oD Drug Policy Forum: Front Line Report - Week of November 15th 2010

We lead this week with our very own Charles Shaw, and an eloquent piece written for today's Guardian Society about the "madness" that is the war on drugs, and what US policymakers can learn from their European partners.
Mark Weiss Charles Shaw
15 November 2010

European blueprint signals way for America to end the war on drugs

As America's drug war spirals out of control, Europe's reformist organisations offer a view that policymakers must heed

Forty years. One trillion dollars. Half a million prisoners. Millions disenfranchised. Failed states. Spiralling cartel violence. No real drop in use or demand.  This is the broadsheet for the American "war on drugs".

So why does the US keep "fighting" this "war"? It's as if the US is addicted to the war on drugs itself. International drug policy is at a tipping point, and the world seems ready to begin making serious shifts, yet the US still pursues this obsessive "war" against plants and people, even as the consequences of these policies have become larger than the problems they were put in place to solve. 

Case in point. Earlier this year a panel of three federal judges in California ordered the California prison system – choked far beyond capacity by the war on drugs – to reduce its inmate population of 150,000 by 40,000 (roughly 27%) within two years by releasing nonviolent offenders. This, the judges said, is the only way to change what they called an "unconstitutional prison healthcare system that causes one unnecessary death a week."

In response, California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger first tried to get around the court order by privatising the prison system, which would have ended the reign of the California prison guards union as the most powerful lobby in the state. Those efforts failed miserably, so the state assembly crafted a bill that would have transferred those 40,000 to already overloaded municipal and county jails. That fell flat too. The last recourse was for the California Department of Corrections to appeal the ruling to the US supreme court, who (in record time) agreed to hear the case. All indications point towards the ruling being overturned.

Is anyone paying attention? Because this is madness!

When you get down to it, beneath all the pontificate moralising on crime and drug use, the primary drivers of this issue are economic: money and jobs. Any significant shift in either drug control or criminal justice policy would invariably lead to politically unacceptable levels of unemployment. The US criminal justice system consumes $212bn (£132bn) a year and employs 2.4 million people, more than America's two largest private employers, Wal-Mart and McDonald's, combined.

And just like military spending, any attempts to cut criminal justice or prison budgets is considered political suicide. This is because America's war on drugs and its prison empire were built upon a "tough on crime" political philosophy that emerged 40 years ago in response to the social crises of the day. It has proven to be an intransigent ideology that now requires distorting the truth in order to maintain its own survival.

Perhaps because the scale of the UK crisis is measurably lower than in the States, and thus more manageable, the UK appears gripped in a virulent outbreak of rational thought. Two UK-based drug policy organisations have been able to craft individual frameworks for reform and regulation that are garnering a lot of attention, and inspiring we activists and reformers across the pond.

The International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) recently published the first edition of its Drug Policy Guide aimed at national policymakers. This visionary group was initiated by the Beckley Foundation and is being managed by Release, the UK legal advisory group for drugs and human rights. IDPC received funding and assistance from the European Commission's drug prevention and information programme. No such progressive body exists in the States.

The Transform Drug Policy Foundation has crafted a 200-page powerhouse document on "specific models of regulation for each main type and preparation of prohibited drug, coupled with the principles and rationale for doing so" which they are calling After the War on Drugs: A Blueprint for Regulation. Released last November to much fanfare at an event at the House of Commons, the blueprint has since been adopted by many American drug policy reformers as the only tangible road map to legalisation.

In keeping with the blueprint model, Transform was recently critical of the UK coalition government's consultation on its forthcoming drug strategy, pointing out the absence of key areas of the public policy debate, including harm reduction; supply side enforcement; the classification system; international drug policy; and sentencing/decriminalisation. In addition, Transform was concerned by the lack of an impact assessment for proposed policy change and the short timeframe provided by government to produce the submissions.

Until American policymakers are willing to begin thinking like our progressive minded friends in Europe, the US will remain mired in yet another bloody quagmire that is dragging the rest of the world down with it.

Charles Shaw is the author of the memoir Exile Nation: Drugs, Prisons, Politics and Spirituality and the director of the Unheard Voices Project. He is editor of the openDemocracy Drug Policy Forum and the Dictionary of Ethical Politics, both collaborative projects of Resurgence, openDemocracy, and the Sainsbury/Tedworth Charitible Trust. 

He will be talking about his experience of the US drug war and criminal justice system in an evening of open discussion with acclaimed documentary maker and criminologist Roger Graef OBE on Tuesday 16 November at The Hub in King's Cross, London. For more details, email [email protected]

Source: The Guardian

High Society: Wellcome Collection Exhibition

With the illicit drug trade estimated by the UN at $320 billion (£200bn) a year and new drugs constantly appearing on the streets and the internet, it can seem as if we are in the grip of an unprecedented level of addiction. Yet the use of psychoactive drugs is nothing new, and indeed our most familiar ones - alcohol, coffee and tobacco - have all been illegal in the past.

From ancient Egyptian poppy tinctures to Victorian cocaine eye drops, Native American peyote rites to the salons of the French Romantics, mind-altering drugs have a rich history. 'High Society' will explore the paths by which these drugs were first discovered - from apothecaries' workshops to state-of-the-art laboratories - and how they came to be simultaneously fetishised and demonised in today’s culture.

