Thursday, December 15, 2011

Released today: new Count the Costs briefing on the crime costs of the war on drugs

Click to download the PDF
This below is reproduced from the Count the Costs blog.

Far from eliminating drug use and the illicit trade, prohibition has inadvertently fuelled the development of the world’s largest illegal commodities market – a market worth hundreds of billions of dollars, controlled solely by criminal profiteers. Produced in collaboration with project supporters Law Enforcement Against ProhibitionTransform Drug Policy FoundationRelease, theInternational Centre for Science in Drug Policy and Harm Reduction International, the latest Count the Costs briefing outlines how this illicit, unregulated market generates:
  • Organised crime
  • Street crime
  • Mass incarceration
  • Violent crime
  • Crimes perpetrated by governments/states
  • Vast economic costs in terms of drug war-related enforcement

The briefing will form a key part of our outreach to mainstream NGOs working in the criminal justice sector, building on the endorsements Count the Costs has already received from organisations such as the Howard League for Penal Reform and Make Justice Work.

Evidence from across the world reveals that although law enforcement can show seemingly impressive results in terms of arrests and seizures, impacts on the drug market are inevitably marginal, localised and temporary. Indeed, as the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime acknowledges, one of the unintended consequences of the war on drugs is the so-called “balloon effect”, whereby rather than eliminating criminal activity, enforcement just moves it somewhere else. When enforcement does take out criminals, it also creates a vacuum, and even more violence, as rival gangs fight for control.

The Count the Costs initiative has the widely shared goal of a safer, healthier and more just world. It is time for all sectors affected by current approaches to drugs, particularly those agencies, organisations and individuals concerned with crime reduction, to call on governments and the UN to Count the Costs of the war on drugs and explore the alternatives.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Christmas Match Funding Challenge Starts Today! Double Your Gift And Help End the War On Drugs

The Allen Lane Foundation, for a second year running, have offered us an amazing opportunity to get your gift to End the War on Drugs doubled, and it starts TODAY.

Increasing numbers of politicians, policemen, doctors, journalists, and academics are acknowledging that the War on Drugs has failed. Even the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, which is responsible for enforcing the current approach, has identified huge negative unintended consequences of this policy.

Deploying military and police to eradicate drug crops, ever more punitive enforcement activities, and mass incarceration are expensive and invariably counter-productive. The drug war is having a particularly devastating impact on some of the most vulnerable throughout the world. From Afghanistan, to Mexico, to the UK, leaving the drug trade in the hands of violent criminals is destroying communities, and ensuring drug related heath harms continue to get worse. 

Yet, we are now at a once-in-a-generation tipping-point moment. This year, we have seen a growing trend towards the decriminalisation of drug possession internationally, and a rising chorus of voices calling for a new approach to drug policy, with public figures such as the Global Commission on Drug Policy, (including Kofi Annan and four former heads of state), a former UK Defence Secretary, the editor of the British Medical Journal, and the serving Presidents of Mexico and Colombia all questioning the war on drugs and calling for reform.

Transform has played a key role in shifting the domestic and international debate from the margins to the mainstream, and meaningful reforms are now a very real possibility. We need your help to build on this momentum and seize this opportunity to end the war on drugs.

If you donate through our website today your gift could be worth twice as much (and even more with Gift Aid). It's all thanks to the Allen Lane Foundation who will match gifts pound-for-pound online. And, this year, the pot of matched funding available is worth £70,000 - that means there’s never been a better time to give.

So, please, get your gift doubled right now. And, don't forget to forward this message to your friends and family too, and help us make the most of this amazing opportunity to end the War on Drugs and create a safer, healthier world.

We really do appreciate your help. Thank you and Merry Christmas

Caroline Pringle
Chief Executive

Monday, December 12, 2011

An evidence based experiment in the criminalisation of drug use – Czech it out

We were surprised and impressed recently when we came across a little known piece of work that shows how a government, well disposed to using evidence to influence its drug policy, can employ science to make a positive difference.

