01/27/17 Paul Armentano

Paul Armentano, Deputy Director of National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws + Neill Franklin, Exec Director of LEAP + Houston DA Kim Ogg & report of dispensary robberies in Canada.

Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Friday, January 27, 2017
Paul Armentano



JANUARY 27, 2017


DEAN BECKER: I am Dean Becker, your host. Our goal for this program is to expose the fraud, misdirection, and the liars whose support for drug war empowers our terrorist enemies, enriches barbarous cartels, and gives reason for existence to tens of thousands of violent US gangs who profit by selling contaminated drugs to our children. This is Cultural Baggage.

Indeed, this is Cultural Baggage. I am Dean Becker, your host. We have with us in studio today a new intern, Ashley. Please, give them your full name, tell us what brings you here.

ASHLEY BRYAN: Hi, my name's Ashley Bryan. I've just recently moved to Houston. I'm a former Duke University student, and I am here completing an internship with Dean Becker, and I'm trying to pursue a passion in drug policy reform. I'm originally from Los Angeles, and so it's an issue that I've been accustomed to dealing with for most of my life, and I'm really excited to contribute my youthful perspective on the matter.

DEAN BECKER: Now, we've talked on the phone several times, we just met here in studio today, and, who's your grandpa?

ASHLEY BRYAN: Chief Justice Earl Warren.

DEAN BECKER: That will help the situation. We stand for truth, justice, reality, that's what ending this drug war is all about, a new embrace of reality. We're privileged to have as our guest today the Deputy Director of the national NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, Mister Paul Armentano. Paul, are you there?

PAUL ARMENTANO: I am, Dean, it's good to be here.

DEAN BECKER: Oh, Paul, there's so much news breaking in the drug war, specifically in regards to marijuana these days, is there not?

PAUL ARMENTANO: Yes, almost by the hour, it seems.

DEAN BECKER: Indeed. Now, you had a great piece you published earlier this month, talking about the National, oh what is it, Institute of Health. What was the organization, and their stance taken?

PAUL ARMENTANO: Well, a report came out by the National Academy of Sciences, and for those who are not familiar with the NAS, this is an independent body consisting of about 500 distinguished scholars, and they frequently are asked to provide reports and provide guidance to federal lawmakers, in this case they were asked by the CDC and by other federal agencies to conduct a review of the available science with regard to marijuana and health, that has been published since 1999.

1999 was the last time the National Academy of Sciences were commissioned to review the available data on marijuana. And since that time, over 10,000 studies have been published in peer-reviewed journals with regard to marijuana and health, and the National Academy reviewed that data, issued a report, and made some very substantive conclusions with regard to marijuana and policy.

DEAN BECKER: Give us a summary. What are some of the main points?

PAUL ARMENTANO: Sure. Well, arguably the most important point that the National Academy concluded was that there was quote "conclusive scientific evidence" available today, establishing the efficacy of the use of whole plant cannabis to treat a number of clinical conditions, among them chronic pain, but they also highlighted nausea and treating spasticity associated with diseases like multiple sclerosis.

Of course, Dean, you and I know that that statement flies directly in the face of marijuana's present scheduling under federal law, which says that the drug has no medicinal value whatsoever. It also clearly defies the DEA's review that they published last August, when they said that there were no adequate studies establishing marijuana's safety or efficacy for any treatment whatsoever.

DEAN BECKER: It's, I don't know, a conundrum ain't the word. I don't know what in the heck's going on here. You know, we can't trust every word the man says, because he tends to waffle quite a bit, but while he was running for president, Trump had this to say, please listen up:

PERSON IN CROWD AT OCT 2015 EVENT IN NEVADA: What are you going to do for legalizing marijuana, if people are willing to follow all of the rules a hundred percent, legally, federally, and with --

DONALD TRUMP: The marijuana thing is such a big, such a big thing. I think medical should happen, right, don't we agree? I mean, I think so. And then I really believe you should leave it up to the states, it should be a state situation. Because, you know, you have, like I just left Colorado, and I love Colorado, and the people are great, but there's a question as to how it's all working out there, you know, that's not going exactly trouble free, so, I really think that we should study Colorado, see what's happening, but, I believe that the legalization of marijuana other than for medical, 'cause I think medical, you know, I know people that are very very sick, and for whatever reason the marijuana really helps them. But, but, really helps them, but I think in terms of marijuana, I think, and legalization, I think that should be a state issue, state by state.

DEAN BECKER: All right, Paul, that was our new president a few months back. What's your thought, there?

