11/20/15 Steve Rolles

Cultural Baggage Radio Show

2015 Drug Policy Alliance Conf from Wash DC with Steve Rolles of UK's Transform, Diane Goldstein of LEAP, Rick Doblin of MAPS, Alan Clear of Harm Reduction Coalition & Lee Hofcroft a DC legal cannabis tradesman

Audio file


NOVEMBER 20, 2015


DEAN BECKER: Welcome to this edition of Cultural Baggage. This is Dean Becker, this week reporting from Washington, DC, where I'm attending the Drug Policy Alliance International Drug Policy Reform Conference, which features more than 1,400 attendees, with 71 countries from around the world being represented. It's time to pull the plug on the drug war, and these people will help to get it done, but we could sure use your support. Let's get to it.

STEVE ROLLES: Hi, my name's Steve Rolles, I'm the Senior Policy Analyst for Transform Drug Policy Foundation, which is a UK-based international policy and advocacy group working in drug law reform.

DEAN BECKER: You know, Steve, the hell of it is, this drug war is not just a United States problem or a UK problem, it's worldwide, is it not?

STEVE ROLLES: Absolutely, I mean, the global drug control infrastructure sits within three international legal instruments under the UN, the three UN drug control treaties, and of course the international drugs market has no respect for international borders, it's a truly international trade, and the drugs flow freely between countries and across borders, so it's absolutely an international issue. So change can happen at a domestic level, but change also has to happen at the international level as well. So we need to be mindful that there are these different dynamics going on, and they interact with each other in different ways.

DEAN BECKER: You know, I often hear politicians making statements that, from certain angles, would have credibility, but they fail to recognize that this drug war empowers our terrorist enemies, enriches barbarous cartels, gives reason for these gangs to be prowling our street, and they use the blowback of all these, you know, repercussions as justification for doing more. Am I on target, there?

STEVE ROLLES: Absolutely. I mean, it's a classic part of the whole prohibitionist, kind of populist narrative, to conflate the harms of drugs, and of course there are drugs, they're not safe, the people can get addicted, people can have overdoses, there are health harms associated with drug use, but those health harms, not only are they made worse by prohibition, but you also have politicians conflating the health harms of drugs with the harms of policy. So absolutely, you're right, they're all -- all the carnage and chaos and violence and destruction associated with the illegal drug market, which globally turns over something like three, four hundred billion a year, I mean, this is a huge trade, controlled by criminal entrepreneurs, many of whom use violence as their regulatory tool, unlike, you know, in the legitimate economy where we use law and law enforcement to control markets, they use violence as their default tool.

And so, we see this very often that you have -- the UN is often called the world's drug problem, and this is a classic political conflation of two things, which is the problems of drug use, with the problems of drug prohibition and the, and illegal markets. And I think it's very important moving forward with the debate, to try and separate those two out. We need to acknowledge that there are health issues associated with drug use which need to be dealt with, but as a public health problem, then -- but all the problems with the criminal market, we need to say that these are creatures and creations of policy, and we need to address those as a policy issue, separate from the public health issues around drug misuse itself.

DEAN BECKER: Now, I know, you know, it's, Ethan mentioned today, two steps forward and three steps back, and it seems like the US and Canada kind of alternate how they're treating things, and the same goes for the UK. What's the status in the UK now, is progress afoot, or what's going on?

STEVE ROLLES: Well, I mean, the public debate is certainly moving forward in the UK, in terms of public opinion, in terms of the media, increasingly sophisticated media debate. The problem we have is that we have a new Conservative majority government. They are kind of moving backwards, it's kind of depressing. After a few years of progress, a few years of better high-level debate, we've now got a government that's effectively moving backwards, and kind of retreating towards some of the old school drug warrior prohibitionist narratives, tough talking, abstinence. It's confusing, because it seems to be contradictory. On the one hand, the political coal face, the front line of the government politics and rhetoric is very much old school drug war. But the public and media discourse is moving forward, so there's a tension there. I suspect at some point something has to give.

The cost benefit analysis, the political benefits for the government of taking a tough talking position will eventually be outweighed by the benefits of taking a more progressive public health/human rights/reform position. But at the moment, it seems like they are committed to an old school drug war, which is, for us in the UK, it's really depressing, because we're, Transform operates internationally, so we come to conferences like here in DC, we work a lot in Latin America, we work all over the world, and we see lots of, you know, change happening, you know, and in America, it's kind of weird for us. You know? America for so long had been the kind of drug war bullies of the world, the kind of global hegemons imposing this half ass prohibition drug war thing on the rest of the world. And then suddenly, they seem to be sort of taking a leadership role, maybe not the federal government, but certainly at state-level and activist level they're really, suddenly they've moved into a leadership role.

