Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Fear prevails at the UN as voices for drug law reform are smeared

Today Ministers from around the world are in Vienna for the High Level Meeting of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs to set a new ten-year UN drug strategy. Whilst fear and inertia has generally prevailed amongst our political leaders, we have also heard a huge range of serious voices calling for a debate on replacing drugs prohibition with legal regulation and control. At the same time a concerted effort has been made by Antonio Maria Costa the executive director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), to smear those calling for reform as “pro-drug”.

The effect has been to stifle critics of the status quo, and make a rational and mature exploration of alternative approaches into a political no-go area, by inaccurately and offensively portraying advocates of change as ‘pro-drug’.

In a recent paper the head of the UNODC admitted that the drug control system had a "dramatic unintended consequence: a criminal market of staggering proportions". Costa added: "The crime and corruption associated with the drug trade are providing strong evidence to a vocal minority of pro-drug lobbyists to argue that the cure is worse than the disease, and that drug legalisation is the solution."

This was the latest in a series of similar public comments over several years seemingly based on the absurd false binary that since Costa views his position as ‘anti-drug’ then anyone who disagrees with him must be ‘pro-drug’. However, despite his attempts to malign those calling for debate, many have had the courage to call for reform.

So who should be included under Costa’s ‘pro-drug’ banner?

In the run up to the last UN 10 year drug strategy meeting of this kind in 1998, Rowan Williams (now Arch-Bishop of Canterbury) and Prof. Colin Blakemore, former chief executive of the Medical Research Council, were amongst over 500 prominent academics, scientists, political and religious leaders, including a number of Nobel laureates and former presidents, who signed a letter (1) stating that:

"Persisting in our current policies will only result in more drug abuse, more empowerment of drug markets and criminals, and more disease and suffering. Too often those who call for open debate, rigorous analysis of current policies, and serious consideration of alternatives are accused of "surrendering”. But the true surrender is when fear and inertia combine to shut off debate, suppress critical analysis, and dismiss all alternatives to current policies.”

Adair Turner, Peer and Chairman of the UK Financial Services Authority has said (2):

"And if we want to help sustainable economic development in the drug-ridden states such as Colombia and Afghanistan, we should almost certainly liberalise drugs use in our societies, combating abuse via education, not prohibition, rather than launching unwinnable 'wars on drugs' which simply criminalise whole societies."

David Cameron MP (now leader of the Opposition), Tom Watson MP (now a Cabinet Office Minister), Bridget Prentice MP (now a minister in the Ministry of Justice) when on the Home Affairs Select Committee in 2003, signed up to a report (3) saying:

“We recommend that the Government initiates a discussion within the Commission on Narcotic Drugs of alternative ways—including the possibility of legalisation and regulation—to tackle the global drugs dilemma.”

David Cameron MP also said at that time (3):

“[I]n Holland you can walk into a café and buy cannabis quite openly…I wonder why we should have such a concern if a country like Holland or elsewhere in the world wanted to go a bit further. It is virtually legal in Holland, but if they wanted to go a bit further, why should we be so concerned? We might learn something from a country taking a different and radical approach, and we could see whether it worked or whether it was a disaster.”

“I do not know whether it would be an unfair summary, but … the Government position on the two UN bodies seems to be that they are pretty hopeless talking shops that set very odd targets, that use extraordinary statistics, but we have to take part, we have to be there and try and have an input.”

This week a cross-party group of 26 peers including David Puttnam and Molly Meacher wrote (4):

“What is now needed is an admission that most existing policies have failed and an open debate on what alternative policies should be adopted for the future…To this end we suggest that the UN should now establish an intergovernmental panel charged with the task of examining all possible alternative policies for the control of the drugs trade.”

Recently, because of his concerns about drugs prohibition bankrolling paramilitary gangs (including the Real IRA) in Ireland Denis Bradley (former vice-chair of the police board for the Police Service of Northern Ireland, and Co-Chair of the Consultative Group on the Past) said (5):

“It might be time to legalise drugs. It might be time to create outlets licensed and under government control, to supply drugs to those who are already addicted and to those who wish to dabble. It might be time to cut the gangs off at the knees by making them economically redundant.”

