Cultural Baggage, August 13/ 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.
Hello, my friends. Welcome to this edition of Cultural Baggage. I'm so glad you could be with us. Today, we're going to get some reports out of Canada from our good friend Philippe Lucas who heads up the Vancouver Island Compassion Society and he wears many hats. And with that, let's welcome our guest, Mr. Philippe Lucas.
Philippe Lucas: Thanks, Dean. It's good to be here today.
Dean Becker: And I don't know, I was rattling off something about Multi-Disciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, it threw me off. What is MAP, again?
Philippe Lucas: It's the Media Awareness Project. It's the main project for DrugSense. It's an archive of drug policy related stories and print articles that goes back to the mid-90s and these are print stories on the war on the drugs or on drugs and addiction in general and they comprise the biggest archive of such materials anywhere in the world. And so it makes a great tool for researchers like myself, for reporters, for lay people to try and get a sense of how the press is reporting on a lot of these issues, as well as to be able to track down very current stories on the war on drugs.
Dean Becker: And as I told the listeners, you wear many hats. You are involved in the, was it in Montreal, where they had the U.N. meeting earlier this year.
Philippe Lucas: It was Vancouver where the U.N. meeting took place. It was the U.N. General Assembly meeting on drug policy. The U.N. is currently reviewing its drug policy mandates from 1998 when they said that within ten years they would be eradicating the cannabis plant, the poppy plant and the coca plant from, basically, from the world. They were trying to get rid of these plants and were going to end drug use by 2008. As we can see, pretty much out our windows, and reading out of the newspaper and listening to the radio, they haven't quite succeeded in that goal of ending drug use and...
Dean Becker: [laughter]
Philippe Lucas: ...and in fact, as you well know, many of the policies the U.N. advocates and particularly the U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime have made things progressively worse and will continue to make things worse until we approach drugs using an evidence based strategy.
Dean Becker: Well, I hear the news coming out of Canada and it looks like you guys are either going to head pell-mell towards U.S. mandatory everything or you're going to legalize it. What's going on up there?
Philippe Lucas: Well, we've got right now a minority government in power. We've got a British style parliamentary system here and so we've got a minority government that's taken a very right-wing U.S. style approach to the war on drugs. And so they've put forward a bill called Bill C-26, which would make cannabis cultivation, cannabis distribution and even some levels of cannabis possession not only arrest-able offenses but would saddle judges with mandatory minimums associated with those crimes. And so it would make the penalties associated, for example, with cultivating fifty or more plants of cannabis harsher than they are for rape or for assault and for child abuse here. So these penalties are wildly over, disproportionate for the crime involved and the Canadian public just doesn't seem to have an appetite right now for those kinds of penalties for -- although there's no doubt that the Canadian public right now is looking for a different approach on substance use. Doing more of the same simply doesn't seem to make good sense.
Dean Becker: Well, it seems to me that when you throw out logic, you know, as you say -- penalty for marijuana more severe than for rape -- it does tend to awaken a lot of people these days. People are no longer buying the straight up propaganda-feed from any government entity, right.
Philippe Lucas: Yeah, and it also creates a real disrespect for law. I think that in Canada where 44% of Canadians will have tried cannabis at some time in their lifetime, where 70% of high-school students will graduate having tried cannabis, any system that would criminalize that large a proportion of our population simply can't bear any scrutiny. This doesn't make sense. It's not in keeping with the available evidence on the potential harm to the individual or the society in terms of cannabis use or, frankly, the use of any illicit drugs. As I'm sure many of your listeners know, the legal drugs that we have access to right now, alcohol and tobacco, are doing far greater harms than all of the illicit substances combined. That's not to say that we shouldn't be working for better approaches to make substance use safer for individuals and for society so that the folks who do have problems with dependence and addiction don't need to rob and steal to feed that addiction, therefore victimizing some other members of society. But obviously further criminalizing and making the penalties harsher around the use of even substances like cannabis is like a big Christmas present for the black market. It just re-entrenches the black market control and profitability from the illicit distribution of these substances.
