11/17/17 Matt Elrod

Fentanyl deaths in Canada per CBC, (7:15) B.C. reporter Matt Elrod, (19:10) NBC report on Safe Injection plan for Colo, (22:06) Donnie Varnell N. Carolina Harm Reduction, (27:30) Michael Krawitz Dir Veterans for Med Cannabis, (33:30) Tony Newman Dir Media Drug Policy Alliance, (49:25) Mark Linday Greenspring (hemp co), (53:00) Alexis Bortell, 12 Yr old suing AG for legal weed

Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Friday, November 17, 2017
Matt Elrod
Drug News



NOVEMBER 17, 2017


DEAN BECKER: I am Dean Becker, I want to thank you for being with us on this edition of Cultural Baggage. First up, we're going to hear from CBC Television up there in Canada, and I share these reports produced by the major networks because I want you to believe this stuff, and maybe you think I'm just full of it. Here we go.

Canada's fentanyl crisis is getting worse, and some of the people affected by it are demanding a controversial solution: drug legalization. From January to September, 914 people in British Columbia died because of fentanyl, despite a serious crisis response. Even with more supervised injection sites and hundreds of millions poured into fighting the deadly drug, the death toll continues to skyrocket. Now family members of some lost to the drug crisis are calling for a different approach. The following courtesy Canada's CBC.

KATHY WAGNER: Twenty-two years ago I gave birth to Tristan, and today I buried his ashes under this tree. You know, every day, people are dying, and families are being broken, and this is how birthdays are being celebrated. Right? It's like, this is my son's birthday party. This is it.

IAN HANOMANSING: By the time Tristan was a teenager, cocaine had taken over his life. His mother, Kathy Wagner, tried desperately to help him, even taking Tristan to China when he was 16 to pursue his passion, Kung Fu. And to get him away from drugs.

For a while, it worked. But just 10 weeks ago, Tristan relapsed. He used cocaine that was laced with fentanyl, and it killed him. The coroner's office says in more than 80 percent of street drug deaths in British Columbia, those drugs contain fentanyl.

KATHY WAGNER: Many people out there are deliberately poisoning drug supplies, and they're poisoning drug supplies because it creates more addicts, creates more market, and is easier for them to transport. And they don't care about the number of the deaths along the way.

IAN HANOMANSING: These are some of the faces of the fentanyl crisis in BC. The boy next door or down the street. That's Tristan on the left, his friend Scott Gu, and Ian Chalmers. Scott and Ian are still alive, but their parents worry, for how long?

I visited their mothers at a cabin on BC's Sunshine Coast near Vancouver. Their sons' addictions have brought them together.

LOU CAMERON: I had based my everything on how he was doing.

IAN HANOMANSING: Lou Cameron's son Ian has struggled with cocaine and the risk of relapse. Here he is celebrating clean time at a recovery festival last year. Kerry, her neighbor, knows Lou's struggles well. She's here to offer her support.

DEB GU: And then indeed, more starts to emerge, and it's --

IAN HANOMANSING: Deb Gu's children have substance abuse problems, and she worries every day.

KATHY WAGNER: I wish we were all better able to know our kids or anybody else at that deeper level, when they're still alive.

IAN HANOMANSING: And then there's Kathy. She says Tristan understood the risks that his cocaine would likely contain fentanyl, and if there was no one there to help, an overdose would kill him.

Why do you think it happened the way it did?

KATHY WAGNER: It happened -- I know why it happened the way it did, it's because he was ashamed. Right? And I think people, particularly in recovery, are so ashamed that they can't do it. They feel like it's a failure. They talk the talk, why can't they walk the walk? And that's shameful to them.

DEB GU: It knows no bounds. It can hit at any level. Any socioeconomic status, any neighborhood, anywhere, any age, any time.

LOU CAMERON: They came to Kathy's house, you know, and at your, the ser -- your son's service, Kathy, I'll never forget the moment that my son attended, and Kathy came across the room to hug Ian. And I stood there, feeling a real mix of emotions, knowing that it could have been me, at my son's service.

IAN HANOMANSING: There are many reasons people are using drugs alone, whether it's shame or not fully understanding the risks. These women feel there is one more step governments must take.

DEB GU: The other big elephant in the room is the safety of the drug supply. And you know, it is poison.

KATHY WAGNER: Honestly, the only way that I think it's going to make a huge impact on that is to legalize and regulate drugs. I know that that's not a popular stance right now.

LOU CAMERON: As we're talking today, four or five people are dying in British Columbia alone. How can we not care, how can we as humans not care about this story? I hope it never comes to your house.

IAN HANOMANSING: Cameron says there's nothing she can do to ensure her son doesn't relapse and risk death by using drugs alone. That's why she volunteers in Vancouver's Downtown East Side, where the fentanyl crisis first hit Canada.

LOU CAMERON: [inaudible] all looks good here?

IAN HANOMANSING: A tent and trailer run by volunteers who have the life saving drug naloxone if there's an overdose.

LOU CAMERON: Hey, have a good day, eh?

IAN HANOMANSING: Though she worries so much about her son, being here gives her comfort.

LOU CAMERON: I know, sadly, that I can't save him, if I could, I would have saved him a decade ago. But what I can do is I can be down here, and nobody dies when I'm here. And that's really empowering. Nobody dies on my shift here.

IAN HANOMANSING: Watching people using the same contaminated street drugs her son might use, with no one around to save him.

For a lot of people, legalizing and regulating the drug supply may seem like a radical idea. Most politicians don't want to go anywhere near it. But today, BC's Minister of Mental Health was asked about whether a new approach was needed. Here's her response.

JUDY DARCY: I think it's time to have a conversation about that. I think we should be prepared as a country to have a courageous conversation about it. In the meantime, we are pushing the envelope and we are being bold and innovative and doing everything we can within the context of the present federal framework.

IAN HANOMANSING: Meanwhile, the city of Vancouver has essentially decriminalized possession of all drugs, including heroin and cocaine. A senior police officer told me, they only arrest people in special circumstances. For example, if the drugs are near a school, or a community center. In Calgary, police also say they generally don't arrest for possession, though they will confiscate the drugs. Ottawa police still make arrests, but officers use discretion there as well.

