09/13/18 Paul Armentano

Paul Armentano, Deputy Dir of NORML re marijuana research, Big Marijuana, pricing, guns & weed, CBD & more + Willie Nelson & Beto O'Rourke Gig & Republican protests

Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Thursday, September 13, 2018
Paul Armentano



SEPTEMBER 13, 2018


DEAN BECKER: Republicans must now embrace the lie as their only means of salvation.

Hi folks, this is Dean Becker, the Reverend Most High. This is Cultural Baggage. We've got a great show lined up for you. When we close things out, I've got a great editorial I want to share with you, but first I've got this interview I conducted with a man who understands marijuana and can answer some questions that I keep getting from you folks via the internet.

I keep seeing news stories about CBD is good medicine, or it's illegal, it's, you know, not available on the market or it shouldn't be, all these kinds of things. Hear stories about guns and marijuana, they don't mix, and all kinds of rulings, and all kinds of things, and I thought, well, there's one guy who can help with most if not all of this. He's the deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, a man who knows his stuff, I want to welcome to the program Mister Paul Armentano. Hey, Paul, how are you doing?

PAUL ARMENTANO: I'm doing fine, Dean. It's good to speak with you.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, sir. I saw a story today, don't know how true it is, talking about the federal government is trying to deny people the right to own a gun and use marijuana. Is that a news story or is that something that's just lingering awaft?

PAUL ARMENTANO: Well, it's an old story. The federal prohibition on the purchasing of firearms by individuals who use controlled substances that the federal government has deemed to be illicit goes back to a 1968 law. So, there is nothing new here. [sic: the Ninth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals issued a 3-0 decision on Aug 31, 2018, affirming a District Court's dismissal of a Second Amendment challenge to the law by a medical marijuana cardholder in Nevada.]

It is true that there are some instances where the courts have in recent years looked at this issue, and they have ruled broadly in favor of the federal government to the extent that they have said someone who is a lawful user of marijuana and is compliant with the laws of their state, they are still nonetheless prohibited from purchasing a firearm under the 1968 statute.

That statute defines an unlawful user of a firearm as any person who possesses or uses an illicit substance, and thus far, the courts have taken a broad interpretation of that statute. They've applied it to the state sponsored, or state sanctioned, use of marijuana, but again, this is not a new development. This is an issue that has been in play for decades.

This is a law that's been on the books federally for some fifty-some odd years, and ultimately the only way to change this scenario is to either amend the federal act of 1968, or to amend the federal scheduling of cannabis.

Unfortunately, there is no ability through the passage of a state law, to change this federal interpretation, because again, the law itself that is in play here is a federal statute.

DEAN BECKER: Well, that's, I don't know, it's kind of baffling. I saw some comment that it was because those who use marijuana might be considered to go towards violence, and I thought that was a preposterous notion. Your thought there, Paul.

PAUL ARMENTANO: Well, again, that comes from the rationale of a federal court that decided on this issue some years ago, when the justices were reaching for a rational basis for why they should extend this broad interpretation of an unlawful user to include one who is compliant with the marijuana laws of their state.

It really appears they were grasping at straws, and one of those straws they grasped at was this notion that perhaps those that use marijuana would have a greater propensity toward violence, and therefore the federal law had a rational basis in restricting them from possessing a firearm.

But again, the federal law is not new, it's been on the books since 1968, it doesn't just apply to marijuana, it defines an unlawful user of -- as any person who uses any schedule one controlled substance, and therefore any such users would technically be prohibited from purchasing a firearm. That has simply been the federal law for decades.

DEAN BECKER: You know, last week I had Mister Dominic Holden on. He was, had a story he wrote up in BuzzFeed talking about how the White House has a couple of back channel committees, I guess, if you will, working to destroy the positive stories about cannabis. Any truth to that? What have you learned in that regard?

PAUL ARMENTANO: It's simply not surprising. I mean, the administration knows they've lost the battle for public opinion on this issue, and they are trying to retake the narrative, if you will. The downside of that is that the American public is going to believe what they see with their own eyes, and they see the success of marijuana legalization and regulation in the states that have moved forward with such a policy.

We know this, because we see polling data in those states finding that greater percentages of voters support the legalization of marijuana today than did just three, four, or five years ago, when these laws were initially voted into place. And we see those same trends on the national level.

The support among the public for legalization has only grown, as more jurisdictions have implemented legalization. A smear campaign, a refer -- going back to the days of reefer madness, or an attempt to do so by the Trump administration, simply isn't going to change that reality.

DEAN BECKER: No. Not even Jeff Sessions. I hear you, man. Let's see. I see a lot of folks, I hear from folks, actually, who have family members with epilepsy and or autism, and then a couple of other maladies, and they want to use CBD, they think that's legal, they think that it's available at some of the head shops or specialty stores, maybe, in their state, and I'm wanting your thought in that regard. Are there legitimate CBD medicines out there, and are they, you know, legal under federal and or state law? Your thought there, Mister Paul Armentano.

