11/29/15 Doug McVay

Century of Lies

Part two of our coverage of the Drug Policy Alliance's International Reform Conference. We hear from Dawn Paley, author of Drug War Capitalism; Lorenzo Jones from the A Better Way Foundation; and Amanda Reiman from the Drug Policy Alliance.

Audio file


NOVEMBER 29, 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, on the web at DrugTruth.net.

Now, on with the show.

Today is part two of our coverage of the Drug Policy Alliance's International Reform Conference, which was recently held in Crystal City, Virginia, right outside Washington, DC. It was a tremendous conference, so many great speakers, so many old friends. I got some great audio that weekend. You know, rather than sit here and talk about it, let's listen to some of it.

First up, here's Lorenzo Jones from the A Better Way Foundation in Connecticut.

LORENZO JONES: I've been at the Better Way Foundation for the last ten years, and I've overseen the execution of the drug policy and criminal justice reform agenda. So, we've worked on everything from medical marijuana, to marijuana decriminalization, to overdose, to retroactive impact statements, prison overcrowding, ban the box, you name it.

DOUG MCVAY: There is so much that you're doing it's going to be -- okeh, let's focus on some of the things that you are working with now, and the things that you're most concerned with right now.

LORENZO JONES: So right now, we're really looking to take the network we've developed over the last decade and take advantage of this opportunity for the UNGASS: the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on drugs, April 2016. Ideally, what we want to be able to do is bring what otherwise would be a disconnected high-level discussion about drug policy reform, and what we would loosely call the treaties, and we want to distill that down for neighborhood people and have that, bring that to communities and have communities use that information, that data, to raise their campaigns over the next six months. Some people are using that work for local campaigns around electoral races that are happening, some people are using that to build their group further, some congregations are using that to, you know, redo their social action committees and so forth.

DOUG MCVAY: That is terrific. Now, I mean, the UNGASS is something that I've actually been covering on this show for the last couple of months, it's, I think it's really important, and I can't tell you how psyched I am to know that there's someone who's actually trying to get this info out to people. It, my gosh, that is terrific. Now, what kind of response are you seeing?

LORENZO JONES: It's been interesting. So, I've been, for lack of a better word, pushing the UNGASS at a grassroots level for roughly two years now, and the reaction on the ground has been phenomenal. People have -- it's just not really, it's not that often that people from the south side of Chicago get a chance to talk about what's happening at the UN. Or, get a chance to even know what's happening at the UN and how it affects them. So, we've been very diligent about not pushing people to get in -- be a part of the UN process proper, but instead to see this as an opportunity to use this UN to amplify their local agenda, so the reaction has been very much like, Hey, give us some big words, give us some big information, give us a big moment, and then we can do, we'll do local stuff because all politics are local.

So, we're helping people develop local campaigns, and so what people -- a lot of people are doing is looking to do something in April around UNGASS locally in their community. We're looking at approximately 18 states right now that are going to do something, and that's in addition to work being done by David Borden with his group, that's in addition to a caravan being done by Ted Lewis, so it's -- UNGASS is going to be a thing come January, and this time, we have a unique opportunity to make it a thing for, like, directly impacted people, formerly incarcerated, convicted people, people of color, and women who have been marginalized by the drug war.

DOUG MCVAY: The slogan, Nothing About Us Without Us, I think, is that -- ?

LORENZO JONES: Nothing about us, for us, by us, I mean, you can take, there's a bunch of them, but Just Us. Right? But the idea is very much about saying, your opinion on, you know, 79th Street in Chicago matters at the UN in New York. We may not go to the UN, right? But if we're successful at organizing people across the country, ideally, we believe we can go into the election with informed voters, informed residents in this country. Right? Everybody: citizens, non-citizens, informed on why drug policy reform is important, what have been the harmful impacts of the drug war, and we believe information coming out of the UNGASS in April, we're going to be able to use to go into the elections in the fall and then into the first hundred days of the presidency in January, so, we've got an idea here that by next year at this time, we're going to have a bunch of states saying to their congressional delegation, to their state delegation, this is what we expect from you as far as ending the drug war and implementation of solutions on the back end.