But in Toronto, Montreal, Edmonton, and Halifax, the police departments tell us it's still by the book. They enforce the laws against possession.

DEAN BECKER: Well, we just heard a report from CBC, talking about the opiate crisis up there in Canada, and I want to bring in a friend of mine who's well aware of the situation up there, a man I've worked with for, I don't know, 15, 17 or more years, to share drug war news, a man who still works in that regard, who's based up there in British Columbia, Canada, my friend, Matt Elrod. How are you doing, Matt?

MATT ELROD: I'm good, Dean, how are you?

DEAN BECKER: Matt, the situation that was in that report is not, you know, just Canada's problem. This is a situation that's just getting worse, the increasing number of opioid deaths. Your thought in that regard, sir. Where are we headed?

MATT ELROD: Well, yeah, I mean, we're seeing that around the world and in the United States as well, fentanyl and carfentanyl being introduced into the illicit drug supply, and it's causing not just the usual junkies that people might expect to overdose, to die, but also it's affecting the middle class, and white people, and it's just causing a lot of people to sit up and take notice.

And in Canada, one group that's been very vocal on it is the parents of those who've died. One group's Called Moms Stop The Harm, for example, and they've just initiated a campaign of sending photos of their late kids to the prime minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, so, to put a human face on it. But, it's becoming more and more urgent, more and more desperate, and people are beginning to realize that we can no longer legislate morality, that we need to be pragmatic.

And so there's a conference taking place in Calgary right now, as a matter of fact, hundreds of public health officials, addiction experts, and the resounding cry from the podium is that it's time to decriminalize possession, stop criminalizing people in possession of drugs, and they're pointing to Portugal as an example of how it should be done.

And they're also calling for more prescription opiates, including pharmaceutical grade heroin, heroin maintenance, for drug users.


MATT ELROD: And, and it's being heard, fortunately.

DEAN BECKER: And, Matt, you know, it brings to mind, in that report, they were talking about the gentleman who died while using cocaine cut with fentanyl. I guess that's just to increase the high, or something, but it's not even, you know, it's mixing an upper with a downer. Your thought there, sir.

MATT ELROD: I -- yeah, I mean, I think sometimes it's probably being contaminated unwittingly. If somebody is cutting their cocaine on their kitchen table, where they were just, you know, adding fentanyl to an opiate, then fentanyl can find its way into the cocaine supply.

Some people just aren't that careful. I mean, let's face it, these aren't chemists, these aren't people trained in pharmacology, and the unfortunate thing is, I think, ofttimes, people who are selling these contaminated drugs don't realize that what they're selling is contaminated. And there's calls for such dealers to be charged with murder or manslaughter for knowingly selling a contaminated drug, but again, ofttimes I think even the dealers don't realize what they're selling.

DEAN BECKER: Sure. We had a segment on last week's show talking about, you know, drug induced homicides, and how that number of prosecutions is rising. It just seems bassackwards to me.

MATT ELROD: Well further, I mean, a lot of the street level sellers are selling to, you know, subsidize their own habit, so these are usually low level dealers we're talking about, who, you know, would benefit more from treatment and their motivation for selling is just so they can afford their own.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah, Matt, the fact is, your home province of British Columbia has had safe injection sites where heroin and other drug users could come in and safely do their drugs, and if they were to OD, there's medical staff on hand to bring them back and to, I don't know, point them in the right direction, maybe help them walk away from their habit. Your thought in that regard. That needs to be widespread across Canada, and yet, how's that turning out?

MATT ELROD: Well, yeah, Insite, the first supervised injection site in North America, operates in Vancouver and has for, golly, coming on 20 years I guess. The previous Conservative government was vehemently opposed to it, and fought it all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. But the Supreme Court agreed unanimously that supervised injection sites do everything proponents say they do, they prevent the spread of disease, overdose deaths, and shepherd drug users into treatment, without increasing drug use or public disorder, and they reduce the spread of -- or rather the prevalence of discarded syringes.

So they do everything they're claimed to do, and the opponents could come up with nothing. They, you know, claim that supervised injection sites enable drug users, or make drug -- normalize drug use and so on and so forth, but they had no scientific evidence to support those claims, and the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in Insite's favor.

And you would have thought that might be the end of the debate, but the Conservative government continued to fight it, and they came up with these very onerous rules, where no one in Canada could open another supervised injection site without everyone in the community being on board, for one thing, and of course that rules out an injection site because of all the NIMBYism.


MATT ELROD: But also, anyone who wanted to open an injection site had to provide stacks of peer-reviewed evidence showing the site would work, much as Insite had done. But that created a catch-22, because in order to open an injection site you first had to open an injection site, and prove it works. Right?


MATT ELROD: Happily, the new government, Justin Trudeau's Liberal government, is wiser and has removed those restrictions, and so we're starting to see supervised injection sites open up across the country, and there's also been a move by guerrilla harm reductionists, opening up supervised injection tents in parks, you know, without seeking approval. Just saying, damn it, we're going to do this, much in the same way that compassion clubs sold cannabis in a guerrilla fashion to, you know, force the government to do something.

DEAN BECKER: Well, and this is where there's a, I don't know, a kind of a cross over. Let me get into this, I guess, and that is, you know, we've got the safe injection sites in Vancouver, and I hear other cities are considering it, or as you say setting up the tents to do so in other cities, and it ties into the fact that the prohibitionists are still continuing to say that, you know, marijuana will lead to more auto crashes and children's access, and that it would not help those who have an opioid addiction to walk away from that habit.

But more and more studies are coming out to prove that's just not true, and yet, the politicians continue to, you know, boldly proclaim what's been proven to be a lie. Your thought in that regard, sir.

MATT ELROD: Well, you know, someone once said, trench warfare is months of boredom punctuated by, you know, seconds of sheer terror, and being in drug policy reform has been like that for decades. We've been having this very repetitive argument over the "gateway theory," and it's so repetitive and so inane that some drug policy reformers get tired of banging their heads against the wall and they've walked away, you know, and then others have managed to endure, and now we've come to a point where things are happening so fast that, you know, us old time drug policy reformers are really having to sit up and wake up and have a cup of coffee to keep up with the changes.

