Monday, July 30, 2012

Transform gives evidence to Home Affairs Select Committee

Below we have embedded the Parliament TV coverage of Danny from Transform’s recent appearance as a witness before the Home Affairs Select Committee (HAC) as part of its enquiry into UK drug policy.  He appeared alongside Niamh Eastwood from Release and was followed by Tom Lloyd, former Chief Constable of Cambridgeshire.  Worth a look, especially if you're interested to see how reformers present what is often seen as difficult information in a somewhat hostile environment.

The Committee previously undertook a review of UK drug policy in 2001/2, which recommended the UK Government to initiate a debate at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, on alternatives to prohibition, including legal regulation.  Danny gave evidence back then, when the Chair was Chris Mullin MP.  Keith Vaz MP’s style is very different and his questioning was occasionally frustrating as he sought sound bite answers to sometimes complex questions.

It was great to be working with both Niamh and Tom, who both gave excellent presentations.  The oral presentations also follow on from written evidence submitted previously (see here), whilst Niamh also presented evidence from Release’s excellent new report on decriminalisation, and Danny from the AlternativeWorld Drug Report and Blueprint for Regulation.

Some notable moments included Julian Huppert MP producing a copy of The Sun’s coverage of its recent poll, showing that the majority of the public support trials of Portugese style decriminalisation in UK cities and a wider review of all policy options, including legal regulation.

There was also some oddly misplaced populist posturing from Michael Ellis MP, apparently more interested in using the enquiry to show his opposition to reform, than listening to what the witnesses had to say and considering or interrogating their evidence.

It is clear that we are approaching a tipping point in the reform debate, but we will have to wait and see if the HASC report can contribute significantly to the process. The all too evident divergence of views on the committee suggest that we should be careful to manage expectations of the final report. However, the single most compelling call that Tom, Danny and Niamh all made in this session was for some kind of evidence-based review of all policy options. It would be surprising if this. at least, failed to make it into the final report.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Three major new reports on HIV/AIDS and the war on drugs

This summer has seen three major reports published in the run up to the International Aids Society AIDS 2012 conference (being held in Washington DC this week) that all address the role of repressive drug enforcement policies on the HIV/AIDS epidemic - making clear recommendations that include decriminalisation of drug possession and use.

The first of these was from the Global Commission on Drug Policy; 'The War on Drugs and HIV/AIDS: How the criminalisation of Drug Use Fuels the Global Pandemic' (available here as a pdf) - launched at the end of June at a press conference in London by Commission members Michel Kazatchkine (former Executive director of the Global Fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria) and Ruth Dreifuss (Former President of Switzerland and Minister of Home Affairs).  The report, the second from the Commission, condemns the drug war as a failure and recommends immediate, major reforms of the global drug prohibition regime to halt the spread of HIV infection and other drug war harms. For more details of the launch event, including video of the press conference, see here.

The second is a report from the Global Commission on HIV and the Law; 'Risks, Rights and Health' (pdf download). This Commission was established, at the request of UNAIDS, by the UN Development Program who also published the report.  And, although it does not represent an official UNDP position, its heavyweight commissioners and technical advisory group, combined with its UN provinence, will ensure it commands considerable high level attention amongst member states. The report is more wideranging than the GCDP report, considering how 'evidence and human rights based laws can end an epidemic of bad laws and transform the global AIDS response' across a range of policy arenas. The editorial independence from the official UN hierachy has also allowed a series of recommendations to be made in often highly emotive areas - that are bolder than we are used to hearing from UN agencies. On drug laws specifically the report makes a clear call for legal access to harm reduction, and decriminalisation of possession for personal use (including reviews of the drug conventions). Steve from Transform was invited to sit on the expert advisory group for the high income country dialogue, (one of seven regional events that fed into the report), which he also attended in San Francisco last September. The recommendations in full: 

To ensure an effective, sustainable response to HIV that is consistent with human rights obligations:

Countries must reform their approach towards drug use. Rather than punishing people who use drugs who do no harm to others, they must offer them access to effective HIV and health services, including harm reduction and voluntary, evidence-based treatment for drug dependence. Countries must:

  • Shut down all compulsory drug detention centres for people who use drugs and replace them with evidence based, voluntary services for treating drug dependence.
  • Abolish national registries of drug users, mandatory and compulsory HIV testing and forced treatment for people who use drugs.
  • Repeal punitive conditions such as the United States government’s federal ban on funding of needle and syringe exchange programmes that inhibit access to HIV services for people who use drugs.
  • Decriminalise the possession of drugs for personal use, in recognition that the net impact of such sanctions is often harmful to society.
  • Take decisive action, in partnership with the UN, to review and reform relevant international laws and bodies in line with the principles outlined above, including the UN international drug control conventions: the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (1961); Convention on Psychotropic Substances (1971); the Convention against the Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (1988) and the International Narcotics Control Board.

