Sunday, 31 October 2010

Sir Ken Jones(Deputy Police Comm.) is Wrong

What a sad state, Victoria is. With our premier and opposition leader both publicly fighting over who can decry drugs more than the other, we are left to deal with the carnage caused by failed drug policy. As they merrily play politics with people’s lives, we miss out on the opportunity to have a mature debate about drugs.

We are not proposing to change anything in that area 

We had a big debate about these areas 10 or 15 years ago, I think all of the measures that we have put in place since then, which have been a combination by the way of on the one hand harm minimisation measures, and on the other increased enforcement and tougher laws, I think those things have worked well.

It’s not on our agenda to look at any decriminalisation or legalisation of drugs.
--John Brumby: Victorian Premier

But it’s not just John Brumby and the Labor Party that need a good dose of reality. Opposition leader, Ted Baillieu is even more tangled up in drug war rhetoric.

Ted Baillieu has regularly said that he is opposed to decriminalisation and was recently reported to have said that “the idea of legalising some drugs could lead to more psychosis and poor health outcomes”.

Over the years, Ted Baillieu has held on steadfast to his opinion about drugs and it seems no amount of scientific research or attempts by experts to clarify the facts, will tempt him to look more carefully at the issue. Like a well tuned media machine, Baillieu spits out cherry picked data designed to fool the public.

The Coalition does not and will not support the decriminalisation of illegal drugs because illegal drugs cause serious mental and physical damage to many Victorian families

For example, the Mental Health Council of Australia has found that cannabis users are three times more likely to develop psychosis and that Victorian secondary school students who use cannabis weekly are five times more likely to harm themselves.
--Ted Baillieu: Victorian Opposition leader

Both Brumby and Baillieu are relics from the past who still consider the gathering of voter support is more important than people’s lives. I hope one day, they will be forced to explain their selfish behaviour to those families who have had their lives ruined by ignorant, destructive drug laws.

The subject of a debate on drug laws was pushed into the spotlight this week when Deputy Police Commissioner, Sir Ken Jones was misquoted by the media. The story actually made world news along the lines of, “Top Cop Wants Debate On Drug Legalisation”. Jonesy would have joined an ever growing chorus of senior police around the world calling for a change to drug laws. But it was not to be. Jonesy is dead against any form of decriminalisation or legalisation.

Yes it’s difficult, yes it’s tough but we got to continue with the current approach … there isn’t an alternative.
I’ve always been and will always remain a strong advocate of the current approach, to go in any other direction is just a counsel of despair
--Deputy Police Commissioner Sir Ken Jones

Victoria’s Deputy Police Commissioner is adamant that those calling for changes to the law just need to open their eyes. According to Jonesy, academics are naive because they haven’t seen the damage caused by drugs. Of course, sitting in the Deputy Police Commissioner’s office all day gives Ken a real world view. Certainly, Jonesy doesn’t get his information from compiled reports like those out-of-touch academics? 

What I have said is that some of these people that approach this academically ought to get down in the neighbourhoods and communities and see the damage that’s been done.
--Deputy Police Commissioner Sir Ken Jones

Sir Ken holds an important position in the Victorian Police Force and therefore he should be up-to-date with current issues relating to his job. Making half-baked claims that defy the latest research should concern all Victorians. Part of Sir Ken’s recipe for success is to target the supply side of the drug market in countries that produce illegal drugs. If anything has become clear from the “War on Drugs”, it’s the realisation that demand drives supply. The US spent billions over two decades trying to stop Colombia’s cocaine cartels only to find they emerged next door in other Latin America countries. Heroin coming from Turkey, Afghanistan and India was all but eliminated once but Burma and other Asian nations had simply taken over production. Now, Afghanistan heroin has made a huge comeback with every indication it will continue to supply most of the world for many years to come. And then there’s Mexico. When your country’s military forces can’t defeat the drug cartels, you know have a problem. There is simply too much money to be made from illegal drugs and with massive demand, supply will never dry up.

