oD Drug Policy Forum: Front Line Report - Week of July 19, 2010

A weekly summary of what's going on in drug policy and criminal justice reform in the US & UK.
Charles Shaw
19 July 2010
  • Is Drug Policy A Human Rights Abuser?

Narcophobia: drugs prohibition and the generation of human rights abuses, authored by Dick Hobbs from the UK’s London School of Economics (LSE) and Brazilian journalist Fernanda Mena, further states that drug “prohibition enforcement has hindered the advancement of democracy and led to violence and increases in human rights abuses”. The report attempts to demonstrate that there are global implications for drug laws as this huge global industry has devastating effects on poor producer nations, such as Burma.

Prohibition...has occurred on an international scale ever since the 1909 Shanghai conference at which global leaders, lead by the West, instigated the approach. But, Mena tells DVB, “the idea of banning drugs from the contemporary world is a utopia that was raised one century ago based on moral and commercial grounds much more than on evidences that it was wrecking societies”. In the intervening century drug use and abuse has sky-rocketed globally. 

Read the full report.



A short film by Release UK, "Nice People Take Drugs," shows the hypocrisy of politicians who remain silent on the issue of drugs despite their own experiences and, more importantly, despite the fact people are executed to commemorate World Drugs Day, which took place on June 26th of this year. To reduce the hypocrisy in the way we manage drugs in society - there needs to be much greater honesty about drug use and those who use them. The stigma attached to drug use has made it almost impossible to have any form of sensible discussion.Drugs are part of society and there are much more effective ways to ensure they cause as little harm as possible. Help the lawyers at Release campaign and lobby for better drug laws.


Nick Green QC is chairman of the Bar Council, the professional organisation of barristers in the UK. Writing in the organisation’s magazine this month, Green called for the decriminalisation of drugs for personal use, arguing (rightly) that a growing body of evidence supports the proposition that decriminalisation can have a number of positive consequences for drugs users and society. He lists the freeing up of police resources, the reduction of crime and the revolving door of imprisonment as peace dividends of ending the drug war, alongside improved public health. Noting that much of the mass media are given to moralising gestures and the whipping up of panic when it comes to drugs, he argues that the Bar Council, made up of lawyers and counting most judges amongst its ex-members, is in a good position to provide a rational argument, being familiar with both sides of the drug policy argument.

Mr Green’s intervention represents another profession speaking out in support of drug law reform at a time when the tide appears to be turning away from the prohibitionist model that was tried throughout the twentieth century, failed to suppress the flow of illegal drugs and added its own side-effects (including an entrenched criminal market and a global epidemic of injection-driven HIV) to those of the drug problems it was supposed to prevent.

(Source: Release UK)


The Justice Secretary Ken Clarke spoke out this week against the culture of incarceration that has taken hold in the UK during the last decade. The context of his remarks is the economic downturn and the requirement for most government departments to reduce spending by 25%. Clarke was keen to say that these necessary cuts must be reconciled with ‘positive policy making’. He argued that these circumstances of austerity represent an opportunity insofar as it prompts a thorough rethink.

For many of those caught up in the machinery of the law by virtue of addictions and the need to fund them through crime, Clarke’s point has powerful resonance. He pointed out that it costs some £38,000 to lock someone up in prison for a year—more than the expense of putting a child through Eton. There are presently over 85,000 individuals being held in UK prisons. “Prison works”, according to former Conservative Home Secretary, Michael Howard, but Clarke takes a more sceptical line, one that is more attuned to a welter of sociological evidence: “…just banging up more and more people [for longer] without actively seeking to change them is what you would expect of Victorian England.” His speech at the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies announced a change of emphasis for UK criminal justice policy, with less people being sent to prison and more energy aimed at rehabilitation.

(Source: Release UK)


The Government has dropped the provisions of the Welfare Reform Act 2009 relating to drug users. Drug recovery pilot programmes due to be launched in October 2010 have now been abandoned – the programmes would have introduced drug testing for claimants; information sharing between the police and Jobcentre plus; and mandatory attendance on a drug awareness course – failure to attend would have resulted in sanctions. Furthermore, mandatory referrals of problem drug users by Jobcentre Plus staff to treatment providers in non pilot areas has also been dropped.   

