This is a very positive sign…
Leaked paper reveals UN split over war on drugs
Major international divisions over the global “war on drugs” have been revealed in a leaked draft of a UN document setting out the organisation’s long-term strategy for combating illicit narcotics.
The draft, written in September and seen by the Observer, shows there are serious and entrenched divisions over the longstanding US-led policy promoting prohibition as an exclusive solution to the problem.
Instead, a number of countries are pushing for the “war on drugs” to be seen in a different light, which places greater emphasis on treating drug consumption as a public health problem, rather than a criminal justice matter.
It is rare for such a document to leak. Normally only the final agreed version is published once all differences between UN member states have been removed.
What’s telling is not only the divisions in the early draft, but the fact that there was a leak. Usually, drug policy reps from countries want to show a united front to the world. Somebody was willing to cause a stir.
And in reading the article, it’s fascinating that there quite a range of countries objecting to drug war business as usual for a number of reasons.
Here’s an interesting data point that may have some real significance. It’s possible that we’re reaching a point where even politicians are hesitating when it comes to new prohibitions.
Theresa May humiliated as MPs reject call to ban khat
Theresa May’s ban on khat was not based on any evidence of medical or social harm and must be stopped before it becomes law, an influential committee of MPs found today.
In a humiliating move for the home secretary, the home affairs committee recommended that the government halt plans to ban the drug, which is popular among some African communities.
“It is extremely worrying that such an important decision has not been taken on the basis of evidence or consultation,” chairman Keith Vaz said.
“The expert Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs conducted a thorough review of the evidence and concluded that no social or medical harm resulted from the use of Khat.”
Apparently this was a big surprise, since usually any kind of drugs ban by the government would be supported without question.
Prohibition: a set of laws that harm everybody based on the false assumption that they’ll prevent a small minority from harming themselves.
And this, of course, identifies the hole in the policy approach of S.A.M. and Kevin Sabet that is big enough to drive a truck through. But since Kevin is so good at baffling with bullshit, few people notice that the question is never answered.
After the second of his recent interview articles at PolicyMic, I tweeted the writer:
.@gabethegrand Oh, so close! The one question that Kevin has not yet answered: “What do you do with non-problematic marijuana users?”
@DrugWarRant … All I can say is … to stay tuned for part 3 on Monday…
Monday came and part 3 came, but the question wasn’t there, so I asked:
.@gabethegrand So was the question not asked? Or not answered?
@DrugWarRant Not trying to put words in Kevin’s mouth, so I’ll quote him (from Part 2): “Legalization is not about the quirky uncle or the artsy neighbor smoking pot once in a while in the privacy of their own home. So those people are not going to be targeted.” Not sure if that answer satisfies you, but I think it’s at least a response to your question.
.@gabethegrand It’s his usual non-response. How can you have policy that’s vague about how it applies to majority of users?
Of course, Kevin isn’t going to answer that question when I put it to him, because either he’s going to have to say that there is no such thing as non-problematic users, and that’s going to make him unpopular, or he’s going to have to say that non-problematic users should have their life ruined in some way and that’s going to make him unpopular. I was hoping that a journalist would at least have the balls to make him answer the question.
Back when think-tanks in the U.S. were claiming that it wasn’t even worth talking about drug legalization because it wasn’t likely to happen, Transform in the UK was hard at work putting out the extraordinary After the War on Drugs: Blueprint for Regulation and actually laying out plausible options.
Now that legalization of cannabis is not only a possibility, but a certainty, Transform has come through again, providing a guide to countries, states, and policy-makers on options for regulating the production and distribution of cannabis within a legal market: How to Regulate Cannabis: A Practical Guide, released today (27 November in the UK).
Now, I’d be fine with immediate and absolute legalization of cannabis, with the only regulation related to contaminents (restrictions on mold, pesticides), and additives (product labeling) in commercially-sold cannabis.
But I realize full well that the political reality is that cannabis has been illegal for so long, and the propaganda machine has been working against it for so long, that strong regulatory plans are necessary, and it’s important to provide comprehensive, well-thought-out options for policy-makers.
And Transform does that extremely well (so often I find myself wishing we had a similar group of academics in the U.S. preparing useful policy guidance instead of dithering around about “uncertainties,” and wringing their hands at imagined futures).
This guide therefore begins with the premise that not only has prohibition failed, but that this is rapidly becoming the consensus view. As a result, the debate has moved beyond whether prohibition is a good idea, or that it can be tweaked and modified to work. [...]
To some,the legal regulation of cannabis may appear radical. But the legal and historical evidence demonstrates that, in fact, it is prohibition that is the radical policy. The legal regulation of drug production, supply and use is far more in line with currently accepted ways of managing health and social risks in almost all other spheres of life. So, far from being radical, this guide simply proposes that we extend established principles of risk management to an area where they have rarely been applied.