[Question from Neil Mitchell - 3AW: You got all these people in pretty senior positions as you’re describing who think it isn’t working. Are they wrong?]

I think they’re wrong. I think they’re selective in their arguments and if they’re going to debate this, let’s factor in the horrible ugly truth, the horrible ugly reality that 30,000 people were killed in narco wars in Mexico. The damage that’s done, the consequence of …  We had some homicides in Melbourne some years ago and a lot of that conflict was over drug dealing. You know they just need to open their eyes to that and say ‘OK, here’s an issue but to just walk away from it, to me is just a counsel of despair.
--Deputy Police Commissioner Sir Ken Jones

I may not be the smartest kid on the block but isn’t the main reason for legalising drugs, is that it will remove the drug profits that make organised crime so powerful? Isn’t it the massive profits made under current drug laws that fuel most of our problems? Most people seem to know this except for Ken Jones. 

We have to be very, very tough and robust at the other end where we see addicted people and the crime that they commit. 
--Deputy Police Commissioner Sir Ken Jones

Jonesy’s other plan was to retain tough police action against drug users. Jonesy offered plenty of colourful rhetoric about the dangers of drug use and was happy to push the standard myths that have dogged us for over 6 decades. Sir Ken Jones doesn’t like drugs or drug users. His inflexible views sound more like a misguided passion than an opinion and look out if you disagree. 

I think you have to look at it (drug courts), case by case because people who are absolutely addicted beyond help, they should and will be punished but they also need treatment and help as well.  
--Deputy Police Commissioner Sir Ken Jones

This is breathtaking. “… people who are absolutely addicted beyond help, they should and will be punished …”. Is Sir Ken really suggesting that addiction itself is a crime and should be punished? It’s this mindset, where addiction is not considered a medical condition but a law & order issue, that is so repugnant. I can’t help but feel repulsed at this attitude. Can anyone imagine someone in his position calling for alcoholics or cigarette smokers to be “punished” because they are addicted? 

This type of obdurate behaviour as seen in many anti-drug zealots, will often involve mass exaggeration and a reliance on popular myths. Assumptions like all drug use will lead to addiction or the debunked ‘Gateway Theory’ should have ceased years ago but reliable research seems to have no place in the drug debate when Sir Ken and co. have their say.

These people and I heard them, some senior public policy officials - i’m not going to name them - some academics have, what I regard to be extremely naive views. … The minute you try to and regulate, try to manage some of these substances they going to move off into something else. It’s just a complete dead end. All I was saying was you need to go and look at the damage, open your eyes to the harm that’s been done in our community before you start to talk in this way. And as a father, I don’t want my kid being exposed to yet another lawful narcotic. I mean, it’s just bizarre.
--Deputy Police Commissioner Sir Ken Jones

If anyone is naive, it’s Sir Ken Jones. There is no evidence whatsoever that the strategies championed by Jonesy have ever worked. But, there is evidence that decriminalisation has much more success than the conventional, “Tough on Drugs” strategy. We only have to look at Portugal, Switzerland and the Netherlands to see that utilising scientific research by the very same academics that Jonesy slams, has achieved much better results than trying to out-police the drug problem. It disingenuous to claim that academics are blind to the problems caused by drugs. In fact, they would be far more experienced with the harms associated with drug use. The difference is that academics look at the whole situation without allowing personal views cloud their results. Unfortunately, Jonesy does allow his emotions to dictate his official position.

And as a father, I don’t want my kid being exposed to yet another lawful narcotic.
Why would you want our children expose to this rubbish, to damage their bodies and their prospects for the rest of their lives.
--Deputy Police Commissioner Sir Ken Jones

When considering your view on drug law reform, you need to ask yourself whether the opinions - and that’s what they are … just opinions - of a staunch anti-drug zealot is more compelling than 20+ years of research by thousands of scientists/medical experts/social welfare professionals. You have to weigh up the evidence versus someone’s personal opinion. You have to look at the history of failed government policy where the drug problem has skyrocketed each decade. In a nutshell, has the “War on Drugs” had any success at all?

