Friday, October 31, 2008

Pseudoscience tobacco advertising from the bad old days

Tobacco products have had a long and inglorious history of largely unfettered marketing built around pseudoscience, false and misleading claims, and appeals to medical authority. The situation has improved today with tighter regulation of advertising and marketing in much of the developed world, even if tobacco companies have redirected their thoroughly unpleasant energies towards more sneaky marketing practices and less well regulated emerging markets in the developing world.

But for those of use who live in the new era of the tobacco advertising ban it is easy to forget the cynicism and shamelessness of tobacco marketing in the golden era of the 30's 40's and 50's. Below is a selection of some of the very worst, taken from the extensive collection lovingly archived by the Stanford School of Medicine. Click the images below to see full size.

The Chesterfield brand has the scientist actually smoking as he looks down the microscope. He has apparently 'discovered' that there is 'no unpleasant aftertaste'.

Chesterfield again: "Scientific Evidence on the Effects of Smoking! After 10 months, the medical specialist reports that he observed no adverse effects on the nose, throat, and sinuses of the group smoking Chesterfield."

Chesterfield now combining pseudoscience with the more familiar celebrity endorsement, here from Perry Como, apparently suggesting that you can smoke two packs a day for fifteen years with 'no adverse effects'. A medical specialist says it, so it must be true.

Lucky Strike this time, in one of a long series of celebrity endorsement pseudoscience ads about the 'mildness' of their product relative to others. All proved by 'scientific experiments' done by and unnamed 'independent consulting laboratory' . Using stage, screen and recording stars of the day, such ads frequently suggested that their product had actual benefits for the throat and voice.

Nicotine is a stimulant and this ad isn't a world away from advertising of stimulant drinks like Red Bull today, but interestingly the tobacco marketers managed to simultaneously run numerous similar sciencey-ads that describe tobacco's calming and relaxing effects.

'"Its Toasted" Your Throat Protection—Against irritation—Against Cough' - as endorsed by 'August Heckscher, President Child Welfare Committee of America'. Apparently 'Everyone knows that heat purifies and so toasting removed harmful irritants that cause throat irritation and coughing. No wonder 20,679 physicians have stated Luckies to be less irritating!'

And how do we know Lucky Strike's science is so spot on? Well, they have a big imposing building with 'RESEARCH LABORATORY' written on the outside, staffed by clever looking people in lab coats, wearing glasses and using test tubes and machines with lots of dials and nobs (Laboratoire Garnier being the modern day equivalent) . 'Prove to yourself Luckies are finer - get a carton today!'

The Truth About Irritation of the Nose and Throat Due To Smoking.' .... 'Their tests proved conclusively that on changing to Philip Morris, every case of irritation due to smoking clearly up completely or definitely improved.'.... 'These facts have been accepted by eminent medical authorities.'

Camel ran a long series of ads based around their research that 'More Doctors smoke Camels'. This may or may not have been true, but was shamelessly appealing to the reassuring authority of medical practitioners (arguably far higher then than it is today). Often portraying doctors and surgeons (in the mandatory white coats) actually smoking, this one above is particularly awful, featuring a five year old girl proclaiming to her paternal looking doctor figure and radiant young mother that 'I'm going to grow a hundred years old'. It then goes on to inform us that 'and possibly she may - for the amazing strides of medical science have added years to life expectancy' You can 'thank your doctor and thousands like him - toiling ceaselessly - that you and yours may enjoy a longer better life' . THIS IS A CIGARETTE AD. 

This bizarre ad plays the medical authority card along with the pseudoscience claims but uses Side-show entrepreneur Robert Ripley of 'believe it or not' fame to back it up (answer: Not).

When not using doctors as reassuring authority figures, Nurses were a solid second choice. Especially beautiful ones surrounded by hunky soldiers.

Dentists were also used, sometimes 38,381 of them. In this ad we laughably learn that the tar caught in the filter 'cannot stain your teeth!'. Filters did not remove any more tar etc. than the equivalent length in tobacco - but were cheaper. Just another ingeniously dishonest marketing wheeze.

"More scientists and educators smoke Kent." - again promoting the healthy cigarette / filter myth. Kent's Micronite Filter (Lorillard Tobacco Company) for at least 5 years in the 1950s contained crocidolite asbestos, one of the deadliest forms of this fibrous mineral. Smokers inhaled millions of deadly fibers per year and were never told of the hazard. Filtered brands nonetheless have been massive success, growing in market share from 2 % in 1950 to 50 % in 1960, and 99% today.

This Phillip Morris classic appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1946. It encourages 'physicians who smoke a pipe' to use the new 'country doctor pipe mixture' . Also one of the only such ads to feature a journal reference.

A long running and highly successful series from Lucky Strike played on the slimming power of tobacco - suggesting that if you didn't smoke, you would eat sweets instead and become obese instead of, in this case. a strapping hurdler. Similar ads in the series played on women's insecurities about their weight. They were eventually stopped when the tobacco companies were sued by candy manufacturers, although candy flavoured cigarettes were to follow. The marketing of 'slim' cigarettes to women (using images of slim women) continues to this day in the US and elsewhere where a total ban has yet to be enforced.

Here's an old UK ad for Greys cigarettes (ten for sixpence) that plays on the all to common parental fears of losing your children because the cigarettes provided at your cocktail parties were causing the completely invented problem of 'smoke-dyspepsia' (indigestion). 'These specially prepared cigarettes are invaluable for preventing smoke dyspepsia. And if you don't believe this—Well, what on earth will you believe?' . Having introduced the new brand to her social events, with children reclaimed, one of the guests proclaims to the delighted Mother: 'These topping Greys are the making of your cocktail parties Mrs Scholfield!'

Another earlier UK ad (1918) for Ricoro cigars has a doctor telling his patient he can smoke 'as many as you wish', the patient replying 'Ricoro is the pleasantest prescription a doctor ever ordered'

Finally, towards the end of the 50's as public health science was catching up on tobacco companies and the era of pseudoscience health claims was drawing to a close, an ad for Old Gold that says 'we don't try to scare you with health claims' before displaying the almost unbelievably in-your-face hypocrisy of immediately then making scary health claims.

Tobacco company marketing, it is safe to say, cannot be trusted. At all. Ever. Tobacco is not a conventional product and needs to be regulated and controlled differently to other consumer goods, as do all potentially harmful and addictive psychoactive drugs. Tobacco provides a valuable lesson in what happens when such controls are not put in place and profiteering is prioritized over public health.

Further reading

Update 07.09.11 : On advice from a comment poster below, I have removed one of the ads - for 'Dr Batty's Asthma cigarettes' - which although featuring in the Stamford collection at the time of writing, appears to be a fake (from analysis of the Fonts among other things). Asthma cigarettes did, however, once exist - as this paper reveals.  

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Images from the Afghan drug war

There is a powerful set of images by the brilliant photographer Aaron Huey taken the front line of the war on drugs; Afghanistan. It not only shows the the futile eradication efforts and the very real conflict the drug war involves - with victims on both sides - but also the emerging domestic opiate misuse issues that rarely enter the Western discourse. A small selection are copied below (click to see full size) but you can see the complete set as a slide show here (click on the 'Features 1' menu , then 'Afghanistan war on drugs') .

