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  April 20, 2017

Nina Turner on Jeff Sessions' Reefer Madness


Nina Turner and Paul Jay discuss the renewed war on drugs, including marijuana, planned by Trump's Attorney General and Head of Homeland Security
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Nina Turner on Jeff Sessions' Reefer MadnessPAUL JAY: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay.

Reefer Madness. Well, Reefer Madness seems to be coming back to the United States. For those of you who don't know where the term, "Reefer Madness" came from, it was a movie produced in 1936 by a church group that got fairly wide distribution, and has become sort of a symbol of the war on drugs. And some people think the craziness against drug use, especially marijuana.

Now here's a clip from that film.

(music)

PAUL JAY: Well, when it comes to Reefer, one country is headed towards Reefer Madness, another is headed in a completely other direction when it comes to marijuana.

On April 13th, Canada's Federal government introduced a bill legalizing recreational marijuana use. Meanwhile the U.S. seems to be ramping up the war on drugs. The Department of Homeland Security Secretary, John F. Kelly said earlier this week that he thought pot is not a factor in the drug war. But just a few days later he changed his tune, and called it, "A potentially dangerous gateway drug."

He was echoing Attorney General Jeff Sessions' stance, who's been very vocal about his opposition to legalizing pot, and other drugs. Here's Sessions speaking on March 31st in St. Louis.

JEFF SESSIONS: We must fight the scourge of drugs in our community. There's no two ways about it. Drugs and crime go together. One factor in the fall of murder rates, I believe, in the past was controlling drug use.

PAUL JAY: Now joining us from Cleveland is Senator Nina Turner. Nina's a former Ohio State Senator. She was a surrogate for Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic primary. She teaches at Tri-C College in Cleveland. She's also hosting an upcoming show on The Real News Network called, "The Nina Turner Show".

Thanks very much for joining us, Senator Turner.

NINA TURNER: Thanks for having me.

PAUL JAY: Senator Turner what do you make of Sessions' assertion, more repression on drugs including marijuana. More arrests, more incarceration, I assume, and it's all part of the war on drugs. That leads to a lowering of the murder rate and the lowering of the crime rate.

NINA TURNER: Well, his assertion is ridiculous on its face. We know what happened, the 1994 Crime Bill, and what that did to African American communities, in particular, the poor communities in general. We know that the so-called, "War on Drugs" does not work, and all it does is create a scourge in communities. Particularly communities of color, it's the wrong way to go.

And, moreover, what he said is really out of touch, Paul Jay, with what is happening in the States. In this country where almost more than half, or at least half of the states in our country, have some type of law legalizing medical marijuana, which he made a comment even against that.

And we know that there's medical studies that show that medical marijuana, or medicinal marijuana, certainly gives relief to people with certain medical ailments. So, he's really, really out of touch with where this country is going in general. And also in terms of how we've become smart on crime, and move away from just locking up people randomly, without considering whether or not they would be better candidates for more community-based corrections. Where, in my state, that's what we moved towards over the last five years.

PAUL JAY: What does that look like?

NINA TURNER: It's really working. I mean, we have more community-based corrections where we took low level non-violent drug offenders, if this is on drug offenders, and gave them community corrections. You know I remember, Paul Jay, that a gentleman came to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee, of which I was Criminal Judiciary, of which I was a member of that committee. And he talked about how when he went to prison he came out more hardened than when he went in.

And his observation was, that if we really want to rehabilitate people, especially low-level offenders and extra especially drug offenders, that we need not send them to hardcore prison, where they will end up, in his words, "coming out of there with a PhD in criminology. And it's not the kind you get from a university." So, it is working.

And we spend about $25,000 a year in the State of Ohio, on incarceration. We don't spend anywhere near that in this state on education. So, using Ohio as an example, nationally, it just makes no sense to take drug offenders, and especially non-violent low-level drug offenders, and lock them up. And it certainly makes no sense to bring back the so-called, "War on drugs".

