Cultural Baggage, April 23, 2008
Broadcasting on the Drug Truth Network, this is Cultural Baggage.
My name is Dean Becker. I don't condone or encourage the use of any drugs, legal or illegal. I report the unvarnished truth about the phamaceutical, banking, prison, and judicial nightmare that feeds on eternal drug war.
Dean Becker: Hello, my friends. Welcome to this edition of Cultural Baggage. I'm glad you could be with us. Today we'll hear from Norm Kent, he's on the board of directors of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. We'll also hear from Eddy Lepp, the man busted by the DEA for the largest marijuana grow they had ever seen. We'll hear from Dan Bernath of the Marijuana Policy Project and Mr. Philippe Lucas from the Vancouver Island Compassion Society up in Canada.
First up, my interview with Norm Kent. Bear in mind this was recorded in a car, around the corner from the 4:20 Fest.
Norm Kent: My name is Norm Kent. I'm on the board of directors of NORML. That's the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws and I'm here in Houston for the 4:20 Fest to help make people more aware about the incredible injustice that continues to exist for decades and decades about the War on Drugs, which is really, when you analyze it carefully, a war on people which incarcerates innocent people unjustly, prosecutes them wrongly, puts them in jail for unjust amounts of time and the only way that will end is if people, anywhere and everywhere, speak up and speak out.
Dean Becker: Norm, you're an older fellow, a bit like me, and you've seen over the decades the folks aware of that need for change, speaking for change, and yet it moves so slowly. What's going on?
Norm Kent: Well, I do remember being in the Sheraton Hotel in Washington, D.C., in October of 1972, when Ramsey Clark was the Attorney General of the United States and I was a student of law at Hofstra University in New York State, and he said that before the end of the decade we would see the decriminalization of marijuana. We've not been successful because the politicians have succumbed to the popular and foolish belief that people think drugs are responsible for all crimes. But, the fact is, they're not. Particularly, marijuana is not.
And we've had legislators like Norm Coleman, the United States Senator from Minnesota, who grew up at Hofstra with me, smoked pot with me, got high with me, partied with me, now come out and support positions that are articulated by the Office of National Drug Control Policy. So what we've witnessed is politicians who were once people become hypocrites who perpetrate the horror and the injustice that still sees close to a million people get arrested each year on pot possession. So what we're going to have to do is strip away the veil and force them to come out of the closet and own up to their hypocrisies.
And when a judge who smoked pot for thirty years gets busted in a public park he shouldn't be apologizing to the Judicial Qualifications Commission. He should be going on national TV and saying 'There's nothing wrong with that. It's never affected my life, impacted my decisions, inhibited my abilities, stopped me from raising children or being a good husband or being a great member of my church or congregation.'
It's a matter of the people who make the laws having the guts to take some of those laws they've passed and redact and retract them. Not pass new ones but eliminate the old bad ones.
Dean Becker: I have, over the years, observed situations--I go to visit my Congressman or a Senator or any elected officials--and behind closed doors they will tell me that there is some legitimacy in what I say, that there is that need for change. And yet they're still unwilling. It's going to take the people telling them 'It's all right.' Isn't it?
Norm Kent: It's going to take more and more politicians to own up to the awareness that coming out and saying 'Smoking a joint is not all that bad.' It won't hurt their careers. You know, if George Bush can get elected President of the United States five days after saying he had a cocaine problem when he was younger or Dick Cheney, the Vice President of the United States, had two DUI arrests when he was growing up in Wyoming in his twenties.
It does not mean, because you smoke pot, you can't drive a tractor trailer, fly a plane, drive a car, conduct a radio show, teach a class or operate on patients. Now, I wouldn't necessarily suggest to the doctor that he get high moments before operating, but that's not what we're talking about. We're saying that if he does choose to get high after operating he shouldn't lose his license to practice medicine.
A teacher should not lose their right to teach at a university, a parent should not lose her opportunity to get a scholarship, a student should not lose his scholarship and no young man should lose a drivers license simply because of a pot arrest. And when more legislators say that the laws we have passed are archaic, asinine, and end their apathy and indifference that's when it will change. So to do that we have to expose the legislators who are hypocrites and point out that until their own malfeasance ends our malcontent must continue.