This is your drug war

all images copyright 2008 Aaron Huey

'Iconoclasts' on Radio 4: Drugs can be good for you.

Last night (Wed 29 October) BBC Radio 4 broadcast the first of three episodes of 'Iconoclasts'. Produced by the Radio 4's religion and ethics programming department (who also produce the moral maze) it is a 'series of live, thought provoking discussions' that each week invites 'an 'Iconoclast' challenges our opinions and perceptions about an issue and listeners are invited to send in their comments via text and emails during the programme'. The opening episode featured as its iconoclast Transform Patron Dr Sue Blackmore. Axel Klein, a Transform trustee was also one of the panel questioning her. The title of the discussion was 'Illegal drugs can be good for you' , with Sue's premise summarised on the Radio 4 site thus:

The scientist and writer Dr Susan Blackmore argues that drugs can be good for you. She says most of the problems of drug abuse are really caused by drug prohibition. It would be much better if we decriminalised drugs and taught young people how to use them properly and safely instead. She says that our society doesn't take the "dangerous wonder" of mind-altering chemicals seriously. As a psychologist Susan wants to understand the mind. She has experimented with hallucinogenic drugs because she wanted to learn "how to face demons and terrors, how to let go of self, how to explore the further reaches of human experience." She wants a society in which adults are free to take drugs for their own reasons: for comfort and delight, to ease pain, to inspire insight or creativity, and even to face death. Just as we can distinguish between alcohol use and alcohol abuse, so should we accept that there's a place for positive drug use.

It is an obviously controversial position to argue and is worth reading her complete introductory paper, that usefully expands on the above, and which is copied below, you can also listen to the complete program online here, which was overall a positive contribution to an often difficult debate. Sue also had a blog published on the Guardian's Comment is Free: 'Hang-gliders of the mind' which is taking comments for a couple more days.

The three members of the panel were:

Dr Axel Klein
A lecturer in the study of addictive behaviour at the University of Kent, Dr Klein has a particular interest in the cultural contexts of drug use, the interplay of drugs and crime, and the development of drug policy at national and international level.

Dr Ken Checinski
A psychiatrist and senior lecturer in addictive behaviour at St George's University Hospital, Dr Checinski has both clinical and academic expertise in the effects of drug abuse.

Sarah Graham
Sarah Graham has a Priory Professional Diploma in Addictions Therapy. She works for the charity In-volve – counselling children in schools. Previously, Sarah worked in the media. She faced her addictions in 2001 and is an expert in holistic treatment models and communicating with young people. She advises Frank – the government drugs service and The Recovery Network.

Dr Sue Blackmore argues that illegal drugs can be good

Why do people use mind-altering drugs? They use them for comfort and delight, to ease pain, to inspire insight or creativity, and even to face death. There are lots of good uses for mind-altering drugs, yet what do we see all around us – drug abuse.

Why do people abuse drugs? Because they’ve never been taught to use them properly, because their lives are so tough they have to escape into addiction, because the only drugs they can find are filthy, adulterated, unreliable mixtures. In a word, because of prohibition.

Mind-altering drugs are both dangerous and wonderful. As a society we should be treating them with respect, encouraging their positive uses and discouraging abuse, but instead we have made them illegal – handing control over to criminals and ensuring that they are widely abused. One in five of secondary school children have taken illegal drugs, and in what circumstances? In ignorance of the power and potential of what they are taking, at far too young an age, in loud scary clubs, in unknown doses and in completely irresponsible mixtures. This is a tragedy, caused by our complete inability to treat these drugs seriously.

We manage much better with other dangerous wonders. We have flying lessons, and sailing schools, pilots licenses and skippers exams, apprenticeships in engineering and degrees in pharmacy. With all these things we weigh up the advantages of using something against the danger of accidents or abuse.

But the most dangerous and wondrous of all we shove into the corner and try to ignore. It won’t do. It’s a disgrace to us all.

Our ill-considered classification system includes drugs ranging from the highly addictive and dangerous to the relatively harmless, but I want to pick out from this mixture the most special, the most mind-opening, the drugs with the greatest potential.

These include the major hallucinogens, such as LSD, psilocybin, and mescaline, also known as psychedelics or “entheogens” meaning “releasing the God within”. Indeed many of them derive from plants and have been used for millennia. What distinguishes this traditional use from ours is that those cultures had long experience, social controls, training for users, and very specific conditions for use. A good example is DMT, the active ingredient in Ayahuasca, a complex brew of psychoactive plants used by Amazonian Indians. They treat their “spirit vine” with great respect, carefully training the people who take it, culminating in rituals for spiritual and mental healing.

I first took this short-acting hallucinogen twenty years ago or so and was told, by my experienced guide, that it would be like an eight hour LSD trip condensed into 15 minutes. That it might be horrific, and that one of his friends had said it was the worst experience he’d ever had. Hmm. That sounds fun! So why did I take it? Because then, like now, I was obsessed with understanding the mind. I wanted to learn how to face demons and terrors, how to let go of self, how to explore the further reaches of human experience.

As the drug took hold the world disintegrated in a roaring chaos of green and orange. I can say little that does it justice now, except that I sat there with a beatific smile on my face, shaking my head and saying “terrible, terrible”. I learned much from this difficult drug, as from other easier ones. I have found peace and deep tranquillity, had visions and mystical insights, been enveloped in empathy with others, and laughed at the cosmic joke. Not everyone shares my enthusiasm for exploring weird states, and nor should they, just as not everyone wants to go hang-gliding or horse-riding. Yet there’s something wrong with a society that actively blocks people’s natural desire to explore their own minds.

We cannot take over the old traditions of those ancient societies, but we should create our own ways of using drugs for good not harm. Such as what good? you might ask.

A young woman I know well has been anorexic for ten years – a horrible condition of self-starvation and misery. She first took LSD two years ago and found it deep and interesting, so decided to take it again. On a glorious sunny day she walked miles to a beautiful beach and sat for many hours, watching the sea, listening to the birds and letting the whole of her anorexic life out of its bag. She progressed through what she called “growing mental torture” and then – as she kept just sitting and looking into it – to a deep pleasure in total presence. “The greatest revelation” she wrote later “was of the possibility of being, totally, without any fear or any desire; and, as the devastating counterpart, the knowledge that the way I have lived this past decade has precluded precisely this.” I can’t say, and nor would she, that one acid trip cured her of anorexia, but it certainly contributed to her now beginning to eat. With this knowledge she doesn’t need to take the drug again. It has done its work.

This, I suggest, is use not abuse.

And finally there is death. Many profound drug experiences include thoughts about dying and images of death, and this can, paradoxically, destroy the fear of death. With so many of us facing old age, disease and dying, this possibility of inner transformation should be encouraged, not banned. I hope that before I die I may live in a better society, one that has learned to respect and appreciate the most powerful of mind-changing drugs, one that knows how to use drugs, not abuse them.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Drug Free America Foundation clash with Law Enforcement Against Prohibition

The UN's 'Beyond 2008' Vienna NGO Committee on Narcotic Drugs event threw together a diverse grouping of almost 300 NGOs from around the world, including advocates of legalisation and regulation, harm reduction and human rights activists, and zero tolerance / prevention campaigners who are staunch defenders of the prohibitionist status quo. You would have expected a certain amount of tension and heated debate and would not have been disappointed. Ultimately the resolution that emerged represented both a consensus position and some kind of progress, although parties from either side of the progressive reform / status quo debate, inevitably perhaps, felt it had been watered down. Such is the way with committees and consensus documents.

