Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Home Affairs Select Committee announces major new drugs Inquiry

The Home Affairs Select Committee today announced a major new Inquiry into the UK's drug policy. The terms of reference are as follows:


The Committee will undertake a comprehensive review of drugs policy in the new year. The Committee will examine the effectiveness of the Government’s 2010 drugs strategy and the UK Government’s contribution to global efforts to reduce the supply and demand of illicit drugs. Specifically, the Committee will consider:

  • The extent to which the Government’s 2010 drug strategy is a ‘fiscally responsible policy with strategies grounded in science, health, security and human rights’ in line with the recent recommendation by the Global Commission on Drug Policy
  • The criteria used by the Government to measure the efficacy of its drug policies
  • The independence and quality of expert advice which is being given to the government
  • Whether drug-related policing and expenditure is likely to decrease in line with police budgets and what impact this may have
  • The cost effectiveness of different policies to reduce drug usage
  • The extent to which public health considerations should play a leading role in developing drugs policy
  • The relationship between drug and alcohol abuse
  • The comparative harm and cost of legal and illegal drugs
  • The impact of the transfer of functions of the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse to Public Health England and how this will affect the provision of treatment
  • The availability of ‘legal highs’ and the challenges associated with adapting the legal framework to deal with new substances
  • The links between drugs, organised crime and terrorism
  • Whether the UK is supporting its global partners effectively and what changes may occur with the introduction of the national crime agency
  • Whether detailed consideration ought to be given to alternative ways of tackling the drugs dilemma, as recommended by the Select Committee in 2002 (The Government's Drugs Policy: Is It Working?, HC 318, 2001–02) and the Justice Committee’s 2010 Report on justice reinvestment (Cutting crime: the case for justice reinvestment, HC 94, 2009–10).”

Organisations and individuals interested in making written submissions are invited to do so by Tuesday 10 January 2012. Submissions should be no longer than 2,500 words. Further advice on making a submission can be found below."

It is a very wide mandate (perhaps too wide?) but the content of the questions is significant, with a clear focus on some of the key themes in the drug policy and law reform debate raised by the groundbreaking 2002 HASC drugs inquiry, and those that have developed subsequently.

Of note is the fact that the Global Commission Report (that made a range of pragmatic recommendations including decriminalisation of drug possession and an experiment with legalisation/regulation) - is mentioned at the outset, and the previous inquiry's final recommendation specifically alluded to at the end. This was:
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  
So there is a clear focus on the harms of prohibition and the law reform debate - obviously directly reinforced by a number of the other questions.

On past experience it's clear the Committee would not be raising these issues if it wasn't genuinely interested in them, and one senses the positive change in the political climate around this debate, in the media, in mainstream politics, in the public, and in Parliament have all laid the foundations for what could, potentially, be a very important piece of work.

A note of caution should come from the the last time the Committee tackled the drug issue - 2010's report on cocaine - which was very poor, disappointing on almost every front.  It's not clear who is driving this latest move, but it's welcome that it is happening and, as with the previous inquiries, we encourage interested parties to provide evidence, particularly those beyond the usual suspects.  The Count the Costs initiative provides a steer as to who they might be. Do contact us for help.


New Count the Costs briefing on the environmental costs of the war on drugs

The below is reproduced from the Count the Costs blog.

Continuing our engagement with organisations and individuals outside the drug policy sector, we are today pleased to announce the publication of the Count the Costs initiative Environment Briefing. We intend to use the briefing to encourage environmental NGOs – such as Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the World Wildlife Fund – to take a public stand on the drugs issue and advocate for reform. And we urge drug policy reformers and those in the environmental movement to use the briefing to encourage campaigns and policy people in green NGOs to engage with drug policy.

Examining a range of environmental issues surrounding the war on drugs, the briefing includes several case studies as well as sections on:

  • The futility of drug crop eradications
  • The aerial fumigation of drug crops, a practice that is still permitted in the world’s second most biodiverse country, Colombia
  • The deforestation that occurs as law enforcement drives drug crop producers into ever more remote and ecologically valuable regions
  • The pollution caused by unregulated, illicit drug production methods
While some of the consequences of the war on drugs are relatively well known and understood by those aware of the issue, the environmental impacts of current drug policy are seldom given proper consideration. This must change. As this briefing outlines, if these environmental costs are to be minimised or avoided, alternative forms of drug control must be explored.

The briefing is available online as a PDF, with print copies available on request. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Transforming Drug Policy: A Shared Responsibility

The column below by Transform's head of External Affairs, Danny Kushlick, was published today on website under the title: Prohibiting drugs hasn’t worked – so why are we still trying?