Earlier this month Steve Rolles and Danny Kushlick attended an event at the House of Lords. One of the presentations was by Pavel Bem, a conservative MP in the Czech Parliament.  He presented the results of an impact analysis that effectively paved the way for the contemporary Czech decriminalisation of drug possession in 2002.  The initiative was, in effect, a perfect experiment:

This is the brief history:
  • 1993    Governmental Drug Commission
  • 1993    1st National Drug Strategy - drugs decrminalised for persoanl possession
  • 1998    Criminal Law penalizing possession brought in
  • 1999    Impact Analysis Project (PAD) of the New Drugs Legislation (GDC)
  • 2002    PAD outcomes prove negative impacts
  • 2002-10 New National Drug Strategy and New Penal Code - decriminalises possession
A period of decriminalisation of possession was briefly interrupted by recriminalisation.  Following an impact analysis of the recriminalisation, showing negative outcomes, drugs were decriminalised again.

The following is taken from the TNI’s excellent Drug LawReform in Latin America Website:
The first major post-communist reform of Czech drug laws was completed as early as 1990. Among other legislative changes that were seen as returns to democratic and humanistic values, capital punishment and punishment for simple possession of illegal drugs were abolished.

However, in 1997 a proposal was submitted to the Czech parliament that would re-introduce criminal penalties for drug users for possession of any amount of illegal drugs. The government subsequently submitted its own more modest proposal introducing criminalization of possession, but only for amounts that were "bigger than small", which was approved by parliament in April 1998.

The law was subsequently vetoed by Vaclav Havel, then president of the Czech Republic. Then, the parliament overturned the president's veto and the amended law went into effect on January 1, 1999. Following these turbulent events, the National Drug Commission proposed that the government evaluate the impact of the new amendments by means of funding a scientific study.

The researchers were asked to address five hypotheses that the Czech government wanted to have tested. The hypotheses were: "After the introduction of the penalty for possession of illegal drugs, (1) availability of illegal drugs will decrease; (2) number of (prevalence of) current drug users will decrease; or at least (3) the incidence of new users will decrease; (4) there will be no increase in the negative health consequences related to illegal drugs; and (5) social costs will not increase."

The study, "An Impact Analysis Project of the New Drug Legislation in the Czech Republic" (October 2001), concluded that the implementation of a penalty for possession of illicit drugs for personal use did not meet any of the tested objectives and was loss-making from an economic point of view.

Download the summary document by clicking on the image below:

The importance of this social experiment cannot be underestimated.  It shows that if government is willing to operate according to evidence then the policy change can be made in accordance with it.

Whilst this was not a full impact assessment as we understand it, (for instance, it didn’t explore the possibility of legal regulation) it is important to know that this kind of work is possible to conduct and that if done well, it can affect policy decisions.

Impact Assessment can be conducted at all levels of government, from city to transnational.  We call on policy makers at every level to ensure cost-effectiveness of expenditure and demonstrate that key impacts are being achieved.  And we ask drug policy activists to pressure them to do so.

For more on Impact Assessment:

2 Literary Stocking fillers – Drugs and drug policy ‘Must reads’

Here are two books that would make excellent Christmas presents this year.  The first is drugs historian, writer, broadcaster and Transform Trustee Mike Jay’s recently updated:

About which Julian Keeling in The New Statesman and Society said:
"Intelligent, witty, cogent and a bit pissed off, Emperors of Dreams is one of the best books on drugs I have come across, and should be mandatory reading for anyone concerned with drug legalisation."

Coleridge and de Quincey swilling bitter draughts of laudanum, Sigmund Freud and Sherlock Holmes dallying with cocaine, Baudelaire and Gautier rapt in hashish fantasies behind velvet curtains, even Queen Victoria swallowing her prescription dose of cannabis - these snapshot images are familiar, but what is the story which lies behind them? How did cannabis and cocaine, opium and ether, mushrooms and mescaline enter the worlds of nineteenth century Britain, Europe and America, and what was their impact on the century’s dreams and nightmares?

Emperors of Dreams paints a fresh and startling picture both of today’s illicit drugs and of the nineteenth century in general. It shows that the age of Empire and Victorian values was awash with drugs, and traces their course through the rapidly evolving arenas of science and colonial expansion and the demimondes of popular subculture and literary fashion, putting into context the drug habits and references of writers as diverse as Coleridge, de Quincey, Baudelaire, Dumas, Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson, William James and Sigmund Freud.

The second is former Guardian Society Editor Malcolm Dean’s:

Geoff Mulgan, former Director of the Prime Minister's Policy Unit and the Cabinet Office's Strategy Unit in Tony Blair's Government says of the book:

"Malcolm Dean has been uniquely well-placed to witness innumerable policy successes and failures, and the often distorted lens through which they have been covered by the media. This thoughtful and wise book will be invaluable for anyone working in the media who's involved in explaining social policy, and to anyone involved in social policy who needs to get the media on their side."