Dean Becker: I've observed, over the years, numerous politicians in major positions of power, mayors, even a few congressmen, others who have spoken out for the need for change, even the end of prohibition, and still gotten elected. It is not the poison. It is not the 'third rail' it was once thought, right?
Norm Kent: Exactly. That's what I'm saying. We need more politicians to open up to that, just as William F. Buckley, Jr., just passed away, wrote forty-two columns for the decriminalization of marijuana. Just as the Mayor of Baltimore, Kurt Schmoke, supported de-crim. And the Attorney General of San Francisco. There are numerous people in multiple positions across the government, at every level from the city council to the State legislative level to even the Federal government, that have used and smoked pot and integrated it into their own lives or given it to their mothers who had cancer or their brothers who had HIV. And they know that it's not as bad as the laws are.
So these are the people who have to be taken to task. That's why there's that Hinckley-Rohrabacher Amendment to allow medical necessity defenses in cases, but that's no panacea either. People that get arrested and criminally prosecuted for smoking pot and have to assert a medical necessity defense are arguing a defense that still has their freedom at risk because if they lose, they can go to jail.
So the point is, as I've just bought this hat says, at the festival over here, 'Arrest pain. Not patients.' You know, make it more available, more accessible to people who are sick, treat the disease and don't create a new one. And that's the disease of false fears and 'potophobia.' I may have turned on to something great here: we have politicians with potophobia!
Dean Becker: It's my contention that fear is America's number one import and export these days, but that's just one of them. Yes. As you said, we are here at the 4:20 Fest but it is my hope that the people will hear your speech, will take part of the lesson taught and do their part to bring this to an end. What are you going to say to this crowd?
Norm Kent: I'm going to make the speech interactive, as I try to do, and I'm going to ask people to join with me in a chant that I utilize in many of the speeches, it's that 'We are not the criminals.' The criminals are the ones who are passing the laws that are unjustly incarcerating innocent people. The criminals are the legislators who turned a blind eye to people who are sick. The criminals are the politicians who allow for themselves to go party with Jack Daniels and Coke after a legislative session but deny scholarships to students or drivers licenses to young men and women who get caught with a joint in their possession.
Those are the criminals and those are the ones that have to be stopped. And more people have to run for offices asking for less laws about the drug war, not more laws. Understanding that we are attacking people, we are affecting their lives. And what you try to do in a public talk, as I've done now a number of times, is tell stories.
In my office, law office, last week a man comes into my office, 46-years-old. He has been a truck driver, sanitation truck driver, for the City of Miami for a quarter-century. He has a wife and three children, they are graduating college, he has an impeccable record, an infallible driving record, not a single accident, glowing performances, a wonderful life, owns a home, has a mortgage, has a car payment.
And now he has no job because after hundreds of tests in a quarter-century, think about that, a quarter of a century on the job, he tested positive for barely a few millionth of a nano-gram, billionths of a nano-gram, over the legal limit for pot. So maybe this guy, at a barbecue on a Saturday afternoon, had a joint and a beer. And now, because of that, he's going to lose a job he had for a quarter-century?
This kind of absurdity can't be tolerated, it has to be challenged, it has to be appealed. He's hired my office to go, not only to the city commission to appeal for his job, but, if necessary, to go to circuit court to talk about how unjust a policy is like that, that will let a city commissioner get arrested for DUI and show up to pass the law that bars him from driving a dump truck for the same city because he tested positive for a joint.
These kinds of things--what happens is when they become ingrained in society, where cities suddenly pass laws that say they have a zero-tolerance for pot, everyone is fired who has any--that's what you have to challenge. My favorite is when you go into Office Depot, and I assume they have them in Texas and California and everywhere else, they have a big sign, you know, 'We test our employee.' Well, good. I'm glad that the guy who's handing me, you know, five hundred sheets of white paper is being drug tested.