Danny Kushlick of Transform said:

“The last ten years has seen fear and inertia prevail amongst our political leaders, but it has also seen a huge range of serious voices calling for a debate on replacing drugs prohibition with legal regulation and control. All of these calls have been ignored, sidelined or suppressed, and Ministers look set to rubber-stamp another ten-year strategy indistinguishable from the last, with political posturing again winning out.”

“A significant block to debate has been a very active campaign by the executive director of the UNODC to smear and caricature those calling for an exploration of alternatives to global prohibition as being “pro-drug”, in a way that is inaccurate and offensive to a large body of respected thinkers and commentators. Is Mr Costa labeling UK Ministers and the likes of Lord Adair Turner, David Cameron and Rowan Williams as pro-drug?”

"We can bring peace and stability to producer and transit countries, and end much of the harm in consumer countries only by ending the war on drugs and replacing it with an effective, just and humane system of regulation and control. For that to happen, world leaders must stop using the UN to shut down any real debate on alternatives to war, and listen to the voices from across the political spectrum calling for change."

Editors Notes:

1. The full letter to Kofi Annan and signatories

2. Lord Turner quote from speech to the World WWF

3.Home Affairs Select Committee drugs inquiry quotes

4. For the 26 peers who signed, and the full text of the letter to the Guardian 09/03/09

5. Denis Bradley quote

For many more significant voices calling for drug law reform see :


the prof speaks sh*te said...

Whilst this is all true, I do think it's a bit feeble. Do you really expect Costa and UNODC to play fair and roll over for you? I think what appears likely to be an abject failure to change anything at all in Vienna should cause you (and others) to take a long hard look at what you have been doing in recent years. Why have you failed so badly to influence the debate where it actually matters (and not just on the pages of 'The Economist')? To me, your campaigning techniques are unimaginative, old-fashioned and woefully ineffective. The fact that we are sleep-walking into another 10 years of wrong-headed drug policy rather bears that out.

Danny K said...

Prof (what are you prof of?),
No we don't expect them to roll over, although I'm delighted that you think we are powerful enough to have brought down global prohibition already...
I'm looking forward to hearing your suggestions as to how we could be more effective...

Sunshine Band said...

What about fighting legal cases? Imagine the publicity potential of getting the courts to intervene in teh worst excesses of this ABUSE OF POWER. We could try to stop the police becomming absuing their powers concerning drug control. Not only are they claiming to know what is best for us, what should be taxed, our mental health - but now we see them directly intervening in families where drug use is suspected, bringing in social services on the unpleasant assumption that drug users should not be around children, this being for just personal-use weed cases. They will try and destroy the career of any teacher they catch with weed (no need for a trial or a charge), try to evict persons from their council houses under same circumstances and threaten that you must take a caution to justify this.

There is No proportionality whatsoever and this govt oversees it. This is the tertiary-end of the primary discrimination talked about at A colleague asked the Joint Committee on Human Rights to look at the maladministration of law causing all this harm, and they declined. Liberty are out of the equation after losing early cases. Nobody wants to take the case, the discrimination point is IT. We should get as many challenges as possible, it's not too late as they haven't started yet. I want MORE people to say NO to cautions, NO to poisonous CRB checks and NO to drug testing.

YOU should focus on the discrimination paradigm rather than waiting to be kept informed.

I wonder if Transform really want to end the war on drugs, or they are relishing another 10 years funding for more of the same? Admit it - the failure to talk of us ours, all of ours, we have failed to protect our interests in recreational and explorative drugs and the situation in this country is getting much worse. I accept that the voice is being heard now more than before - but someone hangs in Malaysia at 6am for weed and a ten year plan will leave the rest of the world sleeping and dreaming. Tomorrow never knows, play to win or have a red face trying.

Niall said...

Pro-drugs is seen as stigmatising but being pro-war is seen as a good thing. Why not attempt to stigmatise Costa with being pro all the consequences of the status quo ie murder discrimination poverty etc. Politicians prefer to see it as black and white - it is easier that way. We need to get across the fact that problem drug use is that that is noticable whereas most drug use goes on without incident but by the time people get to their 30s they are unlikely to want to talk about it.
I think it is a little harsh to suggest you should have got it all sorted by now. Niall.

