03/29/15 Doug McVay

Century of Lies

This week: Martin Jelsma of the TransNational Institute speaks at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting in Vienna, Austria, we also hear from the Uruguayan delegate, plus a report on the firing of the man who's been setting up Oregon's legal adult use program, Tom Burns.

Audio file


MARCH 29, 2015


DEAN BECKER: 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.

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 for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network and is supported by generosity of the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy and of listeners like you. And now, on with the show.

The United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs, the CND, had its 58th annual meeting recently. They discussed many aspects of drug control, and spent a lot of time preparing for the broader high-level discussions which will be held in New York in 2016 at the UN General Assembly's Special Session on Drugs. Today is part three of our coverage.

But first: Loyal listeners may recall that I live in the state of Oregon. We've had legal medical marijuana here since a ballot measure passed in 1998, but we've only had dispensaries for the past couple of years, after the state legislature finally passed a bill creating a licensing and regulatory system. In the 2014 general election, Oregon voters approved an initiative legalizing adult use of marijuana. The state legislature and the Oregon Liquor Control Commission have been working for the past several months to set up the licensing and regulatory system for that.

The state appointed a man named Tom Burns to head up the adult use marijuana program. Tom had been involved in the state's medical use program for several years, and he was the point man at the Oregon Health Authority in setting up the state's licensing and regulatory system for medical marijuana. That experience is why the legislature chose to move him over to the liquor commission to head up the development of the larger adult use program.

On Thursday March 26th, Tom Burns was fired by the OLCC. At the time, no reason was given. Personnel decisions are entirely in the hands of the OLCC's executive director, Tom was considered an at-will employee so no reasons had to be given, no human resources investigation, no nothing, that was the end of the story. Except that it wasn't.

A lot of people in Oregon were surprised, and concerned. It had been widely rumored that Burns did not get along with the director and the chair of the OLCC. The press flack for the commission went out of his way in the media to say that this was not due to a personality conflict however. The OLCC held its regular meeting the very next day, and on that Friday morning the liquor commission folks refused to comment. Finally, very late on Friday, the OLCC released to a weekly newspaper based in Portland a copy of the letter which they sent to Burns letting him know he was fired, along with some emails and a document that they say he leaked.

Later, the press flack from the OLCC clarified to another newspaper in town that Burns's firing was definitely about the leak of this document. The flack, Tom Towslee, said that it was an internal policy document for the OLCC and ge called it confidential.

Now, I've read the document, frankly so have a lot of people – well before the news media got hold of it. A draft of that document had been circulating for several days prior to Tom Burns being fired. It was a proposal to the legislature's committee on implementing measure 91 that outlined some compromises that some industry and movement leaders were willing to agree to. The document was produced through meetings between the OLCC's chairman, a person named Rob Patridge, and three representatives from the marijuana industry and policy reform.

The memo is significant in that it seems to lay out a path forward that the state and the industry can agree to, and it lays out ways in which the medical program can still be basically preserved. It lays out rules that would allow small medical growers to sell to dispensaries without having to deal with the reporting requirements and paperwork that larger growers will face. It's fairly reasonable really, all things considered. Most important, there is no reason to believe that it is an internal OLCC policy document.

First of all, the document was not labeled confidential. More importantly, there were three signatories listed, all of whom are reformers now in the industry. The signatories did not include Rob Patridge, or Steve Marks, or anyone else at the OLCC. In fact in a newspaper account it is described as a memo from industry to the legislature, which the OLCC was helping to draft. As far as I can tell, that description is correct.

The person who Tom Burns did share this memo with is another industry leader, an attorney named Amy Margolis. She's the head of a large marijuana growers political action committee in Oregon. Amy a major player in the development of Oregon's adult use program as well as the medical program. In other words, she was someone whose input on that memo would have been valuable and whose buy-in on that memo could have been key to getting the legislature going along with it.

The liquor commission flack, Towslee, now says that the real problem ultimately was that Burns had lied about sending the email. Got to back up for a moment. Recently, the governor of Oregon was forced to resign for, well, a lot of reasons really. One element in that scandal, which is still unfolding, involved the governor attempting to have some of his emails deleted. He ordered staff at the state's data archive to delete masses of emails, which they rightly refused to do.

This is not a digression. The point of this sidenote is that there is no way that a state employee in the state of Oregon could not be aware that all emails they send are archived permanently and can always be retrieved. Yet, we're told by the liquor control commission that Burns supposedly tried to delete some of these emails.

