Submission to the Home Affairs Committee Drug Inquiry

As many of you know, the Home Affairs Parliamentary Select Committee is currently holding an inquiry in the state of UK drug laws. As part of the Written Evidence stage, the Re:Vision Drug Policy Network submitted a memorandum that we are now allowed to release for everyone else to view as well.

We responded in each of the categories that the Committee suggested were areas of inquiry: the scientific evidence, the effects of drug laws on public health, human rights, and proposed alternatives. Our focus in the memorandum was on putting forward unapologetic arguments for the total repeal of Prohibition and the compelling and overwhelming evidence that the current regime harms, rather than promotes, science, public health, human rights. We further argued that the government should have no interest in non-problematic private drug use (for example, we don’t send the police to break down the doors of private homes on the basis of tip-offs that people have been drinking alcohol with our friends – but we do have officers in most Local Authorities on call to deal with noisy and antisocial neighbours). We concluded by putting forward the Transform Drug Policy Foundation’s Blueprint for Reform as a model for a drug which policy might be more appropriate.

Essentially, we don’t believe that we are advocating policies, approaches, or models that don’t already exist in some form. We already regulate the food we consume, the medicines we use, the and the behaviour of inconsiderate or violent people. Our current drug policy is actually the *exception* in history, and Re:Vision’s stance is the historical norm. In no other area of public policy does our government continue to wage a futile campaign opposed by most professionals in the field which has such a counter-productive effect on its stated aims. Sometimes, when we’re writing these things, we just can’t quite believe that the Home Office still maintains that people will be safer in a world where the many of the drugs they or their loved ones use are produced by organised criminals, mixed with contaminants by unregulated vendors, and sold in dangerous places made more dangerous by a cat and mouse game with the police that can never end by its very nature. We hope that you agree (if you don’t, you may find this helpful).

This was the first policy submission that we wrote by inviting individual members of Re:Vision to contribute to different sections, and the results we think are an accurate representation of the opinions of many young people in the UK on drug policy. We hope that the Committee Inquiry will subsequently benefit!

You can read our submission here.

Update: Re:Vision in the News – Manchester activist condemns Operation Broadley

Cannabis crackdown across the North West ‘waste of money and police resources’, says Manchester activist

A Manchester activist is condemning the police crackdown on cannabis that saw the destruction of more than 17,000 cannabis plants in the North West.Cannabis worth £9million and 4kg of cannabis leaf have been seized, and hundreds of cannabis farms were destroyed in a month-long police operation across the North West.Operation Broadley, which saw police forces across the region join hands with North West’s organised crime unit Titan, resulted in high number of arrests and the seizure of large quantities of other drugs including cocaine and LSD.

Manchester activist and campaigner Sarah McCulloch, who chairs Re:Vision Drug Policy Network Manchester, said: “Three million people use cannabis on a regular basis, of whom many are medicinal users who are willing to risk conviction and imprisonment to use the medicine they need in order to live functional pain-free lives.“It is therefore a phenomenal waste of money and police resources that could be put into genuine criminal activity that harms people.”

She believes that police forces can be successful in reducing production within the region only temporarily by prompting producers to move their operations somewhere else.“Cannabis is a plant which can be grown anywhere by anyone. In the exceptionally unlikely event that all UK cannabis suppliers were arrested, there are always entrepreneurs willing to get involved. That”s why we have a drug war,” she said.

Det Supt John Lyons, from Titan, said: “An increasing number of people who grow cannabis are directly funding dangerous, organised criminal gangs. These gangs are often responsible for gun crime, violence and intimidation across the North West.”Utility companies, garden centres, DIY stores and the Royal Mail stepped in, helping the police in spotting the signs of cannabis farming.The fire service and local authorities also aided police forces in Greater Manchester, Merseyside, Lancashire, Cheshire, North Wales and Cumbria in the operation.”People who grow cannabis often have a total disregard for the safety of others, frequently endangering the lives of those in neighbouring properties by tampering with electricity supplies and leaving live electrical cables exposed, increasing the risk of fire,”

Mr Lyons said.”We hope this sends out a strong message to anyone thinking of becoming involved in cannabis cultivation – whether from letting a room in your property be used for cannabis growth or to those higher up the chain – that we will not tolerate this activity.”

