06/05/15 Alan Robison

Tribute to Dr. G. Alan Robison founder of Drug Policy Forum of Texas with co-founder Jerry Epstein, Phil Smith of Alternet, Alexis Bortel, Dr. Carl Hart, Dr. Donald Abrams, Abolitionists Moment

Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Friday, June 5, 2015
Alan Robison
Drug Policy Forum of Texas



JUNE 5, 2015


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

DR. G. ALAN ROBISON: It is not only inhumane, it is really fundamentally un-American.

CROWD: No more! Drug war! No More! Drug War! No More! Drug War!

DEAN BECKER: My name is Dean Becker. I don't condone or encourage the use of any drugs, legal or illegal. I report the unvarnished truth about the pharmaceutical, banking, prison, and judicial nightmare that feeds on eternal drug war.

Those who have listened to the Cultural Baggage show over the years have heard a gentleman announcing, in the opening to each show, that this drug war is fundamentally un-American, and the man who made that statement in front of the DEA headquarters was Dr. G. Alan Robison, my mentor, the man who embraced my abhorrence to this drug war, who told me I was right on track. Well, Dr. Al has now passed on, and here to update us on that situation is the other co-founder of the Drug Policy Forum of Texas, I want to welcome Jerry Epstein. Hello, sir.

JERRY EPSTEIN: Hi, Dean. It's a sad occasion, but we'll all miss Al very deeply, and it's good to talk to you.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. Al was so instrumental in giving me backbone, because I had this knowledge, and I just didn't know what to do about it, I felt like I was the only person on earth who realized this, and I think, like many others, Al told me I was not alone and set me on the right path. Is that as -- have you heard similar stories, Jerry?

JERRY EPSTEIN: Yeah, I definitely have, we've heard from our friends in Austin, in Washington, DC, the whole founding of LEAP, the people who have been engaged in this work now for the better part of twenty years, that Al inspired them and gave them a focus point to go on with our work.

DEAN BECKER: Well, and many folks don't realize the credentials of this man, the work he had done, the books he had written, the associations he was involved with. He was not a typical hippie reformer at all, was he?

JERRY EPSTEIN: No. Al was of course one of the, well, among so many things that we could talk about, but after a nationwide search for someone to start the pharmacology department at the University of Texas Med School, what we now call the Health Science Center at UT here in Houston, Al was chosen to head that department. And because of his previous work, Al was the chairman then of the department for, up until his retirement over 20 years later. The graduate students now, the student picked to have made the most contributions to research and work today, receives the G. Alan Robison Award.

So, Al was recognized by the National Academy of Sciences for his contributions to his field of work, and in fact the first person to receive one of those awards, and he's just been involved deeply. You know, most of his work would be more theoretical, but in any cases, he constantly thought that the drug war was insane. He had many students who came to him back in the '70s that had convictions for minor marijuana offenses while they were in undergraduate school, and wanting them to know -- wanting to know if it was even worthwhile to try to apply and he told them, you come right ahead, we're going to work on this. And Al was part of the effort to get them admitted, and into medical school, and as he points out, so many of them have gone around to be fine doctors all over. The contributions they made.

Of course, Al used to say that marijuana was the only drug he worked with in his entire life where, no matter how much of it you gave to a laboratory animal, you couldn't kill him. And so, he was outraged that we should be putting people in prison for such a drug. And, this extended then to his whole thinking about drugs, and the fact that you just can't coerce people and punish them into behaving better in the presence of drugs, they need to be educated. We needed to be educated about the realities of drug addiction, and how best to treat them, and it certainly wasn't through punishment.

DEAN BECKER: Friends, once again, we've been speaking with Mr. Jerry Epstein, one of the co-founders, we're speaking about the other co-founder of the Drug Policy Forum of Texas, Dr. G. Alan Robison. He will be missed.

To learn more about the Drug Policy Forum of Texas, visit DPFT.org.

ALEXIS BORTELL: Hi, I'm Alexis Bortell of Team Alexis, and I just celebrated 60 days seizure-free at Chuckie Cheese's thanks to medical cannabis.

DEAN BECKER: You know friends, hell has not frozen over just yet, but it seems the US Congress is changing their mind about cannabis. Here to fill us in on what they have done and maybe are going to do is Mr. Phil Smith, who works for AlterNet and the Drug Reform Chronicles. Phil, what's going on in DC?

