04/01/16 Dean Bortell

Cultural Baggage Radio Show

Law Enforcement Perspectives Q&A 2 with Howard Wooldridge of LEAP, Tex Rep Gen Wu, Harris County/Houston DA Devon Anderson, Gary Hale former DEA agent + Caravan for Peace, Texas Hospital provided CBD & Colorado provides full cannabis meds for Alexis

Audio file


APRIL 1, 2016


DEAN BECKER: Broadcasting on the Drug Truth Network, this is Cultural Baggage.

DR. G. ALAN ROBISON: It is not only inhumane, it is really fundamentally un-American.

CROWD: No more! Drug war! No More! Drug War! No More! Drug War!

DEAN BECKER: My name is Dean Becker. I don't condone or encourage the use of any drugs, legal or illegal. I report the unvarnished truth about the pharmaceutical, banking, prison, and judicial nightmare that feeds on eternal drug war.

All right, folks, the drug war's ending slow, ugly, and bloody, and I'm glad you're tuned in to Cultural Baggage. My name is Dean Becker. We've got some great stories that describe the benefits and the changes that are coming forward. What the hell, let's just get to it.

First up, we're going to close out our coverage of the James A. Baker III Institute panel on Law Enforcement Perspectives on Drug Prohibition. We're going to hear one more time from Harris County's district attorney, Devon Anderson; Gary Hale, the gentleman with more than 30 years of experience working for the Drug Enforcement Administration; Howard Wooldridge, drug policy specialist, one of the founding members of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition; and Texas State Representative Gene Wu. And don't forget, it's me moderating that panel. Here we go.

Cops are trained to make sure that at the end of the day they are the ones quote "going home to their families" and rightfully so. But as we have seen too often, this mindset can lead to unnecessary and tragic encounters between police and the communities they are sworn to protect. Much of the war on drugs has been fought in poor black and brown communities, exacerbating strained relations between minorities and law enforcement. And let's start with you, Howard. How do we put things back on track between cops and the communities who have begun to fear their presence?

HOWARD WOOLDRIDGE: Well, due to the, my profession's racism, where we pick on people we don't like, everybody here knows the stats as far as black and brown people going to prison. Put it in concrete terms, a gentleman I worked for, he's about to retire now, we were back at the donut shop and he says hey -- should I be politically correct? No, let's not. No, I better be politically correct.

So he said, I said, so what's going on, you know, you've hardly taken down any drunk drivers, what's going on? He says, you know, I like to catch some dope, and he says, I said, he says, then, and basically when it boils down to it, in terms of who he stops, it was two blacks, two browns, two yellows, or I don't stop the car, why bother? And then a, in a, and of course he used racial slurs. And that was a statement that could be expanded all the way across the United States. And that is, and the only way, what we have basically is, law enforcement has claws on their hands that, and they can pick on people, they can hurt people they don't like. And it's not just black and browns, I had an officer I worked with that didn't like gay people, he'd write them tickets or arrest them, whatever he could possibly do.

The only way we're going to stop this incredible pain, suffering, and death in the minority communities is to clip the claws from the police officers, to actively allowing street cops to hurt black and brown people, people they don't like. And that's the only way you can do it. You've got to take away the tools they use to act out on their prejudice.

DEVON ANDERSON: What do you mean? I don't even understand that. Clip their claws and take away what --

HOWARD WOOLDRIDGE: Don't allow them to arrest for simple possession of narcotics, because that's what they use to just rip them to shreds. And that's why I say, that's another reason to legalize and regulate all drugs, because it's, the racism is off the charts. In fact the NAACP three years ago, on a LEAP initiative, endorsed a bill I work on in Congress to end the federal prohibition of marijuana based on nothing else but the racism inherent with who gets picked on in terms of marijuana possession and sale.

DEAN BECKER: Up until the 1920s, cannabis was an ingredient of many products sold on the druggist's shop, actually on the grocer's shelf. Our nation's first drug czar, Harry Anslinger, worked with William Randolph Hearst and others to demonize this new thing, marijuana, which was cannabis, calling it a demon from hell. More recently, the push for medical marijuana has injected science back into the debate. States around the country have begun to recognize the potential medical benefits, and now some even see full legalization as a better policy than prohibition. And let's go to you, Mister Wu. Do you think Texas eventually will legalize marijuana for adults, or medical use, as other states have done?

