“‘We would like to see a sensible debate about drugs without the shock, horror bit — if only because of the sheer numbers we see involved... We need a more sophisticated but also more realistic response. If people have a choice they don’t really want to break the law. That’s where the debate needs to take place’”
-- Dr Karenza Moore and Dr Fiona Measham research Britain's clubbers
Launch of our new book
Things at Transform have been hectic recently as we prepare to publish our new book ‘After the War on Drugs: Blueprint for Regulation’ which will be launched on November 12th in the UK Houses of Parliament. The book is also being launched in mainland Europe, North and South Americas, Australasia and Asia.
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, ‘Blueprint’ 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.
‘Blueprint’ will be available to download from our website from the 12th November. Translations of the executive summary will also be available in Spanish and Portuguese.
Liberal Democrat Party Conference
Transform held a fringe event at the Liberal Democrat Party Conference this month. The panel was chaired by Dr Evan Harris MP and Danny was joined by Graham Watson MEP and Lib Dem Activist Ewan Hoyle.
A straw poll of participants taken at the end of the event showed overwhelming support for the legal regulation of drugs.
Danny was interviewed at the event. The video can be viewed here:
LEAP visit UK
Jack Cole, Executive Director of LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition) paid us a visit this month in our Bristol head quarters. Founded in 2002, LEAP is made up of current and former members of the law enforcement and criminal justice communities who are speaking out about the failures of our existing drug policies.
More about LEAP can be found here:
Transform and LEAP will be working in close partnership, on a number of projects, in the coming months.
Transform in the Media
As usual, Transform has had a plenty of media hits recently, from pieces with international reach like the Reuters op-ed piece which flagged the impending publication of ‘Blueprint’, national shows like Five Live, through to BBC TV Southampton, and several local radio shows about the UK’s heroin prescription trials (see below) not to mention a feature in the specialist publication Drink and Drug News.
We also had numerous quotes and radio spots in August on the issue of banning “legal highs”, which funnily enough in politicians eyes at least does not include tobacco or alcohol. These included Radio 1, Radio 2 Jeremy Vine Show, Five Live, Channel 4 News, the Daily Express, and Daily Telegraph amongst many others.
Legalisation Increasingly prominent in UK media
In the past couple of months we have seen a plethora of articles in UK newspapers calling for an end to prohibition (albeit mostly in the Observer and Guardian).
The articles are written by a variety of people including a former chief constable, a well-known British philosopher and the former President of Brazil not to mention a number of journalists.
This increase in the number of articles in the British press reflects a change that is going on globally. As a number of Latin American countries move towards decriminalisation, it is sad that the UK government is so far behind in its thinking.
First up was Simon Jenkins in the Guardian who argued that the War on Drugs was ‘moral idiocy’ and praised the Latin American governments for their courage in admitting that current policy has failed.
He said, ‘The underlying concept of the war on drugs, initiated by Richard Nixon in the 1970s, is that demand can be curbed by eliminating supply. It has been enunciated by every US president and every British prime minister. Tony Blair thought that by occupying Afghanistan he could rid the streets of Britain of heroin. He told Clare Short to do it. Gordon Brown believes it to this day.
This concept marries intellectual idiocy – that supply leads demand – with practical impossibility. But it is golden politics. For 30 years it has allowed western politicians to shift blame for not regulating drug abuse at home on to the shoulders of poor countries abroad. It is gloriously, crashingly immoral.’
Days later in The Observer, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former President of Brazil, summarised the report he and the former presidents of Colombia and Mexico co-authored.
‘It is time to admit the obvious. The "war on drugs" has failed, at least in the way it has been waged so far. In Latin America, the "unintended" consequences have been disastrous. Thousands of people have lost their lives in drug-associated violence. Drug lords have taken over entire communities. Misery has spread. Corruption is undermining fragile democracies… The core conclusion of the statement is that a paradigm shift is required away from repression of drug users and towards treatment and prevention. The challenge is to reduce drastically the harm caused by illegal narcotics to people, societies and public institutions.’
British philosopher John Gray got in on the act in The Guardian a few days later arguing that ‘the case for legalising all drugs is unanswerable.’
He wrote, ‘The fact is that the costs of drug prohibition now far outweigh any possible benefits the policy may bring. It is time for a radical shift in policy. Full-scale legalisation, with the state intervening chiefly to regulate quality and provide education on the risks of drug use and care for those who have problems with the drugs they use, should now shape the agenda of drug law reform.’