 The driver behind this decision was the report from the Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC), which following public consultation, found that the pilot programmes were ‘unlikely to be effective, contain a number of significant flaws and won’t produce robust results’. The report was critical of the overall scheme, stating that ‘it would drive people further away from the labour market’. The report also pointed to a number of arguments Release made in its consultation response to the SSAC opposing most aspects of the scheme.

(Source: Release UK)


These pages provide a comprehensive introduction to the facts about some of the more commonly used drugs in the UK. You will find information about the chemistry, history and risks associated with a range of drugs, all of which has been written by Release’s drug experts and is intended to educate and inform.

If you want to know information about the legal status of any of these drugs, please look at our Table of Substances under our UK Law page.

(Source: Release UK)


There are many reasons to support government regulation of currently illegal drugs, amongst these are the arguments focusing on the personal rights and freedoms of drug users. Whilst Transform naturally supports the decriminalisation of consenting adult use (our position on these issues detailed in various publications - including 'Tools for the debate' and our 'drug use and civil rights' briefing)  the personal rights arguments are not an area we have historically put significant campaigning resources behind, primarily because other lines of argument - concerning impacts on public health and criminal justice indicators for example - have greater public and political traction. In the US, by contrast, the personal liberty arguments seem to have far greater traction and are more actively promoted by drug law reformers such as the DPA. See their recent campaigning video for example:

(Source: Transform UK)


Steve Rolles from Transform UK recently wrote a chapter ('Principles for rational drug policy making') for the forthcoming Routledge publication 'The Politics of Narcotic Drugs' which includes a short section discussing the issues around the personal rights and freedoms of drug users - and edited version of which is copied below:


The rights of the drug user have long been debated, with John Stuart Mill’s principles often cited: that consenting adults should be free to engage in whatever behaviour they wish as long as it does not harm others, and that acting to prevent the individual from harming themselves is not legitimate.

In drug policy debates this is often portrayed as a libertarian position, but viewed more broadly this principle applies to the law with regard to almost all consenting adult risk taking behaviours from freedom over what we eat, what medicines we take, how we consume legal drugs, through to our sexual habits, dangerous sports or other high risk activities, and self harm up to and including suicide - decriminalized in the UK in 1961. So drug laws that criminalize personal use are at odds with the law as it applies to comparable personal choices regarding sovereignty over ones body and freedoms regarding individual risk taking decisions.

There is an important legal distinction to be made between Mala Prohibitum crimes (‘wrong because prohibited’), which only constitute a criminal offence by virtue of statute, and Mala in se crimes where conduct is ‘wrong in itself’. Mala in se crimes include theft, rape and murder around which there is both historical and cross cultural consensus that they violate societies standards – that they are ‘against nature’. Such acts are considered criminal in all states and through-out history and (with few exceptions) there is little debate these are an absolute moral wrong and unacceptable regardless of written law. Mala prohibitum crimes by contrast (including adultery, homosexuality, blasphemy, flag burning, or defying proscriptions on certain foods) lack cross-cultural consensus, vary between states and through legal history, and have been the focus of debate and legal controversy, often witnessing reforms in both directions (even if the trend in the last century has been towards repeal)

Adult consenting drug use clearly comes within the Mala prohibitum sphere, demonstrated by the differences in legal status of drugs (e.g. alcohol and cannabis), the changing legal status of certain drugs (e.g. US alcohol laws), the contrasting drug laws in different states (e.g. cannabis laws in the Netherlands and its neighbours), and the ongoing debate over the criminality of adult consenting use. It is important to note calls to remove the criminality from adult consenting drug use in no way implies support for or justification of Mala in se crimes, such as violence, committed under the influence of drugs, legal or otherwise.