Designed to accompany the exhibition, 'High Society: Mind altering drugs in history and culture' explores the spectrum of mind-altering substances across the globe and throughout history. Beautifully illustrated with rarely seen material, this striking, lyrical and rigorously researched book puts its controversial subject into the widest possible context.

Source: Wellcome Collection

Arizona Medical Marijuana Initiative Now Winning!

After trailing on election day and all the way through most of the late vote counting, Arizona's medical marijuana initiative, Proposition 203, has now pulled ahead. As of Friday evening, the measure was ahead by 4,600 votes and was winning, 50.13% to 49.87%

The remaining ballots are a mix of late mail-ins (people who voted early by mail, but at the last minute) and provisional ballots (votes cast, but for which the voters' eligibility could not be documented on Election Day), but most are provisional. The Chronicle's best estimate is that somewhere between 20,000 and 40,000 votes remain uncounted. The count is set to end Tuesday.

The late votes have skewed ever so slightly in favor of Prop 203. That trend would have to reverse now for the measure to lose. If there are only 20,000 votes left to count, the no vote would have to rise to 70% to win; if there are 40,000 left, the no would have to hit 60%. It's starting to look like Arizona may be the 15th medical marijuana state after all.

Source: Stop the Drug War

Marianas Islands Marijuana Legalization Bill Passes House

A bill to legalize marijuana passed the House in the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands (CNMI), a US territory, November 4. But the governor says he would only sign a medical marijuana bill, and the Senate appears poised to kill it

Still, its passage marks the first time a pot legalization bill has passed in a legislative chamber in any US territory.

The bill, HB 17-45, was championed by Rep. Stanley Torres (I-Saipan). It would "allow individuals 21 years or older to possess, cultivate, or transport marijuana for personal use; permit the regulation and taxation of the commercial production and sale to people 21 years old or older," while barring pot possession on school grounds and use in the presence of minors.

Earlier this year, a cost-benefit analysis performed by the House Committee on Natural Resources said enacting the bill into law "will possibly result in the loss of federal funds but at the same time the Commonwealth government will generate funds through taxation."

Torres and other legalization supporters also argued that the bill would allow access to marijuana by the ill and reduce crime and violence in black markets.

But Senate President Paul Manglona (R-Rota) said Wednesday that the Senate will kill the bill next. "It's for the same reasons I mentioned before," he told the Saipan Tribune, citing concerns about marijuana use's impact on CNMI youth and other ill effects on the community.

And Gov. Beningno Fitial signaled that he was okay with medical marijuana, but not for non-medical.

"I support it for medicinal use," Fitial told reporters. "I never smoke marijuana myself so I cannot talk much about it because I don't have the experience." 

Source: Stop the Drug War 

This Week in History 

Stop the Drug War's David Guard brings us a roundup of a week in drug historys past, a week in which Keith Stoup formed NORML and President Clinton signed the North American Free Trade Agreement.

November 15, 1875: San Francisco passes the first US anti-drug law, an ordinance outlawing Chinese opium dens. 

November 12, 1970: Keith Stroup forms the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).

November 12, 1980
: New York City Mayor Ed Koch admits to having tried marijuana.

November 15, 1984: Spanish police arrest Jorge Ochoa on a US warrant and both the US and Colombia apply for his extradition. Soon after, the Medellin cartel publicly threatens to murder five Americans for every Colombian extradition. The Spanish courts ultimately rule in favor of Colombia's request and Ochoa is deported. He serves a month in jail on charges of bull-smuggling before being paroled.

November 11, 1988
: The Anti-Drug Abuse Act establishes the creation of a drug-free America as a policy goal. A key provision of the act is the creation of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) to set priorities, implement a national strategy, and certify federal drug-control budgets.

November 17, 1993: President Clinton signs the North American Free Trade Agreement which results in an enormous increase in legitimate trade across the US-Mexican border. The volume of trade increases the difficulty for US Customs officials seeking to find narcotics hidden within legitimate goods. [Ed: Of course, reducing the supply of drugs was already an essentially hopeless task.]

November 17, 1993: At an International Network of Cities on Drug Policy conference in Baltimore, Maryland former Colombian high court judge Gomez Hurtado tells the Americans present, "Forget about drug deaths, and acquisitive crime, and addiction, and AIDS. All this pales into insignificance before the prospect facing the liberal societies of the West. The income of the drug barons is greater than the American defense budget. With this financial power they can suborn the institutions of the State and, if the State resists... they can purchase the firepower to outgun it. We are threatened with a return to the Dark Ages."

November 15, 2001: Asa Hutchinson, administrator for the Drug Enforcement Administration, and Republican Gov. Gary Johnson of New Mexico debate the war on drugs in front of about 150 people in Yale's Law School auditorium.

November 15, 2002: NFL star and NORML advisory board member Mark Stepnoski is interviewed on the O'Reilly Factor. 

Source: Stop the Drug War

The Republican House and Drug Reform: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Last week, a resurgent Republican Party retook control of the US House of Representatives, giving the Democrats a drubbing the likes of which has not been seen for decades. The Democrats lost 61 seats, seeing their side sink to 189 seats to the Republicans' 240. They needed 218 to take over again.

The change in control of the House has some serious drug policy implications. There's bad news, but maybe also some good news.

Reform measures passed in the current Congress, such as repealing the bans on federal funding of needle exchange programs and implementation of the Washington, DC, medical marijuana program, could see attempts to roll them back. And pending reforms efforts, such as the battle to repeal the HEA student loan provision, are probably dead. Reform friendly Democratic committee chairs, who wield considerable power, have been replaced by hostile Republicans.

