|Transform News - August 2011||Briefings||Support||Donate||Media Blog|
"One thing is clear - a radical rethink is needed. Drug abuse ruins so many lives and a policy based on prohibition, although comprehensible in its own terms, is not succeeding in reducing either usage or harm "
Contents1. Transform News
1. Transform News
'Children of the Drug War' is a unique collection of original essays that investigates the impacts of the war on drugs on children, young people and their families. With contributions from around the world, providing different perspectives and utilising a wide range of styles and approaches including ethnographic studies, personal accounts and interviews, the book asks fundamental questions of national and international drug control systems:
Four thematic sections address:
As part of Bulgaria’s involvement in the Count the Costs initiative, Steve was invited to speak at a roundtable event in Sofia’s ‘ Palace of Culture’. There were about 40 people in attendance – mostly service providers from the treatment, prison and the police sectors. He gave a talk (using translators) focusing on the initiative, which was followed by three other local speakers addressing wider concerns with drug policy, criminalisation, funding issues and harm reduction, and a Q&A session.
Travelling on to Romania, Steve gave a lecture about Count the Costs and Transform’s Blueprint, and then hosted a Q&A. The event was organised by the Romanian Harm Reduction Network, and held in the faculty of Sociology at Bucharest University.
2. UK News
In a leader on 28th July, the Times called for a change in drug policy. Read the article below and our blog about it here. This is a significant landmark given the historical political positioning of the paper on this issue. It now joins The Guardian, The Observer, and The Independent (as well as a number of tabloids including the Mirror and the Sunday People) in openly calling for a debate on alternatives to the war on drugs.
The next day, Anushka Asthana wrote an op-ed, still in the Times, entitled ‘A drugs revolution must start with cannabis’. Here is our blog on it, and below a copy of the article itself, which includes a mention of the Count the Costs initiative.
The Lib Dems are to debate a motion at this year’s annual conference that takes a wide ranging look at drug law reform - specifically considering both decriminalisation of personal drug possession, and regulated cannabis markets. In many respects this isn't new territory for the Lib Dems, who have a long history of more rational thinking on the drugs issue than the other two main UK parties. They have had a call for legalisation and regulation of cannabis (albeit with some caveats) as official policy since 2002, and something resembling the decrim call (minus specifics) was actually in their 2010 election manifesto:
"Ensure that financial resources, and police and court time, are not wasted on the unnecessary prosecution and imprisonment of drug users and addicts; the focus instead should be on getting addicts the treatment they need. Police should concentrate their efforts on organised drug pushers and gangs."
Party leader Nick Clegg has also gone on the record in the past in favour of progressive drug law reform including legalisation and regulation (as indeed has David Cameron). The significant development then is not the emergence of the proposals themselves, but the fact that they have been accepted for debate at the conference. The Lib Dem campaigners responsible for the motion, The Lib Dems for Drug Policy Reform group, have been pushing such motions for years without much luck. It could be that the Lib Dems are keen to put some distance between themselves and the Tories with some progressive liberal ideas, but nonetheless, it's a clear sign of the changing climate that this motion is now on the table. It will be fascinating to see how the debate develops if it is adopted by one of the coalition government partners.
The motion also highlights the important observation, thus far seemingly unnoticed by the media, that the ACMD in effect backed the decriminalisation concept (albeit calling it the more politically palatable 'diversion') in its submission to the drug strategy consultation last year.
The full text of the conference motion is on the Transform blog.
Amy McMullen’s article from Salon.com, following Amy Winehouse’s tragic death on 24 July, takes another stance from the majority of the media which covered the event. Indeed, McMullen argues that Winehouse’s death is symptomatic of the failure of the war on drugs:
"......Instead black market drug money floods into the cartels, which have murdered tens of thousands and laid waste to countries across the globe, from Mexico to Afghanistan. As we learned the hard way during the disastrous period of the 18th Amendment in this country, prohibition not only doesn’t work, it fosters a criminal underclass of sociopaths who prey on the weak while reaping obscene profits."
"The argument that a legal source of drugs will make procurement easier is simply false. I’ve have yet to meet a single drug user who had any trouble whatsoever obtaining their product. It’s out there and readily available. The sad fact is that along with the immense violence engendered by the trade, users also suffer great harm from unregulated products that vary widely in potency and are often laced with dangerous substances."
Also worth a look is a reflection on her death by her friend Russell Brand, who observed:
“We need to review the way society treats addicts, not as criminals but as sick people in need of care. We need to look at the way our government funds rehabilitation. It is cheaper to rehabilitate an addict than to send them to prison, so criminalisation doesn't even make economic sense. Not all of us know someone with the incredible talent that Amy had but we all know drunks and junkies and they all need help and the help is out there.”
There has been a fair bit of media interest in the new online e-petitions set up by the coalition government – mostly because, unlike previous models, the new petitions promise that if 100,000 signatures are gathered, parliament will hold a debate on the subject raised.
