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.

Global drug survey highlights dangers of prohibition.

The results of “the largest assessment of current drug use ever conducted…” by The Guardian/Mixmag global drugs survey of 15,500 people have recently been made available. The findings of the survey, which we encourage you to read if you have the time, make interesting reading.However, with the mean age of UK respondents being 28 could the findings of this survey reveal changing attitudes towards drugs and how drugs are used?

There were some findings which should definitely send out alarm bells to anybody, no matter their views on current drug policy. Aside from the rise in oxycodone deaths, 15% of respondents said they had taken an unknown white powder over the past 12 months. A third of this group then admitted the powder was supplied by someone they didn’t trust. Younger drug users were the most risk seeking. A fifth of 18-25 respondents said they had taken a mystery powder.

Re:Vision believes these findings highlight several worrying problems about prohibition. Young drug users are often cautious when it comes to speaking about drug use and, more importantly, sensible drug use. With prohibition comes the stigma attached to the label of ‘drug user’ and for many, this encourages covert drug use, with little chance of probing for parental or medical advice. Though it may seem like common sense to you and I to avoid an unknown powder, many young people, who may just be realising that drug use as a whole isn’t the evil it was painted to be, may not know where to draw the line.

Would you take a powder if you weren't sure what it was?

A controlled and regulated market of drugs will minimise not only the problem of the ease of access to advice on drugs, but also the problems of the unknown powder and the untrusted individual. A controlled and regulated marked will ensure that all substances are obtainable by legitimate means at a trusted place of purchase, where any ‘powder’ will be identifiable by the label on the packet and so will its purity. By limiting the possibility of an unknown substance being the only drug at hand, and also heightening the availability and security for those seeking advice, health problems related to drugs would inevitably drop.

Back to the survey, the most popular drug used by UK respondents over the last 12 months was, unsurprisingly, alcohol (95.2%). This was followed by cannabis (68.2%) and tobacco (64.5%). Additionally a third of UK respondents who revealed their usage of prohibited drugs also took sleeping pills and 22.4% had taken the stronger option of benzodiazepines such as temazepan in the last year. Concerns were raised because for example benzodiazepines and opioid painkillers are highly addictive if taken regularly for any length of time. Respondents revealed that zopiclone wasn’t having the effect to help with sleep and so upped the dosage.  

This echoes concerns raised by the Family Doctor Association in a 2011 survey where eight out of ten GPs were aware of prescribing legal drugs to people they thought were addicted to them. Nonetheless GPs expressed concerns that they are required to believe the patient is being honest and is not an addict. More research and support is needed to assist GPs who find themselves in this situation and help contain addiction problems, problems which prohibition only exacerbates.

The survey reveals much about drug consumption and potential concerns, but more information is needed about the wider public’s attitudes towards drug usage and current drug policy. Since The Guardian was responsible for “the largest assessment of drug use ever conducted” it seemed good practice to examine the public’s comments posted on the Guardian website.  It just takes a look at the comments on Barabara Ellen’s article It’s older people’s attitude to drugs that worries me to see the breadth of opinion still out there.

Despite different attitudes to drug use, outlook on life and so on, the comments, for the majority at least, champion freewill and the ability to make informed choices. Some people will make better decisions than others and this is unlikely to completely change regardless of whether substances are legalised or not. What can change however, is the environment in which these decisions are made. Re:Vision believes that a controlled and regulated market would give young drug users the advice and support they needed to make sensible decisions, whilst at the same time minimising risks. If the survey shows us anything, it’s that nothing can work less than current policy.

Please don’t send your stoner teenager to military school!

We were contacted recently by Major Momma, who runs a blog describing how she placed her sixteen year old son in military school last September because, as far as has been implied in her posts, she caught him smoking weed and being a grumpy teenager on his summer break. I have replied to her privately, but it also seemed somewhat important to comment publicly for the benefit of parents who may be considering similar measures.

This post is 'for her own good.'

Re:Vision Drug Policy Network  neither condemn nor condone the use of drugs – we recognise that some people do use drugs, and we seek to mitigate the harmful consequences that drugs and the laws which regulate them can have. We fundamentally disagree that imprisoning your children in a military academy is in any way an appropriate solution to any concerns you may have over their drug use.

