11/01/15 Bernie Sanders

Century of Lies

This week: Bernie Sanders talks about criminal justice reform and marijuana legalization on the floor of the US Senate, and we talk with Rick Doblin of MAPS about MDMA and medical cannabis research.

Audio file


NOVEMBER 1, 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.

NGAIO BEALUM: Give it up for not only a fantastic photographer but a wonderful human being, and he just got engaged to get married: Doug McVay!

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.

Now, on with the show.

Speaking on the floor of the United States Senate on Thursday, October 29th, about criminal justice reform, here is Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont:

SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: Mister President, today I want to spend a few minutes discussing a major crisis in this country that must be addressed. Tragically, in the United States of America we now have 2.2 million people in jail. That is more people incarcerated than any other country on Earth, including China, which is a communist, authoritarian country four times our size. We have more people in jail than does China. Further, at a time of large deficits and a very large national debt, we are spending about $80 billion a year in federal, state, and local taxpayer money to lock people up. $80 billion a year to incarcerate people.

Mister President, our criminal justice system is broken, and we need major reforms in that system. I think there is no debate in this country that violent and dangerous people must be locked up and they must be kept in jail and away from society. I think nobody argues that. On the other hand, I would hope that there is also no debate that nonviolent people, people who have been convicted of relatively minor crimes, should not have their lives destroyed, while they do time in prison, create an arrest record which will stay with them for their entire lives. The important point here is, it is not just the year, the two years that somebody is in prison. This record will stay with them for their entire lives, and do enormous damage to their lives.

Mister President, in 2014, there were 620,000 marijuana possession arrests. That is one arrest every minute. According to a report by the ACLU, there were more than 8 million marijuana arrests in the United States from 2001 to 2010, eight million marijuana arrests, and almost nine in 10 were for possession. Arrests for marijuana possession rose last year nationwide even as Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, and the District of Columbia became the first states in the nation to legalize personal use of marijuana.

And let’s be clear that there is a racial component to this situation. Although about the same proportion of blacks and whites use marijuana, a black person is almost four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person. In other words, as we try to understand why our prison population today is disproportionately black and Latino, one of the reasons is that because of overpoliced black neighborhoods, African-Americans are much more likely to be arrested for dealing with -- for smoking or using marijuana, than will whites. And here’s the simple truth: an upper middle class white kid in Scarsdale, New York, has a much, much lower chance of being arrested for using marijuana than a low income black kid in Chicago or Baltimore. Those are just the facts.

Mister President, too many Americans in this country have seen their lives destroyed because they have criminal records as a result of marijuana use. That is wrong. That has got to change. Let’s be clear: a criminal justice -- a criminal record could mean not only jail time, but much, much more. If a person has a criminal record, it will be much harder for that person later in life to get a job. Not so easy coming out of jail getting a job, and if you don't get a job, there is a strong likelihood you're going to go back into your same old environment and end up in jail again. If somebody has a criminal record, it may be impossible for them to obtain certain types of public benefits, and make it difficult in fact for them even to live in public housing. A criminal record stays with a person for his or her entire life, until the day he or she dies. A criminal record destroys lives.

Mister President, right now under the Controlled Substances Act, marijuana is listed as a Schedule One drug, meaning that it is considered to be a drug that is extremely dangerous. In fact, under the Act, marijuana is considered to be as dangerous as heroin. Now I know there are conflicting opinions about the impact, health impacts that marijuana may have. But nobody that I know seriously believes that marijuana is as dangerous as heroin. This is absurd, nobody believes that. In my view, the time is long overdue for us to take marijuana off of the federal government’s list of outlawed drugs.

In my view, at a time when Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, and the District of Columbia have already legalized the personal use of marijuana, every state in this country should have the right to regulate marijuana the same way that state and local laws now govern sales of alcohol and tobacco. Among other things, that means that recognized businesses in states that have legalized marijuana should be fully able to use the banking system without fear of federal prosecution.