DOUG MCVAY: That is terrific, that is actually such terrific news, I wish you the best of luck, this is -- it's an important opportunity, you're right, because the world stage -- the world is actually focused on these things and there seems to be an interest in having what they call civil society have input, and civil society doesn't mean just a bunch of reasonably well-paid people who get to sit around in fancy suites and, you know --

LORENZO JONES: That's right.

DOUG MCVAY: I did that a few years ago, and it was a lot of fun, but I'm kind of unemployed these days so that's not my scene, but I can do a radio show and I can try and talk to people and get them interested. So, A Better Way Foundation is the organization that you've been working with for many years in Connecticut. Tell me a little bit about that.

LORENZO JONES: Well, A Better Way Foundation was started in 1999, with the purpose of shifting Connecticut's drug policy from a punitive approach and policies to public education and treatment. Right? And so, what we've done -- Connecticut -- I feel like everybody says this is unique to my state. Right? Well, Connecticut is very unique in this sense. So, Connecticut, like most states, do things gradually. They're proud of doing things gradually. So, much like slavery was ended in Connecticut literally with legislation called Gradual Slave Reduction, pretty much. So, we see prison population, the state of Connecticut will be, will do that gradually, except they've been doing it gradually over the last ten years.

We see bringing folks in the state to a position, into a position -- so before I came here to the conference we had a meeting, November 23rd? No, this past Monday. Well, we met with Department of Corrections, we've met with probation, parole, service providers, and all of these folks at DOC, and we're talking about bringing hard, hard bricks and mortar re-entry centers to urban areas, supported by, funded by money reallocated out of DOC department of corrections budget. And so we're in that position because in 1999, when we began this agenda, we didn't, our argument was never just the policy, it was always the budget implementer also. So, as the state begins to reorganize the budget under the new corrections/criminal justice system that's being developed gradually, we also have experienced leaders, and A Better Way has trained leaders of the last ten years to actually participate in that conversation without having to be lobbyists, without having to be legislators, but as being a regular block club captain participating in the budget negotiations at the state capitol.

DOUG MCVAY: Doing the hard work of organizing is tough, I mean, I -- policy analysis and research, this is easy stuff, remember a lot of things and put down some, remember the links. You know, real grassroots stuff is where it's all at, that's the only thing that makes it happen, that's why, like I said, you are one of the stars in this movement because you are an organizer and an activist, and it is so good to have you doing this stuff. There -- people are coming through, it's going to get louder, there's probably another session, you have stuff to do, so, any last thoughts and where do people find out about the work that you're doing, is there a website, are you on -- I know you're on Twitter because I follow you on Twitter.

LORENZO JONES: You can definitely follow me on Twitter, @DaRealLorenzo, I think it is. And don't ask me where the Da came from, but, @DaRealLorenzo I believe it is. And definitely follow me on Twitter. We're in the process of redoing A Better Way's website, but our website is www.ABWFCT.org. A lot of background information on that. And, we're in the process of redoing that, so we'll be launching that in January, but, yeah, you can find us there. I also can be reached at 860.712.1246.

DOUG MCVAY: You know, if you've got one more minute, I want to ask you another question, because you have been doing this for a bit and you are doing the hard work on the ground, so you've got a good perspective to answer this one, I've only -- yeah. They're going to be having another one of these conferences in 2017, it will be October, and it's in, it's going to be in Atlanta, Georgia. Where do you think we're going to be -- as a movement, as a country -- where do you think we're going to be in two years when I see you again?

LORENZO JONES: I've got to tell you, I'm very encouraged. This event was phenomenal. Has been phenomenal, I'm sure will continue to be. The most encouraging moment at this conference is the comfortability with its diversity. And we started, I mean not started, but when I joined ten years ago, people were comfortable -- people weren't even comfortable with diversifying the issues. So you had marijuana people, and then you had everybody else. And you had criminal justice people and you had drug policy people. Right? And I just think, that was a hard line. As that line has blurred, as those things have melded together, I see going forward, the conference in 2017 probably kind of being the conference where we're going to see people who didn't believe this would ever happen, right? Stand up and say, it happened. And we're going to see people who always knew it would happen say thank god it happened.