PRESIDENT JUAN MANUEL Santos of Colombia spent two days in London last week. He stated quite categorically that “cocaine is killing my country”, and that cocaine users should refrain because they are contributing to the mayhem in Colombia.

This line of argument emerged from a campaign developed in Colombia called Shared Responsibility. His rhetoric is especially interesting because in the Observer he recently called for a debate on the legalisation of cocaine. So what exactly is he saying, and why is it relevant for the people of Ireland?

First, let’s be absolutely clear – it is not cocaine, or cocaine use per se that is killing his country. The chaos and violence emerges from the cocaine market prospering under global prohibition. This is what creates the violence surrounding its production and supply; in precisely the same way that the prohibition of alcohol did in the US in the twenties. So Santos finds himself in a double bind: whilst he and his government have been highly critical, they are necessarily political supporters of the global war on drugs, a venture initiated and heavily backed by the US and other key allies.

The global prohibition of certain drugs (not alcohol or tobacco of course) for non-medical use came into being with the signing of the United Nations Single Convention on Drugs of 1961. The economics of prohibition means that commodities that are mere plants at the point of production, become worth more than their weight in gold by the time they reach Western consumers. There are now an estimated 250 million illegal drug users worldwide.

Tragically and predictably, by the mid 80s, organised criminals, insurgents and paramilitaries the world over had built huge empires on the extraordinary profits (with margins as high as 3,000 per cent) gifted to them by the prohibition. To confuse matters, the war on drugs was now conflated with the war on organised crime. And so the ‘Drug Problem’ was made manifest.

‘The people of Ireland are tacitly supporting the policy that is killing Colombia’

Most UN member states (including Colombia) are signatories to the UN Single Convention on Drugs – including the Republic of Ireland. And that is why Mr Santos’s statement about cocaine is of direct relevance to Irish people. The people of Ireland are tacitly supporting the policy that is killing Colombia.

But it is not just Colombia. Prohibition – the global war on drugs, is killing many others in Afghanistan, Guinea Bissau and Mexico (where over 40 000 have died in drug related violence since 2006). Ireland is a party to prohibition in principle and in law We are all in this together – it is a shared irresponsibility.

A poll earlier this year, commissioned by the European Commission sought the views of young people on drug policy throughout the EU. The highest levels of support for legalisation were from the citizens of Ireland and France, with 21 per cent saying that legalisation is one of the most effective ways of dealing with drugs.

There is clearly a mood to change policy and law, and at the very least to begin a debate on alternatives. So, why can’t a genuine, high-level debate begin? Fear and ignorance amongst both voters and politicians clearly underlie much of the stasis holding the current policy in place, but ‘politics’ is at least as important.

It is instructive to look at the drug policy trajectory of two world leaders – Barack Obama and David Cameron. Both are former users of illegal drugs and both held reform positions before they reached high office. Once in high office their views apparently shifted to more hawkish, populist positions.

‘Alternative views cannot be tolerated’

The fact is that the long standing system of prohibition has created an environment in which alternative views cannot be tolerated, resulting in the increasingly understood ‘retirement syndrome’, whereby recently retired government officials fall over each other to call for legalisation – freedom from political office allowing them to speak their minds.

Irish support for reform is reflected in the work of Paul O’Mahoney’s, The Irish War on Drugs: The Seductive Folly of Prohibition, in the politicking of Independent TD Luke “Ming’’ Flanagan, and the thoughtful policy development of Sinn Fein. In a recent news story, junior health minister Róisín Shortall – who is in charge of Ireland’s drugs strategy – said she had an “open mind” in relation to Portugal’s decriminalisation model. She said she was “particularly interested” in the country’s “yellow card” system, which warns users about their behaviour and tries to steer them away from drugs.

However, if Ireland is to free itself from the shackles of a policy developed in a bygone era, one which preceded the sixties drug culture and the widespread normalisation of recreational drug use, it will require politicians to step up to the mark and call for reform.

Mr Santos’s position is not completely coherent. He is fighting a war on drugs at the same time as calling for a debate about ending it. However, he has taken a courageous stance in calling for a debate on legalisation and regulation (to understand what this might mean see Transform’s groundbreaking book After the war on drugs – Blueprint for Regulation). He has shown leadership, but undoing the global prohibition will take more than that.