An internal policy document that was in no way an internal policy document. Trying to delete emails, which no public employee in the state of Oregon who's paid any attention at all to the resignation of the sitting governor and the appointment of the new governor could possibly have forgotten about. There are just a lot of aspects of this story that are – just don't fly.

There's one more interesting thing in this story I had heard some off-the-record rumors about, which this Oregonian article alludes to. The OLCC press flack, Towslee, says that Margolis shared the document with others. There is no indication of who these others might be, or what the fall-out was from it, and Towslee went out of his way to say that quote “She has no culpability here” end quote.

How was she to know this thing was confidential? Who was it she shared it with? What was the problem? State legislators had seen it, the three industry folks who were listed as signers had passed it around to their members and supporters, the lobbyist for that growers PAC was quoted in the Willamette Week newspaper saying that a draft of that proposal had been circulating for about a week. I've always thought of Oregon as a unique state but even here, that is nothing like what we call confidential.

I have not yet heard from Tom Burns. I have not been able to contact him, and he has not spoken to the press. I will keep trying. The OLCC bosses and their press flack are calling him a liar in the press, but we have only their side of the story. I have spoken with some other people involved in this, and none of them have yet been willing to be interviewed. Now that at least is understandable, these folks are in the industry and they will have to continue working with the liquor control commission after all this blows over. They don't want to get on the wrong side of Rob Patridge, Steve Marks, and the OLCC.

Me, I don't work in the industry, and I don't work for any commercial media outlets. And I live here in Oregon, so I'll continue to follow this story and when I learn anything new, I'll report on it. After all, that's why this show exists. As I've always said, the drug war is built on a foundation of lies, lies that crumble when they're exposed to the light of the truth. You're listening to Century Of Lies, it's a production of the drug truth network. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of Drug War Facts dot org.

And now, on with the rest of the show.

This is part three of our coverage of the annual meeting of the UN's Commission on Narcotic Drugs. In our last two shows, we heard from civil society representatives, from heads of UN and European Union agencies, and from the US delegate. Today, we're going to hear from some of other the national delegates. Let's start with Uruguay. Listeners will recall that Uruguay legalized marijuana back in 2013. The UN drug agencies were not pleased, are still not pleased, yet Uruguay is moving forward regardless. Their perspective on the world drug situation, and on international drug policies, is of great importance and should be of great interest, so let's listen:

AMBASSADOR KHALID SHAMAA:Now I would like to give the floor to Ambassador Milton Romani, the Secretary General de la Junta Nacional de Drogas of Uruguay (the National Drug Board of Uruguay).

AMBASSADOR MILTON ROMANI (English translation as provided through the UN interpreter): Good afternoon to all. Mr. Chairman, on behalf of the delegation of Uruguay, I would greet you and members of the Bureau. I'm convinced that under your wise guidance, this meeting will prove successful.

Yesterday, the 8th of March, we commemorated the international day of women's rights, with us obliged to renew our commitment in terms of human rights and a gender focus. As Rosa Luxembourg said, we strive to achieve a world where we are socially equal, different as human beings, and entirely free, end of quotation.

The gender approach is indispensable. Violence against women is a constant feature. That's why it should also be part of the UNGASS 2016 challenge. An inclusive debate calls for a gender approach and the voice of women.

Very special greetings are extended by our recently elected new president, Dr. Tabaré Vázquez, who has totally ratified the national strategy on drugs, and a continuity of public policies in this area.

Uruguay supports what is mentioned during the 57th, last session. We're in favor of an integral and balanced approach to drug policies. Appropriate attention should be paid to international instruments on human rights as asserted in Resolution 51/12 of 2008, which was sponsored by Uruguay and co-sponsored by Argentina, Bolivia, Switzerland, and the European Union.

Ever since we joined the Commission on Narcotic Drugs as a member, we have always promoted a broad, a useful debate and exchange on the present model. And we've had in the world and in our region so far, known as quote unquote “the war on drugs.” Over the past decade in the CND, we have focused on rights. Now the proper time has come for a critical and realistic reappraisal of the strategy and the plan of action, looking forward to UNGASS to be held in April of 2016 in New York.

