oD Drug Policy Forum: Front Line Report - Week of September 20th, 2010

We lead this first report of the autumn session with exciting news from the first US government approved clinical trial of MDMA therapy for those suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Also, as the November general election (and Prop 19) quickly approaches, the weed war heats up in California.
Mark Weiss Charles Shaw
20 September 2010

Ed's note: It is with great pleasure that I introduce Mark Weiss, openDemocracy's newest intern, who will be assisting with the Drug Policy Forum. Mark is a London based policy analyst with a passionate belief in harm reduction and a non-ideological, evidential approach to international drug policy. He is currently completing his Masters in Human Rights at Birkbeck Law School, and has worked as a Policy Assistant with DrugScope, the UK’s leading independent centre of information and expertise on drugs and the national membership organization for the drug field. Give him a fond welcome. ~ CS


Putting the MD in MDMA: Hope for those Debilitated by PTSD

With an alarming 7.8% of Americans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), the prognosis for this complex debilitating condition has been characterized the absence of effective approved medication and treatment. Encouraging results from a groundbreaking FDA approved trial into the therapeutic applications of MDMA, offer a ray of hope, the Journal of Psychopharmachology reports. 

The trial, funded by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies and conducted by psychiatrist Michael Mithoefer and co-therapist Annie Mithoefer, focused on 21 patients exhibiting chronic treatment-resistant PTSD resulting from crime or war experiences. During two sessions with 125mg MDMA or a placebo, and a final dose two and a half hours into the session, participants received around eight hours of psychotherapy. 

Eight weeks later, while over 75% of those who had taken the placebo continued to present symptoms for PTSD; a dramatic decrease was observed among those who received MDMA, with fewer than 17% of patients continued to qualify for a diagnosis of PTSD. With a thin line separating thresholds between arousal and under-arousal, PTSD hinders the avoidance of overwhelming emotion or dissociation, necessary for effective therapy.

The Mithoefer’s suggest that MDMA widens this line, allowing engagement with traumatic memory. With increased oxytocin levels, rapid close bonds and trust between patient and therapist are also developed. With further trials soon to be undertaken, we will keep you up to date on future developments. You can read the full report here.

Source Scientific American

(The MAPS community is very dear to me, and this work of theirs was of crucial importance to my own life. Please support this organization if you can ~ CS)


Investing in the Future: New report calls for “Positive Social Investment” to reduce Incarceration Rates

The report from the Justice Policy Institute makes the case for an urgent reframing of priorities to confront the disproportionate correlation between poverty and incarceration in the United States. Investment in the criminal justice system, the report argues is a false economy fueling spiraling incarceration rates and racial disparities.

Particularly glaring are patterns of drug offenses, with African Americans representing 44% of those incarcerated while only comprising 12% of the general population. And it is communities of color which bear the brunt of these unbalanced drug law enforcement, destabilizing families and decreasing the likelihood for positive outcomes.

Pointing out that while national crime rates have fallen, increased numbers of people from low income and poor communities and people of color are being arrested and imprisoned; JPI argues that policy is focused less “on safety for the poor and more on policing and arrests.”

“Investments in housing, education, mental health services, and job training,” author Sarah Lyons asserts, “have been shown to improve public safety, reduce risk of involvement with the justice system and promote community well-being.”

The report makes several key findings:

  • Laws criminalizing homelessness reinforce the cycles of poverty and homelessness. About 16 percent of incarcerated people experienced homelessness prior to arrest. Most are significantly more likely to have both a mental illness and a substance addiction, which frequently go untreated in the community
  • States with higher rates of high school graduation and college enrollment have lower crime rates
  • The stress of living in poverty is a risk factor for experiencing mental health problems, and many people who want treatment can't afford it. Over half of people in prisons and jails report mental illness of some kind, compared to 25 percent of the general population
  • Investments in job training and employment are associated with heightened public safety. Youth who are employed are more likely to avoid justice involvement. In addition, people who are incarcerated are more likely to report having had extended periods of unemployment and lower wages

And the following recommendations.

  • Rather than expending police resources on quality of life offenses that are often directed at low-income communities and people who are homeless, focus law enforcement efforts on the most serious offenses
  • Address practices that create racial and income disparities in arrest and incarceration
  • Increase access and funding for affordable and supportive housing
  • Improve access to quality education for all children and invest in special education services Invest in afterschool and recreational programs for youth
  • Improve systems of community-based mental health and substance abuse treatment
  • Increase employment opportunities for those who most need them

To read a copy of the report, please click here

Source: Justice Policy Institute


Communication with Flair and Gravitas: UKDPC seek new Communication Manager

This is an ideal opportunity for someone who already has some experience of working in the science and/or social policy fields and is looking to gain deeper hands on and high profile experience of the communications function in a small organisation in a politically and media sensitive arena.