In order to transform drug policy into one that is effective, just and humane, UN member states will need to develop a coalition willing to act in concert to challenge the status quo. They will need to call on their peers to Count the Costs of the War on Drugs and explore the alternatives. This is about turning shared responsibility into something more than rhetoric. Putting in place a system of state regulation and control is no panacea.

However, Ireland can share the responsibility for global drug control and support President Santos in raising the debate on legalisation and regulation. Remaining silent on the issue at national and international levels is no longer an option for Ireland or for any other UN member state, for whom the status quo means support for the killing of Mr Santos’s country.

Danny Kushlick is the head of external affairs at the Transform Drug Policy Foundation. For more information, you can visit Transform’s website, blog, subscribe to their Facebook page or follow them on Twitter.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Former president of Brazil calls on NGOs to back the Count the Costs initiative at UK event

This blog originally appeared on the Count the Costs website.

Last Friday 18 November, Transform Drug Policy Foundation, in partnership witha group of major UK drug policy organisations, held a private dinner and discussion for a select group of 30 key NGOs from the development, security, human rights and environment sectors at the Commonwealth Club in London. The high-level event featured presentations by the former president of Brazil and chair of the Global Commission on Drug Policy Henrique Fernando Cardoso (available to view below), the former president of Switzerland Ruth Dreifuss (also of the Global Commission) and Eduardo Medina Mora, Mexican Ambassador to the UK and Mexico's former attorney general.

The event, Time to Count the Costs of the War on Drugs, formed part of our wider Count the Costs initiative and focused on highlighting the devastating impact of the war on drugs on international development and security, human rights, and the environment. Briefings outlining the costs to these first two sectors can be downloaded from the Count the Costs website (development and security herehuman rights here), and the environment briefing will be available in the next few days. 

We were delighted by the high-level representatives who attended our event and the overwhelmingly positive and supportive tone of the evening. While many of the attendees wish at present to remain anonymous, we can confirm that senior representatives from organisations such as Health Poverty ActionAvaazChristian Aidthe Institute for Development Studies and Penal Reform International all came to hear about the costs of the war on drugs to their respective fields.

In addition, following his attendance at the event, Jonathan Glennie of the Overseas Development Institute wrote an excellent piece in The Guardian mentioning Count the Costs and calling on the development community to engage with the drugs debate.

As a result of this event, and the Count the Costs initiative more generally, we're increasingly confident that mainstream, non-drug policy NGOs will become more and more involved in the drugs issue and help advocate for reform. Indeed, Count the Costs is demonstrating to a range of organisations the extent to which their work is being undermined by current drug policy  and why they need to take a stand on it.

To see the current list of organisations that endorse the Count the Costs initiative, see the supporters page. And, if you haven’t already, please sign up to the Count the Costs statement.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Drug Policy for the 21st Century: Film and Debate

On behalf of Transform Drug Policy Foundation Scotland, we're pleased to announce an upcoming event taking place in Glasgow, on 8 December.

'Drug Policy for the 21st Century' will feature the UK premiere of the award-winning Canadian documentary 'Raw Opium: Pain, Pleasure, Profits', as well as a presentation of the recommendations made in June this year by the Global Commission on Drug Policy. This will then feed into an open discussion guided by the following panel:

  • Jolene Crawford, founder of Transform Drug Policy Foundation Scotland
  • David Graham Scott, Glasgow-based filmmaker and public speaker on addiction issues
  • David Liddell, director of the Scottish Drugs Forum
  • Mike McCarron, board member of Transform Drug Policy Foundation Scotland with three decades' experience working on criminal justice, health and social issues
The event is being hosted by TDPF Scotland, in association with the Scottish Drugs Forum, Addiction Debates and the Royal Society of Arts.

Registration for the event costs £20. To book a place, please email, or telephone Mike McCarron on 07833 595 845.

Further details, including a full programme of the afternoon's proceedings, can be found in this PDF.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Sex, Drugs and a Rocky War: A Panel Discussion on Gender and Drugs

This panel discussion will take place on Thursday 17 November at the Centre for Culture, Media and Creative Industries (CMCI), Room 7C, Chesham Building, King's College London, Stand Campus, WC2R 2LS.

Panel presenters and topics will include:
  • Emily Crick - MPhil Candidate at Swansea University - "A Brief History of International Drug Laws and the Absence of Gender"
  • Jane Slater - Operations and Fundraising Manager, Transform Drug Policy Foundation - "Gender: Counting the Costs of the Drug War"
  • Francesca Tronco Garcia - former member of the United Nations Office for the High Commissioner of Human Rights in Mexico - "Obscurity and Impunity: An Overview of the Gendered Effects of the Militarization Under the Mexican War on Drugs"
For more information, please read the flyer below.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Parliamentary Motion calls for Impact Assessment of the Misuse of Drugs Act

The following Early Day Motion has been tabled in the UK parliament

"That this House notes the serious harm caused by drugs; recognises the need for evidence-based policy making with a clear focus on prevention and harm-reduction; and calls on the Government to establish an independent panel tasked with carrying out an impact assessment of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, reviewing the approach adopted by other countries, and making recommendations for reform."