PAUL ARMENTANO: You know, people are defined not so much by what they say but by their actions, and clearly, this outgoing administration took a very similar approach, where they gave states the leeway to experiment with regulatory schemes that were alternative to federal prohibition with regard to the medical use of marijuana, and with regard to the adult use of marijuana. We will have to wait and see whether this incoming administration will continue that policy.

What we do know for sure is that Donald Trump's nominee to be US Attorney General, Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, publicly opposed that policy during the Obama administration, and has been one of the most ardent and outspoken principals in Congress opposing any change in marijuana law reform, and he is not alone among those in the incoming Trump administration cabinet who have a long record of being an ardent prohibitionist when it comes to marijuana policy.

So while we are encouraged by the statements of the new president, we are discouraged by those he has chosen in his cabinet who have a long history of advocating for an oppositional position.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah, Jeff Sessions, he was the one who said marijuana smokers are not good people. You know, just throw a blanket over all of us, I guess, huh?

PAUL ARMENTANO: Yes, indeed, and again, that is not even among the more problematic statements he has made. I'm much more troubled by the fact that during the last administration he criticized the US Attorney General for not interfering with these state policies that were regulating marijuana. He chastised federal officials for allowing states like Colorado and like Washington to forge these different paths, and he expressed disdain that this administration was letting that happen.

DEAN BECKER: Now, Paul, you, you're tuned into this nation, the fact, I hear, I think it's, is it Monday, that Maine is going legal, and Maryland soon thereafter, is that right?

PAUL ARMENTANO: So, on Monday, Maine will eliminate criminal and civil penalties for adults who possess personal use amounts of marijuana or grow personal amounts of marijuana in their home. That is because a voter approved initiative from November is taking effect on that day. However, other elements of that initiative, with regard to regulating a commercial marketplace for the retail production and sale of marijuana, will not take place until sometime in 2018, and in fact, lawmakers in Maine just yesterday passed legislation to further postpone those provisions from being implemented.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah, Paul, I don't know how much you've been able to keep up with the situation here in Houston, Harris County, Texas, but, over the last few months, I've been able to interview the sheriff, the police chief, and the district attorney, and they're not all LEAP speakers yet, but here's a segment from our new DA, I want you to hear this and then get your comment. This is Kim Ogg, the new District Attorney of Houston, Harris County, Texas.

KIM OGG: All misdemeanor possession of marijuana cases will be diverted around jail. I've never felt good about putting marijuana users in the same jail cells as murderers, it's just not fair, it doesn't make any sense, and our country is resoundingly against that. As long as it's the law, I'll follow it, but our office is going to use the discretion that the legislature gave us to handle marijuana cases differently.

DEAN BECKER: Paul, what's your response to that?

PAUL ARMENTANO: Well, she's advocating a position that is supported by the majority of Americans, and I have no doubt by the majority of residents that live in this particular county. She's also referring to a piece of legislation that was enacted in Texas many, many years ago, but very few DAs have actually utilized, that gives local municipalities the discretion to move forward with these sort of diversionary programs as opposed to arresting and incarcerating minor marijuana offenders.

Of course, at the end of the day, what we would really like to see in a state like Colorado, I'm sorry, a state like Texas, is at a minimum, the state legislature move forward with language to decriminalize the simple possession of marijuana, so that nobody in Texas who possesses small amounts of marijuana are faced with the threat of arrest, criminal prosecution, incarceration, and a lifelong criminal record.

DEAN BECKER: I don't know if you were able to hear the story, but a couple of weeks back, there was this grandfather, lives in California, drove to Houston. He was going to the Texas Medical Center to help his granddaughter, who has Hodgkin's disease, cancer, and he was bringing her some marijuana and some marijuana cookies, and he got caught by highway patrol because he had California plates. And I guess what I'm asking you, sir, is, that, the differential between the two states, it's becoming a real burden, a real problem, is it not?

PAUL ARMENTANO: Well, right now, in 2017, whether one who engages in the marijuana marketplace or consumes marijuana, whether or not they are a legal upstanding member of society or whether or not they are a criminal who will be arrested, prosecuted, and incarcerated, is really simply a matter of geography. And that's an untenable position in the long term.

DEAN BECKER: All right. Well, friends, once again, you are listening to Cultural Baggage on Pacifica Radio and the Drug Truth Network. You know, it wouldn't be a Cultural Baggage show if we didn't play the following on your behalf. Pay attention here, folks, pay attention.