Danny K said...

Sunshine Band,
I think your comment is totally out of order. We do not 'relish' another ten years of this. We are being realistic. We would prefer to put ourselves out of work tomorrow if we could.
Discrimination might be a useful campaigning tool, it may not. But I very much doubt that we'd b out of business if we had campaigned using this as the our key focus.
You and the Prof would do better aiming your ire at the real target here - those who support prohibition and the war on drugs.

Jobber said...

I commend this release wholeheartedly as i have most of transform's in the past. Assembling the evidence and constructing a balanced and broad view with simple underlying messages has been one of Transform's strengths so far. These are exciting times as the world and politics is waking up from the prohibition dream. I would be very interested to see more articles on the blog generally, but more specifically i would like to see articles on the results of and attempts at Transform's penetration into the media. Keep up the good work guys, no-one cuts through the BS like you.

chrisbx515 said...

It’s amazing to think that Costa and the like are back slapping and congratulating themselves on the 100 years of success in highlighting that less opium is being reduced than back then etc. Whilst at the same time this no doubt hearty back slapping palm greasing event actually recognised that the policies they have presided over in these years have as they put it had an unforeseen effect and unintended consequence of establishing a globalised trade of narcotics ran by organised crime etc. What utter nonsense, it would be laughable if the subject matter were not so serious.

I don’t’ think Danny and Transform have been failing, it was only in 1982 after the HIV scare in Scotland that the just say no, drugs are illegal so therefore don’t’ do them attitude was actually changed to one of Harm Reduction. The Reefer Madness event with Steve R and Ben Goldacre are examples of the debate in action (will you bring it to other Cities?)

As a suggestion maybe Transform could speak at the Exchange Supplies events that are held like the 2009 National Drug Treatment Conference? These events are well attended and having you voice heard here would help at the grassroots.

Blair Anderson said...

There are many good folk who have long given up any prospect of reform. Academics who have put quality research time and resources into the debate these past ten years, certainly since New Zealand embarked on a consultative 'process' commencing around 1996 with the attempt to marry pragmatism to UN Conventions in our National Drug Policy formulation documents. The most important failure was a bastardised by politics and lobbying by stakeholders to separate alcohol (the drug we drink) from illicit drugs.

NZ now has a unique opportunity with a 'ground up' reevaluation of drug policy by the statutory empowered "Law Commission" that includes relevance of the UN Conventions and Covenants.

And there lies the opportunity.
The World needs another Holland.

And while there will be blood on the floor of parliament before any substantiative change is made, the first step has been taken with the 'restricted substances regulations' that delivers a (R18)legislative framework for the sale of recreational psychoactive substances.

If only 0.1% of the effort applied to the largely fruitless (and thankless) task of changing the UN, it might be in the worlds best interests to assist resource the expertise to make New Zealand another 'social laboratory' for reform.

We have the process. It is transparent. It would be very cheap to ensure it is done well. And we (as a nation) would be good at reform.

We need to ensure the NZ Law Commission hears during the course of its deliberations what the CND/UNODC hasn't.

I would begin with at the very least forming a strategy with like minded folk and organisations taking the best of Vienna and moving that forward into a strategy post Vienna to turn NZ on to the idea. How many good people could we get to come and talk to New Zealander's and the Law Commissioners. My guess, with the good work and good will that has been done to date... is the case could easily be made for such a mission.

Submit and be empowered!

Anonymous said...

I think the sunshine band poster was just being provocative. It is great that you see you job title as working towards your own redundancy. Can Transform push for action like they said? You made the point about refusing cautions before I think and that kind of action might be useful in creating a wave - it is good work to date, but we are going backwards despite the growing acknowlement of the harm reduction and regulation mantra. Is it time for a re-think on tactics, or how are we to avoid another ten years?

Sunshine Band said...

Yes, that is right - Im not questionning the integrity of Danny or anyone at Transform who do a lot of hard work. Im frustrated that too much of the world is going backwards, a section of the pulic moves towards harm reduction and the rest is devolving back to reefer madness. Sorry if my comment seemed out of order - I keep forgetting to work in Word, spell check, read, take a 'break', come back and post as once you post, its uneditable of course.