Sir Ken is part of the new breed of police hierarchy that is university educated. He holds a BA (Hons) and an MBA from the University of Sheffield. He is a police officer, first and foremost. His life is law enforcement.

Sir Ken has served on the force at Sussex (Chief Constable), South Yorkshire, Sheffield, Rotherham, Barnsley and Doncaster in the UK where he received three Chief Constable’s Commendations before settling in as President of Association of Chief Police Officers for England, Wales and Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom. He has also served in Zimbabwe, USA and Hong Kong in the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC). Sir Ken has also received the Queen’s Police Medal.

Being a career copper might have it’s advantages but how do those at the top separate what’s best for the community whilst keeping their position in the new, highly politicised world of policing? Victoria is a classic example where executive police appointments have become part of the political landscape with Christine Nixon becoming the first victim. Some people have criticised this new strategy with Sir Ken’s appointment coming under scrutiny. Will career professionals resort to political posturing instead of focussing on sensible, rational and honest policing? 

But that's not to say he agrees with Overland on everything. For instance, he is a vehement critic of decriminalisation of drugs.
"I am not a supporter of that all," he says. As the father of a daughter who is in her final year of university, he believes increasing access to harmful drugs will take a terrible social toll and put extraordinary pressures on the health system, while those in the drug trade will simply move on to other lucrative criminal ventures.

It's a stark contrast to Overland, who revealed in an interview with The Australian in March that he was open to the prospect of decriminalising a range of drugs, including heroin, if it could be shown the benefits outweighed the risks.

We are seeing more and more senior police giving the media, sensationalist but often misguiding press coverage of drug busts. This “drugs on the table” approach was popular in the 1970s as records were set for the size of drug busts but by the 1980s, there were so many that the public became blasé. 

The drug problem is so massive that police are forced to use creative poli-speak, hiding the truth behind a perceived success. The truth is, we capture only a fraction of the available drugs in our community but the police and politicians continue to give the impression that they are winning the "War on Drugs”?  

[Question from Neil Mitchell - 3AW: These synthetic drugs, are they harder to police?] 

No, I mean we’ve had incredible good successes across Victoria with clandestine laboratory operations, we call them “clan labs” and we’ve seen a huge uplift in that and our crime department has been very effective in taking this on. 
--Deputy Police Commissioner Sir Ken Jones

It’s this type of dodgy answer that obscures the actual volume of illicit drugs in Australia. What Jonesy is really saying is that illicit drug production is rapidly increasing and thus, the police are finding more “clan labs”. With less than 10% of drugs in Australia being confiscated by police, more busts mean more drugs in circulation. It seems that it’s compulsory to congratulate your police colleagues regardless of their success.  

Particular in Australia with the federal police and the ACC, we got an incredibly powerful record of interdicting drugs and about disrupting the network for those involved in it.
--Deputy Police Commissioner Sir Ken Jones

Are these attempts to fool the public, really necessary? They are if we continue to pursue the strategies supported by Ken Jones. And that’s the crux of the problem - we refuse to accept reality and continue to deny that drugs have always been and always will be entrenched in society. No matter how many people we bust, there will always be plenty of dealers willing to earn massive profits.

But the fact that they've been quite a resilient organised crime group - it wasn't that long ago, a couple of months ago that we seized five blocks of heroin which is about $3 million of heroin and about $645,000 cash and this group didn't miss a heartbeat.

Rarely do political savvy officers come out and announce that their expensive and resource heavy drug bust will have absolutely no effect on the overall drug trade. Instead we are usually given the old “drugs on the table” treatment along with some back-patting and a promise that drug dealers are shaking in their boots. Tricking the public and the culture of congratulating fellow officers for perceived success does not help address the drug problem. It might give piece of mind to some parents and appease the politicians, but the drug problem only grows each decade.

He(Sir Ken Jones) also paid tribute to the efforts of law enforcement across Australia, and Victoria Police, on their many successful operations against those who are involved in illicit drug manufacture, trafficking and dealing.