In the aftermath of the event the debate has continued within the extensive event's email list that includes all of the participant NGOs (and we therefore take to be public domain). An open email to the list from David Evans of the Drug Free Australia organisation requesting support for the declaration of September's World Forum Against Drugs event in Sweden, for example, prompted responses from some dissenting list members including Alex Wodak and Transform's Danny Kushlick.

The email debate has recently fired up again following another comment from Alex Wodak fed into the debate recommending a 2-part Youtube video about LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition) produced by the Hugarian Civil Liberties Union's Drugreporter film unit. Wodak noted - in a further response to Evans - that: "I hope that as a lawyer you would be prepared to consider the testimony of these brave officers, lawyers and judges. No one can deny their considerable experience. Nor can any one deny their commitment to trying to reduce the problems their communities have faced associated with drugs and also from efforts to reduce drug consumption.". Part 1 is here (you can view part 2 by clicking on the link at the end):

Alex's comment was in part a response to a running theme by a number of critics of the legalisation/regulation arguments that the position's advocates are variously in the pay of 'big pharma', or have some other vested interest of vaguely sinister motive. LEAP bring an invaluable voice of authority to the reform debate around the future of the drug war as people who have actually fought it on the front line. LEAP is now made up of over 10,000 serving and retired police, judges, prosecutors, prison wardens, FBI and DEA agents and others.

Wodak's email prompted a response from Calvina Fay, Executive Director of the Drug Free America Foundation, who has in her own words 'been an outspoken advocate against the legalization of drugs for over 20 years'.

These guys in the videos are EX-law enforcement for a reason! Hundreds of thousands of current law enforcement officials consider them a disgrace to the uniform. This handful of video characters does not speak for the vast numbers of dedicated law enforcement men and women and, although they are entitled to their own opinions, they are NOT entitled to their own facts. They need to get their facts straight. The U.S., as well as other countries, has enormous health problems with alcohol and tobacco because they are legal and socially acceptable and society has done a dismal job of keeping these legal drugs out of the hands of our youth.

The U.S. may have a large prison population but, it is a much safer nation than most. Low level drug offenders are NOT sent to prison. They are sent to drug courts, community service, and treatment and put on probation. The drug offenders who are serving time in prisons, BELONG there because they have committed serious crimes. We could empty all of our prisons out if we legalized other crimes such as rape and murder, but most people would find that insane.

Drug use has been reduced dramatically in the U.S. since the 70s - at one point reduced by greater than 50%. This certainly is not what one would consider a "failure." If we reduced cancer, AIDS, teenage pregnancy, high school drop out, or any other social ill by this percentage, NO ONE would be calling it a failure!

Rather than fighting to make drugs more available and easier to use, everyone's efforts, including those of LEAP, would be better served to help us reduce the supply and the demand for drugs in the world. Science clearly shows that drugs are harmful and therefore, no matter how you sugar-coat it, there is no justifiable reason for making them socially acceptable and easier for people to use and harm themselves as well as put the rest of us at risk with their irresponsible behavior.

A number of LEAP members are good friends of Transform's, including Jack Cole, who recently visited the UK, and the late Eddie Ellison, who was a Patron of Transform and LEAP's UK coordinator. Needless to say we take exception to both the tone and factual content of Fay's shouty rant. Responding to it, however, is best left to LEAP director Jack Cole himself, who the following day posted the following to the list:

Answer to Calvina Fay’s accusations and statement of “facts”:

My name is Jack Cole. I am the executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). I am also a retired detectivelieutenant-26 years with the New Jersey State Police and 14 in their Narcotic Bureau, mostly undercover. I bear witness to the abject failure of the United States’ war on drugs and to the horrors produced by its unintended consequences.

In the last six years the current and former law-enforcers at LEAP have made more than 4,500 presentations on replacing the war on drugs with a system of legalized regulation of all drugs. This includes attending more than 35 national and international law-enforcement conferences. During that time our members have received nothing but respect from other law-enforcers, even those who do not yet agree with us. That is because we spent our entire careers trying to end drug abuse by using current policy. We have not changed our minds about wanting to end drug abuse, we have simply changed our minds about what policies will be effective in accomplishing that goal.

It is only from folks like yourself, Calvina, folks who never spent a minute as a law-enforcer, that we are rebuked with statements like, "These guys in the videos are EX-law enforcement for a reason!" (The reason is we finished our decades-long careers of protecting the citizens of our countries and retired).

Considering the fact that about 80 percent of the current law-enforcers who personally have spoken with us about this issue agree that the war on drugs is a failed policy, it is hard to reconcile your statement that "Hundreds of thousands of current law enforcement officials consider [us] a disgrace to the uniform."

As for getting facts straight, Calvina's “facts” are:

1. …enormous health problems with alcohol and tobacco because they are legal and socially acceptable.

Under the original prohibition, alcoholic products were no longer regulated, resulting in a 600 percent increase in alcohol poisonings treated in our hospitals. "Bath Tub Gin" caused people to go blind and die. Alcohol consumers not only increased in numbers but elevated their consumption to drinks containing more alcohol. In New York City the year before alcohol prohibition went into effect there were 15,000 salons but five years into Prohibition there were 32,000 speakeasies; saloons sold mainly beer, but Speakeasies sold almost exclusively hard liquor. Of course, we also had the highest rates of murder and corruption of public officials under Prohibition ever recorded in the United States-until, that is, the current Prohibition, where we have achieved levels of death, disease, crime, and addiction never before imagined possible.

(For tobacco see my last paragraph)

2. The U.S. may have a large prison population but, it is a much safer nation than most.

The below chart lists 29 countries for reported crimes per 1,000 population and the number of prisoners per 100,000 population. It appears that the United States rates behind 24 of those countries as far as safety from crime is concerned but it does rate number one for imprisoning our own people.

Source: One in 100: Behind Bars in America 2008, The PEW Center on the United States, February 2008, page 35

3. Low level drug offenders are NOT sent to prison. They are sent to drug courts, community service, and treatment and put on probation.

The truth is, implementation of a policy of war on drugs is destroying people's lives. Police cast their nets so wide that many innocent people are caught in them. A car is stopped and five people are arrested because a bag containing a single serving of a hard drug or an ounce of marijuana (or less) is found under the seat; at least four of those arrestees may have been innocent. Innocent people die when police SWAT teams assault the wrong houses, but I'm sure Calvina would just see this as collateral damage in our drug war.

Even if I believed Calvina when she says, "low-level drug offenders are NOT sent to prison," drug courts are just one step removed from imprisonment, which comes when the probationer fails his or her urine test.