But the incoming Republicans made slashing the deficit and cutting the federal budget a winning campaign issue for themselves, and will be looking for programs they can cut or eliminate. That could open the door to hacking away at programs that support the ongoing prosecution of the drug war, but it could also open the door for cuts in prevention and treatment programs.

As the Chronicle noted here earlier this week, it's not just Tea Party types who want to wield the budget ax. The mainstream conservative Heritage Foundation issued a report just before election day laying out a whopping $434 billion in federal budget cuts, including eliminating the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the drug task force-funding Justice Assistance Grant (JAG, formerly the Byrne grant program) program, and the Safe and Drug Free Schools and Communities state grant program.

"Budgetary issues is where I'm most optimistic," said Bill Piper, veteran national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "Given the fiscal climate, there could be real cuts in the federal budget. Next year is probably an unprecedented opportunity to de-fund the federal drug war. These new Republicans are a different breed—anti-government, anti-spending, pro-states' rights, and some are proven to be prone to bucking the leadership. If the Republican leadership votes to preserve the drug war, they may rebel," he said.

"We can go after the Byrne grant program," Piper enthused. "That's a very important deal. If we can cut off drug war funding to the states, the states won't be able to afford their punitive policies anymore. During the recession in the Bush administration, when the administration was cutting money to the states, a lot of states passed reform measures because they couldn't afford to lock people up. This time, the federal government has been bailing out state criminal justice systems, but if we can cut or eliminate Byrne grants, the states won't have money for their drug task forces and imprisoning people. Then they will have to consider reforms like cutting sentences and making marijuana possession an infraction."

"Sentencing reform on budgetary grounds is possible," said Kara Gotsch, director of advocacy for the Sentencing Project. "From our perspective, that is a way to reduce government spending. If you want to reduce drug war spending, you reduce costs by investing in prevention and substance abuse programs. That will be part of our talking points, but the reality is, to be successful they're going to have to be bipartisan."

Eric Sterling, former House Judiciary Committee counsel and current head of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation was less sanguine than either Piper or Gotsch about the urge to cut the deficit leading to progress in drug reform. "The prospect of saving money leading to criminal justice and drug policy reform is remote," said Sterling. "In state legislatures where they have to balance the budget, everyone recognizes what has to happen. But in Congress, they know there is still going to be a deficit."

Sterling also questioned just how different the Republican freshman class will be from traditional Republicans. "That's a big question mark," he said. "They are younger and bring with them different experiences about drug policy or marijuana in particular, but most of these men and women won by using traditional themes that most incumbent Republicans used, too. I think for them, cracking down on drugs and crime will have more value than trying to save money by funding diversion or correctional programs that aren't about harsh punishment."

But Piper remained upbeat. "Next year is probably an unprecedented opportunity for the movement to defund the drug war. The stars are aligning. A lot of tax groups are already on record for cutting some of these programs," he noted. "Given the fiscal climate, we could see considerable cuts in the federal budget. The type of Republicans coming into office, as well as Obama's own need to show he can practice fiscal discipline, means a real chance to cut or eliminate some of those programs," he said. "The down side is that funding for prevention and treatment is likely to come under fire, too."

While budget battles will be fought in appropriations committees, criminal justice issues are a different matter. One of the most striking changes  comes in the House Judiciary Committee, where pro-drug reform Democrats like chairman John Conyers (D-MI) and Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security chair Bobby Scott (D-VA) are being replaced by the likes of Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), who will head the Judiciary Committee. Smith, a conservative old school drug warrior, was the only congressman to speak up against passage of the bill to reduce the disparity in crack and powder cocaine sentences.

He also authored a bill this fall that would have made it a federal offense for US citizens to plan to commit acts outside the US that would violate US drug laws. While that bill was allegedly aimed at large drug trafficking organizations, it could have made federal criminals out of college students making plans to visit the coffee shops of Amsterdam. He took to Fox News last month to lambaste the Obama administration as insufficiently tough on marijuana law enforcement, a clip he displays on his web site (scroll over the small video screens; the title will pop up).

"The fact that Rep. Smith is going to be the chair will definitely have an impact," said Gotsch. "He was the only vocal opposition to the crack cocaine sentencing reform, and the fact that he is now going to be chair is discouraging. It indicates that he won't be thoughtful about sentencing reforms for low level drug offenders."

"The Democratic committee chairs were good on drug policy and unlikely to advance bad drug war bills," said Piper. "Now, with Conyers and Scott gone and Lamar Smith in charge, we can expect stuff like Smith's foreign drug conspiracy bill to come out of that committee."

"You couldn’t find bigger champions for reform than Scott and Conyers," said Gotsch. "We won't have them as chairs now; that's probably the biggest disappointment to our community."

"Smith has been quite out there in his attacks over the drug issue," said Sterling. "My hunch is that we will take advantage of the political attractiveness of the drug issue to try to have both oversight hearings and legislation that would be embarrassing to Democrats."

And don't expect too much from the Democrats, either, he added. "The Democratic caucus is going to be more reluctant to deal with the drug issue in a progressive way than it has been," said Sterling. "They see it as a distraction from the heart of the message they need to bring to retake power in 2012."