Efforts which have seen drug related deaths fall in Melbourne, record seizures of drugs and record closures of clandestine laboratories.

I often read about law enforcement officers who claim there is a general consensus amongst their peers that current drug laws have failed but they keep their opinions private. Reflecting this is the rise of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) who have a worldwide membership of over 15,000 people in 86 countries. Each year their membership significantly increases. 

LEAP represents the changing attitudes of society to a failed drug war that is causing more problems than it claims to fix. Like LEAP, a multitude of organisations have sprung up over the last 10 years challenging the "War on Drugs" mentality and demanding some honesty (and compassion) from policy makers. It’s been a long, slow road for these groups but their message is finally gathering momentum. 

Here is a sample: 

and more.

Victorian Deputy Police Commissioner, Sir Ken Jones is wrong. So is John Brumby and Ted Baillieu. Their arguments are flawed and the evidence is against them. Being in positions of power and trust, they owe it to us - those who pay them - to ditch their misguided views and follow the facts. People are dying and families are being ruined by out-of-date, non-evidential policies and laws. There is no room in a so called, advanced society for such damaging policies that are based on ideology, moral imperatives or personal views. Drug use is a medical/social issue which needs to be addressed by way of scientific research, medical know how and compassion for those who become dependant. We have tried prohibition and it has failed. It’s time to listen to the experts who spend their lives researching the problem and offer a better solution to such a complex issue.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Do Politicians Read the Papers?


Over the last few days, several Australian newspapers have published some amazing articles, exposing our flawed drug policies. Each article goes into some detail about the government’s out-of-date mindset where over simplified strategies rule the day. These are intelligent, logical and well researched articles that should be a wakeup call for policies makers both here in Australia and abroad.

But Australia is not the only country that is producing these important pieces with dozens of similar articles appearing every week around the globe. 

UN Investigator Says Drug War Ignores Rights; Can't Cure Dependency
The Associated Press
October 2010

NEW YORK, N.Y. - The UN independent investigator promoting physical and mental health is urging decriminalization of narcotics use, saying punishment and sanctions don’t cure drug dependency.
Anand Grover, a well-known lawyer from India, also says that the war on drugs has ignored drug users’ human rights.

Grover is the UN Human Rights Council’s special rapporteur on physical and mental health.

On Monday he told the General Assembly committee dealing with rights issues that people who use drugs may not get the health care they need for fear of being arrested, or may be denied health care if they seek help.

Compared to just a few years ago, the international media is now full of support for rationalising global drug laws  A quick Google search will list hundreds of articles where respected opinion writers and experts have voiced their concern about the ongoing drug war and the effect it’s having on our society. These articles are not like the once abundant, anti-drug scare campaigns but are insightful and often evidence based. If politicians are used to citing the media to back their "Tough on Drugs" policies then surely they should adapt to include these far more logical articles that are actually based on reality, evidence and facts.

Swiss Drug Policy Should Serve As Model: Experts
By Stephanie Nebehay
October 2010

Switzerland's innovative policy of providing drug addicts with free methadone and clean needles has greatly reduced deaths while cutting crime rates and should serve as a global model, health experts said on Monday.

Countries whose drug policy remains focused on punishing offenders, including Russia and much of Eastern Europe and Central Asia, should learn from a Swiss strategy based on "harm reduction" that protects both users and communities, they said.

Even Iran and China -- while far from espousing Switzerland's system of direct democracy -- have copied its methadone substitution programs, they added.

Friday, 22 October 2010

The Propaganda Files - Drug Driving

Anti-drug zealots are rubbing their hands together with glee as drivers are dying on the roads. Their message is that drug-driving causes more deaths than drink-driving and they have statistics to prove it. For a group that usually overlooks facts and statistics, it’s surprising they take these new findings on board with such excitement. But when you actually look closer at their proof, it becomes clear they are comparing oranges and apples.

Organisation: General
Campaign: Drug-driving exceeds drink-driving
When: 1992 -
Propaganda: 8/10
Laugh Out Loud Rating: 5/10

Let’s clear this up … no one should drive whilst under the influence of drugs. Any impairment to your driving skills is dangerous. It’s that simple. 