And you're quite right that what the evidence is showing it's shown us for years, it's that cannabis is an economic substitute for opiates and alcohol, and other drugs, and that when cannabis use goes up, opiate, other drug use, and opiate overdose deaths go down. But alas, you're quite right, there are still people who insist it's a gateway drug, and they're also insisting that yes, we're going to have carnage on our highways when we stop prohibit -- arresting people for possession.

Which is weird, because under the current law, it behooves the stoned motorist to finish their stash before they hit the road --


MATT ELROD: Because the law's against possession, it's not against being impaired. So, yeah, I mean, the stupid debate continues and it's fascinating to see it unfold here in Canada, now that the federal government has made clear that it -- they're very intent on legalizing by July First next year. And so the provinces and the municipalities are scrambling, and of course the anti cannabis warriors, the prohibitionists, are also scrambling. Some are even trying to get the government to not legalize, they're still fighting legalization.

DEAN BECKER: Well, but, there is the other side, coincidental to that situation, is that the cops and the prosecutors who in the past arrested people, sent them to prison, are now going to be in charge of the distribution, sometimes the dispensaries, and the sales of the cannabis products to the people they used to arrest. Your response to that, sir.

MATT ELROD: Well, it is frustrating. I mean, there was an announcement the other day that Fantino, the former Toronto chief, sort of the equivalent of Rudy Giuliani of Canada, is one of many former police officers who've started a cannabis distribution corporation, in Ontario, and as recently as 2015 he, Fantino, was saying that legalizing cannabis would be a disaster and cause carnage on our highways and be a gateway, et cetera et cetera.

So, I, you know, now that they see the dollars, a lot of these former drug warriors are, rather hypocritically, jumping into the cannabis business.

DEAN BECKER: Right, and --

MATT ELROD: And it leaves the long-time reformers, like the Emerys and others, you know, very frustrated and angry, because while these phonies and insiders are positioning themselves for a first mover advantage, they're continuing to raid the dispensaries and the clubs, and the activists, and basically to clear the field for their friends.


MATT ELROD: To cash in.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. Eliminate the competition before it turns legal. Yeah. Well --

MATT ELROD: -- the law, I mean, what business wouldn't want to have the police going after their competitors?

DEAN BECKER: Hypocrisy. I'm going to learn how to spell that some day, man, I tell you. All right, friends, we've been speaking with Mister Matt Elrod, based up there in British Columbia, Canada. Matt, I want to give you a chance, some closing thoughts, a website, however you might want to end this discussion.

MATT ELROD: Well, if your listeners are interested in keeping up with what's going on in the great white north, they can go to DrugNews.org, that's the Media Awareness Project news archive. It's starting to fall a little short on the US news, but we're keeping up with the Canadian news, and it's a good place to follow what's going on up here.

DEAN BECKER: The following segment comes to us out of Colorado, courtesy NBC Channel Nine.

KYLE CLARK: Colorado could one day allow addicts to inject drugs without fear of arrest at certain supervised locations. Trained professionals would keep watch in case of overdose. This already happens in Canada, and supporters say it would save lives here. Nine News reporter Anusha Roy joins us from near an area where open air drug use is common.

ANUSHA ROY: Yeah, Kyle, we've talked about this before, people using drugs like heroin out in the open, like places along the Cherry Creek Trail, even the Denver Public Library. Well, this proposal is aiming to change that by creating a supervised site, but opponents, they're worried that this is going to be promoting drug use and they're worried about safety.

LISA RAVILLE: We're in the midst of an overdose epidemic.

ANUSHA ROY: Denver is not immune.

LISA RAVILLE: We know that our people are dying outside, in alleys, in parks, and in business bathrooms.

ANUSHA ROY: And Harm Reduction Action Center is in the middle of it.

LISA RAVILLE: So we have the connection with the community that's saying, yes, I'm scared injecting in an alley, because somebody's going to come up on me or a kid's going to see me, or people are going to call 911.

ANUSHA ROY: Which is why Lisa Raville supports a state bill that would allow a pilot project in Denver, to set up one facility where people can inject drugs, with trained professionals nearby if someone overdoses. They wouldn't be arrested, and have access to help, including rehab.

SCOTT ROBINSON: We know it's a public health emergency, but it has to be legal.

ANUSHA ROY: It's why the bill asks to protect the site from public nuisance laws. But even if that's approved, there's still the federal government.

SCOTT ROBINSON: The idea of having safe injection sites mirrors the medical marijuana movement across the United States, because in theory, use of marijuana is still totally prohibited by federal law, but federal authorities at least for now have agreed to look the other way.

ANUSHA ROY: It's one of the hurdles state lawmakers are taking a close look at.

LISA RAVILLE: We're in the midst of an epidemic, the president knows we're in the midst of an epidemic.

ANUSHA ROY: The Denver city council president traveled to Vancouver, BC last week to research their program, where health officials say more than three million people have used safe injection sites since 2003, and no one has died.

But recently, overdose deaths in the Vancouver area have gone up, in part because of a spike in fentanyl, which makes heroin more potent.

LISA RAVILLE: So we're not reinventing the wheel, we are just keeping up with good public health.

ANUSHA ROY: In Washington state, King County officials are moving forward with their plans, despite citizen groups trying to block funding, and at least two cities voting to ban the project, a debate supporters in Denver are preparing for.

And there is definitely a long road ahead, but one of those first steps is coming tomorrow, when state lawmakers are going to be voting on whether this legislation should be moving forward to the January session, and if the bill does ultimately pass it would hand over authority to the city council as well as Denver Public Health to decide if this project should move forward.

DONNIE VARNELL: I'm Donnie Varnell, I'm an investigator with the Dare County Sheriff's Office, that's located on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. I'm also a law enforcement consultant with the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition, that does work here in North Carolina with people that are affected by substance abuse.

