Saturday, November 21, 2009

Transform debates Nixon Drug Tsar on BBC World Service

I had a great opportunity today to discuss global drug policy on the BBC World Service (broadcast internationally) with Dr Robert Dupont, the first director of the US National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the second US Drug Tsar from 1973 to 1977 under former presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. It was a refreshing change to have a decent amount of time to talk through some of the issues around drug policy reform in a little more detail - the segment on the Newshour show was 25 minutes, presented by Mary Ann Sieghart

You can listen to the discussion online here
(for the next 7 days), beginning around the 26 minute point.

I had a brief chat with Robert afterwards (he was phoning from the US). He congratulated me on doing a 'great job' (on the show) and was very interested in beginning a dialogue, giving me his email. I've promised to send him a copy of the new Transform publication 'After the War on Drugs: Blueprint for Regulation'; it'll be interesting to hear what he thinks.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Transform's 'Blueprint for Regulation' discussed on CNN international

Last week's launch of Transform's new book 'After the War on Drugs; Blueprint for Regulation' has received a large volume of high quality media coverage in the UK (see here) and Internationally (a full round up will be posted tomorrow along with detail of the US, Australia and Mexico launch events).

This week Steve Rolles was invited onto CNN international show Connect the world , to discuss the new book in the 'connector of the day' slot (it is broadcast to 200 million households although what that means in terms of actual viewers isn't clear, although going by the spike in web hits presumably lots). The clip below unfortunately does not include the 90 second trailer film that outlined the arguments in the book and introduced Transform and the author.

The Connect the day blog post for the slot also attracted, at time of writing, 210 posts, overwhelmingly supportive of the Transform position, and gratifyingly more than the levels of interest that the blog normally pulls in for the more usual showbiz guests .

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Transform discuss new book on BBC's Today Programme

On Saturday Steve Rolles appeared on BBC Radio 4's flagship current affairs show, the Today programme, to discuss drugs policy reform, specifically Transform's new book 'After the War on Drugs: Blueprint for Regulation' (launched last week). Interviewed by John Humphrys, Steve was joined by Tom Wainright from the Economist. You can listen to the audio on the BBC Today website here.

Other media coverage of 'After the War on Drugs: Blueprint for Regulation'

pic: the Guardian

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Landmark book shows how to legalise and regulate drugs

UK Parliamentary launch of 'Blueprint for Regulation'
Grannd Committee room, House of Commons

Blueprint launch press release

Transform Drug Policy Foundation today launched the internationally groundbreaking new book 'After the War on Drugs: Blueprint for Regulation', at 11.15am GMT, 12th November 2009, in the Grand Committee Room, House of Commons. It will also be launched in the US (see below for details), mainland Europe, Central and South Americas, Australasia and Asia.

For the first time anywhere, ‘Blueprint’ provides a detailed roadmap showing how to legally regulate all currently prohibited drugs by proposing specific models of regulation for each type, coupled with the principles and rationale for doing so. These include doctors’ prescriptions, pharmacy sales, licensed premises and off-license sales.

Speakers at the House of Commons include: Ms. Robin Gorna, (Executive Director, International AIDS Society), Professor Rod Morgan (former Chair, Youth Justice Board) and Dr Ben Goldacre (Guardian ‘Bad Science’ Columnist).

There is growing recognition globally that the prohibition of drugs is a counterproductive failure. However, a major barrier to drug law reform has been fear of the unknown – what could a post-prohibition regime look like? In answering that question, Blueprint demonstrates that legally regulating drugs is not a step into the unknown, but a tried and tested approach to control drug production, supply and use.

Transform Head of Research and the book’s author, Steve Rolles said:

“Like it or not, drugs are here to stay, so we have a choice - either criminals control them, or governments do. By the cautious implementation of a legally regulated regime, we can control products, prices, vendors, outlets, availability, and using environments through a range of regulatory models, depending on the nature of the drug, and evidence of what works. Under prohibition we have no control whatsoever, the consequences of which have been disastrous.”

“Governments that ignore the evidence and maintain the failing status quo are being negligent, reckless and irresponsible. With the regulatory systems proposed in this book now available, national and international policy makers must conduct comprehensive Impact Assessments to count the costs and benefits of prohibition, and compare them with legally regulated control. At the least, this will enable government and taxpayers to assess how well scarce resources are being spent. At best, it will trigger a genuine debate on alternatives to the futile war on drugs, leading to the replacement of prohibition with an effective, just and humane system of legal regulation.”

Craig McClure, former Executive Director of the International AIDS Society and author of the book’s foreword said:

“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to show that criminalising drugs has led to a dramatic increase in drug-related harms, and that controlling and regulating their production and distribution would go a long way towards reducing those harms. A range of Latin American governments have already moved, or are moving, towards decriminalisation of drug possession and are shifting to a public health model to prevent and treat misuse of drugs. They are no longer able to tolerate the damage done to their societies by the War on Drugs.