However, Miss McCulloch believes that the market disruption that such operations cause can have undesirable results: “What we may well see is a rise in poor quality cannabis and a higher rate of contaminants as dealers make their current supplies go further.“This would be far more harmful than if the police simply left the market to its own devices and concentrated on the antisocial behaviours associated with some cannabis farms and users.“In the unlikely event that the market for cannabis was seriously disrupted, I would imagine that we would see a spike in the demand for synthetic (and legal) alternatives among recreational users. However, medicinal users will simply continue to seek the real thing.”

Read more and comment here.

Feds raid Oaksterdam University

We witnessed the latest episode in the struggle for the rights of medical cannabis users in the ever-complex land of the United States last week, as Federal agents raided the Oaksterdam University, a marijuana trade school and a nearby cannabis dispensary, both primarily operated by Richard Lee, medical marijuana activist.

The institution was established in 2007 in the Oaksterdam district in Oakland, California (one of 16 US states where cannabis is legal at State level) by Richard Lee, to “provide students with the highest quality training for the cannabis industry”. The main objective and practice of the University is to spread information and give training in the business of cannabis and through this, promote the legitimization of the cannabis industry in California, modelling itself on the cannabis trade schools in The Netherlands, such as the Cannabis College in Amsterdam.  The institution, along with the nearby Oaksterdam Museum (who all pay millions of dollars in taxes annually) was raided last week on Monday morning by the DEA, IRS and US Marshals Service, who seized documents and rubbish bags with unspecified content.  Small protests followed and shortly evaporated, but the future of the establishment and the Oaksterdam district in general, remains ambiguous.

Richard Lee - a prominent figure in the cannabis reform movement

This incident is not isolated; according to Americans for Safe Access (a medical-marijuana based organisation) there have been over 170 raids since 2009 across the US – that’s hundreds of thousands of patients affected – whilst Proposition 19, which would’ve allowed Government regulation of legal cannabis, with imposed fees and taxes, was marginally defeated two years ago. As if these recent events weren’t painful enough, last week the state of Arizona signed into law a bill which will ban medical marijuana from being used on college’s and university campuses (including of course all methods of consumption), likely to cause stigmatization in these important social arenas.

The incident has raised concerns for the medical-marijuana community in California, particularly the Harborside Health Center, a regulated dispensary also with a base in Oakland, which happens to be the largest in the World. Harborside has had various threats from the IRS over the last two years regarding its business conduct, documented in ‘Weed Wars’, a program broadcast on the Discovery Channel. Assessing the situation from afar it seems noticeable that the authorities chose to attack the university (instead of just a dispensary) – perhaps because of their free licence to spread information on private production of cannabis and profiteering as a business, rather than just selling and distributing the drug. To try and determine the objectives of the authorities and federal agents who organised the raid, their concern on this front seems more understandable; the desire to exercise their power and eliminate personal usage whilst discrediting the facts and existing information.

Many question the need for such a heavy federal presence.

The contempt of the agents and the federal arm by who they are employed is made plain by the fact that they give no warning when executing these hijacks, as well as the unnecessarily large police presence, when there is no hint of violence erupting (one video of the protestors on YouTube shows dozens of officers surrounding the few peaceful individuals). I think this provocative action indicates that the intention is destruction or at the very least, debilitation; over this there can be no quarrel.  As Steve DeAngelo of the Harborside Health Center pointed out last year, “Federal prosecutors are not trying to clean up the regulated medical cannabis industry; they are trying to destroy it”

It is also too easy to notice the awkward and rather insensitive timing of the bust – the university was raided the same morning as the Oikos University Shooting also in Oakland. One hopes it is not too flippant to point out the absurdity in the fact that US Marshalls were raiding a peaceful medical school and dispensary at a time when they should have been placed to deal with what was the deadliest outburst of gun violence since Virginia Tech in 2007.

