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February 2005



But certainly not… heroin?

I had a nice trip up to Chicago this weekend, to see the fabulous Chicago Dance Crash (of which I am a board member), and take care of a few other things in the area.
On the way up in the car with some friends, discussion naturally turned to the drug war. And as often happens, one of my friends stated a fairly popular sentiment that goes something like this…

Of course, I agree that marijuana should be legalized. That’s just common sense. But certainly you’re not advocating legalizing or decriminalizing hard drugs like heroin?

I fully understand why people think this way — they’re looking at relative dangers, rather than the underlying speciousness of prohibition.
And quite frankly, when they think of taking heroin out of the criminal justice system, they tend to immediately imagine a legalization scheme that would allow it to be sold to young children at every corner convenience store, with a shrink-wrapped syringe and vial of heroin in a colorful package right next to the Butterfingers. Well, of course it’s ridiculous in that scenario.
However, each drug should be dealt with in a way that is appropriate to the drug. So I always respond that, in my view, heroin should be given away for free. This usually shocks the other person to silence, giving me time to explain.
The problem is that prohibition makes it profitable for dealers to hook people with heroin. Once they’ve got them hooked, they have a perfect return customer who will always come up with whatever money is being charged for their fix. The addict spends their entire existence doing whatever is necessary to get their next fix. If that lifestyle doesn’t kill them, then overdoses, doctored drugs, or dirty needles will get them. Prohibition, jail, loss of familyl and friends, and cold-turkey-abstinence-only-style treatment just add to the cycles of despair, and feed the profits of the dealer.
What most people don’t realize is that another approach has been tried that is hugely successful:

Switzerland is now leading the way out of prohibition. In 1994, it started prescribing free heroin to long-term addicts who had failed to respond to law enforcement or any other treatment. In 1998, a Lausanne criminologist, Martin Kilias, found that the users’ involvement in burglary, mugging and robbery had fallen by 98%; in shoplifting, theft and handling by 88%; in selling soft drugs by 70%; in selling hard drugs by 91%. As a group, their contacts with police had plunged to less than a quarter of the previous level. The Dutch and the Germans have had similar results with the same strategy. All of them report that, apart from these striking benefits in crime prevention, the users are also demonstrably healthier ( because clean heroin properly used is a benign drug ) and that they are more stable with clear improvements in housing, employment and relationships. [The Guardian]

The nice side benefit when you open this idea to a wider group? It drives the dealer out of business. Why hook someone new on heroin, if they’ll be able to get it for free afterward? So it reduces the number of new addicts, while helping existing addicts build their self-esteem and health, and even get a job, which then makes it easier to kick the habit when they’re ready.
Of course, people don’t want to hear that heroin can be benign, and yet, in addition to anectodal information to that effect in places like Jacob Sullum’s excellent “Saying Yes,” a new study shows the same thing:

The study, by Dr David Shewan and Phil Dalgarno, focuses on 126 long-term heroin users not being treated for their drug use, recruited in the Glasgow area.

Dr Shewan says the study shows that “while there are heroin users with problems, there are also heroin users without problems.

“It should not be assumed that heroin inevitably leads to addictive and destructive patterns and that all users suffer negative social and health consequences.”

(Naturally, that study upset some of the drug warriors in England.)
Well now, there will be a limited trial of free heroin in North America (no, not the U.S., you silly person — in Canada, of course). It will be for a small number of hard-core addicts only, but even that is better than nothing.
[Thanks to Nicolas for sending me this article in the Globe and Mail:]

“What if you could say to an addict, ‘For the next little while, you’re not going to have to get your drugs from Al Capone. You can get your drugs from Marcus Welby,’ ” said Dr. Martin Schechter, the project’s lead researcher.

“You don’t have to worry about this afternoon and this evening. And therefore, you don’t have to go and break in to cars or be a prostitute. You could actually come and talk to a counsellor or . . . get some skills training.”

It’s a landmark study in North America, one that turns its back on abstinence as the goal.

Wait for it… and the reaction to this planned trial from our Drug Czar?

As expected, the plan has rankled U.S. drug officials, specifically the office of White House drug czar John Walters, where an official called it an unethical and “inhumane medical experiment.”


More on the Illinois Marijuana Lectures

A reminder that Andrea Barthwell will be continuing her marijuana disinformation campaign in Southern Illinois on Monday and Tuesday. She had an unadvertised (at least on her website) lecture visit in Geneva/St. Charles yesterday.
I don’t know how dangerous she’s going to be to the medical marijuana movement in Illinois. She’s certainly trying hard, but it may be that the denseness of her two-hour lectures will turn people off (or at least confuse them). This is partly her effort to not make her lies quite as obvious as the Drug Czars’ so she hides her disinformation in a bunch of irrelevant scientific information.
One of the things she returns to often in her lecture is the whole Super-pot myth. Of course, this has been touted by the government for quite some time, without a single bit of evidence that pot with higher levels of THC is, in fact, more dangerous. What actually happens is that people smoke less. (Just like during alcohol prohibition, they smuggled whisky instead of beer). Also, they use the extremes, without noting that the THC in average pot has not increased very much in the last 30 years.
After pushing the “super pot” myth, she gave it a little geographical flavor by noting that Mexican brick weed was getting more potent all the time, and the super high-tech wizards in Canada were using their advanced systems to grow bud that’s even stronger. Then, of course, she does the same trick — follow the statement about super-pot, with figures about the high number of young people in treatment because of marijuana. Always inferring a connection when there is none. While she admits that half of the referrals for marijuana come from criminal justice, she downplays many of the other referrals. None of the figures she uses (these, or the misleading DAWN emergency room figures) have anything to do with separately measuring real marijuana problems.
Andrea really leaves the reservation when she starts talking about “brain science” — she talks about receptors and drives and rewards and various kinds of memory. It’s mostly garbage, but she makes it sound like it leads to something and while she carefully avoids saying the lie herself, she gets the audience member to suggest that the details it remind them of.. Alzheimers. And she just gives a knowing nod. What crap! (Interestingly, there’s a study that has actually used cannabinoids in treatment of Alzheimer’s anorexia [190 Volicer L, Stelly M, Morris J, McLaughlin J, Volicer BJ. 1997. Effects of dronabinol on anorexia and disturbed behavior in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry 12:913919.])
She made a number of outrageous statements throughout the rest of the presentation, including the notion that even discussions about such issues as the relative dangers between alcohol and marijuana are not appropriate within communities that want to fight drugs. She also said:

Minimal clinical studies [on medical marijuana] do not exist.
This will destabilize modern medicine.

Ridiculous. But now you know a little of what to expect in the opposition to the medical marijuana bill in the legislature, so you can be better prepared to answer it.

Just say no thanks

TalkLeft notes that Phoenix police are starting to fingerprint people at ordinary traffic stops (voluntarily) — [See Grits for Breakfast too]. This, along with the recent bad Supreme Court Caballes (drug sniffing dogs deciding on their own when you get searched), reminded me how important it is for everyone to understand and actively use their […]

No HHS response news yet.

I still have not heard anything from Americans for Safe Access, or any news reports regarding the deadline extension that should have expired on Friday for Health and Human Services to respond to the Data Quality Act challenge. (Background) If anyone hears anything, please let me know.

Fun with referrals

I think that just about everyone who has a blog enjoys taking a look now and then at how people get to their site. I know I have done some additional writing based on the Google questions that have driven people here (to help answer common questions such as “Why is Marijuana Illegal?“). Sometimes, referrals […]