03/04/16 Dan Morheim

Cultural Baggage Radio Show

Maryland Delegate Dan Morheim leading way to decrim/heroin injection sites, Katherine Neil of Baker Institute & Eugene Oscapela testifies re drug law change in Canada

Audio file


MARCH 4, 2016


WOODY GUTHRIE: Put 'er there boy, we'll show these fascists what a couple of hillbillies can do!

[music] Well I’m gonna tell you fascists
You may be surprised
The people in this world
Are getting organized
You’re bound to lose
You fascists bound to lose

All of you fascists bound to lose:
I said, all of you fascists bound to lose:
Yes sir, all of you fascists bound to lose:
You’re bound to lose! You fascists:
Bound to lose!

DEAN BECKER: Ah, yes, this is Dean Becker, you're listening to Cultural Baggage on Pacifica Radio and the Drug Truth Network, and hell yes, all them fascists are bound to lose.

Big tip of the hat to Mr. Woody Guthrie. All right, on today's program we're going to hear from Katharine Neill of the Baker Institute, we're going to hear from Eugene Oscapella, a Canadian expert about cannabis and the war on drugs, but first.

You know, it seems that more and more politicians, more and more officials, are taking another look at the policies of the drug war, the implementation of it, and Delegate Dan Morhaim up in Maryland is one of those officials who has taken a very strong look at our history of this drug war, is now working to make some changes. Glad to have him with us now, Delegate Dan Morhaim, how are you, sir.

DAN MORHAIM: Great to be with you.

DEAN BECKER: You've been focused on this need for change for quite some time, have you not?

DAN MORHAIM: Yes. I first got elected in 1994, and one of the first major bills I had pass in the late 1990s was a task force to increase funding for addiction treatment. And we did do that, actually was successful, and it was the first major effort in Maryland to move away from a total law enforcement perspective to combining law enforcement and public health. We still have a long way to go, but that was a sea change in attitude, at least at that time.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, sir, and as I said, even Kofi Annan, former UN director, came out sounding like a LEAP speaker, and I'm sure you know who LEAP people are, right?

DAN MORHAIM: Oh, absolutely, and I know Lee Maddox and Neill Franklin very well, who are great LEAP, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition leaders here in Maryland.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, sir, and you know, a brief summary if I may try to summarize it is, you want to provide treatment on demand, all drug decriminalization, supervised injection facilities, and heroin maintenance. And this kind of reminds me of what, what's his name, Mayor Svante Myrick in Ithaca was speaking about last week. But you guys can do it on a state level.

DAN MORHAIM: It would be quite a bit bigger on a state level, and nobody has put in bills like that on the state level in the United States. Let me digress for a moment. My other, we're a citizen legislature in Maryland, like most states, and my other job is an emergency medicine physician. I work at a large volume trauma center, a hospital in Baltimore City, so I've seen the carnage of the drug wars for decades. I think where most people are coming to now is that the war on drugs is a policy failure, however well intentioned or not well intentioned it might have been, it certainly has not addressed any of the things that people would want to have it do.

I mean, we have shocking levels of crime and violence, spread of disease, jammed prisons, people's lives ruined, billions of dollars going overseas to terrorists, and the rate of drug use isn't down, it's up. So it's clearly failed in every parameter that one could measure, and I think more and more people are at least getting to that point. I think a few years ago, a lot of folks were still thinking that it was just a matter of law enforcement only, I think at least more and more people are coming around now, that there has to be a public health plan in combination with law enforcement and other social change policies in order to get rid of this scourge on our society.

But it's been 50 years of policy and 50 years of damage, and it's going to take a lot of hard work to turn this around. But in the end, it's not a concept, it's a policy change, so as you -- policy change means legislation. I've been in the legislature, this is my 22nd year, six four-year terms so far, with two more years on this term, and I just felt it was time to put in some strong bills. I know that it may be very distressing or shocking, or just don't seem like they make any sense to folks, I get that. But they all are logical, I'm also on the faculty at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, and each one of them is well researched with data to back it up.

DEAN BECKER: Delegate Morhaim, I appreciate your thoughts, your courage here, because for so long, politicians, heck the average citizen was just afraid to speak of what they saw before their eyes, of the horror that this drug war was inflicting. But it's time to speak openly, boldly, is it not?

