Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Stop Press - they've only gone and won the war on drugs


'Outgoing U.S. President George W. Bush proudly announced today that the United States has won the war on drugs and all illegal drugs have been eliminated from the country.
"None of our efforts have been in vain", the president declared during a televised news conference. "The war on drugs has ended and we, the American people, have proven victorious!"'

Bush's War on Drugs Ends With Success

Seriously though, as we approach the New Year, it's good to know that one day our work will be over because the war on drugs will have ended...albeit for slightly different reasons than this article and on a slightly different time scale...

For now though, thank you to all those who are supporting our mission and no thanks at all to those who make our work necessary in the first place. A merry festive season to all (why shouldn't drug warriors have a nice Christmas?) and a wonderful year for our supporters.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Send out the right message to young people - I'll drink and smoke to that!

As reported in The Sunday Times last Sunday ‘Drinks industry says no to link with drugs plan’

“An Irish government plan to include alcohol in its national drugs strategy is being opposed by the drinks industry.”
Rosemary Garth, director of the Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland (ABF), said: “It is the abuse of alcohol that causes difficulties but it is the [mere] use of drugs that is a problem. They are different issues.”
Well now, there's a surprise from the ABF - turns out alcohol isn't a drug at all...

Transform has been calling for all drugs to be included in the drug strategy for many years now, together with a truly cross departmental approach.

As reported in The Times (30 Nov), ‘Planned curbs on smoking to be axed’

“Ministers have decided they cannot justify some of the more draconian measures to reduce cigarette and alcohol sales during the economic downturn. A proposed ban on shops displaying tobacco, and steps to force tobacco manufacturers to remove logos from cigarette packs are expected to be abandoned, along with proposals to stop supermarkets discounting alcohol. The U-turn follows pressure from backbenchers and trade groups, who argued that there was little evidence to show the steps would have health benefits.”

And: ”It is understood, however, that ministers have reluctantly conceded there is not enough evidence to support the tobacco proposals and have concluded it would “not be in the nation’s best interests” to press ahead. Some in the cabinet feared the crackdown, which included packaging cigarettes in plain “vanilla” boxes with no branding, would jar with the key message about shoring up the economy. Senior Labour sources say the legislative programme is designed to appeal to “white van man”; that is, working-class swing voters who are more likely to smoke and drink.”
Well now, there's a surprise from the Government - they're more committed to populist posturing for political advantage, than protecting their voters' health...

..although, to give them some credit, some of the "less draconian" measures did go through

And from the Mail (25 Nov): 'Rate alcohol and tobacco like illegal drugs, says top scientist'

"The harm done by tobacco and alcohol should be rated on the same system as illegal drugs, a leading scientist said today. Professor Sir Gabriel Horn who chaired a special committee on drug use, warned that dependency on drink and cigarettes was spiralling out of control and urgent measures were needed to curb their misuse. Professor Horn told the Government's drug advisors in London that many people believe alcohol is more harmful than heroin or cocaine.
He told the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs: 'It's been recognised that [alcohol] is the most harmful recreational drug you could use. The risks are very similar to illegal substances."

The Mail article appeared the same day that the Lords made their final valiant attempt to delay the reclassification of cannabis back to Class B.

Doesn't it restore your faith in in our glorious leaders reliance on science and joined up governing? Give me strength...oh, and a "happy hour" bottle of alcopop...

Monday, December 15, 2008

White power, anti-semitism, anti-prohibitionism and Peter Hitchens

It's an old thread (April 2007), but you don't get to watch the White Power guys at Stormfront.org perform in the drug policy arena too often. Thankfully too, I don't come across many forums where I see the phrase "Danny Kushlick = Jew".

You can see the full thread here Some excerpts follow.

On the war on drugs:

"If the 'war on drugs' requires Britain to have the world's highest per capital execution rate then I am not squemish about that prospect."

Peter Hitchen's wisdom on crime:

"I have mentioned this book several times - A Brief History Of Crime by Peter Hitchens demolishes every single argument spouted by the legalise drugs rabble I urge everyone to read this book."


"I tend to favour legalizing all drugs. I don't take any narcotics myself but if people want to do so then let them. Prohibition didn't work for alcohol in the 1920's and prohibition on drugs isn't working now. All it does in ensure the huge profits from drugs go into funding criminal gangs and the very people our troops are fighting in Afghanistan.

It is crazy for us to allow the profits from heroin to go to fund the Taliban in Afghanistan who were are fighting. By allowing British farmers to grow poppies we would striking a huge economic blow against the Islamists.

Currently drug dealers have a huge economic incentive to peddle drugs to kids so as to set up the drug consumers of the future. If people could simply go to a government run supplier then there would be no alternate economy for drugs. Plus there would be no problems with cutting and impurity.

An incredible amount of crime these days is fueled by drugs. It would be far cheaper for insurers to pay for these drugs than to shell out for all the break ins which currently go towards financing drugs.

Either that or we fight the war on drugs to win. Shoot every single person found with any kind of illegal drug on them as we would any collaborator in a war."

The value of draconian deterrence:

"Put it this way, if you told me I could be shot if caught drinking, I still wouldn't think twice about having another beer."

Crop eradication:

"Several years ago scientists developed a genetically modified virus which could wipe out heroin poppies. The virus could be spread by aeroplane - as the Americans used 'Agent Orange' in Vietnam or surruptitiously introduced by special forces troops.

Instead of just getting on with the operation the government consulted environmentalist groups who - incredibly objected to the plan !.

So thanks to a handful of green cranks thousands of people, addicts and their victims have to suffer."

My Jewishness:

"'Danny Kushlick, director of the pro-legalisation Transform Drugs Policy Foundation, said the new study backed his view that attempts to discourage drug use were pointless. 'We know from evidence that misuse of drugs is related significantly to social ill-being and social deprivation. You cannot deal with that stuff with education and prevention or through teaching younger and younger children. You deal with it by redistributing wealth and improving wellbeing.'

What a load of tosh.

Danny Kushlick = Jew - merely using this issue to argue for transferring Whites' hard-earned money to useless Blacks."

And finally the recognition that Aryanism is not a panacea and that it might need a little liberalism too:

"Are you happy for Aryan people to harm themselves with Alcohol and tobacco? Fast cars? Risky sports? Sounds like the road to a nanny state (though well intentioned).

I certainly think Kushlick has half a handle on the issue. Some people do turn to drugs as a way out of dealing with certain life issues or circumstances. A generally healthier society would lessen this.

Take blacks out of the equation - drugs will be there when they're gone. An all white Britain will still have to deal with the issue."

