02/19/20 Kim Ogg

Kim Ogg DA of Harris County/Houston at Greater Houston Coalition for Justice speaks on Bail Bond Agreement & Consent Decree, + Michael Krawitz of Veterans for Medical Cannabis work with W.H.O. in Geneva + Susan Hays PC re medical cannabis for neurological disorders

Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Wednesday, February 19, 2020
Kim Ogg
DA Kim Ogg
Download: Audio icon FDBCB021920.mp3




FEBRUARY 19, 2020

DEAN BECKER: I am Dean Becker, the Reverend Most High and this is Cultural Baggage. Let’s get busy. On February 6th, a Town Hall meeting was held for the Greater Houston Coalition for Justice to talk about Harris County’s historic bail bond agreement and consent decree. This is Kim Ogg, the District Attorney of Houston, Harris County.

KIM OGG: I am proud to be joined by our other speakers and Johnny Monte is a personal hero of mine. I thanked him the day that I was sworn in as D.A. I had worked with this organization for a long time prior to that and I really admire the work that every volunteer member and every participating organization who is a partner does with the coalition. Their entire mission is fairness and equality in practice and that is good because that is really the mission of the D.A.’s office to see that justice is done in every single case.

We are here to talk about bail. I supported bail reform and I continue to support bail reform at the misdemeanor level because it is unfair to keep low level, non-violent offenders in jail when they simply can’t afford to get out otherwise we would let them out. I also expressed concern about some of the ways that bail reform was being implemented and some took my concern as opposition. This is not true. The District Attorney’s concern for public safety is one that I won’t apologize for; it is a valid concern, and a concern reflected by the public and it is a concern that as we put historic bail reform in to practice must not be tossed aside because regular people, just like those in the jail who we want to treat fairly. Regular people who are outside of the jail also deserve a safe community so our system in Texas, interestingly, does not base keeping people in jail on bail on any one factor of which there are a multitude that judges look to and Judge Jordan will be far better at explaining the types of things the judges look at in determining bail but I can tell you that we began – and this was historic for the DA’s office – agreeing to personal recognizance bonds in most misdemeanors in March of 2017, long before the judge ruled. We did that because we thought it was fair and that the risk to the community was low. The exceptions that we carved out were DWI, domestic violence, burglary of a car because that is often organized crime, stalking, and crimes of violence. Even though they were misdemeanors we know there are serious misdemeanors and some of those misdemeanors can lead to more serious crimes such as DWI which can unfortunately lead to manslaughter.

We were doing it, we support the lawsuit, we supported the judges in their desire when republican judges were defeated in January and new democratic judges took their place in January 2019, I supported Rule 9.1, which was conceived by the county court judges as basically a way to start bail reform before the judge ruled and there were important exceptions in Rule 9.1 for DWI and domestic violence that required those offenders to go in front of a judge so that a judge could warn them what not to do and could also impose conditions of their bail that would protect the victims. What we are seeing is the implementation of a bail system and as Johnny and Acedro said, there is always going to be resistance and sometimes that resistance is healthy because in criminal justice we balance interest. We balance the interest of the individual to be free before conviction and we balance the need of the community to be safe from dangerous perpetrators, so it is always a balancing. You can count on the DA to advocate for safety and crime victims, we are victim-centric and luckily it is judges who make the decision about bail not prosecutors and not defense lawyers. We advocate our sides of the case and the defense lawyer will say that he has been a good guy, he’s got a lot of ties to the community and the prosecutor will say that it was a dangerous DWI, his blood level was very high and there was maybe a child in the car – something like that. So we are going to advocate our interest. We are going to advocate for public safety and the defense lawyers are going to advocate for individual freedom, and the judge is going to balance it out. So as we see bail reform be implemented we must be mindful of community safety and its importance to regular people and when decisions get made that expose the public to danger – like in the case of this individual who just struck a van and cost three people including an infant to burn to death. We must be mindful that innocent people deserve protection, too, and that conditions which were a part of Rule 9.1 – let’s say an intoxilizer in the car or something to keep somebody from driving that car if they are drunk. Those are not details, those are important protections for the community and we need bail reform to be implemented in a safe way so that judges can keep people who are too risky in jail and if they decide somebody is entitled to bail so that they can condition that bail with things that keep the public safe; those are our concerns. While prosecutors are not to be critical of judges, the public will judge our reform in part, based on how safe they really are and how safe they feel. I think it is very important to understand that the success and the sustainability of bail reform is in large part going to depend on how safe the public feels and how safe they really are. I want this audience to be clear that I am for equality and that every prosecutor and employee of our office believes in giving people a fair shake and we are looking out for your safety. Sometimes this can be considered opposition – it’s not. It’s really the healthy exercise of the interest in criminal justice, the prosecutor and the defense, both representing you and judges balancing it out. The devil will be in the details as to how it gets implemented; that is how we will be judged. We are hoping for a very safe implementation.