With people like Smith holding key House committee positions, the drug reform agenda is likely to stall in the next Congress. Instead, reformers will be fighting to avoid reversing earlier gains.

"In terms of passing good things, there probably wasn’t a lot more that was going to happen with Democrats before 2012," said Piper. "The important low hanging fruit of overturning the syringe ban, the DC medical marijuana ban, and the crack sentencing bill had already gotten through. We might have been able to achieve repeal of the HEA drug provision, but probably not now."

The drug reform movement's job now will be not only blocking bad legislation, but also fighting to prevent a rollback of drug reform victories in the current Congress, such as the repeal of the bans on syringe exchange funding and implementing the Washington, DC, medical marijuana law, said Piper. 

"They're unlikely to go backwards on crack, but the syringe ban and the DC medical marijuana ban were both repealed with some, but not a lot, of Republican support," he said. "The syringe ban repeal barely passed, and that was in a Congress dominated by Democrats. Will they try to restore the syringe funding ban and overturn DC's medical marijuana program? That's our big fear. Hopefully, we can scrape up enough votes to defeat in the House, or stop it on the Senate side," he said.

Piper also dared to dream of an emerging Republican anti-drug war caucus. "We don't know who these new Republicans all are, but some have probably been influenced by Ron Paul (R-TX)," he said. "If only 10 of them stand up against the drug war, that's a huge opportunity to raise hell in the Republican caucus. Almost a third of Republican voters want to legalize marijuana, and that's an opportunity for us, too. Maybe there will be Republicans we can work with and create a truly bipartisan anti-drug war coalition in Congress. That's a foothold."

For Piper, the future looks stormy and cloudy, but "the silver lining is in appropriations fights and opportunities to organize an anti-drug war movement in the Republican caucus. We just have to play defense on a bunch of stuff," he said. 

"The activist community is going to have to figure out what the recipe for our lemonade is," advised Sterling. "That requires first a redoubled effort at organizing, using themes such as the wise stewardship of the scarce resources we have, and what works and what is effective," he said.

"It also requires mobilizing people not involved in this issue before, whether it's the business community or people who see their rice bowls been broken by the Republican approach," Sterling continued. "Teachers, nurses, people asking how come the part of the public work force this is protected is the police and the police guards. Drug policy reform activists have to think about what are the alliances they can make in this time of public resource scarcity." 

Source: Stop the Drug War 

Drug Addicts Spurn Shooting Up 

England is leading the way on reducing the harm caused by injecting drug use, according to a report from the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse (NTA). 

Continued investment by successive governments in drug treatment over the past 30 years means England now has one of the lowest rates of HIV amongst injecting drug users in Western Europe and comparable developing countries. 

New NTA figures show the number of people coming into treatment who use syringes and needles to inject illegal drugs (mainly heroin) has dropped to its lowest level since 2005. 

In the five years to 2010, the proportion of addicts who were injecting at the time they entered treatment fell by almost 10%.  Over the same period the proportion coming into treatment who had never injected rose by 5%.

Younger adults in particular are turning away from injecting, with the biggest drop in injecting found among 18-24 year olds coming into treatment.  

The NTA report attributes this shift to the easy availability of a balanced range of drug treatment services. Public health initiatives like needle exchanges and testing for blood-borne viruses reduce injecting and act as a gateway for structured treatment. On top of that, half of all users stop injecting within six months of entering a treatment programme.  

Paul Hayes, Chief Executive of the NTA said: "Injecting puts drugs users and their communities at risk.  Research tells us that drug users are turning their backs on heroin and crack cocaine, a trend confirmed by our own treatment statistics.  Now we know that of those coming in to treatment, fewer are injecting and half can expect to stop within a few months.  This is all great news for public health in England." 

Other related findings: 

  • More than 40,000 users entering treatment in 2009-10 said they had never injected, the highest level for five years
  • About one-third fewer injecting drug users are sharing needles, syringes and other equipment than ten years ago.
  • Injecting drug users in treatment are most likely to be male, in their early thirties and either homeless or with housing problems.
  • Record numbers of injecting drug users are now getting tested for blood-borne viruses like HIV and hepatitis C through treatment services
  • In the last five years the number of former injectors leaving treatment free from all drugs has more than tripled
  • Current rates of HIV among English injecting drug users is 1.5% compared to 40% in Spain, 16% in the USA and Portugal and 12% in France. 

The report, Injecting Drug Use in England: a declining trend can be found here 

The National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse (NTA) is a National Health Service (NHS) special health authority which aims to improve the availability, capacity and effectiveness of drug treatment in England.  We help people to overcome addiction and regain their lives. 

For further information please contact Lynne Nasti, Senior Communications Officer (Media), on 020 7972 1920 (business hours) or 07747 535961 (out of hours) or visit our website at www.nta.nhs.uk

Source: The National Treatment Agency 

Call for Tender Submissions: A Summary of the Health Harms of Drugs 

The National Treatment Agency (NTA) is today calling for tender submissions to produce a new document, "A summary of the health harms of drugs" on behalf of the Department of Health.

This is intended to update Dangerousness of Drugs: A guide to the risks and harms associated with substance misuse. This existing reference document, last updated in 2003, summarises the scientific evidence about the health harms associated with a range of licit and illicit substances that may be seen in the UK. 

