Cultural Baggage, Feb 13, 2008
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.
Welcome to this edition of Cultural Baggage, I'm so glad you could be with us. Today we're going up to, I think, it's Vancouver or Victoria, our guest will clarify that for us, up in Canada, and he's a gentleman who spent some time last week with the United Nations office looking at what then non-governmental agencies want to do with this drug war. There are several of these conferences, if you will, around the world that try to delve into 'what do we do next?' What is the next step? How do we proceed from this time forward? And there was one, I think the same week or the week before, down in Florida where they didn't invite these NGOs, they didn't invite the populace. In fact they were excluded from attending. But up in Vancouver, as I understand it, the majority of the people there were talking about the need for change.
I understand we do now have our guest online and let's go ahead and bring him on the air.
Dean: Hello Philippe, can you hear me?
Apparently our phones are down at the moment so I'll just go ahead and tell you a little bit more about it. We also have a few tracks that we'll be airing that were gathered by Mr. Tim Meehan, up there in British Colombia as well, people who presented their thoughts on how we proceed as I was alluding to earlier, people who had very express intent to bring forward the truth. And again, as I understand it, the few drug warriors, if you will, that were gathered in attendance did not have a whole lot to say other than, you know, we should not hold our breath waiting for any of these changes to come about.
Do we have Phil with us at this time? Philippe Lucas?
Philippe Lucas: Hi, how's it going, Dean?
Dean Becker: Good morning. Glad to have you with us. Philippe, if you will, first tell us a little bit about you and the work you do.
Philippe Lucas: Sure. I'm the founder and director of the Vancouver Island Compassion Society. We're a medical cannabis research, advocacy and distribution organization located in Victoria, BC. We're in our eighth year of operation right now and we're currently helping supply medical cannabis to about 750 people here in the greater Victoria area. And we're also involved in a great deal of medical cannabis research.
Dean Becker: You were one of the attendees, perhaps you can give us a tally of how many were there at a recent UN sponsored conference.
Philippe Lucas: There was about 100 people there, the UN conference was great. It was in Vancouver at a really great meeting hall called the Wosk Center and there was representatives from drug treatment, there were representatives who were drug researchers, street front-line workers and activists as well as representatives from non-governmental organizations and drug policy reform organizations from Canada and the U.S.
Dean Becker: Well, Philippe, I don't know if you know, but due to the fact that I took a plea bargain, took probation rather than go to trial back in 1971 on a crime I didn't do, but again it was Houston and I preferred the probation to the five year sentence, but because of that I'm no longer allowed into Canada and your good friend, our good friend, Mr. Tim Meehan captured some audio from this event and I want to go ahead, and you can verify for me if this is correct, but I believe the gentleman's name is Kirk Tousaw...
Philippe Lucas: That's right.
Dean Becker: ...and here's what he presented to that conference.
Kirk Tousaw: My comment is this: criminal or quasi-criminal prohibitions concerning what one chooses to take into one's body or how one chooses to experience the world are the most invasive means of interference with the private life and autonomy that are available to the State. The reasons why individuals use illegal substances shows that the choice to use, for some, is intimately associated with fundamental personal autonomy and privacy.
It's clear that the reasons why individuals choose to use illicit substances go beyond physical pleasure and include relaxation, social connection and interaction, enhancement of the senses, enhancement of creativity, enhancement of their perception and appreciation of culture, the discovery of unusual associations of ideas, and spirituality.
All of these reasons are intimately involved in individual happiness and are fundamental personal choices going to the underlying reasons why human beings value life, liberty, and security of the person. As an overarching principle we must respect the moral agency of humans and their fundamental right to autonomous decision-making, particularly with respect to decisions about their mental and physical states.
Another overarching principle is that States may not threaten or suspend liberty merely to enforce a particular morality upon members of society. To do so is to use the coercive power of the State in its most extreme form: to unreasonably constrain private choices and personal autonomy based upon nothing more than private ethics.
So how would these principles be operationalized? I can only echo the comment made earlier that we have to begin by ending the requirement that there be penal sanctions on the use and possession of these substances so that we can respect the autonomy and the individual decision making of human beings as moral agents.