The No. 1 thing that teenagers want – that they report, again and again, to researchers – is to have more control over their own lives. They’ve grown up with you deciding what they wear, who they talk to, and where they go. Now they have the ability to leave the house without telling you, they’re going to try that. Now they can stay up late and eat unhealthy food, they’ll probably give that a go. The most important thing that you can do as a parent is to accept that this is part of your child becoming an adult, and your duty is to act like an adult by not going berserk and assuming that you have lost your baby because they’ve stopped telling you every little detail of their lives.

So when it comes to drugs, and I can say this as someone considerably closer to my teen years than most of you reading this, if they’re available, many teenagers (30% of teenagers in the UK, actually) will do them out of curiosity. Health concerns are irrelevant when you think you are immortal. Legal niceties don’t matter when you’re bored. But if your teenager is using drugs, it is not the end of the world. Most teenagers will try a drug or two – alcohol, tobacco, cannabis, whatever –  and stop there. Maybe some will continue, but the fact that you found a lighter in their jeans pocket is certainly not the time to start freaking out about your child becoming a crack addict on the streets turning tricks to get by.

If you do discover your child has been using drugs, and you are against drug use, you have two choices: you can be angry, or you can be relaxed. If you decide anger is the best policy, you can spy on your child, and spy on their friends, looking for ‘signs’ of teen drug use (by the way, getting up late, shuffling non-verbally around the house and angsting about their self-identity is what many non-drug-using teens do most of the time anyway).  You could denounce their actions to your neighbours, and cart them off to military schools away from “bad” influences, and you could also totally destroy your entire relationship with them. We all make mistakes in our youth, but if you go down this road, the manner in which you have chosen to deal with your child’s problems is almost certain to obliterate any honest and open relationship you might have had in the future.

Surely gun use does more damage than drug use.

If your child is lying to you about their drug use, then they are going to continue to lie to you because you have made it clear what happens when they are honest – you go mad, you try to ruin their relationships with their friends, and then you tell all your neighbours about what a terrible person you think they’ve been! If your child feels that they cannot be open with you about their feelings, their activities and their drug use, then they’re not going to stop feeling, acting, or using – they’re just going to stop talking to you about them. Which means that if they’re one of the minority of teenagers who develop serious drug problems, you’re going to end up being the last person to know. And that would be awful.

Alternatively, you could try being relaxed about it. And ‘relaxed’ isn’t synonymous with letting your child do drugs. Drugs, legal and illegal, can mess people up. It’s ok to not want your kids to do anything harder than a McFlurry and it’s ok to let your kids know this. Teenagers are filled with hormones and a heady mixture of arrogance and low self-esteem. They love you, but they don’t want to need you. They want their own life but they want to know what you think of it. Giving your child the space to make their own choices is far more likely to result in them doing what you want them to than if you go all Momma Godzilla on them every time they come home stinking like an ashtray.

If you overreact, so will your child

The first page of the Google search for how to talk to your kids about drugs is filled with some of the dumbest advice I’ve ever heard. “If your child comes home smelling of alcohol, you should tell them in a quiet, unemotional voice that this is an extremely serious matter.” No. It isn’t. What they have done might well have been illegal (although 17 nations have no legal drinking age), but unless they rolled home unable to talk, using alcohol as a teenager is truly unremarkable. I did it, you almost certainly did it, there are teenagers probably doing it right now. Sketching out on your child now means you never see that side of them again, even if they’re struggling with substance abuse. I would be so much more worried if they were coming home every night drunk. Save your words for the twentieth time, not the first.

Or, “Watch a film which portrays drug use with your child, and then ask them if they know any people like those in the film.” Sure, organise some dedicated parent-child bonding time and then make it really awkward by blatantly prying into the lives of their friendship circle. But hey, it’s better than sending your child to military school! Seriously. If you find yourself engaging in elaborate plots to manipulate your child’s actions, please just put down the blueprints for a second and go and hang out with your teenager like a normal human being. They’ll like that, and maybe you’ll understand them a bit better.

