than what I've read in the paper. I will tell you that this administration remains firmly opposed to legalization and other liberalization of our, of our drug policies. And again that's not coming from an ideological perspective, it's really based on the robust scientific evidence that we have.

SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY: Sure. And my last question follows on – thank you, it follows on with your discussion of opioids, but a little bit different. The administration's most recent prescription drug prevention plan, issued April 2011, the plan focused on prescription opioids and one of its goals was to reduce deaths associated with these drugs. Since then we've seen an epidemic of prescription drug abuse developed, even in my state and in many parts of the United States. So my last question is: Do you think the plan needs to be revised in any way in light of the alarming developments over the last three years, and if so, would you plan to issue one?

MICHAEL BOTTICELLI: Let me share with you I think what has been some significant progress that we've made since we have implemented many of the strategies of that plan. So, most recent data suggests that the misuse of prescription pain medication among youth and young adults has been dropping, and for the first time in fifteen years we actually saw a decrease in prescription drug-related mortality. So we know, and we are cautiously optimistic that our plan is taking root and taking hold.

One of the things that has been a significant concern for us, although a smaller level, has been the dramatic increase that we have seen in heroin and heroin use rates. And to really reflect that, our most recent 2014 national drug control strategy talks about our continued efforts, both in terms of demand reduction and supply reduction efforts, specifically focused on the heroin issue. We know that many newer users to heroin actually start their opioid addiction on prescription pain medication, so we know we have to keep up our efforts on that front and augment our plan to really focus on the heroin issues that we now see taking hold across the country.

SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY: I thank you for your questions, and I'll thank the other people for answering in writing.

DOUG MCVAY: The voices you just heard were acting drug czar Michael Botticelli, Senator Mazie Hirono, Democrat of Hawaii, and Senator Charles Grassley, Republican of Iowa.

You know, I'm originally from Iowa. I haven't lived there in years yet I'm still embarrassed by Chuck Grassley. If only he, or his staff, would just put down the Readers Digest and try doing even a little real research. For example, if they went to my website at Drug War Facts dot org they would find that, according to an article in Drug And Alcohol Dependence titled "Probability and Predictors of Transition From First Use to Dependence on Nicotine, Alcohol, Cannabis, and Cocaine: Results of the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC)," published on May 1, 2011, quote:

"Consistent with previous estimates from the National Comorbidity Survey, the cumulative probability of transition from use to dependence a decade after use onset was 14.8% among cocaine users, 11.0% among alcohol users, and 5.9% among cannabis users. This probability was 15.6% among nicotine users. Furthermore, lifetime cumulative probability estimates indicated that 67.5% of nicotine users, 22.7% of alcohol users, 20.9% of cocaine users, and 8.9% of cannabis users would become dependent at some time in their life."

End quote.

From the Senate to the House. Members of the drug policy reform caucus held a news conference recently to state their support for DC being allowed to implement marijuana legalization. Voters in DC approved the DC Marijuana Initiative, Measure 71, in the general election earlier this month. Some members of Congress have voiced their disapproval and are trying to get Congress to block the law. Unfortunately the District of Columbia is treated like a colony, its citizens are treated like chattel and have no real representation in Congress. As a result, some members feel that they push around citizens of the District. Fortunately, there are some in Congress who respect the right to vote.

Before they held that news conference one of the drug policy reform caucus members, Oregon Democrat Earl Blumenauer, spoke on the House floor about marijuana legalization. Here's that audio:

EARL BLUMENAUER: Thank you Mr. Speaker. There were many close elections across America last week, but there was one clear winner: Ending our failed prohibition of marijuana and instead legalizing, regulating, and taxing adult use. Alaska and the District of Columbia voters joined Colorado and Washington from two years earlier with strong votes to legalize.

Nowhere was that more emphatic than in my home state of Oregon. Marijuana legislation passed in Oregon by a greater margin than it did in Washington and Colorado, it got more votes than our United States Senator Jeff Merkley, who was overwhelmingly re-elected. And this was a low-turnout, non-Presidential year which experts predicted would depress the yes vote.

In a few minutes I'll be joined in a press conference with Eleanor Holmes Norton, whose constituents resoundly approved legalization, and will make the case that Congress needs to stay out of the way of its implementation. Jared Polis, who has been my partner on efforts at modernizing and reforming marijuana laws will give a snapshot on the progress in Colorado two years after legalization. And Congressman Dana Rohrabacher from southern California, the first state to legalize medical marijuana eighteen years ago, has been a tireless champion of the federal government not interfering with decisions of local voters to modernize and reform local marijuana laws. He's helped dozens of his Republican colleagues understand and support marijuana and hemp reform.

Perhaps just as important as those votes that passed was one that failed: the vote to legalize medical marijuana that failed in Florida. But it should be noted that it garnered 57 percent of statewide voters, again in a low-turnout, non-Presidential election, where many of the people polls show were supporters did not bother to vote. It got more votes than any statewide candidate in Florida on the ballot this year. Because it was a constitutional amendment that requires a 60 percent voter approval level, it was not approved at this time. But there's no question that medical marijuana is in the immediate future for Floridians. If it were back on the ballot in a presidential year, it will exceed the 60 percent threshold.

In the meantime, we're going to work hard to implement the Oregon law, and take advantage of the next two years to learn from the experience of others and refine our approach. We will raise new revenues to help education, addiction treatment, and law enforcement. And most important, we've already stopped prosecuting people for items that will be legal under the law and we'll be better able to protect our kids than the current, vast, underground black market.

Now congress needs to do its part. We need to act in Congress to solve two serious problems, not just for those states that have legalized adult use, but the 23 states and counting that have legalized medical marijuana. A narrow reading of federal banking regulations requires that these perfectly legal marijuana businesses be on an all-cash basis. Restricting them from having bank accounts is absolutely insane, unfair and unwise, if you care about money laundering, or tax evasion, or theft.