Dean Becker: You know, Philippe, I am a former cop, member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, and we talk about 'you can overcome an addiction but you never overcome a conviction,' and I saw something this morning from SAMSA, the reporting agency for the U.S. government, talking about stats, and what has come forward now is that the legal opiates, the OxyContin® and others, are more dangerous, deadly and more, having more impact on our society than the illegal drug, heroin. And I want to use that to talk about -- we will always have a drug problem, there will always be those wild children doing things we don't approve of, but we need not always be funding the Taliban and the cartels and the illegal actors out there that profit from this, as you were just talking about. And I want to talk about your understanding of the injection sites, the opium distribution sites up there in Canada. How's that working out?
Philippe Lucas: Well, I had -- it's interesting that you should mention it -- last weekend I had a chance for the first time to take a tour of Insite, that's our safe consumption site here in Vancouver, it's the only one in North America right now, the only legal or licensed facility I should say, in North America. I'm sure that there are in every major city places where people can inject and hopefully where they can do say safely but this one's officially sanctioned and supported and involved in a number of research projects. And I was just amazed by the incredible professionalism of the people who were maintaining the facility. I was amazed by the compassion shown by the individuals who work there, by the nurses who look after some of North America's most vulnerable people and populations. Vancouver's downtown East-Side has rates of Hepatitis C about 80% in its injection drug use population. It has rates of HIV/AIDS about 20 to 25% among the injection drug use population. Some of the highest rates of infection and the lowest rates of income and therefore the highest rates of homelessness and poverty that you're going to see anywhere in North America. And so, these people deal with and assist the most hard-pressed citizens in our society and they're able to do so quite successfully. They, the Insite facility on many days sees over a thousand injections a day. So it's well used and I think that when you see these needle exchanges, safe consumption sites being so well used, these services being so well used, to me, that doesn't show, that's not a negative for a society, the fact that so many people are using these substances. I think we need to see what's causing the use of these substances but, to me, that sends a message that the people who are using these substances want to do so safely. Every person with a drug dependence ultimately still wants to live through the night and live through the next day and right now our current system is making it incredibly difficult for those people to do so, to survive their own addiction. We marginalize people through arrest and through prosecution. We criminalize them and give them criminal records therefore impeding their ability to travel and to gain a legitimate income. And what we end up with is a completely disenfranchised subculture in our society that doesn't access health care, that barely accesses social services and that, unfortunately, a lot of the time has to turn to criminal, take to criminal behavior in order to fund their life and their addiction. And these are realities of our life, Dean, but unfortunately how we respond to them are policy choices. And the policy choices that we've made right now are making life far more difficult for these people, they're increasing the risk of HIV/AIDS and Hep C transmission to the general population and they're generally a complete failure, unfortunately. So we need to turn this ship around.
Dean Becker: You bet we do. You know, here in the U.S. we get a lot of TV ads from the Office of National Drug Control Policy and nearly everyone of them deals with marijuana. You know, it'll make you run over people in the parking lot, just silly stuff, and yet in the last couple of weeks there's been a lot of information coming forward talking about the unsafe combination of opiods or multiple prescription drugs with alcohol and how there is no flow-of-information to tell people about the harms, the stupidity of doing that sort of thing, and so people just kind of stumble on to it, that situation, and kill themselves accidentally and it's just another example, I guess, kind of supporting what you're talking about: that it's a reality that we need to deal with and not, you know, walk around like...
