Breaking the Taboo – A Review

Breaking the Taboo, a  documentary made by the son of Richard Branson and other people with less famous dads, and featuring the sublime tones of Morgan Freeman, loosely follows the Global Commission on Drug Policy as its members investigate and report on the impact of drug policy on communities around the world. If you’ve seen a drug war film, you’ll be familiar with many of the initial images of Breaking the Taboo. We see people in wheelchairs crippled by their drug use, people who’ve had relatives kidnapped by cartels. We’re told the US has 5% of the world’s population, 25% of the world’s prisoners. We’re informed that more drug addicts come out of prison than go in.

But the number of former politicians is overwhelming and probably this film’s greatest contribution to an increasingly crowded field. The former presidents of Brazil, Colombia, Switzerland and Mexico, as well as the current President of Colombia, all make appearances to explain why we must legalise and regulate drugs. The former President of Switzerland in particular makes a well-worn phrase original again: “You cannot make a war against drugs without knowing you are also making a war against people”. Former US President Bill Clinton at one point says of the drug war, simply: “it hasn’t worked”.

You just can’t win a war against people willing to build submarines to smuggle drugs into your country.

The first half of the film is a quick run-through of the ins and outs of the drug war, from its origins in the 60s, over to the problems in the producer countries, and back to the prison industrial complex in America and the emphasis on enforcement over treatment. It was great to unexpectedly see some time spent on the opium trade in Afghanistan, though I was surprised to see General Sir Richard Dannett, formerly Chief of the General Staff, make a clear link between Western involvement in trying to suppress it and the subsequent strengthening of the insurgency as farmers lost their livelihoods. It was intriguing to learn that it’s actually Russia that is pushing poppy eradication in Afghanistan, much harder than the US (especially considering as the Russian success in reducing the country’s access to heroin has resulted in the rise of krokodil, a homebrew of iodine and codeine which is literally rotting people’s limbs off).

There’s a lot of time spent on the American experience, which I assume to be partly due to America’s historical role in and enthusiasm for the drug war (as one guy who wryly noted: “[America has] more prisoners than China, and they have a billion more people than we do.”), and partly aimed at mobilising an American audience to rally their recalcitrant politicians to stop bullying other nations into dealing with “the drug problem” for them. It is striking to watch the historical footage of Presidents such as Reagan and Nixon talk about the dangers of drugs and what they can do to you, when the current president has freely admitting to using cocaine at college, and the previous one pointedly refused to comment on allegations that he did the same. What a different world we live in from even twenty years ago ago when Bill Clinton had to resort to tenuous legalese in order to pretend he hadn’t used cannabis.

The second half of the film starts moving towards suggested solutions. We see Portugal’s decriminalisation policy and Switzerland’s heroin prescription programme. I actually thought this part was quite weak, especially as the former Portuguese Drug Policy Coordinator talked about creating “clear signs of disapproval for drug use” as he describes the drug panels that users have to face if caught. Recreational use doesn’t get a look-in, though it makes up the majority of use. However, we also see Holland and its notorious coffee shops. Holland’s policy allowing effectively legalised cannabis-trading on small premises has led to Amsterdam being considered to be the cannabis Mecca of the world, but the universal policy of “no hard drugs” hardly deals with, well, all the drugs that aren’t cannabis. I doubt we’ll be seeing MDMA coffeeshops coming to a street near you anytime soon.

This disjointed approach to drug policy, talking about decriminalising a bit here, instituting a rehabilition programme there, leaves one feeling a bit dissatisfied until ten minutes just before the end, when suddenly various of the great and the good, including the serving President of Colombia, call for all drugs – not some, but all – to be regulated like alcohol and tobacco. Now THAT is breaking the taboo. That is moving the debate onward. I hope that as a result of this film, we can keep moving.

I look forward to seeing you on the next march!

For the most part, this film is a great overview of the drug war, although it misses some things. Any mention of Africa, Southeast Asia or the Carribean, for example, despite the major roles all these places play in global drug trafficking routes. Apparently George Bush’s eight years as the leader of the drug war have gone from our collective memories, as the film neatly skips from Clinton to Obama repeatedly. And Morgan Freeman’s narration over sweeping tracking shots of riots and police operations made me feel at times like I was watching the inner workings of Shawshank but without the warming human resolution (though Morgan Freeman’s past Academy Award-winning performances are hardly the producers’ fault).