And arrest for nonviolent drug offenses are themselves terribly debilitating since the computerized arrest records track people for the rest of their lives, blocking their ability to be licensed by the state, their ability to be hired by many employers, their ability to attend colleges and universities, their ability to obtain apartments, their ability to travel from country to country, their ability to adopt children: basically their ability to have hope for the future.

4. The drug offenders who are serving time in prisons, BELONG there because they have committed serious crimes.

In fact, there are many people in prison who never committed a violent crime or for that matter any other crime than a drug-law violation. I put a lot of them there myself.

5. We could empty all of our prisons out if we legalized other crimes such as rape and murder, but most people would find that insane.

This is the kind of logic I expect from Calvina. There are two kinds of crime:, malum in se and malum prohibitum. The former refer to an act that is "wrong in itself." It is illegal because it violates the natural, moral or public principles of a civilized society. No one in their right mind would propose legalizing a malum in se crime.

An offence malum prohibitum, on the contrary, is not inherently evil, but becomes so as a result of being forbidden; as ingesting substances, "which being innocent before, have become unlawful in consequence of being forbidden."


Ingesting drugs may be stupid and self-destructive. But neither the drugs nor the user are thereby rendered evil—as are rapists and murderers. To confuse the two types of crime, to equate intoxication and rape tells us a great deal about the person making that claim—but nothing useful about the crimes.

6. Drug use has been reduced dramatically in the U.S. since the 70s -at one point reduced by greater than 50%.

According to DEA, before the war was implemented in 1970, there were 4million people in the United States above the age of 12 who had used an illegal drug (2 percent of that population) but by 2003, DEA was telling us there were 112 million people above the age of 12 who had used an illegal drug (46 percent of that population). Somehow that does not sound like a 50%reduction.

Specific drugs do in fact go in and out of fashion, and when a particular drug falls into disfavor, people like Calvina claim that the War on Drugs is “working.” When drug use rises, they claim we need more troops. But overall, it is ludicrous to associate the tactics of this War with anything resembling success.

7. LEAP, would be better served to help us reduce the supply and the demand for drugs in the world.

Legalized regulation of all drugs would reduce supply and demand for drugs. Legalization would remove the artificially inflated value of illicit drugs, which can increase from source country to sale country by more than 17,000percent! Those drugs come from weeds that will grow anywhere and are worthless until we prohibit them. Then marijuana becomes worth more than gold and heroin more than plutonium. If those drugs were legal their value would drop to the point that drug dealers would not find it worthwhile to sell them on the street or induce others to become addicted to guarantee a customer.

Further, prohibition guarantees that the best way to reduce demand among the addicted—treatment—is not only underfunded but frightening to those who fear that acknowledging their addiction will lead to punitive state action.

8. Science clearly shows that drugs are harmful and therefore, no matter how you sugar-coat it, there is no justifiable reason for making them socially acceptable and easier for people to use and harm themselves as well as put the rest of us at risk with their irresponsible behavior.

I don’t want to get into a "good drug-bad drug" debate with Calvina. Suffice it to say that drugs should not be legalized because they are harmless. Indeed, the more dangerous the drug, the more reason to legalize it because we can't regulate and control anything that is illegal.

Currently the control and regulation of illicit drugs is in the hands of criminals and terrorists. They tell us what drugs will be supplied to our communities, how much will be supplied, how potent it will be, what it will be cut with, what age groups it will be sold to, and where it will be sold. If the criminal wants to sell heroin laced with Fentanyl to ten-year-olds on our playgrounds, that is what will (and does) happen. You have to ask yourself why our children tell us it is easier for them to buy illegal drugs than it is to buy beer and cigarettes. You also have to ask yourself why, according to DEA, there are 900,000 teenagers in the United States selling illegal drugs-but not one selling beer or cigarettes. Legalized regulation removes those drugs from the realm of our children, whether for use or as a business, and places it in legitimate businesses run by and for adults.

Moreover, legalizing drugs does not equate with making them socially acceptable. Tobacco, even though widely promoted and highly addictive, has been made far less socially acceptable through education and regulation. Cigarette use rates are falling faster among our youth than illegal marijuana use rates. In fact, the 50 percent decrease in the overall use of nicotine, the most addictive social drug known, has been the only success story in a hundred years of United States drug policy. The point LEAP makes is that we didn’t have to arrest or imprison a single user or distributor of nicotine in order to achieve this wonderful success story and we didn’t spend well over a trillion tax dollars in the process. There are better ways to spend our taxes than continuing the failed policy of a war on drugs.


Jack A. Cole

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Beer: ten free pints. Cannabis: death penalty.

Check out the screen grab below and note the juxtaposition of the horrifying death sentence imposed upon two young men in Malaysia for 'trafficking' what was under 500 grams of cannabis each, with the completely legal aggressive promotion of another -arguably far more socially damaging- drug.

screen grab from the NST website: click to see full size

The cannabis story is bad enough. These two men, both in their twenties at the time of their arrest are about to have ropes put around their necks, have their spinal cords severed and their lives ended. All for a crime that in the UK would probably not get you more than a few hours of community service, or a caution if you get a decent lawyer and have no previous.

Now before we hear the usual line about 'they knew the law and took the risk', I know that. But the law itself is morally offensive, it is ineffective and its enforcement is illegal under international law. Not only have the UN's human rights agencies called for a moratorium on all use of the death penalty, but specifically, no non-violent drug offences meet the criteria of 'most serious crimes' that would - by any legal interpretations of international law - qualify for the death penalty. Importing an amount of cannabis that weighs - as fate would have it - almost exactly the same as a standard can of Guinness is certainly not a 'most serious crime'. (for more discussion see IHRAs publication 'The Death Penalty for Drug Offences').

Ironic banner ad / news feature mismatches are a common internet phenomenon but it is still striking when the yawning gulf between illegal and legal drug policy is so blatantly exposed. There on the same page as the sickening and tragic story of cannabis enforcement brutality is an animated advertising promotion to 'win 10 pints of Guinness'. Alcohol is of course a psychoactive drug just as cannabis is. Its toxic, it can be addictive, and it causes a range of brain and organ damage for those who don't consume it sensibly. It kills lots of people (as it happens; far more than cannabis in population or per capita/user terms). Yet I'm quite sure you could bring an oil tanker of Guinness into Malaysia and not face the death penalty.

Related blog posts:

Transform submission to the DoH consultation on Alcohol Policy

The fault lines in current drug policy

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

US drug policy ballot initiatives on November 4th

There's a lot more at stake on November the 4th than just the presidential vote, including some potentially seismic changes in US drug policy if key ballot initiatives are passed on that day. Many people outside the US are unaware that alongside the presidential decision, US voters will be voting on local representatives for the Senate and Congress and potentially a raft of local ballot initiatives.

The concept of the ballot initiative - whereby state level changes (in 24 US States) in policy and law can be decided by vote (if a requisite number of signatures are initially gathered in support of the measure) - is actually based on a Swiss model, but does not exist in the UK. The most notable US drug policy successes up until now have been on (for the UK anyway) the marginal issue of medical cannabis. Proposition 5 on the Californian ballot this year is far more significant, including a range of measures to divert non violent drug offenders away from incarceration and towards treatment and rehabilitation - with the aim of saving tax payers money, helping those with drug problems, increasing funding for treatment services generally, and reducing the prison population. Part of the package is a measure to reduce penalties for cannabis possession to civil offense status - punishable with a spot fine, similar to a traffic violation (along the lines already adopted by 11 US states).