It's time to play Name That Drug By Its Side Effects! Depression, hopelessness, hallucinations, suicide, seizures, fatal blood disorders, hypotension, fatal myocarditis, physical collapse, and cardiac arrest. Time's up! The answer, for schizophrenia: Clozaril, from Novartis Laboratories.

BILL MAHER: Just look at the commercials that, when they advertise something on TV. Like, I see this one for Nasonex. You know --

DAVE LETTERMAN: What, for, you put in your nose, right?

BILL MAHER: Yes, put it in your nose.

DAVE LETTERMAN: It's, isn't it devised --

BILL MAHER: Just stop, because I see another one. Musinex. Stops mucus! You see, Dave, why is there mucus? They, they make it sound like there’s no reason. It’s because your body is toxic and it’s trying to create a river to get rid of this toxin.

DAVE LETTERMAN: Well, that's right, that makes perfect sense.

BILL MAHER: But Musinex stops mucus. We’re going to show mucus who’s boss.


BILL MAHER: We’re going to kick mucus’s ass and shove it back in your body where it will create a much bigger problem.


BILL MAHER: Mister Tough Guy, but you stopped the mucus. So, I see, but by then --

DAVE LETTERMAN: But please don't -- please don’t say mucus again.

BILL MAHER: Okeh. I'm doing it for your health! I'm doing it --

DAVE LETTERMAN: I see your point.

BILL MAHER: But like, okeh. So, there’s this Nasonex commercial, same thing, and there's a Nasonex bee, voiced by Antonio Banderas.


BILL MAHER: And of course, by law they have to say what the side effects are, so they give the pitch for the product, and then in the middle of the ad, they have to say, and they do say, and by the way, it causes coughing, retching, hemorrhaging, bleeding from the pores, your head falls out of your ass, you explode and die, and then, don't you know, the bee comes back and says, a wise choice.

So, I really want you to --

DAVE LETTERMAN: Well, you bring up an interesting point, and it makes you think, like, tobacco companies, for years and years and years, and continued, selling their product kilin people, and now you wonder if the same thing isn’t happening with pharmaceutical companies.

BILL MAHER: I promise you it is. Please get off them, Dave.

DAVE LETTERMAN: Okeh. Thank you very much. Now, uh --

BILL MAHER: You want Dave to live, don’t you ladies and gentlemen?

DAVE LETTERMAN: Thank you very much.

DEAN BECKER: Now, Paul, I don't know if you had a chance to hear that, but, you heard the side effects, and it's for schizophrenia. I mean, holy crap.

PAUL ARMENTANO: You know, Dean, this is such a common issue, and it's one I think many Americans are becoming rapidly aware of. There was a study done several years ago in the United Kingdom, where researchers looked at some of the most commonly prescribed pharmaceutical drugs, and they evaluated how many adverse side effects were posted right on the warning label, right on the written information that came with these drugs. And, on average, there are more than 75 adverse, specific side effects associated with the use of these most commonly prescribed prescription drugs. They said it was not uncommon to see as many as 450 adverse side effects listed right on the label.

Think about that context, when you hear critiques or concerns with regard to the use of medical marijuana, and its supposed side effect profile, which is a far safer, uniquely safer profile, than virtually all of the pharmaceuticals it could replace.

DEAN BECKER: I want you to listen to this, if you will. The following segment courtesy City News, Toronto.

SHAUNA HUNT: We first began investigating armed robberies of pot dispensaries back in December, after Cannaclinic here in Ossington was held at gunpoint, a violent crime that the store owners here did not report to police. And tonight, we're learning this is a much bigger issue. There has been a rash of dispensary robberies since June that are bringing guns to neighborhoods across our city.

INSPECTOR STEVE WATTS: I think it's fair to say, as I stand here, as we all stand here today, that this is absolutely a public safety issue now.

SHAUNA HUNT: The numbers are jarring. Thirteen pot dispensaries have been robbed since June. Guns were used in ten of those cases. In two separate hold-ups, shots were actually fired, and police say people are getting hurt.

SUPERINTENDENT BRYCE EVANS: Employees and customers have been stabbed, pistol-whipped, and pepper sprayed. They're being kicked, they're being forced to the ground and having guns shoved in their faces.

SHAUNA HUNT: In six of those thirteen robberies, business owners did not report the crime. Instead, it was the terrified customers who called police. Over the last couple of months, we have reported on two pot shop robberies, one at Cannabis Culture on Queen Street East.

I just heard that this place was robbed last night, is that?

UNIDENTIFIED STORE EMPLOYEE: We request that you not film on camera. Please leave.

SHAUNA HUNT: The other, at Cannaclinic on Ossington. Neither would admit the crimes ever took place.

