11/08/15 Doug McVay

Century of Lies

This week: We look forward to the Drug Policy Alliance's international reform conference Nov 18-21 in Crystal City, Virginia, by looking back at the DPA's 2013 conference in Denver, Colorado.

Audio file


NOVEMBER 8, 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.

Now, on with the show.

Well, folks, there has been so much news this week, so much news over the past few weeks in fact. The Mexican Supreme Court issuing a determination that marijuana possession and cultivation should be legal, at least in the limited case of a handful of people. The nation of Canada, of course, having a new government, and a health minister and a justice minister and a whole cabinet and a prime minister who seem to actually understand the need for reform and the fact that harm reduction is a good thing.

Here in America, we've had presidential candidates saying the right stuff, as far as criminal justice reform and marijuana legalization. Not all of them, but some of them. And of course in Ohio, we saw that greed does not always win the day. Marijuana legalization, marijuana reform, comes out of the social justice movement. Creating an oligopoly and giving a handful of people the right to squeeze a bunch of money out of people -- that's just not what it's about. And so a bad bill ended up losing. Marijuana reform, marijuana legalization, and drug policy reform, continue to roll forward.

All that's going on and all that's terrific, and in just a couple of weeks I'm going to be talking with a bunch of people about that at the Drug Policy Alliance's international reform conference. It's being held November 18th through 21st this year in Crystal City, Virginia. That's right outside of DC, one of the northern Virginia suburbs. I'm going to be there, my registration is all in hand, and I'm looking forward to it. I'll be bringing you back a lot of great audio, and if you check us out on Facebook you'll see some of the photographs coming out of there as well. If you can be there, however, all the better. There's still time to register. Go to their website at DrugPolicy.org, and you can follow the links and get yourself registered. It's going to be a great time, it's really inspiring.

In fact, this week's show, I'm dedicating to the conference. Let's start with this, from the opening plenary session. We're going to start in the middle of Ethan's speech, and this is Ethan Nadelmann, Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance.

ETHAN NADELMANN: When people say to me, So what is it, Ethan, what are you, what are Drug Policy Alliance, what are you guys fighting for? And I step back and I give them an intellectual construct. I say, let me put this in one admittedly long sentence. And I'll start by saying, imagine all drug policies as a wave along the spectrum, at the one end, the, you know, the Saudi Arabia-Singapore, you know, cut off their heads, pull out their fingernails, throw them away in pseudo-drug treatment camps, whip them, you said it, down to the other end, you know, you know, no controls whatsoever, cigarette policy of the 60s, you know, Milton Friedman's wet dream. Right? And imagine the spectrum from the most punitive to the most free market and everything that lies inbetween.

In that one sentence, I would say that drug policy reform can be defined as, is that we seek to reduce the role of criminalization and the criminal justice system in drug control to the maximum extent consistent with protecting public safety and health. We seek to reduce the role of criminalization and the criminal justice system in drug control to the maximum extent consistent with protecting public health and public safety. We want to move it down, down, down. We want to get rid of those mandatory minimums and reduce those prison, those prison populations. Right?

We want to, we want to end the criminalization of drug possession and embrace the Portugal model. We want to take marijuana out of the criminal justice system and we want to treat addiction more and more as a health issue. We want to ensure that people have clean needles and the help they need. We want to get resources shifted from the criminal justice system to health and education. We want to make sure that the people struggling with, whether they're pharmaceutical opiates or heroin, that naloxone is in every medicine cabinet in America so that they are not dying. Right?

We want to move it down, down, down, and then we want to see how much further can we push it. How much further can we push it before the risks, if they exist, of broader legalization exist. Right? We know what's happening with opioids in America today, that they're out there more and more and more, and as many people died last year in America of an accidental overdose as died in an auto accident, and that that is not acceptable. We know that the answer to that, however, is not more cops and prosecutors and criminal laws and prescription monitoring systems and all sorts of other sorts of things. We know that the answer to that, as with all of dealing with drug policy, is a health approach, and an information approach, and good samaritan laws, and allowing pharmacists to make this stuff available. Because overdose in many respects is becoming the new HIV and hepatitis C. It's the thing that we need to deal with honestly and directly.

And I'm asking every one of you who is here, because you care first and foremost about legalizing marijuana, make the commitment to also help solve that problem, and not by just telling everybody that marijuana's a better pain killer than the opioids, because it is for some but it's not for others. That that's part of our building a movement. That, also part of our building a movement is that once we legalize marijuana and once we benefit from marijuana's exceptional place in American and global society, that you won't wash your hands of being a drug policy reformer. That you'll look around and you'll see the other people rotting behind bars because of their involvement with other drugs. That they're being punished for putting in their body the same thing that we wanted to put in our body, that you'll make that commitment to continuing to fight to end the war on drugs.