Faced with this challenge, to become more effective, efficient, and indeed humane, we don't always have the courage of looking things in the eye in a manner devoid of complacency. Dogmatic thought, sometimes moralistic, sometimes pseudoscientific, and simply not open to good practices, let us run the risk of a new failure. But UNGASS 2016 is a point in time when we should find the courage to admit that there are different ways of approaching things, different viewpoints. There's a ripple that circles the globe.

Will we be able to answer a few questions on the basis of healthy debate? Are we bold enough to call into question the repeat, routine statements? Are we truly discharging all our policies, and are they really well-balanced? Is it not obvious that the resources devoted to supply control and the priority to law enforcement are to be called into question? Are human rights complied with when consumption even is penalized up to the death sentence, or when people are remanded and institutionalized in a compulsory manner?

Do we accept a flexible interpretation that is unilateral of the conventions, that basically focus on law enforcement? Capital punishment for consumption and minor offenses is precisely that, a flexible interpretation. Shall we continue to accept a situation where the illicit market for drugs is in fact deregulated and totally under the control of criminal organizations? And that we continue to try to regulate this by applying criminal legislation, with interdiction and a perverse economic and collateral damage that this entails?

Could we at least move a little closer to dialogue on the subject of other forms of regulation? Do we continue to accept that there is joint responsibility, but that it's not shared out equally? That some of the human, economic, and social costs are differentiated and weigh more heavily on the poor people? I'm merely echoing what the distinguished representative of Colombia was saying this morning, that production and transit counties are the most exposed to violence though they have low drug consumption, and the demand, and money laundering activities follow the northern route.

Shall we continue to call on Bolivia and Peru to apply sanctions to coca leaf chewing? Can we not admit diversity and that this cannot be punished? Are we going to compel other countries like Bolivia to exit from the texts in order to ensure these rights? There are policies that increase violence and in fact punish in the same manner all those along the chain.

There are many agencies that have a lot to contribute: The World Health Organization, the United Nations Development Program, FAO, the ILO, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, does or does not have impact on this subject.

Shall we continue to refer to prevention and insist on information campaigns where evidence shows that very often they promote rather than prevent? Do we continue to refer to treatment and care when the right to health isn't even contemplated in most health systems, and that a religious approach is not acceptable on a scientific basis? Shall we refrain from even mentioning the topic of risk and harm reduction, as if we were in the times of the inquisition? Turning away from the possibility of having clean rooms, syringes available, as in the debate on heroin of the 80s.

In May of 2013 Secretary General of the Organization of American States, José Miguel Insulza, handed over to the president the report on drugs in the Americas. Couldn't we adopt similar methodology, which was outstanding as for the discussion and preparation of possible scenarios for UNGASS 2016?

Mr. Chairperson, Uruguay seems to be in the news because of its sovereign decision to be consistent and make headway towards the regulation of markets. In 2006, Uruguay, under the presidency of Dr. Tabaré Vázquez, became a leader in terms of the application of the framework agreement on tobacco, and regulated that substance. There were very many virtues in this step. Uruguay, however, has run into trouble with Philip Morris and there's litigation underway.

At the previous government, under the presidency of Jose Mujica, we addressed production, distribution and sale of cannabis. Industrial cannabis has medical purposes, and this has also been covered. We've created an institute to regulate and control cannabis, IRCCA. They provide guidance and control for a mandatory registry of domestic cultivation, membership clubs, and the distribution and sale in pharmacies, which are the three outlets under state supervision.

We have genetic control as well, for the seeds that are used. We've set up and we now have operating scientific assessment committee, with distinguished academics, deans of various faculties, and they have instituted a full-fledged consultation and advisory network with 119 national and international experts, of CICAD, OEA, the European Drug Observatory, NIDA of the United States, European universities, North American universities, and those of Latin America. They are doing monitoring work and evaluating the impact of this regulatory model. It is open to all of those who have interests and wish to monitor this initiative.

Regulating markets is a consistent method. It protects public health and drug trafficking is thereby voided, in terms of its illicit market. We are not in a position to promote this for everyone, but we're defending our sovereign right to have this experience in Uruguay, and we're in the process of evaluating this. We have an open dialogue with multilateral fora, neighboring states, and all bodies.

Sir, Latin America and the Caribbean will have a new summit of heads of state in Panama soon. It is a major political event of the greatest significance for the Americas. The republic of Cuba will have joined us then, overcoming a long, unfair, unacceptable exclusion, precisely based on the non-acceptance of different political models and new social approaches, therefore not accepting diversity.

