This is a rush transcript
Taya Graham: Hello. My name is Taya Graham and welcome to the Police Accountability Report. Just a reminder, this show has a single purpose, holding the politically powerful institution of policing accountable. And to do so, we don’t just focus on the bad behavior of individual cops. Instead, we examine and expose the underlying system that makes bad policing possible, and it is that system that will be the topic of our show today. Because while we can all see stark examples of police brutality and law enforcement overreach, the acts themselves are often the result of a long causality chain of injustice. Case in point is this country’s war on drugs, and by now we all know the story. The Nixon administration, eager to reassert the power of policing after a decade of social unrest, created the DEA in 1973, declaring an all out global war on drugs. Since then, the DEA has grown in power and influence spending roughly $2.8 billion in 2019 on drug interdiction and investigation.
Remember, almost every administration has increased DEA funding and ratcheted up the initial war on drugs into a wholesale assault on civil liberties and social equity that has redefined this country. But the reason I’m raising this topic today is because of a story. A story about one man’s battle in the so-called war and how this ruined his exemplary reputation as a cardiac surgeon and how he lost 18 months of his life in jail, and what this says about the true purpose of this battle over the right to alter our own minds. It’s a personal struggle that not only reveals how costly drug enforcement has been, but also reveals a deeper truism that the war on drugs is not just an assault on the poor, the disenfranchised, and the political efficacy of the 99%, but is also in many ways rooted in a war over our minds and the profit that comes with waging it.
Well, what do I mean? Well, consider one of the oddest targets of the nation’s drug warriors, marijuana. This medicinal plant has been touted as a treatment for afflictions as disparate as epilepsy, to nausea as a result of chemotherapy. It is a known therapeutic for pain and a proven tonic for anxiety and stress. All of these benefits from a purely organic substance that seems perfectly suited to soothe the human body. But as many of you know, the DEA classifies it as a Schedule 1 drug. Well, what does that mean? That it has no therapeutic value, is highly addictive and dangerous. In short, it is one of the most dangerous substances available. It’s a classification reserved for drugs like heroin and methamphetamine. So how did a plant that is now being prescribed by doctors in dozens of States across the country, end up with such a perilous classification? And why, even after it’s been legalized in 11 States as well as Washington DC, why does it still remain on list?
That’s where the story of this show begins. It’s a tale of a man, a doctor no less, who understood how destructive the approach to marijuana was. In fact, he was so convinced the science proved pot was almost a magic elixir for the human body, that he staked his career on it and paid the price. But before we get to his story, I want to go to my reporting partner Stephen Janis, who has a breaking update on the state of pot in this country and the political fight to legalize it. Stephen, thank you so much for joining me.
Stephen Janis: Taya, thanks for having me. I appreciate it.
Taya Graham: First, before I ask you about marijuana legalization, I want to get an update about our topics last week, the use of ketamine by law enforcement. We had talked about the case of a Colorado councilwoman, Anita Springsteen, about the arrest of her boyfriend, who was later dosed with ketamine. You reached out to Colorado authorities about the use of it while arrested and obtained some startling figures. Can you talk about it?
Stephen Janis: Well, I know, as we mentioned in the last show, there were 902 uses of ketamine over the past two years and 163 incidents where there was a problem which arose, and this paper I got here gives us some details on that. We had dozens and dozens of cases of hypoxia as a result of ketamine, which means you have a low blood oxygen level, which of course is something that afflicts people with COVID. We also had a lot of cases of apnea, meaning interruption of breathing. So that’s 16% of the cases. That means a lot of times, people who were administered ketamine are experiencing adverse reactions to the drug. So only raises more questions about why it’s being used so widely.
Taya Graham: Now, just a few weeks ago, Congress reached a critical juncture on pot legalization. What happened, or more accurately, what didn’t happen?
Stephen Janis: Well, it was called the MORE act, Marijuana Opportunity Re-investment and Expungement Act, and it was supposed to basically take marijuana and take it off of that horrible Schedule 1 where it’s basically classified as a most dangerous drug, a drug with no medicinal purposes. But what happened was that Congress decided it couldn’t vote on it during the COVID crisis because it hadn’t voted on any sort of extension of COVID aid or unemployment aid. So what it means is that all this so-called or hopeful reforms aren’t going to take place. It was a big blow, I think, for marijuana reform activists and what was seen as being a big first step. One of the things that the Act would do would give an incentive to States to expunge marijuana arrests. It would also have helped veterans get access to legal marijuana, because right now, because of the federal law, veterans are not allowed access to marijuana in many cases, because federal law conflicts with local law. So it’s a big step backwards.
