Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Financial Service chiefs on both sides of the Atlantic support drug law reform

Whilst global capitalism goes into meltdown a curious fact struck me as I watched Newsnight yesterday and some of the key players in the UK and US Government's financial oversight moved to center stage in the fevered media coverage. Both Barney Frank, US Democrat congressman and chairman of the House Committee on Financial Services , and Adair Turner, Peer and newly appointed chairman of the Financial Services Authority, are both outspoken critics of the drug war and advocates of drug law reform.

Congressman Barney Frank

Barney Frank has been all over the news in the last 48 hours for his cutting comments about the Republican bellyaching that followed the collapse of the Bush $700 billion banking bailout plan, (defeated in Congress yesterday). You can see the much played clip of him in action here (from CNN). As an aside here he is again, rather brilliantly slapping down Republicans who seek to criminalise homosexuality on the Bill Maher show:

This year Frank introduced "The Personal Use of Marijuana by Responsible Adults Act of 2008,"which would eliminate the threat of arrest and prison for the possession of up to 3.5 ounces of cannabis and/or the not-for-profit transfer of up to one ounce of cannabis. It would not affect federal laws prohibiting selling marijuana for profit, importing and exporting or cultivating cannabis. He has argued that;
"I do not believe that the federal government should treat adults who choose to smoke marijuana as criminals. Federal law enforcement is a serious business, and we should be concentrating our efforts in this regard on measures that truly protect the public."

Adair Turner is a UK Peer, the former boss of the CBI, former chair of the pensions commission, chair of the Government's new committee on climate change and now chair of the Financial Services Authority (you see him in action last week discussing city bonuses on the BBC here).

Lord Turner

Lord Turner (who attended the Transform event in the Houses of Parliament last year, to mark the launch of our latest major publication), whilst less outspoken and proactive than Congressman Frank has none the less made his views on drug policy publicly known, arguably taking the analysis some way further and evidently with no deleterious effects on his career or positions of influence; a useful lesson for the some of his Whitehall colleagues fearful of speaking their views in public. As long ago as 2003, speaking at a WWF event he noted that;

"And if we want to help sustainable economic development in the drug-ridden states such as Colombia and Afghanistan, we should almost certainly liberalise drugs use in our societies, combating abuse via education, not prohibition, rather than launching unwinnable 'wars on drugs' which simply criminalise whole societies."
So what can we deduce from these high profile figures in financial regulation and the debate on drugs? Its probably reaching (no doubt opponents would blame the global meltdown on crazed drug legalisers) but maybe it points to some sort of common thread between more effective financial market regulation and more effective government regulation generally, including the future of drug markets.

If nothing else is does again highlight the distinct historic current of pragmatic drug policy thinking amongst economists.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Rachel Hoffman tragedy - some sort of reckoning

The investigation into the bungled police drug sting operation that led to the tragic death of Rachel Hoffman (covered previously in this blog) has now concluded with one of the investigators being fired, four more being suspended on no pay, and one reprimanded. The details, including the full internal affairs report are available here.

The basic facts of the story are as follows: Rachel Morningstar Hoffman, (December 17, 1984 – May 9, 2008) was a 23-year-old Florida State University graduate who was killed during a botched drug sting that started on May 7, 2008.

She was under drug court supervision for possession of 25 grams (0.9 oz.) of cannabis during a traffic stop on February 22, 2007. On April 17, 2008, she was busted in her apartment by Tallahassee, Florida police for possession of 151.7 grams (or 5.328 ounces) of cannabis (apparently it had been her turn to secure supplies for her group of friends) . She was threatened with a charge of manufacturing. Faced with a possible prison sentence if charged and convicted, she agreed instead to serve as a confidential informant to buy 1,500 ecstasy pills, 2 ounces of cocaine, and a handgun, using $13,000 cash in a buy-bust operation. While she worked undercover, police lost track of her and she was killed by two assailants (now arrested and facing life sentences).

The story of how Rachel was effectively caught and killed in the drug war cross fire, and the appalling police negligence that forced her into harm's way, has received much media attention (see here for comprehensive coverage) and become a rallying point for campaigners against the excesses of US drug law enforcement, especially the students for sensible drug policy (SSDP) group, of which she was a member.

ABC news coverage:

The more detailed ABC news 20:20 report is also available on Youtube

The news that the internal affairs investigation has led to one sacking and several suspensions is (without commenting on the appropriateness of the response) at least proof that a disaster like this will not be completely swept under the carpet. But there are of course bigger culprits; the drug war itself, its champions and defenders. They have created and maintained the system that criminalised Rachel in the first place, they have created the violent criminal underworld that she was thrust into, and they created the policing environment where the sort of madness that led to her death was even contemplated.

This case only highlights the bigger injustices still to be addressed.

This is a statement issued by The Hoffman family's attorneys, 2 days after her death:

Today, the community of Tallahassee, Florida mourns the loss of a beautiful girl. Today, those living in Pinellas County and the Clearwater Beach, Florida area mourn the loss of a beautiful citizen. Today, the State of Florida mourns the loss of a vibrant, intelligent, beautiful, and loving young woman.

No one feels this loss more strongly than the family and friends of Rachel Hoffman, whose life was taken in a senseless act of extreme violence. The anger and outrage in the community is great, and many questions are beginning to surface. The family is in the middle of grieving Rachel’s murder. Yesterday, they had only known for a short time that she was killed and would never be coming back. On that very day, a press conference was held by the Tallahassee Police Department regarding the death of Rachel.

From the press conference’s inception, the Tallahassee Police Department took the opportunity to inform the community of the victim’s criminal charges, and made the point, both directly and indirectly, that her death was the result of her breaking protocol during the sting operation. The family and the attorneys for Rachel Hoffman have serious concerns about the statement that Rachel somehow caused her own death.

Rachel Hoffman was a 23-year-old woman, a graduate of Florida State University, and a daughter, beloved family member, and friend. At no time during the press conference was it addressed that Rachel Hoffman was not a trained law enforcement officer, was not on the Tallahassee Police Department Vice Squad Unit, or that she had taken any training classes regarding the Tallahassee Police Department’s “protocol”.

It was not addressed why Rachel was placed in this situation in the first instance, other than she had criminal charges pending. However, even with criminal charges pending, the main concern is how Rachel came to this position and what measures were taken in order for her to agree to go there. Her family and attorneys believe it was her involvement in the drug sting that led to Rachel’s death, and not the fact that she allegedly broke any protocol, but rather that she was led to the site in the first place.

At no time was it discussed how police lost sight of her or what precautions they took to prevent her from being lost. At no time was it discussed what safety precautions were taken by police who knew she would be meeting with armed individuals.

At no time during the press conference was it addressed that Rachel Hoffman had no pending or past cocaine or handgun charges in the very county where she was to meet the individuals, yet she was sent into a sting operation to buy cocaine and a handgun. It was never addressed whether her vicious murder was committed with the very handgun she was going to purchase.

At no time during the press conference was it addressed that with regard to her first drug charges for which she was in drug court, a diversionary program, that she had a defense attorney who was representing her. The new charges that led to her agreement to become a confidential informant would have affected her success in drug court.

However, her defense attorney, Johnny Devine, was not notified. Mr. Devine’s client was talked to by the police regarding this matter. However, her attorney was not present nor was he notified. No details regarding this meeting were discussed at the press conference, although had Rachel asked to consult with her attorney and been denied that right, it would have been a severe miscarriage of justice. It was not discussed what charges she was told she was facing, or how much time she would spend in jail for them.

Although a concern for the family was expressed at the press conference, it was greatly overshadowed by an immediate shift to the victim’s criminal record and details of how she caused her own death by botching a sting operation. No where was it discussed why a 5 foot 7 inch, 135 pound young woman was sent into an operation to buy items that she herself has never been accused of having in her own possession.