“This is not a radical book. In fact, it is the prohibitionist model that is radical, being based exclusively on a moral judgment against drug use and drug users, and not on an evidence-based approach to reducing drug-related harms. Underscoring a century of prohibitionist policy is a deep-seated fear that moving from prohibition to a regulatory approach will lead to a ‘free-for-all’ situation. ‘Blueprint’ outlines clearly that this fear is irrational, and that reform of any kind will be vastly superior to the status quo.”

“‘Blueprint’ envisages a world in which non-medical drug supply and use is addressed through the right blend of compassion, pragmatism, and evidence-based interventions focused on improving public health. These have been missing from the debate for too long. The time for change in global drug policy is long overdue. Nothing less than the future health of individuals, families, communities and societies is at stake.”

Professor Rod Morgan former Chair of the Youth Justice Board said:

"Much of what we call the drug problem is caused by the fact that prohibition gifts the market to criminals. Government regulation and control would help stabilise transit and producer countries, significantly reduce property crime and the prison population, improve the wellbeing of drug users and their families, protect young people and vulnerable communities and save billions of pounds that could be spent on dealing with the root causes of problematic drug use."


Notes for Editors:

US Launch: US press conference with panel and Q&A at the Drug Policy Alliance Conference, Albuquerque, New Mexico, 12 November 2009, 11:00 hours MST. Audio line for journalists available. call UK 0117941 5810 for deatils

Friday, November 06, 2009

Transform launch new guide to legal regulation of drugs

Transform is pleased to announce that our latest publication, 'After the War on Drugs: Blueprint for Regulation' will be launched at an event in the House of Commons on November the 12th, with simultaneous launches taking place in the US (at the Drug Policy Alliance conference in Albuquerque), Australia and Mexico. December will see further launch events in Brazil and the EU parliament.

There is a growing recognition around the world that the prohibition of drugs is a counterproductive failure. However, a major barrier to drug law reform has been a widespread fear of the unknown—just what could a post-prohibition regime look like?

For the first time, ‘After the War on Drugs: Blueprint for Regulation’ answers that question by proposing specific models of regulation for each main type and preparation of prohibited drug, coupled with the principles and rationale for doing so.

We demonstrate that moving to the legal regulation of drugs is not an unthinkable, politically impossible step in the dark, but a sensible, pragmatic approach to control drug production, supply and use.

  • Hardback copies are also available. Exec summaries are available in print and pdf format in English, Portuguese and Spanish.
  • UK and international media contact: UK 0117 9415810
  • For more coverage follow Transform Twitter

Media coverage (updated 13.11.09) newest first

MPs table motion calling for drugs policy based on scientific evidence

PRESS NOTICE: from the Parliamentary Drugs and Alcohol Treatment and Harm Reduction Group

Chair: Lord David Ramsbotham
Secretary: Mike Wood MP
Vice Chairs: David Burrowes MP, Paul Flynn MP, Paul Holmes MP


MPs table motion calling for drugs policy based on scientific evidence

MPs from the Cross-Party Group on Drugs and Alcohol Treatment and Harm Reduction (DATHR) have today tabled an Early Day Motion (EDM) calling on the Government to base its drugs and alcohol policy on scientific evidence. The call comes in the wake of the forced resignation of Professor David Nutt as Chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD).

Mike Wood MP, DATHR Group Secretary, said:

"Following the debacle over Professor Nutt, there is a widespread concern now that the Government is moving away from an evidence-based drugs and alcohol policy. An open debate about the dangers of legal and illegal drugs should be welcomed by the Government."
Dr Evan Harris MP, Lib Dem Science Spokesman and former public health doctor, said:
"Ignoring scientific advice and evidence about the harms and effects of a drug classification has serious consequences for public health and for the over-criminalisation of young people. The key priority in these areas must be what is effective not political or populist posturing"

Notes to Editors:

The cross-party group on Drugs & Alcohol Treatment and Harm Reduction was established in October 2008 and brings together MPs and peers from all political parties and none with practitioner organisations delivering services to drug and alcohol users.

For further comment or interview:

DATHRG Office: 020 7219 1626

The EDM reads:
EDM 2244: Policymaking on Drugs and Alcohol

That this House believes that Government policy on drugs and alcohol misuse
and harm should be based on scientific evidence; and further believes that
the failure to do so will increase the risk to public health, and in
particular to young people.

Mike Wood
Paul Flynn
Paul Holmes
John McDonnell
Dr Evan Harris
Dr Brian Iddon
Lynne Jones
Neil Gerrard
Peter Bottomley

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Tripping over Nutt

The Nutt episode has revealed the limits of the Home Office's criminal justice approach to drugs policy

The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) was set up under the Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA) in 1971 on a premise that was thought radical at the time - an independent panel of heavy-weight experts from a range of fields would offer policy advice on drugs not just as a criminal justice issue, but as a social phenomenon too.