The problem is that it's a very slippery slope and no one should be taken out of the equation by a discriminatory and unjust law on drugs. And we look forward to our political leaders saying as much in public...

Sunday, December 07, 2008

The mystery of the missing Impact Assessment

On Tuesday of last week I got a call from The Times asking me to comment on a story showing that the Home Office anticipate that cannabis reclassification (back to B) would have significant negative consequences including hundreds of extra incarecerations, a disproportional impact on the black population, and tens of millions in extra CJS expenditure - some diverted from heroin and crack provision in the drug strategy. All this and more appears in an impact assessment they undertook; for the detail see Derek Williams's comprehensive post on the UKCIA blog.

What struck me was that, whatever the source of the information, it ought to have been in the public domain, at the very least informing the debate in the House of Lords specifically on cannabis classification the week before.

The story didn't run in The Times, but a few days later I got my email alert reminding me of Parliamentary Questions (PQs) to Alan Campbell MP, Home Office drugs minister. It turned out that Paul Flynn MP had received a reply to his PQ asking "what assessment the Home Secretary has made of the effects of the reclassifying of cannabis on the number of people receiving a custodial sentence for offences relating to the drug each year". He had been given a holding answer on 20 October, the whereabouts of the Impact Assessment not given to him until 26 November, (the day after the Lords Debate).

Yet the Impact Assessment had actually gone online on 13 October, when the draft Order to reclassify cannabis to a Class B drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 was laid. However, no one in the drug policy field nor those at the forefront of the debate in Parliament, knew that it was publicly available - the Home Office had made no attempt to alert interested parties to its existence.

Now, the question is, whether this is SNAFU or deliberate hiding of evidence? Either way, it's a coincidence and a little odd.

I wonder how pleased the Lords will be to find out that this key document existed, (highlighting the anticipated and significant negative consequences of the move), but that they needed PQ's and bloggers to make them aware of it, all some time after the crucial debate on the issues it concerns itself with.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Afghan Opium and the Emperor’s New Clothes

Last week the UNODC launched its latest report on opium production in Afghanistan. Steve Rolles and I attended the presentation of the report at Chatham House by Antonio Maria Costa Executive Director UNODC and Bill Rammell, Minister of State Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Their headline was the 20% reduction in opium cultivation which they welcomed (albeit cautiously) as evidence of new found success of their respective interventions in the region. Opium production, by the way is only down 6% (as yields per acre cultivated have risen).

The statistical annex on world drug prices and purity from the World Drug Report 2008, shows precisely how badly they are really doing - even by their own standards. It is now eight years after the Allied troops overthrew the Taleban and effectively took control of the country with one of the key aims being the eradication of the opium crop, and things really aren't going well given the billions thrown at the sprawling military-led anti-opium enterprise since 2001.

As they each informed the audience of the positive story coming out of Afghanistan, I was reminded of the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes. Explaining how opium production had declined in the north of the country, I began to feel like the boy in the fairytale who, not having any investment in admiring the Emperor’s new clothes, points out to the assembled crowd that he is in fact naked. The 'we're turning the corner' fantasy they present ignores the brutal realities of supply and demand economics: not only are they palpably not winning the war on opium in Afghanistan, but crop eradication, interdiction, and enforcement more generally are actually the prime cause of much of Afghanistan’s ‘drug problem’.

Prohibition is what makes an intrinsically low value commodity like opium more profitable than any other agricultural option for Afghanistan's mostly impoverished farmers. It is economic alchemy, whereby plants are transmuted into commodities worth literally more than their weight in gold. Even if supply side interdiction was more effective (and you try and eradicate 1500+ square kilometers of poppy fields scattered over an area the size of Western Europe, every year, forever) the effect would be be to push up the price, that in turn inevitably incentivises new entrants to the market, and new cultivation. It is an economist's dream; the completely unregulated interplay of supply and demand, and whilst the demand driven economic imperative exists (and there's no sign of significant change on that front) the best that can be achieved is temporary, marginal and localised supply side 'success'. The problem may move around a bit - but it doesn't go away.

An image of opium and wheat cultivation from the UNODC report

It is the war on drugs that makes Afghanistan’s more fundamental problems intractable; a point made very clearly by none other than Lord Adair Turner, head of the Financial Services Authority.

As you would expect, anyone who asked a challenging question, received a response, not a reply, with the ‘successes’ merely repeated. When I suggested to Rammell that a responsible government would expose the costs of the policy to a more thoroughgoing analysis (along the lines of the PM’s Strategy Unit Report 2003), he informed me that he did not agree with the critique (failing to say why) and, in time honoured sound bite fashion, that legalisation was a “counsel of despair”. When I interjected that I had not suggested legalisation and that I had merely called for them to include a scrutiny of the costs, he used the 101 Media Training line: “if you’ll let me finish…” with that studied pained look that media trainers the world over have taught to politicians to enable them to persist in not answering difficult questions. Steve similarly asked a question along the lines of the economic analysis above. Aren't supply interventions futile in the current context, especially given the long history of interdiction failure in the region and elsewhere? Again the answer was more of the same; repeating cherry picked successes, process achievements (that evidently have no bearing on 'outcomes'), and more 'turning the corner' type rhetoric. To quote Paul Flynn MP, we have now turned the corner so many times we have gone around the block several times - but not actually got anywhere.

Other stand out analysis from the presentation included:

  • The fact that the report showed that production in the longstanding poppy growing area of Helmand, had actually increased slightly and that Afghan production still significantly exceeds demand.
  • Costa admitted that insurgents (The Taleban) were stockpiling opium. His reasoning was that it must be insurgents, (because traffickers would not stockpile opium when the price was dropping). Why insurgents would wait until the price rose but traffickers would not, was not made clear…
At this point the economic analyst (something Costa has some claim to being, given his background) might look at the over-production of the last few years (global demand is only around 4000 tonnes Costa informed us, and we have no reason to doubt this estimate) and how it coincides with falling prices and conclude that stockpiling was a rational economic response for almost anyone in the Afghan supply chain. It is not only an insurance policy against poor harvests or any eradication and interdiction efforts they might fall foul of, but also, crucially, by restricting supply stockpiling will help boost the price again. Look at the graph below. This is exactly what happened in 2001. The Telaban banning production had nothing to do with religion. It was, in retrospect, a rather effective ploy to boost prices; they rose tenfold, and stockpiles from the bumper harvests of the two previous years meant that supply to the West was largely uninterrupted.

Again, this is raw economics writ large. Interdiction can only make the problem worse; even when it succeeds, it fails. Opium prices are still well above pre-2001 levels and the new report notably also estimated that the Taleban are now making $500 million a year from the trade.

