11/14/18 Paul Armentano

Paul Armentano, Deputy Director of NORML joins guest co host Doug McVay and host Dean Becker for the full half hour to discuss election results for marijuana around the US

Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Wednesday, November 14, 2018
Paul Armentano



NOVEMBER 14, 2018


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.

Well, hi, folks. This is Dean Becker. I'm in studio this week, glad you could be with us. We're starting something newer, bringing back something old, I don't know exactly how to say it. It was about five years ago that KPFT thought we had enough drug war news going on with six segments a week, but hell, they think we need to one more time bring back the Century of Lies program.

For the last five years, it's been being produced by my good friend, my buddy, the editor of Drug War Facts, a man who's been at this drug reform for years longer than I have, lives up there in Oregon, I'll let him tell us more details about the work he's doing up there, but we have him with us in studio -- excuse me, we have him on phone.

And in just a little bit we're going to bring in Mister Paul Armentano, he's the Deputy Director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, and we're going to talk about the new laws being voted on this past election cycle, et cetera.

Hopes to be a good show. We're going to be doing a total of one hour today, one half hour of Cultural Baggage, and one [half] hour of Century of Lies, featuring my guest, Mister Doug McVay. How are you doing, Doug?

DOUG MCVAY: Hey, Dean, good to hear from you. How are you doing?

DEAN BECKER: I'm good. I think this is a new adventure, I'm happy we're going to be cross-pollinating, so to speak, over the -- in the future. What's your thought?

DOUG MCVAY: I'm looking forward to it. Houston is a terrific market and KPFT is a tremendous station, so, getting back -- little sister gets to be on the big show with the flagship, that's pretty cool.

DEAN BECKER: Well, I thank you for that. I thank you for your ingenuity, your perseverance, your courage, your willingness to have handled Century of Lies over these past five years. It's not exactly a Herculean task, but some weeks it ain't that easy to hammer it together, is it?

DOUG MCVAY: It's a heck of an honor. I mean, it's -- I have doing drug policy work, as you've been saying, for quite a while. I started back in the '80s, in the Reagan era, and speaking out against drug war back in those days wasn't really quite as popular as it is these days, and there was, you know, outside of High Times, there was very little in terms of supportive media.

And that's all changed, which is terrific, and, you know --

DEAN BECKER: We've made a big difference.

DOUG MCVAY: Ideas are like pollen, you never know who's going to sneeze once they're in the air, right? And so getting things like this on the air, the work you've been doing for the past couple of decades, has, I think, helped a lot in moving all this forward.

DEAN BECKER: Well, and yours as well, and our friends in reform, all the various organizations that we stand in support of, aligned with. Well, I'll tell you what. We have, I don't know how else to put this, you have maintained a number of affiliates, sometimes not the same affiliates I have for Cultural Baggage, but we're still -- we have at least dozens of them out there, and some weeks a lot more than that, that carry our programs.

And it's pretty satisfying, just to know we're making some kind of difference. What do you think?

DOUG MCVAY: Well, like I say, ideas are like pollen, you never know who's going to sneeze once they're in the air, and that is -- that's Doctor Peter Schickele said that, and it's true. But, you know, radio is such a powerful medium, and there's -- there's a lot of stuff going on that people may not necessarily hear about, there's so much clutter out there in terms of news, so we get a chance to curate some of the most important stuff, the stuff that's at the top of our radar, and, you know, I think that -- I don't know, I just, like I say, it's an honor to be able to help inform people and talk about drug policy reform and the failed war on drugs.

DEAN BECKER: Real good. All right, friends, once again, that was Mister Doug McVay, my co-producer of Drug Truth Network programming. So, we're going to do kind of the normal stuff here. I'll be doing a Name That Drug later on. We have though a man who has his ear to the ground, a guy I depend on when you're talking new marijuana policy. We have with us the Deputy Director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, and we lost somebody, but we do have Paul with us. We'll be getting Doug back here in just a second. Hello, Mister Armentano?

