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“One way to deal with the problem would be ending the artificial price of drugs by legalizing them. This would rapidly lower the price of drugs and vastly reduce the money to be made in smuggling them. ”
Transform have once again had a busy month, we’ve recruited two new members of staff, attended a range of events, responded to the Welsh Consultation and written a number of articles for the media. We’ve once again summarised some of the best stories in both UK and international news so please read on to find out more about what we’ve been up to and what’s going on in the world of drug policy.
Responses to the Welsh Consultation
Transform and the Drugs and Health Alliance (Transform provides the Secretariat to this group of organisations) have responded this month to the Welsh Consultation on drugs (rather similar to the recent UK one) entitled Working Together to Reduce Harm - A Consultation Paper.
This is where the Welsh Assembly consult the public to guide their strategy over the next ten years. Both Transform and the DHA strongly critiqued the strategy as being fatally flawed. Some of the main points raised included:
Blog Hit Success
We’re proud to announce that this month the number of unique visitors to our blog has now exceeded 100,000 (with 157,000 page views)
Transform in the Media
Emily wrote her first piece for the guardian this month entitled ‘ Coaker's Line’
An extraordinary documentary marking a new level in broadcast journalism in critiquing the international war on drugs was shown on Irish TV on 3 rd June 2008. It is absolutely unequivocal in demonstrating the futility and massive costs of fighting the war on drugs, as well as suggesting legal regulation as a viable alternative. A must see for anyone interested in the debate. The entire program can be viewed online here
Both Danny and Steve attended the IHRA Conference in Barcelona. Steve chaired a presentation on regulation with Mark Haden (public health expert from Vancouver) and Don McPherson (director of Vancouver municipal drug strategy). Danny chaired a presentation on the arguments against (& responses for) tobacco harm reduction. Danny was also re-elected to the board of IHRA.
Steve attended the ‘Pathways to problems’ event organised by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs.
Emily Crick engaged in her first debate on behalf of Transform attending an event organised by the Colombia Solidarity Campaign on the Politics of Cocaine. Danny also attended a Home Office event in Trafalgar Square promoting ‘Shared Responsibility’ and obtained a good quote from the Colombian Vice President about supporting a debate on legalisation (please see our special feature on cocaine below for more information).
Transform has made a major contribution to the Scottish Futures Forum. The report is due out on June 9th and we’ll include more on it next month.
We’ve also hosted a highly successful meeting of the DHA this month, to help focus the organisation and determine the way forward.
Transform have joined BUILD a network of International NGO s.
Transform will be attending the "Beyond 2008" NGO Global Forum in Vienna Austria which is being held on the 7 th –9 th July More information about the conference can be found here.
After a successful round of interviews we’ve now recruited a new Communications Associate Martin Powell who will be joining the team from the beginning of next month. The Drugs and Health Alliance have also recruited Francesca Solmi as co-ordinator for the organisation.
Home Office Reveal Strategy Sham
The Home Office published the results from the cannabis-related questions in the drug strategy this month The paper can be read in full here. Below is a chart to show the results of their findings:
This clearly shows that out of the 639 respondents, 121 support the government’s decision to reclassify cannabis to a Class B drug, 278 want it to remain class C and 124 want it legalised. The paper also demonstrates that many respondents felt that the classification system needs a complete overhaul. These findings give an alarming sign that consultations are little more than a box ticking exercise and that the views of the UK public are not being listened to.
ACMD Appoints New Chair
The Home Office have announced this month that Professor David Nutt has been appointed as the Chair Designate of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs from the 1st of November 2008. He will replace the current Chair, Professor Sir Michael Rawlins, who has served the maximum ten-year tenure.
Ecstasy up for Re-classification
With the reclassification of cannabis now done and dusted for the time being, it seems as though it’s ecstasy’s turn in the spotlight of yet another media kerfuffle. Many of the stories have been linked to the appointment of David Nutt as Head of the ACMD, who has publicly spoken in the past of his view that ecstasy should be downgraded. We’ve reported the story in full on our blog. The inevitable misinformed reporting has already begun for example, the Telegraph reported that 'The Home Office Considers Reclassification of Ecstasy', when it’s the ACMD not the Home Office who have made the call. In reality, the ACMD have called for the reclassification of ecstasy since 2006, with the literature review already commissioned and underway.
Are the Government Strategies Working?