During the press conference, mention of the fact that the Tallahassee Police Department did not know the two men that Rachel was helping to set up in a drug bust that night came immediately to light. However, at no time during that press conference was it addressed whether or not the Tallahassee Police Department has any policy or protocol of whether or not the research the very suspects and review their criminal record before they send in a confidential informant to bust them.

At no time was it discussed whether or not Rachel knew how dangerous those individuals truly were. Clearly, the police knew about the individuals by the time they were trying to get Rachel to set them up for arrest. And most definitely, the police were aware of the individuals’ identity in order for them to find them in Orlando, Florida so suddenly and take them into custody.

Bringing to light the victim’s criminal charges, her alleged faults during a sting operation, and repeatedly addressing the fact, in so many different words, that the Tallahassee Police Department is not responsible for the death of Rachel Hoffman did nothing to inform the public about what truly happened the night of the drug sting. It did nothing to inform the public about what is going to happen to the individuals who killed her. It did nothing to inform the public about what policies and procedures are in place to protect a confidential informant before they engage in a police drug sting.

The only purpose this information served was to both attack a woman who has been taken away from society in a ruthless, reckless, and vicious manner, and to allow her family to watch it all on television while they are still reeling from the shock of their loved ones death.

Today, a family is still grieving and a public outcry is being heard. Tomorrow, a mother will spend a Mother’s Day planning a funeral for her daughter. The attorneys for the family of Rachel Hoffman wish that her memory and her family’s well-being stay first and foremost in the minds of everyone who mourns her loss. People will remember Rachel fondly at her funeral and speak well of her. She deserves no less from the very government agency, the Tallahassee Police Department, which she helped to risk and ultimately lost her life trying to help.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Transform responds to World Forum Against Drugs Declaration

As part of the mailing list for the UNODC's Beyond 2008 drug policy event, Transform have been contacted by David Evans from the US based Drug Free Schools Coalition, encouraging us to sign the World Forum Against Drugs declaration from their recent event in Sweden (See Alex Wodak's response blogged here). A response from Transform that was sent to the list is copied below:

Dear David

Transform will not be signing up to the WFAD declaration.

Transform's mission:

Transform exists to promote sustainable health and wellbeing by bringing about a just, effective and humane system to regulate and control drugs at local, national and international levels.

Firstly though, I must give WFAD credit for representing our work in its correct light:

"Regulated Legalization: The production and distribution of drugs would be government regulated, with limits on the amount that can be purchased and the age of purchasers. There would be no criminal or civil sanction for possessing,manufacturing, or distributing drugs unless these actions violated the regulatory system. Drug sales could be taxed."

It is a sign of where we have brought the debate that WFAD understands so clearly what we are doing.

We concur with many of the issues raised by others on this list who have made clear why they will not be signing up to the Declaration. As you might guess, we disagree with much of the following statement:
"We oppose all forms of legalization of illicit/psychotropic drugs because such policies do not withstand critical evaluation, tend to run contrary to general experience and violate the Conventions."
Whilst we absolutely agree that legal regulation violates the Conventions, we are more interested in sustainable wellbeing than we are in the sanctity of outdated and counterproductive Conventions. Indeed there is an enormous amount of evidence to show that replacing the Conventions with an apparatus that would allow drugs to be legally regulated would not only remove the counter productive effects of the war on drugs, but would create a context in which we could promote the wellbeing of hundreds of millions of people all over the world.

I'm not going to cite references here, but would rather refer you to our website which links to most of the key works and provides analysis to show that much of what we call the 'drug problem' is in fact the 'prohibition/war on drugs problem'. Even Mr Costa, in his paper "Making drug control 'fit for purpose': Building on the UNGASS decade" has conceded that the drug control system has created a huge criminal market, displaced policy from health to enforcement and displaces production and supply from one region of the world to another. Unfit for purpose is something of an understatement.

This is from Julian Critchley, former Director of the UK Anti-Drug Co-ordinating Unit, posting to a BBC blog last month (he now supports the legal regulation of drugs):
"I think what was truly depressing about my time in UKADCU was that the overwhelming majority of professionals I met, including those from the police, the health service, government and voluntary sectors held the same view : the illegality of drugs causes far more problems for society and the individual than it solves. Yet publicly, all those intelligent, knowledgeable people were forced to repeat the nonsensical mantra that the Government would be 'tough on drugs', even though they all knew that the Government's policy was actually causing harm."
The general experience of most people I have met, (including those involved in WFAD), is that despite the enormous public health problems associated with the misuse of alcohol and tobacco, that prohibition would not improve health and social outcomes associated with their use and misuse. Sadly the critical evaluation applied to these drugs (that supports their legal regulation) is entirely absent in WFAD's analysis of the drugs arbitrarily identified in the Conventions. It is because we believe that drugs are potentially dangerous as well as potentially beneficial that we call for them to be legally regulated.

The Conventions should not be treated like religious Covenants, such that those who challenge their wisdom are denounced as heretics. They are agreements misguidedly signed up to by those who had no idea of the discrimination, degradation and death that they were unleashing on future generations.

One day the Conventions will no longer stand in the way of legally regulated markets because legal regulation is increasingly being recognised as an effective, just and humane alternative to the war on drugs. Our job is to help build a movement that will work to hasten the day that this possibility is made available to nation states whose citizens choose it.

Your declaration is anathema to the central tenets of our mission and we therefore decline to sign up.


Danny Kushlick
Head of Policy and Communications

Is self-censorship helping perpetuate the drug war?

Just as we were about to post a new Mandarin version of a leaflet on our website, a friend raised concerns that any one caught with it in China risked very serious consequences indeed.

The Chinese Government still marks world anti-drugs day by mass killings of drug offenders , and would certainly take a dim view of anyone promoting regulation and control instead of prohibition.

So we held off. Until I had a chat with the Chinese Desk at Amnesty International who very sensibly said;
In general I think we have to leave it up to the web users themselves to judge whether or not to download certain information from the Internet. To try to make that judgment for them takes away their own agency. Much of our own Chinese information is deemed sensitive by the authorities leading to our website being blocked in China, at least until very recently. But we would not limit our information to 'non-sensitive' issues in order to satisfy the controls.... Having said that, we would not proactively send 'sensitive' information to people out of the blue, if we thought they could get into trouble for possessing it.

My reading of this is, “don’t do the Chinese Government’s dirty work for them” by self-censorship. That road disempowers people, firstly by depriving some individuals of the information they need to make up their own minds, and others who hold the same view as you, of the knowledge that they are not alone.

And disempowering people means those mis-using authority (by restricting access to or distorting information) have won, and nothing will change.

This set me thinking. I was struck and heartened at the recent (excellent) Release Conference by how many speakers (almost all) and questions were directly or almost directly supportive of an end to drug prohibition - because it causes more harm than good - and in favour of regulation and control. Even Chris Huhne MP (Lib Dem Home Affairs) while not advocating an end to prohibition, agreed that regulation and control could reduce access by minors to currently illegal drugs.

Yet, as someone admittedly still quite new to drug policy NGOs, I had never heard anyone from UK groups other than Transform advocating an end to prohibition in the media, with the exception of Sebastian Saville of Release supporting the idea of regulation and control in a TV debate with Evan Harris MP.

Is it possible that there are groups that recognise the truth about prohibition, but self-censor on this issue when in the media eye?

And if they do, isn’t that also disempowering people in a similar way?

And isn’t it letting the Government get away with both mis-information, and with deliberately withholding information, for example, by refusing to carry out a cost-benefit analysis of different approaches to drug policy?

As Julian Critchley (Ex- director of the UK Anti-Drug Co-Ordination Unit) said recently;
I think what was truly depressing about my time in the civil service was that the professionals I met from every sector held the same view: the illegality of drugs causes far more problems for society and the individual than it solves. Yet publicly, all those people were forced to repeat the mantra that the Government would be "tough on drugs", even though they all knew that the policy was causing harm.”

