oD Drug Policy Forum: Front Line Report - Week of July 18th 2011

This week we lead with the Committee for the Prevention of Torture's new Report on Poland - highlighting a serious lack of progress towards the 'care of inmates with drug related problems.' In other news we take a look at the trailer for new film, 'Breaking the Taboo'; explore the ongoing tragedy of the Mexico's war on drugs; and look at the new Rome Declaration ~ MW & CS

CPT publishes report on Poland 

Council of Europe Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) has just released a report on Poland as a follow up to its visit in November - December 2009. Among numerous gaps in the prison system, the CPT highlights overcrowding as a major problem in Polish prisons and recommends to pursue their efforts to combat prison overcrowding by all possible means. European standards on treatment for prisoners need to be observed and maintained – recommends CPT in the report. 

In the report the Committee emphasizes that no progress is made ‘as regards the care of inmates with drug-related problems, the services offered to them, or the development of a prevention policy.’ Furthermore, the committee notes that ‘none of the establishments visited had in place harm-prevention measures (such as, for instance, the provision of bleach and information on how to sterilise needles, needle-exchange programmes or the supply of condoms).’ 

The CPT recommends multiple management of drug user prisoners including combination of detoxification, psychological support, socio-educational programmes, rehabilitation and substitution programmes – and linking this to a real prevention policy. ‘It goes without saying that health-care staff must play a key role in drawing up, implementing and monitoring the programmes concerned and co-operate closely with the other (psycho-socio-educational) staff involved’ – states CPT. Full report is available here 

Source: Harm Reduction International

Breaking the Taboo 2011 | Official Trailer (English Version) 

Source: YouTube

The Rome Declaration 2011: Judges speak out on drug policy and human rights 

In line with the report by the Global Commission on Drug Policy in June 2011, and two years after the Declaration of Latin Judges in Oporto, judges from several Latin countries drafted the Rome Declaration insisting that the “global war on drugs” has been a failure in view of the very serious consequences it has entailed for individuals and society worldwide. The Declaration is available in English and Spanish

Source: IDPC

Prison release a deadly sentence 

DEATH rates among prisoners within a year after their release are 10 times higher than among inmates who remain inside -- with one-third of deaths occurring in the first four weeks of freedom. The first national estimate of how former prisoners fare back in society has found release from jail to be far more dangerous than popularly assumed, with at least one recently released prisoner dying in Australia every day. 

Nearly half of deaths are drug-related, indicating a surge of overdoses among former users returning to a drug they have had little access to while in jail. The enforced abstinence leaves users' bodies unable to cope with the higher doses they could tolerate previously, making any attempt to revert to old habits fraught with danger. But more than half the deaths are found to be non-drug-related, with suicides accounting for a large proportion of these. To learn more please follow this link 

Source: The Australian 

First Comprehensive Report on Drug Situation in Georgia – 2010 

A new report on the Drug Situation in Georgia – 2010 has been released analysing modern threats of HIV/AIDS epidemic and poor drug policy of the country. It describes the main characteristics, trends and developments of drug situation and attempts to identify drug information gaps, as well as the inadequacy of the system of responses to the drug problem in the country.

In the absence of drug strategy and the state coordination body on drug situation in the country, Georgia estimates over 40,000 injecting drug users (IDUs) without gender disaggregation. The report highlights that ‘among IDUs, HIV prevalence rates range from 1.5% to 4.5%, the prevalence of the hepatitis C virus (HCV) among HIV positive patients is as high as 48.6 %. Infections were associated with injecting drug use (88.88%) and were mainly related to the sharing of needles/syringes and other injecting medical paraphernalia.’ Other major issues highlighted in the report are:

  • Lack of a coordination mechanism in the field of drug demand and supply reduction measures
  • Absence of institutional mechanisms for primary and secondary prevention
  • Insufficient drug legislation and underdeveloped legislative practices
  • One sided development of treatment methods, with little or no attention being paid to non-drug-assisted comprehensive care, including social rehabilitation
  • Absence of institutional mechanisms for the maintenance of a drug information system that would provide sound evidence for the planning of interventions

The full report is available here

Source: Harm Reduction International

Confessions of a drug cartel hitman on the run 

With his thick arms and big hands, he looked just like one of the millions of Mexican labourers living illegally in the United States and seeking off-the-books building work to survive. As we drove around this city we cannot name, it was only his eyes that revealed his former profession – they watched constantly for any sign of danger. He was a man with a bounty on his head.