Philippe Lucas: I'm a former high-school teacher and I have to tell you how frustrating it was to see the incredible lack of accurate, honest information we're giving our teens about substance use in this day and age. And how unsurprising it is that they're getting so much of their information from street-corners or from the internet as a result. I think that honest education would be the best way to prevent the kind of opiate/alcohol overdoses and overuse that we're seeing. But it shocks me the way the way that we go about doing education in a DARE style model. You know, I'm someone who cooks and loves cooking and I've attended a few cooking classes in my time and when I attend a cooking class they don't bring up the person who's the worse cook, burns himself forty times, cut himself three times last week, to teach me how to cook. And when I took drivers-ed they didn't bring the worst driver in the country or the province or a city to come in and show us how to do everything wrong while trying to parallel park. What we do in those circumstances is we bring forward models of success, we bring forward people who know how to drive, who are skilled drivers who are licensed instructors. We bring forth people, in terms of cooking classes, who are trained chefs, who have experience in how to cook and what to expect when you mix different combinations of chemicals or ingredients and we have them do the teaching. But when it comes to our drug education we typically either go to a police officer who has no experience he can admit to with the substances that he's talking about or we go to people who've developed the worst, worst types of dependence and addiction when using illicit substances, which as any researcher will tell you is just a tiny minority of the population that uses illicit substances in the first place. Wouldn't it make eminent good sense in order to protect the public, to protect their kids, to bring forward people who have been able to use these substances successfully and safely and to pass on what they've learned and how they've managed to be able to use these substances so that our students can learn, and their teens can learn the right and wrong and the safe and unsafe ways of using any substance, including alcohol and tobacco, and therefore to make informed choices? To do anything else, to me, is to take away democratic principles of our society.
Dean Becker: Allright. We are speaking with Mr. Philippe Lucas, heads up the Vancouver Island Compassion Society. Philippe, let's talk about some of the other hats you wear. Let's first talk about the Vancouver Island Compassion Society. You guys have been at this for years now, trying to develop new strains of marijuana to help specific maladies, as I understand. But tell us a bit about VICS will you?
Philippe Lucas: Sure. The VICS is just coming up on its ninth anniversary this October. We're a medical cannabis research and distribution organization and we're currently supplying cannabis to about eight hundred and ten people here in Victoria and scattered throughout Canada. All of our members have doctor's recommendations specifically for the use of cannabis and we make it available in a number of different strains and methods of ingestion including oils, tinctures and we even have a mucosal spray called Cannamist that's a really cutting edge and effective method of ingestion. And what we, there's two things that have been major projects over the last few years. We've been active in medical cannabis research and right now I'm doing a research project looking at the changes in pharmaceutical opiate rates of new members of the Vancouver Island Compassion Society. This goes back to, or this is relevant to what you were saying earlier about the rise and the use of pharmaceutical opiates. We're seeing the same problem here in Canada as you guys are in the U.S. and what my study is looking at is whether the use of cannabis can allow medical users who, and patients who use pharmaceutical opiates to actually reduce their use of those substances. Not only would this have major implications for medical treatments in general, since those opiates are highly addictive, but they might have some implications for the general population as well since the real concern over the use of pharmaceutical opiates isn't really the medical use but rather the recreational use of these.
Additionally, over the last four years we've been involved in a constitutional challenge against the Health Canada medical marijuana program and last week in Vancouver was our last day in court, or our last week in court for that challenge. It's been a total of about fifty days in court in the B.C. Supreme Court and I'm extremely pleased that the challenge itself is behind us although we won't be getting a decision for a number of months now.
Dean Becker: A lot of folks ask me about Marc Emery. Is there any news that you could relay on that situation?
Philippe Lucas: Well, my understanding of his extradition trial -- I saw Marc last week -- we had a bit of a chance to talk about it. My understanding is that he's going -- the extradition trial itself is taking place in February of 2009 -- so right now he's busy working on his Cannabis Culture headquarters in Vancouver, they've just recently opened up a vaporizer lounge over there as well as a -- they've got a comedy club in the work, associated with Tommy Chong -- and Marc is in good spirits, good humor and doing his best to keep up the good fight under these rather threatening and dire circumstances.
Dean Becker: Yeah. For those who don't know, Marc was selling seeds sometimes to Americans and the DEA wants him bad. They want him bad for -- they called him what? The biggest drug kingpin in North America?