Inevitably a number of drug policy reform petitions have emerged. Among these are one on cannabis legalisation, one on wider decriminalisation/legalisation of ‘recreational drugs’, and one on heroin prescribing (there is yet to be an e-petition about E).
Frustratingly, the wording on all of these is less than ideal – the cannabis one (with a decent 4,000 signatures at time of writing) failing to really capture what kind of market regulation is being proposed and why, the recreational drugs one rather confusing decriminalisation and legalisation, and the heroin one missing the fact that heroin is already legal for prescription to dependent users.
A debate on cannabis legalisation seems the most likely to happen, and might be useful, but it’s hard not to be a bit cynical. It feels like tokenism from the government and, as a previous blog explored in 2007, probably a bit of waste of time. Still, even if there are doubtless more effective ways of levering change, better to sign them than not.
3. International News
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has in July passed a resolution calling for an end to the War on Drugs. The resolution was voted on at the 102nd Annual Convention of the NAACP in Los Angeles.
Neill Franklin, a former policeman and director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, addressed the convention, calling on all politicians - ‘including and especially President Obama’ - to wake up to the devastation caused by the War on Drugs on society and ‘especially in communities of colour’.
The NAACP was founded in 1909 and is the USA’s oldest and largest civil rights organisation. Their mission is to ensure the equality of all and eliminate racial discrimination in areas such as education, politics and economics. See the resolution and a video of Neill Franklin’s address to the convention on the Transform blog.
When questioned by a student during a town hall event in Maryland on 22 nd July, Obama said he won’t decriminalise drugs.
Obama has been asked regularly about his position on the War on Drugs, and although he said the debate on legalisation was legitimate back in January 2011 and has renounced the term ‘war on drugs’, he is yet to implement significant changes in drug policy.
In June 2011, the recommendations presented by the Global Commission on Drug Policy were dismissed by the White House, which published a press release focusing on the positive effects of the War on Drugs. For a more in-depth analysis of the gap between the rhetoric and reality of Obama’s Drug Policy, click here.
Law Enforcement Against Prohibition has produced a report making many of the same critiques titled ‘Ending the drug war: a dream deferred’. This report was presented to Gil Kerlikowske, the US Drug Czar, asking him to end the War on Drugs. Here is the Huffington Post coverage. Kerlikowske has thus far refused to meet with LEAP representatives to discuss it.
Bolivia withdrew from the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs treaty from 1961 after its proposal for traditional coca leaf chewing to be removed from the convention (which criminalises it) was rejected earlier this year.
For more information, read the press release from TNI/WOLA here, and there is also a very useful advocacy note produced by the International Drug policy Consortium that provides some more detailed background to this issue: Bolivia's legal reconciliation with the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs.
In response, activists have, over the past decade, established a new model: ‘Cannabis social clubs’ have been established as member associations. Their members delegate their personal allowance to the association, buy land and cultivate cannabis for consumption exclusively by members. It is sold to its members for half the street market price, on a not-for-profit basis.
The system is, however, essentially the result of attempts to finesse the law and is clearly at odds with the broader prohibitionist paradigm that very specifically bans production and supply. If wider legal reforms occur the benefits of the system may, ironically, be lost – although the hope may be that lessons from the club model could usefully inform future developments.
The UNODC has updated the 2009 Afghanistan Cannabis survey. This report explains the processes of cannabis cultivation and concluded that Afghanistan now produces more cannabis than any other nation. Given that Afghanistan is also the world's number one opium/heroin producer, it does raise the question of the efficacy of the ten-year military campaign against the country's illegal drug production.
This event is organised by openDemocracy and the Tedworth Charitable Trust and will be held on 16-17 September, Oxford House, London. (Check the Transform blog later this month for more details)
This two-day event is designed to provide the opportunity for participants to explore the issues and opportunities facing services and service users through a mixture of discussion and debate; informative and thought-provoking presenters; the best treatment and specialist support; training 'tasters'; and demonstrations of products and interventions. All drugs - including alcohol and tobacco -will be considered.
The programme will include the following topics:
5. What You Can Do
We are looking for a new Bristol-based communications volunteer to come into our office three days a week. This is an exciting opportunity to work within a small charitable organisation and to help us with our daily communications projects.
The position is voluntary, however we will pay expenses up to £5.00 per day.
The deadline for applications is Wednesday 24th August.
We have recently been granted some funding towards a new Transform website. As I’m sure you’ll agree, our website is looking tired and in desperate need of some TLC.
We are now looking for some match funding to enable us to start on this exciting new project. We are hoping to raise an additional £10,000 to enable us to deliver this project. Your donation to Transform, no matter what the size, really will make a difference to what we can achieve. So please help us by making a donation and join the growing movement calling for an end to the War on Drugs. We’d also greatly appreciate it if you could please forward this request on to anyone who you think might be interested in helping.
Also, if you have any thought on potential design or content please email email@example.com with your suggestions.
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