DAN MORHAIM: It is, and I appreciate the courage compliment, but courage is also, you know, somebody confronting their own substance abuse disorder. Courage is a family confronting someone with a substance abuse disorder problem. Courage is a law enforcement officer walking into a domestic violence situation. The worst that can happen to me presumably is that I won't get re-elected, but frankly, most of my constituents are supportive of trying something new.

And so, the treatment on demand, or treatment at need, as I call it, comes right out of my years of clinical experience, where we need to get people who have substance abuse disorders, who tend to all end up in emergency rooms sooner or later for one thing or another, while they're there, have an addiction treatment counselor to get them into the kind of program that person needs, and do it on the spot. Basically we end up doing, even at the hospital that I work at, which has a very good social services department, what we end up doing is giving them a list of phone numbers and say, call later, call tomorrow.

Well, that doesn't work at all. It doesn't work with folks who don't have substance abuse disorders who are, you know, well heeled and so on, it's hard to get people to follow up. It's especially hard with that group, so what that bill proposes is to have an addiction treatment counselor on the spot, or available, you know, within a few hours, and then get people into a defined program. It could be long term care, short term care, narcotics anonymous, faith based, buprenorphine, methadone, whatever's the right thing for that patient. It has to be individualized. But if someone came to the emergency room with a heart attack, I don't diagnose the heart attack and then give them a bunch of phone numbers and say, here, go find the local coronary care unit. I don't do that.


DAN MORHAIM: I get them into the hospital, I get the right specialist involved if that's what's needed. But with substance abuse and the behavior disorders, we're not treating them as the, in the same way we treat other illnesses, and we ought to. That's what that bill does, it pushes the hospitals to have people there, and for the hospitals to have to find arrangements, and I think that's pretty significant. And let me say one other thing about it. There's lots of reasons why hospitals should be at least a focus. They can have arrangements with community and other services, but not only are addicts congregating there on a regular basis, but hospitals are open 24/7, they're well-lit, they're on bus routes, they're safe and secure, they're financially accountable, they're regulatory agencies, and there's no NIMBY issue.

We do get times where somebody wants to open a clinic, or something in the neighborhood objects. Not in my backyard. And hospitals are already there, so why not make that the focus, at least to get, make it an entry point, instead of just another stop on an endless loop of missed opportunities.

DEAN BECKER: All right, folks, once again, we're speaking with Delegate Dan Morhaim out of Maryland, who has some very profound and important ideas he's bringing forward. Sir, I understand there was a call for a hearing yesterday there in Maryland for the -- a legislative hearing on decriminalizing these drugs. How did that go, sir?

DAN MORHAIM: It was a very challenging hearing but I think we had great testimony in favor of the bill, legislators who of course, some were quite skeptical of the whole idea, but I think we initiated a conversation. I mean, we're trying to undo 50 years of a paradigm and a perspective, and it isn't going to happen in one hearing. But I've been a pretty successful, well regarded legislator, I'm in the leadership, and I, and we have the data behind us, and so, there were a lot of good questions, and I think that's part of the political process. But what the bills would do is decriminalize -- decriminalize, not legalize -- possession of small amounts of all drugs, would turn them into a civil offense.

So rather than have people get arrested and then get a criminal record, which then sends them into a spiral of having trouble getting jobs, having trouble getting education or housing or other services, it gets them, pushes them more into a substance abuse treatment direction right at the outset. We're spending a lot of time in Maryland, I know in other states and in fact even in the federal Congress, they're working on what to do with people when they get out of prison, it's called justice reinvestment, dealing with parole and probation and all these other issues. And that's good. But why not deal with it on the front end, before people go into the criminal justice system, where they tend to, you know, end up going down a life of criminal behavior and addiction and substance abuse.

By the way, I think all of this is harm reduction, harm reduction not only for the substance abusers but for the rest of us that are paying, or victimized by substance abusers who do desperate things to get their drugs and get the money to get their drugs. So, it really is cost effective, it makes sense, it increases safety in society, and helps people at the same time. So, but it's a new concept, it's worked in Portugal, it's worked elsewhere in the world, but, you know, Americans are generally skeptical, I get that, and it's not going to solve all problems for all people. No one's that naive. But it does shift the likelihood that there'll be less crime and less other kinds of problems if we start taking some proactive steps in a public health direction.

DEAN BECKER: 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 medicine, matchbook covers, hydrochloric acid, drain cleaner, battery acid, lye, lantern fuel, and antifreeze. Time's up! The answer: tina, chalk, go-fast, zip, crystie, crank, speed, methamphetamine hydrochloride.