I was wondering why Cannaclinic hasn't reported this to the police.

UNIDENTIFIED STORE EMPLOYEE: I can only speak to what I, what I know and what I've seen, and, uh, that's it.

SHAUNA HUNT: But the place was robbed?

UNIDENTIFIED STORE EMPLOYEE: I don't have any comment on that at all.

SHAUNA HUNT: Police are calling on pot shop owners to exercise their moral duty and report the violence. At the same time, they are vowing to uphold the law.

SUPERINTENDENT BRYCE EVANS: We will seize any illegal narcotics on the premises during the robbery investigations, as we would do in any incident.

SHAUNA HUNT: Is this the reason why owners are not reporting these crimes or cooperating with the investigations?

SUPERINTENDENT BRYCE EVANS: Where are these questions being asked? You're making these dispensaries victims.

SHAUNA HUNT: Police say some of these pot shops are taking in $30,000 a day, and have multiple kilos of marijuana on hand. So far, during these 13 robbery investigations, only two business owners are facing charges of possession with intent. Police say some of these stores have gone to great lengths to evade investigators.

SUPERINTENDENT BRYCE EVANS: I'm going to be honest with you here. Some of these robberies, before the police were notified of the legitimate ones, the employees grabbed all the drugs and ran out the store with the drugs before the police got there.

SHAUNA HUNT: Police have been cracking down on illegal dispensaries since last spring. Many are shut down for good, but 44 are still up and running. While Mayor John Tory is out of town on business, his office did send us an email, saying, "The lack of guidance to municipalities across the country has led to this situation. The mayor would like to see the federal government move as quickly as possible to implement new regulations regarding marijuana."

SUPERINTENDENT BRYCE EVANS: I find it disturbing that the owners and operators of these storefronts refuse to cooperate, turn over evidence, and instruct their employees not to call the police or speak to the police after they become victimized.

SHAUNA HUNT: Well, here at Cannaclinic, you can see a couple of security cameras on the storefront. I can tell you, there are more inside. Police say four masked men with guns robbed this place back in December, and right now, the owners are still refusing to hand over that critical security video. Investigators also say that the incident that happened here appears to be gang-related.

DEAN BECKER: Paul, that kind of demonstrates the fact that these people would rather not report a robbery than invite the police in to rob them even further. Your response to that, please.

PAUL ARMENTANO: Well, unfortunately in Canada, despite some of the strides that have been made by the new administration, which claims it intends to ultimately legalize the marijuana marketplace, in the interim, dispensing of marijuana remains illegal, and these operations operate in a gray market, and unfortunately, like most operators in the gray or black market, they do not welcome the intervention of police or the state. When there are disputes, unfortunately they cannot look to the criminal justice system to rectify those disputes.

Unfortunately, in this country, even where dispensaries are state licensed and legally regulated, because marijuana remains a federal Schedule One controlled substance, these operators are forced to operate as a cash-only business, they cannot process credit cards, they cannot have access to banking or other financial institutions, and because of those reasons, they continue to remain potential targets of criminal activity.

DEAN BECKER: It's, yeah, it's a direct result of the prohibition. The violence, hell, I use the phrase, you know, the drug war empowers our terrorist enemies brave enough to grow the flowers we forbid. It enriches the barbarous cartels. It gives reason for these thousands of violent gangs to be prowling our neighborhood. Nobody ever really focuses on that. They want to get rid of it, but they don't know how. Am I right?

PAUL ARMENTANO: Yeah, and they don't understand how it is the drug war itself, that it's the criminal prohibition that inflates the price, or the value, of this particular product. One of the reasons dispensaries may be targeted in Canada is because criminal entrepreneurs perceive a high value in the product that those facilities are carrying. Of course, in a legal market, the price of marijuana, the value of marijuana, would not be anywhere near as inflated, and that would reduce any criminal incentive to try to target these operators.

DEAN BECKER: Paul, we've got just a couple of minutes left. What would you like to share?

PAUL ARMENTANO: I can attest to the fact we've known each other a long time, Dean, and very few people work harder and very few citizen activists volunteer more of their time to make a difference, changing these policies, than you do, so I certainly wish you all the best, and really help educate, not just the people of Houston, the people nationwide.

DEAN BECKER: Well, that's true, Paul, we've got 73 stations in the US and Canada that carry one or more of our programs, I'm quite proud.

Look, folks. People, people we respect, people who are considered leaders in this state, respect what I'm doing. Paul, I'm going to have to cut you loose. I thank you so much for being part of the show. If you want to learn more about these marijuana policies, I urge you to go to the NORML website, that's NORML.org. Thank you, Paul.