So, how do we go about implementing laws for those who drive while affected by drugs. With alcohol, we simply test the BAC or blood-alcohol concentration. A driver’s co-ordination deteriorates according to the amount of alcohol in their system and most people have a similar threshold. Over a period of time, the alcohol dissipates and your driving skills start to return to normal.  Of course there are exceptions but overall the limits in place work for the masses. Is this the same for other drugs? The obvious problem is that not all drugs are the same as alcohol. Some drugs can linger in your system for months while others can disappear quite quickly. Some drugs affect your driving ability more than others. Trying to base drug-driving tests on the alcohol model is flawed and any 15 year old would see the inherent differences. 

So why does this logic get lost on some people?

It might make sense to the public but that’s because of the opportunistic nature of politicians and anti-drug zealots. If they see a chance to demonise drugs, they will take it, regardless of the truth. The biggest furphy is that simply detecting drugs in someone’s system does not mean they are impaired. This is testing for the presence of drugs not whether you have sufficient amounts to impair your driving. 

The very bad news is that the detection rate of drug driving in South Australia is twice that of drink driving. Mixing drugs and driving is fatal and of course that's borne out by the fact that 20 per cent of the people who were driving cars and died on our roads last year ... had drugs in their blood.'

Another major problem is that alcohol remains in your system for a certain known time while other drugs have their own unique process. For example, cannabis can linger in your blood for months although any effect on your driving has long gone. Arresting someone for having cannabis in their blood from a joint they smoked several weeks prior just does’t makes sense when it no longer impairs your driving. And the perception that all drugs are the same doesn’t help either.

I think there is a perception out there that it may be OK to take an illicit substance and drive. That the perception is that it does not affect your driving but, in my opinion, it probably affects your driving more than alcohol. And they have to remember, they can take a drug one day and still have that in their system several days or even weeks later.

Interestingly, not much attention is paid to prescription drugs. Why would they overlook a tranquilliser like rohypnol? Or strong opiates like morphine, oxycondone, methadone, hydromorphone and hydrocodone? What about benzodiazepines like oxazepam, diazepam, nitrazepam, temazepam and Xanax?

With the mentioned inconsistencies and the fact that those caught with alcohol levels less than 0.05 are not part of the statistics, there is plenty of room for misreporting and exaggeration. It will be interesting to see who misuses these inconsistencies to further their career or push an agenda.

More from the Propaganda Files

Related Articles:

Monday, 18 October 2010

Our Taxes at Work

Last night at the Dandenong train station, 35 police officers and a pot pooch spent 4 hours sniffing out people looking for drugs. 

I must admit I feel much safer now since our boys in blue have cleaned up the area. Next time I get a train via Dandenong station, there may be one less person carrying pot. Breath easy!

Just a few questions:
  • Was Operation Browny a success?  
  • If they hadn’t caught these dangerous druggies, would it had made a difference to me sitting at home? 
  • Did it keep anyone safer including those travelling via Dandenong station? 
  • Is charging 20 people with drug possession from searching 115 considered a good hit rate?
  • How much did this cost?
Let’s see. 35 police and a dope dog would cost about $2000 per hour.
  • Was this the best way to spend our tax dollars considering there is a police shortage?
  • How many police officers were taken from other duties? 
  • How many other crimes were not stopped because of this crack down?
  • Is Operation Browny still considered a success since no dealers were caught but only people carrying drugs?
Police are taking a zero tolerance approach when it comes to people carrying drugs
--Sergeant Colin Huth of the Transit Unit in Dandenong
  • Is giving someone a lifetime criminal record for possessing a small amount of drugs really good policing?
  • Is it a good idea to confiscate drugs from an addict when they will probably have to commit a crime to replace what was taken?
  • Will Operation Browny deter others from carrying drugs on public transport?
  • Will people affected by drugs now drive instead?
  • Will people who are drunk and have drugs on them, also drive instead?
  • Will those who were searched and found to possess no drugs, feel violated?
  • Does the presence of drug dogs in public areas along with handlers in paramilitary uniforms really convey the image of a safe community? 
  • Is there any evidence that these tactics have a positive outcome?