Heavy opposition is now arriving from the prisons industry, the drinks industry, the casinos industry, and the Drug Czar. So you instinctively know the DPA must be doing something right. Here, incidentally, is who supports it.

Below is a letter to the drug law reform community from Ethan Nadlemann, director of the Drug Policy Alliance responsible for organising the initiative, detailing recent developments and encouraging drug law reform supporters to get involved.

You can find out more, including the full text of the proposition, background information, and news and at

prop 5 leaflet - click to view

Dear Fellow Reformers,

I've never invested as much in anything as I have in Proposition 5, our ballot initiative in California. If we win on Election Day, this will be the biggest reform of prisons and sentencing in U.S. history - and the biggest reform of drug policy - since the repeal of alcohol Prohibition seventy-five years ago.

But we both know you can't make a change this big without stirring up intense opposition from vested interests. Last week the powerful prison guards union contributed $1 million to the opposition campaign. That's on top of hundreds of thousands of dollars from Indian tribes/casinos with close links to law enforcement as well as $100,000 from the California Beer and Beverage Distributors.

And I just found out that today the Bush administration's drug czar is in Sacramento to announce his opposition to Proposition 5.

If we win, the new law will effectively transfer $1 billion annually from prison and parole to treatment and rehabilitation - and save taxpayers $2.5 billion because new prisons will not need to be built. The result will be fewer drug and other nonviolent offenders behind bars, and also reductions in crime and recidivism. The initiative even includes a sensible provision to reduce the penalty for possession of small amounts of marijuana to the equivalent of a traffic ticket.

This initiative, unlike most, was drafted with keen attention to decades of empirical research on what works best in reducing incarceration, crime and recidivism and enabling people with drug problems to get their lives together.

I am not instinctively a fan of the ballot initiative process. But it seems to me that the process is ideally used when the legislature and/or the governor are unable or unwilling to enact worthy legislation, which is favored by a substantial majority of the public, and which advances the interests of those people who are most disempowered in the legislative process. That is clearly the case here.

We have a lot riding on this initiative - not just for DPA but also for the hundreds of thousands of people who will either sit in prison or get a second chance, depending on whether or not Prop 5 wins on Election Day.

Our opponents think they can defeat Prop 5 by resorting to the same old scare tactics that filled the prisons in the first place. But we know we'll win if voters focus on the bottom line, which is that Prop 5 will reduce prison overcrowding, reduce crime and recidivism, directly help huge numbers of people, and save taxpayers billions of dollars.

Please tell everyone you know in California to vote for Prop 5. We MUST win Prop 5.

Many, many thanks.

Very truly yours,


Friday, October 17, 2008

How to make cocaine

As this film from the Lonely planet travel channel demonstrates, its surprisingly easy*. Not the high tech bond-villain underground laboratory many seem to imagine, nor even the bandana wearing terrorist types with AK47's in a jungle fortress, no - it's an old bloke in a hut with a bag of leaves and a few buckets of chemicals from the local hardware store.

Cocaine powder can be nasty stuff, and I'm fine with people telling others, especially young people, that it's potentially very bad for you and you shouldn't use it. Id actually say that maybe we should do a bit more of that given that use has at least doubled in the UK in the last decade (note: its always been Class A - so what happened to the deterrent effect of Home Office mythology?).

But watching this short film it struck me how preposterous it is that the lion's share of the our 'anti-drugs' budget goes on supply side enforcement instead of public health based interventions (be they prevention/education, treatment or harm reduction of one form or another). Our collective primary response to, what is most commonly, lets face it, peasants in a jungle stirring some leaves in a bucket, is to spend billions deploying high-tech military resources with all guns blazing, black hawks, heavily armed storm troopers, satellite surveillance and all the rest. Quite aside from the fact that crop eradication has been one of the most ridiculous policy disasters of the 50 years (untold billions spent, millions of acres of land, and not a few peasants, sprayed with toxic chemicals - yet cocaine production trebling) you have to look at these impoverished people struggling to survive and wonder if, just maybe, we've picked the wrong enemy here.

Supply side controls have never, and will never, prevent the production or supply of plant based drugs if huge number's of people demand them at a level that they are willing - in substantial numbers - to buy them from gangsters and street dealers for ridiculously inflated prices - with no information or guarantee of strength and purity. People are weird like that.

But this is no 'counsel of despair', its simply the reality of economics in a completely unregulated illegal market controlled by criminal profiteers. If a kilo of cocaine costs £200 from a peasant in Colombia, and sells for £100,000 on the streets of London, you tell me how you think we are going to prevent it getting from A to B? But don't take my word for it;

What about George Bush (just about still US president) who said in 2002: 'As long as there is a demand for drugs in this country, some crook is gonna figure out how to get 'em here...'

Or indeed former US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said in January 2001 'If demand [for drugs] persists, it's going to find ways to get what it wants. And if it isn't from Colombia it's going to be from someplace else.'

Or Antonio Maria Costa, Director of the Unite Nations Office for Drugs and Crime who noted in 2008 that prohibition was responsible for creating a 'huge criminal black market that thrives in order to get prohibited substances from producers to consumers, whether driven by a 'supply push’ or a 'demand pull', the financial incentives to enter this market are enormous. There is no shortage of criminals competing to claw out a share of a market in which hundred fold increases in price from production to retail are not uncommon”.

The UN's drug head honcho also observed - with his economist's hat on- (in 2007) that: "I invite you all to imagine that this year, all drugs produced and trafficked around the world, were seized: the dream of law enforcement agencies. Well, when we wake up having had this dream, we would realize that the same amount of drugs - hundreds of tons of heroin, cocaine and cannabis - would be produced again next year. In other words, this first dream shows that, while law enforcement is necessary for drug control, it is not sufficient. New supply would keep coming on stream, year after year."

Tony Blair's 10 Downing Street Strategy Unit report in to the illegal drug phenomenon , in 2003, concluded that: “Over the past 10-15 years, despite interventions at every point in the supply chain, cocaine and heroin consumption has been rising, prices falling and drugs have continued to reach users. Government interventions against the drug business are a cost of business, rather than a substantive threat to the industry's viability.”

I could go on, but why bother? The politicians making the decisions and committing the money know full well that supply side controls are pointless (if not actively counterproductive) and evidently don't even make much of an effort to conceal the fact anymore. The truth is that these enterprises stopped being about preventing drug production a long time ago - if they ever were about that. Today, whether in Colombia, Afghanistan or anywhere else, these military policing efforts are part of a vast and complex array of interconnected political agendas, military interests and geopolitical strategies, for which the drug war is merely a convenient front.

* Cocaine production remains thoroughly illegal. Do not try this at home, or anywhere else for that matter, even if you can get hold of a tonne of coca leaves.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Transform submission to the DoH alcohol policy consultation

Transform have made a submission to the latest DoH consultation on Alcohol policy, a section of which is copied below. The complete submission is available here (pdf). The submission includes some broader political discussion points:

  • The negative influence of the alcohol industry on implementation of public health based regulation.