ART EGGLETON: Good morning everyone and welcome to the Open Caucus. I'm Art Eggleton, a senator from Toronto. I'm co-chair of this caucus. Beside me is my co-chair, Senator Claudette Tardif from Alberta. Now through this Open Caucus initiative, we're opening our doors to Canadians and to the media, all of which we have a lot today, as well as the senators here at the table. We want to learn about and discuss issues of national importance. This effort is hosted by the Senate Liberal Caucus, but it's intended to be nonpartisan. We welcome and encourage a variety of opinions during these discussions, and frequently do have members of other parties in both the House of Commons and the Senate join us.

Well, today, our topic is the legalization of marijuana. In its speech from the throne, the government reaffirmed its commitment to legalize marijuana during its mandate. Recent polls suggest that a majority of Canadians support such a move. Today, we are meeting to discuss how we might go about this in a responsible, sustainable manner that works for all Canadians. This move has been a long time coming for some in this room, because in 2002, some 14 years ago, the Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs, which was chaired by our late colleague and former speaker, Claude Nolin, Nolin, and vice chaired by our own Senator Colin Kenney, who's not yet here. They recommended legalization.

So, now, we're moving towards that reality. Up, over on this side of the room is Eugene Oscapella. He's worked on drug policy reform issues for almost 3 decades. He was associated with the Law Reform Commission of Canada for over 14 years, and was the first chairman of that particular body's drug policy group. Mr. Oscapella is a founding member of the Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy, an independent organization created in 1993 to examine Canada's drug laws and policies.

EUGENE OSCAPELLA: The goal is not to try to persuade you that cannabis is a good drug. I believe there are some harms associated with it, I think that's quite clear from the evidence. I'm not a, I'm not speaking of cannabis from the perspective of somebody who wants to use it myself. I've never tried, somehow I got mixed up in cannabis policy 30 years ago despite that. But most of the damage caused related to cannabis is really caused by our policies, our laws and policies that we have constructed since we first prohibited this drug in 1923.

Cannabis is like many drugs. It has some benefits, it has some harms. The, on some levels it's less harmful than many other drugs. It's not as heavily associated, the acute use of cannabis is not associated with violence the way that alcohol is, we know it doesn't have that sort of problem. But the real issue is how we're best to regulate this drug in our society, if we move away from prohibition, and I want to remind people here, I welcome what I'm hearing from the CCSA and from former Chief Blair, that prohibition isn't working. I want to remind people what's wrong with prohibition, because that's, because certainly in the move to, move to a legal regulatory model, there's going to be a lot of opposition from people thinking that in fact the prohibitionist model is one that can work.

But, prohibition sort of seeds, it sows the seeds of its own failure in many ways because prohibition creates a fantastically lucrative illegal market in drugs. This is a market that globally, depending on who you listen to, may be worth several hundred billion dollars every year, going into the hands of criminal and increasingly terrorist organizations as well. Prohibition fosters staggering levels of violence. Mr. Blair has mentioned the violence associated with the drug trade, the cannabis trade in Canada. Well, in Mexico over the past 10 years, there's been about a hundred thousand people murdered in the pursuit of the violent drug war. In Brazil, about 28,000 people die every year in the turf battles over control of the drug trade there. This is all drugs, but cannabis is obviously the major, major contributor to this.

This is a product of our decision to prohibit drugs in this country and in the United States. Prohibition essentially exports violence to the producer and transit countries, and the consequence is extraordinary levels of violence that rival anything we could see from Islamic State and some of the violent radical groups we're so worried about in our world today.

Prohibition makes a minor, if any, dent in the availability of targeted drugs. Why? Because prohibition actually creates the incentive to produce drugs, because it makes it so profitable to produce them. It leads to violations of the privacy rights and other civil liberties of all citizens, not just people who use drugs. It has led over the past 90-some years to very misleading, sometimes deliberately dishonest, propaganda about cannabis that makes it very difficult for people to believe the messages that we do need to give about the legitimate concerns about cannabis in our society. It has created also an enormous self-interested crime control industry that is going to make it tough to try to move away from a crime control industry based model of prohibition.

