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The War On Drugs w/ the ACLU & Graham Boyd

Delic Radio War on Drugs
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Graham Boyd is the founder and director of the ACLU Drug Law Reform Project. The Project conducts the only national litigation program addressing civil rights and civil liberties violations arising from the “War on Drugs.”

You’re listening to Delic Radio. I’m your host, Jackee Stang. Thanks for listening. Thanks for coming back again and again. We appreciate you. We love you, man. One love, all love. Even if you’re a dick, we love you because, ultimately, dicks are really just small kids, little babies with lots of trauma who like to act out on it. I think as a growing healthy person, you have to have empathy for that because if you can’t find empathy, then you get stuck in the anger. If you get stuck in the anger, you hurt your body. You hurt those people around you, and you hurt your spirit. You get stifled, and you don’t grow.

In my experience, the key to success is finding gratitude for trauma, all the trauma, even the trauma that burns really bad. We’ve all had some. I’ve had quite a bit. Every day, I put myself out there and get a little bit more trauma. Maybe if we stop avoiding it so much and then just sit with it, embrace it as a part of life, maybe it’ll become easier. Maybe the cave we fear to walk into is actually the cave we should walk into. Shout out to Joseph Campbell. Have you guys found Joseph Campbell yet? Please, please, please, please, please look up Joseph Campbell if you haven’t. Get stoned, watch his PBS specials. It’s amazing.

Full Transcript:

Jackee: Thank you for listening to Delic Radio. On today’s show, we have Graham Boyd. He is an attorney, consultant, and scholar specializing in political efforts to reform drug laws and reduce mass incarceration. Graham was very instrumental at the ACLU for many years. He is now working in policy in cannabis, in psychedelics. Graham is obviously wildly talented, educated person I had. I practiced for the first time on one of these shows, not necessarily just agreeing with the guest because they were here. I don’t agree with all my guests. That’s okay, guys. We don’t all have to agree to get along. Graham has logical ideas about how to create policy. I think some of his ideas are rooted in lack of knowledge about the actual subject matter of psychedelics and about, really, freedom. I’m not sure though, but see what you guys think. Really respect Graham and his work. I’m so grateful to have him on. Before we get into it, we are doing another live event. May 29th, 2020, we are doing Microdose May.


Oh, man, we’ve got some dope, dope, dope people on that panel. Wait for it. Jen Price, Tyler Ippoliti, Flor Bollini. Shout-out to my girl, Flor. Del Potter, Paul F. Austin of Third Wave, and my homie, Zak Garcia, who basically built the entire Bulletproof marketing team several years ago. It’s going to be a great conversation. Go to Click on Microdose, and sign up. It’s free. It’s 100% free, guys. We’re here for you. Thank you for listening. You’re amazing. It’s true.

Delic Radio.


Graham Boyd: Looks good.

Jackee: We are good to go. Let’s talk about your work with the ACLU initially, but I think let’s take a step back further and talk about the moment that you felt you wanted to become an activist and the steps you took to developing your voice in that regard.

GB: Sure. That’s going way, way back.

Jackee: Yes. Well, we all have our own hero’s journey, and it’s all part of the puzzle. It’s important to tell.

GB: For sure. Well, I grew up in South Carolina and moved around a fair amount as a kid, but ended up in Spartanburg, South Carolina. For me, the path to activism, I think, really came from growing up in the context where I was really aware of racial discrimination and what I later came to think of as sort of an American form of Apartheid. I didn’t have a politicized view of it exactly. It’s just that it didn’t feel right.

After college, I went to work for a member of Congress and had this idea of wanting to make the world a better place, and especially around issues of race and justice, but found it frustrating to do so from within Congress where just the political system requires so much compromise, so many, yes, compromises. I ended up actually leaving that job after less than a year and went to work in Nicaragua.

One of the issues that was in front of Congress then was around giving aid to the Contra, to the rebels who were fighting against the Sandanista government. Congress was voting to continue to give the aid. I thought this just doesn’t seem to be right, so I wanted to be right in the middle of it. I drove a pickup truck in war zone, delivering medicine, and material, aid, food, shelter, that sort of thing, to people who had been attacked by the Contra, and saw firsthand that the American government was supporting, essentially, a terrorist group.

There’s a lot about the Sandanista government that wasn’t great, but the Contra were really, really doing bad stuff, and I saw that firsthand. From there, I thought, “I want to be an activist. I want to be outside the system, not working within Congress, but really working outside of it, but using tools that are effective.” I had already been admitted to law school. I went straight from the jungles of Nicaragua to the courtyard at Yale Law School in a matter of about 48 hours and found myself meeting my classmates, Brett Kavanaugh and the people who went on to become senators and various kinds of powerful people. My identity from the beginning was as an activist, as somebody trying to bring change through tools, like the law. I think that’s where it started.