  • The Government’s historic failure to stand up to industry pressure, or undertake the potentially unpopular regulatory measures required

  • The anomalous status of alcohol policy, relative to a) tobacco policy and b) illegal drug policy
It includes an endorsement of the Alcohol Concern submission regarding answers to the specific questions posed as well as some additional recommendations on alcohol pricing and drink driving limits (neither covered in the consultation document), advertising/marketing controls, and product labeling.

  • Government relations with a profit-making drug industry

The alcohol industry has fought tighter regulation at every juncture, with current and previous Governments evidently all too willing to prioritise industry interests over the concerns of the Royal Colleges of Medicine, The British Medical Association, numerous public health bodies and independent NGO’s, not to mention the overwhelming weight of published scientific research and epidemiological evidence. The current failing state of alcohol controls are a shameful testimony of the systematic failure of government to stand up to vested interests in the alcohol industry and their substantive lobbying resources, combined with an inability to demonstrate principled leadership and pursue public health policies that might incur short term political costs.

As with the tobacco industry, the alcohol industry is solely profit-motivated and therefore public health issues become a concern only when they threaten to impact on the bottom line. The industry will always to strive to concede as little market control to regulators as possible by deploying a now familiar menu of faux outrage and populist posturing (the nanny state against ‘a man’s right to have a drink in the pub’ etc.), dubious science (creating the false impression there is a genuine debate or controversy over issues like the efficacy of price and advertising controls), and token gestures (such as ending branding of child sport replica kits, setting up etc.). These efforts have been startlingly effective at distracting from, or delaying any meaningful regulatory legislation and have successfully kept what regulation has been passed at a voluntary level, meaning it can largely be ignored or sidelined to the point of being almost completely ineffectual.

The alcohol industry as a whole will never willingly accept any policies involving increased or stricter regulation that leads to a substantial decrease in consumption - as this will obviously lead to a consequent decrease in profits. Yet this is exactly what is required if issues of binge drinking and problem drinking in particular are to be addressed. It is important to remember that problematic and binge drinking constitute a significant proportion of alcohol industry profits; they are, quite simply, hugely profitable market sectors. Going on past experience - which demonstrates much of the industry not only avoiding the issue but actively encouraging unhealthy (but profitable) drinking behaviours - we have no reason to believe the alcohol industry when they claim to be serious about reducing such problems. Transform recommend that in the future they are kept at arms length in all development of public health policy and that some form of independent scrutiny of industry lobbying is established (and made public). The time for voluntary regulation of alcohol marketing has passed – it was a doomed experiment that has transparently failed on all fronts. The industry has held the balance of power in the policy-making equation for far too long, with systematic policy failures and disastrous public health outcomes there for all to see. It is time the brief was taken away from those that profit from maximising consumption and is returned to the public health experts whose goal is to minimise harm.

  • Alcohol and tobacco policy

Some comparisons between alcohol and tobacco policy are appropriate here. Whilst there are obviously differences in how each should be approached, in many key respects research from around the world illustrates that the basic regulatory principles and public health approaches that underlie them are remarkably similar – for example regards price controls, controls on marketing and promotion, controls on availability, and controls on where and when they may be consumed. Yet developments in alcohol policy seem to be lagging at least 10 to 15 years behind progress on tobacco regulation. Whilst tobacco policy is delivering dramatic improvements in public health outcomes, the situation with alcohol is deteriorating.

The reasons for this disparity are hard to fathom, after all, tobacco industry lobbying was arguably no less ferocious or well funded 10 or 15 years ago than today’s alcohol lobbying and PR machine. We can only assume that it is an issue of political fear, and that a failure of leadership is primarily to blame. These fears appear to be two fold; firstly the negative public reaction to increased prices and other regulatory market restrictions, and secondly concerns about potential negative consequences for the alcohol industry itself, which, we are informed in the consultation document’s second paragraph, turns over £40 billion a year, whilst creating only £20 billion in health and social harms. Maybe from a certain perspective this constitutes a reasonable piece of political maths, but from any ethical or public health analysis – it is entirely unacceptable.

This baffling situation begs the question of how bad the public health crisis with alcohol misuse must become before it is taken anything like as seriously as tobacco?

Gordon Brown demonstrates safe, sensible and social drug use

Related blog posts:

Transform submission to the DoH consultation on the future of tobacco control
related themes are tackled

The fault lines in current drug policy
comparing approaches to alcohol and illegal drugs

Another alcohol strategy: fine words, but spineless
commentary on the June 2005 alcohol strategy this latest consultation is a follow up to

Why pulling alcohol ads from kids replica kits is nowhere near enough
a rant about the cynical alcohol industry

Government complicity in the alcohol marketing scandal
the industry couldn't have got away with it for so long without a bit of help

Supercasinos, drugs, and alcohol prohibtion: more than a whiff of ministerial hypocrisy
our leaders just haven't figured out how to be consistent when regulating 'vice'

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Honduran president calls for legalizing drug use

Some intriguing breaking news about the increasingly open debate amongst Latin American leaders around new approaches to the drug problem (and the drug war problem). From the International Herald Tribune:

Honduran President Manuel Zelaya says drug consumption should be legalized to stop violence related to trafficking.

Zelaya says that "instead of pursuing drug traffickers, societies should invest resources in educating drug addicts and curbing their demand." He proposes establishing mechanisms for legalizing drug use.

Zelaya spoke Monday at a meeting of Latin American and Caribbean anti-drug officials. He did not say whether he would introduce legislation to legalize drugs in Honduras.

Rodolfo Zelaya, head of the Honduran congressional commission of drug trafficking, rejected the president's comments. He told meeting participants he was "confused and stunned by what the Honduran leader said."
also reported on the AFP Wire:

President Manuel Zelaya proposed legalizing drug use, which he said would free up Honduras's financial resources and defang international traffickers.

"The trade of arms, drugs and people ... are scourges on the international economy, and we are unable to provide effective responses" because of conventional legal restraints, Zelaya said Monday at the opening of the 18th meeting of regional leaders against drug trafficking.

Drug ministers from 32 Latin American and Caribbean nations are meeting in Tegucigalpa with United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime until October 17.

Drug users should be considered "patients," said Zelaya, stressing that consumers could be treated by doctors and pharmacies, and would benefit from government social programs.

"Rather than continue to kill and capture traffickers, we could invest in resources for education and training," the Honduran leader said.

We will try and get hold of the complete speech and provide more discussion and analysis over the next few days.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Mark Easton - The mystery of the missing opium

"It's a mystery that has got British law enforcement officials and others across the planet scratching their heads. Put bluntly, enough heroin to supply the world's demand for years has simply disappeared."

Mark Easton has an excellent blog on an issue that no one else appears to have even clocked. He's clearly got the bit between his teeth on failing drug policy. This is precisely the kind of piece that helps the policy climate change we have talked about before.

See also this piece in today's Indie: The Big Question: Why is opium production rising in Afghanistan, and can it be stopped?