PAUL JAY: When you look at the data, I think it supports what you're saying. Most studies that have looked at this have shown that especially low-level people involved in drugs, but even at every level, dealing with drugs as a healthcare issue makes far more sense. Hard drugs... marijuana is certainly is no more dangerous than alcohol, and in many cases may be less dangerous than alcohol. Many states, as you said, are moving towards it, some form of legalization.

Now, given all of that data, what drives Sessions, what drives not just Sessions, the Trump administration, certainly Trump knew where Sessions stood on all this. His advisor is Steve Bannon. And Steve Bannon is very close to Opus, and the Catholic Church, and they're very anti-drug. It's all part of that same ideology. What drives this when all the data points in the other direction?

NINA TURNER: Well, never let the truth get in the way of a good story. And to do what is right for this country, especially when it comes to a war on drugs, and especially when it has anything to do with marijuana, it just doesn't fit their narrative. The fact does not fit the narrative that they're pushing. And as you may recall, Paul, on the campaign trail, Mr. Trump talked about law and order. You know that was the big theme that he used when they had their convention here in Cleveland, Ohio. Right downtown, in Cleveland, Ohio, was this whole notion of law and order.

And so, this resurgence of a so-called war on drugs fits their narrative, even though it is opposite of where many states are going, both with medicinal marijuana, and also recreational use. And it certainly does not fit, as you pointed out in your opening, about where countries like Canada are going, when it comes to dealing with marijuana use in this country.

So, it is really about them pushing this whole law and order, which is going to have a negative, a profoundly negative impact on the poor, and a profoundly negative impact on communities of color. We know that we have about 2.2 million people in prison right now.

And I remember on the campaign trail, Senator Sanders talked about this all the time, that we spend $80 billion a year, more than any other country, between prisons and jails in this country and the returns.

We're not doing anything in terms of really rehabilitating people, which, most people come out. Most people don't get life sentences. Most people don't get the death penalty, and so to be smart on crime, is to make sure that we put mechanisms and policies in place, that fully rehabilitate people, and not lock them up, and have them come out more hardened than when they went in.

PAUL JAY: Right. And I think the other thing that they're not facing up to, "they," being Sessions, and Kelly, and the Trump administration. But I must say, it was also true in the Obama administration, that even in the Obama administration, they tried to take measures against California medical marijuana, and such.

But when you go into some of the poor white working class areas, like we've been looking at Dundalk, near Baltimore, Westminster, a town near Baltimore, and you ask people what's the number one problem facing you? In both areas you hear, more often than not, heroin addiction.

Drugs are devastating these poor white working class areas, and so this argument that marijuana is a gateway to heroin, and heroin or drugs like it are devastating whole sections of the country. Many of whom are Trump supporters, and then the answer to that is law and order. The answer to that is, "Well, let's crack down on drugs."

Except every piece of evidence from decades and decades of that policy is that it doesn't solve the problem, and they really need to face up to the question of, "Well, why are people getting addicted? Why are people lives so empty that heroin, and such, are so successful in being distributed in these areas?"

NINA TURNER: Oh absolutely. Get to the root of the problem, and opiates too, Paul Jay. Let's add opiates to that. We have a scourge of opiate addiction in the State of Ohio, so much so that coroners in certain counties, and my county was one of them, Cuyahoga County, where the coroner did not even have enough space for the dead bodies, in terms of people, their lives really being destroyed as individuals, families and communities, because of the opiate crisis.

And you're absolutely right about heroin. So, if they were really serious about the so-called law and order, you can't have law and order without justice. You can't have law and order without looking at policies that really try to deal with the underlying causes. And how do we link education and jobs and counseling -- and in some cases people who may have, not all people -- but may have some type of mental challenges? We have to fund those types of things, so that we decrease the numbers of people who even go to prison for something like this in the first place.

And, you know, Paul Jay, you hit on something that was very pivotal, when you talked about how we deal with drugs in the United States, compared to other industrialized nations, in terms of looking at it as a medical health... as a healthcare, as a health crisis in this country, versus treating people who have those types of addictions as criminals. We really have to turn the tide on that.

PAUL JAY: Thanks very much for joining us, Senator.

NINA TURNER: Thanks for having me.

PAUL JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

Coming soon the Nina Turner show. Please join us for that.

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