  • Part of the plan detailed at the presentation was to stop opium getting out of Afghanistan in order to keep prices low and thus dissuade production. As well as being similarly in denial of economic realities, this plan appears to ignore the fact that controls are all-but non existent on the lengthy border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, some of the worlds remotest and poorly policed territories. This is just next season's emperor's new clothes range.
  • One final point made is worth flagging up. The switch in demand patterns from heroin to cocaine might be good for Afghanistan. Not only an extraordinary take on the balloon effect but also begging the question of how well this scenario works for Colombia.

The next time Rammell and Costa turn up for a double act to spin the latest 'successes' I expect more of the audience to point out the messengers' nakedness.

See also:

Thursday, December 04, 2008

FRANK confuses cocaine harms with prohibition harms

As reported by Alan Travis in the Guardian:

"A £1m TV and online anti-cocaine advertising campaign featuring "Pablo the drug mule dog" is to be launched by the government today.

The campaign advertisements, voiced by comedian David Mitchell, are targeted at 15- to 18-year-olds to make them more aware of the risks and harms of cocaine use.

Pablo, a dead dog, wakes up to find he's been used as a drug mule to smuggle cocaine into the country. In an attempt to find out what led to his demise Pablo interviews key players from the world of the drug - the dealer, the user, a bag of cocaine, a heart, a nostril and a bank note.

They highlight the addiction, heart attacks, personality changes, fear and violence involved in the process."

As you can see in the 'Meet Pablo' video, the Government once again conflate the harms caused by prohibition with the potential harms of cocaine use. Bear in mind that it is prohibition that puts a huge premium on the price of heroin and cocaine (through the economic alchemy of prohibition, plants are transmuted into products worth literally more than their weight in gold) and encourages the most concentrated forms to be transported by violent criminal profiteers from producer countries to pleasure seekers in the industrialised West.

Even if we accept the primary aim of the FRANK campaign is to alert people to the potential health risks of cocaine use by talking about the drug's 'dark side', the 'Meet Pablo' ad that showcases the campaign ( featuring the dead dog/drug mule, dealers with guns, and adulterated drugs) is mostly about the dark side of the drug war. Some of the other ads in the series do focus on the health risks (although the 'bad baggie' and 'pablos story' ads just don't make any sense) but are still framed in the narrative context of a illegal drugs smuggled in a dog/mule named after the world's most notorious cocaine gangster; again, all about the drug war, not the drug itself. It's important remember the drug war is the policy choice of the Government, not the cocaine user.

In parallel with illicit cocaine production there is a not-so -dark-side; completely legal, licensed and regulated coca production for medical cocaine (as well as use in coca tea, traditional leaf chewing, and flavouring of cola drinks) which notably is not transported inside dogs, by children, or by impoverished women becoming drug mules, nor is it associated with 'gang violence and gun crime' - all flagged up on the FRANK website. We do have a choice, but the Government will not discuss it and campaigns such as this confuse the public health issues with political choices. You want to be supportive of efforts like FRANK, but they don't make it easy.

See also:

The budgetary implications of drug prohibition

A report out this week by Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron looks at the budgetary implications of Drug Prohibition. It's funded by Criminal Justice Policy Foundation who co-authored the 'We Can Do It Again' report with LEAP - blogged here.

Miron's report concludes that ending drug prohibition would boost America's economy by $76.8 billion a year.

Executive Summary

  • Government prohibition of drugs is the subject of ongoing debate.

  • One issue in this debate is the effect of prohibition on government budgets. Prohibition entails direct enforcement costs and prevents taxation of drug production and sale.

  • This report examines the budgetary implications of legalizing drugs.

  • The report estimates that legalizing drugs would save roughly $44.1 billion per year in government expenditure on enforcement of prohibition. $30.3 billion of this savings would accrue to state and local governments, while $13.8 billion would accrue to the federal government. Approximately $12.9 billion of the savings would results from legalization of marijuana, $19.3 billion from legalization of cocaine and heroin, and $11.6 from legalization of other drugs.

  • The report also estimates that drug legalization would yield tax revenue of $32.7 billion annually, assuming legal drugs are taxed at rates comparable to those on alcohol and tobacco. Approximately $6.7 of this revenue would result from legalization of marijuana, $22.5 billion from legalization of cocaine and heroin, and $3.5 from legalization of other drugs.

  • Whether drug legalization is a desirable policy depends on many factors other than the budgetary impacts discussed here. Rational debate about drug policy should nevertheless consider these budgetary effects.

  • The estimates provided here are not definitive estimates of the budgetary implications of a legalized regime for currently illegal drugs. The analysis employs assumptions that plausibly err on the conservative side, but substantial uncertainty remains about the magnitude of the budgetary impacts.

We can do it again - celebrating the end of alcohol prohibition

This week marks the 75th anniversary of the end of alcohol prohibition in the United States. Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) - a group made up of current and former members of the law enforcement and criminal justice communities - is using this anniversary as a call to action for those who want an end to drug prohibition. In a report published this week they argue that lessons need to be learned from the failure of alcohol prohibition.

Click to read pdf

'But by learning a lesson from American history and ending today’s expensive and counterproductive prohibition of drugs like we ended the earlier prohibition of alcohol, we can cut wasteful spending and generate new revenues, all while making America’s streets safer. A legal and regulated drug trade will lead to far fewer people being arrested and incarcerated at taxpayer expense and will generate essential new revenues, some of which can be earmarked to finance improved drug treatment and recovery.'

They also highlight the failures of the current drugs laws and the parallels with alcohol prohibition,

'After spending a trillion tax dollars and making 39 million arrests for nonviolent drug offenses, drugs are now generally cheaper, more potent and easier for our children to access than they were 40 years ago at the beginning of the “drug war.”

'Today’s prohibition of the many so-called “controlled substances” is similar to, but is in many respects significantly more complex than, alcohol prohibition. The wide variety of prohibited substances; their global cultivation, production and trade; the global ease of capital movement and the connection between the illegal drug trade and political insurgencies are all modern features of prohibition that our great grandparents did not have to face. Nonetheless, in so many of its essential features drug prohibition has echoed alcohol prohibition’s impact on the economy, crime, public safety and public health. Alcohol prohibition involved ethnic, religious and regional prejudices, and those ugly features are dramatically worse under the racial stereotyping and disparities of today’s drug enforcement.'