Jackee: Beautiful. Isn’t it interesting how people… You said Brett Kavanaugh. I think about people’s personality or the projection of one’s self in the public sector, right? It’s one thing, but then the personal experience with people is something totally different. Really, I bring it up because it’s when we lose the personal connection to one another, the personal stories in humanity in one another, which I think you can only really get in person, which is unfortunate right now, but you get when you do what you did. You go down to the war zone or to the source, and you see it, and you touch it. You feel it viscerally. It’s so important when talking about activism and change, and really making strides in changing the conversation around whatever it is you’re being active about.

GB: Absolutely, yes. I mean, I knew it then, and I’ve seen it over and over again, that having firsthand experience with something opens your eyes in ways. I mean, you have all these received ideas from reading the newspaper or hearing other people who have the ideas, but it changes your perspective to see something firsthand. No doubt about it.

Jackee: Yes. We talk about that in the psychedelic space a lot, figuring out ways to destigmatize, open people’s hearts to even just having a conversation about it. It’s like this dullish sword where the quickest way to understand is to have somebody experience it, but you also don’t want to project that as a recommendation because a lot of these things are illegal, and that would be irresponsible. Being responsible, but also having a real conversation based off of experience… It’s tricky. We’re kind of in the middle of figuring out how to do that.

GB: Yes, for sure. Well, I really do believe that those kinds of experiences come to people when they’re ready for them. Nothing is more annoying than seeing the advocate saying, “You have to do this now.” No, you don’t. You either do it when you’re ready to do it. That’s exactly as it should be.

Jackee: I think so too, really. I was just on a conversation talking about CBD, and the history of cannabis, and how unique it is. Not just as a plant, or a vegetable, or a commodity, but how it’s really been like this… We’ve had this symbiotic relationship with it, at least since hunter, gatherers, right? There’s evidence to prove that or to suggest that it’s been around that long in human life or human experience, and that it’s so widely misunderstood, yet so necessary, right, considering we have a cannabinoid system.

Depending on who you ask, we’re depleted in the nutrient cannabis or the nutrient hamper, whatever cannabinoid you want to pull out of there, but that some people are naturally drawn to it without necessarily knowing why. They’re drawn to it because their body knows. Ultimately, the magic or the beauty is right here, right? It’s you. It’s me. It’s the human because this… It’s easy to forget because we’re always looking outward. They’re like, “No, we have this really amazing computer. It’s so special and so smart.” Yes, it’s wise. It knows what to do. We just have to pay attention.

GB: Yes. I mean, it’s tricky because I think our bodies can be very wise. At the same time, if we’re not really attuned to our bodies, I think they can also give false signals. I mean, it’s totally possible to eat untold amounts of junk food and destroy your health. In a certain way, your body is saying, “Yes, give me that.” Same for psychoactive substances… I mean, your body could be saying, “Give me more. Give me more. Give it to me all the time.” I don’t think they’re that many people for whom waking up and consuming a bunch of cannabis first thing in the morning, and all through the day, and into the night every single day. I haven’t met a person for whom that works out super well.

Yet you can have that subjective experience of, “Well, my body is saying it wants it.” It’s tricky. At the same time, the sort of social norms and prohibitions of… I mean, going back to sort of me growing up in South Carolina, I grew up knowing that drugs were bad. Marijuana was bad. The other drugs were bad. I didn’t have any experience with them growing up because I just knew that to be true. That’s also not the best way to, quote, unquote, “know things”.

Jackee: Right. Prohibition has really developed a narrative that, one, that people like you and others have been working to retell or to reframe over the last several years and now with psychedelics. I mean, my companies was built to help be a part of that reframing of the conversation to more mainstream audience. Public education is very difficult. I think back to something as simple as sunblock and how it’s widely understood that sunblock is bleaching our reefs. It’s terrible for the ocean and the ecosystem of the ocean, which you can go to a place like Maui where people are educated. They know what. Then they’re still walking around putting Coppertone or whatever toxic sunblock they have on. It’s like, what does it take to actually educate people to change and to change trajectory? Man, you went to Yale. You’ve been doing great work with the ACLU. How would you put that in a nutshell? What does it take to actually affect change in public education?

GB: Oh, that’s a huge question.

Jackee: I know, right?

GB: I mean, there’s no easy answer there. I feel like we’re living in a period where it’s harder and harder to do that because the… I mean, whatever this is. What I’m about to say is, I think, a commonly repeated viewpoint. Our communication channels are just getting more and more narrow. You can tune into the people who are telling you things that you already agree with and spend all of your time just nodding your head yes. I think that that is… That makes it much harder to educate somebody about something that’s outside of their preconceived notion of what’s true, whether it’s sunblock or psychedelics. That’s the challenge.