DEAN BECKER: We are now approaching out 8,000th radio segment please be sure to check it out at: www.drugtruth.net.

MALE VOICE: Mike Krawitz, Executive Director of Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access.

DEAN BECKER: We have a lot of people with a lot of different perspectives but I think the unifying factor is that they all see prohibition as a miserable failure. Would you agree with that thought?

MIKE KRAWITZ: You know the only answer that I seem to think of is that the world has changed so much in the last year or two. We are not talking hypotheticals anymore, we are talking brass tacks of a lot of reforms and a lot of different advances that we are just now learning how little we knew.

DEAN BECKER: We even have Kofi Anon, who has now passed on, but he was very bold in his pronouncements at the United Nations. We have newspapers around the country including Great Britain, Canada, Mexico, and Africa – people are beginning to speak more boldly of that desperate need for change, are they not?

MIKE KRAWITZ: Absolutely, but I think I would point to is more nuanced. How much news came out of a small local initiative on mushrooms in Colorado or the efforts of Veterans to use Ayahuasca and how popular and successful the video was of their journeys through the Americas in that pursuit. The efforts of local governments to create reasonable, rational regulation. It is not exciting stuff and it is not stuff that you really see splashed on the front page of the newspaper but that is what I was referring to a minute ago when I said we now know how little we knew. I have been constantly amazed at just how big a climb it is to get us out of this hole. We have had a hundred years of an absence of regulation and an absence of coherence or sanity in drug policy and you pointed that out really clearly. It is one thing to oppose something which is rather simple, it is a lot more difficult when you roll up your sleeves and you start building a new paradigm and that is where we are at right now.

DEAN BECKER: It really boils down as of this point I have tried desperately for the last 20 years to get the drug czar, the attorneys general, somebody with clout whose perceptions and pronouncement helps make this drug war last and to try to get them to come on the show and clarify why it needs to last forever and they run like rabbits which shows that we are making progress.

MIKE KRAWITZ: Actually, I think the fact that they run is evidence of the problem that you are experiencing when you can’t get the laws to go away; those are symptoms of the same problem. The law enforcement and legislators that run away from the issue are actually part of the same problem. I think now we’ve got real work on the table around the world and around the United States. Everything I could point at is encapsulated in this vaping issue. If you look at it from a distance it is hard to say what you’ll see as there are several different issues that are at the tip of the icebergs that you would see from a distance or you are looking at the teen use of vaping products that are predominately legal nicotine carrying products that are flavored to attract kids and that is one big issue currently on the table. The reason this was put on the table is because of deaths due to predominately unregistered, illegal products that were sold on the black market. If you look for those headlines that gets overshadowed by THC and people talking about the THC in the vape pens and how that is a red herring, yet the THC wasn’t killing anybody and in fact wasn’t even connected to the deaths because it was predominately not the legal products in the legal states in the legal stores that were killing people. These are issues that you really have to dig in to in order to understand what the underlying issues are; in this case it is unregistered, illegal products that are part of the problem and very cheap products with lack of regulation and control as well as unscrupulous business people that are more interested in making a buck than creating a safe product. Neither one of those is actually in the mainstream. As I said, they are looking at kids taking vaping products because of the flavoring. I think that in a nutshell shows you how disjointed and distracted the public, the legislators, and the federal authorities are. What is the real problem? People are dying. There are a couple thousand people that were put in hospitals and there were 30 – 40 deaths. That is what the problem is that we should be working on with absolute urgency; not taking advantage of this opportunity to work on something that has been a pet project for a while, which is removing flavorings from the vape pens at the convenience store. See what I mean?