Danny K said...

Sunshine Band,
Apology accepted.
I appreciate you taking the time to go back and rethink.
This is a very frustrating business and I have let my anger spill over more than once.

United we stand...


PS Constructive criticism is always welcomed at Transform

Danny K said...

On the broader question of tactics, can we really say that policy is going backwards because Transform has the wrong campaign strategy?
We are a very small NGO with very limited access to policy makers who are determined to operate populist policy to garner cheap votes.
We've had enormous success in creating a significant challenge from a wide swathe of media commentators, despite which, UK politicians feel they can still run the drug war as their best political bet.
My sense is that we don't have to do that much different (I am happy to hear creative alternatives and we review our strategy on an annual basis), that our messages are strong and realistic and that it really is a question of time. As an analogy I'd use the fall of the Berlin Wall. It took a particular collection of political forces for it to come down. We are not quite there with the drug war, but the forces are coming together in a way that would lead me to believe that prohibition will not be around in ten years time (It may of course happen before...I would prefer it to happen much sooner). Whilst that may seem a long time to some, if we can say in 2018 that we collectively (all of us) contributed to its downfall, that would be a hell of a legacy to leave our children.

Jobber said...

You are right Danny it is a matter of time. So long as the arguments are not just succinct (which they are), but also streamlined with a view to widening audiences, increasing solidarity among common-sensers and hitting hard when the time is right (eg. now in Vienna, the new Obama admin, etc.), the wall will simply have to fall. Even newspapers and the BBC are coming on-side for reform, surely all we need now is a small shift in stance at the top level of politics for the first domino to fall: in America, UN or even the Tories near election time? Piece x

Sunshine Band said...

Not because of Transform's policy - despite it. This organisation focuses on lobbying for the govt to change tack, which is all well and good save for the fact they are not interested in listening, and in fact they say that they will NEVER move to a regulated market ( a fettering of discretion) - we do have the supposed separation of powers and accountability in law - I understand the cynicism about this as to date the courts have really carried out the abuse, and not been interested in any excuses (religious use, medical use etc) - anyway, the challenges have to be against the govt legally. Fight authority through the courts wherever possible, if its employment tribunals, criminal courts, civil proceedngs against local authorities, the police etc - and remember at all times, what they are doing is nasty discrimination, they would never get away with demonising persons on the grounds of sexual preference anymore, but relish destroying the lives of people with drug interests which differ from their own without any justification. As one supporter puts it, this discrimination is as real as gravity was before Newton defined it, its there all the time, just nobody talks about it yet.

Danny K said...


"Not because of Transform's policy - despite it."

Are you suggesting that Transform is creating an obstacle to ending prohibition?

Sunshine Band said...

No, Im not saying that at all, Im saying that it is a matter of fact that we are suffering the indignities of the government's conduct DESPITE your efforts. I can see I have touched a nerve by this level of defensiveness. We all ought to constructively take on board as much as possible.

Casey got a message to me today about this and it is simply "Principles before personalities".

We have to use this time for some reflection without getting ruffled feathers - the question is who are we being to end up in this situation. Have we done all we could? Do we compromise for acceptability? Are our tactics honest? Do we pretend to agree against our true beliefs? I for one do not agree with such goals that drug use ought to be minimalised and that that drugs are always a bad thing. I'm not convinced we can work within risk management paradigms either - its handing too much autonomy away, I just ask for proportionate interference based on equality of treatment.

Are we scared of failing, looking foolish and set our sights too low?

This is not a dig but I was saddened to see Steve R's recent comment about Nutt's 'Equasy' piece as 'clumsy' - lets be a bit more upfront, we are fighting an outrageous discrimination that is as evil as slavery. We ought to stand together, and be present to the choice of language that creates the threat. If we have to be controversial to shift things - then lets do it - what is the worst that can happen by giving 100%?

Danny K said...

Dude, now it's my turn to apologise. I got the wrong end of the stick.

I don't think this is about personalities, or even principles. I think that it's about tactics.

I think that we are agreed on the principles - the drug laws are discriminatory, all the way down the line, from production through to use.