For more than 20 years, he served the Juárez cartel as a professional hitman – a sicario. He killed hundreds of people, then stole money from his bosses and ran. Now a bullet through his head could earn $250,000 for another contract killer.

For six days, in room 164 of an anonymous motel, he told us of his life as a professional assassin for the Juárez drugs organisation, a cartel that controlled one of the main drug trafficking routes from Mexico across the border into the lucrative American market. To learn more please follow this link

Source: The Independent

Mephedrone is more popular than ecstasy among UK clubbers despite being banned

Mephedrone, the former "legal high" sometimes referred to as "meow meow", has become the clubbing scene's favourite drug, according to the first research of its kind. 

A new paper, published in the online version of the Journal of Substance Use, found the drug was more popular than cocaine and ecstasy among clubbers – despite being made illegal in April 2010. The research, carried out by a team at Lancaster University, raises important questions about drugs policy and the impact of classification on substance use.

It has been suggested that legal highs – substances that share many of the properties of illegal drugs but have not been classified – have become popular because their use carries no criminal sanctions. But Fiona Measham, a senior lecturer in criminology who led the research, said there was little evidence that making mephedrone illegal had affected its popularity among users. To learn more please follow this link

Source: The Guardian 

Petition President Obama to end illegal arms trafficking to Mexico

Mexico is experiencing the worst bloodshed in its modern history, with over 34,000 people killed in drug-related violence since 2006. This violence has brought devastation and grief to thousands of families across Mexico and is being fueled by weapons flowing illegally from the United States to Mexico. According to statistics from the U.S. government, more than 80% of the weapons that were seized in Mexico and submitted for tracing between 2004 and 2008 came through the United States. 

Mexican civil society has formed an energized movement calling for peace, justice, and a rebuilding of the social fabric that has been severly damaged by ongoing violence. As part of this larger movement for peace, please join with Mexican organizations Alianza Cívica, Propuesta Cívica, Cencos, and Evolución Mexicana, along with WOLA and other U.S. organizations to petition President Obama to take action to end illegal arms trafficking to Mexico.

The petition calls on the Obama administration to take three concrete actions that would help reduce the violence in Mexico and also make communities in the United States safer. Sign the petition, promote it on your Facebook or Twitter, and add your voice to the movement for peace in Mexico. Help us reach 10,000 signatures!

Source: IDPC

Mexico’s Supreme Court ends military jurisdiction for soldiers committing human rights violations

On 12 July 2011, Mexico’s Supreme Court issued a historic ruling establishing that members of the military accused of human rights violations should be tried in civilian courts. The Court made this decision after reviewing a 2009 Inter-American Court of Human Rights judgment against Mexico for the forced disappearance of activist Rosendo Radilla in 1974 by members of the Mexican military.

The Court’s decision opens the door to holding members of the military accountable for human rights violations that have historically gone unpunished when tried in military courts. Currently, approximately 50,000 soldiers are involved in counter-drug operations throughout the country, and accusations of human rights violations by Mexican soldiers have skyrocketed. Since 2006, Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission has received more than 4,800 complaints against the military for human rights violations, increasing from 182 complaints in 2006 to 1,415 in 2010. To learn more please follow this link

Source: IDPC 

La Crosse, Wisconsin, Decriminalizes Marijuana Possession 

La Crosse, Wisconsin, has decriminalized the possession of up to a quarter ounce of marijuana, as well as pot-related drug paraphernalia. The final move came Thursday night, when the city's Common Council overrode Mayor Matt Harter's veto of the measure.