DEAN BECKER: Donnie, there's a lot of news breaking around the country about safe injection sites and needle exchange programs, and the fentanyl, the carfentanyl, that's starting to kill lots of our kids. There's a new focus going around, isn't there?

DONNIE VARNELL: Yes, sir. We're -- you're seeing a shift across America, not so much away from traditional law enforcement techniques and actions, but adding different options, to the plan to combat the opioid epidemic that's running across America.

DEAN BECKER: Well now, you're aligned with the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, the LEAD program there in Fayetteville, North Carolina. It's been a little over a year since we talked. How has it unfolded? Is it making progress?

DONNIE VARNELL: Absolutely. We went from, I think when you and I last spoke, we were talking about doing a soft launch, where we would bring in two or three participants and just see how the process worked.


DONNIE VARNELL: And we did that, and of course we found some glitches, which is why we did it, you know, on a smaller scale to start with. And since then we have, we've added on some additional personnel, a lady named Melissia Larson, that works really closely with the Fayetteville program now, and we've probably got about 25 participants. Actually it took us a few months for the word to get out, for us to train all the officers in the Fayetteville Police Department, and that took some time.

And, in all honesty, it took a little while for the community to become aware of the program and to be very responsive and receptive to it.


DONNIE VARNELL: I think in some stance, maybe it was too good to be true, you know, it sounded too good to be true to the population it was affecting. But really quickly, the people started to come into the program, the officers became very responsive, the community liked the program, and the last meeting we had, the last evaluation we had, out of those 25 people, only one person had been rearrested for anything, in the community, and that's pretty, you know, that's pretty -- one pretty substantial statistics on the law enforcement side, but also shows that the other people are either at least staying out of negative contacts with law enforcement and or fully participating in wrap around service programs, which is course the -- that's of course the goal of the program, is to get the individual into services that are right for them, to get them to a better place.

DEAN BECKER: And I think, in probably most if not all instances, to keep them from having to get a prison record, and the life damaging consequences. Right?

DONNIE VARNELL: Well, absolutely. I mean, I know there is a number of the people in the program that have already had an arrest in the past, but of course, this does stop them from having an additional arrest process, and there are people that it avoided their first arrest, and I think it's pretty common knowledge that if you have an arrest on your record, especially a drug arrest, it's much more difficult to get, you know, decent employment, you know, there's only so many people that will hire you if you have a block checked that says I have been arrested for a felony.

So it avoids that just to begin with, and any time you can keep a person out of the criminal justice system, you know, one, it's, obviously it's better for that person, especially if they're -- you want to take them into a treatment program, and two, it stops bogging down the criminal justice system, so it can be -- so it can be better used for probably what it was really meant to be, for people with more serious crimes and violent felonies, instead of just bogging the court down with these low level drug arrests.

DEAN BECKER: Very well put. Again we've been speaking with Mister Donnie Varnell. He's with the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition. He's involved with their Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program. Donnie, any closing thoughts, maybe a website you'd want to share?

DONNIE VARNELL: Sure. I mean, if anyone wants any information on the LEAD program itself, they can go to NCHRC.org, and it's the North Carolina Harm Reduction website, and there's a LEAD icon, LEAD.

DEAN BECKER: It's time to play Name That Drug By Its Side Effects! Headache, nasal ulceration, back pain, pyrexia, cough, reduction in children's growth velocity, glaucoma, cataracts, fungal, bacterial, viral, or parasitic infections, ocular herpes simplex, and adrenal suppression. Time's up! The answer, from Glaxo Smith Kline, Veramyst, nasal spray for allergies.

MICHAEL KRAWITZ: I'm Michael Krawitz, I'm executive director of Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access.

DEAN BECKER: Michael, where are you based?

MICHAEL KRAWITZ: I'm based in southwestern Virginia.

DEAN BECKER: Now, that gives you access to DC when you up and get the inclination, does it not?

MICHAEL KRAWITZ: Actually, Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access has been working inside the VA, and then with Congress, that brings us to DC. We've actually also been working in various states to make sure that the state medical marijuana programs have qualifying conditions that veterans likely suffer from, you know, just make sure of that, and then also as another project that we've taken on, we're actually working at the United Nations to make sure that we do what we can to undo the things that were done by the United States, you know, at the international level.

Most people know about Harry Anslinger, I know you've covered that whole history of Harry Anslinger and the Marihuana [sic] Tax Act, and all that, but lesser known was later in Harry Anglinger's career he became Ambassador Anslinger, and perpetrated, you know, propagated our US failed drug war policies on the rest of the world, and I think as US citizens we have an obligation to do what we can to reel that back.

And I've actually got a seat on the New York NGO Committee on Drugs in New York, working with the United Nations, and that's in partnership with the Drug Reform Coordination Network foundation, and we really have got a great new relationship over the last few years with the different countries around the world that are trying to reform these laws, and there's a little bit of a battle, not just in the US, between the states and the federal government, and the states and each other, but the United States is actually on the legalization side of an international battle over legalization.

DEAN BECKER: Right. And, you know, let's come back to the heart of the matter here though, it is the lives of these veterans, we've, many of us, saw the recent Ken Burns series on the war in Vietnam. It brought back a lot of horrible memories to me. I didn't get shot at, I've been shot at by cops, but never by a Vietnamese person, but, it brought back -- it brought back memories of those friends who died, who trained with me, who went to 'Nam, and paid that ultimate sacrifice, and it also brought back memories of some of my friends who came back that weren't, for lack of a better term, quite right.

That was before PTSD even took hold, there was still some talk of shell shock and other acronyms for that condition, but, Mike, is it still 22 a day that we're losing?

MICHAEL KRAWITZ: It's actually a lot more than that, you know, the veterans are kind of the tip of the iceberg of a lot of these problems. We've been working on post traumatic stress, and making sure that state laws have post traumatic stress as a qualifying condition.

We've been doing that as a veteran's issue, but we've been doing it very much cognizant that there's many more civilians that suffer from post traumatic stress than veterans. Just veterans have a very high likelihood for their very small population to have suffered a lot of these things, more than the average population.