That being said, the last 10 years, especially, but even over the last 15 to 20 years, there’s been a huge shift in public perceptions around cannabis. That gives me hope. I mean, we really have been. I feel like the current generation’s been living in a time of mostly political regression. I think we’re moving backward, politically, on most fronts compared to, I think, sort of a lot of the forms of liberation struggle that have happened in the United States and elsewhere during the civil rights movement, during the antiwar movements. There seem to be the sort of pendulums of progress and retrenchment. I feel like recent years have been mostly retrenchment, but not around cannabis.

I think that’s one of the few bright spots. I think, actually, LGBTQ rights is also the other area where in our generation, people’s minds have opened, the preconceptions have been set aside, and laws have changed. I mean, the reality on the ground has changed. We’re not close to being done with cannabis, but I think we have come far enough that it would be very hard to go back to full prohibition. Public opinion has both led the way, but also tracked that progress. Yes, it’s pretty amazing.

Jackee: Absolutely. What are some of the highlights of the work that you worked on as it pertains to cannabis and the ACLU? What are some highlights you feel proud of?

GB: Sure. Well, one of them is actually a case that led me to be at the ACLU in the first place. Back in… What year was it? ’96, California passed Proposition 215, right? That was the first medical marijuana law. I was not involved in drug policy reform at all at that point. I had spent the last period of time in South Africa during the transition of apartheid to democracy and was basically doing human rights stuff more broadly.

George Soros and Peter Lewis were the main funders of that ballot initiative. Its origins, interestingly, were really with activism. Dennis Peron and ACT UP activism… That was the source. People who were HIV positive, who had AIDS, who were fighting for their medicine… They had fought against Reagan administration to get HIV medicine. They picked medical marijuana as the next battle. They got it onto the ballot process, but then Soros, and Lewis, and a couple other people funded it.

Anyway, one of my friends from law school was working for Soros as a lawyer and knew that they needed to defend Prop 215. They came to me and decided to hire me to do that lawsuit even though I hadn’t been doing drug policy stuff at all. The case was called Conant. It was a class-action First Amendment case on behalf of all the doctors and patients in California that said there’s a free speech right to recommend marijuana, right? It’s not the doctors aren’t giving you the marijuana. They’re not even giving you a prescription for it, but a recommendation is just health advice.

Went up the Supreme Court. The courts ruled that there’s a First Amendment right. That’s actually why Prop 215 was able to go forward. The Clinton administration and the White House had said, “Any doctor who recommends marijuana will be arrested.” Our lawsuit meant any doctor recommends marijuana, is protected. The law went forward. The ACLU happened to be my co-counsel in that case. The head at the ACLU said, “This was a good experience.” Then asked me come, and work for the ACLU, and start their National Drug Policy Reform Project. That’s what I did for the next almost 15 years, litigating cases not just around cannabis, but around racial profiling, and drug testing, and denial of welfare rights to people based on positive drug tests, school drug testing, and a whole bunch of cases around sentencing, on the idea that we should not send so many people to prison for drugs in general, and starting to roll back that whole process.

I guess to answer your question, the Conant case is something I’m very proud of. The role that I played in helping start the process of lowering the sentences for drug crimes is also something I’m very proud of. Then there’s a case in Texas that I did that involved a small town where they rounded up and arrested African American people every year on fabricated drug charges. It was totally out-of-control drug task force, deep South-

Jackee: What town was this?

GB: It’s a little town called Hearne, Texas.

Jackee: I’m from Texas. I don’t even know where that is, but Texas is huge.

GB: It’s kind of halfway between College Station and Waco if you can picture that.

Jackee: Oh okay, so Middle West. That makes sense.

GB: Yes, yes.

Jackee: Central West.

GB: Probably, in terms of sort of politics, more income, and with East Texas than West Texas… It doesn’t have the libertarian stuff. It has the really deep black/white race history going on there. It ended up being just this huge complicated, amazing case that ended up shutting down the drug task force and creating a new law in Texas that you couldn’t arrest people based just on the word of a confidential informant.

A Hollywood producer heard about it, and they ended up making a movie called American Violet that you can watch today. It’s a really good movie with Alfre Woodard and a number of actors that are really powerful portrayals of the injustice of rounding up, and incarcerating African Americans, and about the ACLU lawyer who’s involved in it. Got my little place in Hollywood movie that way.

Jackee: That’s beautiful. That’s really a medium that’s so effective in destigmatizing and educating, right? It’s like if you can inspire people with movie, or documentary, or music, then I think their minds open up a little bit more, and public education becomes easier, I think.

GB: Well, I’ll tell you that one of the things that I’ve realized kind of in the wake of that experience is it’s an incredibly powerful story. You really have this sense of, it’s good versus evil. The courage of the plaintiffs in the case who was standing up to that… I mean, it’s very dramatic. For most audience, so an audience in California who’s watching that movie, you are clearly on the side of the good people. The bad drug task force boom… That’s awful.