The decriminalization measure, authored by District 3 council member Chris Olson, allows city law enforcement to cite small-time marijuana law violators with an offense under the municipal code instead of a criminal misdemeanor under state law.

In achieving the decrim victory, the council had to overcome two vetoes by Mayor Harter. Harter said last month he vetoed the measure because it would be perceived by the public as being "soft" on drug use. To learn more please follow this link

Source: Stop the Drug War 

UNODC head witnesses success of container programme in Panama

30 June 2011 - The port of Panama has seized more than 115 containers (110 holding counterfeit goods worth millions of dollars and five holding cocaine and heroin) under the Container Control Programme of UNODC and the World Customs Organization (WCO) since October 2009, when the Programme was established.

In total, approximately 1,200 kg of cocaine have been seized, the most recent seizure having been carried out on 16 June 2011, when Container Control Programme officials at Manzanillo Port seized 174 kg of cocaine hidden inside a container filled with suitcases and lamps en route from the Colón Free Zone to Rotterdam.

Two months previously, authorities in the Panamanian Port of Balboa had uncovered 119 kg of cocaine hidden among instant coffee containers destined for Gdynia, Poland. Several caches of priceless cultural artefacts and archaeological treasures were also recently found hidden in shipments of household goods from Ecuador. To learn more please follow this link

Source: UNODC

ACMD: Hidden Harm - full report 

This report sets out the findings of an inquiry carried out by the Advisory Council, focusing on children in the UK with a parent, parents or other guardian whose drug use has serious negative consequences for themselves and those around them. The report sets out 48 recommendations and the following 6 key messages: 

  • There are between 250,000 and 350,000 children of problem drug users in the UK - about 1 child for every problem drug user.
  • Parental problem drug use causes serious harm to children at every age from conception to adulthood.
  • Reducing the harm to children from parental problem drug use should become a main objective of policy and practice.
  • Effective treatment of the parent can have major benefits for the child.
  • By working together, services can take many practical steps to protect and impove the health and well-being of affected children.
  • The number of affected children is only likely decrease when the number of problem drug users decreases. 

Hidden Harm - full report (PDF file - 2mb - Warning: large file)

Source: ACMD

Economic Futility of War on Drugs: A Paradigm Shift is Needed 

Even though the War on Drugs is clearly failing, the US government is continuing to pump money into the project, often in a completely blind manner, with absolutely no idea of how successful their efforts have been. They are doing this while ignoring the huge problems back home, which are being generated by their futile cat-and-mouse game in Latin America. 

Over four years, the US has spent $3.1bn recruiting private military contract companies in Latin America enforcing the War on Drugs. In 2008, the spending reached its highest annual level of $715m. 

A recent report from the US Senate exposes the State and Defense Department’s inability to manage these contracts, describing the process as “inconsistent”, “time-consuming” and “error-prone”. There is no centralised system for the federal government to tell if their efforts are being successful. Many of the contractors are awarded money with no information given on what they are using it for. There is no way to track contract data, resulting in truly embarrassing wastes of time and billions of dollars. To learn more please follow this link

Source: Beckley Foundation

Rights groups fear wave of deaths as Thailand faces new drugs crackdown 

At first the tablets made life easier for Santhisuk: they helped him endure the long hours lugging heavy fabric bales in a Bangkok textiles factory. 

Gradually he noticed he was angrier and more aggressive on the days he skipped them. But it was only when arrested for a third time – and sent to rehabilitation at a Buddhist temple – that he admitted his addiction to methamphetamine. Now clean, the 19-year-old labourer is worrying about what will happen when he leaves the sanctuary of Wat Saphan and returns home. 