In particular they emphasise a number of key areas where drug prohibition, like alcohol prohibition before it, has had a negative effect on society:

1) More people use drugs today than at the beginning of the 'war on drugs'
2) Drugs are more concentrated and potent
3) The murder rate has skyrocketed
4) Organized crime as well as terrorist groups have profitted greatly from prohibition
5) People who are addicted to drugs are forced to commit crime in order to fund their habits
6) Public health has suffered
7) Drug money corrupts officials of the state
8) Governments spend huge amounts of their budgets on locking people up

Recent polls in the US indicate that 67% of police chiefs and 76% of the public believe that the prohibition of drugs has failed.

As a first step to ending this disastrous policy, LEAP support what Transform, RAND Corp and the EMCDDA have been calling for - a cost-benefit analysis of the current drugs laws.

'At a moment that is as economically threatening to millions of Americans as the Great Depression, we would do well to learn the lessons that history so clearly and compellingly provides and repeal prohibition, eliminating its numerous unintended consequences.'

Another report out this week funded by the same organisation and written by Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron concludes that ending drug prohibition would boost America's economy by $76.8 billion a year. We've blogged it here.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Keeping the Promise: Human Rights and AIDS

Below are two comments from high ranking UN figures, made on UN world AIDS day. The general tenet of the comments is positive and welcome, particularly the evident change in tone from the UNODC compared to some previous comments. That said, it is hoped that this discourse will develop in the coming years to acknowledge and discuss the role of the punitive prohibitions (enshrined in the UN drug conventions) in undermining human rights, and in creating or exacerbating many drug related harms, not least the context for the spread of HIV/AIDS though illicit drug injecting.

Statement by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay

on the occasion of World AIDS Day

1 December 2008.

This year, we mark both the 20th World AIDS Day and the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is fitting that during these landmark anniversaries we consider how far we have come in the global effort to combat AIDS.

In 2006, UN Member States made a commitment to achieve universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support by 2010. Today, fewer people are becoming infected with HIV, and fewer are dying of AIDS-related illnesses. At the end of 2007, three million people in low- and middle- income countries were taking anti-retroviral treatment. But much remains to be done.

Twenty-seven years after AIDS was first identified, stigma against people living with HIV is as strong as it ever was. One third of countries still do not have laws to protect people living with HIV. In most countries, discrimination remains against women, men who have sex with men, sex workers, drug users, and ethnic minorities.

The continued existence of punitive laws on disclosure of HIV status, the criminalization of the transmission of HIV and travel bans for people living with HIV, inadequate protection of women and girls from sexual violence, the marginalization of and hostility against sexual minorities, sex workers, injecting drug users, prisoners and other vulnerable groups all combine to drive them underground and away from HIV services. Like all people, these groups are entitled to the right to health and the full enjoyment of their human rights even though they may engage in activities that are criminalized in some countries.

AIDS thrives on injustice and inequality. A human rights-based response is critical to preventing new HIV infections and mitigating the epidemic's impact – whoever people are, and wherever they live.

In this 60th anniversary year of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, it is unacceptable that accident of birthplace or residence should determine our HIV survival prospects.

On World AIDS Day 2008, let the promise of human dignity enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provide the vision and impetus for reinvigorated efforts to achieve universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support.

Statement from UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa
on World AIDS Day

"Let us invest in our young people"

Today, we mark the 20th anniversary of the World AIDS Day. Long ago, we pledged to "keep the promise" but we have not. AIDS is still with us. Among the estimated 16 million people injecting drugs worldwide, one in five will likely contract HIV.

Is "AIDS fatigue" setting in as other global problems compete for attention? United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has declared that the challenge is to sustain leadership in this fight. Without strong and committed leadership, we will fail.

It is scandalous that less than 10% of injecting drug users have access to evidence-based HIV prevention and care services. It is time to bring health back to the mainstream of drug policy. The goals are within reach. New analyses could better guide national HIV prevention programmes and treatment programmes are expanding.

As we prepare to mark the 60th anniversary year of Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we should remember that the human rights of vulnerable groups, including drug users and prisoners, are violated everyday. Instead of showing compassion we stigmatize drug users and cast them out as pariahs. No wonder many shun life-saving HIV prevention, treatment and care.

Drug-related HIV particularly afflicts young people, cutting down tomorrow's leaders in their prime. Young people aged between 15 and 24 account for an estimated 45 per cent of new HIV infections. .

Sharing contaminated needles is almost a sure-fire route way to HIV infection. Yet many young people still lack accurate information about how to avoid exposure to the virus.

Let us empower the youth with information. We must start showing leadership now.

Stopping the spread of AIDS is not only a Millennium Development Goal; it is an investment in the next generation.

That is why UNODC's campaign tells young people "Think before you start. Before you shoot. Before you share".

See also:

Monday, December 01, 2008

Obama: Fix U.S. Drug Policy

As he prepares his new administration, Obama has the opportunity to appoint a "Drug Czar" who will shift drug policy toward a public health model and away from a criminal justice model. The US based campaigning and advocacy group Students for Sensible Drug Policy have set up a petition on the social networking site Facebook to let the new president know that a change in drug policy is needed.

In the unlikely event you are unaware of Facebook, it's basically a huge online social network (like its forerunner MySpace, but aimed at non-teenagers) now with over 100 million members. You can sign up in minutes and put as much or as little personal information on your page as you choose (as well as setting privacy and access controls). There's all manner of political and social policy activity in the Facebook network that's worth having a nose around, with endless possibilities to publicise causes, reach new audiences, debate and fund raise (as Obama's presidential Facebook campaign demonstrated).

Where Obama is going to take US drug policy remains unknown - to my knowledge it did not feature even once in the McCain election battle. But we can be sure that Obama wont be as hawkish as his predecessor, and he has certainly been making some positive noises in the few public comments he has made (this Rolling Stone Interview for example, or his previous commitment to cannabis decriminalisation here) that suggests at the very least the US War on Drugs may have now passed its high tide mark. That said, two of his key appointments, Rahm Emanuel and Joe Biden, are old school drug warriors and they will be influential even if it will be Obama calling the shots. This all makes the Drug Tsar appointment all the more key, even if only as an indication of how Obama plans to play his cards. There are plenty of whispers, rumours and gossip about the appointment - but it is unlikely to happen until Spring and is clearly not in the bag yet.

US drug policy is, of course, enormously influential globally; directly on our Government, through the UN drug agencies and via their various certification processes and other forms of geo-political pressure. Like the November 4th election - the upcoming decisions will have impacts for us all. I don't necessarily think drug policy petitions have much impact but, if nothing else, they show common cause for the activists and demonstrate that people and its all, you know, water building behind the dam. The petition open to all to sign, has 4000 signatures and is gaining 1000 a day, aiming for 10,000 with 55 days to run. Seems eminently achievable.