PHIL SMITH: Well, it's been a pretty busy week on Capitol Hill, and it's been a very impressive week for marijuana law reform and more generally for drug reformers who are tired of the DEA. It appears that it's not just drug reformers who are getting tired of the DEA, it appears that Congress is, too. When it comes to marijuana, we saw several amendments to the Justice Department appropriations bill that blocks the DEA's ability to interfere in medical marijuana states, to interfere in states that have CBD cannabis oil laws, and to interfere in states with the industrial hemp laws. Now, the most far-reaching amendment, which would have blocked the DEA from interfering in states that have legal marijuana, that failed. But we got three out of four this week in Congress.

So that's pretty good news. And the one that failed, failed by a narrow margin, I think the vote was 222-206 [sic], so only eight votes had to shift for that thing to pass, so maybe next year on that one. Equally interesting, Dean, is we also saw moves to slice some funding away from the DEA and put it on more cost-effective programs. I think the agency lost $23 million, which is not a huge amount, but, you know, those costs are symbolic, and symbolism is important in Washington, DC.

To me, I read this as a sign that Congress is getting tired of the DEA's obstinate, obstinacy, and its inability to recognize any difference between marijuana and say heroin or cocaine, as well as its legacy of scandal and corruption. You know, there are a lot of us who would like to do away completely with the agency, but this year we'll settle for slicing a little bit out of its budget and slapping its hand.

DEAN BECKER: Phil, you brought up a couple of points, and you know, the scandal-ridden thing, it drove Loretta Lynch [sic] out of office, so to speak, and it's just another example that despite the literally billions of dollars that have been invested into stopping the flow of drugs, everybody's starting to recognize, we've never stopped even one child from getting their hands on drugs. It's, it's such a preposterous notion, this drug war concept, isn't it?

PHIL SMITH: Well, it is indeed. I mean, we should have learned our lesson with alcohol prohibition, but we didn't. And it's taking us a long time to admit how screwed up we've been with our drug policies these last few decades. But we are getting there, slowly, slowly, slowly, but we are making progress.

DEAN BECKER: And, you mentioned another aspect to this, one of these laws was to prevent the Justice Department from going after those states where cannabis oil is legal, and even my state of Texas now qualifies, almost. We had a law passed that said they were going to allow for low-THC, high-CBD oil for those with epilepsy, for those who get a doctor's prescription, and let's tell them, let's tell the listeners why that's not really a solution.

PHIL SMITH: Well, no doctors can prescribe it, or they will risk losing their DEA licenses. And that reminds me, I think it was the 1996 Arizona medical marijuana initiative that passed but was absolutely useless because it required a doctor's prescription, instead of, the term of art we use in other states is a recommendation. This is a, you know, another example of federal government obstinacy blocking efforts in the states to do the right thing. Yeah, I mean, yes, CBD cannabis oil laws are the least step you can take towards medical marijuana, but they are a first step, and I applaud Texas for doing that. Who would have thought?

DEAN BECKER: Well, it is a, as I told somebody else, a baby step for an ant, but it's a little tiny step.


DEAN BECKER: Well, Phil, the fact is, we're talking about it already, the drug war has lost its luster, we hear all kinds of politicians -- Republican, Democrat -- talking about over-incarceration, that we've over-done it, that we have to step back from this precipice, so to speak. Am I right?

PHIL SMITH: Yeah, and Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon must be spinning in their graves, because you're hearing this coming out of the mouths of Republicans as well as Democrats now.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. And, it's just, we've talked about it for, well a decade or more now, that there's just no rational purpose for this drug war, none of its concepts, none of its ambitions, have ever been met or even approached, right?

PHIL SMITH: Well, none of its stated ambitions or goals, mainly people that think they're, since they have failed that their stated ambitions and goals, one maybe forgiven for wondering if they have other agendas. I mean, it certainly has served to beef up the law enforcement and military apparatus in this country. It has certainly served as a means of keeping scary populations -- read, black and brown people -- under control, and under criminal justice system surveillance. And it certainly has been a wonderful jobs program for thousands and thousands and thousands of cops and DEA agents.

DEAN BECKER: Well, and let's don't forget that, you know, we have this war of terror, which I think the day they thought of it or declared it, they just kind of grafted the mechanism of drug war and added a couple of afterburners, but since 9/11, the focus on all of these quote "terroristic agencies" has been focused on the drug war predominantly. It's just been a huge waste of money, hasn't it?