The public are ready for the debate. As the BBC’s Mark Easton put it for the Radio 4 Today programme, and on his blog in a piece called "Legalise drugs: from Maverick to Mainstream";
The last few years have seen an extraordinary shift in thinking about this issue with increasingly mainstream figures arguing we should consider legalisation as an alternative to what they regard as the failure of the law-enforcement strategy.“

Climate change on this issue is happening. At Transform we believe it is time to speak openly and honestly, because if we don’t, we are disempowering the public, and by doing the Government’s dirty work for them, empowering those who cynically use drug war posturing for their own ends, at appalling cost to millions of individuals, and whole communities.

We all have a responsibility to review whether we are self-censoring, and if our continuing to do so is unnecessarily perpetuating the war on drugs.

Download our new Chinese Leaflet here (pdf)

The English version is here (pdf)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Alex Wodak defends harm reduction, under attack from the World Forum Against Drugs

Following the recent World Forum Against Drugs in Sweden, the Executive Director of the US based Drug Free Schools Coalition , David Evans, sent an email to a number of colleagues in the field encouraging them to sign the declaration from that event (which you can read here in pdf). It is an extraordinary document in many ways, not least because of its inexplicable misunderstandings of the UN legal system (un-picked on the IHRA HR2 blog here), but also because of the alarming and sweeping disdain it demonstrates for harm reduction. We may discuss it further on the blog at some point but really, it's so exotic as to render itself almost completely irrelevant to real world debate. It's actually self neutering. And if it really is going to be the banner for the remaining defenders of the drug war, then the drug peace is probably nearer than we might have hoped.

Anyway, one of the colleagues in the drugs field who received the letter was Alex Wodak, long time harm reduction practitioner, researcher and campaigner, and board member of the International Harm Reduction Association. Unsurprisingly perhaps, he declines Evan's invitation to sign the declaration, and his considered and detailed response is copied below.

Dear David,

While I am pleased that you have opened up this dialogue, I cannot accept your invitation to support the Declaration of World Forum Against Drugs.

Let me explain some of the reasons why.

(1) In the 1300 word WFAD Declaration about illicit drugs and drug policy, neither HIV nor AIDS were even mentioned once. Yet AIDS is now the fourth major cause of death in the world. The sharing of needles and syringes now accounts for 30% of new HIV infections outside Sub Saharan Africa (or 10% of all new global HIV infections). The only known effective way of controlling HIV infection among injecting drug users is a harm reduction package including explicit and peer-based education about HIV, needle syringe programmes, drug treatment (especially methadone and buprenorphine treatment for heroin injectors) and community development of injecting drug users. Needle syringe programmes and methadone and buprenorphine treatment have been shown to be effective in reducing HIV and also to be safe and cost effective. Yet the WFAD Declaration does not even mention these interventions. The effectiveness and safety of needle syringe programmes have been confirmed by more than half a dozen reviews commissioned or conducted by agencies of the US government and a review commissioned by the WHO. WHO, UNAIDS and UNODC have endorsed methadone and buprenorphine treatment and the WHO has included these medications in their Essential Drugs List. The important association of injecting drug use and HIV has changed the way we now think about drug policy. It should also influence the way that the WFAD thinks about drug policy.

(2) In virtually all countries, the health, social and economic costs resulting from the legal drugs, alcohol and tobacco, dwarf the serious problems associated with the use of illicit and psychotropic drugs. Yet the WFAD Declaration does not even mention alcohol or tobacco, let alone the problems associated with prescription drugs.

(3) The use of mood altering drugs has been found in virtually all countries and cultures throughout history. Accepting this reality is not an endorsement of mood altering drugs. It simply reflects a preference to deal with the world as it really is rather than some fantasy world some would prefer to live in. If the WFAD believes that the objective of a drug free world is realistic and not utopian, WFAD should list the countries or cultures that have already achieved an enduring drug- free state.

(4) The WFAD Declaration ignores the substantial and growing international support for harm reduction. UN and international organizations supporting harm reduction include WHO, UNAIDS, UNICEF, the Global Fund for AIDS, TB and Malaria, the World Bank. The UNODC increasingly supports harm reduction (although this organisation still has some senior staff critical of harm reduction). About 70 countries provide needle syringe programmes and a larger number provide methadone or buprenorphine treatment. Why does the WFAD still need to refer to harm reduction as 'so-called'? Why still refer to harm reduction in quotation marks? The scientific debate about harm reduction is now over. That is why support for harm reduction is now so strong and growing so steadily. In contrast, support for zero tolerance is steadily shrinking because zero tolerance is based on belief, not science. At the 'Beyond 2008 NGO Forum' held in Vienna 7-9 July 2008, 300 NGO delegates from around the world endorsed a Declaration which supported harm reduction, the protection of human rights and the involvement of affected communities.

(5) Supporters of harm reduction recognize the importance of promoting abstinence. In some ways, abstinence is the ultimate form of harm reduction. But some are unable and others are unwilling to aim for abstinence. As a doctor it is my duty to still try and help these patients. Also, abstinence is often precarious. And when relapse occurs, it is often accompanied by very severe harms, sometimes even death. The assertion that harm reduction undermines 'the international efforts to limit the supply of and demand for drugs' is ludicrous. What undermines international efforts to limit the supply of and demand for drugs is the law of supply and demand. As former US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said in January 2001 'If demand [for drugs] persists, it's going to find ways to get what it wants. And if it isn't from Colombia, it's going to be from someplace else.' If a kilogram of heroin is worth $US 1,000 in Bangkok and $US 300,000 in New York City, why will that kilogram of heroin not end up in Times Square? If we cannot keep drugs out of prisons, and we are unable to do this, how on earth can we keep drugs out of our communities?

(6) The assertion in the Declaration that harm reduction 'violates the UN Conventions' is also absurd. Which Conventions does harm reduction violate? The INCB commissioned a study from the Legal Affairs Section of the UNDCP entitled 'Flexibility of Treaty Provisions as regards Harm Reduction Approaches' E/INCB/2002/W.13/SS.5. 30 September 2002. This document concluded that harm reduction interventions do not breach the international treaties (with the possible exception of pill testing).

(7) The Declaration claims that there 'can be no other goal than a drug-free world. Such a goal is neither utopian nor impossible'. How can the same goal be appropriate for every country in the world despite such diverse conditions and problems? Is a drug-free world really feasible? Since the 1998 UNGASS meeting, global opium production has more than doubled from 4,346 tons to 8,880 tons while global coca production has increased by 20% from 825 tons to 994 tons. Remember the UNODC slogan for the 1998 UNGASS? 'A Drug Free World - we can do it!' Now the UNODC speaks of 'containment' and making 'drug policy fit for purpose'. As President George W. Bush said on February 12, 2002 'As long as there is a demand for drugs in this country, some crook is gonna figure out how to get 'em here...'

(8) Harm reduction is a universal approach, common in public health, clinical medicine and public policy generally. Wearing a safety belt when traveling by car or encouraging the use of motor cycle helmets is harm reduction. 'Never let the best be the enemy of the good' is a strong tradition in public health. It is also the essence of harm reduction. Nicotine gums and skin patches to assist smokers to quit smoking are other forms of harm reduction, no different in principle from the use of methadone or prescription heroin to assist heroin injectors and inhalers. I recently visited the former Nazi concentration camp in Terezin. Oscar Schindler in nearby Crackow saved many lives but did not shorten the war by a single day. We rightly revere the actions of the Allies in defeating Nazism just as we also greatly value the Oscar Schindlers of this world who reduced some of the harms of that terrible period.

(9) The WFAD Declaration rejects rigorous scientific trials evaluating heroin assisted treatment published in some of the top medical journals of the world. These trials have focused on treatment-refractory and severely dependent heroin users. Randomised controlled trials in Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany and Spain have shown that the group receiving heroin assisted treatment did better than the control group. Trials are now underway in the United Kingdom and Canada. In the trial in the Netherlands, 58% of the group prescribed heroin improved compared to 22% of the control group. Where is the morality in denying drug users, their families and their communities the benefits of treatments demonstrated scientifically to be effective, safe and cost-effective?