You have, as an audience member, this sense of, thank goodness that doesn’t happen here. It’s just in some really backward place, like Hearne, Texas, that it’d be happening. The thing about the war on drugs is it does happen here, wherever you happen to live. I’m talking to you from Santa Cruz, California. In some ways, it’s one of the most progressive places in the world. If you go down to the courthouse in Santa Cruz, and you notice who’s in the orange jumpsuits, it’s young men who have dark skin. That’s who gets arrested on drug crimes. Even in towns that have relatively few African Americans or Latinos, that’s who gets disproportionately targeted.

That aspect of the war on drugs, you… Anyway, the storytelling is great. I love the movie. I’m so glad it was made. It does help open people’s minds. Then there’s that next step of saying, “Don’t just point your finger at the bad apple that’s down there in Texas. Really look inside your own community and ask what needs to change here.” That’s far harder.

Jackee: Oh, isn’t it the truth? It really is. It brings me back to cannabis in our world, and the High Times, and the sort of the corporate side of it. Also, I mean, High Times has been an activist. I mean, the reason I think it lasted 40-plus years now, for the most part, was because the majority of its brand life cycle… It had a really powerful First Amendment lawyer at the helm who was not afraid to push back on the government and the Reagan administration in the ’90s with fear monger and all those things.

It’s so important to have the great folks like yourself willing to go up against the federal government. I want to know what that’s like, viscerally. Obviously, it’s high stakes. You just mentioned it’s dramatic, obviously, because you’re dealing with people’s lives and huge injustices. Is it easy to get to used to it? Did you get used to it over time, or did you love it or hate it, having to put on that brave face?

GB: I mean, all of the above. The case in Hearne was exciting, but there were also death threats against me and my colleagues. For a couple of years, I was going down to Waco for court hearings every week or two. When I went to Hearne, I have an armed bodyguard with me because there were some local little boys who actually chased after one of the lawyers I was working with, and ran her off the road late at night, and then drove off. Didn’t do anything more, but we were taking it seriously. That’s not fun.

The winning, and making change, and really seeing the world look different as a result of the work, that’s fun. I think, actually, you can see behind my head there, there’s a picture that’s a painting by the courtroom artist of the case I argued in the Supreme Court. They don’t have cameras there, so CNN needs to send an artist in there to sketch it. I have it on the wall just as a reminder of how amazing that is to stand up in front of the Supreme Court, and all the preparation that goes into it, and the excitement of that.

The years I was at ACLU were… I worked harder than I’ve ever worked in my life. It was exciting. I don’t know. Saying that I’m this courageous in doing it… That doesn’t quite sit comfortably with me. I feel like the people who are really courageous are the ones who are… the family in Texas who’s getting arrested and facing the possibility of harm every single day. I think as a lawyer, I’m pretty insulated from that. It’s good work. I’m really proud of it, for sure.

Jackee: Yes, I know. My family has firsthand experience in what you’re describing. It’s well publicized that my husband had, many, many, many years ago now… It’s all over now, thank God. Had issues with cannabis, a cannabis charge from the federal government in New York. It was him and 75 other people, as these things go. He was one out of, I think, all 70-something, I might be getting that number wrong, who didn’t actually go to jail or do jail time because he was privileged enough to have the money to fight it, and the wherewithal, and the resources to do so.

He doesn’t take that lightly, but I know as an outsider… I met him after the traumatic effects of that. The privilegeness aside, we’re talking about human beings. For me to see the PTSD and the trauma that was inflicted upon him for psychologically thinking that he’s going to go to jail for five years, or wanting to commit suicide for a plant, for loving a plant, is trauma that we still deal with as a family today. Take that and compound it by whatever number, and you get the reality of what these defendants you spent so long defending and doing good work for. It’s hard to even articulate the trauma that the system puts on people.

GB: Well, it’s brutal. It’s widespread too. One of the, I guess, factoids that I find really compelling is that we lock up African American men at an astonishing rate. The number of African American men who are in prison right in this moment is more than there were African American men living as slaves on plantations in 1845. The scale of this is monumental. It’s not just African Americans. I mean, we lock up people in this country for drugs at a rate that is beyond how most countries lock up people for all crimes combined. It’s a kind of mania that America seems to have been bitten by, going back to Nixon, and especially Reagan. It’s really still today.

Jackee: Fear mania… That brings me kind of back to the conversation around cannabis and drug crime sentencing. That world is… It’s terrible. As the green bubble grew and people started making money, it’s definitely the sore spot for a lot of people knowing that all of this privilege and opportunity came from the green rush but we forgot about the drug war problem. We forgot about these human beings who, like you said, are currently incarcerated for a plant.