"It will be difficult because all my friends still take it. Drug use is so widespread now that everybody thinks it's normal," he said. Monks at the temple in Klong Toey, one of Bangkok's poorest areas, say they have seen a huge increase in addiction rates. The problem has spread far beyond the Thai capital. To learn more please follow this link 

Source: The Guardian

The Impact of State Medical Marijuana Laws 

The debate over medical marijuana laws has included extensive discussion of whether such laws “send the wrong message to young people” and increase teen marijuana use. This is an updated version of the first report that analyzed all available data to determine the trends in teen marijuana use in states that have passed medical marijuana laws. 

Nearly 15 years after the passage of the nation’s first state medical marijuana law, California’s Prop. 215, a considerable body of data shows that teens’ marijuana use has generally gone down following the passage of medical marijuana laws. Of the 13 states with effective medical marijuana laws with before-and-after data on teen marijuana use, only the two with the most recently enacted laws (Michigan and New Mexico) have indicated possible increases, both of which are modest and within confidence intervals. In Rhode Island, the data indicate teens’ lifetime marijuana may have slightly decreased while current use may have slightly increased, but those changes are also within confidence intervals. 

The 10 remaining states have all reported overall decreases — some of which are also within confidence intervals and some of which are significant. Generally, no state with an overall change outside of the confidence intervals saw an increase in teens’ marijuana use, strongly suggesting that enactment of state medical marijuana laws does not increase teen marijuana use. Download a PDF of the full report.

Source: Marijuana Policy Project

Opinion: Portugal takes proper approach to 'drug war' 

Despite more than $40 billion spent every year on the U.S. drug war and 500,000 people behind bars on drug related offenses, drugs are as available as ever. But what is the alternative? What would happen if a society decided to treat drug use as a health issue instead of a criminal justice issue? What if we stopped the futile effort of using force to decrease drug consumption? What if we decriminalized drugs, not just marijuana, but all drugs like heroin, cocaine and meth? 

We've heard the horror scenarios that opponents of drug policy reform recite: more addiction, more broken families and a crazy escalation of crime and violence.

On the other side, advocates for decriminalization or legal regulation said that we would be better off not criminalizing a health issue. They advocate for education, prevention and treatment instead of jail for drug abuse and leaving in peace those whose drug use does not cause harm to others. So who's right? You might be surprised to hear that this isn't just about hypothetical situations anymore. To learn more please follow this link

Source: The Detroit News

Psychedelic Medicine: Using Ecstasy to Treat PTSD

After MDMA-assisted psychotherapy, over 80 percent of sufferers from post traumatic stress disorder no longer met the diagnostic criteria for PTSD, as compared to only 25 percent in the control group. This study, just released, was conducted by Michael Mithoefer, M.D. (and his colleagues) and is published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Psychopharmacology.

According to the media statement, MDMA, recreationally referred to as Ecstasy, could "offer sufferers a vital window with reduced fear responses where psychotherapy can take effect." According to the paper, participants in the study experienced "no drug-related serious adverse events, adverse neurocognitive effects or clinically significant blood pressure increases."

On the killing fields of 1914-19, the malady being studied was called "shell shock," in World War Two, "battle fatigue" or "combat exhaustion," and now, in the era of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, PTSD. It can be caused, for example, by experiencing random explosions, being wounded or seeing buddies torn open or killed.  To learn more please follow this link

Source: Huffington Post

Crackdown on medical marijuana ahead? 

Drug-policy reformers are worried about a new Obama administration memo instructing federal prosecutors on how to deal with the growing number of medical marijuana dispensaries. 

The Justice Department memo, sent to U.S. attorneys around the nation, addresses a central problem with the growing number of states that have legalized medical marijuana: The drug remains illegal under federal law, whether used for medical purposes or not. The new guidance memoreiterates the illegality of medical marijuana and appears to encourage prosecutors to go after some marijuana dispensaries, particularly the large operations. 

President Obama suggested during the campaign in 2007-08 that his Justice Department would not prioritize going after medical marijuana. To find out more about the new medical marijuana memo, and for an update on the broader drug war, I spoke to Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, which lobbies for alternatives to the drug war.  To learn more please follow this link

Source: Salon

We are the Drug Policy Alliance 

Sting, George Soros and Montel Williams agree that our drug policies must be grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights.