STATE REPRESENTATIVE GENE WU: Yes, I think that's probably -- it's probably likely that we'll have it eventually -- happen eventually. The question always is when. You know, if you asked me, based on people's temperament right now, I would say more than 10 years out. I've had some people, conversations with other -- with like lobbyists and people who, like, play these political games in their head, who think it's within the next five years. I think it will happen, I wouldn't be very hopeful about it, with it happening within the next, within a decade.

And so, but, actually, I actually had an answer quickly for the needle program. This is actually something that we -- I worked on in the legislature the last couple of sessions. The reason, there's two reasons why people don't do it. One is for a government hospitals and such to participate in the program you have to give them explicit permission. I don't, I'm not sure exactly why, but they require it. Two is, staff can still be charged with possession of drug paraphernalia. It's Class C, but it's -- so, Ruth Jones McClendon, a legislator out of Dallas who's just retired, offered a bill to allow a pilot program in Harris County, it's a local bill, targeted to just Harris County, that would allow the local health units to participate in a drug needle -- a needle exchange program. My first session, the bill did not leave the house floor, even though Ruth is a very, very senior member, and a lot of members are backing it. People were very, very uncomfortable with the idea of needle programs, that you're helping drug users, da da da da da da. Even though all the health providers came and testified and said look, this is a health issue.

Second session I was in, I was a joint author on the bill, and we got it to the floor, with the caveat, we put in a provision to make everyone happy that said that no government money may be used for this program. Right? So no federal money, no state money, that everything had to either come from private hosp -- come from the hospital's own budget, or from private sources. And we conceded that, okeh, fine, if that's what it takes to get the bill out, we'll do it. Bill went over to the senate, and the senate sat on it until it died.

So, this is a bill though that's been, actually been in progress for over a decade. Okeh? And it seems like a very commonsense thing, and people are just uncomfortable with it because they're not sure how they're going to get hit if they vote on it. And so we had to narrowly push the bill down, squeeze the bill smaller and smaller and smaller to make it more and more palatable so people can swallow it, and still, because the senate had ten new senators, who were unsure of their vote, their future, who is going to attack them next time, they were like, no, we're not touching it.

DEAN BECKER: Before prohibition, I'm talking 1913, '14, a pound of marijuana sold for one dollar, and this is to the panel, I guess. If marijuana were to be legalized in Texas, would that likely lead to the reform of penalties for the other drugs?

DEVON ANDERSON: I don't know. I don't know. I hope not.

DEAN BECKER: All right. Gary?


GARY HALE: I wouldn't think so, but I do believe, like the gentleman said that's sitting up top there, baby steps, you know. One thing at a time, one issue at a time, one drug at a time, and we'll see how it goes.

DEAN BECKER: Howard, you got any comment?

HOWARD WOOLDRIDGE: Yeah, I believe in the next 20 years. People know scientifically that the most dangerous drug out there for both the user and those around them is alcohol, and secondly is tobacco. This is, there have been some studies done overseas. The United States has never done a panel, no Congressional hearings, what are the ten most dangerous, deadly drugs in America. No one's ever done that, and one of the reasons is, after the British did especially, they said alcohol was the most dangerous, deadly drug out there for both the user and those around them. And you're not going to have Budweiser and Jim Beam be very happy if the Congress has a study on what are the most dangerous drugs. So, that these drugs are dangerous and deadly is not the issue.

The argument then, the fun time is, what's more dangerous, marijuana or sugar? We can debate that scientifically, but, I believe in my life -- if I live long enough, I think 20 years, the United States, and the younger generation coming up, that's anybody less than 35, 38, are saying, you know what? Now you can't fix Charlie Sheen, you can't fix Whitney Houston, this is just silly, when these other drugs are more deadly and dangerous than cocaine, and end it all. But, we're talking 20 years.

DEAN BECKER: And, Representative Wu, did you have a thought?

GENE WU: So, I'm a very -- I'm actually very heartened by the stuff that I've seen, and that -- and I'll try to answer this in the most roundabout way possible. So, in the last, I would say, five to ten years, I think there is a systematic and comprehensive effort to be smarter about crime, instead of just harder about crime. Okeh? I mean, and this is a national trend, and Devon can speak about this more, and there is, the national trend is so, like, let's look at diversion, let's look at treatment programs. You know, in terms of, there is a big push in the Texas legislature to give -- put deferreds back on DWI arrests, so that people can go get treatment instead of just saying, well, I'll just do my three days in jail and call it even.