 

Here’s some more realistic advice about how to talk to your kids about drugs, cherry-picked from the National Health Service:

4. Let them know your values and boundaries
It’s important for your children to know where you stand on drug taking. Be clear about your opinions on drugs so that they know your boundaries.

8. Let them know you’re always there for them
That way they can be honest with you about what they’re up to and they won’t just tell you what they think you want to hear.

9. Listen as well as talk
Talking to teenagers can be hard. When you’re discussing drugs, don’t preach or give a speech and don’t make assumptions about what they know or do. Let your child tell you about his or her experiences.

12. Be realistic
It’s common for teenagers to experiment with drugs. Remember that only a small proportion of those who experiment will develop a drug problem.

I am not writing this as a professional, but as someone who only comparatively recently stopped being a teenager and who still has an awesome mother whose response to all of my many faux pas was to hug me and say  “Well, I trust you won’t do anything too stupid.”  And she was right, and I think I probably have a much better relationship with my mum than your child will with you if you don’t respect them. Your responsibility as a good parent is to hold their hand (when not in public) and help them when they stumble, not stunt their growth trying to stuff them into the mould of who you would like them to be. So please recognise your children as a human being equally as worthy of respect as yourself, and likely to make mistakes. And sometimes those mistakes will involve drugs, and that is ok.

Commission on Narcotic Drugs celebrates failure

Currently taking place in Vienna, is the 55th Session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND). This commission, which was established at the very first meeting of the League of Nations in 1920, is the central arena for discussion on drug policy and, more importantly, where many decisions about international drug policy are unofficially made. Whilst this may appear to be a genuine chance to promote, and potentially see, real change in international drug policy, it is not the case. The CND, in actuality, is more of a chance for those attending – summarised by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) as “Ministers and top counter-narcotics officials from the 53 Member States of the Commission” – to cement old opinions and minimally tweak pre-existing policies to appear harder or softer on specific drugs, as has been the case for many years. Though members may be aware of the nearby Drug Peace Festival, it will likely be ignored with a hard-line attitude pushed throughout proceedings.

A chance for change? We doubt it.

One of the scheduled events, which has already taken place, shows precisely how unmoving the CND’s stance on policy is likely to be. Last Tuesday, the members were treated to the most undeserved, self-appreciative pat on the back as they celebrated the 100th anniversary of the signing of the International Opium Convention, which many see as a precursor to 1961’s Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. Both of these can be fairly argued to be the start point of the failing War on Drugs; An unjust war which, more than any of the drugs it tries to eradicate, has cost lives, damaged the environment and wasted money. Whilst the beginning of this war is being touted as a cause for celebration, the CND cannot be said to be an objective or rational forum to discuss the matter of drug policy.

If you would like to see a drug policy which is more concerned with reducing harm than spreading paranoia, check out our website at revisiondrugs.org and join our Facebook.

Operation Broadley: The North West’s short term approach on drugs.

In a move that seems to be replicated in at least one UK city every year, Greater Manchester Police (GMP) announced last week that they intend to cause a cannabis drought. Operation Broadley, which involves the police forces of Cheshire, Cumbria, Lancashire, Manchester, Merseyside and North Wales, along with the North West Regional Organised Crime Unit (Titan), aims to cause a cannabis drought in the North West and the imprisonment of many involved in the trade. Whilst this is nothing new – police forces constantly promise a drought of one drug or another – there is an additional distressing element to the strategy, as the main idea seem to be the encouragement of spying on your neighbours.

The press release announcing Operation Broadley, which is full of all the sensationalist language you might expect, calls on the public to “report their suspicions” that a property is being used for cannabis production. Amongst the suspicious signs that we’re told to be ever vigilant of are:

  • Properties that receive short visits.
  • Properties that nobody seems to live in.
  • Gardening equipment and compost.

Could he be a drug dealer?

Whilst this alone should worry you due to the climate of suspicion and fear that it creates, whether you agree with drug law reform or not, you should also be worried about the short-sightedness of this approach. Two key figures involved in Operation Broadley discuss the problem of criminal gangs and their control of the drug market. The Greater Manchester Police Assistant Chief Constable, Terry Sweeney, had this to say:

“Criminals involved in running these cannabis farms are part of organised gangs prepared to use extreme violence and intimidation to protect and expand their illegal business interests.”