I think now that I’ve shifted to psychedelics, how can we have this conversation for that? Especially with things like LSD… The sentencing requirements for something like LSD are inhumane in so many ways because it’s really complex and kind of not an exact science. Your punishment is based, depending on what state you’re in or if it’s federal, on the weight of whatever they found, the LSD substance, on, or in, or laid on, or whatever. You’re not actually getting a sentence based on the actual substance itself. It’s really backwards way of measuring. I hope that we’re at this time now where we can have the conversation early enough so we don’t miss the boat. Unfortunately, I think we did in large part in the cannabis space.

GB: Well, again, the answers aren’t easy here. I feel like with cannabis, the first-order challenge is to stop arresting and incarcerating people. I’ve been deeply involved in almost all of the statewide ballot measures to change the cannabis laws since 2012. To take California as an example, I remember there were a lot of people who were and still are involved in growing and selling cannabis illegally. They didn’t want to see Prop 64 pass because it would change a market that was working pretty well for them. I mean, at one level, who can argue with that? It will change that market. If you have to get a license, that’s going to cost money. You’re going to have to comply with a bunch of rules. Your product’s going to have to be tested for safety. That will change your business model, for sure.

If it’s a business model that’s predicated on a lot of people getting arrested and going to prison, that’s not okay in my book. I don’t think it was wrong to change the laws that we’ve changed. I’m still at it. I’m running campaigns in 2020 to continue doing that. The first step is to end the criminalization of all the aspects of cannabis: of growing it, of transporting it, of testing it, of selling it, of possessing it. That has to happen.

Jackee: You think we’re close to that federally?

GB: I don’t, actually. Let me go back to that for a second because I want to finish that other point too. Once you change the laws and end the criminalization, then whose job is it to create a system that has equity built into it? I think the failures there rest on many, many shoulders. Each of the states… It varies state by state. Each of them has, to a large extent, kind of thrown up their hands and said, “This isn’t our problem. We don’t need to create equity in the market.”

There’s some things you can do in drafting the laws, like saying that to get a license, it doesn’t matter if you’ve been convicted of cannabis crimes in that past. That’s a positive step. To really dictate equity in the market, I don’t think anybody knows exactly how to do that. In some ways, it’s a problem of capitalism itself. There’s massive inequity in every legal market. I’ve been really interested in fixing that in a lot of different areas.

Anyway, I’m involved in this. I’m trying to look for solutions to make it better. I think the law that we passed last year in Michigan is a step in the right direction. The laws that we wrote for the coming election in Missouri in particular, I think, is very progressive about looking towards production of small businesses and minority-owned businesses.

Look, at the end of the day, the people who have made money in this industry really owe a debt to paying it back or paying it forward, whichever way you look at it. I mean, the fact that the ongoing campaigns to change cannabis laws continue to be funded by philanthropists who don’t have a business interest… I mean, these are individuals who are doing it because it’s the right thing to do. Almost no money is going into these campaigns from the people who’ve made it in the industry. It’s really upsetting to me. I mean, that should change, and it hasn’t yet.

Jackee: Yes. Well, I recall, of course, without naming names, we have advertisers at HT not… You’d say the word, equity, to them and they would shun. It’s like, “No, no, no, no, no. I don’t want to talk about it. Don’t talk about it.” I never really delved into why. I never got that intimate with it, but I know from experience that it was definitely a resistance amongst the people operating. I think it’s just fear of the bottom line because it was so hard. Once the regulations started to come from a business perspective, especially now, it’s difficult to make money in cannabis in a lot of parts of it right now.

GB: I’ll make a prediction about that. I mean, I think we’ve been through the gold rush period of cannabis, and that’s ended. A gold rush is, by definition, lawless. It’s just like everybody rushing into the hills, and staking their claim, and trying to grab as much money as they can before the gold rush ends. Coming now, the other side of the gold rush, there’s going to be a sorting process where companies are going to get rewarded for good behavior.

If your company’s identity and profile is, I don’t care about anybody except for making money as fast as I can, that company is probably not going to survive. The company that actually does care about their consumers, about their business partners, about the stakeholders… I think, especially in cannabis, those are the companies that are going to get rewarded as… Who do you want to buy your cannabis from, right? If you can see that there’s kind of a Patagonia of cannabis and a, I don’t know, Walmart of cannabis, I think most people who consume cannabis are kind of attuned to that. They’re like, “Yes, I’m more of a Patagonia person.”

Jackee: Absolutely.

GB: Maybe at the end of the day, there’s room for everything. Again, this is capitalism. There’ll be everything from Budweiser to craft brew or Walmart to Patagonia. I’m interested in the companies that want to be the good actors in the market. Those are the ones that I tend to actually spend some time helping them understand the changing political landscape so that they can succeed. I want to see that happen.

