07/05/15 Doug McVay

Century of Lies

This week we're at a news conference featuring Congressman Earl Blumenauer, discussing Oregon's new legal adult use marijuana program.

Audio file


JULY 5, 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 DrugWarFacts.org. Century of Lies is a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network and is supported through the generosity of the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy and of listeners like you. And now, on with the show.

Well folks, occasionally the calendar does get away from us. This is July 4th weekend, the show is being recorded well before that. I wanted to have a guest talk about the Support, Don't Punish global day of action for drug policy reform on June 26th, but we just haven't been able to get someone, I just haven't been able to schedule an interview.

As many of you know, I live in the state of Oregon, and Oregon became one of the four states, plus the District of Columbia, which have legalized to some extent adult personal use and cultivation of marijuana. It's a tremendous thing, I first came out to Oregon in 1984 to work on a ballot measure for legalization. I've been doing this for a long time, and now, we finally have a limited legalization here in the state of Oregon. It's a terrific thing. July First at midnight, the law went into effect, and so now, possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana is legal in private by adults over the age of 21.

I was able to get to a news conference which talked about the new law. The news conference features Representative Earl Blumenauer, Democrat from Oregon; also Anthony Johnson, the director of New Approach Oregon, who was the chief petitioner for the Measure 91, the legalization initiative which passed back in November of 2014; they also had Leah Maurer, who's a mother and activist and part of the organization Women Grow; and also David Rogers, the executive director of the Oregon ACLU.

They're talking about the new law, and how things are now changed, and some of the work we still have yet to do. I was there for a radio station and managed to even ask a question. I'm going to play in some audio from that. Well, let's just go straight to it.

REPRESENTATIVE EARL BLUMENAUER: Thank you very much for joining us this afternoon, and Mr. Rogers, thank you for your hospitality here at ACLU. This is an important landmark, as we enter into the next phase of Oregon's legalization of marijuana. Our state has long been in the forefront of efforts to modernize and reform, starting with being the first state to decriminalize marijuana, one of the first with medical marijuana, and we think passing the best initiative of any place in the country.

I want to talk just for a moment about the context of this, on the national arena, because there's a great deal that is going on nationally, and with the Oregon roll-out, it's going to be watched very carefully in terms of its implications. Already in this Congress, we've seen over a dozen pieces of legislation, bipartisan legislation, introduced to further modernize marijuana laws. We have had six amendments already this session, voted on on the floor of the house, and four of them have passed. One of the most noteworthy by a significant margin, telling the federal government not to interfere with medical marijuana activities that are legal in the states.

For the first time in history we've had legislation introduced in the United States Senate, and you're looking at a number of other states, watching what happens here in Oregon going forward. It's been fast and furious activity at the federal level. The efforts are going to be concentrated going forward to be able to allow legal marijuana businesses to be able to have a bank account, and to pay their taxes. And those, both those concepts have broad bipartisan support, and we're confident that things can happen in this Congress to make a difference.

Part of the problem with over 5,000 legal marijuana businesses around the country is that we've got this crazy patchwork at the federal level, leftover vestiges of a failed policy of prohibition, that simply don't work and dramatically complicate those efforts. I am extraordinarily pleased with what has happened at the state level, making progress to be able to refine the initiative that was passed with 56 percent of the vote, last fall, coming together on a bipartisan basis. Anthony, just back from the state capitol, may talk a little bit about that. But I am pleased because it's part of this momentum, being able to take what the voters have enacted, be able to refine it, move it forward, so that Oregon can be a textbook example of how to do it right.

We're in the midst of a dramatic change, all across the country. New states will be voting on it, the federal government over the course of the next five years will be modernizing based on what you've seen, and Oregon is going to loom large. I'm pleased we're here to be able to talk about that Oregon experience, and I'd like to turn if I could to Anthony Johnson, who was, is the director of New Approach Oregon, and is the chief petitioner of Measure 91, which I think is the best initiative we've seen at any point in the country. Anthony.