Yours sincerely,



Alcohol and Drug Service,

St. Vincent's Hospital,

Sydney, NSW 2010, Australia

Monday, September 22, 2008

Why George Michael shouldn't cop a plea for drugs

Yesterday I took a call from Gemma Wheatley at the Daily Star to comment on the fact that George Michael had been treated ‘too leniently’, after being cautioned for drug possession. I didn’t ask where Gemma had got hold of Transform, but she obviously didn’t know what we do. After informing her that I couldn’t say anything against Michael’s caution, I said I’d call her back.

The fact that he had been arrested in a toilet reminded me of the famous court case when three notable men were arrested for consensual sex offences, that in no small measure, led to the Wolfenden Committee being set up, and ultimately the repeal of the law banning homosexual sex.

The quote I gave them was: “Forty years ago George Michael could have been arrested for having consensual gay sex in private. One day when drugs are legally controlled and regulated, he will no longer be criminalised for possession of drugs.”

Suffice to say they didn’t use it, preferring instead retired judge Keith Matthewman QC: “I cannot understand how or why someone in his position and with his previous record could be let off with a caution.”

The link between the decriminalisation of gay sex and the legalisation and regulation of drugs is worthy of comparison.

To quote from “FREE THE BUGGERS”–Britain & the Wolfenden Report

"In 1953 John Barrington Douglas-Scott-Montagu, known as Lord Montagu, 27, third Baron Montagu of Beaulieu, an old Etonian and ex-Grenadier Guards officer best known for his vintage car museum at his historic Hampshire home, Palace House at Beaulieu, was arrested for “gross indecency” with two teenage Boy Scouts. In a sensational week-long court case, Montagu was tried together with his cousin, Michael Pitt-Rivers, and Peter Wildeblood, the 31-year-old diplomatic correspondent of the Daily Mail. All three defendants were convicted. Pitt-Rivers and Wildeblood were sentenced to 18 months in prison, and Lord Montagu was given a year.

As the Great Purge continued, the Conservative Party government appointed a Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution. Named to head it was Sir John Wolfenden, a private school headmaster and veteran of government committees on education and youth.”

This report eventually led to the Sexual Offences Act 1967 that began to decriminalise gay sex.
However, again to quote from ‘Free the Buggers’:

“Crucially, as The Guardian went on to point out, “While sex may have been legal, most of the things that might lead to it were still classified as ‘procuring’ and ’soliciting.’ ‘It remained unlawful for two consenting adult men to chat up each other in any non-private location,’ Tatchell says. ‘It was illegal for two men even to exchange phone numbers in a public place or to attempt to contact each other with a view to having sex.’ Thus the 1967 law established the risible anomaly that to arrange to do something legal was itself illegal.”
The situation remained tenuous for more than two decades. Tatchell’s research shows that in England and Wales in 1989, consensual homosexual relations between men over the age of 16 resulted in 3,500 prosecutions, 2,700 convictions, and 380 cautions. Between 40 and 50 men served time in prison.

“Most alarmingly,” Tatchell wrote, “1,503 men were convicted of the gay consensual offence of ‘gross indecency’ in 1989, compared with 887 in 1955. In other words, there were over one and a half times more guilty verdicts in 1989 than in the mid-1950s when male homosexuality was still totally illegal and Britain was gripped by a McCarthyite-style anti-gay witch-hunt.”

Another decade and a half would pass before the reforms of Tony Blair’s government would allow British gays to feel reasonably free from persecution.

There are clear links between the criminalisation, stigmatisation and discrimination of gay men and producers, suppliers and, particularly, users of drugs defined as illegal. It is no surprise that Peter Tatchell is a supporter of legalisation and regulation of drugs.

The point I’d like to make here is that it took public conviction, in both senses of the word, to bring the issue to a head. Had the numerous men who were charged been given the option of a caution and accepted it, there would have been no case and no defendents prepared to publicly defend their sexuality.

Every time a drug user accepts a caution, they accept their guilt and effectively collude with a discriminatory, unjust and inhumane law. The police can enforce the law with total impunity to the extent that they know most users will accept a caution. Before the change in UK law on homosexual sex, gay men were guilty in the eyes of the law. Whilst some drugs are criminalised, the same will be true of illegal drug users, suppliers and producers. For those with the courage of their convictions, hasn't the time come to throw caution to the wind and defend ourselves against bad law?

Friday, September 19, 2008

US Congress celebrates 75 years of drug legalisation and regulation

Let's raise a toast with the US Congress, that this week celebrated 75 years of drug legalisation and regulation. Yes indeed, it is a magnificent 75 years since the disaster of alcohol prohibition was ended, alcohol was re-legalised, and as this week's Congressional resolution recognises, our fine and noble 'State lawmakers, regulators, law enforcement officers, the public health community and industry members' established 'a workable, legal, and successful system of alcoholic beverage regulation, distribution, and sale' .

a big HURRAH! for the legal regulation of drugs

It is worth taking a step back and considering the implications of all this for the way we deal with all those other drugs (y'know, the still illegal ones), particularly for all you politicians and Whitehall/Capitol Hill folk generally (*waves*). Deep-breath now. Read the complete resolution below, but change the references to 'alcohol' to a more generic reference to 'drugs'. You will find yourself acknowledging things like the fact that drug prohibition:
"resulted in a dramatic increase in illegal activity, including unsafe black market drugs production, organized crime, and noncompliance with drug laws"
or celebrating how drug regulation has
"demonstrated the longstanding and continuing intent of Congress that States exercise their primary authority to achieve temperance, the creation and maintenance of orderly and stable markets, and the facilitation of the efficient collection of taxes"
and how you continue
"to support policies that allow States to effectively regulate drugs"

Now accepting, as so-called 'scientists' generally do, that alcohol is indeed a drug (one that is every bit as toxic and addictive as most of those that remain prohibited), this re-reading can only highlight the bizarre parallel universe in which illicit drug policy operates relative to legal drugs. But - barring the possibility of a Matrix-style awakening - this is no science-fiction story. These parallel universes are actually superimposed upon one another in the same reality, in the same law books, and by the same politicians and legislators. As this previous blog demonstrates you can do the exactly same thing with the UK's alcohol strategy and the effect is similarly disconcerting. It's almost like key legislators have been systematically spiked with some exotic hallucinogenic drugs for the past three generations and the drug war is all a terrible mistake based on a series of unfortunate out of body experiences.

It defies logic and reason, but then the entire prohibitionist paradigm always has. It is a faith based policy position, founded on a series of unquestioned 'beliefs' that it is both right and effective. (The UK Home Office actually describe how it 'fundamentally believes' the system works just fine thank you - before failing to back this with a single piece of evidence). These fundamental(ist) beliefs naturally do not require an evidence base, so the policy is never subject to meaningful evaluation, and the policy can never evolve in response to, say for example, decades of quite appalling failure, or adapt in response to, say for example, the fact that social and cultural landscape has changed quite a lot since the 1940's. All those annoying pragmatic and ethical principles that underly public health based models of regulation are completely superfluous.

Unless, of course, we are talking about alcohol or tobacco (see Transform's recent submission to the DoH tobacco control consultation). The parallel universe weirdness does not stop here - our very own Government ministers have gone as far as using the failure of alcohol prohibition to argue for appropriate legal regulation of tobacco and gambling. On the very specific basis that 'prohibition doesn't work'.

Short of asking our politicians to lay off the ketamine (it's Class C now after all), it's hard to know how to move forward with this, so profoundly entrenched is the Orwellian logic. It appears that Government are so dazzled by luminous absurdity of it all that their only response is to keep on digging, further and further down their own doomed drug-war k-hole. At least then they can't be accused of being inconsistent.

There is a way out of the hole course, and it has something to do with intellectual honesty, pragmatism, courage, and leadership. Unfortunately there's an election on the horizon - on both sides of the pond - so don't hold your breath.