Whilst Titan’s Detective Superintendent, John Lyons, spoke in almost identical terms:

“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.”

Re:Vision agrees with Terry Sweeney and John Lyons that the criminal control of drugs is a dangerous thing, however, that is where our agreement ends. By taking the approach of Operation Broadley, the best that they can hope for is a short-term drop in the supply of cannabis. Demand will not have dropped in the slightest and as such, the market will be very valuable to any budding dealers who can raise prices and fund criminals themselves; possibly even the same ones higher up the chain. The higher the risk of being imprisoned for selling something the higher the reward for selling it is going to be; whilst it continues to be in prohibition, this is true of cannabis.

Greater Manchester Police Assistant Chief Constable Terry Sweeney

Even if the North West police forces and Titan do manage to implement a momentary famine on cannabis, this is just a matter of one recreational drug. Black markets will swarm with plentiful supplies of other, harder and potentially more dangerous drugs. Users will seek other ways to get their high. They could turn be tempted by other prohibited drugs. They could turn to alcohol, which Professor David Nutt claims is more harmful than just about any prohibited drug. Worse still can be the tailored substitutes that appear where the gap in the market is; In Russia, when heroin supplies were cut drastically, many users turned to the devastatingly harmful krokodil, a drug made from legally obtained items that literally rots the skin.

Re:Vision suggests an alternative to the measures set in action in Operation Broadley. We suggest that the best way to eliminate criminals from the market is the control and regulation of cannabis – and, beyond Operation Broadley, all drugs. This would mean that cannabis would no longer be prohibited and all suppliers would have to be licensed, and importantly they would have to prove that their supply was safe. Although this alone would not necessarily stop the black market, with the product already proven to be without impurities and prices being reasonable, customers would have no reason to support the illegal sales. Plus, Greater Manchester Police would be able to spend the money wasted on Operation Blackout – on top of any benefits gained through the taxation of cannabis – on something a little more pressing.

Perhaps Terry Sweeney puts it best in the press release when he says:

“The people of Greater Manchester can help to stop these evil people planting their seeds of destruction.”

This is indeed true, but not in the way Terry Sweeney intended. If you want to see a world where criminal gangs do not make large amounts of money from the drug market, then the most sensible thing you can do is support the movement for control and regulation. To find out more, visit our website at revisiondrugs.org and join our Facebook.

International Women’s Day: How the drug war affects women.

The drug war is wrong for many reasons, but as today is International Woman’s Day we have decided to dedicate this post to the drug war and the consequences it creates for women.  International Woman’s Day is about addressing the inequalities that women have to face around the world.  Though much has been done to transform women’s lives, the struggle to free women from patriarchy is far from over; as such, it is important that we do not forget that this issue is still unresolved to this day.

Re:Vision supports International Women’s Day

I’d like to talk first about the discrimination women face from the male dominated, often violent (and therefore paranoid) world of the black market drug trade from a personal perspective.  I have found that women are often turned away or simply have no way to safely introduce themselves to the black market traders. I grew up in South London and went to a comprehensive school  awash with cannabis.  During my time there I was introduced to the drug and decided that I quite liked it.  The only problem was that the only way to get hold of it was through hanging out with the ‘bad boys’ of the school.  I managed to gain their trust through a close male friend who would act as mediator between me and them; it was impossible for me to get hold of things without his presence as I simply wouldn’t have known who to ask and would have been treated with far less respect.  On one occasion, I was told by my male smoking friend that one of the guys I had met, though not spoken a word to, had wanted me to perform oral sex on him and had asked my friend if I would. I feel grateful that I had that male friend there as a mediator as I believe the ‘bad boys’ might not have been so discreet about their desires had he not been there to chaperone.  Nothing about the described situation is good.  Why was I smoking while at school age?  Why were only boys attracted to selling and smoking the herb?  Why was it so easy for them to get hold of it in the first place?  Cannabis is available all over the UK. Many of my male friends who do not smoke often claim it is incredibly easy for them to get hold of a dealer, for me and my female friends it was a different story.  This is just one personal and relatively minor reason the drug war is sexist.