ANTHONY JOHNSON: Thank you so much, Congressman. As Congressman Blumenauer noted, Oregon has long been a pioneer in sensible marijuana law reform, starting all the way back in 1973, becoming the first state to decriminalize marijuana, and some breaking news today that I haven't seen covered just yet. Senate Bill 460 passed the Oregon senate by the margin of 23 to 6. That will, if it's passed by the House as expected and signed into law by Governor Kate Brown, as I would expect, that would start the regulated sales of marijuana through existing medical marijuana dispensaries starting on October First. And so we'll even have regulated sales earlier than we expected, removing more marijuana sales from the underground or illicit market, into licensed and regulated establishments, and starting in January, Oregon will start generating more revenue than, earlier than we expected under this system.

So, also today, the legislature further improved and reduced marijuana penalties, and passed a bill that will allow for past marijuana offenses to be set aside in line with the new laws and to be expunged from the criminal records. So, it's a great day for Oregon cannabis law reform, it's a really great day for cannabis law reform across the country because Oregon has helped lead the way for decades now, we will continue to lead the way, and starting, you know, at midnight we'll have thousands of less people arrested and cited for marijuana.

We will better prioritize our law enforcement resources, and soon we will start creating new jobs and generating new revenue for our state that will pay for things that our state desperately needs: public safety, drug education, and substance abuse treatment programs, and drug prevention programs, to better keep minors from getting marijuana, and the New Approach measure, Measure 91, legalization measure is not pro-marijuana, it's pro-regulation, and it supports people who want to succeed in society. They don't, we, there's no reason that we should saddle people with crimes on their record that prevent them from, prevent them from having good educational and employment opportunities, even volunteer opportunities at their kid's school or youth sports programs.

And so, to really touch upon that, we brought in people from all across Oregon, all walks of life, including mothers for Measure 91 who know that regulation, education, and taxation is a better system for Oregon's minors than prohibition and the black market. So on that note, I'll introduce Leah Maurer, who led our Mothers for Measure 91 campaign, and has really been instrumental in bringing people from all walks of life into the fold to know that regulation is a better policy than prohibition. So, next up, Leah Maurer.

LEAH MAURER: Thank you. So, yeah, like Anthony said, I'm a mother of three kids. I brought photos with me today, I'm so proud. Three boys. I have Mason, who's ten, Lyndon, who's eight, and Brendan, who's three. So, I absolutely love being their mother, and like Anthony said, marijuana's an issue I feel very strongly about as a mother and for that reason I did fully support the Measure 91 campaign, and did in fact found the group Moms for Yes on Measure 91, which now has over 1,100 members statewide.

I'm also the co-chair for the Portland chapter of Women Grow. Women Grow is a national organization that has over 30 chapters nationwide, and the response that we've received here in Portland for this organization has been overwhelmingly positive. We've had two events so far that have both sold out a week before the event happened, and I feel really good about the work that we're doing with that as well. So like I said, marijuana's an issue I feel very strongly about as a mother. I love my children more than anything, and their safety is absolutely my top priority as I would believe that it is for any parent, and that's why I'm excited that marijuana is starting to become legal tomorrow in Oregon.

Under the current system, marijuana is very easy for children and teens to get ahold of, it's being sold everywhere. Under Measure 91, this system will be regulated, where the marijuana comes from will be regulated, it will be tested, who it's going to will be regulated, it will only be sold to adults. Under the current system, we have adults all over the state being arrested for possession of small amounts of marijuana. Under Measure 91, all those law enforcement resources will be freed up to focus on violent crimes and issue that I feel far more strongly about as a parent.