So, I'm hopeful that this trend continues. One of my biggest arguments in pushing my marijuana bill in the legislature is, like, look, Harris County alone, if you say you didn't have to arrest these people, in Harris County alone you could save somewhere like, back of the napkin estimate, about a hundred thousand dollars a week. And all of a sudden, that kind of number, basically just what happens, there's a sudden silence, and somebody gasps. Right? And suddenly, for those members, and for those voters, that makes a lot of sense. And I know everyone here, you know, everyone's big on the war on drugs, and everything else, and social consequences. That doesn't sell for a lot of people. What -- the universal thing that sells is, hey, your county's going to have to spend a hundred thousand dollars less a week, all of a sudden, people are looking at their pocketbooks thinking, okeh, that means like a what, like a, you know, two hundred dollar reduction in my taxes? I'll take that.

So, I'm hoping that this trend continues, and I think, instead of, maybe not, these drugs don't become legal, but we find different ways of dealing with them. We start treating drug addiction as an illness, as a medical issue, and not as a war.

DEAN BECKER: Once again, I want to thank Katherine A. Neill and Professor William Martin of the Baker Institute there at Rice for entrusting me to be the moderator of what I thought was a very important panel. Let's move on.

Last month, I was appealing to you to support my video, trying to get me to be the reporter for the Caravan For Peace that was going to tour through Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Mexico, and wind up at the UN on April 19th. I didn't win, but I'm still standing in support of that effort.

TELECONFERENCE MODERATOR: I'm going to introduce our first speaker. His name is Ted Lewis, human rights director of Global Exchange, and general coordinator of this caravan.

TED LEWIS: The war against drugs is an enormous failure, and it's been going on for 50 years. It's time to put an end to that. Global Exchange is a human rights organization, and at this moment, our analysis of the situation in Latin America is that the war on drugs is the greatest promoter of human rights violations that we have seen. The Caravan for Peace, Life, and Justice is an unprecedented effort from the grassroots to tackle the drug problem at an international level.

We will travel through five countries on the eve of the United Nations General Assembly Special Session to underline the damages of the drug war, and I will speak just a little bit about one of the issues in the United States. The drug war has damaged all our countries. In the United States, in particular, the phenomenon of mass incarceration is something that has destroyed people's lives and communities.

Currently in the United States, more than 2.2 million people are in jail. We have five percent of the world's population and 25 percent of the world's prison population. Every night in the United States, half a million people are behind bars for simple drug possession. As further evidence that our criminal justice system is broken, African Americans and Latinos, who comprise approximately 30 percent of our population, are 57 percent of the population in state prisons, and 77 percent of the population in federal prisons, of drug users, despite no significant difference in the sales or use of drugs by those populations.

So it's time to put an end to the drug war, and we have to have an international conversation about it. That's why it's so important to use this moment of the United Nations Special Session to have this Caravan and promote this discussion. Thank you very much.

TELECONFERENCE MODERATOR: Our next speaker is from El Salvador, Martin Barahona, Bishop Emeritus, who has been working with the peace accords for several years.

BISHOP MARTIN BARAHONA: Hello everyone, my name is Martin Barahona, I am the -- a Bishop Emeritus of the Evangelical Anglican Episcopal Church of El Salvador, and I want to talk about the damage that the use of psychoactive substances has caused. We are participating in this Caravan en route to New York City in order to raise the consciousness of the governments and the people, that this, these policies have only caused death and disillusionment among our people. So, we will begin on April First, on the border in Chalatenango, which is a very important space, very important place in El Salvador. And also then we'll be going to San Salvador on Saturday, April Second, where we'll be participating with university students, and the purpose is to really raise the debate in El Salvador, which has been invisible in our country.

And, my personal proposal as Martin Barahona is that we must fight to decriminalize all uses of psychoactive substances, because it has been totally negative, the prohibition on these things. We also need to turn this, because of, here, we have not looked at this issue as a public health issue, but rather as a market issue. It is not a market issue, it is an issue of public health.

So, from El Salvador, I send everyone friendly hellos, and I hope you will join us, and that we can bring forth this debate to the public.

TELECONFERENCE MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next speaker is Maria Herrera, she's a Mexican mother who has four disappeared sons.

MARIA HERRERA [in Spanish, followed by an unknown interpreter with a translation into English]: So, since I've been looking, since the disappearance of my sons, I don't know what has happened, I've been using my entire body and my soul to find them but I have not found anything. The only thing I have found is more pain, and more pain. And it seems that this is something systematic. Disappearances are happening daily, and it seems that no one wants to do anything or can do anything to put an end to this war. And they say that this war is supposedly against drugs, but I have said it and I always say that this is a war against families.