The question we tend to ask ourselves is, where will we get the most traction in the current political climate? We are fleet of foot and can engage with any of many different policy areas.

Back in the day we were more committed to the types of arguments that you at the DEA are running. It wasn't getting us anywhere, although I must admit that we were not using the legal system in the way that you and your team are.

I can see where your frustrations arise. I have some of the same kinds of frustrations with colleagues in other fairly likeminded organisations.

I am not a legally trained but my colleagues who are, tell me that they don't hold out much hope for the cases you have run so far and, without anything else to go on I am left in a difficult position. I have to say that I was blown away by Casey's most recent legal argument. But, not being legally trained, I don't know what its power is in court.

Please do let's follow Casey's advice and try and keep as much as we can to principles and keep communications open and honest.

I have certainly not closed the door on the work that you are doing. I am keen to support where we can and, if you can convince me, I am prepared to take the issue back into Transform for consideration as part of our campaigning strategy.

At the same time we have an incredibly heavy workload for a tiny organisation and limited resources.

Let's keep talking.

Anonymous said...

Reading articles like this is really discouraging, even depressing. It seems like the Cause will never be won. So long as the average citizen, who is an apathetic, brainwashed moron willing to accept and obey whatever corrupt - and Constitutionally ILLEGAL - laws their tax money has bought them, no significant progress will ever be made, in my opinion at least.

People seem to think that the UN is some kind of charity organization that just wants "world peace" or some other hippy crap (that just happens to have it's own army, hah), they don't see it for what it obviously is. So long as Americans and Europeans refuse to destroy the UN and overthrow their illegal and often communist governments (the USA and Canada are no different from Russia in many ways, imo), we will all be terrorized, persecuted, and falsely imprisoned for excercising our human rights.

That's how I see it.

Pat Rogers said...

Better to be pro-drug than pro-terrorism and crime.

The black market created by the prohibition against regulation supports terrorism and criminal anarchy. Today, in response to her call for a pilot marijuana legalization program in California, I wrote a letter to the Chair of the U.S. House of Representatives committee on Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border, Maritime and Global Counterterrorism, Loretta Sanchez of California. Following is that letter.

Ms. Loretta Sanchez
Member of Congress, CA-47
Chair - Committee on Homeland Security
Subcommittee on Border, Maritime and Global Counterterrorism
1114 Longworth HOB
Washington, D.C. 20515

March 12, 2009

RE: War on Drugs National Security Threats

Dear Representative Sanchez:

I want to applaud you for advocating a pilot program on marijuana legalization. It is a good start for something that is long over-due.

But pilot programs are only a baby step and hardly a solution in the national security disaster that is the war on drugs. And calling for a pilot program on CNN is not the same thing as calling hearings in the Subcommittee on Border, Maritime and Global Counterterrorism on drug prohibition's economic funding global terrorism. You might also get in touch with Rep's Barney Frank and Ron Paul who, I understand, are planning to reintroduce, in April, marijuana decriminalization that they have sponsored in past congresses. I am sure that you position as committee chair will lend weight to the legislation. Such legislation would allow as many states as are inclined to participate in pilot programs.

The prohibition by congress against regulating the criminal and terrorist anarchy out of the distribution of intoxicant drugs violates the most fundamental guarantees of the United States Constitution. And prohibition provides significant tangible "aid and comfort" to America's sworn enemies. Support for the war on drugs is, I believe, tantamount to an act of treason against the United States of America.

In 2003 the United Nations estimated the global retail drug market to be worth $320-billion a year and the United States accounted for 44% of $141-billion a year. This crime and terrorism supporting black market is creation of the war on drugs and continues to support crime and terrorism thanks exclusively to the government prohibition against regulating the anarchy out of the markets. Various estimates put marijuana at as much as 80% of that values.

In May 2003, then DEA assistant administrator for intelligence Steven W. Casteel told the Senate Judiciary Committee: "Of the 36 groups designated by the State Department as foreign terrorist organizations, 14 (or 39 percent) are connected to drug activities, testified Steven W. Casteel, assistant administrator for intelligence of the Drug Enforcement Administration.

He said they range from Middle Eastern terrorist groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia, the Shining Path in Peru and the Abu Sayyaf Group in the Philippines.