So I very much see 2017 as like a tipping point, not just in drug policy reform, but in the education of people on the ground who, understanding where we are in this moment and in this movement, because by that time we'll have another president that will be different than President Obama, we'll have another Congress that will be different, we'll be politically in a different place, and I believe that doing this conference in a place like the south allows us to bring attention to directly impacted people in a way that says directly impacted people will represent this issue in 2017. And I don't just mean black and formerly incarcerated, that means parents who've lost their children to overdose deaths, that means people who've lost family, period, to prison sentences. I believe in 2017 what we're going to see is a combination of all that stuff is going to swell up.

DOUG MCVAY: Once again, I've been speaking with Lorenzo Jones, he's with A Better Way Foundation out of Connecticut, ABWFCT.org. Lorenzo, than you so much.

LORENZO JONES: Thank you, sir.

That was an interview with Lorenzo Jones, of the A Better Way Foundation. I spoke with him at the Drug Policy Alliance's International Reform Conference last weekend. 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.

So, I'm here at the Drug Policy Alliance's International Reform Conference in Crystal City, Virginia, and I'm here speaking with Dawn Paley. She's the author of Drug War Capitalism, a journalist, and, Dawn, it's good to see you. How are you doing?

DAWN PALEY: I'm doing great, thanks, Doug.

DOUG MCVAY: Cool. Now, tell us about your book.

DAWN PALEY: Sure. Drug War Capitalism is an exploration of US drug policy, starting in Colombia in the year 2000 with Plan Colombia and coming through to Mexico today, so it's a sort of look at these policies, which are pushed to the American public based on this idea of protecting them from the scourge of cocaine through intervention and through preventing harvesting and so on, so the supply side argument. What I argue is that these policies actually do a lot to expand the reach of capitalism, to improve the ability of the US and other multinational and transnational corporations to operate, and so on. So the ends are actually very different from what we're told they are supposed to be.

And obviously this comes at a huge human cost, a huge social cost, in all these nations. So in Mexico, we're talking about over 150,000 homicides since December 2006 when the drug war declared, and just trying to sort of get it out there that, you know, the way we think about the Iraq War, for example, as being about oil, and that we have a sort of social critique, that we should also have a critique, being building a critique for our movements against these drug wars, both here in the US and elsewhere, that the drug war, so-called "Drug War" in Mexico, in Colombia and South America, is actually also about a resource grab and displacement.

DOUG MCVAY: It's -- you kind of have to hope that somehow, back when we started off this, down this path, that they really thought they were doing the right thing instead of it being simply a naked power grab and lust for cash, but, the further you go, it's really tough to give that kind of benefit of the doubt. So, now, your book came out a year ago, you've been touring. What, how's the reaction been? You've done talks and such, how has the public responded?

DAWN PALEY: It's been actually really amazing. You know, here at this kind of conference, it's a reform conference, people are on board, people have a very sophisticated critique, or many sophisticated critiques of the drug war here in the United States, and the kinds of ways that it is directly linked with social control, with racialized social control, with militarization, with the prison system, etc.

And so it's not a hard argument to make, but, you know, the what the idea is, is to start bringing conversation and to continue the work that others have been doing, of bringing the conversation of what's taking place in Mexico, what's taking place in Colombia, what's taking place in Central America, into this discussion in terms of not talking necessarily about prohibition and whether or not drugs are good or bad for you, but actually talking about the drug war, the impacts, and how we're going to end it, you know, and linking it to things like, you know, in the south we talk a lot about, it's not as much based on a model of incarceration, although through the Merida Initiative, which is the US funded drug war initiative in Mexico, they have, you know, vastly expanded the federal prison system, but it's actually mostly operating through extra-judicial assassination, mass disappearances, homicides, etc.

So the sort of looking at these things, politicizing the drug war in Mexico, and really, we need to push ourselves, I think, to include what's happening down there in this really radical, really really fundamental deep analysis that's taking place in the United States.

DOUG MCVAY: I'm curious. Do you see any parallels, we've been, I've been watching a lot of the news and the analysis of media coverage after the Paris terror attacks, and then contrast that to the -- not quite silence, one fortieth of the coverage when the bombs went off last week in Beirut. Do you see any parallels there with the way the Americans tend to view drugs and the drug war here as opposed to what's going on in other countries?