From Mark Easton's blog:

Theory 1: A large and undocumented market has opened up in countries which don't want to admit the problem. Russia has long been in denial over the scale of its heroin problem and the same may be true in emerging drug markets like Iran, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan.

Theory 2: Vast quantities of heroin and morphine are being stockpiled. Antonio Maria Costa, head of the UNODC is convinced that is the only explanation. In a recent bulletin he issues an urgent order: 'Find the missing opium.' "As a priority, intelligence services need to examine who holds this surplus, where it may go, and for what purpose" he says. "We know little about these stockpiles of drugs, besides that they are not in the hands of farmers."

Government challenged on drugs law

Last week, Edwin Stratton, appeared in magistrates court to defend himself on a charge of cannabis cultivation. He had refused a caution on arrest.
His legal defence was put together by Casey Hardison and he was represented by Darryl Bickler in court.
He is running a brilliant and innovative defence claiming that the Government is abusing its power by unlawfully discriminating against those who are in possession of drugs that have been criminalised.

Transform do not claim to be legal experts and, rather than attempt to translate it for you, I have pasted the skeleton defence and Ed's press release below.

We want to stress that some legal experts have expressed doubts about this defence, and that it is crucial that anyone seeking to make use of it, gets the best professional legal advice they can.

Transform is delighted to see some headway being made here, (particularly with this defence) and we are keen to hear from legal experts who may be able to provide support for Ed's defence.

See also

and Drug Equality Alliance

The case has been adjouned until 6 November so that Ed can secure legal representation and make an application to the Divisional Court for a stay.

Skeleton Argument for Edwin Stratton

1. The defendant client objects to this indictment under s7 of the Indictment Act 1915 due to an executive abuse of power that threatens his basic human rights -and the rule of law. Cf. Archbold §1-191 (j) and 4-47 et seq.

2. Accordingly the defendant seeks either 1) to stay the indictment; 2) an adjournment of these proceedings so he can pursue the matter in the Divisional Court; or 3) For this court to decline jurisdiction and require the matter to be pursued in the Divisional Court. Cf. R. v. Central Criminal Court, ex p. Randle and Pottle, 92 Cr.App.R. 323, DC; R v Belmarsh Magistrates ex parte Watts [1999] 2 Cr.App.R. 188 at 195; Archbold § 1-192 & 4-50.

3. The abuse:

a. The defendant believes that the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 c.38 (“the Act”) is being applied to him in an arbitrary and discriminatory manner based on historical and cultural factors that lack a consistent and objective basis contrary to Article 14 and within the ambit of other convention rights. This denies equal protection to the defendant, alleged to be engaged in property activities with “controlled drugs”, as defined by s2(1)(a) of the Act, with respect to analogous persons engaged in the identical property activities with the dangerous or otherwise harmful drugs alcohol and tobacco.

b. The Government’s Position:

"The Government's policy is and has been to regulate drugs which are classified as illegal through the 1971 Act and to regulate the use of alcohol and tobacco separately. This policy sensibly recognises that alcohol and tobacco do pose health risks and can have anti-social effects, but recognises also that consumption of alcohol and tobacco is historically embedded in society and that responsible use of alcohol and tobacco is both possible and commonplace".

c. The Government’s position admits discrimination on the grounds of legal status and property within the ambits of Article 1 of the First Protocol, “protection of property”, Article 8 respect for private life, inter alia. More, the Government’s position includes errors of law and fact.

d. Unjustifiable discrimination: The Act is interpreted and implemented unequally with respect to consumers, producers and traders of (a) harmful drugs used by minorities, the drugs currently controlled under the Act, and (b) equally harmful drugs used by the majority, alcohol and tobacco, arbitrarily excluded from the Act. The Act therefore unjustifiably discriminates between those in the same position, those who consume or trade equally harmful drugs. Cf. A & Others v SSHD [2004] UK HL 56 at 46 et seq; Pretty v UK [2002] 35 EHRR 1 at para 77: “Strong arguments based on the rule of law could be raised against any claim by the executive to exempt individuals or classes of individuals from the operation of the law.”

e. Failure to justifiably discriminate: regulations for the non-medical use of those drugs excluded from the Act, alcohol and tobacco, distinguish between reasonably safe, responsible drug use and trade, and unreasonably harmful, irresponsible drug use, production and trade. Regulations for the non-medical use of those drugs included by the Act fail to make this justifiable distinction, instead applying a blanket prohibition of all property rights of possession, supply, production and export/import. The Act also fails to justifiably distinguish two distinct forms of unreasonably harmful use, production or trade: (a) use or trade unreasonably harmful to the consumer or trader alone, ‘voluntary risks’, and (b) use or trade unreasonably harmful to others, ‘involuntary risks’. Voluntary risks do not infringe human rights while involuntary risks do. The Act therefore fails to justifiably discriminate between those in different situations. Cf. Thlimmenos v Greece [2000] 31 EHRR 411 para 44: “The right not to be discriminated against in the enjoyment of the rights guaranteed under the Convention is also violated when States without an objective and reasonable justification fail to treat differently persons whose situations are significantly different.”

4. As a result of this abuse by the executive a fair trial is not possible. The Defendant’s remedy lies with the Divisional Court.

CPS Guidance – Abuse of Process - Misuse of Process - f. Unconscionable behaviour by the executive
This category of the doctrine of abuse is more exceptional than those described above. It arises from the duty of the High Court (first articulated in the case of Bennett v Horseferry Magistrates Court) to oversee executive action so as to prevent the State taking advantage of acts that threaten either basic human rights or the rule of law (including international law).

Applications for a stay based on this ground cannot be determined in any tribunal below the High Court because they involve the judiciary exercising a supervisory function over the actions of the executive (Bennett v Horseferry Road Magistrates Court, per Lord Griffiths at 152 H-J). Where the defence wishes to make such an application at the beginning or as a preliminary to trial, the proper procedure is for the instant proceedings to be adjourned and for the defence to commence proceedings in the High Court for a declaration that continuing the prosecution would amount to an abuse of the process.

In the US Supreme Court (Railway Express Agency Inc v New York [1949], para 112), Justice Jackson explained why the courts have a duty to prevent the abuse of political power by upholding the right to equality before the law:

“There is no more effective practical guarantee against arbitrary and unreasonable government than to require that the principles of law which officials would impose upon a minority must be imposed generally. Conversely, nothing opens the door to arbitrary action so effectively as to allow those officials to pick and choose only a few to whom they will apply legislation and thus to escape the political retribution that might be visited upon them if larger numbers were affected. Courts can take no better measure to assure that laws will be just than to require that laws be equal in operation.”

9th October 2008 PRESS RELEASE

Government challenged on drugs law

Edwin Stratton, 43, of Leyton, London, is charged with production of cannabis under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (“The Act”). He has today given notice of his intention to challenge the legitimacy of this prosecution in the High Court as an abuse of process. This assertion is evidenced by the bias and discrimination inherent in the policy that equally harmful drugs and those exercising property rights in such drugs should be treated differently in law. The defence claims a majoritarian abuse of power by the executive in the administration of drugs legislation. The rights afforded under the Human Rights Act 1998 guarantee freedom from arbitrary discrimination: this claim is grounded in the unequal protection afforded to drug property rights between ‘licit’ and ‘illicit’ drugs. This challenge seeks to hold the government and the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (“ACMD”) to account for an alleged irrational administration of the law which has led to countless thousands of lives lost and destroyed in the so-called ‘War on Drugs’.

