Monday, July 22, 2013

Help make legal cannabis a reality

One day currently illegal drugs will be legalised, taxed and regulated - starting with cannabis.

Can you imagine what that would look like?

We can.

At Transform Drug Policy Foundation we’ve have spent nearly two decades researching and refining our vision of how to do it safely.

Today we are fundraising for our new publication, 'How to Regulate Cannabis: A Practical Guide'.

It will show policy makers how a regulated cannabis market can take control away from organised criminals and put it back in the hands of the government. The models we are proposing will make better use of taxpayers' money and safeguard young people, communities and public health.

For more detail about the book see our dedicated Justgiving page for this project.

We have already raised half the money for the book, and we’re now seeking £5,000 more to match it and finish the job. The book is due to be launched in October, so we’ve given ourselves a month to raise the match-funding.

In 2009 our book 'After the War on Drugs: Blueprint for Regulation' (which has been downloaded over 500,000 times) described how a legally regulated drug market could work.

“Blueprint is the most evidence-based, balanced discussion of drug control policy that I have seen. It should be compulsory reading for all policy makers”
-- Professor R Morgan, Former HM Chief Inspector of Probation

'Blueprint' showed people that the unthinkable was thinkable. 'How to Regulate Cannabis’ will show how legalising cannabis is doable.

Please donate today, and ask your friends to do the same.

You can also like us on Facebook and tweet the following to show your support for the project:

Help make legal #cannabis a reality: Transform is crowdfunding its vital new guide 'How to Regulate Cannabis' pls RT

Many thanks for helping us get drugs under control.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Transform event 'Time to Count the Health Costs of the War on Drugs'

Professor Averil Mansfield, Chair of the British Medical Association, speaking at the Count the Costs health event

Transform, as the leading coordinator of the Count the Costs initiative, held a lunch-time meeting last month for some world-leading health professionals and NGOs. The event included presentations from Professor Averil Mansfield, Chair of the British Medical Association Board of Science; Anton Olfield-Kerr, Head of Policy of the International HIV/AIDS Alliance; and Martin Drewry, Executive Director of Health Poverty Action.

Attendees at the event came from a wide range of organisations, including The Faculty of Public Health, The Royal College of Nursing, Addaction, M├ędecins du Monde, the National Aids Trust, the People's Health Movement and Save the Children.

The lunch time session started with a presentation from Professor Mansfield, who freely admitted to being strongly influenced by the launch of Transform’s flagship publication, 'After the War on Drugs: Blueprint for Regulation'. At that time [2009] she was President of the BMA and it was not until she became Chairman of the BMAs Board of Science that she was able to take the lead on this issue. The result was a publication, produced by the BMA, entitled ‘Drugs of dependence: The role of medical professionals’, which looked at alternative approaches to drug policy and highlighted the need to deal with drugs as a health issue.

Professor Mansfield’s presentation was followed by talks from representatives from Health Poverty Action and the International HIV/AIDS Alliance, who stressed, among other things, the importance of more NGOs engaging with the drugs issue, in an effort to generate pressure from civil society in the lead up to the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs in 2016.

The event was an informal, off-the-record discussion and we were delighted by the number of newcomers to the debate who attended. We have received very encouraging feedback and hope it will lead to a number of new supporters and joint initiatives going forward, as we build up the campaign in advance of UNGASS 2016. The event was also mentioned by Tom Chivers, who wrote a great article on drug policy in The Daily Telegraph the following day.
You can also read the health briefing that we developed for the campaign here.

The dinner was the second in a series of outreach events that we are planning over the coming year in an effort to mainstream support for our Count the Costs campaign. We are delighted that the campaign now has over 100 supporters, a full list of which can be found here.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

The UK Government bans khat, ignores advice of its own experts

The UK government has today announced it will go against the recommendations of its own drugs experts
(again) and ban khat, a plant mostly used by the UK’s Somali and Yemeni communities, that produces a mild stimulant effect when chewed.

Earlier this year, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, the body responsible for providing the government with expert advice on drugs, produced a detailed review of the evidence (PDF) on the social and health harms of khat and offered recommendations on responses to the drug in the UK.

Although acknowledging gaps in the research data available, the ACMD found little evidence to support causal link between khat use and most of the adverse medical effects around which concerns had been raised (although noting a risk of liver toxicity in heavy users), and could also find only weak evidence that use of the drug was a cause of some the societal problems that it has been blamed for by some observers. Along with a series of prgamatic recommendations on educating and supporting affected communities, and treating those whose use becomes problematic, their conclusion on khats legal status was clear:
“The ACMD considers that the evidence of harms associated with the use of khat is insufficient to justify control and it would be inappropriate and disproportionate to classify khat under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.”
The Home Secreatary who ordered today's ban, Teresa May, has argued that the UK has become a transshipment point for khat because other countries have prohibited it. The ACMD, however, note that:
"it is likely that some khat is re-exported to countries where it is banned" (p.82)

"Fears of the UK becoming a hub for importation of khat appear not borne out by  the VAT figures provided by the HMRC regarding the volume of khat imported  into the UK since 2005 or by any evidence suggesting the UK is a landing point for the onward transportation of significant quantities of khat"(p.10)
The ACMD also point out that khat needs to be consumed within 36-48hours of harvesting or it loses its effects - another reason why the UK trafficking hub proposition lacks credibility. there simply isnt time for it to be transited through multiple destinations - it needs to go direct to consumer markets to be a viable product. 

