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November 2015
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Open Thread

A busy week at work for me, and some distractions in the news.

bullet image Are My Methods Unsound? Why ‘Sicario’ Is the ‘Apocalypse Now’ of the Drug War

There’s been quite a bit of talk about the movie Sicario. I’m curious. Have you seen it? And how does it, as fiction, stack up to the realities of our drug war?

I must admit, I’m not rushing out to catch it. In part, because when I go to the movies I usually want to escape. And a movie about the drug war just doesn’t feel like entertainment to me.

bullet image Legal marijuana sales began yesterday in Oregon. Sky fallen yet?

bullet image Can Addicts Finally Force the War on Drugs to End? by Maia Szalavitz

People who use or have used drugs rarely have a seat at the table when policy is set—and are heard from mainly in the form of stories of sin and repentance.

But now a group called Unite to Face Addiction is planning a massive rally in Washington, DC, to attack stigma and call for change. On Sunday, October 4, big names like Steven Tyler, Joe Walsh, Jason Isbell of the Drive-By Truckers, and Sheryl Crow will perform. Speakers will include former Congressman Patrick Kennedy, former baseball player Darryl Strawberry, author William Cope Moyers and current “drug czar” Michael Botticelli, who is in recovery himself. […]

The biggest challenge—other than fundraising—was trying to build a coalition, according to Williams. “How do we get prevention and harm reduction and recovery and treatment people who all disagree, how do we get them under a broad umbrella?” he asks rhetorically.

I’m happy to see this, while also recognizing the challenge. There are huge sections of the treatment industry that are little more than opportunistic mercenaries (like the vultures who send me letters all the time offering to write “free” guest posts about treatment and recovery in exchange for a text link to get better Google rankings for treatment businesses) who publicly push for continued prohibition so they can skim the criminal justice referral cream off the top, and, when they encounter people who really need help, conduct unsound treatment practices that can leave patients more vulnerable to overdose deaths.

Not that addicts themselves always have the right answers. Sometimes those in recovery can be rather religious in their proselytizing about their particular recovery method or about the dangers of “their” drug, not accepting that their story isn’t everyone’s story.

But on the other hand, too often there has been a paternal approach to addicts that says they are unable to speak about their own experience and they must be cared for against their own will.

It’ll be interesting to see what comes of this event.

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Race and the Drug War

We’ve talked a lot about race and the drug war here, and there’s an interesting article by Jess Singal in New York Magazine: The Black Activists Who Helped Launch the Drug War.

There’s no doubt that the drug war disproportionately affects poor and minority communities and that black communities in particular have been particularly affected. But the article points out that the drug war wasn’t just foisted on the black communities, but in many cases those communities welcomed it with open arms.

Michael Javen Fortner, a political scientist at City University of New York, is hoping to complicate the story that the Rockefeller laws, and others like them, were foisted on black people by white people. His book, Black Silent Majority: The Rockefeller Drug Laws and the Politics of Punishment, out September 28 from Harvard University Press, tells the story of Harlem’s struggles with drugs and crime from the 1940s through the passage of the Rockefeller laws. Key to this story is the role of Harlem’s residents in forcefully advocating for a tougher, more punitive approach to the neighborhood’s “pushers” and addicts.

Yes, many of the origins of the drug war were racist, and racism has often fueled the drug war, but as we’ve noted here before, in the early days of drug policy reform, it was often difficult to get black communities involved in reform. I saw that first-hand in communities where I lived. In recent years, that’s changed, particularly with powerful leadership in organizations like LEAP, NAACP, ACLU, and some church groups.

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Medical marijuana must be cost effective

Stung by costs, some of Minnesota’s medical marijuana patients back to buying on streets

As we’ve often said here, the vast majority of people prefer to buy legally if they can, and are generally willing to even pay a little more to do so. But when the cost is excessive, it forces the user to choose between poverty and breaking the law.

“What we’re talking about is an expensive designer drug that only the rich can afford right now.”

That’s unacceptable.

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Scary Hitler Drugs!

A number of articles have come out this week about how Hitler’s armies were pumped up on “crystal-meth-like” drugs.