Philippe Lucas: Yeah. And what's lost in the Marc Emery story often is that two other people are being extradited as well: Greg Williams and Michelle Rainey. And although they don't have the notoriety, let's say, that Marc Emery does, these folks absolutely need our support. This is not just about the war on drugs, ultimately this covers a sovereignty issue and, of course, Americans would be incredibly upset if Canada, Mexico or anyone else decided to extradite one of your citizens despite that citizen having not stepped on the other country's soil in the last twenty years or so. And so for us this is a real matter of sovereignty. There's no doubt that what Marc Emery did is illegal in both Canada and the U.S. and yet in Canada the authorities refused to prosecute him. Or when they have prosecuted him had slapped him with minor fines and so for the U.S. government to come in and threaten acts for that, well, not threaten, they are extraditing him, and threaten him with essentially a mandatory minimum of at least ten years in prison for a crime that they can't seem to prosecute for here in Canada -- it's absolutely nonsensical.
Dean Becker: Well, it certainly is that. I wanted to get back to the thought that the U.N. is now investigating, or reformulating, their game plan for the next five or ten years, I suppose. What have you heard from that gathering in Vienna?
Philippe Lucas: Well, it sounds like it went really well. What I've heard is -- and I've read the motion that was put forward -- what I've heard is that there was a real tug of war between American led forces, Calvina Fay...
Dean Becker: Boo!
Philippe Lucas: ...and the Partnership for a Drug Free America, trying to control the messaging that would be put forth from this group of non-governmental organizations, or NGOs, but through a lot of compromise they were able to come up with a pretty strong motion that endorses harm reduction principles and that also suggests that the current policies of countries like the U.S. may be increasing the harms to end-users of illicit substances. The U.N. has been -- there's many arms of the U.N. that have been incredibly pro-harm reduction, that have been pro-reform and certainly when you look at the U.N.'s AIDS policy, they advocate needle exchange, safe consumption sites, and, of course, the distribution of condoms, et cetera, and so there's branches of the U.N. that are far more forward thinking and evidence based than the UN Drugs and Crime program which is, still seems to be stuck in a prohibition style ideology of the mid-eighties, that 'just say no' ideology and the belief that simply keeping drugs illegal are going to solve public health concerns and problems and, of course, that's absolutely not proven to be the case.
Dean Becker: Well, after 93 years of abject failure I don't know how they can continue wanting to go down that same road. All right, Philippe, I want to talk about the organization where I first met you through, MAP and DrugSense. I mean you guys do yeoman's work, I've often talked about you're the most overworked and underpaid group on the planet. Tell us about the work and why you do that work.
Philippe Lucas: Sure. I'm Director of Communication for DrugSense and I was formerly the editor of the hemp and cannabis section of the DrugSense newsletter. DrugSense is essentially the online backbone of the drug policy reform movement in the U.S. and in many ways in Canada and other parts of the world as well. Through Drug Policy Central we offer free hosting and web services to drug policy organizations. Through the Media Awareness Project that we discussed before, people can access an incredible archive of drug policy related news and stories and through DrugSense itself activists can get involved and be given the tools that national organizations have been using for years to effectively move the reform message forward. Those tools include a media contact-on-demand database which is a media contact database of over 30,000 media contacts from all over the U.S. and Canada. It's an incredible tool. Basically it allows you to send out a press release to literally 30,000 people if you've got the means, desire and ways to do it. And so it's a great way to do media outreach and, of course, we've also made great use of the internet with our focus alerts: whenever there seems to be some misinformation or a big drug story that we feel people care about and want to comment on, we send out alerts to a list of supporters who then write in letters to the editor either supporting or speaking out against a position, an issue or a policy that's been put forward. And that's been an incredibly effective way to harness the frustrations with the war on drugs that exists all over North America and to influence the media to give more fair and balanced coverage, as well. So it's been a great privilege working with MAP/DrugSense.