And then, even when we've, one day we do end the war on drugs, yes, hopefully I'll retire at that point. I hope that. But you know, there's other evils in our society. The racism and the xenophobia, the ignorance and prejudice, that we cannot allow to persist and continue, because building a movement, a movement for freedom and justice, requires that we keep this unity and build out from this unity.

Now, how do we do that? You know, I've been thinking about this a lot. And, the thing I keep coming back to is that wonderful prayer, the prayer that was crafted that was crafted by Reinhold Neibuhr, and the theologians in years past, embraced by our friends who are in recovery today, and if I could just modify it a bit. You know, that prayer that says, Grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and wisdom to know the difference. That's a prayer not just for people hanging on to sobriety every day, but a prayer for all of us. Now, what does that prayer mean more broadly for a movement?

Then I started thinking, I was reflecting about all the years I've been building Drug Policy Alliance and asking myself what, what's the defining feature of those of my colleagues at DPA and others in the movement who've been most successful? You know what I think it is? I think it's been that willingness to step out of their comfort zones. The comfort zones are a handcuff, and you know, and it gets harder and harder to step out of those comfort zones as we get older and older, it's just the nature of things.

But finding the way, it's when you step out of your comfort zone, it's when the shy person who fears to speak gets up like Efa did today and speaks. It's when the person who thinks they can't write just keeps writing and writing and writing until it flows out of them. It's when the person who thinks they're just comfortable with the marijuana issue branches out to the broader issue. It's when the people who think that the only thing, the only reason they're fighting the war on drugs is because of how racist it is, begins to understand all the other dimensions of this struggle. It's when the people in Latin America who think that if only America would get out of the way we could solve our problems, understand that this is a broader global struggle. It's the ways in which we challenge ourselves to read our books and challenge our own prejudices. It's the ways in which the people in recovery stop damning the people in methadone and understand that they're part of this movement too. Right?

It's the ways, it's all the ways in which we challenge ourselves and open up to a new way of thinking, and being, and building this thing. Right? You know, because the fact of the matter is, we may be at the tipping point on marijuana, but two states and 48 to go and hopefully one country down and 200 to go. That's a long way to go. It's a long way to go and that means we've got to be smart. Right? It means, it means that some of the greatest challenges, you know, when we said you cannot, what can we not change? What is that serenity piece about? That's most, for me, it's first and foremost about dealing with my fellow allies.

You know, one thing you know when you're in a political movement is? The people who give you the most grief, the people you most want to strangle, it's not our opponents out there. It's our fellow allies. Damn, I think sometimes we just know them too well. And when people say, why can't we all just get along, and I say to the people, say why are you blah blah, shut the hell up! What do you mean, get along. We're human beings, we've got to fight, we've got to fight it out, that's what building a movement is about. But you know what also it is about? It's about understanding, it's about understanding, right? That even as we fight and hate our allies, that we keep our eye on the prize. That we keep our eye on our prize, that we do not let internecine conflict and conflict over strategies and tactics and girlfriends and boyfriends and credit and funding get in the way of taking us to the next level.

But the things we can change, the things we require the courage to change? That's about ourselves. That's about our ability, each and every one of us, to grow. To know the moment to follow, and the moment, the moment to lead. To know the moment to say, I am not just going to settle for being a part of this movement, I want to be a part of this entire movement.

And that the more that I can open up myself to this broader movement, the more I know, the more I know about the leadership that Portugal is providing, in terms of ending the criminalization of drug possession; he more I know about what New Zealand just did, by providing a path-breaking model for legally regulating drugs that people use for recreational purposes; the more I know about the leadership provided by Switzerland and other European countries in allowing people who cannot stop using street heroin to get their heroin from a legal source; the more I know about the medical benefits of marijuana, and what the evidence is there; the more I know about what it means to do honest drug education; the more I know about the origins of these drug laws and the way in which racism permeates the origins of these drug laws; the more I open my heart to understanding the way racism, even if it may not exist in the laws of our society, still exists in the systemic structures and mindsets and conscious and unconscious of our society, understanding what all of that is about, that is the personal growth that is required and that is the courage that we need.

That is the courage we need. Because if we're at a tipping point on marijuana, we're only at a turning point when it comes to reducing mass incarceration in America. You know, Attorney General Holder and Obama, damn them for saying four years ago that they would provide no leadership on this issue, and said wait until we get a second term if we do.

But thank you, President Obama and Attorney General Holder for making good on that promise that when the second term came, you would provide some leadership. But more of that leadership needs to be shown, because you know something? You know what ultimately I'm fighting for when it comes to mass incarceration in America? We have in America been truly exceptional. Nobody in the history of democratic societies has locked up our fellow citizens the way that we do. Nobody has. Nobody has locked up black people the way that we've locked up black people. Nobody has done these sorts of things. I'm fighting so that America can become average.