The new document is aimed at a range of officials and others providing advice on the harms of substances, and for others who work with drug users for whom this information will be useful. It will focus on health harms rather than broader perceived social or other harms; will use a similar tabular format used in the 2003 publication; will consider the harms of some new drugs and provide an up-to-date list of key references. 

Suitably qualified researchers will be expected to give details about project scope and methods; budget, key milestones for delivery of the final report; risk assessment and quality assurance. All proposals should be submitted to the NTA by no later than 5.00pm on Thursday 25 November 2010.

Up to £25,000 (including VAT) is available for this evaluation. The final report will be required by Thursday 12th May 2011.  

For full details of the requirements please go to www.nta.nhs.uk. For questions relating to the requirements please contact Alex Fleming on [email protected] 

Tender information pack

Source: The National Treatment Agency 

Alcohol Bill in Scotland becomes law - but does not include a minimum price for alcohol 

The Scottish Parliament has approved the Alcohol etc. (Scotland) Bill, but proposals to introduce a minimum price for alcohol were not included.

As passed, the Bill will:

  • Ban quantity discounts such as 'three for two' or '25 per cent off when you buy six'
  • Restrict alcohol promotions in off-sales
  • Introduce a Challenge 25 age verification scheme for all licensed premises
  • Pave the way for the introduction of a social responsibility levy to ensure those who profit from the sale of alcohol also put something back into the community

Source: Alcohol Concern

Government's latest proposals on alcohol-pricing and tackling binge-drinking

Two government departments have outlined their proposals and timetables for possible alcohol price controls.

The Home Office and HM Treasury have just released their business plans for 2011-2015.

The Home Office plan states that it will overhaul alcohol licensing to give more power to police and local authorities to meet the concerns of local communities.  In order to achieve this it will implement a number of actions, including:

  • Develop proposals to change alcohol pricing to ensure that it tackles binge drinking, including options to ban below-cost sale of alcohol, working with other government departments. Pricing options must be enforceable, compatible with EU trade law and easily implemented by business. (End date, subject to parliamentary approval and timetables - April 2011)
  • Introduce legislation, if necessary, in the second session of Parliament to implement changes to alcohol pricing. (End date, subject to parliamentary approval and timetables May 2012)

HM Treasury's business plan includes a commitment to "Review alcohol taxation to tackle problem drinking" (End date, subject to parliamentary approval and timetables, March 2011)

Source: Alcohol Concern

Addaction Devon win Partner of the Year

Addaction has been awarded ‘Partner of the Year 2010’ by the Devon and Cornwall Probation Trust, in recognition of their hard work alongside the Devon and Cornwall Probation team.

Simon Perkins, Manager of the Probation Team, nominated Addaction for the award, stating: ‘Cited as a model of good practice, Addaction work collaboratively with us to produce and carry out a cost-effective, comprehensive alcohol strategy to help change the behaviour of offenders with alcohol-related problems for the better. They are pivotal in the roll-out of an innovative new alcohol diversion scheme, linking into the wider network of Community Safety Partnerships and the management of Anti-Social Behaviour.’

On the 3rd November, Lady Devon presented Addaction with the award as part of the ceremony at Oldway Mansion in Paignton, Devon.

Source: Addaction

We face an Addiction Problem of a Titanic Scale

Scotland ranks sixth in the world for illicit drug use: only Afghanistan, Iran, Mauritius, Costa Rica and Russia have worse problems.

This is new. As recently as the 1970s, official reviews concluded there was no major drugs problem in Scotland. The situation with alcohol is similar. The rise in deaths from alcohol took off during the 1990s since when male death rates from alcohol have quadrupled and female rates have more than doubled.

What can be done in the face of such profound trends? Scotland’s first independent inquiry into drugs and alcohol, entitled Melting the Iceberg of Scotland’s Drug and Alcohol Problem, argues that the whole Scottish population must be involved if a solution is to be found.

The iceberg analogy is the key to the report’s analysis. The visible part is made up of those who have “overwhelming involvement” with drugs and alcohol to the extent that they are causing harm to themselves and/or others. The bulk of the iceberg is below the surface and represents drug and alcohol use not visible either because it seems unproblematic or is being hidden. The ocean represents our culture: the way we raise our children, the competitiveness of our society, the distribution of wealth and opportunity, the norms we create for behaviour, the price and availability of drugs and alcohol, and much else. If we want to reduce problematic drugs and alcohol use, we have to shrink the iceberg and the only way to do so is to raise the temperature of the water: to change our culture.

Historically, addictions are less of a problem when societies are stable and cohesive. Modern free-market societies create wealth but subject people to irresistible pressures of individualism and competition, tearing rich and poor alike from the close social and spiritual ties that normally constitute life. People adapt to their dislocation by finding the best substitute for a sustaining social and spiritual life they can, and addiction can serve this function only too well.

Drugs and alcohol are being confronted by four linked policy initiatives: prevention, harm reduction, treatment and law enforcement. Each component has value but it is not cynical to conclude that the problem is growing.

In addition to current policy, we should give thought to what might raise the temperature of the water. One good place to start is to consider what has been happening in Scotland over the past three decades to cool the water and cause the iceberg to expand so dramatically.

In the past half-century, Scotland has become a post-industrial society. To what extent is poor health a common outcome in other post-industrial regions? The answer is that Scotland’s mortality trends compare badly with other, similar, post-industrial regions of Europe, including in eastern Europe, which tend to be characterised by higher levels of poverty. Importantly, drugs and alcohol are major contributors to Scotland’s additional mortality. This finding challenges any simplistic explanation of Scotland’s poor health being caused by post-industrial decline alone, and begs the question as to what other factors may be at work.