There are many women who have faced far worse problems as a result of this unjust war.  In America women are being put in jail for what is termed “depraved-heart murder”.  Several women have been given life after their babies died before or shortly after birth, the reason?  The mothers are accused of taking drugs, such as cocaine, during pregnancy and had therefore perceived to have murdered their own child.  This is a disgraceful attack on women’s rights and bodies which has no foundation in science.   Women should always be viewed as sovereign over their own bodies.  This means that her own personal autonomy should not be subordinate to the perceived needs of any fetus inside of her.  If the state deems her a ‘bad mother’ then she should be given state support to help her become a better one, however, she does not exist to be a ‘womb-on-legs’ who’s worth to society is measured by the fitness of her offspring.  Furthermore, by being criminalised, pregnant drug users will become alienated and unable to seek help for their addictions; Many women would fear that if they sought support, should their baby die they would be held responsible and find themselves in prison for life.

A human being or a womb on legs?

Another way in which the drug war drastically affect women is in the case of drug mules.  A high percentage of foreign women in UK jails are drug mules – that is people used to transport drugs between borders illegally.  They often come from poor countries and areas involved with the production side of drugs, such as South Africa, Jamaica and Brazil.  Many of these women are coerced into their roles or have dependants who they are struggling to provide for.  It is hard for women in third world countries, who are less likely to have access to a good eduction and more likely to face constant sexism in the job market, to earn enough to provide for their family; especially if they don’t have a male to support them.  These exploited women often face worse charges than those convicted of grievous bodily harm, with the average charge being 30 months longer than GBH sentences according to the report from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA).  The long stretch of, on average, 84 months leads to alienation from their families who are left behind to struggle without them.  It could be said that this is due to the international nature of the drug war, which seeks to make drug sentencing laws consistent across the world.  Whatever the reason, it is hard to understand why these women are being treated worse than rapists who tend to get on average 79.7 months according to this report.

Recently the United Kingdom’s sentencing council has published new guidelines regarding drug mules, which take into account mitigating circumstances such as coercion and addiction. On deeper inspection of the new guidelines, we can see that the circumstances of the women involved in this black market are consistently ignored in favour of assessing the class, purity and quantity of the drug, as well as how much of a role they have to play in the trade, as a way of estimating sentences.  As ever she is a very bad girl if she moves heroin or a not so bad girl if she moves cannabis; May God help her if she seems to have any involvement in the business other than being a reluctant or unwitting drug mule.  It is a sad fact that the drug war has opened up yet another avenue through which women are being exploited by violent and powerful men.  If we end the drug war and put sensible rational policy in place to close this black market they are profiting from, then women will stop getting caught in this trap we have made for them.

Is imprisoning victims a harm reduction measure?

The darkest side of the drug war, however, has to be its links with the human trafficking industry, which mainly targets women and children who are sold into labour or sexual slavery.  Drug cartels and human traffickers are usually the same people.  The drug cartels take advantage of an impoverished production country – Mexico is a good example – and ship the money and people to richer nations where they can sell them for high profits.  The drug war helps to keep these third world countries in poverty by denying them the chance to create a legal drug industry and creating a black market which empowers men to exploit women and children through lack of regulation.  A regulated industry would supply people with jobs and help the economy through tax revenue, allowing these production countries to regain their dignity.  Impoverished struggling women are given hope that they might find good jobs abroad, only to find themselves at the feet of paying customers whose leaders apparently started this drug war to help them and everyone else.  What is really going on here?  Where is the dignity in this situation?  Human trafficking is a big operation motivated by incredible profit margins and I won’t pretend that ending the drug war will end human trafficking, however, I will say that the drug war has led to this industry’s phenomenal success and continues to supplement it.  Lets stop it now.

At Re:Vision we see any discrimination as a vile act.  All the above are just a few examples of the discrimination women face in this unsuccessful, unjust drug war.  By no means is it only women who are affected by the drug war, but we bear the consequences of many of its failings.  You do not need to be a supporter of drug use to see the discrimination of the drug war and support the push for drug law reform. If you agree with us, or even if you’re still utterly unconvinced, check out our website at revisiondrugs.org/

Update: International Women’s Day and Drug Policy (8th March)

Aside

International Women”s Day is an annual day to raise awareness of women”s issues around the world. Women are discriminated against in many areas of public life across the world. This can vary from being paid less, to being denied work, the right to vote, access to one’s children or appropriate healthcare, or in some parts of the world, even from being unaccompanied in public places or driving. Re:Vision are very big on equality and diversity. As the drug war is fought primarily against marginalised members of society, women are more likely to be harshly treated in the prosecution of this war.