I’ve seen higher-quality drug war films: Cocaine Unwrapped‘s in-depth study of the cocaine trade brought me to tears, and The Union: the Business Behind Getting High gave the most rational, compelling explanation for how the cannabis industry supports national economies I have ever seen.  But what Breaking the Taboo lacks in cinematic magic, it makes up for in the sheer number of former statesmen and women willing to stand up and say “I fought this war, and I regret it”. Perhaps that, more than anything, will start shattering political and public resistance to what, on watching films like these, should be a very obvious conclusion. Legalise it, legalise it now, and legalise it all.

You can view Breaking the Taboo here.

The Royal Baby and Drug Policy

So, the Duchess of Cambridge is pregnant. While I worried about the 15% possibility that she might miscarry and suffer the deflation of a nation, Nick Clegg announced that the Succession of the Crown Bill (which would make the first child of William the heir to the throne, rather than the first boy), which requires letters of assent from all 16 Commonwealth Realms, would be put to Parliament next week. Next week! How remarkably quick for an issue that has a 50% chance of even being an issue at all and would not need to be address for at least two years if it were.

So, while Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Canada, Grenada, Jamaica, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, and the UK got their act together for the sake of the soon-to-be third in line to the monarchy, here’s some of the drug laws they have in place:

Country Notes
Saint Kitts and Nevis A Brick Kiln man will have to come up with $15,000 for various drug charges or serve time in Her Majesty’s Prison.Additional Magistrate Janine Harris handed down the stiff fine on Aldre Maynard on Tuesday (July 17) when he appeared before the court and pleaded guilty to three marijuana charges.Maynard was charged with possession of cannabis, cultivation of cannabis, and possession with intent to supply cannabis.”
 Australia “See also: Cannabis in Australia

Decriminalized for personal use in small amounts in the Australian Capital Territory, South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory. It is a criminal offence in New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria and Tasmania. Enforcement varies from state to state,[4] though a criminal conviction for possession of a small amount is unlikely and diversion programs in these states aim to divert offenders into education, assessment and treatment programs.[5] With the rapid expansion in hydroponically grown cannabis cultivation, the Australian Drug Misuse and Trafficking Act (1985) was amended in 2006, reducing the amount of cannabis grown indoors under hydroponic conditions that qualifies as a ‘commercial quantity’ or as a ‘large quantity’[5]

Bermuda “The maximum penalty for drug dealing is ten years in jail and/or a $500,000 fine.”
Canada “see Legislation: “Controlled Drugs and Substances Act” [14]
 Jamaica “Cultivation, retail and consumption is illegal. However this is often overlooked and cannabis is sold openly.[50]
 New Zealand “Cultivation, possession or sale of cannabis is illegal.[65] The fruit, seeds, and any other part of the plant are scheduled as Class C substances.Hashish, hash oil, THC, and any other preparations containing THC made by processing the plant are scheduled as Class B substances. In July 2009, a bill promoted by Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei amending the law to permit the use of medicinal cannabis was defeated 84-34 at its first reading, with all members of the ruling National Party voting against it[66].[68][69]
Belize “On July 16, the government of Belize released a press statement announcing the appointment of a committee to evaluate a proposal to decriminalize marijuana possession. The committee – to be headed by a former police minister – was appointed by the Minister of National Security. The proposal in question seeks to remove criminal sanctions for possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana and instead impose fines and mandatory drug education. Currently, possession of less than 60 grams of marijuana is punishable by a fine of up to US$26,000 and/or up to three years in prison.”
 United Kingdom “Cannabis is a Class B drug (moderate risk) in the UK. Possession of less than 3 grams however, is likely to result in mere confiscation and a written warning.”
Solomon Islands “Drug use is illegal in Solomon Islands, and can lead to prison sentences. Swearing is a crime and can lead to large compensation claims and even jail.”
Grenada “Law enforcement agencies in Grenada cooperate well on drug control. They meet regularly to plan joint operations, thereby maximizing available assets. The government opened its National Coordination Center for law enforcement in 2001. Through August 2003, Grenadian authorities reported seizing approximately 40 kilograms of cocaine and 155 kilograms of marijuana. During that period, they arrested 456 persons (21 non-nationals) on drug-related charges and eradicated 3,434 marijuana plants. Grenadian law enforcement authorities seized nearly ECD 300,000 ($115,000) in connection with drug-related cases. The police drug squad has collaborated closely with DEA officials in the targeting and investigation of a local cocaine trafficking organization, which has associations with South American and other Caribbean traffickers.”