Tony Paterson at The Independent: Hitler’s all-conquering stormtroopers ‘felt invincible because of crystal meth-style drug Pervitin’

Hitler’s armies carried out their “Blitzkrieg” invasions of Poland and France while high on a version of crystal meth which kept them wide awake, feeling euphoric and invincible, says a new book about the Nazis’ use of drugs during the Second World War.

So that’s why World War II was so devastating. We were fighting super-soldiers who had completely lost their humanity because they had been turned into drug fiends!

USA Today: Author: Nazi soldiers were high on crystal meth in WWII

New York Daily News: Nazi troops ‘high on crystal meth’ during European advances, new book claims

Complex: Nazis Were Fueled by Crystal Meth, New Book Shows (A previous version of the headline was: “Hitler’s Nazis Were Meth Zombies, A New Book Says”)

Note the pervasive use of the term “crystal meth,” which isn’t really a proper scientific term, but certainly is a great fear-mongering drug term. Generally, “crystal meth” refers to methamphetamine that is in a crystalline (rock) form and is generally purer than powdered methamphetamine. What the Nazi troops used was a small dose of powdered methamphetamine contained in pill form (Pervitin).

Calling it a crystal meth-style drug is like saying that Bolivians make tea with a crack-like drug called coca.

The Pervitin used by the Nazi troops was really quite similar to what we prescribe by the ton for children under the name Adderall. Also, the soldiers in the British and American armies in World War II also used forms of amphetamines in the battlefield, while consumers at home used them as diet pills and in inhalers. We gave troops more amphetamines in Vietnam than the Germans used in all of World War II. U.S. Pilots today are still given forms of amphetamines.

And the other thing is, we’ve known for over 70 years that the Nazis used Pervitin.

Ah, but what reporter can resist a good drug scare-mongering story! It’s not like they have to worry about things like ethics or integrity.

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Drug testing for marijuana has no place in sports

Ronda Rousey Takes Stand Against Drug Testing For Marijuana

“I’m against testing for weed at all. It’s not a performance enhancing drug. And it has nothing to do with competition. It’s only tested for political reasons,” she said.

Spot on, Ronda. Although marijuana is on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s Prohibited List, the advantages it can offer athletes during a competition are, by WADA’s own admission, limited to “better focus” and “diminished stress.”

Diaz and many more athletes who regularly smoke marijuana use the drug for non-competitive recreational purposes. Diaz himself is a card-carrying medical marijuana patient in California. But in making its decision, the NSAC effectively stripped away all context behind Diaz’s possible marijuana usage, charging him like a cheater when he’s really just another fighter in pain — a point that infuriated Rousey on Wednesday.

“If one person tests for steroids, that could actually hurt a person, and the other person smokes a plant that makes him happy, and he gets suspended for five years. Whereas a guy who could hurt someone gets a slap on the wrist. It’s not fair,” Rousey said, also adding that she believes marijuana testing is an invasion of privacy.

Nice to see this. I think the World Anti-Doping Agency is going to start getting more pressure in this area, because it really is absurd.

[Thanks, Allan]

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Powerful new U.N. report

Study on the impact of the world drug problem on the enjoyment of human rights. Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

[…]to be presented to the Council at its thirtieth session, on the impact of the world drug problem on the enjoyment of human rights, and recommendations on respect for and the protection and promotion of human rights in the context of the world drug problem, with particular consideration for the needs of persons affected and persons in vulnerable situations.

This is some really important stuff. Here are some highlights…

The Special Rapporteur on the right to health has underlined the distinction between drug use and drug dependence. Drug dependence is a chronic, relapsing disorder that should be medically treated using a biopsychosocial approach. Drug use is neither a medical condition nor does it necessarily lead to drug dependence. People who use drugs and people who are dependent on drugs possess the same right to health as everyone else, and those rights cannot be curtailed if the use of drugs constitutes a criminal offence […]

The Special Rapporteur has emphasized that health-care personnel have an obligation to provide treatment on a non-discriminatory basis and not to stigmatize or violate a patient’s human rights. […]

Individuals have sometimes been denied access to medical treatment on the grounds of their prior or current drug use, where evidence does not justify denial of treatment. Such denial has occurred on the rationale that a person’s drug use would make him or her unable to adhere to treatment. The Special Rapporteur notes that adherence to medical treatment is not necessarily lower among persons who use drugs, and should be assessed on an individual basis […]