I want our rates of incarceration to be the middle, and I want us to have the freedom to look at another country doing, incarcerating people the way we do, and to accuse them, as people are accusing us, of committing a massive violation of human rights in our society.

But, the fact is, going from 2.3 million people behind bars to becoming average means going from 2.3 million people behind bars down to half a million behind bars. I'm worried that as we see these numbers begin to drop, and they are going to begin to drop, that we'll be satisfied just when we get them under two million. But we cannot be satisfied then. We cannot be satisfied when they're under 1.5 million, and we must not be satisfied if we reduce incarceration by half a million in America in the last, next decade, but we end up putting another five or ten million under supervision of the criminal justice system. Because ultimately, this is a long term struggle for freedom. For freedom, for freedom and liberty. Yes, and compassion, and justice, and health, and science, but it is for freedom and for liberty.

Any one of us fighting against racism, fighting for more access to drug treatment, fighting for harm reduction, if you are not saying those words Freedom and Liberty, and that's what this struggle's about, every day, then you are selling short the values that we struggle for, that when Michelle Alexander talks about this being the new Jim Crow, the fight against slavery and Jim Crow is a fight for freedom and justice and equality, as is the fight against the war on drugs today. So we are, we are building a movement! And we are going to build this, we've got one generation down and two or three generations to go, I fear to say. There is no Berlin Wall of drug prohibition going to come tumbling down tomorrow when it comes to mass incarceration.

We're in it for the long term. But we are a movement for freedom and justice. We do stand on the shoulders and follow in the footsteps of other movements for personal freedom and social justice, the movement for gay rights, and civil rights, and women's rights, and even the movement to abolish slavery in America. In every one of those cases, our opponents appeal to the fears and prejudices of the majority. The fears around people's children, and around the freedom of those, and what would happen to society if those people became free, if those people were treated as equal. The fears that Sodom and Gomorrah would be the future if we allow freedom to flourish.

But in every case, those movements fought back. They fought back by standing up and by coming out of the closet. By demanding their own equality. By looking at the books and the history books and the science books, and putting out the arguments to appeal to those people who are not themselves members of the oppressed, but who understood that oppressing a minority of which you are not a part is no way to live in a free society.

So thank you for being here, thank you for being part of this movement. God bless you all. We are going to win this one! Thank you.

DOUG MCVAY: You're listening to 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.

You've just been listening to Ethan Nadelmann, the Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance. Next up is the Reverend Edwin Sanders, Senior Servant and founder of the Metropolitan Interdenominational Church in Nashville, Tennessee, and a member of the board of directors of the Drug Policy Alliance.

THE REVEREND EDWIN C. SANDERS: I want you to stand back to your feet. All those freedom movements that Ethan just listed every one of them has a freedom song so I’m going to treat you to one today. I’m just going to start singing this song. If you know it and the rest of you who don’t know it, I’m just going to ask you to learn it real quick because it goes like this:

[singing] We who believe in freedom cannot rest, cannot rest.
We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.

[speaking] That’s it. That’s all of it.

[singing] We who believe in freedom cannot rest, cannot rest.
We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.

[speaking] Come on....louder than that.

[singing] We who believe in freedom cannot rest, cannot rest.
We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.

[speaking] Now take the roof off this time.

[singing] We who believe in freedom cannot rest, cannot rest.
We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.

[speaking] Ethan talked about freedom, but freedom is a constant struggle. Freedom is not what we do on our day off. Freedom is not the business that we are about when it’s convenient and easy. Freedom is not something that we can opt into and opt out of. Freedom is not something that we can excuse ourselves from when we desire. If we're going to be a part of this movement, there's a way in which we have to understand that we cannot rest until it comes.

On July -- August the 12th, Ethan sent me an email and the first line of the email was, “What a day. If only every Monday was like this.” I’ve held onto to that ever since because we need to be the people who can stand up every day and say, “What a day.” We need to be able to know that every day is the right day. It’s not just the day when we've heard from Washington the news that we want and need to hear. It’s not just the day when we’ve been able to have the experiences that allow us to have some sense of individual and collective success in our efforts. It’s not just the day when we personally feel like something we’ve done has made a difference, but it’s the day that has to become our every day.

Ethan said he wishes every Monday could be that way. I want every day to be that way, because there’s a way in which we ought to be able to say every day, it’s all right. It’s all right. Now I want you to have that line. I’m used to talking to people who talk back to me. All right? If you don't want to talk back you don’t have to say amen, but nod, wink, or do something that lets me know that you hear me. And I think the first thing I want to say about this business about, it’s all right, and that’s the line I want you to hold onto today is just simply it’s all right. Let me hear you say that.