Jackee: I think the buzz term is conscious capitalism. At least that’s what I’ve heard. That’s totally possible. I think there’s a lot of reaching across the aisle and bridge work that needs to happen between the people who don’t… the non-profit worlds that have never experienced the for-profit cycle or formula to really understand that it’s not binary. Not everybody who’s trying to create a revenue stream is the, go, go, go, I only care about money, framework.

In fact, that’s in my experience. I’ve been around all of them, I think, for the most part. That’s rare. You can pull those people out. You can smell them. You can see them coming from a mile away. Like you said, I mean, I’m also of the mind, it’s a free market, free competition. Unfortunately, yes, those guys do win. They win a lot because they’re cut-throat.

GB: In the near term though.

Jackee: Exactly.

GB: I don’t think they’ll be the long-term winners. I mean, people who basically have done the pump-and-dump kind of pyramid scheme… There are definitely some people who have walked away with the payout of millions, sometimes tens of millions of dollars. I guess that’s a form of winning. I think the long-term winners are going to be the companies that actually do have some form of conscious capitalism going on. You asked me a minute ago about federal law. Do you want to go back to that?

Jackee: Yes, please.

GB: I am skeptical about the people who say, “Oh, we’re on the verge of changing federal law. It’s going to happen because we’re going to put an amendment into such-and-such a thing. I talked to senator so-and-so who said it was going to happen.” That’s been the kind of rah-rah story coming out of D.C. from a lot of the lobbyists there over and over again for the last three or four years. The thing is, is every single time, it gets killed in the Senate because the Republican majority in the Senate has no reason to pass this. The only Republican senators who are in favor of it are from Colorado and Alaska, the two states that have legalized.

It’s a pretty simple formula in my mind, which is that we have to legalize in some more Republican states so that you then have some Republican senators who are invested in the industry and who also are able to say… This is what happened with Cory Gardner, who’s the Republican senator from Colorado. He was against legalizing cannabis in 2012, big time. He was one of the most strident marijuana-is-evil people you would ever meet. Once it passed, he said, “Well, I’m also in favor of state’s rights,” as many Conservatives are. “Given that my state has legalized it… I wasn’t for it. Given that they’ve legalized it, then I’m going to support keeping the federal government out.”

He’s really been true to that. It doesn’t hurt that he also has a lot of businesses and constituents with jobs and who support him. We’re going to be running legalization campaigns this year in South Dakota and Montana, and next year, in Oklahoma, and Missouri, and probably Ohio. That’s a bunch of Republican voters and senators who are going to come around. Anyway, legalization at a federal level… It is not going to happen until we win in some Republican states. We got a plan to do that, but it’s going to take a couple years.

Jackee: What do you think about Texas?

GB: Well, Texas doesn’t have ballot initiatives. Some states, you can go directly to the voters. Texas isn’t one of those, so you’ve got to go through the Statehouse. You’ve got to go through the elected officials in the Statehouse. Given where politics and partisans in politics are in Texas, it’s not going to be on the leading edge of that. I think Texas will follow… I don’t know. If I had to just guess, it probably does medical in 2022, and adult use in 2025, or something like that. I think it’s still a little ways off.

Jackee: As a lay person not living in the world you live in, I just sort of naively assumed, “Well, yes. Listen, cattle ranchers, oil guys… They’re going to see the money. They’re going to see it as a commodity. It’s going to go quickly.” I was wrong. I think that’s all based on our constituents, right? They don’t necessarily feel, I would imagine, that the cannabis or dope is the end-of-the-world evil. I think it’s really up to their constituents to put the pressure on the in that way, from that direction.

GB: It will also help Texas when Oklahoma legalizes next year. From a Texas perspective, Oklahoma is not that different. Texas can look at California and say, “Yes, that does not matter to us.” If they look at Oklahoma and see that it’s working there, it’s generating much revenue… In fact, a lot of the Texans are going to Oklahoma and spending their money there. I think that is the sort of thing that could get their attention.

Jackee: It’s here. There’s a rivalry not just in football, but kind of an interstate rivalry with Oklahoma. Interesting. That’s an interesting perspective. I think people are less honest about the realities of federal legalization of cannabis. It’s interesting to hear your viewpoint based on all the experience you have. What are your thoughts on lowering drug crimes and sentences for psychedelics or other Schedule 1, Schedule 2 substances and what we can learn from the cannabis space?

GB: Well, my answer is not the same for psychedelics as for sort of broader other drugs. I’ll pull that apart into a couple pieces. Psychedelics is… You certainly know so well. Has a long history of mental health, what we would currently call mental health treatment. I think more traditionally, it’s almost just wellness. I mean, the way that psilocybin mushrooms have been used in parts of Mexico, in ayahuasca, in parts of South America, in peyote among Native Americans. Iboga in Africa… They’re these plants that have been held by cultures in a way that really supports well-being of people, a long, long tradition of that.