PHIL SMITH: Well, it has, and it's interesting to look -- if you look at the wiretaps that have been issued since the Patriot Act was passed, what, 13 years ago now, it's the DEA that's doing most of them. I mean, they're the ones who took advantage of the authority to the greatest extent, and they have very little to do with any war against terror. You know, it's all about drug enforcement for them.

DEAN BECKER: Well, Phil, what's --

PHIL SMITH: It's like the, you know, it's like our war on drugs pioneered all of these techniques that are now being used on all US citizens, used against all US citizens, the surveillance of information technologies and all of that kind of stuff. I mean, this is all pioneered by the war on drugs, to be used against evil populations of drug users and drug dealers, and now these same techniques are being directed at all of us.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah, I think even the average Joe and Jolene are starting to realize that they'd best speak up, let their politicians know that this is not working out to their satisfaction.

PHIL SMITH: Well, I think we're, as with the recent votes in Congress on reigning in the DEA, we also had that big vote on reigning in the Patriot Act and the passage of the USA Freedom Act, which restricts some of that information gathering, but in both cases it seems like Congress is finally getting a sense that the rest of the country isn't that happy about what it's been doing.

DEAN BECKER: That's about time, I must say. Phil, what am I leaving out, what should we bring forward today?

PHIL SMITH: One thing that excites me is good polling numbers out of Arizona and California today on marijuana legalization, there are polls in both states show support about 50 percent, 54 percent in California, 53 percent in Arizona. I'd like to see those numbers a little bit higher, but of course we both know that there are going to be initiatives in both states there, both states next year. And we're probably going to win. We'd better win in California, and that would be a real break on the movement, if we were to lose a big state like California, but I'm not that worried about it. I think it's going to get on the ballot and it's going to pass next year, and then we've got, in one fell swoop we've got like 13 percent of the country that just legalized weed in California alone.

DEAN BECKER: Well, Phil, I want to thank you for your great reporting, and as always it's good to talk with you, my friend. Any closing thoughts, website?

PHIL SMITH: Yeah, check out the work I do at Alternet.org/drugs, that's the Alternet Drug Reporter, of which I'm the editor. And also the Drug War Chronicle, at stopthedrugwar.org. We've got plenty of coverage of all kinds of drug issues, more serious on the Drug War Chronicle, more fun on Alternet. Read both.

DEAN BECKER: Mr. Cheech Marin.

CHEECH MARIN: This is America. You get to criticize the government in this country. You get to say, I think these guys are ridiculous. It's guaranteed in the very first amendment to the Constitution. It's what this country was founded on. You get to do that by being an American.

DEAN BECKER: It's time to play Name That Drug By Its Side Effects. Yellow eyes, vomiting, black tarry stools, cloudy urine, fever with chills, sores, ulcers or white spots on lips or mouth, unusual bleeding. Time's up! The answer: another FDA-approved product, acetaminophen.

The following segment comes to us courtesy of the BBC:

JON SNOW: Also in the Queen's Speech, new laws to crack down on psychoactive drugs known as legal highs. Anyone who produces or supplies them could face up to seven years in jail. We've been speaking with Dr. Carl Hart, a scientist at Columbia University, who believes in the decriminalization of certain drugs, and Neil McKeganey, the founder of the Centre for Drug Misuse Research, who favors a blanket ban. I began by asking Dr. Hart for his reaction to the Queen's Speech law.

CARL HART, PHD: I mean, the vast majority of people who use drugs don't abuse drugs. They go to work, they are responsible citizens, and to have these blanket bans, it's an ignorant approach, really. I mean, we are, as thinking people, you figure out what the problem is and then you precisely attack the problem.


NEIL MCKEGANEY, PHD: The proposal here seem to be that we should target these drugs and ban them for those people who get into difficulties, and accommodate or tolerate their use for people who don't get into difficulty. That may seem a rational approach, but quite frankly we have no idea who is going to get into difficulty with these drugs. We can't predict who it is, we often don't know the chemical constituents of these substances, if they're highly addictive then there will be a range of other problems that will surface in an individual's life, and banning them, actually whether one likes it or not, whether one's an optimist about human nature or not, that has to be an important part of how we're attacking our drug problem.

CARL HART: I think that there was some misinformation just said, right? When the comment that said, the comment was that we can't predict who will get in trouble. You should know, you know, I am a researcher, and I have given these drugs, these psychoactive drugs, thousands of doses of these drugs as part of my research. We know how to predict quite a bit about these drugs. We know under the conditions, under which people will get in trouble. We know the conditions under which positive effects are more likely. So that's just simply not true.