I found this part to be particularly astute:
[The] ‘gentler prohibition’ approach is most prominent in recent rhetoric from the US Government, which claims it represents a ‘middle way’ between the ‘extremes’ of ‘legalisation’ and a ‘war on drugs’. While this line of argument relies on misrepresenting the reform position with numerous straw man arguments, the fact there is even rhetorical movement towards the centre can be seen as positive change, perhaps of a prohibitionist regime on the defensive, or of one preparing for the inevitable concession to regulatory logic at some point soon.
This tussle over who occupies the pragmatic middle ground between advocates of ‘gentler prohibition’ and advocates of pragmatic regulation is likely to be a defining feature of the debate in the coming years.
One of the really smart approaches taken in this regulatory guide is instead of just saying “make sure you restrict this…,” the document gives positive suggestions of options that require less regulation yet still provide positive outcomes. Such as:
Home growing for personal use is difficult to regulate and police, but experience suggests it is unlikely to pose significant challenges. The majority of users will prefer the convenience of availability via legal retail outlets
Regulation of home growing should aim to prevent unlicensed for-profit sales, and prevent underage access to the crop
Cannabis social clubs represent a small-scale, de facto legal model of production and supply that has been proven to operate non-problematically
Cannabis social clubs provide lessons that can inform the development of future regulatory models and, given that they do not breach UN treaty commitments, may be a useful transitional model that policy makers can implement before more formal legal production systems are put in place. However, such clubs could equally operate alongside more formal production systems post-legalisation
And the guide goes on to describe options for regulation of these at great length.
I was curious to see what the guide said about cannabis and driving, since that’s something we’ve discussed here at length, and I’ve expressed serious concerns about the use of per se laws for cannabis and driving. While I didn’t agree with the entire section, I felt this portion was a much smarter approach than what we see being pushed here:
Given the lack of scientific consensus regarding a blood THC concentration that correlates with an unacceptable level of impairment, per se limits that automatically trigger a legal sanction when exceeded are inadvisable.
Due to the distinctive way in which cannabis is processed by the body, the use of per se laws is likely to lead to prosecutions of drivers with residual levels of THC in their blood but who are nonetheless safe to drive
Blood testing should only be carried out following a driving infraction or once evidence of impairment has been derived from a standardised field sobriety test that has been validated for cannabis-induced behaviour.
Blood tests should be employed simply to confirm that a driver has recently used cannabis (and that cannabis use is therefore the likely cause of the failure of a field sobriety test). The results of a blood (or any other body fluid) test should not, on their own, trigger a legal sanction
This guide also contains an extraordinary section (starting on page 201) regarding reforming the international conventions, complete with detailed historical and political analysis and guides to the options available, including multi-lateral options like modification or amendment, and unilateral options such as denunciation followed by re-accession with reservation, denunciation/withdrawal, breaching the treaties, and “soft defections.”
The appendices include a useful chart detailing cannabis regulation in various parts of the world.
I’m still absorbing this remarkable document. Again, it’s important to mention that some of the regulations given as options within this guide are ones that I’d find to be ridiculously onerous (and unnecessary), but they are options. And this guide needs to provide the means to walk back from some truly horrendous prohibition models that exist around the world.
This is the gold standard and should be a must-have for policy-makers everywhere.
There are a lot of industries related to prohibition that are full of corruption and that put self-interest above value to society.
One that is not discussed sufficiently is the treatment industry.
We all recognize that there are people who need help — those who cannot deal with the vicissitudes of life by themselves — and for that reason we recognize that treatment is a potentially valuable service to both individuals and society. We also understand that many who enter this field do so out of a legitimate and unselfish desire to help people, and that they believe the work they are doing has that capability.
However, it’s time for the larger community to understand and address the fact that as a field, the treatment industry is rife with corruption. There are huge profits to be made that depend not on helping people, but rather on insuring that a large number of “customers” go through their system.
I have noted here in the past that there are literally thousands of treatment centers regularly fighting to improve their google ratings, many of them begging to pay me to place text ads on my site, all to take advantage of the easy paycheck from criminal justice referrals for “treatment.”
And, of course, regulars here already know that whenever they hear someone in the news defending prohibition, the odds are about 9-1 that they have a connection to the treatment industry. Oh, sure, not all are merely corrupt — some may actually have deluded themselves that grabbing the easy money that comes from prohibition is somehow OK because it allows them to also help the people who need it, but that’s a copout.
A friend who spent some time in the criminal justice system for possessing enough cannabis to sell recently came forward to tell me about his experience with treatment.
“As part of my conditions of probation I was asked to enter a drug treatment program for treatment of my dependence on cannabis.