Mister President, in response to the initiatives that Colorado and other states have taken, the Obama administration has essentially allowed these states to go forward and to do what the people in those states have chosen to do. That’s a good step forward, but it is not good enough, because a new administration with a different point of view could simply go forward and prosecute those marijuana businesses and individuals in the state who use marijuana despite what the people in these given states have decided to do legislatively.

What I am saying today is not that the federal government should legalize marijuana throughout the country. This is a decision for the states. And I would hope that many of my colleagues, especially those who express support for states’ rights and our federalist system of government; those who often decry the power of the big bad federal government in undermining local initiatives, would support my very simple and straightforward legislation, which will be introduced next week. All that legislation says is that if a state chooses to legalize marijuana, that state should be able to go forward without legal impediments from the federal government.

Mister President, let me also talk about another issue of great importance in this country, and that is that I believe the time is now for the United States of America to end capital punishment. Now I know that this is not necessarily a popular point of view, but it is in my view the right point of view. Right now, virtually every Western industrialized country has chosen to end capital punishment. I would rather have our country stand side by side with European democracies rather than with countries like China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and others who maintain the death penalty.

Mister President, we are all shocked and disgusted by some of the horrific murders that we see in this country, including massacres in schools and on college campuses, that seem to take place every week, and all of us are just tired and disgusted with what we are seeing. But it seems to me that at a time of rampant violence and murder, all over the world, where people are being blown up and their heads are being cut off, it is important that the state itself, the federal government here in America say loud and clearly that we will not be part of that process. When people commit horrendous crimes, and we see too many of them, we should lock them up and throw away the key.

I have no problem in saying that people who commit terrible murders should spend the rest of their lives in jail. But the State itself, in a democratic, civilized society, should itself not be involved in the murder of other Americans. Now, I know that there are strong differences of opinion on this issue, and in fact I think I am in a minority position. But I think that those of us who want to set an example, who want to say that we have got to end the murders and the violence that we're seeing in our country and all over the world, should in fact be on the side of those of us who believe that we must end capital punishment in this country. And with that, Mister President, I would yield the floor.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Senator Bernie Sanders speaking on the floor of the US Senate on Thursday, October 29th. You're listening to Century of Lies, a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, we're on the web at drugtruth.net. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

I spoke recently with my good friend Rick Doblin. Rick is the founder and director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, MAPS for short. Here's part of that audio:

RICK DOBLIN: But vaporizers heat the marijuana up, they don't burn it, and they're a non-smoking delivery system that's less carbon dioxide, stuff like that. Then -- but we got marijuana from Elvy Musikka, one of the compassionate care patients that receive marijuana from NIDA. We kind of redirected it in ways that pissed some people off but nobody got in trouble, so then we tried to get marijuana from NIDA to continue that research and we spent 7 years trying to buy ten grams of marijuana, and NIDA refused to sell it to us.

All right, so, what I recognized in 2000 was that there was two fundamental obstacles to making marijuana into a medicine. One was, we had to end the NIDA monopoly, which blocks research, the other was we had to introduce vaporizers into clinical research, because I believe a rational risk-benefit analysis will approve smoked marijuana. Smoked marijuana does not cause lung cancer, there's anti-tumor properties that cannaboids that Donald Tashkin from UCLA, who's the leading researcher on marijuana and lung function from NIDA, multiple decades of his career was spent at this, he was initially against the legalization of marijuana because he thought it caused lung cancer, but his research showed it didn't cause lung cancer. Now he's a proponent for marijuana legalization.

So, any case, there was these two fundamental things we had to overcome. We have gotten vaporizers accepted by FDA, the Volcano vaporizer, in clinical research through Donald Abrams, and we also, with Lyle Kraker, starting in 2001, submitted an application to DEA to get a license to grow marijuana. And, you know, DEA did all sorts of horrible things, they did nothing for multiple years, we had to sue them in the court of appeals under the Administrative Procedures Act for unreasonable delay. The judge said that the DEA, it's not necessarily unreasonable delay for you to do nothing for three and a half years, but you have to explain why you're doing nothing. So then, they decided all right, we're going to reject this application, and then once they rejected it we sued them in the administrative law judge hearings and yet again, we won. The judge said it should be in the public interest for there to be multiple producers of marijuana. The DEA rejected that, and we lost in the appeals court in 2013.