Read our blogpost: “International Women”s Day: How the drug war affects women.”

Download our free briefing, “Women and Drugs”.

Happy International Women”s Day!

Ending the drug war: what we’ve done and what we’re doing

In January 2011, I had a dream. A dream of a national organisation for young people focussed on a control and regulation model for drug policy. As it was a quite literal dream, I sat bolt upright in bed and started scribbling down everything I could remember. What did we want to do? How would that work? How on earth were we going to find volunteers, money, advice?

 

One year on, and as the Re:Vision Drug Policy Network’s first birthday passed largely unnoticed last week – we were too busy campaigning – we’re still asking ourselves those questions, but we do so with a base of volunteers stretching from Edinburgh to London, and even abroad. It has been hard work, but rewarding hard work.

 

It’s not all hard work.
The last twelve months have seen a large number of meetings and a great deal of paperwork. We’re very grateful to the drug law reform organisations that took the time to answer really obvious questions that weren’t obvious at the time, and it has paid off. In the last twelve months we have:
  • Established six working groups on areas we determined were essential to our functioning as an organisation.
  • Established social media channels which now have 1300 followers.
  • Developed a range of posters and leaflets to translate the drug war easily.
  • Developed our resources for people wanting to start local groups, including an 8,000 word campaigning guide.
  • Protested at the March for the Alternative on March 26th.
  • Protested on June 30th 2011 against cuts to drug user services.
  • Started a project to ask students about their use of cognitive enhancing drugs.
  • Absorbed dozens of volunteers into our organisation.
  • Marked World AIDS Day with a special briefing on the effect of HIV/AIDS on injecting drug users.
  • Submitted evidence to the Home Affairs Committee inquiry into drug laws.
  • Submitted feedback to the European Commission on their new anti-drugs strategy.
  • Held a stall at the Green Party Spring Conference.
  • Submitted a motion on climate change and the environment to the Campaign Against Climate Change Annual General Meeting.
  • Set up a website to document all of these things and promote our message.
  • Started a blog!
For an organisation run entirely by volunteers in their spare time, I think we have much to be proud of, and we have barely begun to scratch the surface of the ideas and suggestions that have poured into us. As our fundraising strategy kicks in (feel free to donate here), we will have more funds to support the work of our volunteers and the work of our organisation.
We see an exciting year ahead for Re:Vision.
Ultimately, it is the work that is important. I became a drug law reform activist at first because I have very libertarian views on drugs, but I stayed because I was horrified at the injustices being committed against human beings because of the view that drugs are ‘dangerous’. Our work is for the women drug mules who are currently languishing in our prison system, and prisons all over the world for taking an opportunity to earn money to support themselves and their families. Our campaign is for the young men who have their futures ripped away from them for tiny mistakes they’ve made now. Our work is also to reverse the damage done to our budgets, national infrastructure, and the environment, but most of all it is about people. People caught up in a war that was declared on them by some of the most powerful institutions on Earth, whether they take drugs or not, and which has cost tens of thousands of lives. We must do everything we can to stop this.

 

This blog is the latest effort to mobilise young people. We will be updating it regularly with a variety of news commentary, features and updates to educate and inform young people (and everyone else) about the latest developments in the drug war. We hope it will be a useful communication tool, both from us to you, and from you to us. Please send us your ideas, comments and, if you feel productive, guest posts, either in the comments or through our comment form here
If we place a stall beside it, they will come.
Our first year has achieved much. Our second year will hopefully bring even more, as we don’t have to devote so much time and energy to determining the more mundane things like whether our equipment policy is compliant with charity law. We can just get on with what we’re all truly passionate about – the control and regulation of all drugs, the end to the drug war, and the protection and dignity of human beings. Onward to year two!