Whereas throughout American history, alcohol has been consumed by its citizens and regulated by the Government; (Introduced in House)



2d Session

H. CON. RES. 415

Celebrating 75 years of effective State-based alcohol regulation and recognizing State lawmakers, regulators, law enforcement officers, the public health community and industry members for creating a workable, legal, and successful system of alcoholic beverage regulation, distribution, and sale.


September 16, 2008

Mr. COBLE (for himself and Mr. STUPAK) submitted the following concurrent resolution; which was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary


Celebrating 75 years of effective State-based alcohol regulation and recognizing State lawmakers, regulators, law enforcement officers, the public health community and industry members for creating a workable, legal, and successful system of alcoholic beverage regulation, distribution, and sale.

Whereas throughout American history, alcohol has been consumed by its citizens and regulated by the Government;

Whereas prior to the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, which established Prohibition in the United States, abuses and insufficient regulation resulted in irresponsible overconsumption of alcohol;

Whereas passage of the 18th Amendment, which prohibited `the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors' in the United States, resulted in a dramatic increase in illegal activity, including unsafe black market alcohol production, organized crime, and noncompliance with alcohol laws;

Whereas the platforms of the 2 major political parties in the 1932 presidential campaigns advocated ending national Prohibition by repealing the 18th Amendment;

Whereas on February 20, 1933, the 2nd Session of the 72nd Congress submitted to conventions of the States the question of repealing the 18th Amendment and adding new language to the Constitution that the transportation or importation of alcoholic beverages for delivery or use in any State would have to be carried out in compliance with the laws of the State;

Whereas on December 3, 1933, Utah became the 36th State to approve what became the 21st Amendment to the Constitution, the quickest-ratified amendment and the only ever decided by State conventions, pursuant to article V of the Constitution;

Whereas alcohol is the only product in commerce that has been the subject of 2 constitutional amendments;

Whereas Congress's reenactment of the Webb-Kenyon Act, passage of the Federal Alcohol Administration Act, the 21st Amendment Enforcement Act, annual appropriations to support State enforcement of underage drinking laws, and the STOP Underage Drinking Act demonstrated the longstanding and continuing intent of Congress that States exercise their primary authority to achieve temperance, the creation and maintenance of orderly and stable markets, and the facilitation of the efficient collection of taxes;

Whereas legislatures and alcoholic beverage control agencies in the 50 States have worked diligently to implement the powers granted by the 21st Amendment for 75 years;

Whereas legislatures and alcoholic beverage control agencies in all States created and maintain State-based regulatory systems for alcohol distribution made up of producers and importers, wholesale distributors, and retailers;

Whereas development of a transparent and accountable system of distribution and sales, an orderly market, temperance in consumption and safe practices, the efficient collection of taxes, and other essential policies have been successfully guided by the collective experience and cooperation of government agencies and licensed industry members throughout our geographically and culturally diverse Nation;

Whereas regulated commerce in alcoholic beverages contributes billions of dollars in Federal and State tax revenues and additional billions to the economy annually;

Whereas 2,500 breweries, distilleries, wineries, and import companies, 2,700 wholesale distributor facilities, over 530,000 retail outlets, and numerous agricultural, packaging, and transportation businesses support the employment of millions of Americans;

Whereas the American system of State-based alcohol regulation has resulted in a marketplace with unprecedented choice, variety, and selection for consumers;

Whereas members of the licensed alcoholic beverage industry have been constant partners with Federal and State Governments in balancing the conduct of competitive businesses with the need to control alcohol in order to provide American consumers with a safe and regulated supply of alcoholic beverages; and

Whereas members of the licensed alcoholic beverage industry have created and supported a wide range of national, State, and community programs to address problems associated with alcohol abuse, including drunk driving and underage drinking: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved by the House of Representatives (the Senate concurring), That Congress--

(1) celebrates 75 years of effective State-based alcohol regulation since the passage of the 21st Amendment;

(2) recognizes State lawmakers, regulators, law enforcement officers, the public health community and industry members for creating a workable, legal, and successful system of alcoholic beverage regulation, distribution, and sale; and

(3) continues to support policies that allow States to effectively regulate alcohol

Thanks to Bruce Mirkin

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Former US Drugs Cop Highlights the Racial Impact of the Drugs War

Jack Cole, Executive Director of LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition) and a former US police officer (who recently visited the UK and appeared on the Today program) has spoken out about the link between the war on drugs and race.

In an article in the Boston Globe, 'The Solution to the failed war on drugs' he argues,

'War and race dominate the presidential campaign, but one nation-shaping war with profound racial consequences eludes the political radar: the drug war...

But while no other country locks up as large a percentage of its citizens, the specific impact on minority families has been one step short of the reinstitution of slavery: from media portrayals of marijuana-crazed Mexicans, opium-crazed Asians, and cocaine-crazed blacks, this war has always been about race.'

He says that whilst '33 percent of whites received a prison sentence and 51 percent of African-Americans received prison sentences', the amount of black people using drugs is in direct proportion to the amount of ethnic minorities in the USA, 'So, for example, blacks, who are 13 percent of our population, account for 13 percent of our drug use. '

Bill Clinton has admitted the negative impacts that these laws have on ethnic minorities, particularly blacks. Earlier this year he acknowledged his administration's failure to end the racial disparities in sentencing of powder and crack cocaine offenses despite the pharmacological similarities between both substances.

There's more on Clinton's stance on the drugs war, and Obama's views on marijuana here - 'Barack Obama supports cannabis declssification'.

Barack Obama has also spoken out on the crack versus cocaine issue calling for a closing of the sentencing disparity which stands at 100 to 1.

Cole further emphasises the failures of prohibtion for racial minorities by saying,
'Inner-city communities are devastated not by drug use but by the same turf-war street violence that accompanied alcohol prohibition and that dramatically decreased once that drug was legalized and regulated. Almost one in seven African-Americans are denied voting rights largely because of drug arrests, and countless minorities are denied intact families, college loans, driver's licenses, and jobs because of selective enforcement of a prohibition that, even fairly enforced, prevents no one from using drugs.'

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Incarcerex: a single pill solution to your drug policy problems

To all the politicians out there; It may not solve the drug problem but Incarcerex really is a magic bullet for all those nagging political worries at election time.

This is a brilliant pharma-ad spoof aimed squarely at the politicians who use drug war posturing and knee jerk drug enforcement crackdowns to distract attention from their other failings. Produced by the Drug Policy Alliance, there is also now a new Canadian version.

New US cannabis stats undermine drug czar's claims of enforcement success

“When we push back against the drug problem, it gets smaller” John Walters, White House Drug Czar has claimed. Unfortunately for Walter's the latest cannabis stats from the US don't support his rather sweeping drug war hypothesis.

A couple of weeks back federal officials released the 2007 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, conveniently perhaps on the same day as the climax of the republican convention and as a hurricane was battering the hell out of the Deep South, and media attention was elsewhere. The report, for those who did chance upon it, undermines Walters’ claims of success in reducing cannabis use during his tenure, which he likes attribute to his aggressive policies.

The total number of Americans (aged 12 and up) who have used illicit drugs is up from 108 million in 2002, the first full year of Walters’ tenure, to 114 million in 2007. And the number of Americans who’ve used cannabis has passed the 100 million mark for the first time — up from 95 million in 2002.

Its a confusing picture in some ways. In 2002, 46.0 percent of Americans had used an illicit drug at some point in their lives. In 2007 it was 46.1 percent. For cannabis, the rate went from 40.4 percent to 40.6 percent. Whilst only a marginal increase and probably within the limits of sampling error, it certainly does not signal the much heralded fall. Of course it depends on how you measure prevalence and only fair to point out that “current” (past 30 days) use of illicit drugs is down marginally since 2002 – from 8.3 percent to 8.0 percent for all illicit drugs, and the trend for cannabis is similar (although it also depends on the demographic breakdown, with a trend towards falling use for 12 to 17 year olds, more than matched by a perhaps suprising rise in over 50's) . However, on another, arguably even more significant measure, and despite all of Walters’ huffing and puffing, the number of Americans using cannabis for the first time has not budged during his tenure.