But, you know, I think we owe not just a debt of gratitude to the veterans, you know, who have put down their lives and limb to protect our freedom and our democracy, and, you know, do their duty to protect their families and their communities. I think we've really done a great disservice to them, you know, by the way we've treated them in the VA system.

There's a lot of problems, but, you know, what we do with Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access, we've put out a very fine point. We look at the doctor-patient relationship, and it's a good access point to protect the rights of veterans, because, you know, really, that's kind of where the tire meets the road in a lot of ways.

You know, when you get in that private office with your doctor and you close that door, you should be -- you should feel comfortable talking with your doctor about whatever you need to talk with him about, and share whatever information you need to share, which may even be about illegal drug use or whatever, and that doctor should be looking at it as a member of your team, trying to find a good outcome for you, as a patient, for your medical needs and your patient, you know, kind of care, treatment plan.

And they shouldn't be thinking like a cop, they shouldn't be thinking about drug testing you or protecting themselves from liability or anything, which has really intruded into that doctor-patient relationship. So that's what we, you know, as Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access, have found as that fine point, is to protect and defend that doctor-patient relationship.

And it gets really nuanced. It's interesting. A lot of people don't realize that under medical marijuana laws, a doctor is not permitting to prescribe marijuana. They have to recommend it, and why recommend it? Because recommending it, even if they write that down on a piece of paper and take notes in their file, is all considered to be free speech, protected, especially protected by the US Constitution, and veterans are all about the Constitution. We learn a lot about that, because we took an oath, and that oath never expired, to uphold and defend the Constitution.

So we take that really seriously. And, yeah, the ability for the doctor to be able to, you know, write that recommendation, they can't do it, not in the federal system. The DEA came over to the VA years ago and said, we might arrest you if you do that, and they never came back to say they weren't going to do that, even though doctors outside the VA feel pretty comfortable writing that, doctors inside the VA still feel, you know, that threat is looming. It's never been lifted.

And that's kind of what we're doing in Congress, is coming up with a Congressional act that essentially gives guidance to the VA, telling them that that has been lifted, that threat, that specter of arrest, no longer looms over the doctors in the VA.

I think it's important to say that because we've found, you know, some level of misunderstanding about that, you know, piece of legislation. It's not to give any kind of special standing to veterans, quite the opposite. Veterans are out of the loop right now, and they're not able to participate, so it's actually trying to create a level playing field where vets can participate, like any other patient in the program.

DEAN BECKER: Well, Mike, is there a website you might want to share?

MICHAEL KRAWITZ: Sure, yeah. Veterans For Medical Cannabis Access, easy -- most easiest -- easiest place to find us would be on Facebook, so, USA.VMCA on Facebook.

DEAN BECKER: Well, earlier we heard from Mister Matt Elrod about what's going on up there in Canada with their similar opium crisis to what we're having here in these United States, and I'm lucky that over the last 16 years I've been doing the drug war news and before that I was able to get information from a great organization which you, my friends, should check out. That is the Drug Policy Alliance. They're out there on the web at DrugPolicy.org.

But for many of those years, I've been working with an associate, a man who has his finger on the pulse of the drug war, a man who issues reports, I figure every day of the week, dealing with this information he's gleaned from scientists and doctors and experts in many fields of this drug war. That's a long explanation, but the man deserves attention and respect for the work he's done. I want to introduce Mister Tony Newman. Hello, Tony.

TONY NEWMAN: Hey, Dean, thanks so much for having me.

DEAN BECKER: Tony, the truth of the matter is, the drug war news is just gangbusters these days, is it not?

TONY NEWMAN: It's amazing what you've done, Dean. Week after week, year after year, you are definitely responsible for helping change so many hearts and minds on so many of the issues we care about, from reducing overdose deaths to getting people out of prison to legalizing marijuana so we don't arrest and ruin people's lives over something that should not be a crime, and so we thank you for all of your decades of work and thousands of shows, for everything you do.

DEAN BECKER: Well, thanks for pointing that back at me, but I was pointing to you, my friend, you've been doing this for at least as long as I have. Tony, and the fact of the matter is, you know, the Drug Policy Alliance had a major conference a month ago, and what irked me, what aggravated me, was that we're there with many of those same doctors and scientists and other experts I'm talking about, right there next door to CNN, and it wasn't just CNN, it was NBC, CBS, CNN, whoever you want to name, they were not there. They were not giving us the respect that we deserve. Your response to that, Tony.

TONY NEWMAN: Well, it is disappointing that we weren't covered by CNN and all these outlets that are, like you said, right down the street, because it was a very powerful gathering. I think it would have been a great TV and great coverage, I mean, the issues we're talking about impacts, you know, everyone in this country, whether it's the overdose crisis, whether it's the violence that happens because of drug prohibition, and we had people there who are on the front lines, who are changing the world, and so, you know, there was -- it was an amazing gathering, fifteen hundred people from 80 countries around the world.

These are people who, you know, who really have saved thousands of lives because of the work they do around overdose prevention and harm reduction. These are the people on the front lines who are changing the laws so people get out of prison. So, you know, it would have been great to get more coverage, but you know what? It's hard to get media at these conferences. I've been at the Drug Policy Alliance 18 years, and conferences are a challenge.

But that conference was for our movement, to re-energize us, to inspire us, to bring us together, to remind us why we do what we do. So, even though, you know, we had thirty outlets there, but again, the main audience was for the people who are going to go back into their communities and change this world.

DEAN BECKER: Right. It is a boots on the ground kind of effort thing that's going to swing this cat, right?

TONY NEWMAN: Yeah, you know, and there's been amazing progress, but it's, you know, it's a challenging time. There's, you know, I can give a whole rap about all the progress that we've made, and now there's 64 percent of the people in this country want to legalize marijuana, that's incredible. When I started here it was 32 percent. We now have 8 states who have legalized marijuana and more on the way.

And you know, the big question on the marijuana is, it's not are we going to legalize marijuana, it's how we're going to legalize marijuana, and one of the big focuses now is, legalizing it is not enough. We need to repair the harms that we've done to communities of color who've been the target of the marijuana prohibition for all these years. We need to use the money that we get from taxes to rebuild these communities. We want racial justice to be front and center of this.