PAUL ARMENTANO: I'm here, Dean. It's a pleasure to speak with you. Congratulations on this milestone.

DEAN BECKER: Well, thank you. It is nice, every once in a while, to carve out a new stepping stone, if you will, but, Paul, tell folks a little bit about NORML. I'm sure most folks know who and what you guys are, but, you guys are really making some progress in these last few years, are you not?

PAUL ARMENTANO: I certainly believe we are, and in many cases, it's been a long time coming. NORML's the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. We are the nation's oldest and largest grassroots consumer based advocacy organization for the responsible use of marijuana by adults.

We do not believe that adults who use marijuana in a responsible manner should face criminal or civil sanctions for that behavior.

DEAN BECKER: Well, Paul, I, you know, I mentioned earlier in the program that, you know, we're going to be focusing on some of the progress, some of the votes that happened just last week. And, I want to preface it with this -- no, we'll come to it later, the potential for the state of Texas. But, you had a recent piece in The Hill, talking about that progress. Do you want to go over that for us, please?

PAUL ARMENTANO: Sure. Well, very quickly, marijuana was among the winners of the midterm elections. The state of Michigan became the tenth state to legalize and regulate the adult use and retail sale of marijuana. Two additional states --

DEAN BECKER: Oh my. Well, okeh, folks, well, we're having a little trouble with the phone system at the moment. Please bear with us. I'll tell you what, let me put it to you this way. Today, I got a call from the Houston Chronicle, I'm not going to say who, I'm not going to cut into their storyline, but they called to get my opinion for the state of Texas to see what I think about some of the postings being put forward by some of the representatives, some posts put forward by Governor Abbott here, and the point I guess I tried to present is that yes, progress is being made, and they wanted to know why. Why is it happening now?

And I told them, it's happening now because we have rounded the corner, that people across the country, heck, around the world, they just legalized in Canada, just last month. They just legalized via a Supreme Court ruling earlier this month, or maybe just the end of last month, down in Mexico. And, I guess the point now is that, you know, people everywhere are beginning to realize that we've just been doing it wrong.

And, I guess we have Paul back, is that ... ? Well, Paul, I'm sorry we got you cut off there. If you would, please continue.

PAUL ARMENTANO: Sure. Well, I really want to emphasize the progress that was made at the state level. In four states, we saw governors elected who campaigned on a platform that at least in part included a pledge to legalize marijuana in their states.

We had two additional governors elected in states where marijuana is already legal, who were very prominent advocates of that policy change. So we now have seven sitting governors who are on record endorsing marijuana policy legalization.

We also saw, in Congress, the removal of several leading drug warriors. Pete Sessions from your neck of the woods, the chairman of the House Rules Committee; we saw Robert Goodlatte from Virginia, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, choose not to run for reelection.

We've seen the retiring of attorney general Jeff Sessions, and we have seen the incoming House Rules Committee chair publicly pledge that, as chair of that committee, come 2019, he is going to allow, for the first time in many years, his colleagues on the House floor to debate and vote on marijuana related amendments.

The final piece of information I'd add is that just on Friday, we saw GOP leader Mitch McConnell in the Senate publicly guarantee that when the new farm bill is finalized, before the end of this year, it will include provisions that for the first time amend the US Controlled Substances Act to legalize industrial hemp, and to allow states to become the primary regulators of allowing hemp commerce and retail sales.

So, we see a lot of future progress that looks like it is going to come to fruition in the fairly near future.

DEAN BECKER: And I keep seeing these -- keep seeing the postings that Trump is going to legalize it federally right after the midterms, and then others are saying ah, that's bogus. I don't --

PAUL ARMENTANO: Well, could I just be clear on this? There is a rumor mill that exists with regard to this issue, and certainly at NORML we like to deal in reality. First of all, the president, no matter who the president is, is not going to change marijuana policy by the stroke of a pen.

The reality is that when and if we see changes in federal policy, at this level, it is going to be because legislation passes through both the House and the Senate, ends up on the president's desk, and the president ultimately signs that legislation.