PAUL ARMENTANO: Well, a majority of states today explicitly, through their state statute, regulate and legalize the use of whole plant cannabis. CBD is a constituent in whole plant cannabis, and if one resides in any of those states, they can use, under the state statute, CBD that is derived from whole plant cannabis if they are compliant with the medical marijuana laws of their state.

In addition, there are a number of states, about fifteen or sixteen additional states, that while they have not approved the use of whole plant cannabis, they have by statute carved out an exemption that says the use of CBD products, products in other words that contain CBD, that that behavior is exempt from the state criminal statutes. However generally those laws only apply to a narrow group of people, generally patients who suffer from pediatric epilepsy.

So that's the way the state statute works. Under federal law, CBD is clearly a schedule one controlled substance. That is the position that the US Drug Enforcement Administration takes, that is the FDA's position, that is the NIDA's position, that is the position of Congress. When we were involved in our federal court challenge, some years ago, before Judge Mueller, our argument was that the cannabis plant was improperly classified as a schedule one controlled substance and that there existed no rational basis for the government to maintain that position.

Judge Mueller, very clear in that case, defined the federal statute as not just prohibiting or outlawing the use of the cannabis plant, but also all of the organic constituents that naturally occur in that plant, like CBD.

That broad interpretation, that defines federal law as outlawing marijuana and all of the constituents in that plant, is the same broad position taken by DEA, Congress, and other federal regulators.

DEAN BECKER: Ah. Well, which puzzles me further still, because even in states like Texas, where we have this minimal ability for folks to use CBD provided by state approved growers, we have the CBD being sold in head shops and other specialty stores, and, which gives me great concern. I -- people ask me which one should I recommend, what should I give to my child or my relative? And I tell them, I don't know, because I don't understand it. I'm not a scientist, and I don't know if it's even legal, or if it's even CBD. It kind of --

PAUL ARMENTANO: Right. And that's a real vexing, serious question, that so many people are facing. Look, there's a number of studies, and the FDA has done this as well, where they've randomly tested the quality and potency of many of these products that are sold online or sold in headshops, that claim to be CBD dominant products, and unfortunately, when those products are tested, oftentimes it turns out that the level of CBD in the product does not match the advertising on the label. In some cases, these products contain far less CBD than advertised, in other cases they may possess no CBD at all.

In many cases, these products also contain THC, even though they're advertised as being THC-free. Unfortunately, this is a largely unregulated market. It's made, it's comprised of, in some times -- in some cases questionable players who are making very questionable claims.

It's definitely a buyer beware sort of environment, and that's unfortunate, but until there is some clarity at the federal level, that's largely the way this environment is going to be. Now, it is possible in a few short weeks we may have some clarity from the federal government. There is legislation pending in the final stages before lawmakers that for the first time may amend the Controlled Substances Act and make a distinction between the marijuana plant and the industrial hemp plant, and in fact this language would legalize industrial hemp and leave the regulation of industrial hemp largely up to the individual states.

We may have that legislative victory before the end of this month. That will potentially begin to bring some clarity to, and provide some answers to these questions.

DEAN BECKER: Okeh. Hang loose, couple of seconds we'll be right back with Mister Paul Armentano, deputy director of NORML.

It's time to play Name That Drug By Its Side Effects! Swelling of the tongue, decreased bone marrow, fever chills, infection, nervous system degeneration, confusion, loss of consciousness, fatigue, memory loss, muscle weakness, numbness, tingling, seizures, speech disturbance, cancer, and death. Time's up! The answer: Levamisol, a dog dewormer that has become America's number one cutting agent for cocaine.

During this time of eternal war, I find it my somber duty to report the death toll from the drug formerly known as marijuana is zero.

Again, folks, we're speaking with Mister Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. Paul, a couple of weeks back I interviewed Debby Goldsberry, an associate of yours there at the Oaksterdam University, a fellow professor, and, I talked to her about Big Marijuana.

She's very concerned that, the way she told it, the Canadians have already legalized, they've already got, offered their stock, they have money in the bank with which they can come to America and buy up much of the dispensaries, much of the operations going on here. Your response, is Big Marijuana from Canada taking over?

PAUL ARMENTANO: Well, Canada clearly has the jump on the United States. They've had a legal, active, federally licensed medical cannabis market now going on several decades [sic: Canadian Medical Marijuana Access Regulations went into effect in 2001, following a Supreme Court ruling in 2000 that Canadians have a constitutional right to use cannabis as medicine].

They are going to be the first North American country to legalize and license an adult use recreational commercial market, beginning October 17. And because there are already many established players in Canada, that are well positioned to transition from the medical market to the recreational market, they are attracting venture capital and investments from all over the world, including investments from major commercial businesses in the United States.