The SSDP petition is all, unsurprisingly, sensible stuff. It focuses on some of the most egregious drug war injustices of the previous administration and calls for a general shift in approach (all points that Obama has already flagged up in the Rolling Stone interview), avoiding the 'third rail' issues like the legalisation/regulation debate. The text is as follows:

When you called the War on Drugs an "utter failure" in 2004, you were right. A 2008 Zogby poll found that 3 out of 4 of Americans agree with you.

When appointing the head of your Office of National Drug Control Policy, please select someone with health, science, or education credentials rather than a military general, law enforcement official, or "tough on drugs" politician. The next "Drug Czar" should base policy on proven methodology rather than counterproductive Ideology. At a minimum, he or she should support these measures:

*Ending the racially unjust disparity in sentencing for crack and powder cocaine.

*Ending the practice of prosecuting patients in states with medical marijuana laws.

*Eliminating the federal law that denies financial aid to students with drug convictions.

We all know that the War on Drugs is failing because handcuffs don't cure addictions -- doctors do. You have the opportunity to bring us the change we need. Will you?


The Undersigned......

Further information:

SSDP facebook petition (you may need to install the causes application first)

Stop the Drug War Blog: unrivaled coverage and discussion on Obama's new administration and related drug policy issues

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Lords jump on the canna-panic bandwagon

Some cannabis, yesterday.

The government have scored another victory in its battle with the evil weed. Jacqui Smiths decision to reclassify cannabis from class C to B -despite the explicit advice of its own experts, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs to keep it at C - was supported in the Lord's yesterday, the final potential hurdle before the reclassification takes effect in January.

In a last-ditch attempt to postpone the change, Molly Meacher called a debate in the Lords arguing that not only is the move ill-advised, as use has in fact fallen since the drug was downgraded in 2004 and therefore ironically the shift could lead to increased use, but also this change in the law will lead to more young people being criminalised unnecessarily.

Meacher’s arguments are supported by a group of scientists in a widely reported letter to the Guardian. They urged Peers to maintain the trend of evidence-based policy-making by supporting Meacher's amendment. She argues that cannabis should remain class C and that the evidence should be further reviewed by the ACMD in two years time.

Some highlights from the House of Lords Debate include:

Lord Ramsbotham: “One reason why I am strongly behind my noble friend Lady Meacher on this issue is that I hate the thought of large numbers of our young people being wrongly criminalised for being in possession of cannabis, with all that a police record means for their future.”

The Earl of Onslow: ‘Some 10 years ago I was invited on to the programme ‘Have I Got News For You.’ Not long before I had said in public that I was pro the legalisation of drugs. The man chairing the programme, Mr Deayton, who I think later had to resign when he was caught using cocaine, said in a perky way, “Of course, Lord Onslow, you are pro drugs, aren’t you? I answered by saying, “I am going to respond to the question seriously because the issue is too important for flippancy. Drugs are by far the greatest social problem in the country and they result in the greatest amount of crime.” The policy we have in place at the moment obviously does not work… If we go on with our present drug policies, the prisons will be full and we will produce markets for the ungodly to get rich, and thus continue to cause serious social damage. Incidentally, the whole audience clapped loudly and clearly at my answer. To think that the public take the view of the Prime Minister is not very well informed.”

In the end, the House of Lords voted by a majority of 52 against the amendment, which, whilst a disappointment for fans of evidence based policy (at least in the context of a hopelessly malfunctioning classification system ) does at least mean that the endlessly tedious cannabis classification debate wont drag on for another two years and we can get back to talking about more important things, not least the wider failings of the UK's drug enforcement strategy.

Hopefully for (almost) the last time, Jacqui Smith responded with her now familiar line on the subject:
“This is the next step towards toughening our enforcement response - to ensure that repeat offenders know that we are serious about tackling the danger that the drug poses to individuals and in turn communities. We need to act now to protect future generations.”
In stark contrast to the rather depressing tale of political posturing taking place in the UK, the Dutch continue to lead the way in rational thinking towards drugs. This week an article in The Independent reported that the Dutch are planning to set up a cannabis plantation to supply cannabis to coffee shops throughout The Netherlands. This is an attempt to solve the ’back door’ problem (it is legal to buy up to 5g of cannabis, but the cultivation and supply of cannabis to the coffee shop remains illegal), which has resulted in an illicit industry worth around 2billion Euros.
Rob de Gijzel the Mayor of Eindhoven commented: “It's time that we experimented with a system of regulated plantations so we can have strict guidelines and controls on the quality and price… Authorities must get a grip on the supply of drugs to coffee shops”
How this will work in practice regards international law remains to be seen, and the plantation plan will now go to the Dutch cabinet, and undoubtedly faces bureaucratic and political hurdles. Illustrating some of these tensions, elsewhere in the Netherlands the Amsterdam city council announced last weekend that 43 of 228 coffee shops must close by the end of 2011 because they are within 250m of a school. This tightening of the coffee shop system does not, however, threaten the general approach of tolerance and regulation of cannabis supply, which maintains a broad consensus of support from local and national politicians as well as the public, despite vocal dissent from some.

Switzerland is preparing to take a step further with a national referendum next week to move to a system of legally regulated production and supply of cannabis.

It all seems some way away from the UK where we are still obsessing over whether the sentence for cannabis users for should be 2 or 5 years.

for more on cannabis and classification see previous post

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Transform blog: BEST OF

After a little over two years, four hundred and fifty three blog posts and over 225,000 page views (10,000 unique visitors a month and a regular spot in the Wikio top 100 UK political blogs really isn't bad for a non-commercial super-niche policy blog like this one) we thought it was time to assemble a Transform blog best-of list. And here it is.

There is obviously an enormous amount more material that has not been included; much of it press releases, published articles and straight news reporting - so it's definitely worth going for a browse through the archive menu down there on the right.

I've gamely tried to divide the list up into various categories but there is inevitably a lot of cross over so don't pay them too much attention. If the bad science, bad politics and bad journalism headings all seem a bit negative, that's partly because the good news blogs tend to be 'this is good *point*' and as such just aren't as interesting, and partly because at this stage of the campaign, there's sadly still a lot more bad stuff to critique than there is good stuff to celebrate. There's other categories: cannabis gets its own one, as does alcohol and tobacco, international news, a small one for scoops, and finally a miscellaneous category for all the best-of blogs that didn't easily slot in elsewhere.

A big thanks to our bloggers, readers, and all those who have posted comments (even the trolls).


In many ways a distraction from more pressing drug policy issues but, particularly with the whole sorry reclassification saga unfolding over the last few years, it has obsessed the media and correspondingly provided a rich vein of bad reporting, bad science and political idiocy that is hard for a critical drug policy blog to ignore. The Daily Mail and Independent on Sunday in particular have distinguished themselves, but they have been far from alone.