So how much harder have they pushed to achieve this apparent non-success on prevalence rates? This week the FBI published its annual report on Crime in the United States 2007. This reveals that,s once again, the number of people in the United States arrested for cannabis has gone up. A staggering 872,721 Americans were arrested for cannabis in 2007, and of those arrests, 89% or 775,138 were arrests for simple possession - not buying, selling, trafficking, or manufacture (growing).

This represents an increase in cannabis arrests of 5.2% from the previous year and the fifth straight year cannabis arrests have increased from the previous year. Now a cannabis user is arrested at the rate of 1 every 37 seconds and almost 100 cannabis arrests per hour. That is some fairly serious pushing one would think - yet the stats suggest the enforcement effort (and the huge financial and human costs it incurs) is, at best, largely irrelevant, or at worst, actively counterproductive.

The ONDCP officials regularly argue that maintaining criminal penalties for cannabis possession is essential to stopping drug abuse. So what’s happened with a dangerous drug whose possession is legal: cigarettes? The 2007 National Survey conveniently provides figures for past-month cigarette use, and both the number of users and the rate of cigarette use is down markedly. In 2002, 26 percent of Americans were current cigarette smokers; now it’s 24.2 percent, continuing a decades-long decline. And the decline in current cigarette smoking for 12-to-17-year-olds is even more dramatic, from 13 percent to 9.8 percent.

That, of course, is with zero arrests for cigarette possession, compared with, what was it again, 775,138 marijuana possession arrests in 2007.

Maybe, as Transform argued in its recent submission to the DoH consultation on tobacco control, we should be learning the lessons from tobacco successes (effective legal regulation and public health education), rather than cannabis failures (mass criminalisation and unregulated illegal markets). As the UK prepares to 'push back' harder on cannabis possession with the imminent re-reclassification of cannabis and attendant increase in possession penalties from 2 to 5 years (following 7 years of steady decline in use when they actually pushed back a bit less) do not expect any comment on the US stats from the Home Office.

Thanks to NORML and MPP blogs

Monday, September 15, 2008

Transform submission to the DoH consultation on tobacco control

Transform's have made a submission to the Department of Health's consultation on the future of tobacco control. The complete pdf of Transform's submission is available here, the introduction and one of the discussion points, on the wider implications of tobacco control policy, are copied below.


Transform welcomes this consultation as timely, thorough and thoughtful, and hope that it will allow us to build on the recent achievements made in tobacco policy with more appropriate targeted regulation based around evidence of effectiveness on key public health indicators.

  • Following a dialogue with Action on Tobacco and Health (ASH) Transform fully endorse ASH’s detailed submission (1) to this consultation and its answers to the individual questions posed.

  • Transform also fully endorse the World Health Organisation’s framework convention on tobacco control (2) signed by the UK in 2003

In addition to this endorsement of the ASH submission we include some additional comments on overlooked elements of issues relating to tobacco harm reduction that are relevant to Question 17 (3) in the consultation document.

Transform would also like to present some additional discussion points not directly addressed in the consultation document regarding:

  • Possibilities for a more radical restructuring of tobacco market regulation

  • Discrepancies between alcohol and tobacco policy development

  • The wider issues raised around drug policy and how to regulate drugs

The wider issues raised around drug policy and how to regulate drugs

All drugs, whether currently legal or illegal, need to be subject to the optimum level of regulation such that harms, both to individual users and the wider community are minimised and wellbeing maximised. Better regulation of tobacco is now delivering positive public health benefits, and as we argue above, it is hoped, and indeed seems likely, that these lessons will soon be translated into more effective regulation of alcohol markets.

However, it is hard to ignore the fact that such regulatory interventions, on price, packaging, availability, ingredients/strength, marketing etc, and the positive outcomes they can demonstrably deliver are entirely beyond the reach of government when it comes to drugs covered by the Misuse of Drugs Act. Responsibility for control of illegal drug markets was abdicated to criminal networks and unregulated street dealers when they were subject to absolute prohibitions against their production, supply and use, enforced with criminal law.

The distinction between legal and illegal drugs is not based on any rational evaluation of harms, but rather is a quirk of our political and cultural histories over the last 200 years. Indeed a recent Lancet paper (4) ranked alcohol and tobacco as more harmful than many illegal drugs.

The disjuncture between how we approach legal and illegal drugs is entirely illogical, and the case for all drugs to be regulated within a single regulatory framework, by a single regulatory agency, using a consistent set of evidence-based public health principles/tools seems overwhelming. Why are alcohol and tobacco the primary concern of the DoH, whereas over 200 illicit drugs are covered by the Home Office? It is a quite bizarre and untenable situation. Even the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, the body of experts appointed to advise Government on drugs issues recently argued that:

"As their actions are similar and their harmfulness to individuals and society is no less that that of other psychoactive drugs, tobacco and alcohol should be explicitly included in the terms of reference of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (5)"

Transform argues that the sorts of questions being asked about appropriate levels of legal regulation and state intervention in the tobacco and alcohol consultations are precisely those we should be asking for currently illegal drugs. The current anomalous legislative framework however, completely denies us this opportunity and there is a striking and depressing contrast between the public health pragmatism of these DoH documents and the shallow politically-driven criminal justice posturing that characterised last year’s disgraceful drug strategy consultation (6). The DoH should unambiguously assert that drug policy is primarily a public health issue and is should therefore be the primary responsibility of the DoH and relevant public health authorities.

No credible calls have been made for an outright ban on tobacco, or for it to criminalised and brought within the Misuse of Drugs Act. Indeed, when the then Home Secretary, John Reid, was asked on the Jeremy Vine radio show (BBC Radio 2, 11.11.04) if he supported such a ban he replied:

“Prohibition doesn’t work, as the US found out many years ago.”

[1] http://www.smokefreeaction.org.uk/news/ASH_DH_Consultation_tobacco_control_final.pdf

[2] http://www.who.int/features/2003/08/en/

[3] Do you support a harm reduction approach and if so can y9ou suggest how it should be developed and implemented.

[4] Development of a rational scale to assess the harm of drugs of potential misuse . The Lancet , Volume 369 , Issue 9566 , Pages 1047 - 1053 D . Nutt , L . King , W . Saulsbury , C . Blakemore.

[5] Pathways to Problems 2006 http://drugs.homeoffice.gov.uk/publication-search/acmd/pathways-to-problems/Pathwaystoproblems.pdf

[6] Discussed in more detail in the submissions from Transform: http://www.tdpf.org.uk/Policy_General_DrugStategyConsultationSubmission.htm and the Drugs and Health Alliance: http://drugshealthalliance.net/documents/consultation_submission.php

Friday, September 12, 2008

UN special rapporteur documents systematic torture of drug suspects in Indonesia

I recently came across a UN report, published in March, by Manfred Nowak, the UN's Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, in which he chronicles the shocking mistreatment routinely meted out by police upon drug suspects in Indonesia. The report makes for grim reading and whilst not specifically focused on drugs policy it comes as little surprise that drug suspects form a substantial proportion of the abuse victims he details. Nowak notes that:

"Indonesia has not outlawed torture under its criminal legislation. Indonesian law does not contain an explicit prohibition of torture. This, combined with the absence of procedural safeguards against torture, the lack of independent monitoring mechanisms and of effective complaints mechanisms results in a system of quasi-total impunity."
It is hoped that this report, and its public dissemination, will lead to a change in enforcement culture in Indonesia, and highlight that everyone has inalienable human rights, including not being tortured whilst in custody, regardless of the offense. The UN declaration of Human Rights preamble states that:
'Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.'

'Everyone' includes drug users, drug suspects, and drug criminals.