As many of your listeners know, in this most recent Congress, we saw over 70 related -- bills related to marijuana policy reform. Many of those bills seek to deschedule cannabis, they remove it from the Controlled Substances Act, so that states can set their own marijuana policies unfettered by federal law.

If one of those bills gets to the president's desk, it is very likely that he may sign it. But even in that best case scenario, the president is not legalizing marijuana. What the president is doing [sic] is allowing states to set their own marijuana policies, and in such a scenario, if a state like Texas or Alabama wishes to continue to impose statewide marijuana prohibition, they certainly would be able to do so.

DEAN BECKER: Wow. Okeh. Well, let me ask you this, Paul, I don't know how much you got to hear, when the phones got switched around, I was talking about how the Houston Chronicle was talking to me about marijuana coming to Texas, how or why could that be possible, and I guess what I'm kind of curious about, we have this situation where, she found much interest in this situation where California has standards.

People have to take their marijuana in, get it, you know, certified as clean and whatever, pollen free, I don't know what all you guys have to do. But anyway, take a good look at to make sure it's safe to sell. And that many times, that stuff that fails to pass winds up getting exported to states like Texas, where there are no standards. What's your thought there, is that some dangerous stuff being sent out that's got a lot of pesticides? What could be in that stuff?

PAUL ARMENTANO: Well, one of the advantages of any legal regulatory framework is that such standards and testing and quality control exist. California's not unique in requiring lab testing and proper labeling and quality control and standardization of product in the marijuana market.

Such standards are required in every state that regulates marijuana commerce. Again, that is one of the primary advantages of moving this market from the underground, unregulated market to a legal, licensed market.

As for claims that marijuana that is rejected in states like California is then being exported elsewhere, that in my opinion is pure speculation. I have no idea if that is the case or not, or how prominent that phenomenon may or may not be.

Again, one of the disadvantages of an unregulated, underground market is that we can't speak with any certainty with regard to behaviors in that market, because it's underground, it's untaxed, it's unregulated, and it's occupied by criminal entrepreneurs. We have no idea to what extent black market marijuana may be being shipped from state to state.

DEAN BECKER: All right. I thank you for that. For those of you just tuning in, this is Cultural Baggage. I am Dean Becker. We're speaking with Mister Paul Armentano, he's Deputy Director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, had a recent piece in The Hill newspaper. What was the title of that one, so folks can look it up, Paul?

PAUL ARMENTANO: If you go to TheHill.com, it's going to be titled under "Marijuana Was The Big Winner On Election Day."

DEAN BECKER: Fair enough. And, I think about it, Paul, we, I don't know how much, you know, we can discern about what's going on in Texas, but the fact of the matter is, I think there's already six bills being presented, if I've got the term right, to, so I guess others can either --

PAUL ARMENTANO: They've been prefiled.

DEAN BECKER: Thank you.

PAUL ARMENTANO: So, what that means is lawmakers have drafted legislation and when the session formally begins, in 2019, those will be among the first bills that are dropped in the hopper and assigned either House Bill numbers or Senate Bill numbers.

DEAN BECKER: All right. Have you had a chance to analyze them, make any determinations on them?

PAUL ARMENTANO: I've only had a chance to familiarize myself with the decriminalization bill that was introduced, that seeks to remove criminal penalties for the possession of up to two ounces of marijuana. That would be a significant change in the state of Texas, as Texas is among the nation's leaders in simple marijuana possession prosecutions.

Annually, I believe there's somewhere in the neighborhood of sixty to 70,000 simple marijuana possession arrests in Texas each year. I believe that is first in the United States.

DEAN BECKER: Well, it wouldn't surprise me, we seem to have been very gung ho about the idea. Do we have Doug back with us? Doug, I apologize for losing you there for a while, I don't know how much you've been able to hear, but do you have some thoughts you'd like to pose to Mister Armentano?