Furthermore, one of the most disappointing aspects of the whole affair is the unwelcome fact that the increasing pressure of action against the medical cannabis schools and dispensaries is in direct conflict with the statements made in the 2008 Presidential elections by the Obama Administration about medical marijuana. Four years ago, when asked on the priorities of the Government regarding this issue, Barack Obama said “I’m not going to be using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws on this issue”.  Acknowledging there is no fair game in the world of politics, this spectacular U-turn aside to everything else, rather undermines this government’s efforts to reduce unemployment and make any amendments to the healthcare system.

Peaceful protests broke out during and after the raid.

The damage done to the brand in this particular instance may not be of much significance; the Oaksterdam University has stated that it will re-open immediately. But it drives home the very real message that cannabis is still illegal in the US, and its governmental approval will not be gained through the guise of a taxable business, however much this ought to be rewarded in a capitalist society. It seems therefore that the war on drugs is far from reaching an end and the absurd contradiction between Federal and State law is still causing problems for patients and businesses alike.

There needs to be a change in the zeitgeist for the greater community of California and patients all across the US – to speak out against the ultimate injustice of the discrimination which medical cannabis user’s face – and finally get rid of the incompetence. Meanwhile, California can only keep on dreaming.

Re:Vision Drug Policy Network is appalled by the Oaksterdam University raid and all other measures which seek to villainise training and research into benefits of currently prohibited drugs. If you agree with us, find out more at revisiondrugs.org and visit our Facebook.

Central American Drug Summit let down by three Presidents.

The recent Central American Drug summit was supposed to be the first attempt of the region’s Presidents to get together and open up the debate around current drug policy.  The summit was called by the Guatemalan President, Otto Perez Molina, who timed the conference just a month ahead of the Organization of American States (OAS) summit in Cartagena, Colombia.  This was a crucial opportunity for the Central American leaders to focus on drug policy away from the influence of the U.S. delegates who consistently oppose regional changes in drug policy.  Obama will be present at the OAS and he is not likely to be flexible on the matter, if they could solidify a viable strategy locally beforehand then their stance will be significantly strengthened at the OAS.  However, in an anticlimactic turn of events, only two of the five invited leaders, as well as Perez Molina, attended; Ricardo Martinelli for Panama and Laura Chinchilla for Costa Rica.  Missing was Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes, Honduran President Porfirio Lobo, and Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega.

President Perez of Guatemala may be a former General but he does not support the war on drugs.

This is happening now because Central America is in crisis.  Gangs have taken over the streets and the three regions El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala have soaring murder rates comparable with Jamaica.  The murder rates in Guatemala have doubled since 2000. Honduras has been covered in illegal airstrips used for drug trafficking and is home to the bloodiest city in C. America, Ciudad Juarez,  where drug traffickers regularly go on killing sprees fueled by turf wars.  El Salvador’s problems are getting worse as it’s been reported that a relatively new gang, the Texis cartel, who have certain police officials and politicians on puppet strings, have taken hold.  The worsening situation in Central America is a consequence of the balloon effect.  Just as when you squeeze a balloon the air simply moves from one area to another, when you put the squeeze on the gangs in a production country such as Mexico or Columbia, they will migrate to neighbouring countries with less stable governments and economies.  Central America does not produce or consume cocaine and heroin, they just find themselves between production and consumer countries, so it has become a transit country and a promised land for gangs.

Are balloon modeling clowns secretly in charge of international drug law?! It would explain a few things.

Perez promised a hard-line on the gangs, who have caused so much bloodshed, in his presidential campaign.  However after election he announced that the drug war is not working and advocated decriminalization.  Though others are saying this legalisation approach is softer  than before I couldn’t disagree more.  Perez wants to hit the gangs in the place it hurts them most, their profit margins.  He proposes that a legal framework to regulate the manufacturing, transportation and consumption of drugs should be created in place of current drug policy in South and Central America.   With a legal framework the bloody gang culture is no longer useful as trade is done in the open and disputes are settled in court rather than in the streets.  Other ideas such as a separate judicial and penal system for drug law offenders and a 50% tax to consumer countries (of which the USA is one) for every kilo of cocaine seized in Central America were also discussed.  However the absences made any real decision-making impossible.