Dean Becker: OK, now Philippe, I would guesstimate that there were several folks who had somewhat similar thoughts being presented, right?
Philippe Lucas: Yeah, I think out of the attendees it's fair to say that 95 percent of the people there felt that the criminalization of substances and substance use was counter-productive to a public health approach to problematic substance use.
The key point that I think that we heard was that until that changes the UN's not going to have much success in tackling substance use, or some of its other primary missions including the reduction of HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C which are made so much worse through the current prohibitionary policies which don't protect substance users nor the general public from some of these peripheral effects of drug use.
Dean Becker: Just today the New York Times had an editorial talking about the drug war and talking about that it's just not going to get any better, the violence and the corruption and the bribery and the deaths down in Mexico and Colombia until the United States citizens stop using drugs. It's just a totally bass-ackward situation, is it not?
Philippe Lucas: It is, absolutely. It's looking at the problem completely in the wrong direction. It's not as if North Americans have just begun using substances, or we invented or discovered these substances over the last fifty years.
Substance use as Mr. Tousaw pointed out in your tape goes back tens of thousands of years and there's not a culture that's had access to psychoactive substances that hasn't ingested them at some point or another and that doesn't use them in some form of historical or ritualized way.
What we have right now and where the concern should be directed is we have a growing amount of problematic substance use, in other words use that is non-beneficial to the individual and they could be harming society as a whole but, unfortunately, we're not spending our directions and our energy tackling and addressing problematic substance use by offering treatment, accurate information and education.
Instead we're trying an enforcement-based criminal justice approach which is, unfortunately, making the problem worse. It's tough enough if you're someone who has an addiction or a dependence on a substance.
It's worse if that substance is criminalized forcing you underground and to not be able to access some of the general, some of the social...particularly in Canada here where we have socialized medicine...not being able to access some of the above-ground services that are available to you, and it becomes even worse than that when you get involved in the criminal justice system.
We end up in a jail or in prison where the rates of HIV/AIDS are eight times higher than in the general population and the rates of Hepatitis C are thirty times higher than the general population and that's what we're exposing people who've made the choices to use these substances to, and to me it's the equivalent, in many cases and clearly to many individuals, to a death penalty.
Dean Becker: Well, we've had Mr. Marc Emery as a guest on our show a couple of times a year because of his very dire situation up there and another concerned citizen, if you will, of Canada, Michelle Rainey gave her thoughts to this UN gathering as well.
Michelle Rainey: Hi, I'm Michelle Rainey. I'm with MedUser. [http://meduser.ca/] I represent one of 2,200 people in Canada that is legally entitled to possess and grow cannabis. I also wear another hat, I'm Vice-President of the BC Marijuana Party and I'm under extradition to the U.S. right now. Out of the 2,200 people in this country who are licensed we are still under threat every single day.
And I want you to know that not one person has ever died from cannabis and it's imperative that we legalize and that the UN understands that cannabis is a medicine that is recognized by physicians, by doctors and by millions and millions of people all over the world that benefit from it every single day. Legalize it, tax it, regulate it, put the money back into health care, put the money back into saving other lives. We do not need to put any more people in prison for cannabis use.
Dean Becker: Now, for those who don't know, Michelle Rainey and Greg, I can't think of his last name, and Marc Emery are all wanted in the United States for quote being international drug traffickers, I suppose, for selling seeds over the internet and Michelle and all of those folks deserve much better than what the U.S. is wanting to give them. Right, Philippe?
Philippe Lucas: Well I think there's no doubt that if Canadian courts were unwilling to prosecute, or unable to prosecute Marc, Michelle and Greg, that there's very little reason for the U.S. to take interest in them. And certainly the penalties that are being suggested for all three, which would range from ten years to life in prison in the U.S. for the selling of seeds and for basically involvement in a business that didn't have a direct, that didn't hurt or directly impact anyone beyond adults making reasonable choices for themselves, is absolutely anathema to justice.