And even at the, you know, White House level, you know, Obama is saying really sensible stuff, far more sensible than anything that's coming out of UK politicians. He's talking about de-carceration and criminal justice reform, and the harms of the war on drugs on people of color, and mass incarceration. I mean, these are sophisticated debates that never happened before. So there is real leadership coming from the US, which is kind of weird for everybody else, because we're more used to them doing the exact opposite. But it's also incredibly refreshing, and it's incredibly important, because where the US leads, others will tend to follow.

And the US discourse, I mean, it's enormously important for people in the US to realize this, that what happens in the US is really important, and when the US screws up their reform, that's important, too. So, all the bull**** that was going on in Ohio, that was, you know, that was important, too. You know, people were looking at that going, what's going on, what is this? You know? Why, if you're going to have legalization, can't we do it properly and sensibly and not have it driven by greed and financial interests, it needs to be public health and human rights put first, it's not about business, primarily. Sure people are going to get rich, people are going to make money, but we can't have that being the priority. Our priority is personal and social health and well being, not making money.

So, all of the things that happen in the US, you know, I would encourage your listeners to be aware of them, not be too parochial, be aware that what happens in the US is enormously important for the rest of the world, at the UN, in Europe, in Latin America, across the world, it's vitally important so that as the reform process starts to unfold in the US, you have a responsibility, activists and policy makers in the US have a responsibility to get it right, because if you screw it up, that has costs for the rest of the world that you may not even be aware of.

DEAN BECKER: There you have it, friends, Steve Rolles with Transform. Thank you, sir.

STEVE ROLLES: My pleasure.

DEAN BECKER: Every couple of years, I get the chance to meet some of my good friends, my long term friends, who are engaged in this drug reform movement. Today, I'm especially privileged to have one of my sisters in Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, Diane Goldstein. Diane, what's your thoughts on this conference, what's your thoughts on the potential for the future?

DIANE GOLDSTEIN: You know what? I loved Ethan plenary speech, because I feel the same frustration, you know. We take ten steps backwards, five steps forward. But this conference, the importance for me is that it revives me emotionally, to continue the drug war fight. And so, you know, you start looking at the coalition building and the panels, the old friends, you know, that we all sometimes I think wonder if we're making a difference, and then you come here and you hear Congressman Blumenauer, you know, challenge the Congressional political parties, and you hear Senator Booker, and you just know that our messaging for the last however many years each of us has been in this fight, are now mainstream.

You know, I think we used to believe that we were outliers, you know, especially Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, and what we see is they've blurred the lines, and they've recognized that they have to make peace with drugs. And, you know, we have to exit this drug war with honor, and you know me, it's like, I tend to do a lot of writing, and during Ferguson I wrote a fairly emotional article and it was about, it's time to recognize the damage that law enforcement has done to our communities and in specific our communities of color. And we need to acknowledge that, we need to say we're sorry, and we need to ask them to help rebuild our society. And it's just, you know, I just, I loved this conference. You know, it's like, it's drug policy religion for us. Does that make sense.

DEAN BECKER: Oh, it does. Look, there's a lot of battles still to fight, but I think the war has ended. There, it's like after Lee surrendered, there was still a lot of fighting, a lot of death and destruction that went on, and I think, when you have Cory Booker, when you have the president, when you have Eric Holder, when you have presidential candidates, when you have state officials, all beginning to step up to the plate and take a swing at this drug war, the writing is on the wall, we just need to read it.

DIANE GOLDSTEIN: No, you know what, Dean, you are absolutely right on the mark, and so I think that the thing that's very difficult for a lot of us is that we have seen, you know, the legalization of adult consumption of marijuana and medical marijuana, it has been a very good avenue for us to show that the sky's not going to fall when we reform our laws. There's some really great, smart on crime policies that have been enacted relative to, you know, Proposition 47, or in Texas they've shut down prisons. You know, it is, we're starting to recognize that there's alternatives to mass incarceration. Now, my problem is, we need to completely, at least, end the criminalization of people who possess drugs, and I think that's a necessary first step before we get to completely legalizing drugs and taking the bad guys out of the market.

You know, I mean, it's, this whole big -- for example, like, the whole "Big Marijuana" thing that Kevin Sabet always talks about. And it's like, well, no, the true Big Marijuana is the cartels. That's, you know, and so, you know, I think we're winning the very strategic personal possession battle, but we can't let off the pedal because we're still going to have criminality, mass incarceration, you know, the violence associated with the illicit market, all those other things, if the government doesn't control the market.