The other key argument made by May has been concerns about a link between the khat trade and terrorism, specifically the Al Shabaab group in Somalia. On this question the ACMD are equally clear:
"in regard to international crime, it is known the Al Shabaab militia,which control parts of southern Somalia, tax sales of khat as all retail transactions of any product are taxed. However, in countries beyond the UK where khat has been prohibited it enters the illegal market through smuggling and illicit sale, and so becomes criminal activity by definition. To clarify, the ACMD has not been provided with any evidence of Al Shabaab or any other terrorist groups‘ involvement in khat export/sale, despite repeated requests for this information from a number of national and international official sources, including various Government bodies."(p.55)
Dr Axel Klein, one of the key experts on khat who gave evidence informing the ACMD report, told Transform that:
"There's no reason to support the ban except that other countries have done so. There is an alleged terror link but this looks ridiculous given that Al Shabaab in Somalia have been banning khat themselves. The trade has provided hundreds of UK Somalis with a livelihood, and their countrymen with a peaceful and agreeable past time.

For Islamic campaigners this has long been a thorn in the flesh of the community. Mafrishes are public spaces, where discussion ranges widely and freely, as friends gather to relax and enjoy. At a time of rising hostility and nationalism making the assimilation for even second or third Generation British Somalis more difficult, such spaces come at a premium. In Somali neighbourhoods like Tower Hamlets and Lambeth these mafrishes were the strongest organised opposition to the grip held by Islamic organisations over the community. A Conservative Home Secretary with backbench support has just handed radical Islam their first political success in the UK."
It is worth noting that the ACMD argues that the general absence of crime problems and criminal profits associated with khat are specifically due to the fact that it remains legal, stating that:
"There is no evidence of khat consumption being directly linked with serious or organised criminal behavior in the UK or to support the theory that khat is funding or fuelling crime. This is unsurprising given khat is not an illegal drug, is not a high value substance and therefore attracts very little profit from the UK market" (p.3)
"The ACMD has not fully explored the positive or negative  affects of criminalisation of khat. However, it can be assumed that if the price of khat increases, for example due to criminalisation, there is the  potential for exploitation by organised criminal gangs already involved  in the illegal drug trade and this would arguably increase funds available to such networks and groups if khat use went underground" (p.55)
and again:
"Evidence presented to the ACMD by practitioners and researchers  found no link between gang crime and khat use; although concerns were raised that if khat were criminalised this profile could change" (p.55)
The report notes that in countries where khat has been banned evidence suggests demand remains, prices rise on the newly illegal market and criminal opportunities are created. This analysis in fact closely echoes that of the ACMD's 2005 khat report:
“The khat industry is a legitimate business. There is no indication of  organised criminals or terrorists being involved in the UK trade, perhaps because of its legality. However, since the USA made khat illegal there is some evidence of organised criminals becoming involved in its shipment to the USA.”
It is clear therefore that the Home Secretary is not only responding to a problem her expert advisors say does not exist, but is also set to create the very problem she is claiming to be responding to - exactly as her advisors have explained will happen. 

The Government long ago divested itself of any authority with regard to the control of drugs, and has again failed to act on the advice of its appointed experts. By making khat illegal today it has added yet another drug to the already extensive product lines of organised criminals and unregulated dealers. It has at the same time criminalised a very specific minority community - the negative effects of which the ACMD has also warned of:
"To respond to these multilayered complex problems [faced by immigrant populations] by criminalising an already disadvantaged group in society deserves serious and  careful consideration, especially in light of the limitations of the findings of the research before the ACMD. A didactic approach is supported by the National Federation of Somali Associations in the Netherlands  which prefers education and information about the potential risks  related to the use of Khat, as well as a coordinated national approach  to address the social and economic problems members of the Somali Community are confronted with" (p.79)
"In the context of those communities where khat is used, consideration of the potential negative impact criminalisation may have should be  carefully balanced against the need for support to focus on the concerns raised by communities." (p.83)
The Home Office has given itself only one option – prohibition, and as Mazlow put it: "If the only tool in your tool box is a hammer, everything looks like a nail." The possibility of more effective regulation of the market has been dismissed

Prohibition is not going to be the solution to any problems with khat - real or imagined. As has happened with other drugs, it will exacerbate any existing problems as well as creating new ones associated with the inevitable illegal trade it will generate. We can make drugs lawful through legal regulation, or gift them to criminals through prohibition. The UK Government must urgently explore legal regulation, to keep criminals out of the trade and enable effective control of the market.

UPDATE: We're delighted to learn that Stephen Williams, Lib Dem  MP for Bristol West, has spoken out against today's ban and has indicated that the Liberal Democrats will be opposing the move. He says:
"As a Liberal Democrat I have always supported a science-led approach to drugs and as such I cannot support the move to ban khat.  
"The Government’s own experts reviewed khat and concluded that it should not be criminalised. I do not advocate the use of khat, which has been known to have negative side effects, but criminalising its users is a waste of time and money for the government and our police. 
"I will now work with my Lib Dem colleagues to oppose this move and hope to meet with the Home Secretary to personally put the case that this is a poorly thought policy which will harm, rather than help, many of my constituents in Bristol, especially Somalis."

Monday, July 01, 2013

No more war on drugs with Transform designer mugs

Ever thought of making a regular donation to Transform, but were put off by the lack of a merchandising incentive?  Well, we've put that right.

You can now show your support for drug policy reform with one of our new ‘No More Drug War’ mugs. These beautiful artworks are made from fine English bone china, and have been individually produced and expertly decorated by the People’s Republic of Stokes Croft, here in Bristol.

Below are examples of some of the beautiful, original designs available.  

So, what's the cost of this wonderful new addition to my home, I hear you ask.  It's free! 

To get your hands on one these limited edition, hand crafted mugs, all you need to do is visit our donations page, sign up to a £5 (or more) monthly donation with Transform and then email requesting your free mug.

You'd be an absolute mug to pass up on this...