DAWN PALEY: Yeah, I mean, it's basically total silence. So, as a journalist, trying to sell stories from Mexico, it's like the US media is basically like, who cares? Other than some magazines, it's not something that's much in the daily news or gets much sustained attention, even though, you know, the recent reports are showing that in terms of conflicts happening around the world, wars happening around the world, Mexico right now is the third deadliest conflict for civilians after Syria and Iraq. So we're talking about something that is of a scale of what's taking place in the Middle East, it's taking place right on the US border, and I think another place where we can look at some of the coverage and the way the issues are talked about is in terms of the refugee crisis that's taking place in the United States with Mexicans, with Central Americans, who are being displaced by this violence and who are coming up, some of -- you know, a tiny fraction are being granted asylum, but the majority are being subject again to these racist policies of, not only immigration detention but deportation often to death, often to their death, right, once they're deported.

So, these issues are really connected, and what's happening in Syria and what's happening in Iraq is -- you know, I've been reading a really interesting analysis of how, you know, people are saying, well it's basically like US policy is what is, what has created this situation as it is now in the Middle East, which makes a lot of sense, you know, post-911, invasions, etc. US policy is what has created these crises as well in Central America, in Colombia, in Mexico. And so the responsibility really is on us here in the US to, I think, open the borders, to welcome refugees, but also to stop funding these wars, in Syria just like in Mexico or elsewhere.

DOUG MCVAY: I know you've got a panel you want to get to and I'm very grateful to you for all your time, but any closing thoughts, and where can people find out more about the work that you're doing and do you have a website for the book?

DAWN PALEY: Yeah, so, my website is DawnPaley.ca, but if you google Drug War Capitalism, it's through AK Press, which is a publisher based in Oakland. And I just wanted to actually come back to the comment you made about, you know, how, the motivations. And so one of the things I learned in journalism school is, like, you're not supposed to speculate. We can't speculate on motivations because really, we don't know what they are. It is speculation. But one thing that we do know is that what, you know, the first time around might have been unintended consequences. The second, third, and fourth time around are known consequences. So when you have a process like in Colombia with Plan Colombia, you know, the massive US funding for militarization in particular to supposedly, you know, stop the flow of cocaine to the United States, and that militarization leads to massive paramilitarization of the country, it leads to an increase in homicides, an increase in disappearances, etc., when the same thing happens in Mexico, it's no longer an unintended consequence. So that's kind of part of the lens that I have kind of used, and that I put forward in the book to understand, you know, the depth of the tragedy that's taking place in Mexico and elsewhere. But also, really, not just US complicity, the US's active participation in these wars. So I think, you know, it's worth considering.

DOUG MCVAY: Dawn Paley, thank you so much.

DAWN PALEY: Thanks very much, Doug.

That was an interview I did with Dawn Paley, a journalist and the author of Drug War Capitalism. It's a great book, which I highly recommend. I will be reviewing Drug War Capitalism on a future show. You're listening to Century Of Lies, a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

AMANDA REIMAN: I'm Amanda Reiman, and I am manager of marijuana law and policy at the Drug Policy Alliance.

DOUG MCVAY: Amanda, first off, please, what's going on in California?

AMANDA REIMAN: Everything. Well, we are going to be putting an initiative on the ballot for 2016 for legalization. So, right now, we're working with allies to finalize that language, and to ensure that we have unity behind one single initiative.

DOUG MCVAY: Well, that's pretty straightforward. Now, let's go on to something important, because, there's always been a split in the, as the industry has developed and it has widened. Right now, this weekend, Drug Policy Alliance conference, this is a must-see, this is a must-attend. It's also the weekend of a major marijuana business conference going on in the bay area, which in many ways could be thought of as sort of emblematic of that split. The marijuana industry seems to understand that it should support, and they do support various legalization issues, they support, you know, drug policy stuff, but that's about protecting the business. That's prologue. Tell me about the project you're working on.