DEAN BECKER: You know, in the old days, the 60s, 70s, the hippies were immoral, degenerate, whatevers. You know what I'm saying? And now, from my perspective, those who believe in drug war are in support of cartels, are making sure these gangs continue to thrive, and that the street corner vendors will be there to sell to our children. That, to me, is immoral.

DIANE GOLDSTEIN: Oh, no, you are absolutely right. It's, you know, and it's immoral that we allow the government to dictate who is going to influence our kids. The criminals, the cartels, you know, the bad actors in this. I see a couple of very interesting strategic battles. You know, we got marijuana, now we need to expunge the records of all these people that we've criminalized, and then when we win the personal possession battle, which is going to be a state by state case as well, we need to also ensure that we fully restore the rights of everybody that we sent to prison. It is heartbreaking to me to listen to the stories that we did. This morning, Kemba, you know, whose life was ruined. You know, and so, I am so humbled that, every time I think I have accomplished something in my life, I come to this place, and I go, I don't know if I would have had the strength and the courage to do what Amy Povah did, who was also, you know, received clemency from Bill Clinton, or Kemba, and to pick themselves up after being criminalized in such a horrific fashion, I can't even imagine the trauma inflicted on these women and these men, simply because of the drug war.

DEAN BECKER: You know, I've been talking with Mr. Jeff Mizanskey out of Missouri, the gentleman with 22 years for his third strike, with seven pounds, and -- 7 pounds in the overall scheme is not a drop in the bucket, it is a molecule in that drop. I've been in many rooms, many situations, with much more than that, there but for the grace of god went I. And I'm amazed that Jeff was able to maintain his sanity, and his spirit.

DIANE GOLDSTEIN: Yeah. It's, and, you know, and you're a member of LEAP, and I think Neill Franklin, our executive director, says it the best: man, we've got a lot of atoning to do. And, you know, I, on a regular basis, acknowledge that my participation in the drug war was incredibly harmful to a lot of people and why I'm doing what I'm doing is I'm trying to make up for it. And I sometimes think that, you know, I can't run fast enough, I can't talk to enough people. You know, I can't do enough. And so, it's, for me, this is the cleansing of my soul.

DEAN BECKER: And the same for this old man, I've been doing it because I know there is a better way, and we've just got to get there. We've been speaking with Diane Goldstein, longtime law enforcement official, and a speaker for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. Please visit the website, invite one of us to come speak to your organization. Help us end the madness in your community. LEAP's website: LEAP.cc.

It's time to play Name That Drug By Its Side Effects: Works directly on the brain by interfering with neurotransmitters and dopamine levels. Because of drug prohibition, this product is made with over the counter cold medicines, matchbook covers, hydrochloric acid, drain cleaner, battery acid, lye, lantern fuel, and antifreeze. Time’s up! The answer: Tina, chalk, go fast, zip, Christie, crank, speed, methamphetamine hydrochloride.

Hi folks. This is Dean Becker reminding you that you're listening to Cultural Baggage on Pacifica Radio and the Drug Truth Network. You're hearing our report from Washington, DC, where we're attending the International Drug Policy Reform Conference, put together by the Drug Policy Alliance.

Next guest, he's been at this for much longer than I have, he heads up a great organization, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, who are starting to make great progress, Mister Rick Doblin. How are you, sir?

RICK DOBLIN: Hi, I'm doing great, and Dean, thank you for interviewing me yet once again, and you're doing such a great job, doing this public education part, because really that's more important than the progress that we're making, because if people don't understand about it, and don't start supporting it, then we won't be able to continue to make more progress, so I really appreciate this opportunity.

DEAN BECKER: Oh, Rick, thank you so much. Now, let's talk about that progress. Not just in the United States, but around the world, people are beginning to recognize a potential for some of these psychedelic drugs, are they not?

RICK DOBLIN: Yeah. Well, we have an international series of what are called Phase Two pilot studies looking at MDMA assisted psychotherapy for post traumatic stress disorder. And we've been doing that for about 15 years, starting in 2000 in Spain. We've done studies in Israel, and Switzerland, and Canada, and several in the United States, and now we're working to develop more projects for what's called Phase Three, would be in Brazil, in Germany, and England, as well throughout the United States.