Well, circumstances have changed, and now, actually earlier today -- in the last couple of weeks we're working on a new application from Professor Kraker, and we believe this time there's a really good chance that the DEA will say yes. There was just hearings in Washington, DC, at which Nora Volkow, the head of NIDA, said that the NIDA monopoly should end. A senior FDA official said the same thing. October 15th, just a few days ago, there was a letter that was sent to Senator Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts Senator. She and other senators have sponsored what's called the CARERS Act, to try to promote research of medical marijuana. So, this was a letter that came from the head of the DEA, the head of ONDCP, the drug czar, and the head of HHS, saying they're looking at ways to end federal obstruction of medical marijuana research. It was somewhat hopeful.

And so, I believe that in the next month or so we're going to submit a new application with Professor Kraker to the DEA to get a license to grow marijuana exclusively for federally regulated research, and at the same time, we do have this marijuana PTSD study that, you know, after being frustrated about it for refusing to provide the marijuana for Donald's study into the benefits of marijuana and refusing to provide marijuana for Ethan Russo's, about six years ago I said all right, maybe I'll try again. And we thought, okeh, you know, we're developing an expertise of MDMA for PTSD, let's do a look at marijuana for PTSD, in veterans.

And so, it's taken us six years. We have all the approvals, NIDA's agreed to -- well, almost all of the approvals. NIDA's agreed to sell us the marijuana. The only thing we're waiting on is DEA approval. And DEA is really just waiting for us to remodel the facility in Phoenix, Arizona, where Doctor Sue Sisley will conduct half the study. The other half of the study is going to be conducted at Johns Hopkins under the direction of Ryan Danbury, who's a PhD researcher there with Marcel Von Miller being the coordinating principal investigator.

So, we are about, after roughly 25 years of trying, are now finally able to start the first medical marijuana drug development study with the marijuana plant smoked. And there's a Canadian company, Tilray, that produces medical marijuana, owned by Privateer, a venture capital firm, and Tilray said, Hey, we want to do some research too. Could we use your protocol? And we said sure, we're nonprofit drug development, take our protocol. And so they're doing a study with marijuana for PTSD, but they're using their marijuana rather than NIDA marijuana, and they're using vaporization instead of smoking. So we'll combine the data and see how it works.

So, that's basically where it's at. We're, you know, we have this $2.1 million grant from the state of Colorado. There's the possibility that we're going to get a grant to help study medical marijuana in Israel. There's, you know, Israel's one of the leaders of medical marijuana in the world, and we're hopefully going to get our own license to grow. And so we could consider nonprofit drug development of marijuana. I mean, one question is, why bother? You know, all these states are going to legalize, patients can just get it. There's all these medical marijuana patients.

But there's a lot of information that, we don't really know what's best for what, what does CBD do, what does THC do, what do the terpenes do, what do the other cannabinoids do? And then the other big part is that medical marijuana patients have to buy their marijuana. Insurance companies aren't paying it. And, once, if we can take it through the FDA, then insurance companies will cover it. So, I think we're sort of moving in that direction, and by January 2016, we anticipate starting the study with marijuana for PTSD, and then hopefully by the end of that year we'll have our own farm.

DOUG MCVAY: Ah, what a difference a few decades can make. Now, tell me, tell us some of the stuff you have planned for the future. And I'm guessing that I'll be seeing you in November at the Drug Policy Alliance's international reform conference.

RICK DOBLIN: Yes, you will. And one of the things that I hope you'll see is, we have a vigil. We have permission for a vigil opposing the drug war on the Washington Mall the night of November 21st, it's the Saturday night, it's after the awards dinner at the Drug Policy Alliance conference, and we actually have permission to burn stuff. A little bit like Burning Man on the Mall, and what's going to burnt is a jail cell. And so, we encourage people from the Drug Policy Alliance conference and others to join us in this vigil, this political protest on the Washington Mall against the drug war, for more public health approaches to drug abuse.