Tomorrow, we're moving one step closer to a regulated system here, and people are being educated about it, and the black market will lose power. When retail sales open, the marijuana will be sold, packaged, labeled, and controlled seed to sale, very strictly. But parents have a responsibility here too. Parents have a responsibility to educate their children, just as we educate our children about weapons, cars, and alcohol, we have the responsibility to educate our children about marijuana. Marijuana is only legal for adults 21 and older, and it is unhealthy for children to consume.

Today is not only an opportunity for us as parents to talk with our children about it, but also to talk with other parents about it. Measure 91 has given us an avenue as parents to have this conversation with each other and have the law as an ally as we walk this walk on this new market of retail marijuana sales.

I'm going to turn over to David Rogers of the ACLU. Thank you again for having us.


DAVID ROGERS: So with the passage of Measure 91 last November, the voters of Oregon sent a very clear message, that we need to end the criminalization of marijuana. The aggressive enforcement of marijuana possession laws needlessly ensnares hundreds of thousands of people into the criminal justice system, and wastes billions of taxpayer dollars nationwide. We are actually at the tipping point in regard to public recognition that the war on drugs is a failed strategy. Oregon is helping to lead the country in developing a smarter and more just policy, and legalization of marijuana in Oregon is in fact about justice.

The war on marijuana has carried, has been carried out with staggering racial bias across the country, and the same is true here in Oregon. Blacks and whites use marijuana at roughly equal rates, but blacks are more likely, more than twice as likely in Oregon, to be cited or arrested for marijuana than are whites. And some areas of Oregon are worse than others. So, black residents in Multnomah County are over three times more likely to be cited and arrested for marijuana. In Lane County, that's three and a half times more likely. Sadly, we also know that arrests can often carry challenging collateral consequences that create long-term barriers to things like access to housing and employment.

With the passage and implementation of Measure 91, Oregon can celebrate a racial justice victory, and take satisfaction in removing some of the justice system's troubling collateral consequences that can ruin people's lives. Measure 91 was passed at a time when things were getting worse, not better. Oregon law enforcement agencies increased the rate of citations and arrests for possession of marijuana by 45 percent between 2001 and 2010. Oregon's increase during that period of time was the fifth largest in the country, and enforcement was not happening at a small scale. Between 2002 and 2012, Oregon law enforcement agencies made over 110,000 arrests or citations for marijuana offenses.

In 2010 alone, Oregon spent over 50 million dollars enforcing marijuana laws. To be clear, marijuana criminalization is not an effective public safety strategy. We are pleased to be freeing up taxpayer dollars for the kinds of strategies that are better designed to create and build safe and healthy communities. As Oregon implements Measure 91, and legalizes, taxes, and regulates marijuana, our state takes a giant step toward smarter justice. Thank you.

DOUG MCVAY: Now, I mentioned I got a chance to ask a question in that news conference. Here it is.

ANTHONY JOHNSON: All right, Doug.

DOUG MCVAY: Hi. Doug McVay with KBOO radio. Probably more appropriate for David but Anthony could jump in too. The question, about racial disparities. In Colorado, we found by research that actually racial disparities are persisting after legalization, and in the case of cultivation, has actually gotten worse. Does ACLU or New Approach have any plans to monitor and evaluate how the state of Oregon does as far as enforcing the laws after legalization takes effect?

DAVID ROGERS: This is clearly an issue that we're concerned about, and we want to be, make sure that Oregon gets it right. Racial justice is a core priority and issue of the ACLU of Oregon's, and absolutely, we will be monitoring the situation to make sure that, uh, you know, we're moving forward in a way that, that isn't about advancing disparity, but really is about advancing equity.

ANTHONY JOHNSON: Yeah, in uh, in Colorado, it's a shame that those disparities have remained, but the good, the good point of it is that about 80 percent of marijuana arrests across the board have decreased. Those disparities remain but we will definitely monitor the situation and to ensure that this law gets applied effectively and fairly across the state, to the best of our ability.

