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" There are no Corona beer smugglers. Beer sellers don't smuggle. They simply ship their product. Drug laws cause drug crime.
1. What Transform Has Been Up To
2. UK News
3. International News
4. What You Can Do
What Transform Has Been Up To
Steve has written a 2000 word commentary for the British Medical Journal considering the drug war and alternatives from a public health perspective. It is published online on July 14th in a BMJ special issue to coincide with the IAS AIDS conference in Vienna.the issue features a range of articles on drug policy reform and health policy in the UK and around the world.
The article can be read here
The BMJ video can be viewed here
Steve spoke at a Bedford Row Chambers symposium at the Law society to a full house and was very well received. Bedford Row will be publishing a discussion paper based on the symposium.
Danny Kushlick gave a presentation to diploma and masters students at the Cambridge Institute of Criminology.
Danny gave a presentation at the Venezuelan Consulate on the negative impact of securitization of cocaine.
Transform Drug Policy Foundation and the International Drug Policy Consortium are delighted to present The Drug Policy Networking Zone at the XVIII International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2010) from July 18th to 22nd.
The Drug Policy Networking Zone is a space for sharing ideas, experiences and expertise on drug policy reform. Its also a place to forge new links and develop strategic thinking on the issues. We've joined forces with the Harm Reduction and Human Rights Networking Zones to produce a 'mega' zone with a full schedule of talks, discussions, debates and multimedia running throughout the week.
The full programme of events can be viewed here
Highlights from the programme include:
Tuesday 20 July, 16:00-16:45
Wednesday 21 July, 14:15-15:15
Wednesday 21 July, 12:00-13:00 and Thursday 22 July, 16:30-17:30
See here for our e-flyer outlining all the events
Don’t forget to mark your calendar for the OPENING RECEPTION of the Drug Policy, Harm Reduction and Human Rights networking zones on SUNDAY, JULY 18 from 16:00–18:00. For more information about the Drug Policy Networking zone email firstname.lastname@example.org
We will be holding a press briefing from 15.30-16.00 on 18th July. For more information please email email@example.com
We are currently looking for volunteers to help with the organisation and staffing of our zone at the AIDS Conference in Vienna. Our volunteers will be crucial to the success of our presence at the conference so we hope you will be able to offer some of your time, even if it is only a few hours. We need to have to have the zone staffed throughout the period of the conference. We are asking for volunteers to cover two hour time slots. Volunteers will be involved in assisting primarily with:
Volunteers will be given free T shirts, unlimited tea and biscuits, the opportunity for networking and the satisfaction of knowing they have made contribution to the campaign for drug law reform.
If you interested in volunteering please email Marie at: firstname.lastname@example.org
We hope you can join us in Vienna!
2. UK News
The new Coalition Government are cutting projects to save £2 Billion but as usual they are forgetting the elephant in the room; Prohibition.
Analysis from Transform for its Comparison of the Cost-effectiveness of Prohibition and Regulation of Drugs suggests that the government could save billions in expenditure each by moving to an evidence based system of drug regulation – as well as drastically reducing the wider social economic costs associated with the illegal drug market (particularly crime costs)
If everything is really on the table – lets start a meaningful debate on drug law reform; It’s got to better than cutting vital public services or cancelling school building programs. If the government are serious about cutting wasteful expenditure and implementing more cost effective policy interventions it would be criminal not to be looking at our failed punitive drug policies; They are expensive, they deliver the exact opposite of their stated goals and they are actively counterproductive.
Transform is developing new analysis on these issues and also pitching op-eds to mainstream media to highlight the importance of this debate.
Danny spoke to Broadcasting House on Radio 4 on the savings that can be made from legally regulating drugs.
A transcript can be read here.
An internal Home Office memo, accidentally leaked to the BBC’s Martin Rosenbaum (see his blog here), today exposes a culture of playing fast and loose with Freedom of Information (FOI) requests that might expose Government policy to criticism. The fifteen-page document demonstrates in detail how officials at the Home Office discussed withholding a Home Office commissioned value for money study (of the UK drug strategy) from Transform because of fears of bad press for its much vaunted drug policy. The epic 3 year saga of how we finally obtained the VFM study is detailed here. The internal document was inadvertently sent to Rosenbaum (the deleted portions were still visible) along with a letter that the Home Office sent him as a part of an unconnected FOI request. It has allowed for a brief peep behind the curtain of obfuscation and spin that has characterised so many of our dealings with the Home Office.