1. Edwin is being prosecuted for his medical use of cannabis which he attempted to grow in the privacy of his home. He suffers from a hyper-sensitive form of coeliac disease which leaves him with constant pain and nausea for which cannabis is uniquely effective in his experience, and without the dreadful side-effects he experiences with prescription drugs.

2. Due to the nature of this legal challenge, which squarely puts the government’s application of the law in the spotlight - this case must, according to law, be heard in the High Court.

3. Edwin says: “Drugs legislation intends to protect us from harmful drugs. I absolutely agree with that aim, but the present policy is a disaster from a harm-reduction perspective. The legal classification of drugs is entirely inconsistent with the objective of creating a criminal tariff of punishments for drugs offences according to their relative harmfulness or potential for harm”.
Support for this position has come from organisations such as Transform Drug Policy Foundation, Release, the Beckley Foundation, The Parliamentary Select Committee on Science and Technology and the ACMD’s own prevention working group in their 2006 report ‘Pathways to Problems’. The incoming chair of the ACMD co-authored a March 2007 report in the Lancet, which presented a hierarchy of drug harm as determined by experts, elucidating the arbitrariness of the current classification of drugs under the Act.

4. The discriminatory application of law is starkly obvious when we factor in the harms caused by alcohol and tobacco, which together kill 150,000 people in the UK every year. Despite over 800,000 hospital admissions last year due to alcohol abuse, cannabis users cause far less harm to themselves and others and yet are compelled not only to risk arrest, prosecution and imprisonment, but also must endure the risk of dealing with criminal elements, risk their health due to contaminants, and risk exposure to products of unknown strength – all of which Edwin sought to avoid by growing it himself. Despite awareness campaigns, the legal status of alcohol and tobacco falsely signifies that these drugs are safer than many controlled drugs; this results in a lack of proper legal protection for alcohol and tobacco users in comparison to the stringent controls over equally harmful controlled drugs. Edwin says that “my advisers consider that the government does not have the discretion in law to exclude dangerous drugs from the remit of the enforcement legislation on the arbitrary basis of ‘cultural and historical precedents’. Government insists that the responsible use of alcohol and tobacco can be maintained without subjecting either to controls under the Act, whereas this possibility is denied to users of other equally harmful drugs, these double standards perpetuate detrimental consequences to users of all kinds of drugs”.

see HM Government official response to the Cabinet Office Better Regulation Executive (September 27th 2007).

5. Edwin is a part of a campaigning network known as the nascent DEA (Drug Equality Alliance). Individuals can register their support by visiting - the group is seeking to achieve one million site hits this year to illuminate support for a much needed transformation of the impasse causing so much harm to people who use drugs of all kinds.


Thursday, October 09, 2008

Treatment - a new definition

Whilst preparing for a workshop I ran at a conference this week, I happened upon a new definition of ‘treatment’. I was planning an interactive session to look at the evidence base for coerced treatment. My thesis was that coercion appeared appropriate in the context of drug prohibition, but that a public health approach made more sense within a legally regulated regime.

Paul Hayes, the head of the National Treatment Agency, has repeatedly stated that the money pouring into heroin and cocaine treatment would not be there, were it not for the crime reduction-led treatment agenda. And that alcohol treatment by contrast, had to take its place in the NHS pecking order. I would claim that this backs up my contention that a crime-led agenda would naturally lead to a treatment process that would be initiated from within the criminal justice system and further that it would make sense, within this regime, for ‘treatment’ that reduces acquisitive crime to be court-ordered.

A significant problem here is that, to the extent that crime reduction is paramount, clinical and personal needs are de-prioritised. Thus a process of dehumanisation takes place and treatment workers, struggle to reassert the people, rather than ‘offenders’, at the centre of the treatment initiative.

As part of my preparation I ‘Googled’ the word treatment. One of the examples that popped up was the following. I think that it speaks for itself:

Treatment: Any method, technique, or process, including neutralization, designed to change the physical or chemical character or composition of any hazardous waste so as to neutralize such waste or so as to render such waste non-hazardous, safer for transport, amenable for recovery, amenable for storage, or reduced in volume. Such terms includes any activity or processing designed to change the physical form or chemical composition of hazardous waste so as to render it non-hazardous.

Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Transit countries count the costs of the war on drugs

Everyday there are gruesome stories coming out of Mexico about the bloody costs of being a transit country for drugs from Colombia to the US.

The bodies pile up, corruption increases and the government has to look at new ways to limit the impact of the war on drugs including decriminalising the possession of drugs.

Juan Camilo MouriƄo, a Mexican government minister, said,

‘The risk of drug money in campaigns is, of course, a latent risk... The police are infiltrated and as long as they are infiltrated we cannot, fully, guarantee security or secure people’s confidence.’

In recent poll by the BBC World Service 44% of Mexicans polled said that they would consider legalising drugs and 80% said the government should consider seeking alternatives to the current system in order to end the problems associated with the war on drugs.

And it’s not just Mexico that is feeling the heat. As the UN prepares to leave Sierra Leone, there are fears that the fragile peace isn’t strong enough to prevent a slide back to the chaos of the 1990’s. In August the president was forced to suspend his transport minister in connection with an investigation into a major drugs seizure worth $400 million.

UN mission chief in Sierra Leone, Michael Schulenburg admits that,

‘I would say today that the exposure to the international drug trade is the single biggest risk affecting the future of Sierra Leone… If the drugs cartels do become established, the implications for Europe and West Africa will be severe. For Sierra Leoneans, the effects could be catastrophic.’

And its not just countries in Central America and West Africa that are threatened by the huge amounts of money that enter their economies due to the illegal drugs trade, Central Asia is also feeling the pressure.

The notoriously secretive government of Turkmenistan has acknowledged that a shoot-out in the capital in September was as a result of efforts to ‘neutralize’ a drug gang. Whilst details are sketchy, the government has admitted that a number of security officers were killed. An analyst at Jane’s Information Group said,

‘The government is likely to portray the drug traffickers to have been small and disorganized, but reports that several – possibly 20 or more – members of the security services were killed suggests that the group was well organized and well armed.’

Jean-Luc Lemahieu, chief of the Europe and Asia departments at the UNODC has also acknowledged the threat,

We are increasingly worried about the activity of drug lords, not only within Afghanistan but in all of the countries neighbouring Afghanistan, including Turkmenistan… The situation in Turkmenistan in regard to drug trafficking is indeed of concern to the international community.’

The real cause of these problems is not the drugs themselves, but the prohibition of them which turns naturally occurring plants into commodities worth literally more than their weight in gold. This combined with poverty and instability in transit countries and high levels of demand in consumer countries creates an explosive situation whereby drug money can be used to buy almost anything, or anyone.

As the executive director of the UNODC admitted earlier this year, these are the real ‘unintended consequences’ of the drug control system.