PAUL ARMENTANO: Thank you for having me, Dean, keep up the great work.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, sir.

You know, folks, for many years now, I've been a speaker for a group called Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. LEAP. You've heard the PSA many times. But we've nuanced our name, and are trying to take on more situations, and more speaking engagements, and here to fill us in on what that change may be, is the Executive Director of LEAP, former major with the Baltimore Police Department, Neill Franklin. Hey, Neill, how you doing?

NEILL FRANKLIN: I'm good, Dean, thanks for having me on board, to bring folks up to speed as we, regarding where we are as an organization, where we're headed, and what we plan to accomplish.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, sir, and as I said, you know, it was against prohibition, but the new name is Law Enforcement Action Partnerships. Let's tell them what that's going to mean.

NEILL FRANKLIN: Absolutely, and maybe the tagline will help, which is, when you see our logo, you see the tagline of advancing justice and public safety solutions. Now, first and foremost, the organization has not lost its objective of ending the war on drugs, which as many people know is a war on people. Because you cannot have a war on drugs, you cannot have -- it's like having a war on this chair I'm sitting in, Dean. You just can't do it, you have to have, I mean, wars are between people.

But, with this new direction, what our plan here is, is to do a better job of connecting the dots for people. So the first thing I want to do is give you, give the audience, our website to go to, because we have a new website, and you can get there the same way, with LEAP.cc, or you can go to LawEnforcementAction.org. That will get you there as well.

And, when you look at the five issues that are on -- prominently displayed on our website, you'll see that the middle issue is drug policy. And if you click on that, you'll see this figure of a tree, and at the root of that tree, you see drug policy. And throughout the branches, you see the many things that come from this poisonous root of drug policy, whether it's civil forfeiture laws gone wrong, whether it's the problems we're having with police-community relations, whether it's the violence that we now see in Chicago or Baltimore, whether it's police militarization, whether it's things dealing with drug abuse and the deaths, and the overdose deaths that we're seeing. And the list goes on and on and on.

So, we're going to do a better job of connecting the dots for people, because so many people don't yet get it. But at the same time, what it will allow us to do as we talk about the other issues, as I said, five issues: police-community relations, over-criminalization, mass incarceration, again drug policy --

DEAN BECKER: At this point, Neill listed harm reduction. I coughed over it. We continue.

NEILL FRANKLIN: -- and global issues, because this issue of drug prohibition is of course global. For instance, we have people who want to build a wall on our southern border. You know, we just end drug prohibition, and regulate and control drugs, you know what? Ninety percent of our immigration problems would go away. Literally overnight. Along with the violence that our brothers and sisters in Mexico and down through Central America are experiencing.

This new direction will allow us to speak to many more organizations, many more groups, many more policymakers. We're already seeing the benefits of that, and then, you know, it puts us in a place, again, to connect the dots and to share more information about the war on drugs, and how it affects all these other things that we're currently talking about in the news, we're currently talking about on our college campuses, and at the kitchen table in many of our homes.

DEAN BECKER: All right. There you have it, friends, from retired Major Neill Franklin. Thank you for that, Neill, and you know, the fact of the matter is, yes, we are expanding our outreach, but at the same time many organizations, many individuals, many governing bodies, are reaching out to us as well. Am I right?

NEILL FRANKLIN: Absolutely, and this -- I'm glad you mentioned that, because we started this journey a year ago, and as we got closer, and as more people were learning about this new direction for us, and now since we've launched, now into a couple of weeks, the phone has been ringing, people have been knocking on the door, we've been setting up more and more conferences, and talks, and I'll tell you something else. Many more law enforcement people are reaching out to us, wanting to be a part of what we're doing now.

The evidence is already there. This is a good direction for us to go in. And, at the end of the day, it puts us, it will put us in front of more people, more groups, more communities, more legislative bodies, at the state and federal levels, and it's just going to do a wonderful job in allowing us to spread this very valuable message that we have. And, make an impact. You know, that's what we're about as an organization, letting our speakers get out there in front of people and make an impact for change.

DEAN BECKER: There you have it, friends. Major Neill Franklin. As he said, our website still remains the same, LEAP.cc. Or go to LawEnforcementAction.org.

Folks, that's all we can squeeze in at this point. Be sure to join us next week when our guest will be Doctor David Bearman, author of Drugs Are Not The Devil's Tools. And again, I remind you, because of prohibition you don't know what's in that bag. Please be careful.