05/08/15 Ethan Nadelmann

Cultural Baggage Radio Show

Ethan Nadelmann of DPA speaks at James Baker Insitute, Willie Nelson, Tribute to Dr. Philip Leveque, Heather Fazio of MPP, Jamaican Justice Minister Mark Golding

Audio file


MAY 8, 2015


DEAN BECKER: Hello friends, this is Dean Becker, you're listening to Cultural Baggage on Pacifica Radio and the Drug Truth Network. Got a great show lined up for you but first, a little Humble Pie.

HUMBLE PIE [MUSIC]: Chicago Green, talkin' 'bout Red Lebanese
A dirty room and a silver coke spoon
Give me my release, come on
Black Nepalese, it's got you weak in your knees
Seeds and dust that you got bust on
You know it's hard to believe
30 days in the hole
30 days in the hole
30 days in the hole
That's what they give you
30 days in the hole

DEAN BECKER: Well, I've admitted it before, I'll do it again. In my youth, I was busted 13 times, I spent many a 30 days in the hole. But, since I quit alcohol, 30 years ago today, I ain't had one bit of trouble with the law. See, I always got busted for being drunk with drugs in my pocket. They never busted me for the alcohol, it was always the drugs, but such is the nature of this drug war.

Got a great show lined up. First up, we're going to hear from Mr. Ethan Nadelmann, who spoke on 4/20 at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy right here in Houston, Texas.

ETHAN NADELMANN: The United States in extraordinary in one terrible regard, which is that we have less than 5 percent of the world's population but almost 25 percent of the world's incarcerated population. Right? We have the highest per capita incarceration in the world, the highest per capita rate of any democratic society in history, the rate at which we lock up black people in this country makes the Soviet gulags look like child's play in comparison and apartheid South Africa like nothing in comparison as well. We lock up more people on drug law violations in the US than in all of western Europe, by which I mean the original EU countries, lock up for everything, and they have 100 million more people than we do. Right?

And it's not because we have so many more criminals, or because we use so many more drugs. In point of fact, our rates of drug use, illicit drug use, are not that different than much of Europe, our rates of crime, especially nonviolent crime, not that different, but we've become dependent upon the criminal justice system as a form of political and cultural crutch that has a devastating consequences in this country. That's the first thing, and part of what drives me, the number one thing that drives me, is just the sense of shame as an American, that our country should hold that distinction. That seems wrong.

The second thing I just want to say is that when it comes to the global war on drugs, we have been the driving force for almost a century. Right? We have been the champion, we have shaped the global conventions, we have pushed through bilateral and multilateral relationships for other countries to follow in our footsteps, the number of countries that decided to criminalize marijuana decades ago, without ever having heard of marijuana, US wants it, we'll do it, and without realizing the consequences that would follow. Our federal drug enforcement administration, the first global police force. We have played a major pro-active role in that regard, in ways that's beginning to change. But it's important to understand that global role there.

Third thing, and this is the one which I know none of you are going to believe me with, but I've just got to say it, that there is no real solid basis in science, in medicine, in ethics, or even in the bible for that matter for distinguishing between alcohol or tobacco on the one hand and marijuana, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine on the other. There is no basis in medical science, you name it, for just saying that, if you're, god forbid, a parent with two kids who are an addict and one's addicted to booze and the other one's addicted to heroin, that this one's going to be dealt with fundamentally different than that one, even though any physician in the world will tell you that heroin in its pure form is dramatically less dangerous to the body than is the alcohol. There is no basis. There was no point 100 years ago where some wise national academy of science looked at all the drugs and well, we've got to criminalize those ones but not those ones.

What determines why some drugs are legal and others not has almost nothing to do with the relative risks or dangers of those substances, and almost everything to do with who uses and who is perceived to use those substances. Right? In the late 19th century, when most consumers of opiates in America were middle-aged white women, nobody thought to make it illegal because nobody wanted to put grandma or auntie behind bars. But when the Chinese came to the country, working on the railroads, smoking that opium at home, that's when we got the first criminal prohibition laws.

With cocaine, Coca-Cola had cocaine in it until 1900, and so far as we know it was no more addictive back then than Coca-Cola with caffeine is today. We didn't think to make it criminal until black people in the south started using that drug, and the fear was, what would those black men do in Jim Crow America. The first marijuana prohibitions, hey, first one, El Paso, Texas, 102 years ago, the first municipal ordinance criminalizing marijuana, all about prejudice against Mexican-Americans. All of the first marijuana -- medical marijuana prohibition laws were in the midwest -- the southwest and the western states, driven by prejudice against Mexican-Americans and Mexican migrants. Right?

