Sunday, 7 June 2009

Slowly, The Wheels are Turning

Finally, some common sense is appearing in US drug policy ... albeit slowly. It’s not like the US are jumping ahead and breaking new ground but at least they are catching up with most westernised countries. The US has a stranglehold on UN drug agencies like the INCB and the UNODC which has always been a reason for concern to countries wanting to implement their own progressive drug policies. The heavily influenced UN will often overlook evidence based strategies and Harm Minimisation for US style Zero Tolerance policies. One of the major sticking points is needle exchanges which help stop the spread of blood borne diseases like HIV/AIDS and Hep C. The Obama administration recently reneged on their support for providing clean injection equipment to drug users and removed it from their web site. So what has the newly appointed “Drug Czar” or as he is officially known, the head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy got to say? What are his views on needle exchanges? What is his vision for the "War on Drugs"?
If you remember correctly, the previous Drug Czar, John Walters had a very dark, draconian approach to US drug policy where he heavily promoted Zero Tolerance whilst making regular attacks on Harm Minimisation. This has long been the standard procedure for the role of Drug Czar. With a change in the public’s acceptance of the "War on Drugs", Walters’ rhetoric grew along with his lies and propaganda. By the end of the Bush administration, John Walters’ messages and warnings were sounding stale especially with his intense focus on cannabis. He lied, mislead the public and argued with scientific research that contradicted his message, right up until the end. For example, Walters claimed that today’s cannabis was 10 to 20 times stronger than it was in the 1970s-1980s. The fact is cannabis potency in the US has risen from about 4% to 9% since 1983. Or this ripper, “you are also mistaken in thinking that there can be no “overdose” with marijuana”. Of course no one has ever overdosed or died solely from cannabis.
He was a true believer in the "War on Drugs" and nothing was going to change his mind - medical research, science or facts, it didn’t matter. Even today he continues to push his narrow-minded views, writing an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal and appearing in several TV debates where he blatantly gave false statistics and fallacious information. John Walters is a disgrace and a liar, the epitome of an anti-drug propagandist. He was the perfect Drug Czar for the US but that it seems is changing. What will new Drug Czar, Gil Kerlikowske bring to the table? Hopefully some common sense and a lot less lying.
Interview-Us Drug Czar Calls For End To 'War On Drugs' By Andy Sullivan Reuters June 2009 *No plans to legalize marijuana *Substance abuse treatment to get more funds *May lift federal ban on needle exchange programs WASHINGTON, June 5 (Reuters) - The Obama administration's top drug cop plans to spend more money on treating addiction and scale down the "war on drugs" rhetoric as part of an overhaul of U.S. counternarcotics strategy. But don't expect the White House to consider legalizing marijuana, drug czar Gil Kerlikowske said on Friday. "The discussion about legalization is not a part of the president's vocabulary under any circumstances and it's not a part of mine," Kerlikowske said in a telephone interview. As head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, Kerlikowske coordinates the efforts of 32 government agencies to limit illicit drug use. He has been in office less than a month, but the Obama administration has already taken a less confrontational approach to the nation's 35 million illegal drug users. The FBI is no longer raiding state-approved facilities that distribute marijuana for medical purposes, and the White House has told Congress to eliminate the sentencing disparity between powder and crack cocaine. Kerlikowske said he hopes to ditch the chest-thumping military rhetoric at the center of U.S. policy since President Nixon first declared a "war on drugs" 40 years ago. "We should stop using the metaphor about the war on drugs," said Kerlikowske, a career police officer who headed the Justice Department's community-policing initiative under President Clinton. "People look at it as a war on them, and frankly we're not at war with the people of this country." Nevertheless, Kerlikowske also plans to disrupt trafficking across the Mexican border through a new focus on the guns and cash that travel south, as well as the drugs coming north. U.S. drug policy has been criticized for focusing too much on fighting supplies from Colombia and other countries in South America and not enough on curbing demand at home, the world's largest drug market. BALANCING THE APPROACH Kerlikowske said a more balanced approach was needed, with greater emphasis on treatment programs, especially in prisons. "It's clear that if they go to prison and they have a drug problem and you don't treat it and they return ... to the same neighborhood from whence they came that you are going to have the same problem," he said. "Quite frankly people in neighborhoods, police officers, et cetera, are tired of recycling the problem. Let's try and fix it." Obama, who described youthful marijuana and cocaine use in his autobiography, has proposed a budget for the fiscal year starting in October that boosts funding for substance abuse programs by 4 percent to $3.6 billion. Needle exchanges for intravenous drug users, now banned at the federal level, will be considered a healthcare issue, he said. As Seattle police chief, Kerlikowske worked in a city that ran a needle-exchange program, celebrates an annual "Hempfest" that draws tens of thousands of marijuana smokers, and passed a referendum that made enforcing marijuana laws the department's lowest priority. Other state and local governments have loosened their marijuana laws as well. Medical marijuana is now legal in 13 states, and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger last month welcomed a public debate about proposals to legalize and tax the drug. While that's not going to happen on the federal level, Kerlikowske suggested the government should devote less effort to prosecuting nonviolent drug users. "We have finite resources," he said. "We need to devote those finite resources toward those people who are the most dangerous to the community."


Tonia said...

Slowly, slowly, yes... yet this does not compute. I can't recall the last time the US gov used the words 'metaphor' and 'drug' in the same year.

Ken from the U.S. said...

Everyone in the world knows that clean needles help contain the spread of AIDS. Why would Obama hesitate over federal funding? My country needs some real reform not gutless politicians.

Memoirs of a Heroinhead said...

Is it possible to follow this blog?

rougevert said...

I know his hands are tied by the Congress and that it's not all up to him, but if Obama and all the other politicians who have admitted to using drugs truly believe that they should remain illegal, logically (and ethically) they should make a full confession to the police and be prepared to wear the consequences. Anything else is just woolly thinking.

rougevert said...

And let me just add that anyone who has ever smoked a non-home-grown joint and who believes that while using should be decriminalised, dealing should be punished (which is the current Greens policy, by the way) also suffers from a deficit of logic.

Terry Wright said...

Thanks Tonia and Ken.

Thanks Rougevert, some good points. It's always the same for politicians who admit to drug use. It's OK for them but not for anyone else. If they had been caught (under their own laws), they would not be where they are today.

The stigma with dealing is so overdone. User/dealers who simply fund their habit, make up most of the dealers of hard drugs. They could of course chose to steal or mug people but take a less destructive path. If anything, they should be congratulated.

Also, the equation just doesn't balance. Someone has to supply the massive amount of grass smoked in this country.