Taya Graham: So what are the chances now that this passes at all? What’s at stake?
Stephen Janis: Everything is going to hinge upon the election. If Republicans continue to have control over the Senate, there’s no way this bill passes. If indeed Democrats take over, there is a slight chance it will pass. I think it will pass a House, but it’s really up in the air. And especially if Republicans are in charge, there is no way this bill passes the Senate.
Taya Graham: As Stephen’s reporting points out, there is significant federal resistance to legalizing a plant that has many beneficial uses. But to get into the deeper reason why the resistance is so fierce, I’m joined now by a man whose story exemplifies the deeper, more insidious reasons the drug war is still being waged across this country. His name is Dr. David Allen and he spent 18 months in jail for allegedly growing marijuana on his Missouri farm. But I’ll let him tell the full story. Dr. Allen, thank you so much for joining me.
Dr. David Allen: Thank you for having me Taya.
Taya Graham: So Dr. Allen, tell me, why did police start investigating you?
Dr. David Allen: That’s hard to answer. It’s because of enemies that I had that gave them false information that caused them to attack me. And the fact that I have this beautiful property, it’s 48 acres and it’s got about 30 acres of waters, like one big lake and three small ponds, and it’s fresh water, and it’s very valuable, and it’s close to the city. The drug task force had aerial photographs of my property with circles and arrows drawn on it where they were going to have the scuba diving training and where they were going to have the rifle range. So, the property is quite valuable. And the truth is if you own property in the United States, it kind of makes you a target.
Taya Graham: So what was the pretext they used to conduct this raid? We know that police departments benefit from asset forfeiture.
Dr. David Allen: They did a trash haul, and they said that they found some seeds, the stems, and a High Times magazine and that’s what justified … and some grow stuff like some fertilizer bags or something. And they said that that was what justified the search. The application for the warrant said that a anonymous person had called and said that they had seen illegal activity on the premises, or a friend of theirs has seen illegal activity on the premises. So it wasn’t the person that actually called. They said that the person that called anonymously, they knew somebody that … So there was a second hand report to begin with.
Taya Graham: What was the raid like and what happened?
Dr. David Allen: I was in California when the raid happened. They came in on my birthday to do the trash raid and the following day is when they made the raid. They came in and I have a building, a metal building off to the side, and there was a room in there that had some lights and air conditioning equipment and stuff in there, but it was being used for storage in there. So there was like big stereo speakers in there, and there was nothing in there. There was no water, no soil, no seeds, nothing in there, just some lights. And when the police came in there, they took photographs of all the stuff that looked like grow stuff, but they didn’t take any photographs of the floor, which had all the storage stuff in there. So they deliberately tried to alter the evidence. But there was no heating in the building and the temperature was in February, so the temperature was like 35. And so there was no way you could even grow at that time of year.
Taya Graham: Then you ended up in prison for 18 months. Why did they hold you so long before trial?
Dr. David Allen: I was a prize for these people because I was a highly educated doctor that they were able to target, and they put a big sign up on the gate of this property, “This property seized by police for drug use,” or whatever. During the raid, they actually took a bunch of stuff out of the building, put it in the middle of the yard and burned it, just like the KKK would. This is all about money and it has to do with … The drug task force are funded by a thing called the Byrne Grant. And the Byrne Grant was a bunch of anti-pot people got together and put some money together, and if you wanted to start a drug task force, what you did was you applied for the Byrne Grant. It gave you money for salaries for officers, but not for equipment or operating expenses.
So what happened, Sheriffs would hire a lawyer, start a company, give it a name, hire a head of the drug task force, hire a bunch of officers, and then they go out and raid people and they get to seize the property before you go to trial. And you have 30 days after they seize the property. If you don’t answer that you’re going to fight it, they got the property. So fortunately I was able to, after they seized this property, I was able to file that paperwork which delayed them from taking full possession of the property. So they had the property in their hands for three years. I was acquitted by jury nullification, so basically I was saved by jury nullification.
Taya Graham: So a reporter came and spoke to you. What happened then?