Finally, Harm Reduction International this week launched their third 'Global State of Harm Reduction' report (available to read on line or download as pdf (14mb) here) at an event during AIDS 2012. HRI describe the report:

"The Global State of Harm Reduction 2012 presents the major developments in harm reduction policy adoption and programme implementation that have occurred since 2010, enabling some assessment of global progress. It also explores several key issues for developing an integrated harm reduction response, such as building effective harm reduction services for women who inject drugs, access to harm reduction services by young people, drug use among men who have sex with men, global progress toward drug decriminalisation and sustainability of services in challenging environments."

Chapter 3.4 is titled 'Drug Decriminalisation Policies in Practice: A Global Summary' and was co-authored by Steve from Transform and Niamh Eastwood from Release (drawing on Release's new publication: 'A Quiet Revolution: Drug Decriminalisation Policies in Practice Across the Globe').

It is worth flagging up the introduction to the report by Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS which contains another clearly explained and unambiguous call for less punitive approaches to drug use specifically including decriminalisation of use.

"Punitive laws and policies, whether via prohibiting the provision of sterile injecting equipment and opioid substitution therapy, criminalising drug use,possession of injecting paraphernalia, or denying HIV treatment to people who use drugs, violate people’s right to health and harm the community. Such punitive policies not only fail to reduce HIV transmission but create unintended harms – for instance, by driving people who inject drugs away from prevention and care and resulting in prison overcrowding. Responses to HIV should transcend ideology and be based on scientific evidence and sound human rights principles; they should support, not punish, those affected.

"UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon stated that “No one should be stigmatised or discriminated against because of their dependence on drugs” and called on UN Member States to ensure that people who use drugs have equal access to health and social services. An important function of UNAIDS is to highlight the adverse human rights and public health impacts of restrictive laws and policies, and “to create protective social and legal environment that enable access to HIV programmes.” Further, in its 2011–2015 Strategy, Getting to Zero, UNAIDS is explicit about reducing by half the number of “countries with punitive laws and practices around HIV transmission, drug use or homosexuality that block effective responses”.

"The need for legal reform aligned with HIV prevention and treatment, complemented by the meaningful involvement of people who use drugs in service and policy formulation and implementation, has never been more imperative than it is now for achieving the goal of universal access.

The important message of all three of these reports is neatly captured by this campaign poster for the DC conference (hence the reference to the Presidential candidates) from the Vienna Declaration (which Transform was also involved with when it was established for the AIDS 2010 conference):


Friday, July 20, 2012

German translation of Transform's 'Blueprint for Regulation' published

Transform is pleased to announce that our groundbreaking 2009 publication 'After the War on Drugs: Blueprint for Regulation' has been translated and republished in German, joining existing translations in Spanish (pdf) and Italian (print). The German version is available for download as a pdf, and in hard copy.

We are extremely greatful to our colleagues at Akzept for publishing this new German edition, in particular Prof Dr Heino Stöver for all his work with the translation and production.  Please alert any German-speaking contacts who may be interested, or contact Transform with suggestions for potential audiences or individuals to send print copies.

Below is the text of the new foreword from Transform:

It is a delight to be writing the foreword to the German translation of “Blueprint”. Little did we know when we launched the book that it would have the international resonance that it has. This is the third translation since the UK launch in 2009, adding to the Spanish and Italian versions. The e‐book version has been downloaded more than 350,000 times, it has received the endorsement by the editor of the British Medical Journal, has been widely referenced in a range of publications and journals, and we have been invited to speak about it in countries across Europe and as far afield as Mexico and Thailand. Over 5000 print copies have been disseminated to policy makers, opinion formers, academics and activists around the world, and other language versions are in the pipeline.

The War on Drugs is a disaster by any objective measure. However, to change an emotive and deeply entrenched 50 year‐old global policy, it will not be enough to demonstrate that the current approach is failing. We must also show the world what the alternative could look like. One of the key aims of the book is to fill a gap in the drug policy reform debate about how post‐prohibition models of regulation could practically function. In the two years since publication it has usefully achieved this goal. And, whilst it never sought to answer all the questions, it has at least provided a much firmer foundation for debate around the feasibility of drug regulation in a post‐prohibition world.