I was recommended a treatment center by the court system, which I went to. The guy who owned the treatment center sat down and did my intake appointment. We ended up getting pretty friendly and he came out of left field with the following: “If you can help me out I can help you out.” What ended up happening was I paid the guy $200 for his pocket, $200 for the classes, and he signed a paper saying that I had completed 20 hours of drug treatment.
I did it. Of course. I smoke pot, but I’m not dependent on substances, and I was happy to not have to sit through a bullshit class about drug dependency and DUI’s. But as time has gone on and I see how our criminal justice system works, it truly saddens me and I had to speak up about it. Truly makes me sick.”
Cannabis treatment is one of the biggest scams in the industry. A dramatically high percentage of those entering treatment for cannabis are there because of criminal justice referral. And even those who self-refer are often doing so because it’ll look better to a judge.
When the government’s own figures show that 38% of those entering treatment for cannabis haven’t even used it in the past 30 days, that’s got to raise questions.
Now I’m not in any way denying the existence of the category of cannabis dependency, but there’s a wide range of degrees of dependency, lots of options besides treatment for mild dependency (where cannabis clearly falls), and clear evidence that huge numbers are entering treatment solely because of the criminal justice system and not because of a need for treatment.
Despite this fact, I’ve never found an instance of someone being denied treatment because they were determined to not need it. And yet, isn’t treating someone who doesn’t need it unethical? (I’d be happy to hear from treatment centers that actually only accept those who need help, rather than all those for whom there is money to collect.)
And we’re not even getting into the problems with treatment regimes in the United States for those who do have problems. There’s a lot of evidence that cold-turkey, high-stress programs are much less effective than those based on harm reduction, and yet we rarely have that discussion on a national basis.
Unless the legitimate players in the treatment industry step forward and condemn the abuses and call for reevaluation of their own business, there’s little reason for us to accept anything they have to say.
They can no longer depend on an ignorant public simply believing them. That day is coming to a close. It’s time to clean house, or eventually be relegated to the category of quacks like historic barbers who bled their patients.
Billionaire Peter Lewis, Advocate Of Marijuana Legalization, Dies At 80
“Our marijuana laws are outdated, ineffective and stupid,” Lewis told Forbes in a 2011 interview. “I am a progressive by birth, by nature, by philosophy—that’s the name of the insurance company I ran as well, which is coincidental—but I am a small ‘p’ progressive. I don’t believe that laws against things that people do regularly, like safe and responsible use of marijuana, make any sense.”
So good to see Nick Gillespie’s OpEd in Time: What’s So Bad About Casual Drug Use?
But in an age in which we are expected to use legal drugs (like beer) and prescription medications (Adderall) responsibly, it’s time to extend that same notion to currently illegal substances whose effects and properties are widely misunderstood. Indeed, the effects of coke, heroin and the rest are a mystery partly because their outlaw status makes it difficult both to research them and have honest discussions about them.
And has been noted here in comments, there are some good discussions brewing in the comments at Time.
Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) has been one of the good organizations out there making a difference. I’ve been to a couple of their conferences and know a number of their members, and I’ve been faculty advisor of a college chapter as well. They fulfill an important need — reaching students at a time when they are seeking knowledge, answers, direction.
SSDP is undertaking a crowd funding campaign with Indiegogo. Worth checking out.
So I decided to check out the new Fox television series dealing with android police officers: Almost Human. I’m a big science fiction fan, so I figured it might be fun.
The opening scene of the pilot was rather disturbing. It was set in the future, but it appeared to be a future in a world where drug policy reformers like us never existed, and prohibition just kept escalating and escalating, leading to a world of super cartels and massively militarized police.
The opening screen:
The text continues to say:
Outnumbered and Overwhelmed
Law Enforcement Implements a New Strategy
Every Police Officer is Partnered with an
Advanced, Combat-model Android.
And the first image of an actual future police officer makes it clear that this is policing as drug warriors imagine it.
Now the show itself actually calms down a bit after the opening scene and starts getting into the characters and the repartee between the human and android cops.
But I was struck with how good a lesson this was as to our future if we continue our drug war unabated. Pretty bleak.
Welcome to all those who attended my presentation tonight sponsored by the Illinois State University chapter of Young Americans for Liberty. It was a huge crowd and quite attentive and interested. Quite a few political science students attending.
I suggested you come here and check out the Drug War Victims page. Definitely worth checking out their stories.
Also for further information about the legal grey areas presented by the horrific David Eckert case that I discussed tonight, see this post and the one by Radley Balko that’s referenced.
Feel free to join in the comments section. Introduce yourself, or ask questions. There’s a really good group here, they don’t bite, the refrigerator is stocked, and there’s still room on the couch.