So, if it’s going to take a week for the entire constitutional fabric of sixteen states to be rewritten, how long do you think it would take for decriminalise drugs if any politician really wanted to? How many people would that benefit?

Something to think about.

Drugs on Trial Live Vs the Real Scandal of Modern Medicine

Last week Channel 4 aired an experiment conducted by the former government drug adviser Professor David Nutt.  It should be of no surprise upon hearing his name that the nature of this experiment is controversial – David Nutt is the man who was relieved of his post for putting forward the scientific view that MDMA shouldn’t be a class A drug as it is less dangerous than alcohol.  Indeed that same class A drug is the subject of the trial, in which several volunteers will take MDMA and undergo scientific analysis of its effects.  Vital signs were monitored and MRI scans were conducted in order to find information on the parts of the brain associated with trust, empathy and memory. Professor Nutt has long held the view that more research needs to be done on the possible therapeutic applications of the drug, but as red tape and negative connotations swamp the issue, this seems to be the only way the Professor can get his research backed.

When scientists try to learn from the world of prohibited substances.

The televised drug trials have been criticized as glamorising the drug and thinly veiled sensationalism for ratings.  Julia Manning, chief executive of the 2020 Health government think tank, has said the study is ‘pointless and reckless’.  To me, this statement is incredibly ironic.  Surely it is more pointless to create a law which can not be effectively enforced? The Class A ban on MDMA can not be effectively enforced, as is evidenced by the people who imbibe and sell it regularly in the UK and the rest of the world. Surely it is reckless to defer the regulation and dispensation of drugs to the criminal underworld where regulatory bodies can not reach, making the entire issue far more dangerous than it ever would be in a legal environment?

However, it is Julia Manning’s opinion  that MDMA is illegal because of the social, economic and moral messages it would send out.  For Julia it seems ‘Drug are bad mmkay’, is as far as her mind has ever taken her, yet with some exploration it is not hard to see why a ban is actually more harmful in its social, economic and moral implications then the drug itself could ever be.

Experimenting with drugs the old fashioned way. Many are probably thinking the experience would feel more glamorous in an MRI scanner.

The social implications of a ban mean that people will turn to other more dangerous alternatives (e.g. alcohol or recently discovered designer drugs with legal status as was the case with mephedrone) believing them to be safer.  For social implications, glamorisation is also often associated more with illegality then government endorsement, and if “class A” doesn’t instantly sound like something glamorous and rare then I don’t know what does.  An “A” is often associated with quality after all, the best grade you can get.  The economic implications are that millions in untaxed profit are going to the criminal underground, while billions in taxpayer money is pumped into the un-winnable and ultimately community-damaging war on drugs.  Morally, the implications are that the government has the right to say how we experience reality, it is tantamount to mind control and an invasion into the private life of the individual. The moral stance of this government takes is that certain states of mind are simply not acceptable (but alcohol, tobacco and coffee are just fine). Way to take the moral high ground!

Do as we say, die or go to prison. The moral high ground, we’re doing it wrong.

So why is a scientist like Professor Nutt having to resort to funding from a TV channel rather than  he Medical Research Council or some other ‘respectable’ body? Because Pharmaceuticals are big business, and investors take huge risks with their money to get research done and trials conducted.  It is not financially viable for them to conduct  research into a drug that is illegal because even if it works the drug must then be approved.  Pure MDMA is not going to win approval while it is a Class A drug.  If it was somehow ‘sanitized’ and turned into a derivative with a fancy new name to re-brand it, it might be successful.  In fact there is research being done into possible applications of MDMA to fight cancer.  This is using the drug for its biological functions rather than its mind altering capabilities and so is deemed acceptable area of research, much like using the cannabis derivatives in commercial drugs to help relieve vomiting in chemo patients or spasticity in MS sufferers.  The compounds derived can be patented and sold exclusively by the Pharmacies for huge profit with knowledge that street chemists won’t be able to or even want to replicate and sell their unique formulas and so their profit margins are protected.  However this is something that can not be guaranteed with drugs that are already out there in chemistry books or that can grow in your own garden (such as cannabis or psylocibin).