Those we met as the inquiry took evidence throughout Scotland spoke of the need to reduce inequality, support children in the early years and recreate community support, solidarity, meaningful work and a sense of purpose and meaning. They called for a radical shift in our acceptance of alcohol and drug misuse in our country. They were speaking of the need for change throughout the whole of Scottish society and not just among those who were struggling with “overwhelming involvement”.

There is a wistful yearning for change. Yet there is also denial of the scale and severity of the problems we face. The lesson of history is that we should be optimistic. Nations can and do move away from damaging patterns of addiction. Can Scotland rise to this challenge?

Phil Hanlon is professor of public health at Glasgow University. For more information visit www.projectstrada.org.

Source: Herald Scotland

Joint UNODC / INCB Statement on the International Drug Control System and Human Health and Human Rights

The recent report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health (A/65/255) focuses on the international drug control system.  This system is built on a body of international law.  UNODC and INCB have prepared this joint statement in order to clarify how these issues are actually dealt with within the existing international drug control system.

The international drug control mechanisms were to set up to protect human health by preventing drug abuse and drug dependence and ensuring access to drugs for medical and scientific purposes.  These control measures, which have been developed over the last 100 years with the consensus of Member States, have protected millions of people from falling into addiction to drugs.  The present drug control system has been successful at the international level in preventing diversion of drugs from licit channels to illicit uses.

Law enforcement and criminal sanctions play a key role in enforcing these drug prevention conventions and strategies, targeting principally the organized crime groups making profit out of the misery of millions.  Such enforcement measures however should be part of a balanced approach to tackling both supply and demand issues.

At the same time, the international drug control system recognizes the need of individuals for adequate treatment.  Under the Conventions, the manufacture, trafficking, sale and possession of narcotic drugs are illegal and punishable with criminal sanctions which according to INCB should be in proportion to the crime and must respect basic UN human rights principles (Principle also reinforced unanimously by Member States in the 2009 CND Political Declaration and 1998 UNGASS Political Declaration). 

In order to allow for the humane treatment of drug addiction, the conventions allow Member States to apply alternative measures to imprisonment and sanction for drug use, such as education, social care, treatment, reintegration and aftercare (Article 36 of the 1961 Narcotic Drugs convention + Article 3 of the 1988 Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances).

In other words, this includes the possibility for Member States to consider alternatives to imprisonment for drug addiction but not towards the legalization of drug use - as controlled drugs still remain highly addictive and damaging for human health.  The aim of the UN drug control mechanisms is to protect the global population, and youth in particular, from becoming addicted to narcotic drugs - i.e. the protection of basic human health and to protect society from the violent, health and socio-economic consequences of drug abuse and trafficking.

Treatment programmes, including treatment offered as an alternative to criminal justice sanctions, have to be in line with ethical standards and human rights in accordance with the 2009 CND political declaration.

INCB over the last few years has addressed, in its thematic report, a number of contemporary issues including the availability of controlled drugs for medical purposes, the importance of demand reduction, treatment, proportionality of response and the respect for human rights, etc.

The legalisation of drugs would have a negative impact on the health of the global population. UNODC and WHO are working with Member States, within the present international drug control framework, to implement a health-centred and human rights approach to drug use and drug dependence.

Concerning the licit use of controlled drugs for pain management and other medical purposes, INCB works continually with Member States to ensure that such drugs are available for medical and scientific purposes and are not diverted to fuel the health challenge of drug addiction.  This monitoring is achieved through a regulatory system of estimates and assessments provided by Member States to INCB.  Many countries do not have the capacity or resources to regulate licit drug use which, as INCB and WHO have repeatedly highlighted, still results in inadequate availability of drugs for medical purposes in some countries.

Source: UNODC

A Cop says Legalize Drugs – in Central Europe

Jack Cole is the former Executive Director of the Law Enforcement Against Prohibition – an organization made up of current and former members of the law enforcement and criminal justice communities who are speaking out about the failures of our existing drug policies. Cole retired as a Detective Lieutenant after a 26-year career with the New Jersey State Police. For fourteen of those years Cole worked as an undercover narcotics officer.

A few years ago the HCLU invited Jack to visit Budapest, Hungary, where he met with key officials from the national police and the government, he made several powerful speeches and gave interviews to the national media. Inspired by this succesful trip we decided that in 2010 we invite Jack to Europe again – this time to visit three other countries, the Czech Republic, Poland and Romania.

The goal was to stir the still water of public discourses on drug policy in Central-Europe - and we think Jack made a good job as usual. In Prague Jack attended the “Urban Drug Policies in a Globalized World” conference, where he was one of the key speakers of a session on law enforcement (“The Police And Policing: How we plan and evaluate police activities and what we learn from it”). He gave interviews to local journals and trained Jiří Stuna, Chief Constable of the City Police Skuteč to be a speaker of LEAP in the Czech Republic.