Understand that that is what has driven it. And when we look at the way this thing has manifested, it's also, it continues to give it that force. I know this is hard to believe, I know you think but methamphetamine, heroin. Come on, alcohol. Line up the scientists, line up the physicians, go to research, do a masters degree on this issue, read everything you can, and you'll see what I'm talking about.

Now, that said, what I want to focus on is reform, and put this US thing in a little more of a global context. Because there's really three major pockets we're talking about here. The first one is Europe. Right? It's oftentimes a mistake to look at this as a north-south thing, US-Latin America, which is inevitable in many respects, but Europe is the place that 30 years ago, 40 years ago, 20 years ago, pioneered a public health approach to dealing with drugs. They're the ones who said we're going to treat drug use and addiction as health issues, not criminal issues. Yes, we'll still arrest the drug dealers and put them in prison, but we're going to treat drug use and addiction as a health issue.

When HIV/AIDS started spreading by and among injecting drug users, it wasn't just left-wing governments, it was Margaret Thatcher 30 years ago saying we have to legalize needle exchange in order to reduce the spread of this terrible disease for which we have no cure. It was the conservative Swiss, backed by the bankers and the cops of Zurich, saying we've got to figure out this heroin thing, if this means allowing heroin addicts to come to a clinic and get legal heroin in a clinic, and giving them the services to help get their lives together, so be it, then that's what we're going to do.

It was in Portugal, making a national change in policy 13 years ago to say, we're not going to put anybody in jail for simple drug use or possession. More or less what Diego's described in Uruguay as the 40 year policy. Right? That if you're really a bad guy, we'll catch you for something else, but we are not going to put anybody in jail for drug use or possession. We''re going to try to figure out what the problem is and help those people. We're not even going to drug test them, we're going to focus on helping them one way or another. So the European model of treating drug use and addiction as a health issue, educating Americans is, that's been a major mission of mine, notwithstanding the monumental American resistance to learning about anything from outside the country, as if even, whether it even exists outside the country. Right?

But the fact of the matter is the Europeans are doing some things very well. To the extent that we've imported those things and the Latin Americans have, it's been a major success in terms of improving health, reducing crime, and reducing the fiscal cost to the taxpayer.

Now, in Latin America, apart from Uruguay and a few other places, it's been driven by the elites. I've been deeply involved in advocacy in Latin America. It started back in 2007, '08, with some ex-presidents: Cardoso from Brazil, Gaviria from Colombia, Zedillo from Mexico, whole bunch of other distinguished Latin Americans, creating a Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy, and saying we need a new way, we need to break the taboo on looking at alternatives to drug prohibition.

They followed that up with a Global Commission, to which they enlisted European presidents as well as George Schultz and Paul Volcker and Richard Branson and a range of others, and that commission came out with a report in 2011 saying we need to end marijuana prohibition, we need to end the criminalization of drug possession, we need to shift from a criminal justice frame to a public health frame, and then they said, it's all good for us ex-presidents to say this, what about the current presidents? And that's when President Santos and Otto Perez Molina bravely stepped up, and then a year later President Mujica in Uruguay specifically on the marijuana issue, and even Calderon in Mexico, pushing that Mexican drug war, but meanwhile whispering to people, wouldn't legalization really be the answer here? Right?

So we had a largely elite-driven strategy which is now growing. President Lagos, former President Lagos in Chile and a whole range of others, stepping up, saying we need a different way. Now in the midst of that, our country, America. Here we are, I've been going around the world for 25 years and opening up my speeches by saying, I want to apologize as an American for the havoc that my government has wreaked all around the world with our failed war on drugs. Look at the 100,000 dead in Mexico over the last 8-9 years in prohibition-related violence, look at the massive corruption and violence and trafficking and empowerment of gangsters throughout parts of Latin America, Colombia, Bolivia, Peru, in the Caribbean, now spreading to west Africa, parts of Asia. I apologize, as an American, for the harms we've done with our moralistic, pseudo-moralistic ideological war on drugs that's been indifferent to the consequences for so many other nations.

But now? I get to stand up and I get to say, I am an American, and I am proud that we are leading the world in transforming policies regarding marijuana. And we may not be leading at the federal level, but at the level of civil society, state government, and public opinion through the initiative process, and the state legislative process, we are leading the world, we are providing a model for dealing with one pivotal part of the war on drugs. It's not the part that's filling all our state and federal prisons, but it is the part that accounts for half the drug arrests in America, half the drug arrests all around the world, for filling local jails, for giving tens of millions of people criminal records, for doing all sorts of horrible things to people, keeping them from pursuing a life. Just because they want to be one of the 40 or 50 percent of Americans who have smoked a joint, or possessed a joint at some point. Right?