Daily Mail, Bad Science Drugs Deaths and Reclassification
Aug 06. The first blog to really critique bad science and misreporting of drug statistics. On this occasion linking cannabis reclassification with a rise in opiate deaths (that took place before cannabis was reclassified - Doh!). More Daily Mail silliness here and here.

How the Independent on Sunday got it horribly wrong on Cannabis
March 07. A masterpiece in poor journalism is forensically taken to pieces. The biggest hit count of any blog post to date. Follow ups part 1, part 2

More shoddy reefer madness reporting of cannabis risks
July 07. The Lancet fails to discourage poor reporting of statistics.

Brown on cannabis - it gets worse
Sept 07. The cannabis reclassification saga comes to a head, the new PM makes a fool of himself, and any vague pretense of evidence based policy making goes out the window once and for all

More Independent on Sunday reefer madness exposed
Oct 07. A case of grotesquely misrepresented research and shock headline-mongering. The authors of the research question thanked us for this one, the IOS have failed to apologize or print a correction (also belongs under bad science)

Smoking stuff bad for lungs shock
Jan 08. Another one of those reheated drugs bad for you-shock stories.

Millions quit cannabis following reclassification
May 08. Satire – pulled in tonnes of hits after 'going viral' on social networking sites


There's been lots going on around the world - from crazy drug war excesses to inspiring reform news, with the US often at the center of the vortex. But increasingly it is the UN drug control agency’s struggle to come to terms with half a century of failure and a legal infrastructure no longer even remotely relevant to the challenges of the modern world in particular that has made for a particular brand of hard to ignore bureaucratic drama.

UNODC ramps up the weird drug warrior rhetoric
Nov 07. The UNODC director talks about ‘evil’, ‘junkies’ and ‘Britney Spears’. And says ‘fuck’.

What Darwin Teaches Us About the Drug War
Dec 07. Brilliant analysis from guest blogger Sanho Tree, on how enforcement acts as natural selection in the illicit drug trade, making the criminals ever more sophisticated and violent.

UNODC Director declares international drug control system is not ‘fit for purpose’
Mar 08. Not a scoop exactly – but you heard it first here.

When all else fails: blame Amy Winehouse
Mar 08. Various big hitters from the Prime minister to Antonio Costa lining up to blame celebrities for the failure global drug policy. Buck passing on a grand scale. See also INCB prioritise celebrity tat over human rights abuses and mass murder

Traditional coca use: caught in the cross fire
April 08. Some of the forgotten victims of the drug war

US Congress celebrates 75 years of drug legalisation and regulation
Sept 08. All a bit hypocritical really

Drug Free America Foundation clash with Law Enforcement Against Prohibition
Oct 08. A clear points victory for LEAP


There's plenty out there with old-school prohibition clearly requiring a monumental propaganda effort of it to keep itself propped up in the face of overwhelming failure, and sustained critique. A number of these blogs ended up featuring, occasionally starring in the Guardian’s regular bad science column (as did some of the cannabis stuff above).

At last! polonium 210 in cigarettes hits the news
Dec 06 We’ve been going on about the scandal of radioactive cigarettes and lung cancer for ages – but still no-one seems interested. You try.

Lies, Damned Lies, Statistics, and 'Prohibition Works!'
Mar 07. Commentary on statistical tricks used by drug war propagandists

Nitrous - No laughing matter
Mar 07. The normally sensible MHRA get in a spin over laughing gas.

Child drug vaccines: the worst idea ever
Feb 07. Mercifully they have yet to materialise

How to spin drug prevalence data: a beginners guide
April 07. This one is linked from several degree courses around the world. Nice.

Is this the most pointless drug research ever?
Jun 07. Cocaine detected in the air, in Rome. Why?


Watching the Government attempt to argue its way past sustained parliamentary critique of the classification system has been a bizarre and depressing spectacle - warranting its own bad science sub-category. It's an issue that shows no sign of let up with the upcoming miserable show down over ecstasy.

Classification and Deterrence - where's the evidence?
Oct 06. A detailed deconstruction of the Governement’s preposterous response to the Sci-Tech select committees suggestion that the deterrent effect of classification is un-evidenced.

Meth is Class A - we can relax now.
Jan 07. The ridiculousness of the classification system laid bare

The Lancet and drug harms: missing the bigger picture
Mar 07. Nutt et al spell out their methodology for assessing drug harms – a step forward, but key conceptual errors mean they have missed the point: drug use harms and drug prohibition harms are not the same.

Ecstasy reclassification meltdown; it begins again
May 08. As the cannabis saga draws to a close a whole new world of stupidity opens up, but with a different drug.


So much to choose from.

Playing SOCA with drug policy?
Jan 07. Discussion of why the Government’s new serious crime agencies drug brief is doomed from the outset, and the politics of why it was set up in the first

Yet another leaked government report critiques prohibition/calls for regulation
Feb 07. Still, the message doesn’t seem to be getting through. Politics and expert advice evidentely don’t make comfortable bed fellows in drug policy.

No10 drug policy e-petitions: a total waste of time?
Mar 07. The answer would appear to be ‘yes’

The War on Lemsip
April 07. The meth panic provokes some predictably risible knee-jerk responses

Drugs minister gives a masterclass in drug policy spin and evasion
May 07. He’s no longer drugs minister – having graduated with honours and moved onto bigger fish

Gordon Brown on Drugs: friend of the mafia, enemy of pragmatism
Sept 07. More prime ministerial drug policy hypocrisy

NZ drug warrior pwned by Dihydrogen Monoxide hoax
Sept 07. Desperate drug warrior antics exposed

Home Office refuses to release strategy evaluation research
Sept 07. An ongoing disgrace as the Home Office, in the spirit of informed debate, refuses to release independent analysis that might make it look bad. The FOI appeals on this are still rumbling on.

Why we need a cost-benefit analysis
Aug 08. The most reasonable policy call possible – but still they wont do it. I wonder why?


For some reason illegal drugs are like a magnet for bad journalism. Beyond the reefer madness silliness above there has been no shortage daft drug panics, shoddy reporting or utterly pointless make-up-a-story-from-nothing journalism.

The anatomy of a drug panic
April 07. Even the Guardian are not immune from a good drug panic story. This time its BZP.

Ridiculous magic mushroom non-story makes 'news'
April 07. Contender for worst drug story ever

Rubbish drug story of the week
April 07 dustbin sniffing is apparently sweeping the country. ridiculous

Loads of people taking drugs shock!
Aug 08. The same story recycled each year by lazy journalists.