How big a beast is the media? Can right wing tabloids influence social policy using their ability to fan fears and prejudices? Malcolm Dean, the Guardian's longstanding chief monitor of social policy, expertly indicts his own trade through a series of seven case studies. Drawing on four decades of top level Whitehall briefings, topped up by interviews with 150 senior participants in the policy-making process, the book is packed with new insights, and colourful stories, from events in Whitehall's corridors, culminating in a damning list detailing the seven deadly sins of the 'reptiles' (modern journalists).

It has a cogent, detailed and comprehensive description of UK drug policy shenanigans from 2000-2007, including contributions from Transform.  

Its only competition covering this period is in The Diaries of Chris Mullin – A view from the foothills, 2009.  Which, amongst other gems, gives the inside dope on Mullin's groundbreaking leadership as Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee Drug Policy Enquiry of 2001/2.

If you are purchasing online, please do it through Transform's Amazon Account, to donate to Transform as you purchase. All books have a link to where the book is available to purchase. If purchased through these links, thanks to the Amazon Associates affiliate programme, Transform receives a ten percent donation of the cost of the book.

Go on, fill your snow boots!

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

US Ambassador to Colombia says legalisation debate is 'on the table'

An interesting development in the Latin American drug law reform debate this week. In an interview with Spanish newspaper El Pais on Monday (as reported in Colombia reports), US Ambassador for Colombia, Peter Michael McKinley, when the question of Colmbian president Santos' recent remarks on drug legalisation came up, said that the issue 'had to be addressed':

"the issue presented itself several times in the last 20, 30 years, and it is now a question that is on the table, and what is always important in political debates is to analyze the options present."

McKinley, was clear however, said that even though the debate is taking place, the U.S.
"remained opposed to legalization." 

According to the report, the ambassador went on to describe Colombia as an important ally of the U.S. in the struggle against narco-trafficking, and praised the evolution of the Andean country over the last decade.
"The transformation of the past ten years in Colombia in terms of security, struggle against narco-terrorism, construction of institutions or strengthening democracy is something not only recognized by Colombians, but by governments on an international level,"

The significant part of this is the opening quote that acknowledges the active debate happening in Latin America, that legalisation is 'on the table' in that debate, and that it is important to analyze all the options. This is ofcourse a long way from endorsing a reform position, indeed he makes the US opposition all too clear. However, the statement is effectively an endorsement of the Santos position - that there needs to be a debate of the options, and legalisation (or as Calderon puts it 'market alternatives') needs to be amongst them.

Even this acknowledgement of the importance of a debate and analysis of options feels like progress in the context of the historically entrenched viewpoint and hawkish drug-war posturing. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Home Affairs Select Committee announces major new drugs Inquiry

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

The below is reproduced from the Count the Costs blog.

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Transforming Drug Policy: A Shared Responsibility

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Alternative views cannot be tolerated’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 24, 2011

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

This blog originally appeared on the Count the Costs website.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Drug Policy for the 21st Century: Film and Debate

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

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

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

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

Friday, November 11, 2011

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

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

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

It has so far been supported by

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further information:

Eka Iakobishvili, Human Rights Analyst and author of the report

Mobile: +44 (0) 79 2561 0407


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

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

Friday, October 28, 2011

Stop the Violence: Cannabis prohibition, organized crime, and gangs

Stop the Violence BC (British Colombia, Canada) is a new coalition of academics, past and present members of law enforcement, and the general public, concerned about the links between cannabis prohibition in BC and the growth of organized crime and related violence in the province.

Check out the new website here

New animated short video explaining the issues and introduing the new organisation:

From the website:

What is Stop the Violence BC’s objective?

Stop the Violence is an educational campaign seeking to improve community safety by broadening the public’s understanding of the link between cannabis prohibition and gang violence. Guided by the best available scientific evidence, Stop the Violence BC is calling for cannabis to be governed by a strict regulatory framework aimed at limiting use while also starving organized crime of the profits they currently reap as a result of prohibition.

Why are you calling for the regulation of cannabis?