Why don't they drug test their customers? Why don't they see if the guy who comes in and buys, you know, $20,000 worth of computer equipment, has ever smoke a joint and refuse to take that $20,000 order if he tests positive for pot. I'm not impressed that they test their employees and say they're going to have a drug-free workplace. What you try to do is create an America that tolerates errors, we're a land of second chances--why is it that you can get a withheld adjudication and no felony record after breaking in to somebody's home seventeen times on burglaries but, if you get charged with possession of pot or selling pot in certain states, it's a mandatory adjudication and you're branded a felon for life?
These are the kinds of injustices that, first and foremost, legislators have enacted, politicians have passed, law enforcement officers have--unfortunately sometimes even against their will--enforced, and judges say, well, they're bound by it. It's time for all these people to stop giving us excuses for expedience and that we demand of them higher levels of excellence, and that means being honest about the incredible injustices that exist.
Dean Becker: Your thoughts about who the criminals might be reminded me of my editorial last week that declared that drug war is treason. I think there's a lot of people need to be brought to justice in that regard certainly.
Give us the website for your organization.
Norm Kent: Well, NORML.com is the easiest way to get to the largest information center in the nation, and probably in all over the world, to find out about the marijuana laws in fifty-states, the activism of student organization and chapters all over the country, and we have special sites for medical marijuana, we have legislative updates and anything and everything you ever needed to know about marijuana can be found at www.NORML.com.
Dean Becker: All right. And it's so normal of you, I'm going to spell it for the other folks. It's NORML.org.
Norm Kent: Or dot com. Either way.
Dean Becker: Or dot com I'm told. What is the chant that you want to share with the audience?
Norm Kent: That we are not the criminals, we are not the ones committing injustice and causing the country to fall down. We've never really been in charge, have we? We haven't run the government, we haven't passed the drug laws, we haven't been the ones who had an opportunity to change the laws. And the hypocrisy of politicians today is that many of the people that are in office now, the baby boomers, the yuppies, you know, they're people who went to Woodstock and smoked pot when they were nineteen in 1969, they had joints after they finished their job when they were twenty-nine, when they were thirty-nine they watched their seventeen-year-old son smoke pot, and when they're forty-nine they get to the legislature and pass laws against it. They're the criminals and that's the chant that, I would say, we are not the criminals.
Doug McVay: The Los Angeles Times has an item in its Opinion section called the "Dust-Up" in which two noted individuals write commentaries about a particular subject. This week, Jacob Sullum and attorney Charles Stimson debate drug legalization.
In the first of his columns, attorney Stimson writes quote "Heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana are illegal because they are dangerous, addictive, destructive drugs that ruin lives." He then goes on to defend the wino -- excuse me, that should be social drinker -- who has a glass of wine every evening with dinner. The clear implication of his statement is that he claims alcohol to be a safe drug, that he denies the addiction and destruction which are the byproducts of alcohol abuse.
Even though Joseph Coors, founder of the Coors Brewing Company, provided the seed money which established the Heritage Foundation back in 1973, I will give attorney Stimson the benefit of the doubt here. After all, how could attorney Stimson -- who has had a long and very distinguished legal career before going to work for the venerated rightwing Heritage Foundation -- be so misinformed as to alcohol's dangers.
On the other hand, how could a former career prosecutor and political operator like Stimson write something like that without realizing what he was saying?
The "Dust-Up" on the Los Angeles Times website -- latimes.com -- has a discussion feature which is open for the next two weeks for comments from the public.
For the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay, editor of Drug War Facts dot org.
It's time to play 'Name That Drug by its Side Effects.'
(horrible side-effects including including death)
The answer, from Bristol-Meyer-Squibb--Plavix.
Dan Bernath: This is Dan Bernath of the Marijuana Policy Project. We're the largest marijuana policy reform organization in the country.
Dean Becker: Well, once again, Barney Frank is doing something positive in regards to medical marijuana. Why don't you outline what he's trying to do?
Dan Bernath: Sure. This is a very sensible policy that he's introduced. Basically, he is looking to get the Federal Government out of the business of dictating how states ought to handle small marijuana violations. Essentially, this would make the possession of three ounces of marijuana or less, for personal use, just not a federal crime. It would also allow the not-for-profit transfer of up to one ounce of marijuana, so as long as responsible adults are using marijuana in small amounts in privacy, Barney Frank is saying that the Federal Government shouldn't have any involvement in that.