These groups are materially strengthened by the continuation of the war on drugs.

According to the Oct. 2007 report to the U.S. Army War College Strategic Studies Institute titled "Opium and Afghanistan: Reassessing U.S. Counternarcotics Strategy", analyst John R. Glaze found that " estimated 70 percent of the Taliban’s income now comes from protection money and the sale of opium."

Ending the government prohibition against regulation of the drug markets would weaken America's sworn enemy, the Taliban, without firing a shot or sending more troops to Afghanistan. The government just says not and so it is the government itself that is providing 'aid and comfort' to the Taliban and other stateless terrorist organizations that support themselves in part or entirely through the government imposed drug black markets.

Further, the 2004 Congressional Research Service report, "Illicit Drugs and the Terrorist Threat: Causal Links and Implications for Domestic Drug Control Policy", enumerated five specific ways that the illegality of drugs supports terrorism.

"The international traffic in illicit drugs contributes to terrorist risk through at least five mechanisms: supplying cash, creating chaos and instability, supporting corruption, providing "cover" and sustaining common infrastructures for illicit activity, and competing for law enforcement and intelligence attention. Of these, cash and chaos are likely to be the two most important."

Insanely, that same report concluded:

"American drug policy is not, and should not be, driven entirely, or even primarily, by the need to reduce the contribution of drug abuse to our vulnerability to terrorist action. There are too many other goals to be served by the drug abuse control effort."

What goals can conceivably be more important that reducing "our vulnerability to terrorist action"? We certainly are NOT protecting children drugs by leaving sales in the hands of users, abusers, addicts and gangsters. We could put drug sales in the hands of responsible regulated adult supervision but the congress just says no. Protecting children with the current policy is absolutely not a priority.

In fact the congress has known since the 1990's that bin Laden and the alQaida are flooding the west with heroin as an asymmetric weapon specifically targeting western children. As the World Trade Center and Pentagon still smoldered Sen. John Kerry told reporters, "That's part of their revenge on the world," Kerry said. "Get as many people drugged out and screwed up as you can."

The earliest open source confirmation I have of this is 1998, the Indian Times in a story titled "Heroin in the Holy War".

The crop will be opium and the farmer will be Osama bin Laden, the most wanted terrorist in the world. Bin Laden, accused by the United States of bombing two of their embassies in East Africa this summer and a string of other attacks, sees heroin as a powerful new weapon in his war against the West, capable of wreaking social havoc while generating huge profits, according to sources in eastern Afghanistan and in Pakistan.

In 2003 Newsweek gave the campaign a name 'silent jihad'. "Some militants view opium as something more than a source of cash; they say it's a legitimate weapon in what they call a "silent jihad." Khurshid, a 20-year-old Nangarhar native, says drugs are Afghanistan's way of striking back at the West for sending "liquor, obsceneTV and pornographic films" into Afghanistan: "Immoral Western culture destroys the minds of our children, so it's only just that we export opium and heroin to destroy Western youths."

The U.S. congress prohibition against the regulation of the distribution of drugs provides this tactical 'aid and comfort' to America's sworn enemy, alQaida.

And just in case even all of this is too oblique in Sept. 2006 Afghan expert New York University professor Barnett R. Rubin told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, "The international drug control regime, which criminalizes narcotics, does not reduce drug use, but it does produce huge profits for criminals and the armed groups and corrupt officials who protect them. Our drug policy grants huge subsidies to our enemies."

"Our drug policy grants huge subsidies to our enemies."

How much clearer does it have to be before the United States Congress decides to rethink its failed national security threat of a drug war policy?

The biggest reason that the United States and Mexico are having the problems that we are on the border is because the drug black market is so lucrative that it inspires entire industries dedicated to circumventing our best security efforts. Black market profits so huge that it encourages anarchistic levels of blood letting. We could end this national security and public safety debacle today by regulating the criminal and terroristic anarchy out of the distribution of intoxicant drugs but the treasonous United States Congress just says no!
Very Sincerely,

Pat Rogers

Anonymous said...