On 5 October he arrived to Warsaw, Poland, where he had a public debate at the University of Warsaw with Jacek Wrona, a former police commissioner. The title of the debate was “Two Jack’s Debate on Drug Policy”. His local host was Agnieszka Sieniawska of the Polish Drug Policy Network, who arranged simultaneous translation for the audience. The Polish Drug Policy Network displayed an artistic installation at the university – this installation aims to raise awareness on the criminal sanctions for smoking/growing cannabis. During his visit Jack met with a retired police officer, Leszek Wieczorek from the city of Bielsko-Blata, who volunteered to be a LEAP speaker in Poland. On 6 October Jack was invited to speek at the event of the Inspiratornia Foundation, his speech was filmed by the Channel 1 Polish TV.

In Bucharest Valentin Simionov of the Romanian Harm Reduction Network hosted Jack who made a public lecture at the Bucharest University on 7 October, with appr. 200 people attending the event. The next day a training was held at the Organized Crime Department of the Bucharest Police Inspectorate, with 12 police officers. After the event, Jack had a meeting with Prof. Dr. Gheorghe Popa, police quaestor, director of the Institute of Studies for Public Safety. Mr. Popa and Mr. Cole discussed about the purpose of the training, LEAP activity, other related topics. His Romanian visit was well publicized by the press (an example). 

Jack's trip was sponsored by the HCLU, in the framework of the European Drug Policy Initiative (EDPI) - a network funded by the Open Society Institute.

Source: Drug Reporter

Housewives take top Police Chief Jobs in Mexico

Two housewives with no experience of policing have been appointed to lead the fight against druglords in a Mexican village near the US border.

No male candidates had applied for the job of police chief out of fear and the women face a tough challenge imposing order in an area that has been blighted by a wave of drug-related violence.

The BBC’s Jack Izzard presents a short film about this story on this link

Source: BBC News 

The Prague Declaration - 7 Principles for Urban Drug Policies 

In the early 1990s the representatives of four European cities, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Zürich and Hamburg endorsed a document later came to be known as the Frankfurt Resolution. They concluded that "the present system of criminally prohibiting the use of certain drugs has failed," and “drug related problems are not only caused by the effects of the drugs themselves, but are primarily the result of the illegality of drug consumption." 

The Resolution promoted a new harm reduction approach to drug problems: it did not aim to eliminate drug use as such but to reduce the negative consequences of drug use and drug policies. Cities signing the document later set up a network called the European Cities on Drug Policy. By the end of the 20th century harm reduction programs such as needle and syringe programs (NSP) and opiate substitution treatment (OST) became major components of city-level drug policies in most countries of the European Union.

After the economic crisis hit the world we can witness the dawn of a new conservative area: it seems that many Europeans lost faith in the modern liberal welfare state and its pragmatic approach to solving complex social problems. There is an emerging trend of intolerance and political agendas with the promise to restore “law and order”. In this new area people who use drugs are more vulnerable to stigma and social exclusion than ever. There is a risk that European cities will sacrifice their unquestionable achievements in the field of drug policy at the altar of political populism.

Pavel Bem, the mayor of Prague and a former drug treatment professional himself, recognized this trend and the need to create a new platform to promote evidence-based, pragmatic drug policies among cities. He and his advisers prepared a new statement for the conference Urban Drug Policies in the Globalised World (September 30th – October 2nd, 2010) – the Prague Declaration (READ THE FULL TEXT HERE!). This document declared a simple and brief set of seven principles of effective drug policies at the local level:

1. No size fits all

2. Realism is the key

3. Human rights apply to ill people in particular

4. Public health and public safety concerns must not be seen as contradictory

5. Evidence-based decisions only

6. Evaluation and monitoring
7. Constant and improving mutual information flows between local, national and international levels of drug policy through a common voice

HCLU’s video advocacy team attended the conference and interviewed Mr. Bem and a couple of other decision makers and professionals about the Prague Declaration. We hope this video will contribute to the better understanding of the seven principles and this it will convince other city leaders to sign the Declaration.

Please 1) SIGN THE DECLARATION 2) SHARE THIS VIDEO among your peers and colleagues and 3) ASK YOUR CITY LEADERS to endorse the Declaration and the principles of evidence- and human righs-based drug policies!  

Source: Drug Reporter

Voters in Massachusetts appear to be ready to legalize marijuana in 2012, according to an analysis of the votes on local cannabis legalization advisory ballot questions last Tuesday.

Massachusetts allows for citizens to place non-binding local “public policy questions” on the ballot. And voters in several precincts weighed in this year on whether their local representatives should “vote in favor of legislation that would allow the state to regulate and tax the marijuana in the same manner as alcohol.” More than 150,000 votes were cast on the marijuana issue across Massachusetts, in districts containing about 8.5 percent of the total vote.

In the districts where pot policy was on the ballot, the advisory question passed with an overwhelming 61 percent of the vote, but these districts were slightly more liberal than the rest of the state, reports Jon Walker at Firedoglake. So to determine how those results might translate to a statewide marijuana legalization ballot question, Walker used two different metrics to analyze the data.

Walker’s analysis led him to conclude that a small majority of the individuals who turned out to vote this year in Massachusetts supported legalizing and regulating cannabis in the same way the state does alcohol.

“This is a good sign for marijuana reform given that midterm elections tend to have much lower turnouts among young voters,” Walker said, “who are, in general, more supportive of legalization — and this midterm in particular had a higher than normal turnout among older conservatives, who tend not to support marijuana reform.

“For these reasons, the 2012 electorate is almost assured to be even more supportive of legalization than the 2010 electorate,” Walker said.“This analysis of the election results, combined with other factors, suggests Massachusetts is a strong candidate for becoming one of the first states to embrace legalization,” Walker said. “There is strong evidence that if a well-crafted marijuana legalization initiative makes it onto the ballot in 2012, it could pass.”