AMANDA REIMAN: Well, I think that as the industry develops, you know, as you said, a lot of people do want to do right. Right? They understand that there's inequality related to how the drug war is perpetuated, and who becomes a victim of the drug war. They understand the need to repair communities that have been most targeted by the war on drugs, but a lot of folks don't really know how to do that, there really is not an infrastructure right now within the cannabis industry to make it easy for well-meaning businesses to meet up with nonprofits in their community, and to figure out how to engage in community reinvestment. And it's definitely happening in pockets. Right? So in California, you have this group called Team Cannabis that outraised Google for the San Francisco AIDS Walk. And so, you know, they're extremely dedicated to their philanthropy.

In the Denver area, you have the Green Team, that Denver Relief has been a part of, that does everything from clean-up after events to naloxone training. So you have these individuals in the cannabis industry that are engaging in meaningful ways with their communities. What we need to do is, first, institutionalize that, and secondly, build an infrastructure for that, so that it's a no-brainer. I mean, what I'd like to see in the future is that, if you're getting into this industry just to make money, and you don't care about anybody, fine. But there's going to be pressure on you to have a community reinvestment piece in your business plan. And so I think if we institutionalize it, we're really going to find that cannabis is not the same as tobacco and alcohol. Right? It's not kind of the please drink responsibly BS that we know is all about PR. But it's actually about creating meaningful change. So I want to work with both the industry, but also local nonprofits that have a vested interest in helping those that have been impacted by the war on drugs to figure out, how do we create these partnerships so that having a marijuana business becomes more than just about the activity of the business, but reinvesting in a community and building that strength for everyone.

DOUG MCVAY: I think it's a terrific project, I think it's a great idea, I mean, I wish that more businesses and industries were doing exactly that, and I guess some do, but yeah, this is an industry built from reform, and it sort of makes sense they should be doing that. You've got stuff to do, so I just, before we go, any closing thoughts, and, well, I guess the question of where to find out more about the work you're doing is pretty simple. You're at DrugPolicy.org.

AMANDA REIMAN: I'm absolutely at DrugPolicy.org. So, I always encourage people to check out that website. I teach at UC Berkeley classes about drugs, and it's like the number one, that and Drug War Facts, those are the two places where I tell my students, if you're doing any kind of report about drugs, and you have not consulted DrugPolicy.org or Drug War Facts, you do not get a good grade, because that means you have not done your due diligence, to really do the research about what's happening with the war on drugs.

DOUG MCVAY: Amanda Reiman, thank you so very much, and thank you for the great plug, too. I thank you.


DOUG MCVAY: That was Amanda Reiman with the Drug Policy Alliance. We caught up with each other at the DPA's International Reform Conference last weekend in Crystal City, Virginia. We'll be hearing more from that conference over the next few weeks.

DAWN PALEY: Hey, my name's Dawn Paley, I'm the author of Drug War Capitalism. And I just want to give a shout out to the people at Drug Truth Network who are doing amazing work to get the stories out. You know, Amy Goodman from Democracy Now! talks about trickle-up journalism, I'm a firm believer, you know, like where these stories are being reported first, who's on the ground covering this conference and doing all these interviews? It's Doug McVay, Drug Truth Network. So, listen up, and thanks again for your so-important work in terms of just getting the truth out there and getting these stories, which are just so repressed in the mainstream media, out to the broader public.

ETHAN NADELMANN: We will win when there is no more war on drugs. We will win when the principle that nobody, but nobody, deserves to be punished simply for what we put into our bodies absent harm to others is embraced in this society, in our constitution, by our Supreme Court, by our Congress, and that the same thing in as many countries as possible around the world. We will win when common sense and compassion and respect for the human rights even of the most stigmatized people who use drugs is what becomes the norm. We will win when the values for which we fight permeate the rest of society.

We are the movement for freedom and justice. We are the people who love drugs, the people who hate drugs, and the people who don't give a damn about drugs, but every one of us know that the war on drugs is not the right way to do this. We are the new human rights movement on the block in America and around the world, and I'll tell you something, when we come back together again in Atlanta two years from now, we're going to have double the number of victories under our belt, the world is going to be changing, and we are going to lead this movement in a way that is going to make history! Thank you very much!

DOUG MCVAY: 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.