How about the government and police address the above questions before embracing the old Zero Tolerance strategies that have failed us for the last 40 years.

PAD Dog Operation in Dandenong
October 2010

Police have charged 20 people with drug possession following a passive alert detector (PAD) dog operation in Dandenong last night.

Operation Browny, conducted by Dandenong Transit Unit, targeted people carrying drugs and weapons in and around the Dandenong Railway Station.

Around 35 members in plain clothes and one drug detection dog searched people in the area and on trains as part of the crack-down.

Transit police conducted 115 pat downs in search of people carrying illicit drugs.

Police also discovered several people carrying weapons including kitchen and folding knives. 

Sergeant Colin Huth of the Transit Unit in Dandenong said Operation Browny confirmed the effectiveness of transit police working together with police dogs.

"The success of the operation is that we are just simply letting the dog do its job," he said.

Sgt Huth said the message was simply – if you carry it, you will get caught.

"Police are taking a zero tolerance approach when it comes to people carrying drugs," he said.

Sgt Huth said cannabis was generally the most common drug detected, followed by illicit drugs such as speed and other amphetamines.

"Of the 86 people that were detected during the last operation in September, 20 had drugs in their possession," he said.

"This shows that the dog is picking up the scents, even if the drug has been used prior."

Kelly Yates 
Media Officer

Sunday, 10 October 2010

And Some More Evidence That Prohibition Has Failed

Report: Cannabis prohibition causing more problems than it fixes.

The most obvious flaw in drug prohibition is the banning of cannabis. Not only is cannabis less harmful than alcohol, not addictive, has many many medical uses and is used regularly by over 80 million people but it also can provide paper, rope, clothing, soap, building materials and other renewable products. Henry Ford’s first car was built and fuelled with cannabis. 

Henry Ford's first Model-T was built to run on Hemp gasoline and the car itself was constructed from hemp! On his large estate, Ford was photographed among his hemp fields. The car, 'grown from the soil,' had hemp plastic panels whose impact strength was 10 times stronger than steel; Popular Mechanics, 1941

Smoking pot recreationally may not be the healthiest choice for some but the science is fairly clear. For most adults, moderate use will not cause any major harm. Like alcohol though, their are some people who should not participate in cannabis use. Those with a family history of mental health issues and the young are best to keep away. What the authorities refuse to grasp is that prohibition doesn’t stop these people from using cannabis. Prohibition simply places unqualified people, often criminals, in charge of the cannabis market. Strict laws have failed to deter drug use. You would think it would sink in when we discovered that teens find it easier to buy pot than alcohol or that drug use continued to grow over the decades.

Black markets don’t just create violence and crime but a more dangerous product. The quest to increase potency has produced “Skunk” - extra strong weed with a high content of THC and low doses of cannabinoids. Skunk is now the standard for most pot smokers. The latest research has confirmed what many scientists have expected for a long time - THC needs to be balanced with cannabinoids to reduce the negative effects of cannabis. High grade skunk, grown in hydroponic setups, increases THC while reducing cannabinoids. It seems the argument that we now have stronger dope was missing the point altogether. 

Scientifically and logically, the banning of cannabis is one of the strangest policies on this planet. Anti-drug nutters and governments around the world hold on to this idea that we need to be protected from the evil weed. But as the media starts to wind down it’s fanatical campaign against cannabis, the public are slowly learning the truth about cannabis. 

An informed public coupled with pro-cannabis supporters are arming themselves with scientific research and taking their cause to the law makers. Politicians are increasingly being challenged about their support for cannabis prohibition as the latest round of Reefer Madness fades into the history books. Those remaining staunch opponents will not be remembered fondly by the next generation as they seek answers to why our bizarre cannabis laws lasted so long. 