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights,8 the Committee on the Rights of the Child9 and the Special Rapporteur on the right to health have all determined that a harm reduction approach is essential for persons who use drugs. […]

Providing drug users with access to drug-consumption rooms can contribute to preventing the transmission of diseases and to reducing damage to the veins, as well as encourage users to make use of treatment and other services. Drug-consumption rooms have contributed to reducing overdose rates and increased access to medical and social services […]

The lack of needle and syringe programmes, in particular, has a direct impact on the spread of HIV. […]

The Special Rapporteur on the right to health has stated that if harm reduction programmes and evidence-based treatments are made available to the general public, but not to persons in detention, this contravenes the right to health. […]

The Special Rapporteur on the right to health has noted that drug users in States that criminalize drug use may avoid seeking health care for fear that information regarding their drug use will be shared with authorities, which could result in arrest and imprisonment, or in treatment against their will. The use of drug registries (lists of people who use drugs) may deter individuals from seeking treatment, especially given that violations of patient confidentiality have been frequently documented in States that maintain such registries […]

The Special Rapporteur has observed that criminalizing drug use and possession has led to risky forms of drug use designed to evade criminal prohibitions, which has in turn resulted in increased health risks for drug users. […]

He added that criminalizing the dissemination of information, including on safe practices pertaining to drug use and harm reduction, is not compatible with the right to health because it hinders individuals’ ability to make informed choices about their health. […]

WHO has recommended decriminalizing drug use, including injecting drug use, as doing so could play a critical role in the implementation of its recommendations on health sector interventions, including harm reduction and the treatment and care of people who use drugs. UNAIDS too has recommended decriminalizing drug use as a means to reduce the number of HIV infections and to treat AIDS […]

The Special Rapporteur has identified many ways in which criminalizing drug use and possession impedes the achievement of the right to health. He has called for the decriminalization of drug use and possession as an important step towards fulfilling the right to health. [emphasis added] […]

The Special Rapporteur has noted as positive the decriminalization experience in Portugal […]

Restricting access to opioids affects not only the availability of opioid substitution therapy but also three unrelated areas where access to controlled medicines is essential: (a) management of moderate to severe pain, including as part of palliative care for people with life-limiting illnesses; (b) certain emergency obstetric situations; and (c) management of epilepsy […]

Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights provides that, in those States which have not abolished the death penalty, the sentence of death can only be applied for the “most serious crimes”. The Human Rights Committee has determined that drug-related offences do not meet the threshold of “most serious crimes” […]

In some States, it has been reported that accused persons may be given a choice between serving a sentence after conviction or submitting to drug treatment. Bearing in mind the right of a person to refuse treatment, this practice may be a cause for concern, in particular given the level of coercion involved. […]

The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has called for reform to ensure that sentences for drug-related offences are proportionate to the nature of the crime […] The Working Group has found that overincarceration for drug-related offences contributes significantly to prison overcrowding and that overcrowding can call into question compliance with article 10 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which guarantees that everyone in detention shall be treated with humanity and respect for their dignity […]

Different forms of discrimination may result once an individual has a criminal record resulting from a conviction for a drug-related offence. These may include obstacles to obtaining employment, adverse effects on the custody of children or visitation rights, losing government benefits such as access to public housing, food assistance or student financial aid, or difficulties concerning travel abroad. […]

It has been reported that members of ethnic minorities, in particular those who are poor and live in marginalized communities, may be particularly subject to discrimination in the context of drug enforcement efforts. In the United States of America, for example, African Americans make up 13 per cent of the population, yet account for 33.7 per cent of drug-related arrests and 37 per cent of people sent to state prisons on drug charges. […]

It has been reported that women who use drugs may, depending on the laws and policies in force, face losing custody of their children, forced or coerced sterilization, abortion or criminal penalties for using drugs during pregnancy.

In every aspect, the drug war violates basic human rights. It’s time for the world to wake up to that basic fact.

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Drug policy and foreign policy. What a mess.