DEAN BECKER: Once again, we are with Michael Krawitz. Mike, what we are not talking about is your work. Your work has been very specific with a lot of focus on marijuana but a lot of focus on just revealing the truth. You have been working with the United Nations, you have been going to Europe to get in on the ground floor of the new understandings and to present information to those officials that would help them clear their conscience and build a better future. Let’s talk about that work. What have you been up to lately, Michael?

MIKE KRAWITZ: The last few years has taken me to Geneva, Switzerland to the World Health Organization (WHO) and we have been working with the WHO on an unprecedented review of cannabis. I say unprecedented because when cannabis was put in to the International Treaties, there was no scientific basis or review process. It was just put in there based on the word of the police and a handful of sensational cultural reports to be kind, and that is basically the historical record as we have it in the Treaty. Amazingly, that is what we found when we dug in and started working on it and we found ourselves in the position to help the WHO conduct a review process. We instigated it and pressured them to do it right and we did all that we could to provide the information that we have available to us and really in a very open hearted and open minded way we just need to step back and let them do their job. They have very professional, very real experts at the WHO that spent about 6 years working on this and they came out with an ambitious set of recommendations. They don’t legalize marijuana, but they do correct the record and they do straighten out some of the problems in the International Treaty. At a minimum, they will recognize cannabis as a medicine and it will create more access to a better variety of products for patients to be able to access out in the marketplace and perhaps even better insurance coverage; it is a very practical reality. However, this process that we have gotten in to can really be applied to a handful of plant based medicines with plants that were put in to the Treaty before they really understood the science and this applies to coca as well, if not others. I think that the model that cannabis has set in creating this process can be applied to other substances but even for cannabis alone this is quite dramatic and it is going to have a pretty big impact. Look at it like rescheduling at the United States level. It wouldn’t be de-scheduling like we want but it certainly would take some of the heat off of the conversation.

DEAN BECKER: Michael, I want to go back to the thought that you presented there that in the beginning it was just a wave of hysteria put forward by folks like Harry J. Ainslinger who was the first head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, and his global ambition was to education the rest of the world to the horrors of marijuana and other drugs as it went along. I won’t say it was immediate or within a day or two, but this new perspective of prohibition was very rapid. I guess my question really revolves around the fact that now it is taking years upon years of concerted, verified data presentation to begin to sway things and to aim to take it back to what I consider to be normal perspective in letting adults do whatever they are going to do. What is your thought there, Mike? Why the hell is it taking so long?

MIKE KRAWITZ; I think it all revolves around trying to prove a negative. It is easy to prove something is dangerous when something is exhibiting dangerous attributes. How do you prove something isn’t dangerous? To say that something is dangerous with authority you have to exhaust so many more options and so many more different hypothetical situations. In the case of cannabis it has been almost an endless stream of situations that we have had to prove again and again that cannabis is not harmful and why? Because they started with a false premise. If you want to read the history of it, it is really great. One of the groups that we work with at the international level that has been really helpful is the Trans National Institute, they put out a report on the rise and fall of cannabis prohibition and in it they talk about a Dr. Wolfe at the predecessor of the WHO and it was a health committee of the League of Nations and Dr. Wolfe, as described in TNIs document was a protégé of Ainslinger. What they brought to the table was police in Egypt that were seeing products on the streets that had cannabis in them but they were like cannabis cough medicine with morphine and things like that and they were really problematic evidently on the streets there in Egypt. Together with that, they had a history of reports and legislation going back to about the 1890s including international agreements where they had bantered back and forth and argued about cannabis and it being associated with indigenous cultures really didn’t help either. The same thing with coca and poppy –


MIKE KRAWITZ: -- Yeah. It is like I am seeing them bake a cake while they throw in a pinch of racism, a pinch of hysteria, a few pinches of misinformation and what you end up with is a policy that says something with authority that everyone would assume would have some basis in truth. A lot of very powerful people are putting it forward and it is very difficult to unensconce a group of misinformation like that.