Prohibition of Cannabis
Volume 341
By Professor Robin Room
October 2010

Prohibition of cannabis is not achieving its aims in the US, and may even worsen outcomes

A new report, Tools for Debate: US Federal Government Data on Cannabis Prohibition, focuses on the effects of the enforcement of drug prohibition in recent decades in the United States. It shows that efforts to suppress the selling and use of cannabis increased substantially. Adjusting for inflation, the US fed­eral antidrug budget increased from about $1.5bn (£0.95bn; €1.1bn) in 1981 to more than $18bn in 2002. Between 1990 and 2006, annual cannabis related arrests increased from fewer than 350 000 to more than 800 000 and annual sei­zures of cannabis from less than 500 000 lb (226 798 kg) to more than 2 500 000 lb. In the same period the availability of illicit cannabis and the number of users rose: the retail price of cannabis decreased by more than half, the potency increased, and the proportion of users who were young adults went up from about 25% to more than 30%. Intensified enforcement of cannabis prohibition thus did not have the intended effects.

The report then turns to “unintended consequences” of prohibition, arguing that both in the US and in countries sup­plying the markets of affluent countries, drug prohibition con­tributed to increased rates of violence because enforcement made the illicit market a richer prize for criminal groups to fight over. The report concludes with a brief discussion of the alternatives to prohibition—decriminalisation and legalisa­tion—arguing that experience with regulation of alcohol and tobacco offers many lessons on how a regulated market in can­nabis might best be organised.

The report’s conclusions on the ineffectiveness in the US of “supply control” (the conventional term for enforcement of drug prohibition) are in line with reviews of the evidence from a global perspective.

Tools for Debate joins a bookshelf of reports from the past half century describing perverse effects of drug prohibition and charting ways out of the maze. So far, no government has dared to follow the thread all the way. Now, with the proposition of setting up a legal regulatory system on the California ballot in November, the international drug prohibition system may find itself facing a non-violent popular revolution. Half a century after the present international system was consolidated by the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, the drug prohibi­tion wave may finally be ebbing.

There is a precedent. A wave of alcohol prohibition swept over the international scene a century ago, with 11 countries adopting prohibition between 1914 and 1920. Eventually the wave receded, with US repeal in 1933 marking the end of alcohol prohibition at the national level. Prohibition was replaced by restrictive regulatory regimes, which restrained alcohol consumption and problems related to alcohol until these constraints were eroded by the neoliberal free market ideologies of recent decades.

Because the international drug prohibition movement was originally an offshoot of the movement to prohibit alcohol, a detailed examination of the experience with alcohol is particu­larly relevant. The RAND modelling of the effects of legalising marijuana in California projects an increase in consumption, probably a substantial one, but experience with the repeal of alcohol prohibition shows that with substantial state regula­tion, consumption can be constrained. However, the alcohol control regimes of that time were far more restrictive than they are now in the United Kingdom and in many English speaking jurisdictions.

Analysis shows that these strong alcohol regulatory systems limited the harms from drinking in the period before about 1960, but the lessons have not been applied to regulating cannabis or other drugs. In some places, state control instru­ments—such as licensing regimes, inspectors, and sales outlets run by the government—are still in place for alcohol and these could be extended to cover cannabis. For instance, state retail monopolies for off sale of alcohol in Canada (except Alberta), the Nordic countries (except Denmark), and several US states would provide workable and well controlled retail outlets for cannabis, as has been proposed in Oregon.

The US has a particular hurdle with respect to regulating cannabis: US court decisions on “commercial free speech” question restrictions on advertising and promotion of a legal product. Barriers also exist at an international level. Psycho­active substances such as cannabis (and alcohol and tobacco) should be exempted from World Trade Organization free trade provisions. The requirements in the drug control treaties for criminalisation of non-medical production and use need to be neutralised, at least with respect to domestic markets. For countries following this thread, adopting a new framework convention on cannabis control could allow a regulated legal domestic market,3 while keeping in place international market controls as a matter of comity (whereby jurisdictions recognise and support each other’s internal laws).