Using regulatory tools proven effective at reducing tobacco use will undercut the huge profits cannabis driving violent organized crime in BC. Not only that, cannabis regulation may also improve community health by making cannabis harder for young people to access, lessening cannabis grow-op associated property damage, and freeing up law enforcement resources to focus on criminal activity where law enforcement can reduce harm.
This initiative is being launched with a new report that 'outlines the links between cannabis prohibition in BC and the growth of organized crime and related violence in the province. The report also defines the public health concept “regulation” and seeks to set the stage for a much needed public conversation and action on the part of BC politicians'.

Click image to read:

Thursday, October 27, 2011

New feature documentary: 'Cocaine Unwrapped'

Transform is pleased to support the upcoming release of new feature documentary 'Cocaine Unwrapped' directed by Rachel Seifert. Below is the film trailer, and a description of the film - followed by details of the upcoming preview screenings in Liverpool (Nov 1st)and London (Nov 10th), and the public  premiere on Nov 29th. We have also included a video of a recent episode of Cinepolitics in which Steve Rolles from Transform discusses the film.


Film description from the film makers Dartmouth films;

"This film is the story of cocaine – from production to consumption, as it journeys from the USA to the countries of Latin America. Between scenes we hear from the Western consumers who are unaware of the reality of the trade which their consumption supports. Major Neill Franklin was a police officer for 33 years on the streets of Baltimore. As he drives around the now devastated, boarded up and frequently deserted streets of his community he explains how the decline of industry pushed many heads of households into illegal drug dealing. Incredibly, as he describes how a drugs deal is done on the streets, we see one played out in front of our eyes. Streets where once it was fun to live are not now safe – even in the daytime. Drawing on his experience as a law enforcement officer, Franklin is certain that the USA’s drug policies need to change.

In Columbia 140,000 members of the police are fighting the war on drugs – one of them, Lieutenant Jose Castro takes us on an operation to manually eradicate a coca plantation which, as the country’s vice president explains, is a key part of the war against drugs, which in his country is tied up with paramilitary and criminal gangs. But for Maria, a small farmer in the Tumaco region, the indiscriminate aerial spraying kills not just her coca but her chocolate, banana and yucca plants. As local community leaders explain, the programme causes ill health, economic stagnation and massive displacement of the population. Cesar Gavira, president of Columbia from 1990-94, believes that the social damage caused by the war against
drugs is “terrible….it destroys the lives of people who are not criminals and who are just trying to survive.”

Bolivia is taking a different approach. As president Evo Morales explains, coca leaf in its natural state is not cocaine – it is just a leaf. But for twenty years, until 2005, with the support of the USA the Bolivian government waged a war against coca growers, causing death and destruction. This all changed when Morales was elected president and allowed farmers to grow limited amounts of coca, as we hear from Lucio, a local farmer. At the meeting of the Chapare Coca Growers Union the local co-ordinator Tomas Rejas urges his members to support the government policy of reducing overall production, switching to other crops. And at the Windsor tea factory we see how coca tea is made for the consumer market – but a market which Bolivia cannot exploit because the UN Vienna Convention limits its export. Bolivia not, however, a cocaine free country, as we see when we join the Bolivian anti-drug police as they discover – and destroy – a cocaine factory in the jungle.
As Bolivia abandoned the war against drugs, Mexico stepped it up. We arrive in Cuidad Juarez as the police discover the body of yet another victim of the internecine battle between the drugs gangs. A local journalist, Luis, explains how the level of violence has escalated in recent years, showing the rows of graves already dug to bury the victims. We hear of violence and intimidation from both former gang members and lawyers. As Sanho Tree, of the Institute for Policy Studies explains, the government intervention destabilised the illegal trade, sparking the escalating war in which, as opposition senator Carlos Navarette claims, has led to the corruption of the police and state. Attorney General Medina Mora is convinced that the government is doing the right thing to create peace and security but points out that there would be no problem is there was no demand.

In Ecuador another South American president is taking a different tack than in the past. Rafael Correa, whose father spent three years in an American prison for drugs trafficking, has pardoned and released over 2000 women drugs mules. People like Theresa, who points out that it is not enough just to be let out of prison – there need to projects to help people earn a legal living. Visiting the women in prison we learn how many became mules out of necessity – widowed, with children but without education, this was the only route out of poverty.