Just days later, the Executive Director of the UNODC wrote an article in the Observer disputing these arguments. He initially focussed on the claim made by John Gray and many others including Transform, that the costs of prohibition outweigh the benefits.
Costa wrote, ‘Some even say that the costs of prohibition far outweigh the benefits (although there is no body count of people who haven't died thanks to drug control versus those who have been killed in the crossfire).’
He then went on to argue that, ‘Maybe western governments could absorb the health costs of increased drug use [that he assumes would occur once drugs were legalized], if that's how taxpayers want their money to be spent…But what about the developing world? Why unleash an epidemic of addiction in parts of the world that already face misery, and do not have the health and social systems to cope with a drug tsunami? …Critics point out that vulnerable countries are the hardest hit by the crime associated with drug trafficking. Fair enough. But these countries would also be the hardest hit by an epidemic of drug use, and all the health and social costs that come with it. This is immoral and irresponsible.’
A few months ago we had a comment posted on the Transform blog refuting this argument.
‘Was it just me or did someone else pick up the massive contradiction underlying the WDR's main argument for continued prohibition? In section 2.1 of the report, the UNODC crowd pretty much concedes that a legalize-tax-and-regulate framework would work...but only in developed countries. Developing countries are thought unable to impose meaningful taxes and regulations on a legal drug industry, and therefore, would see their consumption levels explode. Thus, global prohibition must continue for the sake of poor countries (the condescension is almost unbearable)….
Yet those same developing countries are expected to, simultaneously,: a) successfully interdict supply; b) reform police forces and judicial systems; c) fight corruption in the face of massive illegal profits; d) address the problem of slums and dereliction in cities; e) close open drug-markets; f) provide universal access to drug treatment; etc. etc. If the governments of developing countries are considered too weak to tax and regulate small national drug markets, why would anyone think them capable of performing that daunting list of tasks? The contradiction is so glaring that my eyes hurt.’
On the same day, and in the same newspaper, that Costa wrote his piece, Tom Lloyd, a former chief constable, argued that the War on Drugs was a ‘not only very expensive and misdirected activity, but counterproductive and harmful’.
He went on to call on ‘police leaders throughout the world to challenge the status quo and focus resources on serious, organised criminals, not blighted users, and to focus on harm reduction not some pie-in-the-sky dream of a drug-free society. Where they lead, politicians will follow.’
In the same edition of The Observer there was a leader article calling for ‘a new drugs policy’ and arguing for an honest evaluation of the current drugs laws.
‘The entire framework of the debate must change. In Britain, we operate with laws that start from the premise that drug use is inherently morally wrong, and then seek ways to stop it. Instead we must start by evaluating the harm that drug use does, and then look for the best ways to alleviate it; and we must have the courage to follow that logic wherever it leads.’
This has been Transform’s position from the start. Now is the time to assess the impacts of the current policy and look to a future where drug use is not a moral issue but a public health issue where drugs are controlled and regulated by governments not gangsters.
Other great stories have appeared in:
There have been a lot more articles over the past couple of months calling for change. Please see our miniblog: http://delicious.com/Transformminiblog for a wide selection of other stories.
Transform welcomed the results of the heroin prescribing trials announced this month (as reported by the BBC), and the understanding that these pilots would be rolled out further still – perhaps to four or five new locations.
Let us hope that these trials pave the way to more discussion on how best to control and regulate drug supply and use, beyond the limited numbers able to avail themselves of medicalised heroin. And that those members of the medical establishment who have held this initiative back, feel their consciences pricked and support a scheme that could save the lives of hundreds more in the future.
More on the story can be found here:
High Society: Britain’s drug taking clubbers
Dr Fiona Measham and Dr Karenza Moore, criminologists from Lancaster University, published research today in the Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice, looking at how drug-induced dancing and socialising has become part of modern culture.
They discovered evidence that almost all Britain’s thousands of clubbers routinely take drugs, in particular cocaine (tried by 83% of people), cannabis (93%) and ecstasy (85%). Eight in ten had taken a drug within the previous month, and nearly two in three of those questioned has taken, or were going to take, drugs on the night they were surveyed.
‘We would like to see a sensible debate about drugs without the shock, horror bit — if only because of the sheer numbers we see involved... We need a more sophisticated but also more realistic response. If people have a choice they don’t really want to break the law. That’s where the debate needs to take place’
The research was reported in the Times here.