Prohibition also makes the use that occurs much more dangerous than it would otherwise be. We don't educate people about how to use drugs safely. We make sure that the drugs they get are uncontrolled, there's no quality controls on cannabis that's available today, apart from some of the cannabis that's available for therapeutic purposes. So people get a product of unknown quality, unknown potency, they don't know what it's cut with, and sometimes it's being sold to them by people who are interested in selling them much more dangerous drugs at the same time. This is a product of our decision to prohibit.

Prohibition is a major contributor to police and other official corruption, even in relatively honest societies such as Canada, and I'm speaking not only of the financial corruption that's associated with it, and we've seen this at every level of policing, across the country, from municipal police forces to the OPP to the RCMP, we know that prohibition is a major force for corruption in government institutions. Not only the financial corruption, but also the ethical corruption, as police officers sometimes step outside the dictates, the ethical dictates of their behavior, and the requirements to uphold the law as they enforce the law in the pursuit of the war on drugs, because we have demonized drug users and drug sellers to the point where sometimes, some police officers will think that they can abuse the rights of these people in the pursuit of the war on drugs.

We've seen massive levels of financial corruption associated with the war on drugs. You're seeing some of the major international banks being accused of money laundering on a massive scale. This is international corruption that we all have to be concerned about. Prohibition also creates an artificial distinction between the harms associated with legal and illegal drugs. We probably don't pay as much attention to alcohol as we should because we're paying more attention to illegal drugs, when alcohol by all accounts is causing far more problems in our society. We have limited resources. We know the government's going to run a deficit, and I would like to use some of the money that we are currently misusing on a prohibitionist model for some more productive efforts: prevention, treatment, community control efforts, things of that nature.

And ultimately, prohibition does not stop or significantly reduce drug use. Eighty percent of my students, I do informal surveys in my class at the University of Ottawa that I've been teaching for 17 years now, and some years as many as 80 percent of my students have tried cannabis. One quarter of all Ontario high school students in the most recent CAMH survey have used cannabis at some point in their lives, and about one fifth of them within the past year. So, if the whole purpose of prohibition is to stop people from using drugs, it doesn't work. It saddles individuals with criminal records, we have hundreds of thousands of Canadians with criminal records from the simple possession of cannabis. This does not help them get jobs, it does not help them become productive members of our society. It causes tremendous harm for them for no reason.

And if we focus solely on what drugs might do to the young, it sometimes blinds us to the fact that we have to look at the global consequences of our drug policies. A drug policy that may make sense in terms of appropriate -- protecting youth in one circumstance may have these colossal external harms to other countries. So, if I haven't got the point across, I'll repeat it again: prohibition is the worst of all possible options.

So I'm -- and I welcome this move towards a consultative, collaborative, regulatory approach to dealing with cannabis and ultimately, we're going to have to look at this for other drugs as well. I'm very pleased that this government has announced its intention to move away from this failed model. It's not going to be an easy course, it's going to be very complex, there are constitutional issues, federal, provincial, territorial issues. There's going to be opposition from some groups that have vested interests in maintaining this system.

But I'll leave with one quote from Misha Glenny. Misha Glenny is the former BBC correspondent who wrote a book entitled McMafia: Organized Crime Around The World. And he spent some time looking at the drug trade in British Columbia. He said, without drug law reforms, western societies will perpetuate one of the most sustained acts of immorality in history. That seems like an extreme statement, I don't think it is. Merci.

DEAN BECKER: All right. If you tuned in last week, you heard me speaking with Professor William Martin of the James A. Baker III Institute. Today, I'm glad that we're going to have with us Katharine A. Neill. She's the Alfred C. Glassell III Post-Doctoral Fellow in Drug Policy at the Baker Institute, and the honcho, if you will, for a forthcoming event there at the Baker Institute titled Law Enforcement Perspectives On Drug War. With that I want to welcome Katie. How are you, Katie?

KATHARINE NEILL: I'm good, Dean, how are you?

DEAN BECKER: I'm well. I'm really excited, this panel is less than a week away. Please tell us about the forthcoming event.

KATHARINE NEILL: So, the program that we have planned, all of the panelists either are currently serving in law enforcement or have previously served in law enforcement, including yourself, and you will be moderating the panel. We have the Harris County District Attorney, Devon Anderson will be there. We also have Gary Hale, who is a former DEA agent, and also a fellow here at the Baker Institute in drug policy. We have Howard Wooldridge, who is a drug policy specialist for Citizens Opposing Prohibition and for LEAP. And we have Gene Wu, who is a Texas state representative here in Harris County and who just won his primary this past week.