So, you know, there's a lot of good stuff that's happening on the marijuana stuff. There's a lot of good stuff, the things we've been talking about with harm reduction, things about, like, naloxone to reduce overdose deaths, things like good samaritan laws, to call 911, there's even momentum now looking at supervised injection facilities, things that happen all over the world, a safe place where people can use drugs with medical doctors and others on site, so there's no overdose deaths, there's no HIV contracted, and you can help encourage people to get into treatment.

These things work. A lot of our things that we've been advocating are starting to bust into the mainstream. At the same time, I can give a very, you know, worrisome rap, you know. Even though harm reduction is breaking through, because of this overdose crisis we now start seeing more draconian laws being talked about. They have these drug induced homicide laws, where you can be with a loved one or a friend or someone, and you're using drugs, and if that person dies they now charge you with murder. So not only are you dealing with the grief of a loved one who just passed away, now you have to be worried about getting a mandatory minimum jail?

So even with our progress, it's a nonstop battle. We have to keep fighting. And now, in the Trump era, it doesn't make it easy, and you know, I can talk about Trump and his opioid commission, which is backwards on so many things, and the things that come out of Trump's mouth are outrageous. And we have Trump just meeting with the president of the Philippines this week, and basically saying he has a great relationship with this guy. Here's someone who's killed thousands of people because they're drug users in the Philippines, and doesn't even -- he brags about it. So, you know, there's some good things that we can celebrate, but there's some worrisome signs out there as well.

DEAN BECKER: All right. Once again, we're speaking with Mister Tony Newman of the Drug Policy Alliance. Tony, I'm looking back at some of the emails I've gotten from you over the past year. I'm looking at one from back in February, and you're talking about Spice and bath salts, and fentanyl, and I guess what I'm wanting to ask you about here, Tony, is that, because of this process, of supposedly controlling substances, we lead criminals down the path to more and more dangerous criminal concoctions to sell to our children. Do you want to talk about that please, sir?

TONY NEWMAN: It's a great point, you know, I mean, look, there's a -- the largest question is, why is there so much pain in our society? Why do so many people need to self medicate? I mean, let's first look at drug use. I mean, it's heart breaking how many people we've lost because of the overdose crisis. And, you know, a lot of people, I mean, you watch the news these days, and you've got hurricanes every other day, you've got mass shootings happening, you have nuclear war talks with North Korea. I mean, it's an intense, intense time, and people who self medicate are dealing with stress.

On the flip side, a lot of people use drugs for good times, to have fun, you know, 90 percent of the people who use drugs actually don't develop a problem with it, even though, you know, our, there's so much misconception out there, that people have this thing in their head that if you use drugs you become a drug addict. Like with alcohol and other drugs, a lot of people have a healthy relationship with it and some develop problems. The bottom line is, people in our society are using drugs, and these are -- and we have to have compassion for people.

Everyone, all of your listeners, use drugs, whether it's, you know, coffee and drugs to wake up in the morning, or anti-depressants, or something to help you sleep at night, or beer, or a cigarette during the day, or whatever it is, people use drugs. But the drug war and prohibition makes it so much more dangerous, and that's who you're talking about.

The reason that people are using opioids and heroin for a range of reasons, but the drug war is what is leading to so many of these deaths. If we were really concerned about reducing deaths, we'd be doing massive education. Do not mix opioids and alcohol. That should be coming out of the mouth of every single elected official, it should be all over the PSAs and the TV. We should be warning people. We should say, know what you're taking. We should be drug testing our drugs, so we know that, you know, if fentanyl's in it. Then we should -- we need to know that stuff so people don't use that, and don't end up dying.

So we need supervised consumption spaces where people can use with doctors on hand. So much of the death that is happening, and so much of the drugs that are cut with other stuff that we don't even know what they're cut with is because of drug prohibition. We need this to be a health issue. We need to have compassion for people who are using. We need to give help, if people need help. We need to leave alone people who don't have problems. And the last thing we need to do is be putting people in cages for what they use.

DEAN BECKER: You know, I had an interview with John Urquhart, sheriff of Seattle [sic: King County, WA], and I was talking to him about that stuff, you know, the Kush, the synthetic marijuana, and he said the only people that use that stuff in his state, where marijuana is legal, is those that are on probation, or parole, because they still get drug tested for actual marijuana, and up there, it still creates complications. Kids get paralysis, they pass out in the hot sun, all kinds of other complications, because of prohibition. It's outrageous, isn't it?

TONY NEWMAN: It's an amazing -- you used one of the best examples of the war on drugs pushing people to do more harmful substances. As you point out, someone may be worried about smoking marijuana because they may have to get a drug test at work. It shows up in your blood system longer, or it's illegal in a lot of places, so people go for -- they still want to get a buzz or want to get a high, so they go to the much more dangerous Spice and K-2 and these things. If marijuana was legal, I find it hard to believe that anyone would use that more dangerous consumption.

You know, again, not only the legality, but if you're worried about a drug test. The war on drugs leads to people to do more risky behavior, do drugs in the shadows and in unsafe ways. We need to bring this, you know, into the open. We need to have education, prevention, and offer help for people who need it. But the war on drugs does nothing but lead to more jail, more prisons, more cemeteries, more death. It is a disaster.

The good news is, because of listeners on your radio show, because of people who at the Drug Policy Reform Conference, because of organizations around the country, we are making progress. I mean, it's, you know, people now know that incarceration is not the answer. People know that -- I mean, 64 percent of Americans now want marijuana to be legal, and that's across the political spectrum. Republicans, Democrats, independents.

So, you know, people -- there is progress, there is hope, but we can never, you know, take our foot off the pedal or take anything for granted. We're feeling good about stuff, now we've got this attorney general, Sessions, who's a nightmare. This guy wants to put more and more people in cages. We've got Donald Trump, who, his big speech on the opioid crisis is we need to just say no. I mean, he doesn't know his history? Nancy Reagan said just say no, you know, 30 years ago, and that had absolutely no impact and made things even worse.