Since 2000, Massachusetts voters have reacted positively to every ballot question before them which eased restrictions on marijuana, reports David Riley at The Metro WestDailyNews

To date, voters have approved all 63(!) public policy questions regarding cannabis legalization, including 18 this year alone, according to advocacy groups, Riley reports. 

This year’s measures were put up by the Drug Policy Forum of Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition (MassCann), the state chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). 

The ballot questions demonstrate wide public support for reforming marijuana laws and serve as a grassroots organizing and public education tool, according to Scott Mortimer, a volunteer for the Drug Policy Forum. The DPF backs legislation to allow unauthorized medical patients to grow, possess and buy marijuana if recommended by a doctor. 

“We’re polling a giant portion of the population,” said Bill Downing, director of MassCann. “We’re not calling them on the phone and asking them questions — they’re actually going into a ballot box and voting.”

MassCann supports a bill to legalize marijuana and allow state regulation and taxation of its production, saqles and distribution. 

“One of the major purposes of running these public policy questions is to have the most accurate public polling that we can have,” Downing said. “The reason for that is so that we can take those numbers to moneyed sources and say, look — if you want to win, you can do it here in Massachusetts.” 

Source: AlterNet 

Reality Check on Bravo Housewives: Marijuana Use Doesn't Discriminate, but Marijuana Enforcement Does 

Getting charged with marijuana possession is a lot more serious than most people think. On the October 11th episode of The Real Housewives of Atlanta, I anxiously awaited the aftermath of the Dwight Eubanks and NeNe Leakes showdown from the season premiere the week before. Instead, my ears perked up as Phaedra, one of the newest housewives, met with one of her clients, who had recently been charged with marijuana possession. Phaedra warned him of the collateral consequences that would occur if he continued getting arrested for marijuana. These consequences include not just arrest and incarceration, but also loss of employment, loss of child custody, and loss of public benefits such as public housing or financial aid for college. 

Later, NeNe talked about her own son, Brice, and his arrest for marijuana possession. NeNe was extremely upset about Brice's arrest and talked about her fears as a mother for her son and the collateral consequences of being arrested. The fear in her eyes and voice as she painted the picture of the criminal justice system for Brice is all too familiar to many mothers of young black men. The consequences that these two young men face are serious - and, sadly, mirror the experiences of millions of young black men and their families. 

Some of you may be thinking: "Serious consequences for marijuana? No way, it's just pot." But getting charged with marijuana possession is a lot more serious than most people think. Once someone has a criminal record, their employment opportunities are severely diminished, and there is a good chance they will get hopelessly entangled in the criminal justice system, which currently supervises more than 7 (seven!) million Americans. Marijuana arrests are the primary mechanism by which young black men are brought into the criminal justice system. While the conversation around pot is becoming more mainstream around the country, in black communities these minor nonviolent arrests effectively remove millions of otherwise law-abiding people from mainstream society.

In Phaedra's interview, she explained how 1 in 3 African American males in Atlanta have a criminal record. As the show continued, I took a mental note that Atlanta would not be a place where I would want to raise a black son. While I am not saying that these two African American males featured on RHOA were racially targeted for their marijuana possession/use, the evidence shows that overall black men are disproportionately targeted by police. 

Queens College professor Harry Levine has recently published several reports on marijuana arrests in California and New York City. The results are surprising - even though marijuana is less harmful than alcohol or tobacco, there has been a drastic increase in marijuana possession arrests in the United States over the past two decades. In New York City, where I live and work, blacks and Latinos represent almost 90% of NYC's marijuana arrests. In fact NYC has the leading number of marijuana arrests in the United States. Not to be overshadowed, Atlanta has the highest racial disparity percentage in marijuana arrests in the U.S.

Interestingly, later in the week, I watched the Real Housewives of DC reunion show. 

When Andy Cohen, host of Watch What Happens Live and all the Real Housewives reunions, asked Mary Schmidt Amons about her rumored prescription drug misuse, Lynda Erkiletian piped in that she smoked pot regularly before even drinking alcohol. The whole couch laughed - but notably Stacie Turner, the only African American housewife on the show, sat on the couch with her mouth gaping open in shock. I also stared at the television in shock that Lynda publicly revealed her marijuana use on national television. 

But then I did some more research - and found that according to government data, white people use marijuana at the same rate as blacks. So why should I be surprised that Lynda is a regular pot smoker? I shouldn't! Despite the media's over-emphasis on blacks smoking marijuana and racially disproportionate arrest rates throughout the U.S., white people do smoke marijuana - a lot. I am sure that more RHODC women on the couch would have admitted to smoking marijuana if they were in the privacy of one of the housewives' homes, without BRAVO cameras. 

While I applaud Lynda for being honest about her marijuana use on national television, it doesn't stop me from thinking about how different the marijuana conversation was between Lynda and Brice, NeNe's son. Do white parents have to give their children the talk about "living in America while white?" No matter where you are in the country, if you are young and black, you are always at high risk of getting swept into our unforgiving criminal justice system. 

Changing marijuana enforcement practices would not end this problem, but would go a long way toward improving people's faith in the fairness of the criminal justice system - and improving the lives of the millions of young black men. 

Source: AlterNet

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