Wave of Decriminalisation across South America
At the end of August both Mexico and Argentina enacted legislation to decriminalize personal possession of small quantities of all drugs. We’ve reported the story in more detail on our blog. Previous blogs on the story can be read via the links below:
Drug policy reform in practice - useful new briefing from TNI on decriminalisation and other forms of reform in Europe and the America's
thanks to Stop the Drug War and Cato@Liberty
Book of the Month
The Candy Machine: How Cocaine Took Over the World
We'd like to recommend The Candy Machine: How Cocaine Took Over the World by Tom Feiling as our book of the month.
Here's a review by Transform volunteer David Hart below:
The author of this book makes plain in his introduction that he was less interested in the opinions of experts and celebrities than he was in hearing the viewpoint of the ordinary people involved in the cocaine trade, from peasant coca farmers through to urban crack smokers, in the interests of presenting as authentic a picture as possible of the impact of cocaine on society.
The book is divided into three sections. The first charts the history of the cocaine trade from the conquistadors to the present, as well as the increasing levels of repression the US government has employed against it.
The second analyses the cocaine trade's impact on those countries that produce it or through which it is trafficked, focussing on Jamaica, Mexico, and of course Colombia, asking why that country is the only one in the world to be a producer of cocaine, cannabis and heroin (apparently a combination of proximity to trade routes, a long tradition of lawlessness, economic inequality and chronic underinvestment in the rural economy). In all cases Feiling attempts to show how the economic circumstances of these producer/transit countries makes the cocaine trade so powerful that law enforcement efforts are doomed never to be able to do more than inconvenience it, let alone eradicate it. Indeed, the level to which Colombia's government, police and judiciary are complicit with the cocaine traffickers is truly spectacular.
A salutary warning of the likely consequences of continuation of current policies is the incipient transformation into narco-states that afflicts those countries in West Africa which have become transit hubs for cocaine entering Europe; Feiling notes that the cocaine trade offers prospects for economic development that international neo-liberal financial policies have failed to provide for these states with weak government and scant resources, and is therefore unlikely to be effectively opposed by the local population.
The third section concerns prospects for the future. There is detailed analysis of the demand for cocaine and why it is so persistent, as well as the health consequences for different forms of the drug, which concludes that problematic use, especially of crack, is usually a symptom of underlying emotional problems, sometimes but not exclusively associated with poverty and deprivation, noting that the 'career' of the average cocaine user is far shorter than that of typical heroin or alcohol users.
In the chapter analysing the arguments for legalisation and where they are coming from, we hear from Jack Cole of the group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, and Sir Keith Morris [now a Transform supporter], whose experience as the UK's ambassador to Colombia has led him to come out against the war on drugs - both indicative of the fact that even those charged with defending prohibition can draw their own conclusions when exposed to the consequences.
Discussion of cocaine rarely makes much mention of coca leaf tea/chewing, but here we are told of the Colombian coca-leaf drink producers who had to fight a lawsuit to be allowed to use the word 'coca' in the name of their product, and of the WHO report (it was suppressed by the USA who threatened to withdraw funding) that found that chewing coca leaves had negligible health risks.
The book concludes that, while those in charge of drug policy are 'unwilling to admit their addiction to...the illusion of control', change is unlikely to come from above unless prohibition becomes financially unviable, but in the US there is already widespread change underway at state or city level, and that whatever drug policy is in place, the problems of compulsive use will not go away until 'nations produce responsible citizens with stakes in conventional society'.
That is not in itself a comforting thought, but hopefully this book will help spread the reform message a little further; certainly it's a well researched and informative work for those interested in the subject.
- The Candy Machine has also been reviewed by The Guardian and The Telegraph
- The Home Affairs Select Committee is looking into the cocaine trade at present. Transform has sent in a submission and is expected to be called to give evidence later this year.
- Transform is pleased to announce the launch of our Amazon Associate bookstore. We’ve now assembled a list of some of the best books available about drug policy and drug law reform, which can be found here.
- All books listed have a link to www.amazon.com where the book is available to purchase.
- Buy books through our site and you’ll even be helping Transform make some money as we receive a 10% donation of the cost of the book at no extra cost to you.
Please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to recommend books, or if you’d like to review any of the books listed.