There was a lot of research being done in the 1950s and ’60s on some of these same substances in a more Western medical, clinical context. Again, really promising results: treatment of alcoholism by using psilocybin mushrooms or LSD. Having a big psychedelic trip as a way that leads people to stop drinking feels so counterintuitive, but there’s a ton of clinical research from the 1950s and early ’60s that show that to be true. That was all snuffed out by Richard Nixon because it kind of jumped from the laboratory and the clinical setting into the counterculture. It’s not just people using these substances to treat addiction or mental health, but to have fun, to expand their minds, to do things that were scary to the mainstream.

Anyway, this is a well-told story. I think Michael Pollan’s book is, for me, the easiest way to access all of that. That’s the renaissance that we’re in right now, the psychedelic renaissance, is we’re turning to that science and doing really careful, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials to show how psilocybin can treat depression or alcoholism, how MDMA is used to treat post-traumatic stress disorder. Those trials are going to lead to FDA approval. The one that’s furthest along is MAPS, which, for your listeners going to, and checking out their work, and supporting it financially. MAPS is in the final phase of drug approval so that people who have severe PTSD, whose lives are destroyed, can go to a doctor and get treatment.

That’s happening. I think that that is not like cannabis at all, right? The cannabis revolution was really about people using cannabis however they want to use it, wherever they want to use it, for whatever reason they want to use it and just removing the criminal penalties. The public is generally supportive of that. The public is not there yet on other drugs, just like everybody should be able to use them however they want to use them, whenever they want to use them. In fact, that was really what went wrong in the late ’60s, is that the people who were really big into these drugs wanted to get the whole society to join and agree with them. It went too fast, too far, and created a backlash.

I am hopeful that the FDA process can get really solidified before the kind of political movement around just getting rid of… essentially fully legalizing psychedelics. I think that that effort, if it comes too hard, too fast, could really upset the whole apple garden in some ways. Having said that, I think there are some intermediate steps that can be taken that are really awesome. The Decriminalize Nature movement is happening at a local level. That’s not legalization, right? Legalization, if you think about cannabis… I can go down to the corner and buy as much cannabis as I want to right now.

Jackee: I know.

GB: In fact, we could just stop this interview, and I could be there in two minutes. Decriminalizing at a local level is just instructing the local police to stop arresting people if they possess a small amount of a psychedelic substance, which by the way, they’re not doing much of anyway in the cities that are passing these initiatives. It’s a small, symbolic, hopeful step to start to kind of lay the groundwork for a broader social acceptance. Then the second thing that’s happening, that I think is just phenomenally promising, is a group of therapists in Oregon are proposing an initiative that would create certification for psychedelic therapists.

Again, it’s not like you can’t go down to the corner store in Oregon if this passes and buy a bunch of mushrooms, but what you could do is look in a directory of, who are the seriously trained, certified psychedelic therapists? If you want to go have that experience, you could do it in a way that’s actually safe, which is, again, a small step. It’s reasonably controlled. It’s not just throwing open the barn doors and saying, “Let’s return to 1968 and see how that works out.” In a sense, I’m kind of conservative about this.

I understand the fear of, well, let’s not open the floodgates. I also think that fear is not really a progressive emotion to have when you’re really trying to help people as a whole. I think when you’re having a psychedelic medical conversation, which seems new… I mean, it’s not new, but it’s new to the mainstream.

GB: Right.

GB: Well, that’s what excites me about the Oregon initiative as a… I mean, time will tell whether this is the best answer or not. If the FDA strategy goes super well, then in the next three to five years, there will be a legal avenue. As you point out, it’ll be in the psychiatric context. It’ll be for a limited number of people, but that will be kind of a baseline starting point for changing the situation. For sure, most of the use of the substances will happen outside of the doctor’s office, right, even after FDA approval. What I like about the Oregon approach is it takes that as a reality. It’s like, okay. There’s going to be a lot of non-medical or non-prescription use of psilocybin.

Jackee: Well, there already is. I mean-

GB: There already is. There always will be.

Jackee: People are consuming it.

GB: Right. Let’s just take that as a given. Instead of saying, that should all exist underground and in secret, and where people might get arrested, and where nobody is actually certified, let’s bring it above ground and train the people who are holding themselves out to be guides and therapists so that it’s actually much more safe, both in the psychiatric context, but also in the broader context. That’s revolutionary, and yet it’s not going the next step.

This is the line I’m drawing, right? I don’t want us to go yet to the place where we’re talking about buying psilocybin at the 7-Eleven, right, where you can just go and… I mean, that’s kind of how cannabis is, right? You can buy it just anywhere you want to. I don’t think we’re ready to do that for psychedelics. Oh, and just the last piece of this too is, I do. I think we agree, people shouldn’t be arrested for possessing it, period.

Jackee: 100%.