The following are directly quoted from Nowak's report:

"22. The overwhelming majority of the detainees interviewed indicated that the ill-treatment was used primarily to extract confessions or, in the cases of drug-related crimes, to receive information on drug suppliers. In a number of cases detainees were offered to be spared in return for the payment of a substantial amount of money. Those interlocutors who had been already tried reported in unison that their coerced confessions had been used during the court proceedings and that objections they had raised were not considered by the judge, prosecutor or even their own legal aid clerk. Furthermore, they were not aware of any complaints mechanism to which they could address their grievances expecting any kind of outcome."

"64. Whereas in some police stations he did not receive any allegations of ill-treatment, in other facilities, in particular in urban areas, torture and ill-treatment is used routinely to extract confessions or in the context of drug charges to reveal dealers/suppliers. In three police stations, the Special Rapporteur arrived while beatings were taking place, and in several places he found persistent medical evidence of several types of ill-treatment, which are in line with reports by prisoners and various other credible sources received prior and during his visit."

"23. Achmad Alfian, aged 20, was arrested by officers of Polsek Tanabang in July 2006 while buying drugs. Although he did not resist, he was handcuffed and beaten with the but of a gun on his head. He was then transferred to the Polsek. During the ensuing interrogation he was beaten with a rubber stick all over his body, but particularly on his head and back in order to force him to confess to being a drug seller. Mr. Alfian refused and was charged. Furthermore, he had to pay 500 000 IDR (about 53 $US) for being put in a cell which was supposed to be of better quality than the others. In September 2006, Mr. Alfian was transferred to Pondok Bambu pre-trial detention facility. He constantly feels dizzy and has headaches."
"73. Detainee, aged 40, accused of a drug crime, was arrested on 27 August 2007 by seven drug police officers under the command of Iptu Alawah in his room in Jayapura. Upon his arrest he was handcuffed, forced to sit and beaten and kicked by them. They reportedly also stepped on his body and legs. He further complained about the lack of food."

"80. R., aged 25, from Makassar, was arrested on 25 May 2006 by the drug police. He was kicked in the stomach and hit on the face in the street for one hour, when he refused to tell where his drugs came from. He was then transferred to POLSEC Mamadjanj, where the beatings continued and he was hit with wooden sticks and hands all night until he told the names of the drug sellers."

"109. Mr. Zulfiqaraw, aged 40, from Lahore, Pakistan, was arrested at Jakarta Airport in November 2004 on allegations of drug related offences. While he was abroad the police raided his apartment in Jakarta which he shared with a friend who possessed drugs. Despite the friend’s confession and assurances that Mr. Zulfiqaraw was not involved in any drug related matter, the police took Mr. Zulfiqaraw from the airport to a private house, where he was tortured for three days. He was frequently punched, kicked and threatened with being shot unless he would confess. Nobody knew his whereabouts. After three days his health deteriorated so much that he had to be taken to the police hospital, where he was treated for 17 days. Subsequently, he was transferred to Polda Jakarta where he spent two and a half months in official police custody. The prosecutor in charge, Mr. Hutagaol, offered to drop any charges for a payment of 400 million IDR (about 42,700 $US). Mr. Zulfiqaraw perceived his ensuing trial as strikingly unfair and biased against him since he is a foreigner. No convincing evidence was presented; during the trial session his judge fell asleep. He did not receive any legal aid although he was not able to finance a lawyer; his embassy was wrongly informed and failed to support him. He was sentenced to death."
"121. Eko, aged 28, law student from Blora, Central Java, was arrested by six police officers at his home on 23 December 2006 based on the order of the head of the drug unit of Polres Sleman. He was kicked and punched by the officers and then taken to the Polres where he was interrogated in the office of Mr. Kurniawan. During interrogation he was electrocuted, got hammer blows on his fingers and was beaten by four police officers for one hour. The police officers also banged a chair on his body and put it on his toes. Following this treatment, he confessed, and Mr. Kurniawan offered him to drop some charges in exchange for money. He did not receive any medial treatment for his wounds and scars but the other detainees gave him some medicine. He was kept in Polres police custody for two months and then transferred to the prison LP Cebongan where he spent six months. At the Polres visitors had to pay 10 000 IDR (1 $US) to see him. The Prosecutor at the District Court offered mitigation in exchange of money. The Prosecutor was informed about the ill-treatment and the confession under torture, but this did not affect the outcome of the trial."

"127. On his way to the debriefing meeting with the authorities, the Special Rapporteur found Mr. Zulfikar, aged 20, accused of a drug related crime, who had just been tortured in office No. 50. He had been beaten with a stick and a white plastic pipe by four police officers named Briptu Arika (Reskrim); Briptu Safari S.Y. (SAT NARKOBA); Briptu Agmeg Jatmiko (SAT NARKOBA); and Briptu Opar S. (SAT NARKOBA), which left very clear and distinguishable marks on his arm. The Head of the Narcotics Unit (Andri Triasfoetra, SIK) tried to deny the Special Rapporteur access, arguing that his mandate does not cover persons outside detention places (i.e. under interrogation).

128. The findings of the forensic expert (who recorded the evidence) as well as Mr. Zulfikar’s girlfriend, whom the Special Rapporteur interviewed, confirmed that Mr. Zulfikar had been tortured. She had been arrested together with him and put in the room next to the office where Mr. Zulfikar was ill-treated. She reported that she had heard his screams. She was extremely afraid of the police officers and cried repeatedly when interviewed by the Special Rapporteur. Although Mr. Zulfikar and his girlfriend were both extremely afraid of reprisals for speaking with the Special Rapporteur and begged for protection, the request of the Special Rapporteur to release them was not complied with. "

"139. Suhenry, aged 34, from Aceh, was arrested by five officers of Polres South Jakarta District in November 2006 in connection with a drug related crime. In the course of the first three days he was repeatedly interrogated by two officers in an ordinary office room on the second floor with the aim of identifying his supplier. When Mr. Suhenry refused to indicate his name they pressed his hand on the desk and beat his palm and fingers with a hammer. Furthermore, they used electroshock devices to electrocute him and punched him all over the body. At one point, the officers offered to let him escape, however, Mr. Suhenry stayed since he believed that this was a trick in order to shoot him during what would be later presented as an attempt to flee. The officers also put a plastic bag over his head, but Mr. Suhenry managed to bite a hole in it enabling him to breath. Eventually, Mr. Suhenry confessed in order to end the torture."

"141. After having inspected the cells, the Special Rapporteur ran into Mohammed Tasroni, aged 17, from Jakarta, who was handcuffed to a chair in an office belonging to the drug unit on the fourth floor. Mr. Tasroni was in the process of being interrogated by Mr. Sudartianta (No. 65080313) and had very strong swellings on this face as well as other traces of recent beatings all over his body.

"142. Mr. Tasroni reported that he had been arrested a few hours earlier near the Jatinegara Train Station, East Jakarta. There, he had met an old acquaintance whom he had not seen for a very long time and who asked to provide him with a dose of marijuana. After Mr. Tasroni had arranged for the drugs and handed them over to the former, it turned out that he was actually an undercover police officer working for the pursuit and attack team (“Buser”) of the Criminal Investigation Department. Mr. Tasroni was arrested by several plain-clothes police officers and taken to a private house, which appeared to be an empty office building, in a civilian Kijang car. Once in the house, the officers started to punch and kick Mr. Tasroni all over his body and on his face. He was also heavily beaten on his back. Mr. Tasroni was told the beating would not stop unless he would reveal the identity of his drug dealer. The beating was inflicted in the presence and with the participation of Mr. Bambang (AKP), the chief of Unit III/Baya of the Narcotics
For more detailed and up to date coverage of drugs and human rights issues visit the IHRA HR2 blog. The HR2 team will be holding a joint event with HUman Rights Watch at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva later this month. Details here.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Presidential candidate makes perfect sense on drugs shock

"...treating what is, at base, a moral, spiritual, and health problem as a matter of federal criminal law has solved nothing. The next president must put politics aside and take a long, hard look at the failure of the federal war on drugs. We must reestablish the primacy of individual choice and state's rights in deciding these issues. This always has been the greatest strength of America, and should be again."