So it's, I mean, you know, the message we need to send to people is, we can win. We can make progress. We can create a better world. We can save our brothers' and sisters' lives. But it's, you know, we have to like put ourselves out there. We have to join organizations. We have to turn out in the streets. No more drug war. But that -- we need to make that happen.

DEAN BECKER: Indeed we do. You know, Tony, I think about, there are so many organizations now, stepping forward, boldly proclaiming [sic] the truth, demanding a response from their elected officials. Elsewhere on this show I have an interview with Mister Michael Krawitz, heads up a medical cannabis for veterans organization.


DEAN BECKER: And that is becoming a point of focus for many of our elected officials. They're starting to re-examine the evidence. They're starting to speak up, that yeah, maybe there is a potential. And that it is a justified, you know, re-examination of the law, and to allow our veterans, 22, 23 a day, are dying.


DEAN BECKER: Because of their PTSD and other maladies, and I guess what I'm saying is, progress is slow, but god damn it, it's coming, isn't it?

TONY NEWMAN: The veterans is a great example. We just celebrated Veteran's Day last weekend, and here in New York, Andrew Cuomo, because of the great work of groups like the Drug Policy Alliance and Marijuana Policy Project and others, Cuomo, who is no friend of us on this issue, on the marijuana issue, signed legislation allowing post traumatic stress to be something that -- that is something that you can use medical marijuana for. That was a victory.

And think about it. I mean, here we are, you know, people put a bumper sticker on their car, support our troops, support our troops. Imagine what it's like to be at a war in Iraq or Afghanistan and see loved ones, your friends, your brothers, being shot up and killed, or having to kill other people, or seeing bombs, not knowing what's going to happen. Of course you're going to come back with trauma and stress. And when, you know, and it's not just the bumper sticker, we need to help these people. And medical marijuana is something that helps.

You know, they show that for a lot of people who came back, they were taking anti depressants and all these pills and stuff, and that's much more dangerous. When people can use medical marijuana, it can help reduce overdose deaths. It's a much safer way to deal with trauma and stress. And if, you know, if we can convince someone like Governor Cuomo here in New York, who like I said has one of the most restrictive medical marijuana programs in the country, even he is able to get it. So we thank Michael and all the work he's done.

Our New Mexico office has also done a ton of work around post traumatic stress and medical marijuana being a treatment for it. So, you know, and you're right, so there's many of these fingers coming together to make a fist, from the veterans.

We just had Michelle Alexander at our conference speak. What groundbreaking work she has done. Her book, The New Jim Crow, talking about how the war on drugs is a war on people of color, and because of her and so much other amazing work, we have incredible civil rights and human rights leadership, and pastors, religious leaders now, speaking out. We have Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, I know they have a new name, but you know, we have former police and prosecutors and others speaking out.

We have people in recovery who are saying we don't want any more drug war. We have parents and moms saying, you know, we want to protect our kids, even people who've lost loved ones and their kids, coming out, being the strongest voices for treating this with compassion, and not sending people to jail, and offering help. So, you know, that's what we need to do.

This issue impacts everyone in our society. We need to bring our fingers together. We need to say, no more drug war, and the momentum is there, and we have to keep doing this.

DEAN BECKER: Well, some very sound advice from my friend, Mister Tony Newman. Tony, I don't know how to say this, but, it's good folks like you, it's good folks, the media contacts with the various drug reform organizations that have made the Drug Truth Network possible, and I want to thank you for your support over the decades we've been doing this.

TONY NEWMAN: And Dean, like I said, thank you so much for everything you have done, and it just shows, people, you know, it's not glamorous work, it's going out there and it's talking to people, and it's caring about people, and it's loving people that you're talking about. But you know, we can change this world. We are changing this world, and your radio show has been a very important part of it.

DEAN BECKER: All right. Well, Mister Tony Newman, I thank you sir. If you want to learn more about what you can do to end this, I'll call it stupid drug war, please go to DrugPolicy.org.

Okeh. My name is Mark Linday. I have a company called Green Spring Technologies. We're out of Fort Worth, Texas, and we work with different sustainable projects. A lot of bioplastics, and plastic made with hemp. We're really into hemp.

DEAN BECKER: Well, and --

MARK LINDAY: Can't talk about sustainable technologies without mentioning hemp.

DEAN BECKER: No, I'm with you there, Mark, and it brings to mind, today's Houston Chronicle, I think yesterday's Guardian newspaper, I think a couple or three TV networks, have over the last week or so focused on the fact that our oceans are filling with plastic. Plastic that will take hundreds if not thousands of years to disappear. Hemp could help solve some of those problems, could it not?

MARK LINDAY: Absolutely.

DEAN BECKER: Well, tell us how.

MARK LINDAY: Oh, sure. Well, first of all, the hemp that we're trying, the plastic we're trying to make, is domestically grown and manufactured. So, aside from any environmental benefits, it's a direct economic benefit to our farmers, our factories, and our families. So, the ability of switching from petro plastic to plant based plastic is a great thing for our economy, and it's a very clean way for us to improve our engineering and business landscape.

But the environmental impacts are huge. Plant material is biodegradable. Plain and simple. So the more every day items that we can replace with domestically grown and manufactured, hopefully organic, plant material, the fewer of the -- the less that we'll put in our oceans and landfills. It's actually, it will -- actually fertilizer for the soil, when we put it back into the soil.

The thing about hemp, there's an estimated 25,000 uses, some people say up to 50,000 uses. Either way, it's incredible that you can have that much potential out of one single agricultural product. And it's cannabis sativa l. If you go to the book and you look up the plant, the plant is cannabis sativa l., whether we're talking about the smoking kind or the rope kind. It doesn't matter, 25,000 estimated uses from a single plant. Everything from paper to plastic to medicine to housing to clothing.

DEAN BECKER: And, you know, I'm getting old, here, and I'm sick of seeing plastic bags hanging in the trees, and knowing it's going to be there next year unless some kid climbs up there to take it down. And I guess what I'm trying to say here is that, you know, it's pretty obvious we need to do something, isn't it?