The evidence from Tools for Debate is not only that the pro­hibition system is not achieving its aims, but that more efforts in the same direction only worsen the results. The challenge for researchers and policy analysts now is to flesh out the details of effective regulatory regimes, as was done at the brink of repeal of US alcohol prohibition.

Robin Room professor, School of Population Health, University of Melbourne; Centre for Social Research on Alcohol and Drugs, Stockholm University; and AER Centre for Alcohol Policy Research, Turning Point Alcohol and Drug Centre, Fitzroy, VIC 3065, Australia

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Friday, 8 October 2010

More Evidence of Failed Prohibition

We all grew up with the knowledge that alcohol prohibition in the US was a complete disaster. We have all seen a least a few movies depicting Al Capone and co. terrorising the public in a bid to control the market for illegal booze. We all understand that people will drink alcohol regardless of the laws and regulation removes the criminal element, sets safety standards and keeps the industry under control. So why do we ignore the same scenario with drug prohibition? Why do we keep banning drugs under the umbrella of prohibition when prohibition clearly doesn’t work?

The findings suggest that the ban did not have a significant impact on those who already used mephedrone…
-Dr Karen McElrath: Queen’s School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work. 

Prohibition remains permanent in many countries because of speculation not facts. The politicians in power keep telling us that society will fall part if we legalise drugs and banning them will keep us safe from ourselves. Dishing out harsh penalties for drug possession deters drug use we are told. But what happens when research tells us differently?

Mephedrone Use In Northern Ireland Post-Ban
October 2010

Researchers at Queen's University Belfast have completed one of the first studies of mephedrone use in Northern Ireland since the drug was outlawed earlier this year. They found that the ban did not deter those mephedrone users surveyed from taking the substance. 

Interviews with 23 mephedrone users were completed during a two-month period (May and June 2010) following the legislation that made the drug illegal in the UK. Study participants were aged 19 to 51 years, around half of whom (12) were female. 19 of the 23 people who took part in the study were employed, and most occupations were affiliated with business, trades, the service industry or the public sector. 

The research was led by Dr Karen McElrath at Queen's School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work. 

The key findings from the study were:
  • 21 of the 23 study participants had used mephedrone after the ban.
  • Only one person was very much opposed to using the substance again.
  • Approximately half the sample preferred mephedrone to cocaine or ecstasy. Some had experienced negative effects, for example, sleeplessness, difficult comedowns and next-day depression, but these factors generally did not deter them from using the substance again.
  • None of those who took part in the research felt that 'legal highs' were safe simply because they were legal.
  • None of the study participants recalled an initial interest in using mephedrone because it had been legal. Rather, its legality before April 2010 meant that it was easier to access and cheaper than many illegal substances.
  • Prior to the ban, only three interviewees had purchased mephedrone from 'head shops' and four interviewees had purchased mephedrone from online suppliers. The majority tended to access mephedrone through friends or dealers.
  • The majority of interviewees had prior experience of taking ecstasy, amphetamine or cocaine.
  • During their most recent use of mephedrone, all the study participants had also consumed alcohol, although the timing and amount of alcohol varied.
  • During their most recent use of mephedrone, six of the 23 participants had used another psychoactive substance, other than alcohol.
  • During their most recent use of mephedrone, most participants had consumed between one-two grams of the drug, although half recalled bingeing on mephedrone, sharing upward of seven-eight grams with two to three other people.

Dr McElrath said: "This is one of the first studies into mephedrone use in Northern Ireland since it was made illegal earlier this year. The findings suggest that the ban did not have a significant impact on those who already used mephedrone, at least during the two-month period that followed the ban. We are keen to develop this research further and to compare our results with a similar study conducted in Waterford prior to the ban on mephedrone in the Republic of Ireland in May 2010." 

The study was part of a cross-border research partnership with Marie Clare Van Hout at the Waterford Institute of Technology. 

Mephedrone was made illegal in the UK in April 2010, and in the Republic of Ireland in May 2010. 

Anne-Marie Clarke 
Queen's University Belfast