DOUG MCVAY: Just got on the thing, actually. I do, but it's less about some of the legislation and more about this WHO Expert Committee on Drug Dependence hearing that's going on this week. Do you have any thoughts?

PAUL ARMENTANO: Certainly we're aware of the WHO review. We submitted our own comments to be considered by the World Health Organization and we solicited over 10,000 comments from the public, which were also submitted to the WHO.

Certainly, I think in the larger scheme of things, it is productive to have these international agencies and organizations revisiting the marijuana criminalization issue.

Certainly, when we look internationally, when we see the trends of nations like Canada legalizing adult marijuana use, we see a number of nations like Australia regulating medical marijuana use, certainly within this environment, where we now have dozens of countries that have changed their marijuana policies, it is certainly high time that our international treaties, and that these international bodies, recognize the changing political and cultural consensus with regard to marijuana.

So certainly we encourage this World Health Organization review. I would not say I'm overly hopeful that there's going to be any significant policy reforms come out of this review, but certainly I'd like to see some.

DEAN BECKER: Well, isn't the whole point that, I'm trying to remember, I think it was leading up the year 2000, that every five years they had a five year plan, kind of like the way the Russians used to do for their takeover of the world plan, I guess, but, you know, every five years, and then they decided, well, we've got to quit doing this because every five years we just look like hammered dog doo because we never accomplished our goal. Your response there, please.

DOUG MCVAY: They changed it from five years to ten years. In 2009, they adopted a ten year -- the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, pardon me, heck the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, they have these targets for a political declaration that was announced in 2009, so next year we're supposed to in a drug free world.

DEAN BECKER: I look forward to it. Oh my, that ought to be something. Well, Paul, you know, you get calls from all over the country, are there, I don't know how to say this, I don't know how much analysis you've had a chance, but, I love what I'm hearing about the state of Oklahoma, that they came up with a medical marijuana plan that pretty much parallels what you guys did out there in California, get that doctor's recommendation for most any malady and you can grow your own, and I think they can even smoke wherever cigarettes can be smoked.

They've maybe outstepped what you guys did back when. What's your thought there, Paul?

PAUL ARMENTANO: Well, the Oklahoma campaign was a very grassroots campaign, and it speaks to ultimately the public consensus with regard to allowing medical marijuana access. Proponents of that campaign had virtually no money to advertise, to promote that campaign, once it reached the ballot, whereas opponents had hundreds of thousands of dollars, which they used to run prominent television ads and radio spots, campaigning against the initiative.

Nonetheless, the initiative won overwhelmingly. This is a very broad based patient centered initiative. You are correct that like in California, as well as a number of other states as well, Maine among them, there is no qualifying condition list. Rather, the law allows for a doctor to use his or her discretion to decide which patients cannabis would be best to treat.

And while in some ways that may sound like a radical idea, it really isn't. We entrust doctors every day to use their discretion with regard to prescribing thousands of different types of medications, most of which pose a far riskier side effect profile than does cannabis.

DEAN BECKER: Well, and that's, I think, the whole point. Part of what the Chronicle reporter was asking me today is kind of how does marijuana fall into the, I don't know, the level of dangerousness, and the heck of it is, I told her, we hear about these little kids that eat an edible and they're overdosed. Those kids wake, they may sleep for six, eight, twelve hours, but they're going to wake up, they will not OD from eating that edible, and it's just part of the continuing attempt at creating more reefer madness. Either one of you guys what do you think?

PAUL ARMENTANO: Well, you're correct, Dean, that THC is incapable of causing lethal overdose, which is a fairly unique statement to make about a controlled substance, or really any sort of therapeutic substance, and in some ways, almost anything we consume.

A human being can overdose and die on caffeine, a human being can overdose and die from sodium. If a person drinks too much water in one sitting they could shut down their internal organs and die. But again, that same person would be incapable of causing lethal overdose from the ingestion of cannabis, or from THC in particular.