It’s hard to make big pharmacy scale profit from products that can be grown or made at home.

The secret that pharmacological companies don’t want you to know however is that THEY are the ones being ‘reckless and pointless’ in their conduct of drug trials.  Modern medicine is placing profit over patients, and they have the gall to tell Professor Nutt that he is the one behaving badly.  If more drug trials were conducted out in the open like this one, rather then behind the closed doors of the people putting them on the market, we wouldn’t have to worry about all the unpublished studies which are buried by researchers desperate to prove that they have a drug that works.  Studies that do get funding get it because big monetary returns are expected.  Such vast amounts of money are invested that ensuring the drug goes to market becomes more of a priority than ensuring the drug actually works.  Common practice is that when one study doesn’t give desired results then more are done until the right result is shown and any negative results go unpublished.  Not a hard task to pull off when the science is done in secrecy and the journals are owned by the pharmaceutical companies!  The point of conducting scientific experiments is that they should be able to be replicated with the same results by more than one group of scientists, yet this key stage of evidence based science is by-passed by modern medicine by Pharmaceutical companies. Instead they answer only to regulators who they submit one or two studies that show a drug works and leave out the ten or twelve others that showed the drug had no or even ill effect.  The result is a marketplace of very expensive drugs which may or may not work. Is this how we want our drug policy to work?

You are paying for a placebo effect half the time.

So though television may not be the ideal way in which to explore the neuroscience behind MDMA, there is little other alternative.  David Nutt is not doing his research to line people’s pockets, but to help educate the public on the truth and to help turn public policy towards the path of harm reduction rather than criminalisation.  He is to be commended in his efforts rather than dismissed as a publicity seeker.  Give me open-book ‘publicity seeking neuroscience’, as Julia Manning puts it, rather then cloak-and-dagger, profiteering neuroscience, any day.

Why is Regulation of Drugs Important?

When you woke up today, it was probably on a bed that didn’t collapse in the night because the manufacturers had made it from poor quality materials. When you went last went food shopping, none of the food you bought made you sick because the supermarket had thrown away all the out of date stock. If you’ve taken a public taxi, then you probably ended up where you wanted to go and didn’t get ripped off because all licenced taxis have to have visible meters fitted. All of these measures designed to keep you safe, healthy, and able to make your own financial decisions, are the result of government regulations. There’s a lot of talk about how “bureaucratic red tape” slows down business and gets in the way of the consumer, but do you really want to go back to the good old days of “mad cow disease“, when farmers were feeding infected dead cows to live cows and managed to kill 166 people in the process? This is why control and regulation of drugs are important for users, not just communities. Not because the government should be able to use the system to stop people taking drugs, but because drug users shouldn’t be risking their health, or possibly lives, because unscrupulous dealers have a direct financial interest in compromising the quality of their products.

Bureaucratic red tape ultimately stops everything falling apart.

Some cannabis activists have vehemently objected to any suggestion that the law should have any say in who sells what to whom. Some people believe that cannabis should just be decriminalised, because cannabis doesn’t kill anyone, and therefore no regulation is needed. But all drugs are psychoactive substances, it’s not really about whether they kill people or not, they all alter your consciousness. And even if something is harmless, the circumstances in which it is produced can be terrible. Trousers aren’t going to kill you, but the children making them in sweatshops in Indonesia might be happier if they didn’t have to work twelve hours a day to make them for us. So we should recognise that much of the time regulation is a good thing. When you get down to it, it seems the issue for many people is that the current laws regarding alcohol and tobacco are inconsistent and they object to the idea that cannabis will be subject to the same inconsistent regulation. In many places, you can smoke in the open air, but not drink, and you can drink indoors but not smoke! To argue that alcohol and tobacco should be regulated the same as cannabis really means that as reformers we should be supportive of a change in the alcohol and tobacco laws as well.