But where we're at now, we've spent about six million dollars, we've treated over -- about 105 people, and these are treatment resistant, chronic, post traumatic stress disorder sufferers, and they've failed on psychotherapy and/or medication, and now what we're showing is, with MDMA assisted psychotherapy, that we can administer it safely and also that people can make remarkable progress, and it's actually though a three and a half month treatment process. It's weekly nondrug psychotherapy, and then once a month for three months in a row, people get MDMA. And it's a male-female co-therapist team, it's an eight hour session, then they rest, it's during the day, and then they spend the night in the treatment center, and then have more integrative follow-up psychotherapy the next day. Then they go home and we call them every day on the phone for a week.

So what we're able to show basically is that, even for patterns that have been chronic for decades and decades, where people can't really get past the trauma but they can't really take it out of their daily, it's always present, half way present, they can't forget it, they can't process it. Under the influence of MDMA assisted psychotherapy, that people can really make changes that last for the rest of their lives.

DEAN BECKER: And you know, Rick, it was, I'd say in the 60s, that politicians and the media got on board with, you know, just destroying the use of these drugs, dirty hippies, degenerates, all this crap. But that's starting to reverse itself and we're starting to recognize that there was some legitimacy, some rationale, to some of the thoughts being put forward back in those days. Am I right?

RICK DOBLIN: Yeah. I think that over the last 50 years, we could say the sort of negative crackdown starting happening around '65 or so, and then sort of escalated up until the 1970 Controlled Substances Act. Almost everything that the hippies were talking about has now been accepted as wise. You know, the environmental movement, the whole women's rights movement, this idea of spirituality, that psychedelics can produce a genuine sense of connection and spirituality, it's revitalized the way that we look at death, we have now hospice centers that we didn't have before, birthing centers, women used to be tranquilized and men were not allowed in the delivery room, now that's changed. So, the whole idea of meditation and spirituality, and yoga, those were foreign imports, but they came in during the 60s, now they're at every YMCA that you go to. So, I think now, after all these years, we've kind of taken on as culture the sort of fruits of psychedelics, and now it's time to take on the psychedelics themselves, and integrate them directly and change drug policy and make opportunities for people to have these experiences.

DEAN BECKER: Again, we've been speaking with Mr. Rick Doblin, in my opinion a genius, a pioneer, certainly, and a man who is helping make this a better planet, in my perspective. Rick, any closing thoughts you'd like to share?

RICK DOBLIN: Yeah. Well, we've talked just about psychedelics, but I'd like to say that we're very close to starting a study on marijuana for post traumatic stress disorder in veterans, and that we've been trying since 1992 to do medical marijuana research to make the plant into a medicine, and while there's been an open door at the FDA for psychedelics, we've been able to do that research because we have our own independent supply of psychedelics by DEA-licensed producers. But with marijuana there's a monopoly on the DEA licensed marijuana held by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and that's blocked the research, so we've now been able finally, after all these years, we've been working on this particular project for six years, and we've got, NIDA has agreed to provide the marijuana. It's right now before a review by the DEA. We do anticipate that they'll say yes. We have a $2.1 million from the state of Colorado to do the study, and so, you know, we're years behind where we are with psychedelics. Amazingly, we're five years ahead with psychedelics than we are with marijuana in terms of doing the research to make it into an FDA-approved medicine, but that's also in the works as well.

DEAN BECKER: Well, that's good news. The website, if I remember right, is MAPS.org?

RICK DOBLIN: Yeah, that's it. We have about 2,500 members. Basically, people should think about is as a nonprofit pharmaceutical company, trying to make psychedelics and marijuana into FDA-approved prescription medicines, to do the science, to do the research, and to address everybody's concerns and develop safe contexts and standardized drugs, and we'd appreciate whatever help people want to join us with.

DEAN BECKER: It's day one of the Drug Policy Reform Conference here in DC. I'm with Mister Allan Clear of the Harm Reduction Coalition, and, progress is afoot, is it not?

ALLAN CLEAR: Yeah, one of the things I've been working on over the last few years is the UN system around drugs. So, 2016 we have the drugs UNGASS coming up in April, and as someone who came out of the HIV world, I was very conscious of the way the UNAIDS and the infrastructure around AIDS really involved people who were living with HIV or living with AIDS or were impacted by HIV. When you go into the drug system in the UN, you don't have any input from people who use drugs, or people who work with people who use drugs, so over the last 8 years we've been working to try and change that. And it's -- as far as I have observed out of the UN system, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, are one of the very few systems that don't actually work with NGOs or civil society very well.