Dean Becker: Now I understand that there are many people who are pretty much marijuana-centric. You, being director of the Vancouver Island Compassion Society providing medical marijuana for the patients up there, are very specific towards marijuana. But you also see this drug war as a complete failure from any angle, am I right?
Philippe Lucas: Yeah, that's absolutely right. I think that, I consider myself more a social justice activist than a cannabis activist or a drug policy researcher and I find the war on drugs just being one of the clearest indications of laws that we have in North America and in much of the world built on fear, myth and misinformation rather than science, reason and compassion and that's why I've put so much time and energy over the last ten years or so trying to move us towards more compassionate approaches to substance use.
And more importantly, for someone like myself who really came to this not for medical cannabis, not for spiritual reasons but really for scientific reasons with the idea that it might help me as a medical user and also trying to explore some of the science that is out there suggesting that cannabis can be useful in the treatment of so many substances, it's a frustration to see that we're locking up people based on fear and misinformation right now, that we're criminalizing generations based on a misunderstanding, or a willful ignorance of the evidence before us and I think that modern liberal democracies need to treat their citizens in a more respectful way than to impose morality upon them.
Dean Becker: Thank you for that. Now, this week we don't have any of the drug warrior voices from that Vancouver event, I hope to have some of that in subsequent weeks, and you probably know this, Philippe, we occasionally produce a segment on behalf of the drug warriors because they're so unwilling to come on the show to defend this policy. And I want you to respond to this one. We're going to do this on their behalf, we'll get your response.
Official Government Truth
The economy shakes, the dollar plummets and you want to end the drug war. Maybe you haven't thought this through. The drug war accounts for tens of millions of American jobs. Not just the DEA, police officers, prosecutors, public defenders, prison guards, prison contractors, government officials and, of course, myself but countless millions of other hard-working American citizens. How many millions of American families are you willing to put out on the streets so that can smoke crack behind the Red Roof Inn?
Sorry Little Jimmy, I know your dad has worked hard defending America from the drug scourge for 25 years but now you have to move out of your house so we can snort coke off a hooker's breasts in the middle of Chuck E. Cheese. Those are the breaks, kid. I know it's depressing but here, some smack will make you feel better and it's legal now.
Is this really what we want for America? Hard-working, law-abiding citizens rendered jobless and homeless to protect those who break the law with impunity? Is that justice? Is that what America is all about?
The consequences of abandoning our efforts to end the drug scourge go beyond your ability to handle your own high. The drug war not only protects Americans from drug addiction, it creates jobs, fuels business, feeds families, raises children and supports the lifestyle of tens of millions of your fellow citizens.
Ending the drug war ends all of this as well.
Think about it. This has been Winston Francis with the Official Government Truth.
Dean Becker: Alright, Philippe. I'm going to give you first crack at that. What do you think of that report?
Philippe Lucas: Well, (laughter), it's the first time I've ever heard that argument. We all know that there's a huge industry involved in the war on drugs, we all know the drug testing, prison building, the court system...it's dependent on a continued, mostly dependent on a continued criminalization of these substances.
Of course it's a morally, completely morally untenable position to keep locking up otherwise law-abiding citizens in a society in order to maintain a job-creation program around the criminalizations of arbitrary substances. By the same argument, one would argue that finding everlasting peace in this world would cost soldiers too many jobs.
It's absolutely an indefensible position that I just heard, although it is a novel one that I haven't, I'll give that to the drug warriors, this is the first time that I've openly heard that argument, something that the most conspiracy theory-minded drug reformers have suggested, that the war on drugs is nothing more than a convenient job-creation program for police officers, corrections agencies and the drug testing industry.
Dean Becker: It just holds true across the world in so many ways because it is the desire of the United States, our lackeys, to continue this and they enforce it around the world, either through bribes to countries like Bolivia and Colombia to do their part to stop the supply-side and, of course, there's the billions we give here pretending to stop the demand-side. It's just...