Ketamine: badger tranquilizer
Nov 08. Where did the horse tranquilser meme come from?


Transform are interested in effective regulation and control of all drugs, and alcohol and tobacco are far from perfect.

Supercasinos, drugs and alcohol prohibition: more than a whiff of ministerial hypocrisy
March 07. Ministers fail the consistency test when it comes to regulating ‘vice’.

Why alcohol ads being pulled from kids replica kits is nowhere near enough.
April 07. We moan about this on the blog, the following month it changes. FEEL THE POWER. (unfortunately there is still somewhere to go)

Why Transform supports the smoking ban
July 07. Yes, sometimes prohibition is the appropriate and sensible response.

Government complicity in the alcohol marketing scandal
May 07. Government can’t seem to get the level of regulation right for some legal drugs either.

Pseudoscience tobacco advertising from the bad old days
Oct 08. A collection of the very worst, most exploitative tobacco adverts from 30s, 40s, and 50s.


When stuff gets emailed in, or stumbled upon, we’ll cover it.

Forget the war on drugs. Here comes the WAR ON GUMMI BEARS!
Feb 07. No one can say we don’t break the big drug stories.

Home Office spin guide for the new drug strategy. Part 1
Feb 08. The Home offices very own guide to answering tricky questions on legalisation/regulation, leaked to the Transform Blog. Actual genuine scoopage.

UNODC director describes DPA event as '1000 lunatics', 'obviously on drugs'
Mar 08. Failed to win any friends by later refusing to apologise

UNODC director goes to Amsterdam: the lost report
June 08: SCOOP!


Various other interesting stuff that didn’t fit neatly into any of the above categories

Has the heroin prescribing debate reached a tipping point?
Feb 07. Another senior policeman calling for heroin prescribing makes a media splash (he and media apparently unaware it is already both legal and prescribed).

A tribute to Eddie Ellison
Feb 07. Eddie Ellison, Transform friend and Patron, a senior drug law enforcer who became an outspoken and eloquent advocate for reform, who died in January 07. See also Interview with Eddie Ellison, former head of the Met drugs squad

RSA Drugs Report - so near and yet so far
Mar 07. Transform’s commentary on the RSA drugs report

Arnie, Whitney and the Hoff say: "STOP THE MADNESS!"
April 07. Hilariously bad 80’s video demonstrating the dangers of using celebrities in anti-drug campaigns

Prohibitionist rant trashed in the FT Economists' forum (with some help from Transform)
Aug 07. Transform hangs with ‘the world’s leading economists’

Drug testing company welcomes expansion of drug testing - shock
Aug 07. With much poor science spouted in the process.

Richard and Judy back drug legalisation
Jan 08. Yes, that Richard and Judy, the nations favourite TV couple

Transform in...wait for it...Take a Break magazine!
Jan 08. A truly momentous day

The Daily Mail's occasional forays into drug law reform
April 08. Very occasional.

A 12-step program for drug war addiction
May 08. As with most treatment programs – it’s hard to vouch for the effectiveness of this one

How much tax revenue are we gifting to criminals?
May 08. New research from the Netherlands suggests: a lot.

The opium war's front line: Afghanistan, Iran and Hampshire
June 08. It’s an international problem, with an international solution

Is Drug Policy Climate Change Happening?
July 08. A new member of the Transform team reviews media from the previous few days

Drugs, knives and moral panics
July 08. Different issues, similar media driven panics

Why crackdowns on drugs in prison completely miss the point
July 08. Essay on how policy makers are missing the bigger picture.

A response to Ian Oliver's anti-legalisation comments in the Independent
Aug 08. A workman like Transform blog smack-down

Former Director of UK Anti-drug Co-ordination Unit calls for legalisation
Aug 08. One blog that pretty much wrote itself

Treatment - a new definition
Oct 08. Drug users as hazardous waste

photo: Guardian

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Thailand's latest crackdown raises concerns over human rights violations

The Thai government announced last week that they are launching a new crackdown on drugs . According to the Bangkok Post;

Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat has ordered a new crackdown on drug peddlers…. This has raised concerns, particularly on the civil rights front.’

Wongsawat: Thailand's new drug warrior

In fact the Thai authorities appear to issue statements about ‘new’ crackdowns with some regularity – the last one, due to last 6 months, started in February. Announcing such crackdowns is in many respects the sort of populist posturing seen the world over (not least in the UK); if the policy outcomes from your drug policy are all terrible, just announce some tough sounding new stuff to show you are doing something (evidence of effectiveness not required). Thai newspaper The Nation notes;

‘Normally, a move like this is perfect for frustrated Thai politicians looking to win quick political points in times of desperation.’

In 2003 then Prime Minister Thaksin Sinawatra instituted his now notorious ‘war on drugs’ that resulted in over 2500 extra-judicial killings - the reason that Thai drug crackdown announcements send a chill through human rights observers. The new Prime Minister (and brother-in-law of Thaksin), Somchai Wongsawat, has defended the ex-premier’s part in it saying,

'It was not extra-judicial killing by police. They were killed by drugs dealers.'

This follows Thaksin’s line whilst in power that the deaths were simply,

‘…the result of bad guys killing bad guys.’

An official investigation in 2007 found that over half of those killed had no connection whatsoever so drugs - that's over 1000 individuals murdered. A devastating report on the atrocities was published in 2004: 'Not Enough Graves: Thailand’s War on Drugs, HIV/AIDS, and Violations of Human Rights'. As recently as February 2008 Human Rights Watch reported that a Thai police captain and seven other members of the Border Patrol Police (BPP) had been arrested on suspicion of human rights abuses and corruption after 61 people filed complaints ranging from abduction to torture by the BPP.

In 2005 the UN Human Rights Committee raised concerns over the number of executions and since then UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has called for increased protection for the health and human rights of people living with HIV, sex workers, men who have sex with men, and young people who inject drugs. Even the director of the UNODC has said that,

“It stands to reason, then, that drug control, and the implementation of the drug Conventions, must proceed with due regard to health and human rights.”

PM Somchai has tried to placate concerned observers by claiming that,

‘Implementing extra-judicial killings to solve the drugs problem is absolutely banned.'

However despite this statement and the reaffirmation of Thailand’s commitment to the UN Human Rights declaration on the 60th anniversary of its signing, there is concern that the crackdown will again lead to more human rights abuses.