For the first time since the modern Select Committee system was created in 1979, rather than party whips choosing the chairs and membership, backbench MPs are. That means they are less likely to be with those who slavishly toe the party line, particularly at a time when no one party has an overall majority.
That said, the Whips still get to negotiate amongst themselves which Committees will be chaired by members of which party. Also, no sitting Committee chair who sought re-election lost, and many were unopposed, mainly because senior back benchers, ex-ministers and whips still have real clout and can lean on MPs over who votes for whom. Cross party-appeal, and basic likeability evidently also come in to play. All criticisms aside, this is still a better system, and as it gets bedded down we will hopefully see the important committee system become stronger and more independent.
In terms of Chairs of Committees likely to look at drug related issues:
Home Affairs. Keith Vaz remains Chair of the Home Affairs Committee. This is a concern given the appalling quality of their last drugs report - on cocaine
Committee on Public Accounts (PAC). PACs is one of the most respected committees, with real teeth when it comes to monitoring Government spending. Their last report forced the Government to agree to an annual evaluation of its drug strategy, due to start next year. With the last Chair retiring, all eyes will be on the new one; respected ex-Minister Labour's Margaret Hodge..
In an interesting epilogue to the fevered pre-election Mephedrone saga it has emerged that 'No trace of drug' was found in the blood of two teenages whos deaths – linked to the drug during the media scramble – arguably contributed to the unseemly haste with which the ban was barreled through the ACMD and parliament. Whilst there is no questioning the risks associated with the use of the drug knee jerk policy responses based on tabloid hysteria are not how sensible policy decisions should be made. Prof David Nutt commented "This news demonstrates why it's so important to base drug classification on the evidence not fear and why the police, media and politicians, should only make public pronouncements once the facts are clear."
More can be read on our blog here
As part of its latest promotional campaign The Economist magazine has launched a series of 'where do you stand?' debates built around a billboard poster campaign outlining opposing views on a series of contentious issues. One of the issues they have chosen is whether drugs should be legalised and regulated, perhaps unsurprising given their prominent interest in this debate, and indeed support for the reform position over the past few years.
The House of Lords has debated the government's response to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime discussion paper Treating Drug Dependence through Healthcare, not Punishment .
"What does the new document say? A quote from the Foreword, signed by none other than Antonio Maria Costa , the Executive Director of the UNODC, makes clear the radical shift of policy. Mr Costa himself has for years promoted criminalisation. The fact that he now feels it is right to challenge 50 years of UN dogma must be something of a turning point. Mr Costa now says:
"The aim of this draft discussion paper, 'From Coercion to Cohesion' is to promote a health-oriented approach to drug dependence".
The paper quotes the narcotic drug conventions in support of the health-oriented approach. One of the great strengths of the paper is that it argues the scientific case for treatment as an alternative to criminal justice sanctions, suggesting that the health approach, "is in agreement with a large body of scientific evidence",including epidemiological, clinical and neurobiological.
Many across the world have said these things, but not the UNODC. The paper argues that "there is increasing evidence that a health-oriented approach is also the most effective in reducing illicit drug use"
By the same token, imprisonment often worsens the problem in a variety of ways. In my view, no serious policy-maker can ignore this paper." - Baroness Meacher
Using the Freedom of Information Act, the Drug Equality Alliance finally got to see the 2006 advice given to ministers ahead of a planned public consultation into the legal controls on illicit drugs, a report initiated by the former Home Secretary Charles Clarke.
More on the story can be read on Mark Easton's blog here
3. International News
The criminalisation of illicit drug users is fuelling the HIV epidemic and has resulted in
overwhelmingly negative health and social consequences. A full policy reorientation is needed.
The Vienna Declaration is a statement seeking to improve community health and safety by calling for the incorporation of scientific evidence into illicit drug policies. We are inviting scientists, health practitioners and the public to endorse this document in order to bring these issues to the attention of governments and international agencies, and to illustrate that drug policy reform is a matter of urgent international significance. We also welcome organizational endorsements.
This is the official declaration of the XVIII International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2010) to be held in Vienna, Austria from July 18th to 23rd. The declaration was drafted by a team of international experts and initiated by several of the world’s leading HIV and drug policy scientific bodies: the International AIDS Society, the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy (ICSDP), and the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS
The Declaration is now gathering signatures before its official launch at the XVIII International AIDS Conference, Vienna 2010. There will be a media launch event at the conference on July 20th (see here for details and press release) and a discussion event around the Declaration featuring Evan Wood from the ICSDP and other invited guests, in the Global Village Human Rights, Harm Reducation and Drug Policy Networking Zone on Wednesday July 21st at 2.15-3.15pm. The Drug Policy Networking Zone is co-organised by Transform and the International Drug Policy Consortium.