NEIL MCKEGANEY: That's not --

CARL HART: I'm sorry, I'm talking. And so, to make, to have these blanket approaches without being smart, and targeting what the problem is, it's just not smart.

JON SNOW: What about the point, Neil, that 90 percent of people who use drugs don't get into the sort of trouble you're describing.

NEIL MCKEGANEY: Well, two things. It's quite different to supply these drugs in a research environment to look at how they're used on the streets. You were a drugs worker in the past, Jon, you will know that there's no resemblance whatsoever to these two different contexts. On the streets, these drugs are highly dangerous and highly unpredictable. That may be different in a research environment.

Now, can I also say, the proposition that 90 percent of people who use these drugs don't get into difficulty, that is an absolutely fanciful statistic. I would like to see the evidence that identifies what proportion, precise -- with that level of precision, of people getting into difficulty.

JON SNOW: The 80, 90 percent figure is in your book.

CARL HART: Yes. The 80-90 percent figure is in my book, it's in statistics that have been collected world-wide, including the United States, for 50-40 years at least. Anybody who studies drugs, they know this, this is not, this is not even controversial. And then back to the issue of the street drugs, of being different from the drugs that we study in the laboratory. Now that should provide some evidence for us to look at precisely what's in the street drugs that's causing the problem, and when we think about what's in the street drugs that's causing the problem, what we will find is that the deaths are not being caused by the drugs that we already know. That's precisely my point, and so we should target those things that we are concerned about.

JON SNOW: But in terms of prison, for example, prisons are absolutely rife with drugs. People actually get turned on in prison, and under your regime, more and more people go to prison.

NEIL MCKEGANY: Well, prison has to remain a punishment for the more serious case of drug, of drug supply, but where there are people in prison who have a drug problem, the burden of responsibility is to ensure that we provide --

JON SNOW: Yeah, but the argument surely should be, there is no point putting people in prison for drugs, I mean, where does it get you?

NEIL MCKEGANY: No, sorry, Jon, sorry, Jon, I disagree. Unless one's going to say that, if you commit a crime and you're not using drugs, you get prison. If you are using drugs, you get a get out of jail card for that reason, we don't have a two-tiered legal system in here. If you commit infractions, they receive due punishment. The responsibility on the government and on the prison service is to ensure that whilst in prison, people have access to the very best treatment. Now, we don't do as much on that front as we need to do, but I don't think it's appropriate --

JON SNOW: Right. Let me put this to Carl.

CARL HART: Yeah, so, the issue of drug enforcement being reduced, it's just simply not true. I don't know if you've been reading the reports here, when we think about drug enforcement, the number of stops for example in this country in terms of drug enforcement, you have racial disparities and that sort of thing. For example, nationwide, black people are five times more likely to be stopped by the police as a result of drugs or drugs, in search for drugs. And in London itself, about, they're three times more likely to be stopped. So, when we think about the way that we enforce drug laws in this country, as well as abroad, we know that these laws for example target various groups, and these laws are used in a way to continue to marginalize various groups. So, I just don't accept your notion that we have reduced our drug enforcement. It's just simply not true.

JON SNOW: That is a fair point, isn't it, Neil, in the sense that, I mean, you don't hear of the city guys who use coke, you don't hear of the Wall Street dealers and the rest, they don't get lifted. The people who get lifted are the black kids on the streets.

NEIL MCKEGANY: Yes, you're not wrong in that respect. I do think that we adopt a very ill-advised tolerance of drug use in the higher echelons of society, and there is a hypocrisy there, but the resolution of that hypocrisy isn't to seek the legalization/decriminalization of drugs elsewhere in society. It is to actually impose existing drug laws in a fairer, more uniform fashion.

JON SNOW: Carl Hart and Neil McKegany, thank you very much indeed.

DEAN BECKER: The following segment features from the University of California-San Francisco Medical Center, cancer specialist Dr. Donald Abrams.

DONALD ABRAMS, MD: So the next research that we did was to answer what I think is probably one of the more interesting questions, and that is, is there an interaction between cannabinoids and opioids in pain relief. So, we took a group of patients who were taking a stable dose of either long-acting oxycodone or long-acting morphine, and we measured the level of the twelve-hour release drug in their bloodstream before and then after five days of vaporizing cannabis three times a day. And what we found there was, interestingly, that the plasma levels of the opioids, either oxycodone or morphine, were actually decreased in the patients after exposure to the cannabis, but their pain relief was increased. So that's somewhat paradoxical, but my colleague, who's a pharmacologist, says that what we're seeing then is a so-called pharmaco-dynamic effect, as opposed to a pharmaco-kinetic effect.