We do not have a significant communications budget to manage, nor do we undertake high profile campaigning work. But influencing policy makers, along with the ‘movers and shakers’ who they listen to, to adopt more evidence based drug policies in the current climate requires more subtle processes, and you will be a key resource for achieving this.

As communication manager, you will focus our resources on those people and bodies who can bring influence to bear. Primary targets are those actively involved in formulating policies, such as: Ministers; Shadow Ministers; civil servants; parliamentarians and professionals. This group is the primary focus of UKDPC’s communications and influencing efforts and it is crucial we have regular visibility amongst these groups

The Drug Policy Commission aims to provide independent authoritative and objective analysis of UK drug policy; furthering understanding of the evidence base and its implications for drug policy; and encouraging policy makers to adopt evidence-based policies. To that end, it analyses, scrutinises and evaluates different aspects of policy, both during their formulation and Implementation; and is an early port of call for policymakers/advisers.

With a fast approaching September 22nd deadline, for more information and how to apply, please see here


Leading UK expert calls for legalisation

‘We're allowed to take alcohol; we're allowed to smoke cigarettes. Cannabis, if it's handled properly, is probably not going to be any more dangerous than that’  

Two clear factors have led Roger Pertwee, Professor of Neuropharmacology at Aberdeen University and co-discoverer of THC, the active ingredient in cannabis, to this conclusion; first, an evidence based appreciation of the relative harms of different psychoactive drugs; and second, to remove cannabis from criminal organizations, reducing the ‘risk of users being invited to take other drugs.’ 

Professor Pertwee is the latest in a line of prominent academics, lawyers and doctors to call for revision of the UKs Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 to reflect the best available scientific and medical evidence. Echoing Professor Nutt, former Chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, sacked for his critique of UK drug policy, Pertwee concludes that if handled properly, cannabis is no more harmful than alcohol or tobacco.

‘In my view, we don't have an ideal solution yet to deal with recreational cannabis…We should consider licensing and marketing cannabis and cannabis products just as we do alcohol and tobacco. At the moment, cannabis is in the hands of criminals, and that's crazy.’ With 158,000 Britons convicted for possession last year alone, it also criminalises large numbers of otherwise law abiding society.

Highlighting the ideological and non-evidential paradigm which has thus far underlined UK policy and prevented politicians from entering into a rational dialogue, Professor Pertwee argues that the drug should be licensed and regulated in the same was as having a license for a dog.  Users would have a medical assessment to determine that there are no underlying reasons not to take the drug, and be over the age of 21. 

Professor Nutt fully endorses this standpoint, ‘As cannabis is clearly less harmful than alcohol, criminalisation of people who prefer this drug is illogical and unjust. We need a new regulatory approach to cannabis. The Dutch coffee-shop model is one that has been proven to work but some of Professor Pertwee's new suggestions may well have extra benefits and should be actively debated.’

Source: Stop the Drug War


Rescuing the US Criminal Justice System from the Abyss

Wednesday, September 15, was a National Call in Day supporting S. 714, Sen. Jim Webb’s bill establishing a National Criminal Justice Commission to do a full, top-to-bottom study of the wreck that is the US criminal justice system. But the work has just begun! If you haven't already, please call your two US senators to urge their support for this important and historic bill. The House of Representatives has already passed their version of the commission bill, so if the Senate passes S. 714 it will be almost law! 

You can reach your two US senators (or find out who they are) by calling the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121. You can also look up their numbers using your zip code, and download a set of talking points, at a page set up by the group Families Against Mandatory Minimums, available here. (If you are not from the United States, please forward this to drug policy and justice reform supporters you know who are.)

Source: Stop the Drug War


Two new Open Society Justice Initiatives seek to strengthen Defendants’ Rights

As you read this, three million people globally sit behind bars awaiting trial, many of whom have been incarcerated for months and even years without being tried or found guilty. Without access to vital legal funds, poor and marginalized communities are disproportionately affected and likely to face arbitrary arrest. Vulnerable to excessive detention, many lose their jobs while their families face poverty, hunger and homelessness.

Throughout an ordeal exposing detainees to torture, violence, disease and the actions of corrupt officials, physical and psychological distress is often acute and long lasting.  Throughout, most never see a lawyer nor have access to their basic rights. When they eventually reach court, without representation and following months of mistreatment, the odds are against them. 

Faced with this the Open Society Justice Initiative is working to promote alternatives to pre-trial detention, develop systems so that low-risk detainees can be released from jail under appropriate supervision, expand access to legal aid services, and deploy paralegals to intervene on their behalf.  The scale of the problem calls for long-term policy and funding commitments, and a global coalition for reform.

The Justice Initiative, working together with Maastricht University, JUSTICE and the University of the West of England provides empirical evidence of problems in many countries, with detailed studies conducted across Europe being translated into a basis for comprehensive policy reform.  The Initiative is advocating for changes to protect the rights of the accused and improve the quality of legal defense. 