Dr. David Allen: I had written WLOX because WLOX had printed some photographs of a marijuana grow from an unrelated bust, and they were given to WLOX by the drug task force. So the drug task force gave WLOX false information, which they published, and is no longer available on the internet. If you try to look up the story on the internet, it’s scrubbed, you can’t even find it anymore.
Taya Graham: What are some of the benefits of cannabis that you’ve discovered? How does it help people?
Dr. David Allen: People don’t understand this is the infancy of this science. We haven’t discovered all the stuff we’re going to discover about this science, because this science has been inhibited by law. It’s the only science that you can name that’s been inhibited by laws preventing scientists from studying this. You can study chemical warfare stuff. You can study atomic stuff. You can study chemotherapeutic agents. There’s nothing you can’t study, explosives, you can’t study the endocannabinoid signaling system because it’s a Schedule 1 which means it’s not safe under doctor’s supervision.
So a medicine that’s never killed anybody, and is proven to stop seizures, to stop cancers, to affect all kinds of people in a medicinal way, is illegal. And this is a war that we’re in. It’s a drug war. And in all wars, there’s rules of the war. So if you break the rules of the war, it’s war crimes. And certainly, if people are profiting from putting people in jail over marijuana, when they actually know that it could save people’s lives, then that is a war crime.
Taya Graham: I think it’s important to parse out the many layers of Dr. Allen’s story. A heart surgeon and a man who saved lives, carted off to jail for his work in researching and cultivating a drug that appears to have numerous healing qualities. A man who has dedicated his life to serving and helping others through science accused of numerous crimes. And just as troubling, had his property confiscated. It’s a series of events that, as we promised at the beginning of the show, reveals the dark underbelly of the drug war, but raises an even more significant question about the entire premise of the so-called justice system, which took both his property and his freedom. It’s telling because the system which incarcerated Allen was waging a battle against the disease that has little to do with public safety, or even the slightest notion of a crime. Instead, the actions authorities took against him were squarely aimed at using the psychoactive properties of a plant to confiscate the liberty and property of someone who defied the notion that either were subject to government control.
Let’s remember that the science Dr. Allen pursued studying marijuana makes the case that the plant itself is far from harmful. In fact, just the opposite is true. But as Dr. Allen points out, the only real liability is that marijuana can be grown freely and consumed freely, which makes it less useful to a society accustomed to profiting immensely from sickness. And as he makes clear, a widely available plant that can not be patented and sucked into the nation’s pharmacological industrial complex. And it’s a threat to the very system of profiting off disease itself. And it’s interesting to note how authorities enable such an irrational approach. Pot is illegal for the feds, not because it’s proven to be harmful, but because it alters the mind. It is the psychology of the drug that makes it dangerous, at least in theory. And it is the fear that mainstream media and propaganda is based on that sense of mind altering that they use to stoke the drug war that makes arrests like Dr. Allen’s even possible.
This is why we told Dr. Allen’s story, why we emphasize the true character of the drug war, as it is revealed through the war on weed. As we’ve discussed on the show before, American policing is often far field from conducting investigations or solving crimes. This is particularly true in poor communities and in communities of color where the war on drugs has exacted the heaviest toll. Instead, law enforcement is often focused on what we have called its hegemonic capabilities. That is its ability to intercede on behalf of power to reinforce social and racial inequities. To reduce, as we said before, the political efficacy of working class people. And what Dr. Allen’s case illustrates is how this idea works. How much American policing is confiscating property, limiting basic freedoms, and patrolling our minds as well as our bodies. It’s a cautionary tale we ignore at our peril. A story of the true toll of the war on drugs and the growth of law enforcement that we can’t ignore lest we all get caught in its web.
I’d like to thank Stephen Janis for his reporting, editing, and research on this piece. Stephen, thank you so much for your help.
Stephen Janis: Taya, thanks for having me. I appreciate it.
Taya Graham: And I’d like to thank Dr. Allen for sharing his journey with us and for his expertise. Thank you, Dr. Allen.
Dr. David Allen: God bless.
Taya Graham: And of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank friend of the show, Noli Dee. Thanks, Noli Dee. And I want you to know that if you have evidence of police misconduct or brutality, please email us and we might be able to investigate. Please email us. You can do so at firstname.lastname@example.org. And of course you can message me directly @TayasBaltimore on Facebook or Twitter. And please like, comment, and share. You know I read your comments, like them and appreciate them, and I try to answer your questions whenever I can.
My name is Taya Graham, and I am your host of the Police Accountability Report. Please, be safe out there.