DOUG MCVAY: Yes, actually, the second part, will you be checking on the state's numbers as far as the numbers of arrests being reported. We found in Colorado for instance, the initial analysis from the Drug Policy Alliance was inaccurate, because the Colorado Judicial Board supplied figures that were double or even quadruple the actual number of arrests in 2010 and 2011, to which they were comparing. So do you have any plans to check on the state?

ANTHONY JOHNSON: Yeah, we'll definitely monitor. You know, the legalization and implementing the regulated sales is just the beginning, and we've already seen the legislature now pass a bill through the house and the senate to further improve marijuana laws, and to allow expungement of past convictions that used to not be allowed to be expunged. And so, over time, but we're not done yet, and there's still more work to be done, there's still people in prison, there's still disparities in how the law's carried out, and there's still improvements to be made, so the work's not done, and part of doing that work is monitoring the state and how, how this law's carried out across the state.

EARL BLUMENAUER: These are very persistent patterns for over half a century. It's, uh, we have, uh, bureaucracies that have zealously followed, I think in some case a misguided mission. We've had unnecessary roadblocks that are put in place, there are lots of attitudes that are going to be hard to change, and there are bureaucratic activities that are well-entrenched. But, I think what we're seeing here is extraordinarily optimistic in terms of the progress that's being made, how it's being done in a cooperative and bipartisan fashion, and building on that experience. And I think, apropos the notion about the momentum behind this, I think you're going to see things fall in line. I think it'll be easier to make important changes, attitudes are already being adjusted, and we'll be able to focus our priorities on things that are real priorities, so I hope, yes, have folks in the press zero in, have ACLU and others, but I think we ought to be realistic about the progress that's been made, and understand that we're, we're entering into a new, new era with tremendous promise.

DOUG MCVAY: Yes, that's me. I'm the one who takes the punch bowl away when the party gets a little out of hand. You see, now, Congressman Blumenauer was right. This is a moment of glory, and here I am, bringing up things that are actually not their fault, and that, you know, are serious, endemic issues, and it's going to take a long time to, to fix, and really important to focus on the matter at hand, and I understand all that. I do.

But I'm not the one who's asserting that somehow legalizing is going to make the problem of racially biased law enforcement go away. The problem with the legalization arguments that we hear these days is that people seem to be making that presumption. I mean, yes, racially biased law enforcement is a serious issue, and yes, the drug war is one place where that plays out, in fact you could argue that racism is one of the big motivators behind the war on drugs, because we blame "The Other," we blame people from other countries, or who are non-white, we blame them for the drug problem when actually they're not responsible at all.

That's all true. But then, to go further and say that racially biased enforcement problems will end because of legalization -- ooh, well that's just not what's going to happen. In Colorado, according to research Professor Jon Gettman at Shenandoah University, my good friend and mentor, performed on behalf of the Drug Policy Alliance, found that yes, marijuana arrests declined dramatically after legalization of marijuana. Which in a way kind of makes sense, that's sort of a no-brainer, wouldn't you think? But the other part of that research is, that the enforcement of marijuana laws, the remaining marijuana laws in Colorado still showed patterns of racially biased enforcement. African-Americans were still more likely to be busted, and in terms of cultivation, whereas African-Americans were negligible parts of that particular offense, after legalization African-Americans were much more likely to be busted for cultivation than were whites.

Racially biased enforcement persists. Yes, the numbers are slightly less, actually that was the other thing, don't know if it came off very clearly in the interview, er, in the press conference audio, but one month after the Drug Policy Alliance released its report on Colorado's legalization, and the impact on criminal justice, they were contacted by the Colorado Judicial Board. It's on their website. It seems that the Colorado Judicial Board, which had put together the numbers on marijuana arrests, when they were doing 2010 and 2011, they miscounted, and in some cases they doubled or even quadrupled the number of arrests which had been performed in 2010 and 2011, the years which we were comparing, pre-legalization years. Which means that, yes, there was an improvement although technically it wasn't as much of an improvement as we originally thought. That's all.