It began with medical marijuana back in the late 90s, and I and my organization have driven a lot of these ballot initiatives around the country, and we pursued medical marijuana for two reasons. First, because we believed that the persecution and prosecution of people who really used marijuana for medical purposes was the most egregious aspect of the war against marijuana. But there was a second reason: our hope that it would help transform the national dialogue around marijuana. And that in fact it did. They did both of those things. So beginning with California in '96 with a very loosely written law, following up with much more tightly written laws in other states, now almost half the states in the United States, right, have medical marijuana that's legal. Millions of Americans have a legal medical marijuana recommendation or ID. You have a bill in your state legislature, I'm not holding my breath, but it's opening up the discussion and there are Democrats and Republicans talking about moving this thing forward.

In Utah, just last month, a Mormon senator, descended from Mormon royalty, introduced a medical marijuana legalization bill, it missed by one vote of getting through the Utah state senate, and many of those who voted against it said if they'd only had a little more time they would have voted for it. It's going through next year. Public opinion polls show 70 percent of Utahans supporting it and a majority of Mormons supporting the legalization of medical marijuana.

So the country is changing. It is not just America. The two countries with the best regulated medical marijuana systems in the world? Canada and Israel. Both headed by rightwing politicians, but nonetheless the most well-regulated systems. Other countries, in Latin American, Chile just harvested the first medical marijuana crop in Latin America last week. Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, all with bills. Jamaica just moved forward as well in a bigger way to legalize it to some extent there.

The fact is, public opinion has transformed remarkably rapidly in this country. You line up the Gallup polls on legalizing gay marriage, and legalizing marijuana, and they line up almost exactly from 2004 to 2014, from 34 percent to 50 percent, 54 percent more or less. Right? If any of you saw Sanjay Gupta, the CNN special last night about marijuana, it's been playing over and over and over. I've been in airports a lot the past few days, and CNN's in every airport in America, and you could not turn around without a marijuana leaf in your face, on TV, it's promoting this, these programs.

But the fact of the matter is, the culture is changing around this marijuana issue. I don't know if it's inevitable, part of my job is to worry about the fact that it might not be, the fact that all the people beginning to make money in this marijuana industry are just kind of harvesting the fruits of what people like me did for civil rights and civil liberties reasons, and they're not investing the money to try to keep this process moving, or when they do invest it it's just for their own pecuniary interest. So there's a whole new struggle happening right there. Right? But the fact of the matter is, I think we are on the way.

Even a majority of Americans who oppose legalizing marijuana now believe that it's inevitable, and with Fernando Carrera said, when Obama and Attorney General Holder in mid-2013 issued a green light, or a qualified green light, for Colorado and Washington to implement their new legalization laws, according to a set of criteria, that was huge. And it was huge internationally, because once Attorney General Holder said we're going to give Colorado and Washington, now Oregon and Alaska, a chance to do that, well then they had to extend the same courtesy to Uruguay and other foreign countries. And once they did that, and couldn't figure out how to admit that they'd actually, the US was now in violation of the global drug control conventions we had created, at that point, they had to issue, the State Department had to issue a new doctrine, basically saying that for the first time in 100 years the US now supports a flexible interpretation of the international conventions, and a policy of tolerance for other countries doing things different ways.

So that little change in those two states of 3, 4 million people a few years ago, created a change in 100 year global US drug policy. Now, here's the thing, and I'll close with this: the challenge that I'm confronting, running the leading drug policy reform organization, there's momentum on rolling back incarceration in this country as well. Right? I mean, you know, and there's momentum on the marijuana piece, on rolling back, people understand, there are left-right coalitions emerging, based out of here in Texas, Right On Crime, almost every prominent Republican politician in American is now part of a Right On Crime coalition to reduce incarceration for both Christian reasons, moral reasons, and fiscal reasons. Right?

Your governor, Rick Perry, showed up at the Davos World Economic Forum summit last year and found himself saying he supported decriminalization, alternatives to incarceration, all that sort of thing. He had to back out a little bit when he got back home, but nonetheless the fact that Republican candidates with national aspirations are now saying, I support reducing the prison population, that shows something. That shows the country is shifting. The problem is, we're talking about a monumental amount of people behind bars, and what's going on now with the incremental things, it's got to be part of the process. Stop, we've got to stop building out the geriatric part of the prison population, we've got to shift parole and probation, we've got to do those sorts of things.