In related news, the British government has revoked the visa of Thaksin Shinawatra who has been sentenced (in absentia) by a Thai court to three years in prison for corruption. The fact that he instigated and approved a program of 2500 largely indiscriminate and entirely illegal extra-judical civilian murders seemed not the bother UK immigration officials (or for that matter Man City Football club) but corruption is obviously a bigger issue for Britain’s government and its much lauded ‘ethical foreign policy’.

While Thaksin and his wife search for somewhere to take him in - a number of Asian countries including the Phillippines have refused him entry – Thai authorities have vowed to extradite him in order to serve his punishment. It is unlikely he will ever face justice for his murderous drug war.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Ketamine: badger tranquilizer

Despite being used widely in humans and numerous other animals, describing the drug ketamine as 'horse tranquilizer' or 'horse drug' has now become almost universal across the media. From the tabloids to the broadsheets, the BBC to the leading news agencies, it is now unusual that ketamine is referred to as anything else*. Such is the hold of the 'ketamine is a horse drug' idea that a recent Mixmag cover-story on the drug actually pictured a 'clubber' wearing a pantomime horse head on the dance floor. Today even the UN Office on Drugs and Crime got in on the act with a report about how: 'A drug used to tranquillize horses has taken the world's dance scene by storm'.

Now, ketamine is indeed used as an anesthetic for horses, but it should also be pointed out that:

1. Ketamine is used extensively in humans
Ketamine is a dissociative and is a particularly useful anesthetic for the elderly, very young, and in emergencies as it does not suppress the respiratory system (although the powerful hallucinogenic effects - why it is used non-medically - are an unwanted occasional side effect). The UNODC report notes half-truthfully that it is 'used as a general anesthetic in developing countries' ; in fact it is used far more widely than that. Some of my anaesthetist friends inform me, for example, that it is widely used in the UK.

2. Ketamine is not just used in horses.

Ketamine is also used amongst a veritable Noah's ark of animals, including - in roughly descending size order: elephants, camels, gorillas, pigs, sheep, goats, dogs, cats, rabbits, snakes, guinea pigs, birds, gerbils and mice. Oh, and badgers.

So whats with the horse thing? Why do we never hear about the 'gerbil tranquilizer ketamine', or the 'badger tranquilizer ketamine'? Horses are obviously quite large (except those little shetland pony ones) and you can see why horse tranquilizer provides a more potent scary-drug narrative for the headline writers, than say, guinea-pig tranquilizer. But then why not go for gorillas or elephants?

Indeed why does ketamine get the animal/horsey treatment at all, given that many drugs, (including morphine and diazepam for example) that are used medically and non-medically in humans, are also used for animals, including horses. None are routinely referred to in the context of their animal use like ketamine. When did you last hear about the the 'sheep drug diazepam' or the 'dog drug morphine'?

To be honest I have no conclusive answer, having been unable to dig up a definitive first pop-cultural appearance of the horse tranquilizers / ketamine meme (submissions in the comment section please). The popularisation of a substance being strong enough to “knock out a horse” may hark back to the the legendary Groucho Marx dishing out horse pills to humans and himself to comic effect in the classic A Day At the Races. But I suspect that the modern link to ketamine specifically probably stems from media reporting in the mid 90s of the drug being stolen from vets and misused. If the first media reporting of the drug was of stolen veterinary tranquilizers (from a stables) it probably then just stuck with our lazy journalist friends - even though subsequently most of the drug was supplied from larger scale illicit or grey market imports from India and elsewhere. If the first thefts had taken place from a badger hospital, who knows?

Its not a massively big deal either, just rather a peculiar and irritating reflection on the curious sheep-like laziness of drug reporting in the media generally. And this sort of entrenched semantic misunderstanding is hardly going to help rational policy development, or for that matter educating young people about ketamine harms or other drugs' relative risks.

Transform briefing on Ketamine classification/criminalisation from 2005

See also the similar piperazine /worming-tablet meme (in its early days)

* The Frank website being a creditable exception

Monday, November 10, 2008

Drug war remembrance

Remembrance Sunday, a tradition that seemed to be waning in its national importance, has assumed a new meaning and relevance for the younger generations with the event of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. The day is still marked by the wearing of poppies, a tradition that grew out of the emergence of the flowers on the battlefields in the Flanders and Picardy regions of Belgium and Northern France at the end of World War I.

It is hard to escape the dual-symbolism of the poppy in relation to the Afghanistan conflict. Over 800 coalition soldiers have died in Afghanistan, over a hundred of them British - at least some of which have been as a direct result of anti-drug operations aimed at eradicating the poppy harvest that provides the raw opium that in turn feeds over 90% the West's demand for illicit heroin. Many more Afghans have also died, both combatants and civilians. The symbolic historical links of the poppy with death are not just the blood red from battle fields but also the opium connection; the poppy being used as a traditional tombstone emblem to symbolise eternal sleep.

The Afghan conflict is, of course, more complex than merely a war on drugs, but the massive illicit profits that flow from the poppy fields are fueling the violence, and helping destabilize the entire region. Eradication of the illicit trade is a key element of the coalition and now NATO strategies into which billions of pounds has been poured, and for which no let up is on the horizon. Yet there is nothing from the experience of the past 7 years to suggest it is even remotely possible, as recent bumper harvests and stockpiling demonstrate.

It also needs to be repeated that it is the prohibition of opiates for non medical use that creates the illicit trade in the first instance. There is no violence, criminal profiteering or terrorism associated with the 50% of global poppy production (for medical use) that is entirely legal and regulated. It is prohibition that creates the link between drugs and terror, and prohibition that is responsible for the nexus of their respective wars - which become increasingly difficult to disentangle as each year passes.

If we do make the terrible decision to send soldiers to war, with all the consequences and bloodshed that entails, then we should have a damn good reason for doing it. An unwinnable and counterproductive war against drugs comes nowhere close. Whilst we remember our fallen soldiers with poppies, we should not forget that their fellow soldiers continue to die in a pointless fight against poppies.

We may not know yet how to solve the complex issues of international terrorism, but we do know how to solve the problems created by the drug war.

Photos: Guardian, daylife.com, Aaron Huey

Friday, November 07, 2008

Ironic new US anti-pot ads

Below are some new anti-drug ads from the US drug Czar's office, that spoof newspaper job ads of the past (click to see full size pdf - 1meg). I actually think these are quite amusing, and saying that being stoned all the time is a pretty lame may well have more impact than 'just say no' type messages, or shock horror scare tactics (In Austrialia they tried an even more direct approach with the 'pot could turn you into a dick head' campaign) . That said, I suspect these new posters are a bit too clever-cloggsy-ad-agency-ironic for there own good and may well actually end up above the sofa in student flats as the subject of much postmodern stoner hilarity.

thanks to drug war rant