That's why former DEA justice Francis Young, all the way back in 1988, said in his findings of fact in federal court, that marijuana is among the safest therapeutically active substances known to man.

DEAN BECKER: And yet, we have so many people that are postulating the opposite, who fail to allow a full and open discussion to counter their position, and that's what irks me the most, is that all these politicians, with their bully pulpit and their supposed information, their supposed references, very seldom encounter anybody who's allowed to, you know, go against what they're bringing forward, and that's what just keeps it going, that's what keeps frightening the parents into believing that, you know, marijuana leads to criminality, insanity, and death.

All right, so closing thoughts there, Paul Armentano?

PAUL ARMENTANO: Well, again, I think it is really important that we, those of us who care about this issue, gear up for 2019, both at the state level and at the federal level. I think we're seeing a confluence of events that perhaps with regard to marijuana policy reform, we've never seen before, and that these events bode very well for the prospects of the passage of significant legislative reforms in 2019, again, both at the state level and at the federal level.

So I really encourage folks to go to the NORML website, stay up to date on our legislative updates, stay up to date with what's going on on our blog, and be in touch regularly with your state, local, and federal officials to encourage them to move on this issue, because we are going to see an unprecedented volume of legislative proposals introduced, and I think we are going to see a number of significant reforms pass in 2019.

But that only happens when we act, and when all of us act.

DEAN BECKER: Thank you, Paul. Doug, you have thirty seconds, you got something you'd like to share?

DOUG MCVAY: Just, it's good to hear from Paul about some of the stuff that's been going on, but he's absolutely right, it's all about a constant effort, and, you know, each year is another year, a new year to make change happen, make reform happen.

DEAN BECKER: All right. Once again, that website for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws is NORML.org.

We'll be back here in just a few seconds. It's time to play Name That Drug By Its Side Effects! Permanent damage to the liver, eyes, bone marrow, heart, and blood vessels, convulsions, impaired mental function, neurological damage, kidney damage, irregular heartbeats, unbearable stress, sudden sniffing death. Time's up! The answer: Lucy. Gasoline. There's a vending machine in your neighborhood.

Oh yeah. A lot of those kids up north Canada way, Alaska way, they ain't got any money but they can afford to buy a couple of ounces of gasoline, spend the afternoon with Lucy, lose their brains, lose their capabilities, lose their futures.

Because drugs are expensive. Why? Because of prohibition. Why? Because of fear. I don't know. Just, kids are going to get high on something, if it's spinning around in the front yard, they're going to get high, and we should make sure that, if they get ahold of something, it's the least dangerous scenario possible.

All right, friends, once again you're listening to Cultural Baggage. We were speaking there with Mister Paul Armentano of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

We have with us on line my friend, my associate, fellow producer of the Drug Truth Network, Mister Doug McVay. Doug's going to produce his Century of Lies show for us here in just a couple of minutes. But, what do you think of this scenario? Pretty cool, Doug?

DOUG MCVAY: It's, yeah, this is all right. I mean, like I say, I love listening to the -- love listening to Cultural Baggage and the guests, I don't usually get to do it in real time, so, it's a different experience. Doing the show live is a different experience, for that matter, as folks know, I pre-record, as you can probably tell, a lot of these, and edit my stammer out, so you get to hear me all fluent and stuff.

DEAN BECKER: You know, it's live, that's half the fun, what the heck. I mean, that's what I think makes it more entertaining for the listeners out there. I guess we're going to have to wrap it up here. We're going to be back shortly, at least on this station, and I hope on the station you're listening to here on the Drug Truth Network with Mister Doug McVay and Century of Lies. He's got some segments he'd like to share with us.

I guess I'm going to just wrap it up by saying once again that because of prohibition you don't know what's in that bag, and I urge you to please, be careful.

To the Drug Truth Network listeners around the world, this is Dean Becker for Cultural Baggage and the unvarnished truth. Cultural Baggage is a production of the Pacifica Radio Network, archives are permanently stored at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy, and we are all still tap dancing on the edge of an abyss.