But here's the piece that I'm deeply invested in: so long as we continue to treat drug use and possession as criminal matters, for every two steps forward we take in reducing incarceration, we're taking two to three steps backward in terms of just feeding people back into the system. So long as we continue to believe that anybody who uses drug X, Y, or Z, as opposed to A, B, or C, ultimately deserves to be punished, to lose their home, their children, their property, and their freedom, because they refuse or are unable to be abstinent from drugs X, Y, and Z, we are doomed to keep failing in our efforts.

If Europe can end the criminalization of drug use and possession, if Uruguay can do the same thing, if other Latin American countries do the same thing, either for juridical reasons or political reasons, and they can do those same things at the same time that they keep drug use low, deal with addiction more effectively, keep crime down, all more effective than we do, then there is no good reason to do that, there is no good reason to be distinguishing in our laws or in our consciousness between the person who has a problem with that drug or a problem with that drug, or a person who uses that drug responsibly versus a person who uses that drug responsibly, we need to move in that direction.

Now, the movement on marijuana reform has created a rising tide. Real momentum. The reduction in prison population happening here and there, even Texas has been pulling down its population, not as fast as we've done in New York and New Jersey, but it's coming down a bit. Right? The marijuana thing. But here's my fear, and this is tactically and politically. The marijuana reform thing has given us a sense of momentum. Now all the attention's on the new industry, the money to be made, taking it out of the prohibition system. But the fact of the matter is to some very good extent, we're never, or not in any foreseeable future, going to end up legalizing cocaine, heroin, or methamphetamine the way we do marijuana, because of the public health risks, because of the public perceptions, because the public opinion's not there, whatever it might be.

That means, what do we do? How do we tie together the problems of consumption in our country and global consumption, together with what's going on, to the objective of trying to take the narco-traffickers and all the corruption and violence out of the picture? Well, legalizing marijuana, taking that out of the drug prohibition system, that's one relatively easy piece. Ending the criminalization of drug possession, which has no impact in the number of offenders, but allows us to shift resources, is a second piece.

But the third piece is going to be the toughest, and it's the long-term agenda for reform. Twenty years ago, the Swiss said, we've got these heroin addicts running around town, making people, making us look bad, committing crimes for their habits. We've tried everything: drug free treatment, methadone, everything, it doesn't work. Okeh. We're going to allow them to come to a clinic where they can get legal heroin up to three times a day. They can't take it home, they can't do this, right? Turns out, when they did that program, crime dropped, drug markets dropped, health improved, HIV and hep C declined. Many people who were in the program, now they have their dream come true, free heroin, 30 to 40 percent of them finally decided I don't want to do this anymore. It was the first time they'd been able to look in a mirror and going, what am I doing?

You know, we're so used to in America, you've got to punish people, with that judge, with that hammer, you know, you better get clean or I'm going to ship you away. Well it turned out that giving people a chance to look in a mirror without being forced by anybody to quit worked better than what we're doing here, and it saved taxpayers money and it reduced crime and all the cops got behind it. Then, the Germans and the Dutch and the English and a whole range of others began to do the same thing. Now they're doing it up in Vancouver as well. Ultimately, you know where all this goes? If we really want to take this war on drugs domestically, internationally, and turn a huge problem into a minor problem? It's not just legalizing marijuana. It's not just reducing overall incarceration. It's just, not just making the sentences a little more rational, it's not just ending the criminalization of possession.

In the long term, we need to figure out how those people who are determined to use drug X, Y, and Z, and who will do so whether it's legal or illegal, we need to figure out a way if those people can't be helped with treatment, can't be helped with job opportunities, can't be helped, we need to figure out a way where those people can obtain the drugs they want or need from a legal regulated source in such a way that it does not endanger the broader public health and safety of this country.

That conversation is not happening here, you're getting a preview to a conversation that's going to be rolling out in 5 and 10 years from now. But the faster that we have that conversation, the faster we get smart and rational, the faster we get realistic about what it means to keep our kids safe in a world where the biggest threats are not marijuana, but booze and cigarettes and especially pharmaceutical drugs. The faster we get smart, the faster we can put this monumental, colossal waste of human lives and resources behind us. Thank you.

DEAN BECKER: Again, that was Ethan Nadelmann, the Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance.

The following speech is from Jamaican Justice Minister Mark Golding, speaking to the UN General Assembly on May 7, 2015:

MARK GOLDING: ... as we grapple with the corrosive implications of narco-trafficking for governance, law and order, health and socio-economic development. Jamaica remains committed to strengthening programs to reduce supply and demand, while honoring our existing international obligations at all levels. However, our experiences over past decades have taught that the world drug problem has multi-faceted implications. We have come to realise that past approaches, encapsulated in the notion of the war on drugs, have not achieved their purpose of eradicating illegal production, trans-shipment and distribution.