Ryan Grim and Nick Wing have a fascinating piece in Huffington Post: Operation Naked King: U.S. Secretly Targeted Bolivia’s Evo Morales In Drug Sting

Because of a confidential informant who is suing the federal government for $5 million in back pay, we’re learning a lot more about the DEA’s attempts to go after Morales and Bolivia. This article gives a good background on the animosity between the two countries and the use of the DEA and drug control policy as a weapon.

In 2009, Hillary Clinton warned of Morales and the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’s “fear mongering” in written testimony during her secretary of state confirmation hearings. Yet Morales’ fears, it turns out, weren’t rooted in mere paranoia. The DEA was, in fact, out to get him.

The revelation of Operation Naked King goes to show that Bolivian leaders’ paranoia was well justified, said Kathryn Ledebur, who runs the Andean Information Network based in Bolivia. “US authorities frequently dismiss Bolivian government denunciations about the DEA and US intervention as absurd speculation, but these revelations show what is common knowledge on the ground — there has long been an alarming lack of oversight of DEA operations in Latin America, including recurring mission creep and a violation of agreements with host countries,” she wrote in an email.

“Even before Morales’s election, high-ranking US officials warned his policies on coca and drug control and rejection of American policy dictates would plunge Bolivia into drug trafficking chaos. Yet, without the DEA or US funding, Bolivia has consistently improved its track record, with the lowest coca crop in the region and credible interdiction policies. There’s a lot of cognitive dissonance for US drug warriors, and in this case, it appears some worked to make their predictions appear true.”

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Voters want Feds to Respect State Marijuana Laws

Marijuana Majority today released the results of its third survey of early primary states showing that South Carolina overwhelmingly support ending federal prosecutions of people acting in accordance with state marijuana laws.

Among respondents, 65% agree that “states should be able to carry out their own marijuana laws without federal interference.” Just 16% think that “the federal government should arrest and prosecute people who are following state marijuana laws.”

The survey, commissioned by Marijuana Majority, is a follow-up to other recent polls from the organization that showed supermajority support for respecting local marijuana laws in Iowa and New Hampshire, which are also key early presidential primary states.

“Regardless of whether they personally support legalization, voters in these early primary states strongly support scaling back the war on marijuana so that local laws can be enacted without federal harassment,” said Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority. “The Obama administration has made some helpful accommodations to let states start to move forward, but overarching federal prohibition laws still stand in the way of full and effective implementation. Presidential contenders in both parties would do well to make marijuana law reform a prominent issue in their campaigns, and they’d be better off doing it before other candidates realize just how much of a winning issue this is with voters.”

You can see more details of the polls at the Marijuana Majority polls page.

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Scientific bias

David Nutt has a good piece: Here’s Why We Hear So Many False Claims About Cannabis

On the whole, my many years of research on substance use has taught me a major overarching lesson: we are much more likely to demonize drugs for their negative effects than consider their neutral or potentially positive impacts. Or – in scientific terms – there is a built-in bias in the scientific literature, textbooks, and the popular press towards highlighting the negative aspects of drug use. And more ink has been spilled about cannabis than any other drug, perhaps because it’s the most widely used illegal drug and the subject of intense debate concerning its regulation.

He goes on to talk about the ways in which funding and confirmation bias (although he doesn’t use that term specifically) affect the scientific results we hear or notice.

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What’s more wrong than John P. Walters or William J. Bennett? Both of them together.

The two wax nostalgic in the Boston Globe…

Bring back the war on drugs

Ah, yes, remember the good old days of the drug war that these two managed to inflict on this country? Well, they want it back.

For 25 years before President Obama, US policy confronted drug addiction with effective public health measures, emphasizing education, prevention, and treatment and, crucially, programs to reduce production, interdict the drugs, and lead international partnerships to destroy drug cartels. It worked.

Yet President Obama refuses to attack supply. […]

Worse, Obama has tacitly allowed legalized marijuana to spread drug use on a widening scale, undermining prevention and treatment. Now drug gangs flourish in a legalized-drug environment, spreading addiction throughout America. […]

As death and addiction spread, who will speak truthfully about this epidemic? President Obama has not, but many Republicans have also downplayed the danger of drugs and the importance of law enforcement. Crime- and drug-ravaged communities are crying out for leadership. Who will answer them?

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