Finally we return to the streets of Mexico and Baltimore. In Mexico we see children as young as 10 who have been drawn into a cycle of street living, drug taking and begging. People like Dr Huber Brocca are running a shelter to help get them off drugs but his hope is that the war on drug is replaced by a war on poverty. And in Baltimore we meet prisoner Erik Thompson, a street dealer imprisoned for 25 years – more than some murderers, more than some paedophiles. As Neill Franklin concludes – incarceration is not solving the problem, it is destroying communities. Gil Kerlikowske – President Obama’s drugs “czar” says that in future there will be a more balanced strategy, combining treatment and prevention as well as enforcement. But as the concluding contributions from many of the film’s contributors say: this is a problem of the West – we are the consumers who create the demand."

Cocaine Unwrapped – Preview Screenings

1st November screening at Picturehouse at Fact Liverpool at 6pm.
Tickets available here

10th November screening at Stratford East Picturehouse in London at 8:30pm.
Tickets avaialable here

Cocaine Unwrapped – Public Premiere
29th November screening at Curzon Soho in London (tickets for this not on sale yet)

More information:

Cinepolitics discussion of the Film:

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Majority in US support cannabis legalisation for the first time

An interesting development this week in the US, as support for legalisation of cannabis/marijuana finally achieved a majority - with the latest Gallup national polling showing 50% in favour and 46% opposed. This landmark follows years of growing support for the move despite increasing efforts to undermine the reform campaign by various state and federal agencies - and little support from members of congress or the senate.

It is impossible to tease out precisely what has led to this progressive shift in public opinion. Presumably it has been a combination of factors including:
  • A growing realisation that the more hyperbolic reefer madness propaganda of the past was just that.
  • A demographic shift, as current and former users progressively become a larger part of the electorate, and also move into positions of influence. 
  • Growing disquiet over the human and financial costs of mass arrests for cannabis possession offences, particularly at a time of economic crisis.
  • The success of the California ballot initiative last year in planting in the public's mind the idea that legalisation is probably inevitable, and could mean controlling, regulating and taxing the industry - not a free-for-all
  • The success of decriminalisation models for cannabis possession in a number of US states, and other more far-reaching reforms in Europe (e.g. Dutch coffee shops and Spanish cannabis club models).   
  • The growing US medical cannabis industry demonstrating that a regulated market model can exist without creating significant problems.
  • Increasingly effective and sophisticated campaigning from the reform movement that has pushed the reform arguments into the mainstream public discourse
What is more, these results have even been achieved with a simple 'do you support legalisation: yes/no?' question. When the question is framed as 'legalisation and taxation', or 'legalisation with restricted sales to minors' - support rises even higher.  This points to the importance of being clear about the regulatory models being advocated - rather than just pointing to 'legalisation' - which is a process not an actual policy model, and is frequently misunderstood to mean abandoning all controls.

In any case, US politicians will no longer have the excuse of following (or pandering to) public opinion - rather than showing principled leadership. Support for legalisation could now be an electoral strength rather than a liability, depending on which constituency a politician is targeting - as the breakdown of support below reveals:

Interestingly, in the UK after years of a similar pattern of growing support, we have seen something of a retreat from approaching 50% support, to nearer a third - although it depends how you ask the question. This probably results from more potent indoor grown cannabis (or in the media - 'skunk') becoming increasingly prevalent in the market, and the perception (correct or not) of its increased risk influencing views on whether cannabis more broadly should be legally regulated or not (regulation obviously allows controls on strength potency to be put in place, whilst prohibtion has arguably fuelled the 'skunkification' of the UK market).  The more fevered Skunk related 'reefer madness' media coverage that accompanied the cannabis reclassification saga did not help.

None the less, where the US leads on drugs, the UK follows. If public opinion converts into actual reform - whether at state or federal level - it will be hugely significant for drug policy reform internationally, with a number of Latin American countries already indicating they would have to follow suit.

The hope is that if and when it does happen in the US, they do it properly. There is a concern amongst many European reformers that a US model might be overly commercialised; and that an inadequately regulated cannabis market could lead to some of the same problems with marketing and promotions that we have seen with the alcohol and tobacco industry in the last century, only now beginning to be addressed. In short, if the US move towards cannabis legalisation, that would be great, but if they do it badly, it could end up holding back reform elsewhere.

Finally, here's a great rant* about this recent development from Lawrence O'Donnell on MSNBC news.