So we're sort of, we've been opening the doors there, we've got them to endorse a task force where civil society can have some input into the process, we're at the point where the president of the General Assembly now is going to host, for the first time, an interactive dialogue between civil society and governments. That will be on February 10th. So, it's not going to be, I mean the whole UN piece is not going to produce massive change this time, it moves really, really slowly and it's a consensus based process, so --

DEAN BECKER: Is it not dependent in some, by some measure, by the progress or movement of, like, the United States or other countries to influence?

ALLAN CLEAR: Absolutely, and the Obama administration, within the limitations of the world of diplomacy, and bearing in mind Congress, has moved a long way from the Bush administration to right now, in terms of their approach to talking about drugs at the global level, so it's much more about public health. They'll use terms like, people who use drugs, they'll push things like, they would see it as anti-stigma messages around recovery. So, they're -- and a few years ago, we helped shepherd through a UN resolution on naloxone, and that was the first of its kind, and the US actually played a very supportive role in getting that through. So, at one point, not too long ago, right before Obama, the US was the big, one of the big bastions of drug war at the UN level, and that's really changed. And of course, Colorado and Washington have also helped, because it puts the US in a bind, it's a lot harder to criticize other countries when, in your own country, you have legalized marijuana.

DEAN BECKER: And, I think that has been, just a bell-ringer, clanging loudly, because it kind of shows -- I interviewed Sheriff John Urquhart out of Seattle a couple of weeks back, and he was talking, well, there was a little bit of hysteria in the beginning, but it died down and now it's just common, accepted, and it is no longer a problem. And it kind of represents the, I don't know, the former embrace of lies and hysteria that just gave us all kinds of horrible blowback. Your thought, Allan Clear?

ALLAN CLEAR: Yeah. No, absolutely, I mean, I think that what, when it comes to regulating drugs, decriminalizing drugs, legalizing drugs, whichever process we want to go through to get where, the approach to, our approach to drugs is much more sensible, it's, there's a lot of fear involved, and a lot of fear mongering as to what would happen post that time. So when you have sentinel places, really like, I mean like Uruguay, or Portugal, or Washington and Colorado, and then they sort of report back that actually things have gotten better, not worse, and if you do things sensibly and you invest money in a health infrastructure and everything else you might need, then it sort of minimizes that future hysteria and fear around what can happen in the future, especially, I mean, certainly right now around marijuana. We're going to see a lot of action. But you're going to see that around other drugs, too, sometime in the future, and it will be decriminalization that is going to come sooner than later. Regulation is another thing.

DEAN BECKER: Well, Allan, I know that every two years we have the drug policy conference in some great city, and I know that probably in about a year from now, there's going to be another major conference folks should be aware of. Please tell us what's going to happen next year.

ALLAN CLEAR: That's right. Our conference, the National Harm Reduction Conference, is going to be in San Diego next November. So that launch, the launch of the website is happening very soon, people should -- we're different from the Reform Conference, ours is an abstract driven conference, it's very grassrootsy, and so people should check out our website, HarmReduction.org, for the launch of our conference website.

LEE HOPCRAFT: So, my name is Lee Hopcraft, and I do strategic business coordination within the cannabis industry in the D-M-V, including DC, Maryland, and Virginia. Now what they've done is, they've allowed for the cultivation, a DC resident is allowed to have up to six plants in their house per person, twelve plants for two or more people with only half of them being mature. And, what they can do is, you can also hold up to two ounces on you at any time, and you can give away up to an ounce to a person at any time. But because there is no distribution set up, DC, and what I've helped to build in DC is a growing, trading, and sharing community, where we get together weekly, bi-weekly, and try to kind of bring out the best in the community. I have had started the meetings, and had maybe 15, 20 people come and over the past five months, we now have weekly meetings with over 100 people at them. At our last meeting, we had over 20 different strains there, there were people giving away clones, trading clones, giving away seeds, giving away edibles, and just out on the table with different amounts of nugs, so the possibilities, we really don't know yet.

My name is Lee Hopcraft. Right now, I'm working with a place called Dollar High Club, which is dollar shave club except for smoking accessories, and I just am really excited to be a part of this movement, and a part of the drug policy reform, and helping out the American people and the people across the world by using a plant that has been put on this earth to help us.

DEAN BECKER: Okeh. Thank you for joining us on this edition of Cultural Baggage. I think the diversity of the information brought forward should give you some concern, and it's time for you to speak up a little louder, it's time for you to contact your elected officials, and bring this stupid drug war to an end. Once again, I close with the thought that because of prohibition, you don't know what's in that bag and we are all still tap dancing on the edge of an abyss.