It is working closely with the European Commission to set clear standards across the continent to ensure that defendants receive a fair trial.  This involves guaranteeing all suspects are informed of their procedural rights upon arrest, including the right to see a lawyer (with access free of charge from the moment of arrest), to remain silent, and to an interpreter.

To read more about defendants’ rights, see here, and for more about pre-trial detention, see here

Source: Open Society Justice Initiative


Hope for Lung Cancer Patients from an Unlikely Source: Study shows THC cuts Tumor Growth in Half

‘The beauty of this study is that we are showing that a substance of abuse, if used prudently, may offer a new road to therapy against lung cancer,’ Anju Preet, researcher in the Harvard Division of Experimental Medicine, said. Lung cancers over-expressing epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) are usually highly aggressive and chemotherapy resistant. THC inhibits EGF-induced growth and migration in EGFR expressing non-small cell lung cancer cell lines. 

Although the researchers do not know why THC inhibits tumor growth, they say the substance could be activating molecules that arrest the cell cycle. They speculate that THC may also interfere with angiogenesis and vascularization, which promotes cancer growth. 

Source: Science Daily


Medical Marijuana Employees Join Teamster Union

‘Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would ever organize medical marijuana providers, but this is an expanding industry in California,’ said Lou Marchetti, Local 70 Secretary-Treasurer – proud of completing the contract with full support of the workers’ employer.  The workers – trimmers, gardeners and cloners - dedicated to their work improving the quality of life for those suffering from cancer, HIV and other life threatening illnesses; will receive pensions and a solid pay increase within the next 15 months, as well as paid holidays and 60 hours personal time. 

While the Union has not commented on Proposition 19 at this time, this is certainly a positive the right direction.

Source: Work in Progress



Legalize Marijuana: California Law Enforcers Support Proposition 19

Having labored ‘to enforce laws that seek to prohibit cannabis use, and witnessed the abysmal failure of this current criminalization approach, we stand together in calling for new laws that will effectively control and tax cannabis.’ And so, last Monday, a united front of Los Angeles police officers, judges, prosecutors and others publically declared their support for Proposition 19 – some seven weeks before voters go to the polls.

The culmination of this evidence based argument, has the potential to make truly historic change; ‘eliminating somewhere between 40-200 million crimes overnight by making legal behavior that is today wasting so many law enforcement resources,’ and  taking control back from the grasp of violent drug cartels.  The consensus among officials is that current prohibition policy is ineffectual, ‘inflicting more harm on public safety than good’, while not reducing the use of marijuana.

This law enforcement support follows a long line of those already committed to Proposition 19, including labor unions, the National Black Police Association, the NAACP, doctors, politicians, political parties, and many more. As November 2 approaches, and with momentum on our side, let’s hope common sense and rational evidence is taken forward to the ballot box – stand up and be counted!

Source: Stop the Drug War


‘Prince of Pot’ Sentenced to Five Years in Prison

Canadian cannabis activist and seed exporter Marc Emery’s long struggle to fight a U.S. prison term has ended with a five year plea bargain sentence – for the time being on U.S. soil in Seattle.  Having sold around four million seeds via mail order, U.S. Attorney Todd Greenberg acknowledged Emery’s position as the ‘largest distributor in North America.’ Speaking about the sentence, Emery’s wife Jodie said that her husband will pass the time behind bars writing an autobiography and working on a Canadian voters’ guide to the federal election.

If Public Safety Minister Vic Toews approves the defence recommendation that he be transferred to a prison in Canada to serve his sentence, already agreed by District Court Judge Ricardo Martinez; Emery may be on parole in Canada as early as next summer with full parole by November 2011.

Source: Montreal Gazette


The Price of Freedom: Innocence Project Campaign for DNA Testing

Wrongly incarcerated for close to two decades, Frank Sterling was released following five rounds of costly DNA testing obtained and funded by the Innocence Project which proved his innocence. With 270 clients, the Innocence Project has launched a campaign to fund the testing that could change others lives and end their suffering. 

‘Every time an innocent person walks out of prison, we learn how the system failed -- and we have a glimpse at how it can be fixed. By helping to fund the next DNA test, you can free the innocent -- and strike a blow against injustice.’ To help free the next Frank Sterling, please follow this link and donate today.

Source: The Innocence Project


Incarceration Drops as Economic Crisis Forces Informed Decisions on Public Safety Strategies

‘States and localities have had to make smarter choices with their budgets," said Tracy Velázquez, executive director of JPI. "They've realized locking lots of people up for long periods of time is not only really expensive, it's just not the best way to improve public safety.’ 