AUDIENCE: It’s all right.

EDWIN SANDERS: You see it’s all right today because we’re the right people and we’re in the right place. It’s all right. All right. We’re the right people in the right place.

AUDIENCE: It’s all right.

EDWIN SANDERS: It’s the right day.

AUDIENCE: It’s all right.

EDWIN SANDERS: It’s the right issue.

AUDIENCE: It's all right.

EDWIN SANDERS: And if we allow ourselves to live up to the possibilities, the potentials that are locked in the people in this room we can be sure that the drug war will be brought to an end. So I realized I was only going to end up with about 15 or 20 minutes, so I decided what I was going to do was give you the title of all five of the messages that I intended to deliver. The first one was don’t take no for an answer. Is that all right? The second one was, don’t turn back. The third one was overcoming the culture of oppression.

AUDIENCE: It’s all right.

EDWIN SANDERS: The fourth one was living in the shadows of the empire.

AUDIENCE: It's all right.

EDWIN SANDERS: And the fifth one is one that many of you already know especially if you’re a reggae fan, if you know Eddy Grant's voice at all, is living on the frontline. Let me tell you what I heard in our session yesterday when we brought faith leaders together. One of the things that we talked about in that session was, we talked about the whole business of how this movement has evolved in the places that we are celebrating here today. And one of the things I want to suggest to you is that movements don’t just happen unless there is something, unless there is some energy, unless there's some force, unless there's some dynamic, unless there's some presence, unless there's something that transcends what we can easily reduce to, what we can embrace with our limited ability to logically and reasonably wrap our minds around it.

The first thing I’m convinced we have to understand is that it's beyond the limitation of reason and logic. That what we’re talking about in this movement requires you being able to see, being able to believe, being able to embrace, being able to visualize, being able to somehow carry in your heart the awareness that what you are trying to do, even though all the factors in life might say it’s beyond what can be done, you have to be the one that believes there is something bigger, and there's something greater, and there's something that you can do that no one else can see and see as being possible.

When Ethan stands here and talks about the movement that translated into the end of slavery, don’t you know that no one who had shackles on their feet, who had the whip marks on their back, who did not have any of the privileges that were a part of the ideals of this country, could even begin to see the possibility that we would be here today. You see, it’s only because there is a spirit that carried it. What we talked about a little bit yesterday was trying to talk about how we own, how we shape, how we fashion, how we end up being a part of constructing the spirit of this movement.

And I’m convinced this captured that little song I had you singing, that just simply said we who believe in freedom will not rest until it comes. Don’t you know there were those who would never believe that women’s rights would be where they are today? Don’t you know that 30 or 40 years ago there were those who never would have believed the same gender loving people would be able to freely marry and have relationships that are accepted and affirmed and celebrated in places where you never thought they would be before? Don’t you know that there’s no way that the rights that we take for granted are not the byproduct of some people who had to rise above the limitations of logic. And we need to understand that from where we are today, because this movement is one that’s going to have a transforming effect upon the world and the times in which we live.

Ethan has said it but you need to hear it in your own heart, in your own voice, in your own way. You need to understand, if we do this right, we’ll deal with all the complex and difficult issues that are undermining the infinite possibilities of life that are available for all of us in this world. If we do this right, we’ll adjust the issues of economic opportunity. If we do this right, we will deal with the issues of access to housing and that kind of thing. If we do this right, we will deal with health care that’s available to everybody everywhere. If we do this right -- you see there’s a thread in this. There’s a way in which I cannot be happy, I cannot be content, I cannot be satisfied, I cannot sit down, I can’t stop until I know that the forces that drive and the forces that continue to be a part of what allows this horror to be visited upon us in the name of the drug war is not going to go away.

Don’t you know that drug war - I want you to understand this right now – is nothing but the mask of all the stuff we hate. The drug war is the mask of racism. The drug war is the mask of sexism. The drug war is the mask of xenophobia, the drug war is the mask of homophobia, Islamophobia, and all the other stuff. It’s the mask. And one of the things that we're going to do is take off the mask.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Edwin Sanders, the Reverend Edwin Sanders, the Senior Servant and founder of the Metropolitan Interdenominational Church at Nashville, Tennessee. He's a member of the board of the Drug Policy Alliance, and he was speaking at the Drug Policy Alliance's international reform conference in Denver, Colorado, in 2013.

The next Drug Policy Alliance international reform conference takes place November 18th through 21st, right outside of Washington, DC, in Crystal City, Virginia. There's still time to register. The website for more information is DrugPolicy.org. That's DrugPolicy.org. Check it out, and I hope to see you there!

And well, folks, 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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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!

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.