Indeed, by adopting an approach to the problem that is insufficiently rounded and holistic, we have, sadly facilitated the enrichment and strengthening of transnational organised crime; we have oppressed indigenous groups that have constitutional rights that must be respected; and we have alienated and criminalized youth populations.

By the narrowness of our approaches, we have contributed to undermining sustainable development, democratic processes, and the rule of law in many countries around the world. It is now widely accepted that there needs to be a more holistic approach to this problem -- an approach that, in addition to effective law enforcement, also places priority on the other important elements of the problem, such as health and wellness, human rights, human development and safety, with the aim of reducing the negative effects on people's lives and the impact on vulnerable populations.

The opportunities for participation in the discourse in the lead-up to 2016 UNGASS provide a chance for engagement, early identification of the areas of advocacy and concern, and a qualitative assessment of the levels of support on common positions among like-minded countries. In this way, we are being enabled to shape the outcome of the UNGASS 2016.

Jamaica's position, therefore, is that UNGASS 2016 should not be a forum for rubber-stamping past agreements and approaches. Rather, it should be grasped as an opportunity to look with fresh eyes at the actions, with a view to developing new approaches that are adaptable to our changing environments. This requires us to be frank and transparent in our discussions and our exchanges.

DEAN BECKER: To hear more such opinions expressed at the UN, please tune to this week's Century Of Lies show, available at DrugTruth.net.

It’s time to play, Name That Drug, by its Side Effects.
Shortened attention span, hyperactivity, obesity, diabetes, diagnostic diseases, kidney failure, heart disease, hypoglycemia, tooth decay and death. Time’s up! For the answer, look in every bag of Halloween candy and in damn near every product we buy. Yep. It’s sugar.

A World War II hero and a pioneer in the marijuana wars has passed on in Oregon. Dr. Phillip Leveque was 92 years old.

PHILLIP LEVEQUE, MD: Well, I think it's very interesting that we know from historical records that, that cannabis has been used for literally thousands of years, and nobody has ever reported any bad effect from the use of it. And when you compare that with tobacco or to alcohol, there's absolutely no comparison between, between tobacco and alcohol and marijuana, there's just absolutely none whatsoever. And the statement that marijuana is a gateway drug to heroin or cocaine or whatever, this was verbally thrashed by the Institute of Medicine, that said there was no evidence whatsoever that this was the case. So, I think the main thing that we're doing is supporting General McCaffrey and a whole bunch of DEA agents who making very high salaries, and don't want to give up the game, you might say.

So, the people that are making money on the marijuana issue are the DEA agents, so I guess the federal prisons, the guards in the prisons are probably also recipients of a lot of money from the marijuana business. It's really a strange, strange, absolutely bizarre situation that this is going on, and I can't understand why some of these politicians in Washington, DC and elsewhere can't see this or understand it or whatever the right word is, I don't understand this.

DEAN BECKER: He was pot doc to thousands of patients, including more than a thousand US veterans. Born February 22, 1923, he passed from this earth May 2, 2015.

As we wrap up here, I want to report that Texas has had three bills moving in their House, and won Senate approval of a medical marijuana bill. Here to tell us how we can help make more change is Heather Fazio of the Marijuana Policy Project.

HEATHER FAZIO: We've been working with a fantastic coalition, Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy. Our website is TexasMarijuanaPolicy.org. The most important thing right now for every Texan who supports these reform efforts is to communicate with your Texas representative. These legislators need to know that you support this legislation, and need to know that you support them in taking a stand on it, and that you are a educated constituent who votes. That's the number one is contacting your legislator. You can do this by email, you can make a phone call, handwritten letters are a fantastic way to let them know that you are very serious about the cause.

Additionally, office visits. Every legislator has a district office, that should be near your home, that you can visit, you can visit with the staff right now during the legislative session. It's not just hippies and stoners anymore that want to see this kind of legislation pass here. This is who lives here: Parents that are advocates, they're upstanding citizens and members of our community who have realized that these policies have failed us by every measure, and we are demanding that we change these laws in Texas.

DEAN BECKER: Again, that website: TexasMarijuanaPolicy.org.

We're going to close out with some Humble Pie, because I'm humble: 30 years without a drink of my drug of destruction. As always I remind you, because of prohibition, you don't know what's in that bag. Please, be careful.