We are the Drug Policy Alliance from Drug Policy Alliance on Vimeo.

We are the Drug Policy Alliance from Drug Policy Alliance on Vimeo.

Source: Drug Policy Alliance

Ethan Nadelmann Responds To DEA Claim That Marijuana Has No Accepted Medical Use 

Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, responds to the recent decree by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) that marijuana has no accepted medical use. The decision by the DEA comes almost nine years after medical marijuana supporters asked the government to reclassify cannabis to take into account a growing body of research that shows its effectiveness in treating certain diseases. For more on this subject please go the July 14 LA Times piece titled "Medical marijuana: A science-free zone at the White House" by DPA's Bill Piper and Stephen Gutwillig

Source: Drug Policy Alliance

Healthy lives, healthy people: update and way forward

This policy statement reaffirms the Government's bold vision for a new public health system. It sets out the progress we have made in developing our vision for public health, and a timeline for completing the operational design of this work through a series of Public Health System Reform Updates. Download Healthy Lives, Healthy People Update and Way Forward (PDF, 1224K)

Source: Department of Health

Western Australia Toughens Marijuana Laws 

Marching boldly backward into the 20th Century, the Liberal-National state government in Western Australia announced Sunday that it put into place more repressive marijuana laws as of August 1. Western Australia had effectively decriminalized the possession of up to 30 grams of pot under the previous Labor government, with violators ticketed and fined between $100 and $200.

But Police Minister Rob Johnson said those "relaxed, soft drug laws" would be repealed and replaced by a tougher regime. "What it will mean is that those people caught with cannabis will not simply get a slap on the wrist," he told reporters.

Under the new law, the personal use amount will shrink to 10 grams, and people caught with those small amounts will not be ticketed, but referred to court and will receive a Cannabis Intervention Requirement to attend a mandatory counseling session. People possessing more than 10 grams will face up to two years in prison or a $2,000 fine. Persons possessing more than 100 grams (less than a quarter-pound) will be charged with the Australian equivalent of possession with intent to distribute and could face up to two years in prison or a $20,000 fine. To learn more please follow this link

Source: Stop the Drug War

The 2011 National Drug Control Strategy: Drug Policy on Autopilot

The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) Monday released this year's version of the annual guiding federal document on drug policy, the 2011 National Drug Control Strategy, and there's not much new or surprising there. There is a lot of talk about public health, but federal spending priorities remain weighted toward law enforcement despite all the pretty words. 

The strategy identifies three "policy priorities": reducing prescription drug abuse, addressing drugged driving, and increased prevention efforts. It also identifies populations of special interest, including veterans, college students, and women with children.

The strategy promises continued strong law enforcement and interdiction efforts, including going after the opium and heroin trade in Afghanistan and cooperating with Mexican and Central American authorities in the $1.4 billion Plan Merida attack on Mexican drug gangs. To learn more please follow this link

Source: Stop the Drug War

War to end war on drugs gains allies on right flank 

IN 2011, the war to end the war on drugs is now being led by conservative voices, not radical ones. In March, three federal Liberal backbenchers - Mal Washer, Judi Moylan, and the Victorian Russell Broadbent - came out against the criminal status of drug use, going so far as to argue that heroin and cocaine should be legalised. Dr Washer described the war on drugs as a ''crime against humanity''. 

Indeed, those Liberals have been more vocal than the apparently radical Greens, who abandoned their support for drug decriminalisation after they found it brought more controversy than was comfortable. And the backbenchers join a global phenomenon - conservative voices coming out against the drug war. To learn more please follow this link

Source: Sydney Morning Herald 

Explaining reductions in opium production in Central Helmand 

Household concerns about food security because of the high wheat prices were key in driving down poppy cultivation between 2008 and 2009. The coercive power of the Afghan State and international military forces also seems to have been a significant factor in determining levels of cultivation in central Helmand in 2010 and 2011. However, the sustainability of these effects will vary among different communities. Managing-concurrent-and-repeated-risks.pdf

Source: IDPC

User-friendly data

EARLIER this month the Irish Times reported that the country’s illegal drug market had collapsed: After 15 years of market growth…[dealers] were finding it harder to sell drugs, as pay cuts, tax rises and job losses left recreational users with less money. The Irish gangs were unable to shift larger hauls and, in any case, lacked the resources to buy in bulk, so they were ordering smaller quantities. This liquidity crisis was an unfamiliar problem for criminals used to having a river of money at their disposal.