I can understand people getting frustrated at what appears to be a movement backwards but is that really the case? Whilst the Government is becoming hard line - for example the reclassification saga - is this a sign of strength or weakness. Transform's work around policy climate change which was blogged last year made sense to me, you guys are having an influence - I am sure I see you hand behind some of the work of a couple of BBC journalists, a number of print journalists and a few influencial opinion formers.

Your impact for such a small organisation is something you should be bloody proud about. Well done

Blair Anderson said...

> Your impact for such a small organisation is something you should be bloody proud about.

I for one, concur.

It is imperative that the substantive voices become empowered. The 'new media' is allowing high interactive participation. Transform is but one channel, but it rates amongst the best.

the prof speaks sh*te said...

As I seem to have kick-started a rather heated thread, I thought it might be helpful for me to clarify and expand on my original comment.

First, I am not against Transform's mission, quite the contrary, nor am I questioning the integrity and hard work of its staff. I was actually addressing a wider group, of which Transform is just one small part, that is, the entire drug law reform movement.

Second, my critique is really centred on the fact that the current 'debate' at Vienna looks likely to lead at best to the maintenance of the status quo. This cannot be a 'success', however it is dressed up.

Third, so why are the efforts of groups like Transform apparently not working? In my view, they are based primarily on the idea that if only the right information about the failures of prohibition can be transmitted to the right people, then eventually they will 'get the message' and the world will change. Danny even says in one of the comments that he thinks it's 'just a matter of time'. I profoundly disagree. Costa and others, including national governments, already know all this stuff - it's not that they lack information or understanding but that they draw different judgments about how to act in response.

Fourth, so what is to be done? I think you (not just Transform but the whole reform movement) need to look more widely at how change happens in other fields where there are international globalised systems of controls. There has been quite a bit of work, for example, on WTO negotiations which has tried to develop nuanced and sophisticated models of how these international networks operate. There are many lessons to draw from this about how to develop effective campaigning and lobbying strategies. The 'winners' in these networks do not just rely on informational techniques, it is more complex than that.

But anyway, your hearts are in the right place and I respect that. I am just frustrated that progress seems so limited.

Danny K said...

I think you're right in many regards.

Now, just after the Vienna event, is the right time to review collective campaigning strategies. I am calling for this to happen internationally later this year. Indeed, I have been calling for this to happen for ten years.

Ever since our inception I have been attempting to facilitate the development of a global strategy for the ending of the war on drugs. (Much of what Transform does happens behind the scenes.)

In my opinion too many NGOs have worked a little too closely with Governments the world over and, in my humble opinion, been less outspoken than they should have been.

I wrote about this in a piece entitled 'In pursuit of truth' for the magazine Drink and Drug News.

I am convinced that the recent debacle in Vienna will provide the momentum for a rethink of engagement tactics with the bodies that run the global war.

Derek said...

When I first got involved in cannabis law reform campaigning about 15 years ago, I joked that things were moving forward because we were being ignored by ever more senior people.

How little things change.

Now, don't get me wrong, I do support what Transform has been doing and I think they've done what they've done very well and with a high degree of professionalism. But - and this is exploiting the wonderful gift of hindsight I know - it hasn't really had any effect, it hasn't worked.

My take on this is that the basic mistake was to assume the mechanisms of government are open to honest,informed debate. Clearly they're not, instead they're run and formed by powerful unaccountable forces who do what they want regardless of the evidence.

Instead of an open debate we've had blinkered politicians imposing their will and well connected prohibition lobbies feeding a compliant media willing to print fiction and call it "news".

I'm not sure how I feel about all this, other than to have lost faith with the democratic process. But I think what it means is we need the grit to carry on.

But more than just that, we need a new approach.

It has always annoyed me that the prohibitionist lobby has been allowed to present itself as the voice of law and order, to present prohibition as "control". Neither could be further from the truth of course.

I have long been convinced that is the area we need to be fighting on. Granted Transform do make the case, but it hasn't been forceful enough somehow and the liars always seem to win.

I think the first step has to be to stop using their language. My mantra as always should be "illegal drugs are not controlled drugs". We should never use the term "controlled drugs" in the context of prohibition and always pick up on it when it is used.

Sadly I suspect things will have to get a lot worse before the truth of that is exposed though, and worse they will surely get.