DEAN BECKER: On one of my recent shows I interviewed my doctor who is running for Texas senate and we talked about the early days and how back in 1937 the American Medical Association was a bit upset with the U.S. Senate because they were considering passing a Marijuana Tax Act, and they wrote them a letter and went before them and said they didn’t quite understand why you are wanting to do this. Eventually the Senate told them to just get out because they had work to do. They totally disregarded the protests of the American Medical Association when they wrote the laws.

MIKE KRAWITZ: You know I read that. There is a Dr. Woodward, I believe, who is a lobbyist for the American Medical Association and what he wrote was almost like telling the future because he talked about how cannabis wasn’t that widely popular in medicine and it had kind of fallen out of favor in medicine but he foresaw a day when it might become much more applicable. At the time that I was reading that was right around the days of Proposition 215, and you’ll remember that was the time when folks were trying to deal with really harsh treatments for HIV and AIDS and cannabis was one of the only things they found to help them with that. How could you foresee that a hundred years in advance? Well Dr. Woodward did almost foresee that.

DEAN BECKER: He is the one they told to just get out of the chambers they were going to vote on it.

MIKE KRAWITZ: That was him. He was a paid lobbyist so I don’t really give him the same credit that I would give somebody like Louie Armstrong who was doing cannabis work as a passion and wasn’t getting paid for it. Nonetheless, I believe it hurt his career and he barked up a very powerful and negative tree. As you know, these were the folks that had done alcohol prohibition –

DEAN BECKER: They needed a job.

MIKE KRAWITZ: -- Yes, they needed some job security.

DEAN BECKER: Well friends we have been speaking with Mr. Michael Krawitz, he works very diligently to educate folks on a national and international basis to the need for change to these drug laws. He works for Veterans for Medical Marijuana and he has some closing thoughts for you.

MIKE KRAWITZ: Let me just tell you the timeline for this vote with the World Health Organization recommendation should be in March of next year – there is so much pomp and circumstance – but there should be a simple majority vote at the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting in Vienna, Austria in March 2020, and if we succeed with all of these recommendations from the WHO, there should be a subtle change in world drug policy.

DEAN BECKER: Michael, your website, please?

MIKE KRAWITZ: You can find Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/USA.VMCA/, if you want to read more about the stuff that we are doing at the World Health Organization, and all of the stuff at the U.N., there is a document that we created called the Crimson Digest which you can find on Google by typing in Crimson Digest Volume II, you will come up with a whole evaluation of the review process and it even talks about the International Narcotics Control Board, and their documentation as well.

It is time to play Name That Drug by Its Side Effects. In depressed patients, worsening depression including risk of suicide may occur. Alcohol may increase these risks. Side effects include: next day drowsiness. Ask your doctor about Belsomra.

DEAN BECKER: A couple of weeks back there was a symposium that went through four Texas towns with a six-part discussion entitled, “Medical Cannabis for Neurological Disorders”, and I got a chance to speak with Susan Hays of that group.

SUSAN HAYS: My name is Susan Hays, and I am an attorney and lobbyist based in Austin working on cannabis reform.

DEAN BECKER: We are here in Houston at a symposium where there are going to be six great speakers, yourself being amongst them and the idea being to motivate people to get onboard and help in the effort to legalize medical marijuana to begin with. Correct?

SUSAN HAYS: Exactly. We are here to educate people about the science in medicine behind medical cannabis and to educate them as to how restrictive Texas law currently is and give them some tips on how to advocate for a science medicine driven regulatory scheme going forward in Texas so that by the 2021 session we can pass what I would call a real medical cannabis law instead of the restrictive one we have now.