If the cannabis had boosted the plasma levels of the opioids, and led to decrease in pain, that would have been a pharmaco-kinetic effect, but instead, by some other mechanism, the cannabinoids allowed for more pain relief at lower plasma levels. So, what does this mean? It means that for people who have pain, who are on opioids, they may be able to take lower dosages or the same dose for a longer period of time, and they may have actually decreased side effects, because as you know, opioids side effects include nausea, which cannabis can help; constipation, many people think cannabis also helps constipation. For me, I think one of the tricky parts about this is that I'm aware that in some of the government hospitals, the VA hospitals for example or other military facilities, that patients who are on chronic opioids have to have a negative urine cannabis test before they can get their drugs, and that seems a little short-sighted because people may actually be boosting the effect of their pain medicine by using cannabinoids in conjunction.

DEAN BECKER: The following courtesy NBC's Dateline.

HARRY SMITH: Three mothers and their children on a remarkable journey. Each child is desperately ill. Each has a form of epilepsy. Quite often, epilepsy drugs don't work. Sometimes, they do more harm than good.

BOBBY SMITH: Each child's a guinea pig.

TERESA ELDER: No one knew how to treat it.

LISA SMITH: We were given drugs that caused her seizures. What am I going to do?

HARRY SMITH: Desperate for anything that might be able to help her daughter, Lisa found a mom in Colorado who said that marijuana worked wonders.

PAIGE FIGI: She was seven daily seizure drugs at two years old. The hospital said there's nothing left, you should just go home.

HARRY SMITH: But Paige didn't give up.

PAIGE FIGI: We were in a legal state.

HARRY SMITH: For medical marijuana.

PAIGE FIGI: For medical marijuana. I just started looking into it.

HARRY SMITH: This is a side of the cannabis business few people ever see. No tie-dye, no Bob Marley posters, just plants and science. When you look at this plant, what do you see?

BEAR REEL: I see beauty, I see wonderment, I see incredible opportunity.

HARRY SMITH: Cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive element in marijuana, seemed to be effective in reducing seizures.

PAIGE FIGI: She's catatonic, in a wheelchair, on oxygen, on a feeding tube, and I put it in her feeding tube, very low dose to start, and she didn't have a seizure for seven days. Nothing had ever done this.

HARRY SMITH: Time out. She's having three hundred seizures a week. You think she's going to die, and you introduce this, for the very first time, and it just stops.


HARRY SMITH: Dr. Brooks-Kayal maintains more clinical studies need to be done.

DR. AMY BROOKS-KAYAL: There's no question that there is potential there for an effective treatment, but we don't know that yet.

HARRY SMITH: Reading Paige and Charlotte's story online gave Lisa Smith, back in Virginia, new hope. Pot, though, wasn't, and still isn't legal in Virginia. So what did you do?

LISA SMITH: We chose to fight.

HARRY SMITH: Together, these families decided to do something audacious: convince the state legislature to make legal room for a very specific medical marijuana.

LISA SMITH: If she was your child, what would you do?

DEAN BECKER: Ladies and gentlemen, this is the Abolitionist's Moment.

Prohibition is an awful flop.
We like it.
It can't stop what it's meant to stop.
We like it.
It's left a trail of graft and slime,
It don't prohibit worth a dime,
It's filled our land with vice and crime.
Nevertheless, we're for it.
Franklin Adams, 1931.

Through a willing or silent embrace of drug war, we are ensuring more death, disease, crime, and addiction. Some have prospered a policy of drug prohibition and dare not allow their stance taken to be examined in a new light. But, for the rest, ignorance and superstition will eventually be forgiven, but what Houston has done in the name of drug war will never be forgotten. Please visit EndProhibition.org. Do it for the children.

That's all we can cram in this week. Please, do your part to end the madness of drug war. Join us next week when our guest will be US Representative Beto O'Rourke. And as always, I remind you, because of prohibition, you don't know what's in that bag. Please be careful.

To the Drug Truth Network listeners around the world, this is Dean Becker for Cultural Baggage and the unvarnished truth. Drug Truth Network archives are stored at the James A. Baker III Institute for Policy Studies.

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