So, again, all of, everyone that will be speaking has, you know, looked at the war on drugs from a law enforcement perspective, so we're looking to really get that kind of expert opinion on the drug war from them.

DEAN BECKER: And then, Katie, this follows on the heels of many officials around the nation, heck around the world, beginning to speak more openly, more boldly, of the need for change to our drug laws, to our mass incarceration, to just a whole process of this drug war. Am I right?

KATHARINE NEILL: Yes. Yes, you're right. It seems, you know, almost every day that you're starting to hear another person come out and say that the war on drugs, you know, is a failure or at least that we need to reconsider the way that we approach dealing with illegal drugs.

DEAN BECKER: It's just another example of the willingness of these officials to speak of that need for change, because for so long, there was a big wall of silence. But that wall is coming down, am I right?

KATHARINE NEILL: You're definitely right. It's no longer, you know, political suicide for elected officials to say that they want to reconsider the war on drugs. In fact, for a lot of elected officials that's actually becoming a selling point, especially with younger audiences. So I think that there is an eagerness there for officials to engage in this conversation. I also think that one of the things, one of the purposes of this event really is to engage law enforcement specifically in this conversation, because, for one thing, they, you know, have a lot of authority on the topic, and they're considered to be very knowledgeable by people in the state legislature who have the option of reforming the laws, and so I think that engaging people in law enforcement in this debate is very important if we want to move forward with effective policy solutions.

DEAN BECKER: That touches upon one of the questions I want to bring forward to Representative Wu, and that is, our police chief, Charles McClelland -- well, now retired, spoke of the need to end this drug war, that it was a miserable failure, locking up too many people for way too little. And yet this last session, it was not really a -- they addressed marijuana, but they did not address the drug war more specifically. What's your thought there, Katie?

KATHARINE NEILL: Right. You're correct in that. I think that, and that I think isn't unique to Texas. I think you're seeing that around the country, that marijuana reform has been kind of the focus, and a lot of that has to do with the medical marijuana movement, and really, you know, educating the public and bringing more awareness to that specific drug. I think that as far as the war on drugs goes in general, we still have a long ways to go. In places where you're having great increases in opioid related overdoses, I think that you're seeing a greater push for treatment versus incarceration. But even here in Texas, there is a bill for needle exchange programs that didn't go anywhere because Governor Abbot was not willing to support that kind of program.

So, I think that the stigma still remains with other drugs. I think that marijuana is kind of the first domino, if you will, breaking down that wall, and the important thing though is to remember that, you know, marijuana is not the only drug that people go to jail for. And that we have to move from marijuana to these other drugs and broaden this discussion so that we're not focused solely on marijuana.

DEAN BECKER: Indeed. Well friends, we've been speaking with Katharine A. Neill. She's the post-doctoral fellow in drug policy at the Baker Institute. Katie, please, share the details of this event, when, where, how, and why they can get involved.

KATHARINE NEILL: Sure. The event will be held at the Baker Institute for Public Policy. It's on Rice University campus. It will be Wednesday, March 9th, at 6:30 PM. You can RSVP online. The event is free to attend.

DEAN BECKER: And the location where they can learn more is BakerInstitute.org. Thank you, Katie.

KATHARINE NEILL: Yes, thank you.

DEAN BECKER: And I do want to underscore that more and more politicians are starting to echo my words. The following quotes are from Kofi Annan, former head of the United Nations. Quote: "Drugs are dangerous, but current narcotics policies are an even bigger threat, because punishment is given a greater priority than health and human rights. It's time for regulations that put lives and safety first."

He calls it a war on people. It has not succeeded. He talks about Africa being a sad example of these problems. He asks that we stop stigmatizing and start helping. He says we should recognize that drugs must be regulated precisely because they are risky. Time to acknowledge that drugs are infinitely more dangerous if they're left solely in the hands of criminals who have no concerns about health and safety.

In closing, I remind you again, that because of prohibition you don't know what's in that bag. Please be careful.

People of every nation
Marching side to side
Marching ‘cross these fields
Where a million fascists dies
You’re bound to lose
You fascists bound to lose!

All of you fascists bound to lose:
All of you fascists bound to lose:
All of you fascists bound to lose:
You’re bound to lose! You fascists:
Bound to lose!

All of you fascists bound to lose:
All of you fascists bound to lose:
All of you fascists bound to lose:
You’re bound to lose! You fascists:
Bound to lose!