Dean Becker: Now, this would curtail their efforts a bit in states like California and the other eleven medical marijuana states but it wouldn't stop them from doing their raids or in any other fashion stop them from perpetrating this drug war, right?
Dan Bernath: Yeah. Exactly. This particular bill would only affect small amounts of personal use marijuana. So it's tough to say how much it would affect medical marijuana dispensaries in California, but it would allow the states to do what they ought to be doing which is determining these types of policies for themselves.
Dean Becker: The bill that Congressman Frank is putting forward is H.R. 5843 but there's another bill, H.R. 5842, that both he and Congressman Paul are putting forward, kind of a repeat, if you will, an attempt to stop the Federal Government from going after those clubs selling medical marijuana, right?
Dan Bernath: Right, and this is, it's another good reflection of the mood of this country right now and we know that people are fed up with the Federal Government getting involved with, especially, with sick people who are using marijuana as medicine on a doctor's recommendation, so I think that his attempts to reform medical marijuana show the mood of the country and show what medical experts and what reality is telling us about this drug as a medicine.
Dean Becker: I hear objections coming forward from many of the drug warriors at both the state and federal level that these dispensaries are only in it for the money and that they're ripping off people and so forth, but it is the policy of prohibition that keeps the price so high, right?
Dan Bernath: Absolutely. But the minute you end prohibition is the minute when a drug that's pretty easy and cheap to produce would then stop being all that valuable.
Dean Becker: I noticed today that the senate in the State of New Hampshire is now looking into changing their laws in regards to medical marijuana but they're not the only one. There are several states and several referendums, if you will, being brought forward for this next election season, right?
Dan Bernath: Yeah, absolutely. And actually in New Hampshire what they're looking at is not so much to do with medical marijuana, they are looking to reduce the penalties for small marijuana violations--basically, trying to make the penalties for these violations more commensurate with the actual offense itself. And also make sure that folks who do get caught with a small amount of marijuana, who maybe are just making a dumb mistake, don't get saddled with a lifetime of penalties such as losing access to financial aid, losing access to housing assistance, perhaps not even being able to find a job, all these things that a conviction can carry.
Dean Becker: The Marijuana Policy Project is fighting for the truth of this matter, the logic of it all, right, and why don't you point folks to your website?
Dan Bernath: Sure. You can learn more about what we're working on and how you can get involved in helping changing policies by going to MPP.org.
Philippe Lucas: My name is Philippe Lucas. I'm founder and director of the Vancouver Island Compassion Society. I'm a graduate research fellow with Center for Addictions Research of British Columbia and I'm one of about 2,400 legal authorized medical users in Canada.
Dean Becker: Philippe, you're here giving a presentation at the International Conference on Cannabis Therapeutics and, it's a lot to ask, but give us a brief summary of what your presentation was.
Philippe Lucas: Sure, today I was really pleased to be part of a patients panel and the focus, the title of the panel, was 'Putting the Compassion Back in the Compassion Clubs.' There's been, as we all know, there are many medical marijuana states in the U.S. There are only a few where dispensaries are allowed and right now there are a lot of states trying to figure out how exactly to get medical cannabis into the hands of the legitimate patients in those states. And for a number of years I've been promoting a non-profit production and distribution model, which is a model that the Vancouver Island Compassion Society has followed since we were founded and registered as a non-profit in 1999.
And so today I talked about some of the benefits of non-profit community-based patient-centered model and the real benefits as we see them in the Compassion Society is that you have much more patient end-control over the actions of that dispensary and so you immediately take away the greed factor by being a registered non-profit, you take away the accusations of some of our opponents who say that we're only in this for the money. But much more importantly--for example, at our compassion society, we hold an annual general meeting where the patients themselves who own the society, who are the members and the owners of the society, get to elect the board of directors, and so--they also get to vote on some of the major policy decisions that we put forward--and so they have direct control over how the organization is run.
And that has led to non-profits being able to offer cannabis at a lower cost. It's allowed dispensaries like ours to offer alternative services as well. And so, for example, at the Vancouver Island Compassion Society, we have a free clothing exchange, we've got a free food bin as well, and we try and increase our services to meet the needs of our patient group.