And in 2012, on the occasion of the summit in Cartagena, heads of state announced their concern about the present state of affairs in drug-related policy. The Organization of American States received a mandate, and a report was prepared on drugs in the Americas, which I mentioned before. Among other items, united action is absolutely necessary, but it does make room for diversity.

My delegation would like to say that progress has been achieved in the hemisphere on the world drug problem in the Americas, this commitment throughout the region to have full-fledged policies. Member-states of the Organization of American States represented at the highest level adopted last September a resolution giving recognitions to the sharing of experience and new approaches to deal with the world drug problem. Looking again at traditional approaches and considering the development of new viewpoints based on evidence and scientific know-how.

In our capacity as the pro tempore president of UNASUR, we'd like to say that on the basis of our secretary general's document, we are preparing an agreed position for UNGASS 2016.

To conclude, sir. On the tenth of June in 1998, Kofi Annan raised his glass and proposed the following. He was secretary general of the United Nations, and it was on the occasion of the 20th special session of the general assembly of the United Nations. In just 10 years, we would have a world that would be entirely drug free, eliminating absolutely all forms of illicit cultivation of coca leaves and papaver. In 2009, we had a high level summit. We were not reacting to the obvious. Not only had we failed to eradicate all cultivation, but rather consumption and trafficking had increased.

Kofi Annan is now on the Global Commission for Drug Policies, next to eminent personalities struggling to bring about radical change in the drug policies, and together with many organizations of civil society and several states they're making efforts to convert UNGASS 2016 into an open, inclusive debate to give a realistic and effective step towards a more effective, fairer and more humane system.

Uruguay today raises its glass, and would also like to express wishes, that we would like to see that become reality on the occasion of UNGASS 2016.

DOUG MCVAY: You are listening to Century Of Lies, I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of Drug War Facts dot org. We just heard the Uruguayan delegate addressing the delegates at the 58th annual meeting of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs in the opening plenary session earlier this month.

While we still have time left in the show, let's have one more presentation from that CND meeting. This time, let's go back to civil society, and hear from Martin Jelsma of the Transnational Institute:

MARTIN JELSMA: One of the biggest problems, the new challenges the world is confronted with, is the accelerating dynamic of drug policy changes and increasing doubts about the effectiveness of the current drug control system. These first days here at the CND have demonstrated that a change of course in drug policy is taking place.

Many delegations emphasize more focus on health and development, less criminalization, more respect for human rights and proportionality in sentencing, better access to essential medicines, and so on. This discussion is from TNI's perspective clearly moving in the right direction. And fortunately, the conventions allow significant flexibility to facilitate such a process of humanization of drug control

But challenge facing us is bigger than that. Just over one year away from the 2016 UNGASS, denying the reality, that the drug policy landscape has fundamentally changed, and that also systemic breaches have started to take place, is no longer a credible option, especially with regard to coca leaf and cannabis regulation, tensions have risen between ongoing reforms and the limits of latitude the UN drug control treaty framework.

An honest and open debate about inconsistencies and the outdated nature of the treaty regime cannot be avoided much longer. The pressure coming from national policy changes will keep building, and the UN regime will soon have to show the capacity for evolution, providing more space to accommodate those developments. Otherwise, the treaty system risks becoming irrelevant, as more countries resort to untidy, unilateral reinterpretations, leading to an a la carte approach of cherrypicking those treaty provisions politically convenient, and simply ignoring the rest, and in doing so, weakening respect for the basic principles of international law.

At the same time, it's perfectly understandable that many countries resist putting treaty reform formally on the agenda. In the current political conditions, given the stalemate quickly encountered in consensus driven negotiations, to start negotiating treaty amendments or even a new convention would inevitably turn the result of negotiations into trench warfare.

A more promising approach would be to explore at least for the interim systemic reform options, not necessarily requiring consent of all treaty parties. The first thing member states should not do is to deny that these things are difficult.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Martin Jelsma, director of the TransNational Institute, addressing the delegates at the recent annual meeting of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna, Austria.

And that's all the time we have this week. Thank you for listening. This is Century Of Lies, a production of the Drug Truth Network. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

Recordings of this show and past shows are available at the website DrugTruth.net. 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!

DEAN BECKER: For the Drug Truth Network, this is Dean Becker, asking you to examine our policy of drug prohibition: the century of lies. Drug Truth Network programs archived at the James A. Baker III Institute for Policy Studies.