Philippe Lucas: One thing that there's no doubt about, Dean, is that if we didn't have a war on drugs, if we didn't have this costly, and I say 'costly' in terms of the moral sense, costly in the financial sense, war on drugs everyone in North America would have problematic substance use issues would be able to get treatment because we'd be able to offer, and we'd have the money to be able to afford to give that treatment, and so the problems, the real problematic use of substances, we'd be in a much better position to address than we currently are where we're spending 75 to 80 percent of our drug war spending goes directly in enforcement and the criminal justice system, and as we've seen over the last 70 years, that's both ineffective and untenable.
Dean Becker: I appreciate that. Philippe, you guys up there in Canada are showing us an example of what a better way could be, particularly around Vancouver and maybe a couple of other cities where they have the safe-injection sites and the medical marijuana available, but you're also being influenced, as I said earlier there, by the United States and your Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, is trying to emulate, walk in the steps of John Walters, is he not?
Philippe Lucas: I think that there's no doubt that our criminal justice bill as it's coming up would put so-called U.S. style, would put us in a U.S. style drug war complete with mandatory minimum sentences and long prison terms for personal use of illicit substances.
That being said, I think that we, if one can learn and be influenced by say the poor policies of a nation, we're also influenced and much supported and encouraged by the resistance to those poor policies.
Where there's power there's resistance to power and many of the activists, the researchers, the reformers that came up to participate in the UN meeting last week, that made the greatest impact came up from the U.S. to tell us about their experiences with the war on drugs.
Here I think of Deborah Small from Breaking the Chains who made an impassioned plea to end this criminalization. People like Daniel Wolfe of the Open Society Institute and, of course, Dale Geringer, Dr. Dale Geringer, long time director of California NORML, all of whom made impassioned pleas to end this fruitless and unsuccessful war on our personal rights and freedoms.
Dean Becker: There is an open invitation to anybody up there in Canada who'd like to come to Houston, the gulag filling-station of Planet Earth, and we can't get into the jails, they won't allow people in there anymore, but we can certainly see how many are going in and coming out and the violence and the crime and the needless flapping of the wings, so to speak, to end people's desire for using drugs. We have one more clip that was recorded up there in Vancouver at this UN conference. This is Mr. Ethan Russo.
Ethan Russo: I would like to see the UN, with respect to drug policy, adhere to its own charter with respect to human rights, number one. Number two, I would like to see an emphasis, a stated emphasis, on the use of evidence based science with a recognition of drug abuse as a medical problem rather than a policy problem or a problem that will be handled from a punitive point of view.
Dean Becker: Once again, we're not the ones calling for the terrorists to thrive. That's what these prohibitionists want. We're not the ones that want to keep the cartels supplied with money. Again, that's the prohibition desire. And we're not the ones that are empowering these violent gangs. That's being done by these prohibitionists, right?
Philippe Lucas: It's certainly the end result, and knowing that end result to continue such a policy, I think, makes you part and parcel of the results of that policy.
Dean Becker: Exactly right. We didn't talk about the fact that you are also a member of Drug Sense, http://www.mapinc.org/, let's spend just a minute talking about that organization, the work that you guys do there.
Philippe Lucas: Sure. Drug Sense is a remarkable organization. It's basically the chief online engine to drug policy reform in Canada, the U.S. and in many European countries as well. We have a number of, in fact too numerous to name all of our services that we offer, but if you're an organization right now that's involved, or would like to get involved, in ending the war on drugs.
Drug Sense can, free of charge, set up a web site for you, set up a listserv, help you at the community level with press releases and making sure that your message gets out to the press and, of course, our most notable project is the Media Awareness Project, which is at mapinc.org [http://www.mapinc.org/] and it's an archive of, I think, over 250,000 right now drug policy related articles from all over the world and so the goal of Drug Sense in general is to bring science, reason and evidence based policy to the war on drugs and to end prohibition.
Dean Becker: Thank you for that. Again this has been a discussion with Mr. Philippe Lucas of the Vancouver Island Compassion Society. Philippe, I appreciate the work you guys do at every level and the more progress you guys make, kind of like California, the more progress they make, perhaps someday people will pull their heads out in the State of Texas and we can make some progress here as well.