DEAN BECKER: Exactly, I think as of now we have laws that are really no better than being able to go to the gas station and buy some hemp products. Am I right?

SUSAN HAYS: They are precisely .2% THC better because our law only allows half a percent of THC in the product where hemp is defined as .3% THC. That is such a fine point and it is not really going to help that many more people than getting a hemp oil. There are also some other areas for improvement in the law. Right now our medical cannabis law doesn’t require third party, independent testing which is standard in other states. Ironically, going forward hemp will be more regulated than medical marijuana in Texas.

DEAN BECKER: The irony of it all. We have this situation now where many of the district attorneys and other authorities in the state of Texas are saying that they can’t tell the difference from the sight or the smell and we currently don’t have the test to make the determination between hemp and supposed recreational marijuana and that is creating a lot of hubris and turmoil and finger pointing.

SUSAN HAYS: Well I will say this, they have the equipment; they just don’t have enough because Texas has habitually underfunded its crime labs. So this testing issue isn’t just about marijuana, it’s about sex assault. We still have rape kits laying on shelves because the Houston crime labs and the other 11 crime labs around the state don’t have the equipment and the trained toxicologist to staff them. It is also a matter of what do taxpayers want to put their money in to and I think here in Harris County, taxpayers are not interested in spending $500 or more a pop on testing to put somebody in jail for low level marijuana possession when there are violent crimes that law enforcement should be focusing on.

DEAN BECKER: That and to be able to make the determination out there on the street where a cop encounters somebody in a car with a bag full of green vegetable matter. We can’t afford to equip all of those police cars with the equipment necessary to make the determination so there is no probable cause out there on the street.

SUSAN HAYS: Even if you could afford it, is that where you want to put your public resources for law enforcement or are there more severe crimes that should be enforced like car theft and assault. Houston is a big city and there is a lot of complicated crime here and that is where District Attorney Kim Ogg is choosing to put her resources and shifting away from putting people in jail for a plant.

DEAN BECKER: Well I am proud to say that Kim has thanked me on air for my impetus, drive, and goal of getting her, the sheriff, and the police chief to take another look and to swing the cat, so to speak. I am proud of the fact that we weren’t the first. Austin did it first and then they backtracked a bit –

SUSAN HAYS: A lot of push and shove happening around the state.

DEAN BECKER: But here in Harris County, Houston we have had approximately 15,000 or more people who haven’t gone to jail or had their car towed and ticketed, hired an attorney because of the Misdemeanor Marijuana Diversion Program, and it is working out good for both sides; prosecutors and the people. What is your thought?

SUSAN HAYS: Absolutely. We need to understand that a lot of the so-called recreational marijuana users are really medical users. They are people who use it because it makes them feel better and it alleviates conditions that they may have and they don’t have safe access to tested product they are having to buy on the streets and we need to change that in Texas. If you have a medical need for it you should have ready access and ready access to high quality product where you know what it is and you know what its cannabinoid profile is as well as the terpene profile. Everybody’s body is different and it takes a little refining to know what strains, or a more scientific word is (KENOVAR) of cannabis works best for you.

DEAN BECKER: Real good. Susan, I thank you for your time and for coming to Houston to help educate us a bit more because that is really the answer, isn’t it?

SUSAN HAYS: It is. Education is absolutely the answer for the people, our representatives, and our leadership with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott. The more they know, the better they like it.

DEAN BECKER: They don’t want to know, but we will keep kicking them in the butt just the same. Is there a website you might want to recommend?

SUSAN HAYS: People should check out Texans for Safe Access. It is a fairly new organization and it is an affiliate of Americans for Safe Access. Their focus is on the patients and the people who need this medically. They are looking to grow up an army of patients around the state to help us rolling in to next session and to tell the stories of how cannabis is helping people get off pharmaceuticals with severe side effects and deal with their conditions so that they can lead productive lives.

DEAN BECKER: And again I remind you that because of prohibition, you don’t know what is in that bag. Please be careful.