Anyway, back to racially biased enforcement. It is a serious problem, and it shows its ugly head quite dramatically when it comes to the drug war. But, you know, let's look at criminal justice in general. We cannot clear more than 20 percent of property crimes. We can't clear more than 50 percent of violent crimes, and clear, by the way, does not mean that we found someone guilty, that we found the real culprit. Clear simply means that we have found someone on whom to pin the blame.

And when it comes down to it, murder is one of the violent crimes for which we supposedly do a pretty good job of clearing offenses, and yet, the Innocence Project and just a quick look at some newspaper articles will tell you that we don't do a very good job when it comes to murder because we have a lot of people who've been convicted of capital murder, serious crimes that should have had a lot of care and attention paid, there are a lot of people convicted, serving time, who didn't commit these crimes. DNA evidence has been exonerating people right and left. A lot of African-Americans.

Property crimes, we can't clear more than 20 percent. That means there's less than a one in five chance that they'll find someone to pin the blame on if your house is broken into. And that's again finding someone to pin the blame on. Maybe the problem -- and I'm saying maybe because I don't yet have the data to prove it, but I'm sure it's there -- maybe the real problem is that law enforcement is targeting the wrong suspects. That's where racial bias comes in, and that's where racially biased enforcement is making your lives and my life much worse. Because when police go after their usual suspects, when police decide that the problem must be the African-American people and so they go at, after African-Americans and try to pin the blame on them for everything that's happened, they miss the real offenders. The real offenders.

And again, this is where racially biased enforcement rears its ugly head and makes clear what the problem is. If we can only clear less than fifty percent of violent crimes, if we can only clear less than twenty percent of property crimes, that means more than half of the violent crimes and more than four fifths, more than 80 percent of property crimes -- who knows who's committing those? I know who should care. I certainly do. You do. Law enforcement? Well, not so much. They have an underclass, they waste a lot of time going after people for petty drug offenses -- this is where the problem is. And this is why I object when we try and assert that legalizing is going to make it better. No, actually, it's not.

The problem of racially biased enforcement persists, even after we legalize. So when legalizers say that by legalizing marijuana, we'll take care of this problem, they're wrong. This is a problem, and it is a problem that we cannot get rid of just by legalizing drugs. We need to legalize drugs, we need to decriminalize all drug use, we need to make substitution treatment available on demand across the country for everyone who needs it regardless of their income level, we need to make it available free because it's in our best interest, and we don't need to make it so that they have to be arrested and then referred to treatment if we decide that they're a good enough prospect for treatment success. We need to simply direct them into treatment when necessary.

And so yes, Congressman Blumenauer was right. Racially biased enforcement, racially biased criminal justice system, this is a major problem, it's a huge issue, it's attitudinal, it's entrenched, and it's certainly a serious thing, and legalization of marijuana is a great thing, and they should have their moment in the sun to be able to revel in the fact that this happened. Yes. All that is true.

And that's really all the time we have today. I want to 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.

Century Of Lies is heard on 420Radio.org on Mondays at 11am and 11pm, Saturdays at 4am, all times are pacific. We're heard on time4hemp.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 Tuesdays at 8:30pm.

If you work with a public, community, or college nonprofit radio station and you're interested in carrying this show or any of the fine programming from the Drug Truth Network, it's available for syndication and rebroadcast free of charge. Full-length, high definition copies of the audio files can be downloaded through the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network's audioport or directly from the Drug Truth Network, where we're at DrugTruth.net. To all of our listeners and supporters: Thank you.

Recordings of this show and past shows are available for free download from the website DrugTruth.net. While you're there, listen to our other programs and subscribe to our podcasts. You can follow me on Twitter, I'm @DrugPolicyFacts and of course also @DougMcVay. The Drug Truth Network is on Facebook, be sure to give its page a Like. Drug War Facts is on facebook too, please give it a like and share it with friends.

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.