This movement is all about campaigning for effective,workable laws. Collectively, we haven't been making that point strongly enough.

Steve Rolles said...

it is true that on the political front line things don't seem to have changed much. The problem is that drug prohibition is an absolutist idoelogy that doesn't lend itself to compromise. It is the crusading rhetoric of war, devoid of nuance, and polarising by nature. It is not unlike certain religious dogmas, which in many ways is precisely what it has ossified into. This suggests that change may be quite rapid following the reaching of a tipping point, rather than a more gentle gradient of reform. In many ways the harm reduction movement has gone as far as it can within the constraints of prohibition and now it is the outdated and increasingly irrelevant rigid legal strictures of prohibition itself that need to be, at the very least loosened to allow more flexibility to explore option, and more likely re-drafted from the bottom up.

I think that the achievements of Transform and the wider reform movement have been to give mainstream credibility to the critique of prohibtion - a view that it is both failed and couterproductive - one which is publicly held by a rapidly growing group of thinkers and commentators. The water is building behind the dam as it were - and no policy can survive the level of serious critical scrutiny the drug war is under for ever. the political benefits of subscribing to prohibition are dwindiling - the public no longer buy it either - ultimately that is where the tipping point will be - most politicians care about votes and money, not policy outcomes.

The failure at the UNODC/CND is not all it seems - the NGO presence and real critique of the system by a range of voices (including states and other UN agencies) was dramatically different to ten years ago, and the tensions and fractures in the system are there for all to see even if the political declaration is a meaningless repitition. They are on the defensive re the reform movement and Costas smears and soundbites are the sound of the barrel scraping and desperation of a collapsing empire. Things are changing and the tipping point is getting nearer. The voices in favour of the status quo look ever more intellectually threadbare and inadequate - they are aging, withering away, and have been comprehensively outgunned, both at the UN and in the public debate. Where is the academic defense of the drug war to respond to the detailed critiques - there is none.

Crisis precipitates change - there can be no doubt the failings so the drugs war are reaching crisis point, be it in Afghanistan, Colombia, Mexico or the streets of Baltimore

Certainly a new strategy in needed in the post CND period and Transform and others are constantly in dialogue to improve focus and efficacy of the campaign and message. The debate has moved on to the mechanisms of change and the detail of how a post absolutist prohibition structure can function in everyones best interest - that shift in itself reflects progress too. But there genuinely is movement and we all have reason to be optimistic even if crystal ball gazing on exactly when the change will come is somewhat pointless. I think we are doing pretty well all things considered. We should remember that any of the major social policy reforms in the last century when unjust ineffectual old structures were replaced, would have been hard to imagine even a couple of years before they actually happened.

Personally I'm really looking forward to doing something else, and hopefully wont have to wait to long.

Danny K said...

If anyone involved in campaigning seriously believed that policy would shift progressively in Vienna 2009, then they were deluded.
There was no sense that anyone had that we were going to observe a sea change there.
We have always been realistic in sugesting that substantive and substantial change could be achieved around 2018 at the earliest. (Funnily enough, many in the drug reform movement believe that I am fantastical for thinking that we could end global prohibition in a decade. Many think we are looking at more like fifty years.)
Let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater. What we are doing is, we believe, useful for undermining prohibition and positing a good case for legal regulation. There are those who think we are wrong, and I say to them, keep pushing your case. If it works, it will have better results than ours.
Added to which everyone has their pet 'issue' that they believe is the key to it all, for some it's discrimination for others harm reduction, or control, or international development, and on and on and on.
There is no single key in my humble opinion and even time won't tell what brought it all down. History will only be a story too. Let's face it, it's hard to measure effectiveness of campaigns and we carry on doing the best we can, whilst reviewing goals and activities.

Péter said...

Watch the video on the demonstration held at the Vienna International Centre against the global war on drugs:

Anonymous said...

I wonder how many of the representatives or the regimes they represent are benefiting from drug money, it should be remembered that it is not just idealism that is behind support for prohibition.

Anyway despite being disappointing this was hardly unsurprising, that said their have been gains over the past ten years (even if not at UN level) and I believe the stage is being set for dramatic policy change in the future.