"Jurisdictions are starting to use community supervision in place of incarceration and are developing tools to help focus resources on people who are most at risk of returning to prison," stated Velázquez. Also, more people who are arrested for drug-use related offenses are being diverted to treatment, providing a significantly greater public safety benefit than incarceration while saving scarce taxpayer funds.

"We all want to live in safe and healthy communities," added Velázquez. "Recent reports on declining rates of incarceration and drops in crime show that lowering prison populations and reducing crime and victimization are not mutually exclusive."

To read JPI's fact sheet on the FBI's 2009 Uniform Crime Report, follow this link

Source: Justice Policy Institute



Marijuana Maintenance - A Round Up of Cannabis-Related Issues


False Positives – Michigan Drivers’ Civil Liberties under Threat as State Considers Bill to allow Roadside Drug Tests

'Michigan could become the first state in the nation to drug test drivers if a Republican lawmaker has his way. Last week, Rep. Rick Jones (R-Grand Lodge) announced he was filing a bill that would allow police officers to administer roadside drug tests if they have probable cause’

'The motivation for Jones' bill appears to be his opposition to the state medical marijuana law, enacted by the will of the voters in 2008. Last month, he introduced a bill that would bar medical marijuana "clubs and bars" throughout the state.'

‘Along with the civil liberties issues, this proposal deserves scrutiny based on the drug test technology in use as well. Research has found that field drug tests commonly in use by police generate frequent false positives, sometimes form exposure to the air’

Source: AlterNet


Big Alcohol's decision to squash marijuana law reform to protect its bottom line is politics as usual

‘It is said that politics makes strange bedfellows, but there are arguably few stranger than the emerging alliance between two of California's most powerful political players: the police-industrial complex and Big Alcohol.’ 

‘Campaign finance reports from the Golden State disclose that the California Beer and Beverage Distributors -- a trade organization that represents over 100 beer distributors state-wide - is one of the primary backers of the lobby group Public Safety First, sponsors of the No on Prop. 19 campaign.’

Source: AlterNet


San Jose’s Former Chief of Police says YES to Proposition 19

'As San Jose's retired chief of police and a cop with 35 years experience on the front lines in the war on marijuana, I'm voting yes on Prop. 19.’ 

‘I've seen the prohibition's terrible impact at close range. Like an increasing number of law enforcers, I have learned that most bad things about marijuana -- especially the violence made inevitable by an obscenely profitable black market -- are caused by the prohibition, not by the plant.’

To read the former Police Chief’s rational argument, please follow this link

Source: AlterNet


A Wonder Drug? Medical Marijuana’s Extraordinary Potential

'Research into possible medical and therapeutic uses of cannabis is enjoying a renaissance.  In recent years, studies have shown potential for treating; nausea, vomiting, premenstrual syndrome, insomnia, migraines, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injuries, alcohol abuse, collagen-induced arthritis, asthma, atherosclerosis, bipolar disorder, depression, Huntington's disease, Parkinson's disease and many other conditions.’ 

‘Cut through all the government misinformation’ and read the rest of Andrew Weil M.D.’s article here.

Source: AlterNet


Advocating Prohibition: Disturbing Trends among Marijuana Users and the Call for Unity

‘It appears that there is a growing contingent of marijuana users and people associated with the industry, both legal and illicit, actively fighting against efforts to make marijuana legal for all adults. There are several arguments defending the status quo of prohibition. Some are well intentioned but shortsighted. Some are malicious. The one commonality is their divisive effect on the movement at a time when unity is crucial to end the government's war.’ 

Morgan Fox makes the case for unity for unity among marijuana users here

Source: AlterNet


Richard Nixon's Vengeful War on Marijuana

‘Since its origins almost four decades ago, the "war on drugs" has been more a political assault - particularly on the 1960s "counter-culture" - than rational government policy. President Nixon saw it as a way to hit back against pot-smoking Vietnam protesters – presidents since have feared being smeared as "soft on drugs." Former police officer and prosecutor William John Cox examines the origins of this costly "war" and the hypocrisy that has pervaded it.’

To read his report, please follow the following link

Source: AlterNet


Momentum Grows as Police Chief Calls for Decriminalisation

Following the wake of Professor Roger Pertwee who last week argued the case for licensing cannabis, one of Britain's most senior police officers has entered the debate raging between scientists and politicians; proposing decriminalising the personal use of drugs such as cannabis to allow more resources to be dedicated to tackling high-level dealers. 

‘Tim Hollis, chief constable of Humberside police and Chairman of the Association of Chief Police Officers’ Drugs Committee, said the criminal justice system could offer only a ‘’limited" solution to the UK's drug problem, a tacit admission that prohibition has failed. His dramatic intervention comes as the government is reviewing its 10-year drug strategy amid growing warnings from experts that prohibition does not deter drug use and that decriminalisation would liberate precious police resources and cut crime.’

Source: The Guardian Newspaper


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