Yeah, I'll definitely be there, and I think one of the main things that I should say to leave people is that, we've started the first study of MDMA for post traumatic stress disorder in 2000. And it's been basically 15 years of pilot studies with MDMA for PTSD, and now we are ending this international series of phase two pilot studies. In December we'll be collecting the final primary outcome data, and then what we're going to be doing is submitting all of this to the FDA in February or March for what's called an end of phase two meeting, and that's for this transition to phase three.

So, in terms of FDA, you know, phase one is your first stuff in healthy normals, phase two is your first studies in patients, and then, those are just exploratory studies. But phase three are the large-scale, randomized, controlled, double-blind studies that are called pivotal studies. Those are the ones that are used to make drugs into medicines. And we need to have two large-scale phase three studies. So, the really big thing that we're doing is preparing to summarize all of this data from 15 years, and not just our data but data from other people as well. If you go to Medline, which is the repository of scientific literature, and you put in MDMA or ecstasy, there's over 5,000 papers, we estimate, at a price of over $300 million. Mostly funded by other governments, looking at the risks of MDMA, but it helps us understand the risks of MDMA.

So, we need to summarize all that, negotiate with FDA, and come up with the design of phase three, and that's what we think is going to be taking us through 2016, and early 2017 we hope to start phase three and be done and have MDMA approved as a prescription medicine by 2021. That's our current plan. You know, we'll really know how realistic that is once we start negotiations with FDA. And so, we're a nonprofit drug development, and so we do encourage people to donate if they're able to. I think it's really going to contribute to something that can, you know, change our society in a better way, make a positive contribution, and, you know, in broader ways, you know, provide more access to people to healing experiences and also the spiritual experiences and personal growth, and I think that really can make a major contribution to public mental health and, you know, the survival of the human species.

DOUG MCVAY: You're doing some amazing work, Rick. You really are. I suppose, if it, if I hadn't outed my age earlier in this, I would be asking whether you thought when you started all this that it would take so long, but this isn't my first rodeo. When you started doing this, did you think you were ever going to see the day when you could say: prescription medicine by a particular year, that it's actually within sight?

RICK DOBLIN: Well, the good thing for me is, and the reason I've been able to do this now, for, you know, next year is our thirtieth anniversary of MAPS, but I said I really decided on this path when I was 18, so 43 years ago, is that, it didn't really matter if it worked or not. I realize that this was, for me, the contribution that I could make was to try to bring this back. And that's the only thing that really made sense for me to work with. And so, if it took longer than my lifetime or not, it didn't really matter because it made sense to do that work.

I really didn't have, I knew that the resistance was so enormous, but at the same time, it was so irrational and fear-based, that I felt that eventually there would be a change. And whether there would be a change in my lifetime, I really wasn't sure.

But I'll say that, one of the things that I'm most proud of, that MAPS has ever accomplished, was with LSD, and that we started LSD research, you know, we did the first study in over 45 years in LSD for a patient population, and we managed to start it a few months before Albert Hoffman died, and Albert is the one that invented LSD. And Anita, his wife, they were married like 79 years. He died at age 102. She died a few months before he did. And we were able to have both Anita and Albert see that the pendulum had shifted, and we were able to start LSD therapy research again before they died.

So, they didn't live to see the acceptance, and at this point, you know, I think there's a real good chance that those of us who are around today, even those of us who are, you know, older, that we may live to see this, and now we just have to cope with a rapidly changing society and try to be responsible, not to oversell MDMA, not to undersell the risks, and just try to mainstream it in a careful, gradual way, and I think we have that within our grasp.

DOUG MCVAY: That was from an interview I did recently with Rick Doblin, Rick is the founder and director of MAPS, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies.

For now, that's all the time we have. Thank you for listening. This is Century Of Lies, a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

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For the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay 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 Public Policy.