To visit the Vienna Declaration website and register your support click here. The site contains background information, press information and comments from some of the Declaration's supporters, inclusing Michel Kazachkine is the Executive Director of The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria.
Transform is pleased to have had a role in the production of the Declaration as a member of the writing committee, providing editorial input and feedback on early drafts.
The amount of control that the Food and Drug Administration now has over tobacco companies is impressive, all thanks to regulation. Wouldn't it be nice if they had such control over other drugs too.
FDA should use its power to lower nicotine in cigarettes, former chief says: "A year after Congress gave the federal government the authority to regulate tobacco, anti-smoking activists are applauding the initial steps taken by the Food and Drug Administration to control cigarette marketing and advertising. But a prominent public health figure says that the efforts are not enough and that the FDA could achieve dramatic change by using its new power to lower the amount of nicotine in cigarettes."
There has been unprecedented coverage of the drug law reform debate on Fox news in the last month, including vocal support for the reform position form one of the channels leading commentators; John Stossel:
"I understand that people on drugs can do terrible harm -- wreck lives and hurt people. But that's true for alcohol, too. But alcohol prohibition didn't work. It created Al Capone and organized crime. Now drug prohibition funds nasty Mexican gangs and the Taliban. Is it worth it? I don't think so, and I'll discuss this issue tomorrow night on my Fox Business show." . . .
" We've locked up 2.3 million people, a higher percentage than any other country. That allows China to criticize America 's human-rights record because our prisons are "packed with inmates."
Yet drugs are still everywhere. The war on drugs wrecks far more lives than drugs do.
Need more proof? Fox News runs stories about Mexican cocaine cartels and marijuana gangs that smuggle drugs into Arizona . Few stop to think that legalization would end the violence. There are no Corona beer smugglers. Beer sellers don't smuggle. They simply ship their product. Drug laws cause drug crime."
Also link to first stossel feature on another show
It has been confirmed today that UN Sectretary General Ban Ki Moon has appointed the Russian diplomat Yuri V. Fedotov as the new Executive Director of the UN Office of Drugs and Crime. the implications of this move are discussed below. (update 09.07.10 official confirmation here)
“According to WHO and UNAIDS, Russia has one of the world's most serious injection drug-use epidemics, which in turn is fuelling an explosion in HIV/AIDS incidence. Research by HIV/AIDS monitors in Russia estimate that there are up to 2 million injecting drug users in Russia, 60—70% of whom have HIV-related illnesses. Up to two-thirds of new HIV cases in Russia are linked with injected drug use, and according to UNAIDS there are an estimated 1 million people with HIV in Russia. HIV prevalence in Russia has doubled since 2001.
This has not merely remained a domestic issue. Russia has aggressively promoted these policies in the UN arena, including within the UNODC, INCB and CND. As TNI point out:
“Despite the country’s abysmal record on HIV prevention and injecting drug use, Russia believes it should teach the rest of the word lessons on drug policy. At the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), Russia has consistently attempted to block any political progress on harm reduction for HIV prevention relating to injecting drug use. At the 2010 CND session the Russian delegation refused to acknowledge previous resolutions adopted by consensus at the Human Rights Council and ECOSOC and a decision of the UNAIDS PCB on the issue.
TNI have also highlighted the concerns around Russia’s backward thinking on supply side controls and human rights:
“With regard to production and trafficking, Russia has recently been pressing hard for NATO intervention in Afghanistan against suspected drug traffickers, and for the forced aerial eradication of opium poppy. Both are disastrous policies intended to divert attention from Russia’s drug problems at home. They are utterly at odds with the UN’s commitment to a ‘balanced approach’ to supply and demand reduction as well as being contrary to human rights standards.
For more discussion on the human rights issues raise by this apointment take a look at the comment piece by Damon Barrett (from IHRA) that ran on the Gurdian's CiF blogs last week (New UN drugs tsar must be a leader on human rights), and also Damon on Australia's ABC The World Today radio show.
So why – given Russia’s shocking record on harm reduction - has a Russian diplomat been appointed to a job with the lead UN role on harm reduction?
It seems hard to fathom why Ban Ki Moon would have made this appointment. It seems about as sensible as putting a North Korean diplomat in charge of press freedom.