So, I think what we're seeing is a situation where you have industries, you have venture capital, that want to invest in the cannabis market, and they are doing so in the country that right now has a viable market for those investments.

Right now, that's Canada, and that may be the case for the short term, it may be the case for the longer term. But certainly, were the United States to have a different legal environment at the federal level, those investments would be going to US companies and not Canadian companies.

DEAN BECKER: Man oh man. I tell you what, we've got to get ourselves in gear here in the US, find a reasonable solution to all these problems. Well, Paul, let me ask you this. I hear stories coming out of Oregon that they have over produced, that they have so much cannabis that the prices are falling through the floor, it's down to forty dollars an ounce for some outdoor grown, that, you know, they've proven my point, which I've said all along, that once it's truly legal nationwide, the price will really fall down to under a hundred dollars a pound for outdoor grown, good quality. Your though in that regard please, Paul.

PAUL ARMENTANO: Well, obviously the economics of supply and demand are in play. If in the state of Oregon there is greater supply at the moment than there is demand, then obviously those prices are going to fall, and I've heard those same reports, that the price of cannabis flower in Oregon has fallen dramatically.

Whether that trend is going to hold long term is another story, and certainly that has not necessarily been the trend in some other jurisdictions where, because of any number of reasons, there may be, for one being more barriers to entry into the commercial cannabis market, when you see fewer licenses being handed out, when you see fewer licensed producers, you don't necessarily see that trend.

DEAN BECKER: Okeh. Well, Paul, I, you know, on Facebook, other social media, I see indications that some people who have been online, maybe on Youtube and Facebook and other outlets, that they're being shut down. Their sites are being destroyed, taken away, because they have mentioned marijuana or drugs in some other fashion. What's new, what's different? What's causing this?

PAUL ARMENTANO: Well, nothing's different. What we're seeing is that some of these companies, I know Facebook is apparently one of these parties, I'm not somebody who is nearly as social media savvy perhaps as other, but I'm certainly aware that Facebook's name has come up in this discussion, and some other carriers as well, that they're simply skittish. Again, there's nothing new under the sun here, other than arguably there are more entities that are seeking to use those sort of platforms to promote their activities.

And in response, some of these platforms have become skittish and said, no, we don't feel comfortable doing that. They apparently, if private companies have that sort of discretion, I can't speak to what their motivations are, but no, nothing new has changed, and none of these platforms are under any obligation to either censor these sort of posts or to allow them. It's solely up to their own discretion.

DEAN BECKER: Well, okeh, and again, what's new under the sun? Nobody knows for sure, I guess. Paul, got a question here from y'all's website, NORML.org, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws website, it's talking about in New York, that the Brooklyn DA intends to vacate thousands of past marijuana convictions.

And that ties in with a situation like here in Houston, our DA did everything she could to stop arresting people and giving them that record, and I think this is indicative of local politicians are seeing the truth of this, no matter what the state legislators or the feds are doing. Your thought in that regard, please.

PAUL ARMENTANO: Sure. District attorneys hold a whole lot of power, when it comes to deciding which cases to prosecute, which transgressions to prioritize, and how to deal with past convictions. And what we've seen from the DA in Brooklyn, and what we've seen from DAs in other jurisdictions around the country, like in San Diego, like in Seattle, like in San Francisco, like in Philadelphia, you have district attorneys who have made essentially a two-fold argument.

They've said, one, it doesn't make any sense to prosecute these low-level marijuana cases criminally, that it's a waste of resources and that it stigmatizes those who have to carry the burden of a criminal arrest. Two, they've said it makes no sense to go forward with these prosecutions, well then it equally makes no sense to continue to punish those who have a past conviction.

So the rationale that's being publicly stated by the DA in Brooklyn, as well as some of these other DAs around the country, is that they're not going to continue to prosecute these cases, that if police bring these cases to their offices they're simply going to drop them, and then on top of it, they're going to take steps to review the past criminal convictions for low-level offenders and they are going to vacate and expunge those past convictions so that they no longer deny those defendants the sort of economic and civil opportunities that they would otherwise, you know, suffer from, because of the stigma, the lasting stigma, of having a criminal record.

So I applaud the actions taken by these offices, and certainly I would encourage DAs in offices around the country to rethink their priorities, and to follow suit, as you mentioned, Dean. These are actions that are being taken at the discretion of the local DA offices. Oftentimes, these are actions that are being taken in some ways in a vacuum. They may not represent, in fact they may be inconsistent, with the positions of state lawmakers.

But again, the DAs hold that kind of power, and they can decide for themselves whether to prioritize or deprioritize prosecuting these low level offenses.