*I'd take issue with the description of cannabis as 'harmless'

Friday, October 14, 2011

ACMD repeats call for decriminalisation of drug possession

In its submission to the drug strategy consultation last year, the ACMD effectively called for the decriminalisation of drug possession for personal use of all drugs. The term 'decriminalisation' is rather ill-defined, and often misunderstood as either legalisation, or removal/complete repeal of a law. Given this, the ACMD understandably avoided the term - opting instead for diversion, which perhaps more usefully describes what they were suggesting (even if they were also unambiguous about not being 'processed through the criminal justice system'). The wording they used was as follows:
"The ACMD believe that there is an opportunity to be more creative in dealing with those who have committed an offence by possession of drugs. For people found to be in possession of drugs (any) for personal use (and involved in no other criminal offences), they should not be processed through the criminal justice system but instead be diverted into drug education/awareness courses (as can happen now with speeding motor car offenders) or possibly other, more creative civil punishments (e.g. loss of driving licence or passport). If, however, there were other trigger offences (e.g. theft, burglary etc) then the usual test and treatment procedures would occur. Such approaches may be more effective in reducing repeat offending and reducing costs to the criminal justice system.

There should be “drugs awareness” courses to which those found in possession can be referred as a diversion – this would be the equivalent of the apparently successful “speed awareness” courses to which drivers can be referred as a diversion. These could also be available to those being conditionally cautioned where there is evidence of drug use. "
For some reason this didn't attract the attention of the media - somewhat oddly given recent history on arguably less contentious issues such as minor changes in penalties for cannabis possession. The inclusion here of the '(any)' making this a much more significant call in practical terms. Presumably no journalists actually read the whole document (consultations are famously tedious), and with organisations like Transform choosing to let the ACMD manage it as they saw fit, and no press releases emerging, it has remained largely under the radar. The only public sighting was in the recent LibDem drug policy reform motion - but even the considerable media this attracted didn't seem to draw attention to the ACMD call.

The ACMD has now repeated the call in its submission to the Sentencing Council consultation on drug offences. The specific issue of non-criminal sanctions for possession offences was (somewhat absurdly given developments around the world), outside of the remit of the consultation. The ACMD has chosen to include the call (using almost identical text to that included in the strategy consultation submission) in part of their response to the open ended final question: 'Are there any further comments that you wish to make?':
"The ACMD also believe that there is an opportunity to be more creative in dealing with those who have committed an offence by possession of drugs. For people found to be in possession of drugs (any) for personal use (and involved in no other criminal offences), they should not be processed through the criminal justice system but instead be diverted into drug education / awareness courses (as can happen now with speeding motor car offenders) with concomitant assessment for treatment needs (if the person consents), or possibly other, more creative civil punishments (e.g. loss of driving licence or passport). If, however, there were other trigger offences (e.g. theft, burglary etc) then the usual test and treatment procedures would occur. Such approaches may be more effective in reducing repeat offending and reducing costs to the criminal justice system. There should be “drugs awareness” courses to which those found in possession can be referred as a diversion – this would be the equivalent of the apparently successful “speed awareness” courses to which drivers can be referred as a diversion. These could also be available to those being conditionally cautioned where there is evidence of drug use."

Whether anyone notices this time  or if there is a fuss as a result, remains to be seen (it has been reported in the Times and NI stablemate Fox news and is popping up on twitter). It is, on the face of it, a very reasonable proposition, argued with reference to efficacy as you would hope from the Council, and making a useful parallel with the manner in which driving offences are dealt. The call has presumably been informed by growing evidence of such diversion schemes in various Latin American and European countries, most prominently Portugal.

A tweet from the Guardian's Alan Travis notes that the Home Office has stated in response that "We have no intention of liberalising our drug laws"- the standard line they use when any such reforms are mooted (failing to engage with the argument or evidence in any way). This may now prove to be inadequate, given that the call has come from the body of experts appointed by the Home Office under the auspices of the Misuse of Drugs Act, and operating within the Home Office. A ministerial response may be necessary - although neither ACMD statements were directed to a minister specifically.

However this now develops it is a welcome move from the sometimes timid ACMD, and inspiring to see they have not been cowed by the political heat that followed the David Nutt debacle.

Friday, October 07, 2011

UNDP Commission on HIV and the law looks at decriminalisation

The Global Commission on HIV and the Law, convened by the United Nations recently concluded the last of 7 regional dialogues, the high income countries' dialogue held in Oakland, California.