When it comes to the age of consent, it’s important to remember that the age of consent is not related to any form of scientific research into harms but the age at which you are deemed legally able to make your own decisions for yourself. So this public argument about when  various drugs do and do not damage your developing brain seems to be irrelevant. It therefore seems fair to say that, within reason, certain (probably the “soft” ones) drugs like cannabis should be commercially available to over 18 year olds without restriction but from licenced production facilities which are subject to regular inspection in the same way that the sale of food is regulated and inspected, and that what you produce in your own home and give to your friends is your own business. I don’t mind taking the risk of eating a cake that a friend has made me, but I don’t want the kebab shop down the road to be doing whatever they want in their kitchen. In the same way, I’m sure that most canabis users are happy to consume whatever their friend grew in their garden but are dissatisfied with street dealers selling them herbs with ground glass in – a tactic they often get away with because of the lack of regulation. Harder” drugs are a trickier issue, but well covered in Transform Drug Policy Foundation’s publication, Blueprint for Regulation

The Blueprint for Regulation

But what about the children?! Well, what children do below the age of 18 not in the public eye is also generally considered at the discretion of parents and medical professionals – parents are allowed to give their children alcohol in the home under supervision, and medical professionals can prescribe whatever they want to anyone of any age, they can make those decisions in their own judgement. Doctors have the power to give Prozac to five year olds, yet they don’t! Such laws seem to be a good way of ensuring a balance between the rights of adults to alter their own consciousness and to raise their children as they see fit, the responsibility the government has to public health, and the desire that I hope we all have to not have nine year olds wandering around drunk or high.

The challenge is to set the bar so that it is low enough to keep people safe but not high enough that people will turn to a black market – we can see that with alcohol, which doesn’t have a black market, and the government’s efforts to stop people from smoking, which is prompting a significant black market of people importing knock-off tobacco from abroad and selling it under the counter. That’s what should be the challenge. Where to set the bar. That we’re arguing over whether there should be a bar at all and seeing people being killed or ruined in the process is a travesty. Whether you’re a Tory or an anarchist, nearly everything in your life, from your clothes to your spice rack, are subject to safety regulations that you, the consumer, benefit from. It is unfair to non-problematic drug users that they cannot be protected under the same legislation.

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 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.

Memorandum Submitted to the 2012 Home Affairs Select Committee Inquiry into Drugs

You can see the parameters of the inquiry here.A full document with footnotes and citations is available at the bottom of the page.

About The Re:Vision Drug Policy Network

The Re:Vision Drug Policy Network, founded in March 2011, is a national drug policy charity that engages with young people aged 16-25 to speak out against unequal and unfair drug laws. We are a national organisation based in Manchester, although we do have some local groups. Our mission statement: “to work with young people and interested organisations to create the belief that a drug policy based on the ideas of human welfare and human rights is both possible and necessary.“

Executive summary

Our memorandum focuses chiefly on pointing out the ways in which current government policy fails to be a fiscally responsible policy with strategies grounded in science, health, and human rights. We argue that the government does not take on board important scientific advances, and that all the evidence is against the current direction of drug policy leading to a better future. We argue that a health-based approach would entail acknowledging that not all drug use is inherently problematic and that it is more important to mitigate the harms of existing use than to rely on supply or demand control. We point out two ways in which the current approach fails to provide value for money, and finally, we argue that the Misuse of Drugs Act violates the spirit of the Human Rights Act, both in theory and in practice. In conclusion, we suggest looking at the many available models for drug policy that involve decriminalisation and increased control and regulation by removing the black market in drugs.


1. This memorandum is structured around the fact that the inquiry is examining whether government drug policy is a ‘fiscally responsible policy with strategies grounded in science, health, security and human rights’. We have chosen to respond in four sections: science, health, fiscal responsibility, and human rights.Scientific basis / evidence

Advisory Committee on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD)

2. First we shall look at the ACMD. Following the high profile sacking of Professor David Nutt in 2009 as Chair of the ACMD, which was followed by the resignations of several other committee members in protest, the government has changed the requirement for experts in particular areas, such as pharmacy or veterinary science, to omit any reference to science at all.# They stated that this was to offer greater flexibility, but it is quite convenient that the ACMD cannot be declared inquorate because of a lack of expertise.

3. Even attempts to heed these requirements led to the appointment of Hans-Christian Raabe in January 2011, an abstinence only “expert”, who was eventually dismissed before he had the opportunity to attend a meeting due to media coverage of his association with the Christian Party and his outspoken homophobia.# While Re:Vision Drug Policy Network is absolutely opposed to homophobia in all forms, Dr Raabe’s appointment was far more remarkable for the fact that he appears to have no qualifications, experience or background in drug policy or drug use whatsoever. We have been unable to determine by what criteria, or by whom, Dr Raabe was considered a suitable candidate to advise the government on drugs and drug policy.