The UKDPC (United Kingdom Drug Policy Consortium) published a report ‘Reducing Drug Use, Reducing Re-offending. Are programmes fordrug using offenders in the UK supported by the evidence?’ This report examines the evidence for the effectiveness of the Government’s initiatives for reducing drug use and re-offending.
Plaid Cymru call for radical shake up of the criminal justice system.
Lianne Wood wrote a paper on behalf of Plaid Cymru entitled ‘Making our Communities Safer’ which was launched on May 17 th on The Politics Show (BBC1). This paper was commissioned as part of the policy development work of Plaid Cymru. The paper highlights that criminal justice policies are not working and claim that New Labour has adopted a shamelessly populist approach to crime. The paper calls for a radical review of the criminal justice system, based on treating the symptoms of crime rather than the causes, and argues that the Criminal Justice System should be devolved to the Welsh Government. The document can be read in full here.
Dutch and UNODC debate cannabis
Frederick Polak a Dutch psychiatrist, engaged in a debate with the Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, Antonio Costa this month. Polak asked Costa, why cannabis use is lower in the Netherlands than in many neighbouring countries, despite the fact that cannabis is freely available to adults over 18. Mr Costa replied that the city of Amsterdam “is characterized by rates of drug addiction – I am referring to cannabis use – three times greater than anywhere else in Europe.” We wait to see whether he can back that up with any real world references – seems unlikely somehow but you never know The story can be read in more detail here and the video produced by the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union is well worth a watch.We've reported more details in our blog hereand here.
Mexico – Road to a Failed State
“One way to deal with the problem would be ending the artificial price of drugs by legalizing them. This would rapidly lower the price of drugs and vastly reduce the money to be made in smuggling them.” – George Friedman
George Friedman wrote an article for Geopolitical weekly entitled ‘Mexico on the Road to a Failed State?’ in which he reported the death of Edgar Millan Gomez, the highest-ranking law enforcement officer in Mexico (responsible for overseeing most of Mexico’s counter narcotics efforts), who was shot dead in his house on May 8 th. The Mexican Government has stated that they believe that the Sinaloa drug cartel ordered his assassination, following the arrest of several Sinaloa cartel members this year. This is just one of a series of assassinations of federal police officials in Mexico demonstrating the intensifying situation of warfare in Mexico City with senior officials increasingly being targeted by the conflict. Friedman goes on to examine the role of the drug trade in fuelling and resourcing the violence in Mexico and emphasises that prohibition is the underlying cause of the conflict.
A further article on the recent troubles in Mexico can be read here. This article demonstrates that recent polls conducted in Mexico show that Mexicans believe that the powerful and well-armed drug cartels are outgunning the governments despite the increasingly high-profile role of the army (the video contained within the article provides a good summary).
Vietnam may decriminalize drug use
"Being addicted to or using drugs should be considered a disease, and should only be subject to administrative fines," – Mai member of Vietnam’s National Assembly.
Vietnam’s National Assembly has announced this month that it is considering decriminalizing drug use, downgrading the personal use of illegal narcotics from a criminal offence to an administrative violation. Dealing in drugs would remain a serious criminal offence however, in some instances punishable with death. In reality this change in law would have little effect, as few drug users are imprisoned in Vietnam, instead many are sent to mandatory detoxification camps for up to five years at a time (despite the rate of relapse into drug use being very high upon release). Nonetheless this development shows that even Vietnam, renowned for it’s harsh line on drug policy, is openly and maturely debating drug policy alternatives (which is more than can be said than for the UK).
Canadian Government’s attempt to close down safe injecting site declared unconstitutional.
The Vancouver Safe Injecting Facility (SIF) won a landmark decision by the Supreme Court of British Columbia this month, who, despite the Prime Ministers attempts to close down the site, granted users and staff of the site, an exemption from prosecution under federal drug laws. More can be read here and here.
Farmers Fight to Defend their Opium.
Mohammad Ilyas Dayee wrote an article for the Institute of War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) in which he reported on the Afghani Governments decision to send ‘eradication teams’ into Helmand province which has proved hugely unpopular and counter-productive. It has achieved little more than radicalising and angering local farmers who rather than watch their poppy fields being destroyed, are increasingly taking up arms alongside the Taliban. The article can be read in full here.