Philippe Lucas: I hope that one day that we can all point across the borders and look back at this period of time for what it is, a real aberration in history, an aberration and a willful ignorance of science and reason and that one day this will be behind us and we'll be able to treat both illicit substances and substance users in a manner that's in keeping with a public health approach and for the betterment of mankind and for all of us as well.
Dean Becker: Thank you, Philippe.
Philippe Lucas: Have a great day.
It's time to play Name That Drug by its Side Effects:
(Numerous horrible symptoms)
Answer: Vytorin, from Merck/Schering-Plough Pharmaceuticals , a Singapore company, LLC, for high cholesterol.
Poppygate: Bizarre News About the U.S. Policy on Controlling Heroin, featuring Glenn Greenway.
"Broadly similar" to last year, the Taliban will siphon another $100 million from the anticipated 2008 U.S./Afghan opium narcopoly, according to U.N. Drug Czar Antonio Maria Costa.
Remarkably, Dr. Costa's agency coauthored a study with the World Bank in 2006 which praised Afghanistan's narcotics industry for its role in stabilizing the country's economy.
Indeed, the Bush Bonanza and enormous drugs prohibition subsidies are the only things keeping the war-ravaged country and the 50,000 occupation troops on-station from the abyss of total war.
On January 30th, three important non-partisan reports were released - each concluding that the situation in Afghanistan is gravely deteriorating.
"Make no mistake. NATO is not winning in Afghanistan," begins the report from the Atlantic Council of the United States, led by General James Jones, former NATO commander and retired Commandant of the Marine Corps.
The Center for the Study of the Presidency called attention to Afghanistan's "runaway opium economy."
The National Defense University report says "as stabilization and reconstruction falters, drug production grows."
In Congress this week Senator Joseph Biden noted that the U.S. has spent the same amount on aid and development in Afghanistan over the past five years as the military burns through in Iraq every three weeks.
We've already reported that expert growers from Afghanistan are helping Iraq's fledgling opium industry. Unfortunately, the peculiar Afghan tragedy of female self-immolation is catching on in the country as well. For more information please visit Rawa dot org. [http://www.rawa.org/]
Desperate people do desperate things, praise prohibition and pass the ammunition.
This is Glenn Greenway reporting for the Drug Truth Network.
Doug McVay: Talking loud and saying nothing. The Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Colombia University, or CASA, hosts a public policy conference in Washington D.C. later this week. It will be a serious discussion of drug policy issues by major players in substance abuse policy, almost guaranteed to receive some media coverage. Unfortunately, it's not going to accomplish a bloody thing. It's really less a conference than a series of presentations, all with a limited scope.
We will be told about the brave efforts of those working to reduce youth substance use. We will be told about the brave efforts of youth in treatment. We will hear people bravely criticize the lack of funding for these seriously vital efforts even as they praise a successful reduction across several measures of drug use. Drug policy reform will be mischaracterized as an extreme libertarian fantasy world and dismissed.
Tiny baby steps towards actual reform will be exaggerated and lauded as tremendous success, proof that the system works rather than evidence of the system's inertia and of the need to think outside the box. We will hear little about the crass commercial culture of consumption and excess which drives so much substance use.
We will hear a very, very little bit about the stigmatization of substance users which acts as a barrier to treatment: hard as it is for a person to admit to an addiction problem it is even harder to confess to breaking the law on a regular basis. And we will hear nothing about how the push to punish obstructs efforts to prevent substance use as well as to treat problem substance use.
Unless, that is, unless I get to ask a question from the audience because I will attend. A direct approach is sometimes the only way to open a dialog, especially when the other side only wants to hear itself talk.
For the Drug Truth Network this is Doug McVay, Editor of Drug War Facts dot Org. [http://www.drugwarfacts.org/]
Dean Becker: OK. Real quick I wanted to let you know that next week we'll be getting reports from Phil Smith of Stop The Drug War whose touring Mexican poppy and marijuana fields. We have hundreds of our shows available at Drug Truth dot Net. [http://www.drugtruth.net/cms/] And in closing, I'll remind you 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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