And this is not just a utopian dream ‐ a number of developments have taken place in the last year that will make “Blueprint” a practical political tool. 2011 saw the publication of the report from the Global Commission on Drug Policy. Amongst the distinguished grouping of commissioners are the former General Secretary of the United Nations and six former heads of state. Along with a range of pragmatic recommendations in the report was a clear call to “Encourage experimentation by governments with models of legal regulation of drugs to undermine the power of organized crime and safeguard the health and security of their citizens”. And since the Global Commission report the debate has leapt onto the political agenda, with a number of sitting heads of state in Latin American countries publicly calling for a meaningful debate on alternatives to prohibition, including models of legal drug market regulation. President Santos of Colombia called for a review of global drug policy, asking that “all options be put on the table”. President Obama announced that legalisation look at “where the drug laws are doing more harm than good”. And the President of Guatemala called for legalisation and regulation to undermine the criminal gangs in Central America. In 2012 the Organisation of American States will conduct a review of drug policy in the Americas, and this book could be used to model one of the policy options.

The approach taken in “Blueprint” has been to present the options for regulation in a clear, rational, pragmatic and non confrontational way in order to achieve the goals that everyone can agree upon – the desire for a safer, healthier society. In doing so we have effectively challenged some of the common myths about legalisation and regulation. Our experience has been that the book facilitates engagement even with those who take issue with the detail of the proposed models – from the most ardent “drug warriors” to the most passionate free market libertarians (interestingly it has been the latter that have been most vocally critical). Such disagreement and debate still represents progress as it indicates how we are now debating principles and detail of effective regulation rather than whether or not regulation is needed.

Germany has historically been a world leader in implementing harm reduction in dealing with drug use, a country prepared to put aside ideology and instead operate a pragmatic approach to dealing with the reality of drug use and misuse. Germany could, if it chooses take the next step and put legal regulation firmly on the international agenda and link the debate in Latin America with the one taking place in Europe. At a time when we are all experiencing the worst economic recession of modern times, Germany could use the opportunity to challenge the drug war as a significant waste of dwindling financial resources.

Progress will be slow, it has taken 50 years to get where we are today and the global prohibition will not be unravelled overnight, but the momentum for change now appears unstoppable. Europe is a key regional driver of drug policy and law reform so we are delighted to welcome this new German language translation that can bring Blueprint to an ever more diverse audience, and ultimately to fruition. Lastly we must say a huge thank you to Heino Stöver and the akzept team for their efforts in making this translation happen.

Steve Rolles and the Transform Team. May 2012

Monday, July 09, 2012

Sun poll shows UK public wants to explore alternatives to drug war

Hot on the heels of UK Justice Minister Ken Clarke admitting we are "plainly losing the War on Drugs", comes a poll for The Sun newspaper showing the public agree - 86% of people now think that the UK has a serious drug problem.

When asked what we should do about it, 45% think the sale and possession of cannabis should not be a criminal offence, whilst 15% think the same about "hard drugs".

The poll also shows 46% of the public would support Portuguese-style decriminalisation of the possession (but not sale) of all drugs (with 32% opposing).

This rises to fully 60% of the public supporting limited trials of Portuguese-style decriminalisation of all drugs in some British cities - with just 24% opposing.

Transform has long argued that a key step needed to reassure the public, move forward based on evidence of what works, and provide politicians with cover to change policy, would be for the Government to commission a review comparing the current approach to drugs with alternatives. The Sun polled on this too.

58% of the UK public support a Government review comparing the current approach to drugs with Portuguese-style decriminalisation, and full legalisation, with just 22% opposing it.

In other words, there is a strong appetite for exploring drug law reform, as long as the public is given the reassurance that it will be done in a sensible, piloted, evidence-based way (as Transform is calling for) rather than suddenly and irreversibly - which of course no one wants.

There is also a crucial message here for politicians - the polls show that if they follow this approach they have nothing to fear electorally. There is majority support for both a review and piloted trials of decriminalisation across supporters of all parties, both genders and all socio-economic groups.

That is why tomorrow, when Transform's Danny Kushlick gives evidence to Parliament's Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry into drug policy, he will ask them to recommend that the Government immediately commissions a full review of drug policy, exploring all the alternatives.

After 50 years of the current approach, and many billions spent, just 8% of people think that the UK does not have a serious drug problem. Even Ken Clarke conceded last week that he had no “blinding insight” about what we should do next.

Under these circumstances, a review is surely the most basic requirement for good public policy making. It would also help the significant proportion of the public unsure about how best to proceed to make up their minds too.

Our Government would not even be taking a lead internationally. Latin American leaders initiated such a review through the Organization of American States in April - with the agreement and involvement of the United States.

In short, a comprehensive, independent review of our approach to drugs is something all political parties can and should back - for the sake of everyone.