It has so far been supported by

Tom Brake09/11/2011Carshalton & WallingtonLiberal DemocratProposed
Peter Bottomley09/11/2011Worthing WestConservativeSeconded
Bob Ainsworth09/11/2011Coventry North EastLabourSeconded
Caroline Lucas09/11/2011Brighton, PavilionGreenSeconded
Julian Huppert09/11/2011CambridgeLiberal DemocratSeconded
Paul Flynn09/11/2011Newport WestLabourSeconded
John McDonnell09/11/2011Hayes & HarlingtonLabourSigned
Andrew George10/11/2011St IvesLiberal DemocratSigned
Jonathan Edwards10/11/2011Carmarthen East Plaid CymruSigned

You can follow the list of signatories of this EDM here, and find out more about  EDMs here.

Transform urges UK supporters to contact your local MP and encourage them to support this EDM (see comments below - this can really help, not least because there are many EDMs and MPs are not always aware of them all). You can also be clear that it is a call for an evidence based policy - not any given policy position, or party position.

Transform has been campaigning for an Impact Assessment for a number of years (see here for more information). You can find out more about Impact Assessments by reading this briefing produced by Transform and the International Drug Policy Consortium.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Thousands caned, whipped, lashed or flogged each year for drug and alcohol offences, says new report

We are pleased to copy the media release from Harm Reduction International (below) announcing their important new report published today, on the widespread illegal use of judicial corporal punishment for drug offences.

Governments cannot ‘brutalise their way out of a drug problem’, says international group

Thousands of drug users and alcohol consumers – and people found in possession of small amounts of drugs and alcohol – are subjected to judicially-sanctioned caning, flogging, lashing or whipping each year, says a new report.*

In the landmark study, the non-governmental organisation Harm Reduction International** finds that over forty states apply some type of judicial corporal punishment for drug and alcohol offences. The vast majority of these sentences are handed down in countries such as Malaysia, Singapore, Iran and Saudi Arabia. According to the report, such state-sanctioned violence is in clear violation of international law. The report will be launched today in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

The use of caning, flogging, lashing and whipping is in direct violation of international law that prohibits the use of corporal punishment. UN human rights monitors have expressed their concern number of times about the legislation in various countries that allow law enforcement to inflict these types of cruel, inhumane and degrading punishments. Judicial corporal punishment is practiced in countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, Iran, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Libya, Brunei, Darussalam, Maldives, Indonesia (Aceh) and Nigeria (northern states) and many more.

'The use of caning, whipping, lashing and flogging as a sentence for drug or alcohol offences is a clear violation of international human rights law, amounting to cruel inhumane degrading treatment or punishment,‘ said Rick Lines, Executive Director of Harm Reduction International.

'Effective drug policies are those that respect human rights, international standards and scientific evidence of effectiveness,’ said Lines ‘Corporal punishment for drug and alcohol offences fails all three of these tests. It amounts to little more that a government trying to brutalise its way out of a drug problem.'

Said Eka Iakobishvili, Human Rights Analyst for Harm Reduction International and author of the report, ‘There is a need for much more analysis on the impact of practices such as flogging and caning on the lives of the people who are subjected to them. These sentences leave lifelong marks not only people’s physical bodies, but on their psychology as well, that is impossible to cure.’

Inflicting Harm: Judicial corporal punishment for Drug and Alcohol Offences in Selected Countries

To view the full report please click here (PDF, 2 MB)

Further information:

Eka Iakobishvili, Human Rights Analyst and author of the report

Mobile: +44 (0) 79 2561 0407


* ‘Inflicting Harm: Judicial corporal punishment for Drug and Alcohol Offences in Selected Countries’ by Eka Iakobishvili. Published by Harm Reduction International, 2011.

** Harm Reduction International is a leading non-governmental organisation working to promote and expand support for harm reduction worldwide. We work to reduce the negative health, social and human rights impacts of drug use and drug policy – such as the increased vulnerability to HIV and hepatitis infection among people who inject drugs – by promoting evidence-based public health policies and practices, and human rights based approaches to drug policy.