In every society there's little pockets of freedom and whether it's Vancouver's downtown East side or the Bay Area in California, there's pockets of freedom all through North America and we just need to find a way to expand those pockets. When we look at the communities that have taken more liberal approaches to substance use, more evidence based approaches, what we see is incredible progress, we don't see the collapse of society. [laughter] Whether you're looking at the Dutch or Ann Arbor, Michigan you're seeing people who've decided that the war on drugs has failed and that they're going to use an alternative approach and it has been an overwhelming success and it's because we need to move beyond ideology when it comes to the war on drugs. We need to move beyond policies based on fear, racism and misinformation and move towards evidence-based policies, based on science, reason and compassion. And, to me, that's the only way forward. It's a pragmatic response. It's not an ideological response and it's the only way that we're going to stop -- well, it's the only way that you guys in the U.S. are going to stop becoming the biggest jailers in the world. It's the only way that we're going to progress toward the public health approach to substance use and, to me, that's -- if there's a single law that we could change right now that would improve our society all across the board, that would save us money, that would free up hospital beds, that free up, maybe save 30 to 50% on our enforcement and incarceration system, ending the war on drugs is certainly the single policy decision that we could make that could have the biggest positive effect, I think, on the day to day life of North Americans.
Dean Becker: Once again, we were speaking with Mr. Philippe Lucas of DrugSense.org. And his Vancouver Islander Compassion Society website is TheVics.com.
[Bright country-rock musical accompaniment]
When Afghanistan runs out of opium,
And they cut down all the Colombian cocaine,
When Mexico runs out of marijuana,
And Purdue quits making OxyContin®,
Then I guess that I'll just have to quit
It's time to play Name That Drug by its Side Effects!
Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, cirrhosis, psychosis and dementia. The number one contributor to domestic violence and deaths on American highways.
Time's up: The answer! Beer. Taxed, regulated and freely available in all non-muslim countries.
This is Terry Nelson of LEAP, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. As a group of law enforcement officers, judges, prison wardens, prosecutors, defense attorneys, we are asking our government to stop the insane war on the American people, the War on Drugs. We see and hear more and more idiocy coming out of this madness. I am constantly out among the people talking about ending this failed public policy and a surprising 80% of the folks that I've spoken with agree that the war on drugs has failed and that something must be done before it causes even more harm. Yet the same week a sitting congressman comes out in favor of decriminalizing marijuana our nation's Drug Czar flew to California to celebrate DEA raids on medical marijuana dispensaries that resulted in no arrests, just a seize of assets. He even had the time to ride on a National Guard helicopter for a little dog-and-pony show and pulled up a couple of marijuana plants growing on American soil. He then spoke on how the policy of tighter border control had helped reduce the amount of drugs coming across the border but failed to acknowledge that they don't have to be brought across the border because marijuana is a major cash crop right here in America, much of it grown on government land.
So that public relations stunt to muster support for a failed policy is even sillier when one thinks of the millions of marijuana plants being grown here.
I also heard of a case last week where the government is suing one of our railroad companies for many millions of dollars for allowing drugs to be moved via their trains. Under this scenario, then we should sue the U.S. government for allowing the drugs to come across the border at our inspection stations. I mean, the railroads can do no more to stop the drugs from being on the trains than our border inspectors can stop the drugs from being in vehicles across the border. Technically, a load of drugs that crosses the border through an inspection station has been legally admitted into the United States so the government should be liable for this failure just as they are holding the railroads liable for their action or inaction.
I've spent many years patrolling the Southern land and water border and I can tell you with certainty that we will never, never stop contraband from coming across the border. As a member and spokesperson for LEAP we call for the total legalization of drugs and the implementation of a system of legal regulation and control.
The drug war against the American people must stop.
This is Terry Nelson of LEAP, at www.LEAP.cc, signing off.
Dean Becker: OK. I was planning to share the latest drug war facts with you from Mr. Doug McVay but we've flat run out of time. But I hope you enjoyed our interview with Mr. Philippe Lucas and that you'll consider doing your part to help end the madness of drug war because, after all, Philippe and I can't do by ourselves. It's really up to you to become a full citizen of whatever nation you're participating in and to do your part to bring this madness to an end. So, I guess, we're wrapping it up here but, you know, my friends, once again and as always, I want to remind you that because of drug 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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