As I was saying, this is a cruel war that has destroyed our social fabric, the social fabric of our families, and it's not just the families of the disappeared person who's affected, it destroys the nuclear family, the center of the family, and this is a war against families, against the children. We can't even go out and have fun in public areas, have activities in public areas, because of the danger that we're facing, and we don't go. Yet.

So, we cannot trust in the government. They say they are working to find our loved ones, but they have not found our loved ones. And they have the responsibility, they have not been able to stop what -- impede these disappearances, and thus we are trying to ask for more justice.

DEAN BECKER: The following segment comes to us courtesy of the 88.7 news desk.

CARRIE FEIBEL: I'm sitting on the living room carpet next to Grace Scout Rodriguez, age three. She's wriggling around in her mom's lap.

GLORIA RODRIGUEZ: Hold on, she’s having a little seizure.



CARRIE FEIBEL: And just like that, it's over. Grace starts touching my microphone, trying to grab it.

GLORIA RODRIGUEZ: They're absence seizures. She doesn't have them --


GLORIA RODRIGUEZ: -- very often.

CARRIE FEIBEL: How do you know?`

GLORIA RODRIGUEZ: I can tell when her body and her eyes blink really fast and her head drops down just a tiny bit.

CARRIE FEIBEL: Grace has Dravet Syndrome, a severe form of epilepsy related to a genetic mutation. Her mom Gloria explains that Dravet seizures can get so bad that children can die.

GLORIA RODRIGUEZ: They call it catastrophic, and I hate that word, because it just sounds like you're doomed. And she's not doomed. I mean, you see, she's happy, she's all over the place, but, I think that's mostly due to Epidiolex.



CARRIE FEIBEL: Epidiolex is an experimental liquid medication made in England from cannabis. It contains no THC, the chemical in marijuana that gets you high. But it does contain a calibrated dose of cannabidiol, or CBD, which is believed to have anti-seizure properties.

GLORIA RODRIGUEZ: Coming from someone who’s never tried it, recreationally or otherwise, I didn’t know what to think, but I just know that at 400 seizures a day, I thought, there’s no way my baby can keep living like this.

CARRIE FEIBEL: When Grace has a bad seizure, she has to be hospitalized and sometimes put on a ventilator. But Gloria says even smaller seizures are dangerous.

GLORIA RODRIGUEZ: Several times we thought she’d broken her nose. That’s why we don’t have a coffee table anymore, because she hit her head on it so many times.

CARRIE FEIBEL: But the seizures are happening less and less. Last summer, Grace took part in a randomized trial. No one -- not her doctor, parents, or teenage sister -- knew if Grace was getting Epidiolex or a placebo. But her dad, Ascension, said he noticed a change right away.

ASCENSION RODRIGUEZ: I knew it was the real deal because she was acting totally different. She wasn’t dropping as many times.

CARRIE FEIBEL: Gloria says her daughter also became more focused. Grace still has developmental delays, but she can interact more, and play more.
GLORIA RODRIGUEZ: Prior to the trial, she would look at us but not see us. There was really no life in her eyes. She was just like a little zombie on all this medication. And, it’s almost like we met her for the first time when she started on this medication.

CARRIE FEIBEL: After the trial, the family learned Grace had indeed been getting the actual drug. She now takes it twice a day, mixed into yogurt or applesauce. Her doctor is Angus Wilfong, at Texas Children’s Hospital. He says the results for Dravet syndrome were significant. The drug reduced severe seizures by 39 percent, compared to a reduction on placebo of 13 percent.

DR. ANGUS WILFONG: In a medication trial for epilepsy, that’s really as good as any medicine ever is, so the results were very strongly positive.

CARRIE FEIBEL: And Wilfong says the side effects are less severe than other drugs. There's been a lot of media coverage about desperate families moving to Colorado, or parents creating their own cannabis oils to give to their children. But Wilfong says, those remedies can be dangerous.

DR. ANGUS WILFONG: With Epidiolex, we know exactly how much CBD, we know that it’s only CBD and there’s no THC, we know there aren’t contaminants or pesticides in it.

CARRIE FEIBEL: Last June, Governor Greg Abbott signed a bill to allow some patients access to cannabis oil, but only for a few conditions like epilepsy. And the state still needs to set up the distribution system. Dr. Wilfong says Epidiolex might just make it to the market first. New drugs need two successful clinical trials to get FDA approval. Grace was in the first one, and the second one is wrapping up soon.