Now, one of the things that came up today is that there's a lot of great dispensaries that aren't officially non-profits in the U.S. and California because, unfortunately, federal regulations and the DEA raids has made it very difficult for people to officially incorporate as non-profits here. But in California we see groups like the Compassion Club of Santa Barbara and the Berkeley Patient Group that clearly follow the same kind of philosophy, a patient-centered model, as we do and who offer many services that go well beyond just looking at the bottom line in terms of the financial incentive for them to be running those clubs. And so they go out of their way to run a patient-centered model.
Dean Becker: I recently got a chance to speak with Mr. Eddy Lepp.
Eddy Lepp: Well, as discussed on previous shows, I was the first person arrested, tried and acquitted in California under Proposition 215. And I was the largest single marijuana bust in the history of the DEA and the largest medical marijuana garden busted in the world. And, as a result, I ended up facing four life sentences, $17 million in fines, an additional forty years and $600 in special assessments.
And we went to court last month, I guess maybe six, seven weeks ago, and at this time I'm now facing one life sentence and three-and-a-half million dollars in fines, twenty years and $200 in special assessments. The judge dismissed four charges that they won't be able to re-file on and suppressed all the evidence on the fifth charge and the sixth charge the federal prosecutor said that he's not sure that he will even prosecute because the amount involved, it's an alleged sale of one pound and it doesn't even qualify under federal guidelines for jail time.
Dean Becker: Well, Eddy, you preface this talking about the largest bust ever by the DEA. How much was involved?
Eddy Lepp: The first time was 32,524 plants and then the second time when they came back was 11,000. They said that was the largest bust of an individual in DEA history which we took as a compliment because it's very, very important that the sacred plant be given the love and attention it deserves. We were happy they noticed that we care about what we do deeply.
Dean Becker: And, well, Eddy, you are a minister, consider cannabis to be a sacrament. Do you think that had anything to do with their backing down?
Eddy Lepp: It's not that they're backing down so much as it is that I have managed to nail them on their transgressions, if you will. There's various things that they have done that have either been against the law or violated my constitutional rights--I've heard people say before, you know, God, “Eddy, he gets these breaks and why did they treat him special?”
Because I don't see myself as special and I don't think I'm getting any special consideration--if anything, I think I was singled out the other way--but the difference between me and most people is most people take a deal. Ninety percent of the people in prison right now are there because they took a deal. I refused to take the deal. All I'm asking is that I am given the rights that I am guaranteed through the Constitution of this great country. The law says I can do this and I did it and now you're trying to prosecute me.
Why? And I'm not taking the deal, you know, I'm forcing them to the jury box and forcing them to prove their case and it appears they're having a whole lot of trouble doing that. And, frankly, it's my belief that if everybody would just say 'No' to the deal in about thirty days we would shut down the entire judicial system. And they would have to free up all of the non-violent criminals so I'm really hard-pressed to understand why people are in jail over dime bags but they are, everywhere. And the reason they are is they took the deal.
So, hopefully, your listeners will understand that a good knowledge of the laws which you're trying to operate under and a refusal to take the deal will ultimately end up in you being exonerated, most of the time.
[PSA] Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. These men and women have served in the trenches of the drug war as prosecutors, judges, cops, guards, and wardens. They have seen first hand the utter futility of our policy and now work together to end drug prohibition.
Please visit LEAP.cc.
Dean Becker: Those who tuned in to last week's Cultural Baggage heard my interview with Jack Cole, he's the director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and, in case you missed it, I want to tell you I am a former cop and a speaker for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. We're a group of about 10,000+ members now worldwide who have come to the same conclusion: the drug war is absolute, abject, abysmal failure and it needs to end. We work together to do just that and we're willing to come to your town, speak to your organization or to your legislators. Get in touch with us, contact us at LEAP.cc.
There is nothing to be afraid of. Fear will destroy America unless we stand together against the 'corporatocracy.' And, in closing, I remind you again that because of prohibition you don't know what's in that bag. Please be careful.
To the Drug Truth Network listeners around the world, this is Dean Becker for Cultural Baggage and the unvarnished truth. This show produced at the Pacifica studios of KPFT, Houston.
Tap dancing on the edge on an abyss.
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