Bob Barr, presidantial candidate for the Libertarian Party, says it all in this piece for the Huffington Post.

Civil Society Discussion Forum on Drug Policy in the EU

In a useful new development, the European Commission (EC) has announced the launch of a Civil Society Discussion Forum on Drug Policy in the European Union (EU). The letter from Carel Edwards (Drug Co-ordinator at the EC) states:

"the Forum will serve as a platform for informal exchanges and opinions between civil society organisations in the EU.

The forum is open to any NGO working in the drugs field in the EU and all organisations are welcome to register and contribute to the discussions on the site. Please note that registrations may take up to two days, as the Commission will be validating each participant individually.

The Discussion forum can be found here. For any problems you encounter please email melanie.potamitou@ec.europa.eu"

The Commission is to be congratulated for setting up a new opportunity. Do pass this on to colleagues in the field to encourage transnational interchange.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Transform submission to the ACMD ecstasy classification review

Transform have submitted a briefing to the ACMD review of the classification of ecstasy. The complete document is available here (pdf), the appended article from Drugs and Alcohol Today is available here (pdf), and the introduction, summary and conclusions are copied below. Some related issues are also discussed in an earlier blog: 'Ecstasy reclassification meltdown; it begins again'.

Introduction and summary

Transform’s response to the ACMD’s review of ecstasy operates at two levels. At one level, in the short term at least, we welcome the review as a long overdue response to the many calls(1) for the seemingly anomalous classification of ecstasy to be reviewed. From Transform’s perspective any reduction in unjust criminal penalties for consenting adult drug users is a positive step. At a more profound level, however, we remain deeply concerned that regardless of alphabetic classification, ecstasy will remain illegal, its users will still be subject to serious criminal sanctions, and the control of its production and supply will remain in the hands of unregulated criminal profiteers.

Over the past ten years Transform has argued that the absolute prohibition of drugs in the face of sustained demand inevitably leads to the creation of illicit markets that not only maximise the dangers of drugs for their users but also create a raft of secondary harms to society relating to the organized criminal networks and unregulated dealers who control the trade. There is no evidence that punitive law and its enforcement has anything other than, at best, a marginal impact on levels of drug use or misuse(2) despite the fact that the deterrent effect of the laws’ enforcement is nominally at the heart of the entire prohibitionist model. The model is unique in the public health field in deploying criminal sanctions to reduce social and health harms. It is also uniquely ineffective.

Ecstasy provides an instructive example, its use exploding in the late 80’s from almost zero in 1985 to around 2 million pills being consumed every weekend by the end of the decade, peaking in the 90’s and then falling gradually since the turn of the millennium. During this entire period ecstasy use was Class A and enforcement has not changed significantly. The recent decline in ecstasy use appears to be due to shifting youth culture, with the rise in cocaine use (also Class A for the entire period) evidently filling the void. How ecstasy is classified has been largely irrelevant but, Transform argues, the fact that it is classified within the MDA at all has had profound and dangerous implications. It is hard to imagine any scenario under which harms could be maximised further, and as such any recommendation for ecstasy’s classification maintains its absolute prohibition within the MDA and effectively perpetuates prohibition’s role in maximizing the harms associated with its production, supply and use.

This briefing explores the problems evaluating the harms of illicit ecstasy use, as well as the opportunity such a review presents to compare harms associated with illicit and licit use. It also considers the extraordinary political environment in which policy responses to ecstasy have emerged, and the Government’s unashamed anti-science posturing on the issue.

It concludes that any review of the harm of ecstasy, or indeed any illegal drug, is essentially pointless if no distinction is made between harms caused by the drug and those created and or exacerbated by its illegality. Transform has been calling for the ACMD to work at disaggregating policy harms from drug harms for some years now, maintaining that the ACMD’s continued explicit support for the criminalisation of drug production, supply and use (and failure to explore alternative regulatory options) makes them part of the problem instead of being part of the solution. Given the dramatic failure of the existing system and its appalling negative consequences (in both public health and criminal justice arenas) it is absolutely imperative that the ABC classification system itself, and the legislative framework of the MDA 1971 in which it sits, is the subject of the Advisory Council’s expert scrutiny.

Conclusions and recommendations

  • In the short term, if the current review finds, as widely expected, that ecstasy is inappropriately classified in Class A then, in the context of the existing system, a recommendation for reclassification to B or C should be made.

  • The ACMD’s report should also take the opportunity to make a clear recommendation for adequate resources to be put into targeted education about MDMA/ecstasy risks/harms and how they can be minimised/avoided.

  • It is vital that the review report takes the opportunity to make a clear distinction between harms relating to MDMA toxicity specifically, and harms relating to use of ‘ecstasy’ when it is produced, supplied and consumed illicitly.

  • Highlighting this important distinction between drug harms and harms created or exacerbated by policy will inevitably prompt a discussion of whether legally regulated production and availability of MDMA (obviously combined with the removal of all criminal sanctions for consenting adult users) would deliver better criminal justice and public health outcomes. The ACMD, as an independent voice of expertise should not shy away from such a discussion, however hysteria-inducing it may be in certain sections of Whitehall or the tabloid media. Indeed it is absolutely appropriate that the ACMD consider such matters in line with their remit to consider “restricting the availability of such drugs or supervising arrangements for their supply”, and the ACMD’s recent recommendation that "the current arrangements to control the supply of illegal drugs should be reviewed to determine whether any cost-effective and politically acceptable measures can be taken to reduce their availability to young people"(3).

  • The ecstasy review, however, is a distraction from the fundamental flaws with the classification system outlined above (and in more detail in the appended paper). It is unconscionable for the ACMD to simply proceed with a systematic review of classification of all drugs covered under the MDA (which, at the current rate will take many years to complete) when there is simply no evidence that an ABC system for determining a hierarchy of criminal penalties produces positive public health outcomes, and a substantial amount to demonstrate it is actively counterproductive and harmful.

  • It is of paramount importance that the ACMD assert the primacy of a scientific approach not only in terms of producing first class reviews of individual drug harms but also in terms of evaluating the policy impacts of ACMD recommendations, their implementation, and the system within which they operate. This is specifically in reference to the evidential and ethical basis for an ABC drug harm ranking system rooted within punitive criminal justice legislation.

  • Transform, therefore, hope that the appointment of a new ACMD chair will provide a fresh opportunity for the ACMD to instigate the long overdue root and branch review of the entire classification system; its aims and objectives, its outcomes on key indicators, and the legislative and institutional structures within which it operates.

  • Such a review was promised by the Home Secretary in the House of Commons in 2006(4), but despite a review consultation paper being fully drafted and ready for dissemination, the review was abruptly cancelled when a new Home Secretary was appointed. Such a review was supported by the Science and Technology Select Committee, the ACMD itself and, to the best of our knowledge, everyone in the drugs field. The absurd reason given by the Home Office for this review being cancelled was that ‘The Government believes that the classification system discharges its function fully and effectively and has stood the test of time’(5).

  • The ACMD cannot stand idly by whilst the Government so blatantly prioritises its own political posturing over rational policy evaluation and review, and dismisses a scientific approach on the basis of entirely un-evidenced ‘beliefs’. That such political games interfere with reclassification recommendations is beside the point (there is no evidence classification changes have any impact anyway). The more significant danger is that a policy infrastructure that has been such a manifest failure for over three decades remains unchallenged, perpetuating systemic failure and in a very real sense, costing lives.

  • The ACMD should demand of the Government that the classification review process be re-instigated with some urgency, and failing this undertake or commission such a review themselves.

1. Including, notably the Police Foundation Inquiry 2000 and the Home Affairs Select Committee 2002

2. For further discussion on the deterrent effect see; ‘Classification and Deterrence; where’s the evidence?

3 Pathways to Problems, ACMD 2006

4. www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200607/cmselect/cmsctech/65/6112201.htm

5. www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200506/cmselect/cmsctech/1031/103102.htm