The objectives of the Commission are to:
  • Analyse existing evidence and generate new evidence on rights and law in the context of HIV, and develop rights-based and evidence-informed recommendations
  • Increase awareness amongst key constituencies on issues of rights and law in the context of HIV, and engage with civil society and strengthen their ability to campaign, advocate and lobby
Part of the focus of the commission's work has been to look at criminalisation of certain lifestyles and activities - including drug use, sex work, and men who have sex with men - and consider the potential impacts of such legal and policy environments in shaping the HIV epidemic and responses to it. It is notable that the idea of decriminalisation of personal drug use (as well as sex work and MSM) is not taboo and is widely supported within the historically pragmatic HIV policy arena. At UN level a number of agencies have made clear statements supporting decriminalisation in this context, including UNAIDS, and the General Secretary Ban Ki Moon;
“I urge all countries to remove punitive laws, policies and practices that hamper the AIDS response… Successful AIDS responses do not punish people; they protect them… We must ensure that AIDS responses are based on evidence, not ideology, and reach those most in need and most affected.”

Michel Sidibé, UNAIDS Executive Director, Joao Gulao, Gill Greer,
Tim Barnett and Festus Mogae (Former President of Botswana) agreeing 
on an anti-discrimination resolution at the Leaders on Discrimination 
session the 18th International AIDS Conference in Vienna, Austria on 
22 July 2010 (image thanks

Transform's senior policy analyst Steve Rolles was invited to join the expert advisory group for the High Income country dialogue, reviewing the background papers on the drugs issue and abstracts from civil society groups for the high income countries region in the run up to the Oakland dialogue.

Perhaps suprisingly, given the key role of policy and law in shaping risk taking behaviours amongst people who inject drugs (most obviously needle sharing), there were disappointingly few submissions from drug policy or harm reduction organisations. Steve was invited subsequently to attend the dialogue, joining - in the drug section of the dialogue - a drug policy activist from Portugal, representatives of  the Drug Policy Alliance, a harm reduction service provider from North Carolina, and a fomer special adviser from the White House ONDCP. The session video will be available online at some point (we will update this post and tweet when that happens).

Civil society groups were joined by Government representatives for the two day dialogue. Two US members of congress were present as were two of the 15 commissioners. 

 Congressman Jim McDermott (Right) among the participants 

Dialogue moderator, BBC World's Nisha Pillai

 Participant Deon Hayward from US based Women with a Vision

Congresswoman (and HIV and the Law Commissioner) Barnara Lee

Transform had the strong sense that the Commission report - expected early next year - will be based soundly on the voluminous evidence it has gathered from around the world on effective responses to HIV - making clear and unambiguous recommendations free from ideology and historic political taboos that have dogged many of these issues. It should be a strong advocacy tool for drug policy in the future - and a yardstick against which governments' drug policy responses in the context of people who inject drugs and HIV can be measured.

Whilst it will not be venturing into issues of regulated drug markets, it is likely to make a clear call for decriminlisation of drug users - and be very supportive of proven harm reduction interventions including needle and syringe programs, opiate substitution therapy (and hopefully heroin prescribing as an option), harm reduction provision in prisons and supervised injecting facilities. 

From the Commission website:
Global Commission on HIV and the Law
Many of the successes in mitigating the causes and consequences of HIV have taken root where laws have been used to protect the human rights of the marginalized and disempowered. For example, in some countries anti-discrimination laws have helped people living with HIV keep their jobs and their homes and look after their families. Laws to protect confidentiality have contributed to increasing confidence in heath systems, encouraging people to learn their HIV status and to access HIV prevention and treatment. Legal guarantees of property and inheritance rights for women and girls have helped to mitigate the social and economic burdens of AIDS. Still in many places across the globe, the legal environment is presenting significant challenges for sustaining and scaling up effective HIV responses. In many countries, laws and policies continue to prevent access to life-saving HIV treatment. Every day people living with HIV and people most at risk, including sex workers, drug users, prisoners, men who have sex with men, and transgender people, suffer stigma, discrimination and violence. Laws and practices that discriminate against women or fail to protect their rights, including the right to be free from violence, make women particularly vulnerable to HIV.
The Global Commission on HIV and the Law will interrogate the relationship between legal responses, human rights and HIV. The Commission shall also focus on some of the most challenging legal and human rights issues in the context of HIV, including criminalisation of HIV transmission, behaviours and practices such as drug use, sex work, same-sex sexual relations, and issues of prisoners, migrants, children's rights, violence against women and access to treatment. The Global Commission on HIV and the Law will develop actionable, evidence-informed and human rights-based recommendations for effective HIV responses that protect and promote the human rights of people living with and most vulnerable to HIV.