Additionally I have legislation that would permit legal marijuana businesses to be able to deduct their business expenses from their income tax. Because of a quirk in the law, 280e provision, a small and emerging business faces punitive federal taxation that is unfair, unwise, and certainly unjustified. Regardless of how people feel about legalizing marijuana, these businesses are here and here to stay. Passing HR 2240 and HR 2652 will help treat this emerging sector of the economy fairly and further protect the public.

I am hopeful that as the reality of these elections and future changes sets in, we'll be able to do a better job of permitting them to operate and allow this rapidly emerging area of commerce to serve the public and to thrive.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Representative Earl Blumenauer, Democrat of Oregon, speaking on the floor of the House earlier this month.

Thanks as always to C-SPAN and to the US Congress for making so much audio available free to the public.

One last item before we close, a follow-up to an earlier story. Loyal listeners will recall that a few weeks ago we reported on Eric Sinacori, a student at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst who died of an apparent overdose just over a year ago. An investigation by journalism students there revealed that several months before his death, Sinacori had been coerced into becoming a confidential informant for the U-Mass campus police department.

The idea of a campus police department running confidential informants and doing undercover drug investigations came as quite a surprise to me. I have been trying to get data on how widespread these practices are, and have drawn a blank. I reached out to the Police Executive Research Forum and was directed to another organization, the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators. Actually I'd been trying to contact someone at IACLEA with no real success. Recently however, I got a phone call from the current President of IACLEA, David L. Perry. Unfortunately he confirmed what I'd been finding, that there are no data.

David Perry is the Assistant Vice President for Safety and Chief of Police at Florida State University in Tallahassee. We spoke briefly on the phone about campus police and the development of college law enforcement agencies. I must clarify before we start that the FSU police department was not involved in the Rachel Hoffman case, that one was mis-handled by the local police. Here then is part of my interview with Chief Perry:

CHIEF DAVID L. PERRY: So campus police, campus public safety has evolved over the years tremendously, and unfortunately tragedies and loss of life, high profile incidents have really propelled these agencies into having to become even more proficient in the delivery of their services. Accreditation is a piece of that preparation. Sworn and unsworn agencies are seeking a level of accreditation to show parents, employees, administrations, that they meet a very high level of competency. And so IACLEA, the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators, is a part of that, you know, professional development, by providing accreditation opportunities, by helping support the first ever national center for campus public safety to be created, which will be a clearinghouse and another place for sworn, unsworn public safety officials to get training in best practices.

DOUG MCVAY: Could you speak to me for a moment about how it is campus agencies have started getting involved in drug investigations?

DAVID L. PERRY: So, it's almost considered like any other investigation. If it were a stolen, car theft ring, we would get involved in trying to have officers in an undercover capacity detect those arrests as it were. Stealing bookbags from the lunch cafeteria, we'd have officers acting in an undercover capacity to see if we could detect those types of criminals. So it's not uncommon to have law enforcement be responsive to whatever the need is in that community. We know that drugs bring significantly dangerous elements to our campus community: the drugs themselves, the potential for ripoffs, and the potential for firearms to be present for some who feel they have to protect themselves when conducting drug transactions. So it's not any different from any other criminal element that we would investigate and try to be as proactive as we can to eliminate it.

DOUG MCVAY: I see. Now the use of confidential informants of course is uh, is, takes it up another notch, there is, actually involving the student in what could be potentially dangerous situations. Has that – Amherst did, I know that University of Wisconsin at Bridgewater has been reported in the news as using that, that sort of thing, the University of California at San Francisco even has, even has guidelines in its campus safety manual talking about confidential informants. Do you have an idea of how widespread the practice is?

DAVID L. PERRY: There's no data. I'm sorry, there's no data out there really to show how widespread it is. In my gut, I would think that professional, accredited, competent law enforcement agencies who see the need to use confidential informants on a limited basis are using them to try to help keep their campuses as safe as possible. Campus police are not built to run, you know, deep cover, nine month to two year investigations into extensive drug sales, but to detect those students who unfortunately are distributing drugs on campus is a part of their responsibility.

DOUG MCVAY: I see. Now, you, with IACLEA, we were talking earlier, you said the, do you have some sort of standard for, as far as campus law enforcement regarding undercover and use of informants, did I get that right?

DAVID L. PERRY: Right. As part of the IACLEA accreditation standards, there are a few sections that are reflective of those operations: surveillance operations, confidential informants, the use and procedures for special investigations. So there are at least three separate sections that deal with the use of informants or conducting surveillance operations.

DOUG MCVAY: Great. Now what does, what's entailed in getting the accreditation, what's, what kind of things does a campus agency have to do? Do they go to classes, do the, are they sent to academy, what's the process?

DAVID L. PERRY: Right. So we have an extensive accreditation manual and processes and that's where a university would commit to showing proofs and going through to be viewed as being accredited through IACLEA.

DOUG MCVAY: Can you talk me through any of the, what would, like, does it require so many hours of study? For a campus to be certified for, in terms of its use of confidential informants, what kind of, is there any specific kind of training?

DAVID L. PERRY: So, there's specific training that's out there that's highly recommended, that specifically my agency has undertaken for those investigators who work with confidential informants, but you have to invest in that training in order to be proficient in that. Like I said, there are training classes out there in dealing with confidential informants, doing proper surveillance, entry methods, tactics, all those things related to drug investigations.

DOUG MCVAY: That was part of my interview with Chief David L. Perry of the Florida State University Police Department.

And that's it for this week. I'm Doug McVay and this was Century of Lies. Thank you for listening.

Century Of Lies is 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.

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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!