DEAN BECKER: Well, Paul, this brings to mind, I think, the recognition of the racial disparity involved in these marijuana arrests has also led to many of these DAs moving in that direction. Would you concur?

PAUL ARMENTANO: I most certainly think so. We know that in the case of the DA in Brooklyn, this was an issue that was specifically highlighted by that particular DA. It's similarly, the new DA in Philadelphia mentioned the racial disproportionately that we often see with regard to who is and who isn't arrested for these low-level offenses.

And certainly when one looks at the national data, for a variety of reasons, we tend to see this same consistent outcome, that despite the fact that those of varying races tend to use marijuana at fairly similar rates, we see that in particular young blacks and young Latinos tend to face the burden of arrest far more than any other demographic group.

Again, that data's fairly consistent throughout the country, and I think there's a recognition from some of these district attorneys that that is a problem, and really the only way to rectify that problem is to set aside these convictions altogether for everyone.

DEAN BECKER: Well, yes sir. I've got one more question for you. I'm sure you've heard of him, he's become a darling here in Texas, he's been on the Ellen show, he's going to be on Colbert here in a couple of days. US Congressman Beto O'Rourke, running for Ted Cruz's Senate seat, wrote a book calling for the end of the marijuana wars, to truly examine our war on drugs.

He's representative of a new crop, I guess, if you will, of legislators that are someday going to change this at the federal level. Your response there, please, Paul Armentano.

PAUL ARMENTANO: Well, certainly NORML supports the Beto O'Rourke campaign. He has been endorsed by the NORML Political Action Committee, as have a number of other candidates that are running for office and some incumbents.

But certainly, we've known of Beto's leanings on this issue. We know about his reform efforts, going back many, many years, and clearly, we are of the opinion that he is right on this particular issue. He is sincere in his support for reforming marijuana laws, and we think that would be a priority of his, if he wins this election in November, and if he is elected to Congress.

DEAN BECKER: Well, there we go. I tell you what, friends, we've been speaking with the deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, Mister Paul Armentano. Paul, I want to offer you a chance at closing thoughts, something to motivate the listener to get involved, to help change this madness.

PAUL ARMENTANO: Well, certainly, if any of your listeners want to learn more about marijuana policy reform or get involved in NORML, I encourage them to go to the NORML website at NORML.org. They can also find a local chapter in their region. We have a number of chapters in Texas, local chapters and a state affiliate, and we do have chapters around the country.

So, get involved. In many cases, the state legislative session has ended. Not in all states, but in most, but Congress remains in session, and this midterm election is going to be terribly important, as far as what direction and the prospects for marijuana reform in the not so distant future.

So definitely I encourage people to get involved. If you don't get involved, other people aren't going to get involved either, so it's up to each one of us to advocate for our own liberation on this issue.

DEAN BECKER: All right. As we're closing out today's show, a couple of things I want to share with you. I hope that next week we'll have Monique Tula. She's the president [sic: executive director] of the Harm Reduction Coalition. They're going to have a conference in New Orleans coming up soon, October 18 through 21.

Because I'm aware the story's basically going national, I want to talk about a situation where Beto O'Rourke, running for Ted Cruz's Senate seat, is getting a lot of respect and national coverage. Last week he was on the Ellen DeGeneres show. This week he was on Steven Colbert, and it was rather funny the way Steven treated Cruz, even though he bought a commercial during his show.

But what's really puzzling is what's going on here in Texas now, where Texans are now getting upset with, and quitting their support of Willie Nelson.

VOICE: Some Willie Nelson fans are seeing red after learning the country musician will be headlining a rally for Democratic Senate candidate Beto O'Rourke. Dozens of people weighed in on Willie's Facebook page on Wednesday after he shared a story about the upcoming rally in Austin.

While some people told Willie he needs to stay out of politics altogether, others threw insults at the music legend. Still, some others applauded Willie's contribution to the 2018 campaign. The event is set for September 29 at Austin's Auditorium Shores.

DEAN BECKER: That was courtesy ABC Houston. Since this announcement, folks have been upset and posting on Facebook, calling Willie a traitor, saying they will never buy his music, never appreciate him ever again, but I figure that's just a bunch of lies by folks in the Republican Party.

It has brought me to a conclusion. The fact of the matter is that Republicans must now, forever, lie. It's their only means of salvation. The main thing the Cruz supporters are upset about is a story that was written for an online magazine called Hot Air, which claimed the Beto campaign had asked the VFW to take down the flags before they held an event there.

So, I did a little bit of investigating. It turns out it's fairly easy to determine that the report was written by Karen Townsend. She's on the board of directors for United Republicans of Harris County and Memorial West RW PAC.

I just figure all this bears a strong resemblance, association, with the drug war, where those who made their bones through this policy cannot now easily back down, and once again I remind you, because of prohibition you don't know what's in that bag. Please, be careful.