GB: I’m really excited about an initiative in Oregon and one in Washington that would end arrests of people for possession of small amounts of all drugs. I mean, some people are thinking they’re kind of the good drugs, like psychedelics, and then there’s a bad drugs, like meth or heroin. Arresting people for possession for any of these drugs is not helping them. Ending arrests and replacing that with substance abuse treatment for people who need that, for social services for people who need that, or just leaving people alone who need that… That’s a great outcome.

To me, the psychedelic combo is, go through the FDA for some conditions, have trained certified therapists for all the rest of the conditions, and then don’t arrest anybody. Do all of that, but don’t set up mushroom stores yet. Don’t go the full cannabis legalization, commercialization, advertising, delivery services. Then you start moving into the territory of potential backlash and danger. That’s where I’m coming from.

Jackee: No, I hear you. I can totally see that. I think, to take it a step further, for me, it’s more about… Yes, it’s the public perception. Less so about the danger that as a whole we would be under if we could more easily obtain psilocybin, for example, because that one’s pretty… Psilocybin’s probably one of the safest substances out there. LSD, for example, is a whole other conversation. MDMA or analogs of MDA… People don’t talk about this, but it’s effect on people’s serotonin levels who have unbalanced serotonin levels to begin with is something that we should talk about in terms of safety. That’s why it’s really important to me that we get into these conversations and break apart the psychedelic bowl. You really treat each substance as an individual because they’re not all created equal. Why would we group them in together like that?

GB: Well, I mean, I totally agree. I think that one of the most important things we’re going to have to do as a society in the years to come is, if we don’t use criminal laws and arresting as our preferred policy tool around drugs, then we have to start educating people. We were talking before about indigenous traditional uses of different substances. I mean, peyote within Native American communities is not abused or misused because there’s a lot of understanding about what’s the right and appropriate way to be in relationship to that really powerful medicine.

I agree with you. Psilocybin mushrooms are less dangerous than a lot of other things, but they’re not totally without danger. I worry that if we suddenly, overnight, we’re in a world where… Hey, everybody. The message is mushrooms are awesome. You should use them. They’re available at the corner store. Go, and buy as many as you want to, and eat them all at once, and everything will be awesome. That’s not true. People can have really challenging experiences. If they’re not in the right context for it, they can actually result in some harm.

Jackee: Right. There’s a lot of new trauma being created in the underground world.

GB: I want to see a world where people are educated and have the resources and context to have the experiences that they would actually want to have with these different substances instead of almost falling victim to commercial interests that want to push the substances on them and advertise them in ways that are not in the best interest of the consumers. That’s one of the lessons from cannabis for me too.

Jackee: I think so. We agree there, for sure. In a way, mushrooms… Psilocybin’s coming out ahead, so to speak, in this race in terms of popularity. Especially where I’m at here in Los Angeles, in Venice, before quarantine, you could go to your local shop, and people are selling mushroom chocolates. In large part, it’s a part of the social cannon already. It’s lost its ceremonial effect, which we saw with cannabis too. Cannabis gets left out of this reverence, ceremonial conversation because we were so fast, fast, fast to get it on the shelves.

I think we’re back at a place now where people are having the conversations and rethinking because we have more time to do so. I also like to think of examples like Portugal where naturally, the population sort of… It balanced itself. They took the fear of criminalization away. Then from what I understand, correct me if I’m wrong, drug use or negative effects of recreational drug use kind of went down.

GB: Right. Portugal doesn’t have commercial availability for those drugs, right? There’s not a heroin shop on the corner and heroin billboards saying, “Go buy heroin,” right?

Jackee: Right.

GB: That’s not happening. It’s just that you don’t get arrested for possessing small amounts of it. That’s what I’m talking about with the Oregon and Washington initiatives. If you’re in favor of the Portugal model, we’ve got a good shot at actually passing that in one or two states this year, which is pretty amazing.

Jackee: Super amazing. As we close out here, what do you want people to know about in terms of what you’re working on now, and how can they get involved and be activists themselves?

GB: Well, I’d say the single, most immediately pressing thing is about Oregon. If you live in Oregon or if you know anyone who lives in Oregon, go to the IP 34 website or the psilocybin service initiative website. You can download and sign the petition. We’ve got to get 15,000 signatures. You’ve probably been to the farmer’s market where people have the clipboards and they say, “Sign this.” That’s the normal way to do it. Guess what? We can’t do that now, so we’ve got to do it online. That’s an immediate action that’s really important. Then I’d say the next one is really supporting MAPS and getting MDMA through the FDA approval process. Go to the MAPS website. Donate some money. Volunteer your time. Those are my two suggestions.

Jackee: Love it. We’ll help with the petition. We’ll make sure to blast that out on our channels and get some signatures for you. Graham, it was really a delight to able to connect with you. Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom.

GB: It’s been such a pleasure. Thank you. Thanks for doing this podcast. It’s amazing.

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