User arrests are down by 20% in recent years and the value of drugs seized—used as a proxy for market size—has hit 15-year lows. This demand elasticity is evident in both hard and soft drug markets: the value of cocaine seized last year is less than half that of previous years, marijuana's a tenth of its 2006 peak. Even heroin junkies have economised; the value of seized heroin has fallen more than 85% since 2008.

While one can quibble with this analysis (for reasons described below), it suggests that most Irish drug users aren’t addicted automatons; with less disposable income, many seem to have quit or reduced their drug use. Even if the changes are only directionally correct, it highlights the "Reefer Madness" fallacy of treating drug users as mindless addicts. To learn more please follow this link

Source: The Economist

Recovery-orientated drug treatment an interim report by Professor John Strang

The group noted the remarkably strong body of research evidence for the effectiveness of opioid substitution treatment (OST), albeit mostly from other countries. When delivered correctly to the right individuals at the right time, OST retains patients in treatment, supports improvements in health and social functioning, reduces crime and illicit drug use, prevents the spread of blood-borne viruses and protects against overdose.

We need to hold on to what is good, and use it as a platform from which to achieve more. We have listened and heard evidence from drug users and colleagues around the country that, too often, people with addiction problems could be better supported in their recovery, and that there could be greater ambition for and focus on their potential to make further progress. To learn more please follow this link

Source: NHS

Watching grass grow – now that's what I call a job

There's a cone-shaped joint the length of a Bic pen filled with Colorado-grown cannabis burning in the ashtray a few inches from my keyboard right now and I'm going to get paid to smoke it and write about it. am the first newspaper medical marijuana dispensary critic in the United States. No, it's not a joke.

Colorado has allowed for medical marijuana since 2000, but in October of 2009, US deputy attorney general David Ogden released a memo noting the government would not waste money prosecuting "individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws" for medical marijuana. Overnight, medical marijuana shops popped up like weeds in long-vacant shops in Denver and across Colorado.

The boom was so big that the alternative weekly newspaper I work for,Westword, decided it was time to hire a critic to help distinguish the good shops from the poor. (Despite what people think of alt-weekly newspaper staffs, nobody in the Westword newsroom was a pot head.) They brought me on in November 2010 and I have been smoking my way through Denver since. To learn more please follow this link

Source: The Guardian

Designer drugs a cat-and-mouse game

Take another look at your humble corner dairy - it's on the frontier of a new world of designer drugs, and a telling symbol of how governments worldwide have been left scrambling to adapt.

New Zealanders can now pick up recreational drugs such as Kronic with their milk and bread, not because of liberal drug policy but because of a legislative loophole. Although cannabis has long been illegal, the synthetic cannabinoid compounds that mimic its effects when smoked have - by the Government's own admission - caught it off guard. To learn more please follow this link 

Source: New Zealand Herald

About the authors

Mark Weiss edits the openDemocracy Drug Policy Forum Front Line Report.

He has explored UK drug law for DrugScope and worked with Harm Reduction International,  providing support on UN / EU projects. He holds a Masters in Law from Birkbeck Law School and BA (Hons) in Politics from Queen Mary, University of London.

Charles Shaw is a writer and activist living in the Bay Area of San Francisco. He is the author of Exile Nation: Drugs, Prisons, Politics and Spirituality, and the Director of The Exile Nation Project. Charles serves as editor for the Dictionary of Ethical Politics and the oD Drug Policy Forum.