Cocaine has been the drug up for debate this month, with a flurry of stories in the media including the government’s new million pound FRANK campaign aimed at reducing cocaine use and promoting a boycott of the drug. Transform also took part in a debate on the politics of cocaine in Colombia so we thought we’d write an exclusive feature looking at the issues surrounding the drug. This feature will look specifically at the Colombian situation, examining the different solutions that have been proposed for dealing with the cocaine problem and will put forward Transform’s case as to why we support a controlled and regulated legal framework for cocaine.
One area where all sides involved in the debate are in agreement is that the cocaine trade has hugely detrimental effects on Colombia and much of South America. Some of these costs include:
Nonetheless it’s not the detrimental effects that are up for debate, it’s how best to deal with the cocaine problem. Some of the solutions that have been proposed include the idea that we need to continue to pursue the policy of prohibition, others argue for the boycott of cocaine on social and ethical grounds, others argue for the legalisation of cocaine and the need to regulate the drug within a controlled framework.
The argument in favour of prohibition goes, that by sending a tough message that drugs are evil, illegal, and taking or dealing in them a criminal offence, drug use will in time disappear and that by forced eradication at the source, supply will diminish and thus consumption will fall.
However Transform argues that it is not actually the coca growing itself that causes the problems outlined above rather that the policy of prohibition, largely causes and exacerbates them. The only way prohibition could succeed is by reducing the market to such a size that there is no longer a viable profit margin. The UNODC estimates that 14million people take cocaine worldwide and whilst the US market is stable, consumption in Europe is growing rapidly. Cocaine prices are falling throughout the world which shows that prohibition is failing. It is unrealistic to think the market is going to shrink enough to make the cocaine trade disappear. And with profits margins from cocaine estimated to be between 2,000-3,000%, is it really any surprise that the illegal drugs trade attracts insurgents and paramilitaries eager to find new ways to fund their wars?
Nonetheless a key tenet of the Government’s latest campaign is a call for people to boycott cocaine and support the Colombian Government’s Shared Responsibility Campaign. In other words they argue that people should stop taking cocaine due to the detrimental effects on the Colombian people and their ecosystem. Although in principal a boycott could prove a successful solution to the problem, in reality it will only be the most ethical of cocaine users who would stop taking the drug on these grounds. This solution will therefore clearly not provide a solution to the problem.
Legalisation is the answer . Under an internationally regulated market, coca producers could grow their product without risk and eventually there could be an option for fair trade cocaine. Coca farmers would also be able to grow and export a wide variety of products from coca tea to coca wine as well as cocaine. This would benefit local economies and indigenous groups while also limiting the influence of criminal groups as the profit margin would be massively reduced. Coca could become on a par with the coffee trade. Other benefits of legalising the coca trade could include:
Decriminalisation would not work because it would continue to leave the cocaine trade in criminal hands, not benefit people in producer countries and not allow consumers access to safe products. The costs of prohibition are so high that as one high ranking World Bank economist put it ‘nothing can be worse than prohibition’. It should be recognised however that legalising cocaine would not solve all of Colombia’s problems. Violence and kidnapping may rise in the short term as the armed groups seek to find other sources of income. It must also be acknowledge that Colombia couldn’t go alone on this –it would have to be within an international framework otherwise the sanctions would be immense.
Even the Colombian vice-president himself, Francisco Santos (who is backing the Governments boycott campaign), is calling for a debate about the legalisation of cocaine. However, Santos claimed that there is not yet the political will in the UK to have a discussion about the legalisation of cocaine. He said:
"In the case of Colombia and this country the discussion of legalisation is something that does not have the political will or the possibility of becoming a reality in the near future. So in Colombia, where a lot of illegal groups fund [themselves] through this kind of operation we have no other option in terms of combating it.”
It is therefore clear that even the man backing Coakers latest crusade, feels that it’s a compromise option and would like to see more radical change.
Other people who support a new approach including possible legalisation include:
Sir Keith Morris, former UK Ambassador to Colombia
Costa Rica’s Nobel Laureate Oscar Arias
President of Brazil, Luiz Inacio ‘Lula’ da Silva
The authors Isabel Allende, Ariel Dorfman, Adolfo Perez Esquivel, Mario Vargas Llosa
With more and more people increasingly recognising that prohibition is the problem and that the controlled regulation of cocaine would help to alleviate many of Colombia’s problems it is now time for Transform and other organisations and individuals to change the political will in the UK and abroad to put the issue firmly on the political agenda.
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