MARK LINDAY: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely, and we have a great solution with using domestically grown, organic plant material to make our everyday plastic disposable items.

DEAN BECKER: Right. Well, I tell you what, Mark, I appreciate your thought, and you know, I hope you'll help me figure a way, I'd like to wrangle my city officials to bar the use of these plastic bags, and, you know, find a better way of taking care of our environment. Once again, we've been speaking with Mister Mark Linday, he's a man who's delved deeply into this subject of hemp, and I'm sure you have a website you'd like to share with us, where folks could learn more?

MARK LINDAY: Yeah. TheGreenSpring.us. Look us up on Facebook as well, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Green Spring Technologies.

DEAN BECKER: The following segment courtesy of Fox TV in Denver, Colorado.

ALEXIS BORTELL: First, we had to move to Colorado to get cannabis, because it is illegal in Texas.

JEREMY HUBBARD: A 12 year old girl suing Attorney General Jeff Sessions over marijuana. She tells the problem solvers, it is way past time for the feds to stop treating pot as a dangerous drug with no medical benefit. Thanks for staying with us at 9:30. I'm Jeremy Hubbard.

ARISTEA BRADY: And I'm Aristea Brady. Alexis Bortell, hardly the first child whose family moved to Colorado for access to medical marijuana. But she is the first kid to sue the attorney general over the nation's official marijuana policy.

JEREMY HUBBARD: Investigative reporter Rob Low with the unlikely lawsuit that essentially seeks to legalize pot nationwide.

ROB LOW: This is a novel approach to force through the courts what Congress and the DEA have been unwilling to do on the federal level: legalize marijuana, at least for medical purposes. A Colorado sixth grader says she is the poster child for why medical marijuana should be legal everywhere.

ALEXIS BORTELL: The multicolor one is Grapple, she's a milk goat.

ROB LOW: Alexis Bortell is definitely not your average twelve year old.

ALEXIS BORTELL: We use goat milk to make the soap.

ROB LOW: She's beyond average. Partly because she raises goats, and partly because the soap she and her family make from goat milk will be collected and shipped to Hurricane Harvey victims in her home state of Texas. But most importantly, because her family moved away from Texas two and a half years ago for one reason.

ALEXIS BORTELL: I have intractable epilepsy. It's, so I have seizures that traditional medications wouldn't really help.

ROB LOW: This is what traditional medicine could not stop.

LIZA BORTELL: Dean, she's turning purple. Hurry.

ROB LOW: Seizures that would terrify any parent.

LIZA BORTELL: Hey, I love you, baby. Mommy's right here.

ROB LOW: Seizures that were so severe, Texas doctors were recommending brain surgery, though a pediatrician did mention an option out of state.

ALEXIS BORTELL: As the seizures got worse, we had to move to Colorado to get cannabis, because it is illegal in Texas

ROB LOW: What Alexis's family found was almost like a magic potion. A strain of cannabis oil called Haley's Hope, a syringe of liquid THC under the tongue morning and night.

ALEXIS BORTELL: Yeah, it's all good.

ROB LOW: Something certainly less invasive than brain surgery has replaced all the pharmaceuticals that didn't work.

ALEXIS BORTELL: I'd say it's a lot better than brain surgery. I'm over two and a half years seizure free, and I'm just able to be a normal kid.

ROB LOW: Normal. Average. Typical, is probably not how you would describe a girl that helps grow her own cure.

This directly helps your daughter?

DEAN BORTELL: This is the exact medicine that makes up most of her treatment.

ROB LOW: Alexis's dad, Dean Bortell, took the Problem Solvers to his back yard grow, five acres of marijuana plants used to help his daughter and patients he's never met.

DEAN BORTELL: When you look at it from a distance, and you see it saving their lives, me, as a father and an American, I look at it and go, what are we doing? How could you possibly look at someone who's benefiting from this as a medicine and threaten to take it away?

ROB LOW: If only there were such a simple cure for Dean. He's a disabled Navy vet who relies on portable oxygen after being exposed to radiation during his service overseas. But his daughter can't benefit from the health benefits of his VA status or even travel back to Texas if she wants to use what helps her most.

ALEXIS BORTELL: I would like to be able to visit my grandparents, without risking being taken to a foster home.

JEFFERSON BEAUREGARD SESSIONS: I, as you know, am dubious about marijuana.

ROB LOW: Which is why her family has joined a lawsuit against Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the Trump administration's point man on marijuana. Since the 1970s, the DEA has classified marijuana as a schedule one drug, on par with heroin and considered more dangerous than cocaine or meth. Schedule one drugs are listed as having no known medical benefit, despite the Alexis Bortell's of the world.

DEAN BORTELL: How is that rational? It's not compassionate, either, but rationality, it's just outrageous.

ROB LOW: Alexis's lawsuit states, as it pertains to cannabis, the Controlled Substances Act is irrational, and thus unconstitutional, in part because 29 states and the District of Columbia have already legalized medical marijuana. Alexis Bortell's family hopes the courts will do what politicians haven't: normalize medical marijuana by legalizing it.

ALEXIS BORTELL: We're able to be treated like, what you'd call normal families.

ROB LOW: Alexis Bortell is joined in her lawsuit by another child, and a former Denver Bronco player, Marvin Washington, plus a military veteran, and a marijuana advocacy group. Her attorney hopes to get a judgment within 18 months. Rob Low, Fox 31.

JEREMY HUBBARD: Interesting, we'll follow up.

ARISTEA BRADY: Yeah. But a David versus Goliath. But have you seen such an eloquent little girl? What a great representative.

JEREMY HUBBARD: And what a fight ahead, I mean, the DOJ's been very vocal about the fact that they don't even like medical marijuana, really, so.

ARISTEA BRADY: Right. Right, and you hear her story, I don't know, maybe that changes their mind. We'll see.


DEAN BECKER: Well that's it, that's all we can squeeze in. I urge you to please visit our website, DrugTruth.net. And again I remind you, because of prohibition you donÔÇÖt know whatÔÇÖs in that bag. Please be careful.