Sadly, for most of its existence the ACMD has been used by the government, as one member Dr Les King put it: ‘ a rubber stamp, a poodle'. That changed with the appointment of Professor David Nutt. He is outspoken, principled, and not easily cowed by authority figures, as well as being a leading specialist with impeccable scientific credentials. That combination proved too much for the home secretary, Alan Johnson, who sacked him for telling an inconvenient truth - government policy is not evidence based.

In fact it is an evidence-free zone. Both internationally and domestically, we see drug supply and availability increasing; use of drugs that cause the most harm increasing; health harms increasing; and massive levels of crime leading to a crisis in our criminal justice systems. Illicit drug profits are enriching criminals, fuelling conflict and undermining security and development in producer and transit countries from Mexico and Guinea Bissau, to Afghanistan and Colombia, with the gravest impacts falling upon the poor and marginalised. Yet particularly at a time of economic stricture, it is crucial that drugs expenditure is cost-effective and humane, which it often manifestly is not.

That is why we have been urging the ACMD to call for a comprehensive review of policy, in the form of an independent and comprehensive impact assessment of the Misuse of Drugs Act. An impact assessment comparing the costs and benefits of current policy with all the alternatives, from stepping up prohibition, through Portuguese-style decriminalisation, to legal regulation would be a process behind which all stakeholders genuinely interested in evidence-based policy could unite, helping break the emotive, polarised deadlock in the debate around drug policy reform. In the longer term, it would ensure greater transparency and trust in the decision-making process, and most importantly help to determine which mix of policies is most likely to deliver the best outcomes.

In the UK, it is now a requirement for all new legislation to have an impact assessment done before it comes before parliament, but this was not the case in 1971 when the MDA was enacted. As we stated during a recent meeting with the prime minister, we believe it is time to correct that anomaly. The UN should also carry out a similar exercise at international level to incorporate impacts on producer and transit countries.

Given this is such an eminently sensible call, why hasn't it happened already? For the same reason Professor Nutt was sacked - the government doesn't want the evidence made public because it knows what it would show. As Bob Ainsworth said when we put a similar request to him when he was drugs minister: ‘Why would we do that unless we were going to legalise drugs?'

Accepting the evidence will demand a much more fundamental reform of how drugs policy is handled by the government than tweaking the MDA. Just as with terrorism where security concerns are paramount and there is huge resistance to considering the root causes of radicalisation, the Home Office perceives everything in a criminal justice light. In American psychologist Abraham Maslow's analogy, when the only tool it has is a hammer, it sees all challenges as nails. Ultimately, we need to de-securitise drugs policy, get the lead on it out of the Home Office, and into the normal kind of cross-departmental framework within which other elements of government social policy operate.

This article originally appeared on the Progress website here.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Double Standards from the Evening Standard on cannabis classification?

There was a welcome outbreak of common sense in Yesterday's Evening Standard, a paper more often prone to reactionary drug war posturing, in its leader editorial on the David Nutt furore:

Spin and drugs

The row over the firing of drug expert David Nutt was almost inevitable. Professor Nutt, chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, was dismissed at the weekend; Home Secretary Alan Johnson accuses him of running a campaign against official policy.

But Professor Nutt made his comments about the Government's policy on cannabis under extreme provocation.

The ACMD was set up in 1971 as an integral part of the Misuse of Drugs Act year: its purpose is to advise ministers on the latest scientific thinking on drugs, and the intention of the Act was for that advice to inform policy.

So it was that cannabis was downgraded from a class B to a less dangerous class C drug in 2004, on the ACMD's advice.

In 2008, however, the Government reclassified cannabis as class B, despite the ACMD's objections - not because of the science but largely thanks to a media hue and cry over the alleged dangers posed by strong "skunk" cannabis.

If that is to be the basis of policy, it is hard to see what the point of the ACMD is any more.

The bigger worry is what this suggests about ministers' attitudes to science and to spin.

Gordon Brown likes to portray himself as less obsessed with spin and headlines than his predecessor.

That was always implausible but when such cynical objectives override science, and a policy that affects many people's lives, that is truly depressing.

A decent commentary, but couldn't help from prompting me to cast my mind back to the 'media hue and cry over the alleged dangers posed by strong "skunk" cannabis', and the particular papers that were the main culprits behind it. Ahem:

Follow the latest developments and coverage on the David Nutt/ACMD story in the miniblog (right)

or on

pic from Oct 15th 2007

Monday, November 02, 2009

David Nutt is sacked from the ACMD

There's a lot of important issues raised by the ACMD chair's sacking, and the subsequent reaction. Transform have been actively engaging in the debate in a range of broadcast media, including 5 live radio, and BBC and Channel 4 news. We will have more to say on all this as the story develops over the next few days but in the mean time follow the media coverage in the Miniblog (on the right) or on Twitter.