Unfortunately the appointment process is almost entirely opaque so we can only speculate. Since rumours of Fedotov’s potential appointment (over other front runners including nominations from Canada and Brazil) began to circulate a few weeks back significant efforts have been made by various groups across the world to highlight the obvious concerns (backed by Harm Reducation and HIV/AIDS NGO activity, and a nascent grass roots social media campaign - see this HCLU video for example). These have clearly either been ignored or outgunned by other pressures. Russia have never been a major funder of the UNODC either (but then nor have Italy who have dominated the ED role for decades) – so there is no suggestion that they have bought their way into the role.
Such appointments are evidently made following endless behind the scenes diplomatic horse trading of one sort or another. One suspects that with Russia being such a big player in global politics and the UN, they were ‘due’ a big posting or two, and the UNODC just drew the short straw. Maybe other unrelated pressures were brought to bear. Ban Ki Moon may have had reservations (other big hitters within the UN certainly will have done) but been able to do very little about it.
How is this likely to play out?
At this stage of course it’s simply impossible to know. However, it seems unlikely that Fedotov could seriously promote a hard line Russian approach within the UNODC, at least not publicly. Not only would this run counter to the direction of travel in the agency over the last few years (and the views of most UNODC staff), but it would be a direct challenge to the many member states active within the UN who have adopted pragmatic harm reduction positions. Just as seriously would be the impossible situation that such a move would create for UNODC relations with UNAIDS, the WHO and the many other UN agencies that directly and vocally support harm reduction. Expect to hear a lot more about all this from this month’s huge international AIDS conference in Vienna (a key action of which is the Vienna Declaration).
So trying to find some positives here, there may be a possibility that the appointment will actually expose Russia to greater scrutiny and thus ultimately help drag them out of the dark ages. But a moderately progressed Russian drug policy would still seem hopelessly backwards to much of the rest of the world.
Despite some of the issues around the previous Executive Director Antonio Costa, he has (albeit interspersed with often bizarrely rude outbursts and ill judged rants) made some significant statements on issues including the priority of public health, the importance of harm reduction, the unacceptability of the death penalty for drug offences, the futility of eradication, the centrality of human rights to drug policy, and the negative consequences of supply side enforcement (click for a Transform blog retrospective).
Even if no more progress is made (and there is certainly a long way to go) it is hard to see how these positive steps – all on the record - can be undone, or somehow be renounced by the new ED on behalf of the UNODC.
More likely is that the Russian influence will be subtle but corrosive. Progress made – much of it through the heroic efforts of the NGO community (IHRA’s HR2 program and the IDPC for example) – could now stall, important ongoing developments will be kicked into the long grass, and discussions on future developments that might have taken place, will now not happen. This would have serious consequences for the development of harm reduction in some of the places where it most urgently needed (not least Russia), but also impact on emerging developments such as embedding of human rights monitoring and assessment into all UNODC programs.
If the situation on key issues such as human rights and harm reduction does begin to seriously deteriorate then the UNODC could come under intense strain. Key UNODC funders (not least the UK) could come under pressure to withdraw or suspend funding. More seriously, the tensions (between hard line and more progressive harm reduction states) that were evident at the 2008 Commission on Narcotic Drugs during the drafting of the Political declaration (specifically around the inclusion of the words 'harm reduction') could become more acute. These simmering tensions could easily erupt into a full blown crisis, with the reform states coalescing around a breakaway reform agenda that could threaten the whole UN drug control infrastructure. At the very least such a crisis could render the UNODC, INCB, CND and the conventions they stand behind increasingly redundant and irrelevant – with the unquestionably useful elements of the system suffering along with the outdated and counterproductive.
Perhaps such a crisis is what is needed in the longer term, with a more rational flexible international drug control infrastructure, one fit for the challenges of the new century, emerging from the ashes of the tired broken old one we have now.
Perhaps. But for now this seems like a huge backward step for both the UN drug control agencies and indeed the UN as a whole.
4. What You Can Do
We now have translations of the executive summary of Blueprint available in Spanish, Italian and Portuguese. We'd greatly appreciate any suggestions of who you think that we should send these to. Please email your ideas to: email@example.com
Transform Drug Policy Foundation, Easton Business Centre, Felix Rd, Bristol, BS5 0HE, Telephone: +44 (0) 117 941 5810
Transform Drug Policy Foundation is a registered Charity no. 1100518 and Limited Company no. 4862177