Guns are generaly a poor substitute for a legal framework when seeking Justice

So lets see who is holding back the movement in C.America so far.  President Mauricio Funes of El Salvador was one who sent representatives in his place.  Funes’s government has put the army on the streets with the police force in an attempt to crack down on the gangs.  The military presence has not helped so far and with so many soldiers who are not trained to deal with civilians, human rights violations are inevitable.  Porfirio Lobo, the President of Honduras, was also absent.  This man is in favour of the death penalty so we can start to see why friendly drug law reform might not be at the top of his agenda.  His government was also criticized by Human Rights Watch for the 2009 coup, which brought him to power, as many journalists and opposition party members have been killed off suspiciously since.  With this hanging over his head Lobo is expected to tow the U.S hard line in order to stay on its good side following its recent  readmittance to the Organisation of American states in 2011.  Lastly Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua was also missing.  Ortega, who has a history of corruption and at least one rigged election is not a likely advocate of drug law reform; especially when you consider his anti-abortion laws, which show how much he values personal autonomy.

Are good men doing nothing, or are bad men playing truant?

Columbian President Juan Manuel Santos has made sure that debate on the drug war will happen at the OAS by adding it to the agenda.  Though opposition to reform is tough, it is loosing support as people and now finally Presidents wake up to the horrific situation that the drug war had led to.

The Peter Reynolds situation is not CLEAR at all

The Core Team has not voted to consider this an official statement and it should thus be considered an opinion from one of our bloggers.

There’s been a lot of turmoil in the cannabis community recently. Clear, the Cannabis Law Reform Party, has been rocked by resignations, suspensions and persistent accusations that Peter Reynolds has homophobic, racist, sexist, and reactionary beliefs. At the moment there is a stand-off between Peter Reynolds and two remaining stalwarts, and four former members of the Clear Executive who regard themselves as unlawfully expelled and have taken control of the party website to declare that Peter Reynolds has been sacked. This is paralysing the wider cannabis community as much as it is Clear, as they watch riveted as some of the most inventive and bizarre slurs are flung about with abandon.

Peter Reynolds in 2011

We won’t pretend that we at Re:Vision haven’t watched with dismay as one of our own trustees has been insulted and traduced. We haven’t issued our own statement stating an intention to cease working with Clear because we never started in the first place and we didn’t think it would help to weigh in. But we do have something to say about the current situation.

Whether you believe that Peter Reynolds has expressed discriminatory views or not, it is clear that a very, very large number of people believe that he does. This has distracted the entire cause for some time as people have, quite rightly, objected repeatedly to these statements.  When objections were first raised, a proper investigation should have been conducted and and its results made known. The majority of the people who were involved in this decision not to do this has now left and have expressed regret, but even now, there are still people who are arguing that concerns over whether Peter Reynolds has been discriminatory or not are unimportant to the role that he holds. But these are very important issues towards the people who they are affected by: black people, LGBT people, women, and disabled people. Especially disabled and unwell people, who are present in our movement in such disproportionate numbers.

In the cannabis community, and the drug law reform community, we all know there’s a significant number of people who use the drugs that we’re campaigning to have controlled and regulated, some are medicinal users, some recreational. It’s not that surprising. Some are public about it, some aren’t. All rely on the rest of us not calling up the cops to let them know what they’ve got and where they’ve got it. I’ve always thought it something of a no-brainer that if I don’t consider something a crime, then I don’t report it. For someone to break that code, for someone to threaten people who use cannabis for severe and chronic illness with police action, and then to claim they represent three million cannabis users, is not being consistent, politically or morally.

Peter Reynolds in 2012

We don’t know what is going to become of this situation as Mr. Reynolds’ response to a poll showing over three hundred people calling for his resignation was to announce to the entire Clear Facebook base that he would be taking Chris Bovey to court in order to acquire control of the Clear domain name. This is hardly professional. We would thus implore every remaining supporter of Peter Reynolds and his claim to the leadership of Clear that they focus on how this looks to the wider public, thousands of whom are now reading articles and watching videos about this, and to consider proper review of Mr. Reynolds’ actions and how they reflect on the party.

It is important that as the good work of millions of drug law reform activists all over the world began to bear fruit, we all support the effort of each other and Re:Vision looks forward to working with other like-minded drug policy organisations in the future.