DEAN BECKER: You know, it seems that every day, more and more information refuting the drug war is coming forward, and more especially so in regards to medical marijuana. It's astounding, the number of people that are coming forward, showing positive benefits from the use of cannabis, and one young lady whose father we're now speaking to has made enormous progress over the last year. She's a Texan who someday wants to come back to Texas, so I'm speaking of Alexis Bortell, and we're speaking now with her father. Yeah, Dean, your daughter has made a huge splash. She's provided a lot of recognition of the benefits of cannabis, has she not?

DEAN BORTELL: She has, she has been very active in the movement, and, you know, she's got big plans in the coming year, but so far things have gone very well for her.

DEAN BECKER: And, did we not recognize a one year anniversary already?

DEAN BORTELL: We did, on the 18th, and today she's at 378 days and going strong.

DEAN BECKER: And that's without a seizure, correct, sir?

DEAN BORTELL: Without one single seizure. Those are consecutive days.

DEAN BECKER: The heck of it is, you know, she's from Texas, they're supposed to come up with a new means of providing CBD only for the Texas marijuana patients, but that's not working for Alexis, is it?

DEAN BORTELL: No, and I want to be very clear that we actually did try an oil that would be legal in Texas under their new law, and it didn't work. Alexis, and to be honest most other epileptic kids, depend on THC at levels well beyond what Texas allows. For instance, Texas has got the cap at 0.5 percent, whereas Alexis's oils, she takes twice a day, are running about 5.5 percent, and the acute care oil she uses, it's a gel, is nearly pure THC, and that busts auras, and, you know, if she has a warning sign, which happens now and then still, we use pure THC and its broke six out of six auras this year plus.

DEAN BECKER: Well, and that's wonderful. And for what it's worth, I'm sure you're aware of it, but the listeners may not be, and that is that Texas Children's Hospital has just completed a round of testing, the CBD only, but found it to be three times more effective than the placebo, which is an indicator they're headed in the right direction. Right?

DEAN BORTELL: For certain symptoms and certain patients, absolutely.

DEAN BECKER: Dean, you know, you and your daughter were able to, a week or two back, come back to Texas, but for just one day. Tell us about that day, would you please?

DEAN BORTELL: Yes, actually, I came in for the week. Alexis is not allowed to stay the night because of Texas laws, but we came in for the Southwest Cannabis Conference in Ft. Worth, where she gave the keynote speech on Sunday, right before Montel Williams, so, she was able to come out, meet the press, and, you know, there were legislative staff in the audience watching her speech, we know that, we were contacted by those offices before the event, so we knew they were there.

So, she gave a speech on her progress, but, the bigger story, the other kids. You know that, Alexis is here, but in Colorado alone, it's believed there's over 500 refugee families, and growing every day. So, you know, this is about Alexis as far as the science goes, we've got her records out there, we've got things like that, but there are many, many people affected, and that's what Alexis's message continues to be, and that's what it was at the conference you mentioned, was, look, Alexis is important, but so is all of her refugee friends.

DEAN BECKER: Exactly. And, what's seldom noted is that despite 370 plus days of cannabis use, your daughter remains very articulate, obviously intelligent, and hardly at all impaired by the use of these cannabis products. Your thoughts, sir.

DEAN BORTELL: I would say not at all affected by these medicines in a negative way, not at all. And it's important to say that cannabis, marijuana, whatever you want to call it, is the only medication she was ever on for seizures that has thus far not shown any negative side effects. Zero. Look, it's a medicine, if you come to it with the expectation it's like any other medicine, it will work for some people not for others, and different dosages are required, then you've got pretty good policy.

DEAN BECKER: Friends, I, it is my hope, my goal, to educate the listeners, to hopefully someday educate the politicians, and the people who provide the regulations for quote "drugs" to open their eyes to that potential. We've been speaking with Mr. Dean Bortell, father of Alexis. You've heard of her, folks. Dean, any closing thoughts, a website you might want to share?

DEAN BORTELL: Well, you can check out TeamAlexis.org, that's where Alexis posts her story, and we've got tons of information, articles and stuff out there like that, and we share stories out of Texas and nationwide that people are interested in, even about their local politicians. So especially if you're in Texas, recently there's some stories you need to catch up on.

That's it. As always I remind you, because of prohibition you don't know what's in that bag. Please be careful.

To the Drug Truth Network listeners around the world, this is Dean Becker for Cultural Baggage and the unvarnished truth. Drug Truth Network archives are stored at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.

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