Arguing for a specific legal right to take drugs (see Newcombe 2007 for example), however, seems unnecessary. The argument is better made with reference to existing legal rights and freedoms. Specifically, the criminalization of adult consenting drug use in many cases violates a number of existing human rights. These include the right to privacy (particularly activities undertaken in private or at home), the right to health (specifically control over personal health), the right to freedom of belief and practice (ritual/traditional/religious use of certain drugs such as peyote, ayuhuasca, and cannabis), and the right to freedom of expression (including free access to information). It is important, however, to stress that any such rights and personal freedoms are not unconditional. Liberty (the National Council for Civil Liberties) explored this when it supported a motion:

‘This AGM upholds the right of access of every adult to the lawful supply of psychoactive substances for personal consumption save where expressly constrained by or under the law for the purpose of protecting minors, countering crime, treating addiction, or some other legitimate public purpose and calls on the government to reform the laws accordingly’


  • The maturation of the young: the freedom itself adheres to the mature adult (subject to agreement on age of consent). There is a widespread consensus that the deployment of state resources is fully justified, both by way of positive education and supply constraints, to inhibit the consumption of psychoactive substances by the young. 
  • Contract enforcementWhere an individual has actually agreed not to make use of a psychoactive substance, or any such substances, state intervention is ordinarily justified to enforce that contractual commitment. In some sectors of employment, such constraints are demonstrably expedient: public vehicle drivers of airplanes, trains, coaches, taxis, and other such safety critical positions all accept such constraints, and it is in the public interest that they should be held to their promises. The litmus test is the competence of individuals to perform required tasks, and contractual constraints should not go beyond that;
  • Criminal law enforcement: The accommodation of psychoactive substances has long been a feature of criminal justice. For example, it is settled law that intoxication cannot be used as a defense, where other breaches of the law are alleged. It must also be evident that the administration of psychoactive substances without consent is and should remain a serious trespass to the person. Finally, difficult judgments have to be made where the consumption of psychoactive substances coincides with the presence of any underlying mental condition. These examples, properly understood, all affirm the principle of individual freedom, and reflect its proper reconciliation with other legitimate societal interests.
  • Constraint upon social interaction: There are examples of circumstances where drug consumption may properly be constrained by law, eg where the consumption is in public or otherwise obtrusive to others, or where (even if in private) the consumption forms part of a wider pattern of collective behavior with adverse consequences. It is for each society, in each age, to define the principles of intervention where others, who may be considered ‘at risk’, are involved. The principle is difficult to apply, and several applications have been contentious Nevertheless, although particular examples may be controversial, the principle of legitimate state intervention is not refuted.
  • Public healthThere are clearly circumstances where overriding considerations of public health justify state intervention and the abridgement of individual rights – the concept of public health based regulation under which some activities and/or products may remain prohibited and subject to legal sanction. These are well developed and widely understood in the context of the thousands of legal drugs (and other dangerous products, services and activities). It is right that society should at all times ensure that risks to consumers of substantial harm should be avoided.
  • (Source:  Roger Warren Evans (1999),  Liberty AGM 25.6.00)


    As many as 9 in 10 youth in justice system have experienced a traumatic event, yet few such youth are identified as traumatized, and fewer receive appropriate treatment or placement. 

    The Justice Policy Institute (JPI) has released a brief examining the relationship between childhood trauma and justice system involvement for youth. According to Healing Invisible Wounds: Why Investing in Trauma-Informed Care for Children Makes Sense, of the more than 93,000 children that are currently incarcerated in the United States, between 75 and 93 percent have experienced at least one traumatic experience, including sexual abuse, war, community violence, neglect and maltreatment. Research points to long term effects of childhood trauma, including emotional problems and negative impacts on youth brain development. The brief notes that while holding youth who engage in delinquent behavior accountable is important, it is critical that trauma exposure be considered in placement decisions, as youth who receive treatment in the community have better outcomes than those placed in correctional facilities. 

    "Incarcerated youth already face significant challenges, but youth who have experienced trauma are even more acutely affected," said author Erica Adams, M.D. "Addressing a child's trauma through the public health system before that child becomes involved with the justice system is critical to promoting the well-being of the child, the family and ultimately, the community." 

    Researchers found that youth who suffer trauma are more likely to develop life-long psychiatric conditions, including personality disorders, conduct disorder, ADHD, depression, anxiety, substance abuse disorders and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Traumatized youth can experience developmental delays, decreased cognitive abilities, learning disabilities and even lower IQ levels, with school problems including school dropout and expulsion rates at nearly three times that of their peers who had not experienced trauma.

    (Source: Justice Policy Institute)


    This is the official website of the Hashish Gazette by Excathedra Anthony Chapman. This is an argument against the prohibition of cannabis sativa in the Commonwealth of Australia. to download a free copy for distribution, visit HashishGazette.com. 





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