4. Even with these changes, the ACMD still recommended in a submission to the Sentencing Council in October 2011 that drug offences regarding personal possession should be subject to civil penalties rather than criminal ones, with an emphasis on treatment and education rather than punitive measures. This was flatly rejected by the Home Office, who stated, “We have no intention of liberalising our drugs laws. Drugs are illegal because they are harmful – they destroy lives and cause untold misery to families and communities.”#

5. Points (2)-(4) clearly show that government policy makes use of the ACMD how and when it likes to and ignores it when it does not, which can hardly be considered the epitome of evidence-based policy.

Evidence for current drug policy

5. David Cameron sat on the last Home Affair Select Committee Inquiry into Drugs, and supported its recommendations, including one to look at legalising some drugs. He said, “Surely the point of a good drug policy is about keeping users healthier and out of the criminal justice system.”# He has now distanced himself from these remarks and policies, but the evidence has not changed in the intervening decade.

6. In particular, the previous Home Affairs Committee Inquiry into Drugs concluded that: “If there is any single lesson from the experience of the last 30 years, it is that policies based wholly or mainly on enforcement are destined to fail.” It also said that “we have to recognise that, however much advice they are offered, many young people will continue to use drugs” and as such, it “makes sense to give priority to educating such young people in harm minimisation rather than prosecuting them”. We are concerned to see that there has been no significant shift in this direction in the past ten years.

7. A recurring theme in drug policy debate over the past several years has been that the present classification of drugs has no scientific basis. There is little correlation between the harms that drugs cause and the category they are put in#, and numerous calls to reclassify certain drugs to better represent their relative harms have been rebuffed (the last Home Affairs Select Committee recommended reclassifying Ecstasy as class B, as has the ACMD. David Cameron himself supported this downgrade in the 2005 Conservative Party leadership debate, retracting his views 24 hours later)#. By failing to include alcohol or tobacco in the class system – two drugs whose use is widespread and deadly – the comparison is skewed before it even begins. All these factors lead us to believe that the class system is based more on political expedience than on a considered ranking of harms.


8. Together, these factors make it obvious that current drug policy is based on heady mixture of the moral principles that drug use is wrong and users must be punished, a dose of political posturing, and an unwavering belief that following the same rough direction in drug policy will lead to an end to the drug problem. Whether any senior politicians actually have this belief, it is difficult to say, since ever more politicians out of office are speaking out to say that the drug war must end. However, this belief does seem to be the institutional grounding of all drug policy.


9. In response to the Inquiry’s question “How big a role should public health considerations play in drugs policy?”, we believe public health should be a major consideration in drugs policy. International treaties in drug control were advocated, at least partially, for the protection of public health. However, by any measure the current control measures are failing to protect public health.

10. A stark example of this is the ballooning number of problematic drug users today when compared to 1971, when the Misuse of Drugs Act was introduced. That heroin use has risen by 1000% is a oft-mentioned statistic. Anyone working with young people, drug users, or disadvantaged communities is well aware that drugs are available and accessible to anyone with ready cash and a willingness to ask around.

11. It must be noted is that drug use is not inherently problematic. Much of our nation’s culture, art, and scientific innovations were produced under the influence of drugs. Millions of people use drugs every month with little or no consequences. There are at least 144,000 people using MDMA each month# and somewhere in the region of 10-20 people die solely from its use in a year#. The use of MDMA is indeed a safer activity than horse-riding. With this in mind, the protection of public health should not be focused on preventing young people from taking drugs but on reducing already existing harms (as the previous Home Affairs Committee rightly noted).

12. Criminalising users makes them far less likely to seek help when they need it and encourage less safe forms of drug taking. Worse, current government policy criminalises efforts to provide appropriate harm reduction services. For example, Section 9A of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 prohibits the distribution of foil, but not needles, to drug users. This results in the incidental promotion of injecting drug use above smoking, even though injecting drug use increases the spread of disease, risk of addiction, venial collapse, and arterial pseudo-aneurysms.

13. The two previous points show the way to a more meaningful drug policy: one which acknowledges that drug use is not inherently problematic and attempts to mitigate its more damaging aspects, without relying mainly on cutting off the supply of currently illegal drugs or criminalising users.

14. People respond to messages about drugs that are about keeping yourself safe and methods of harm reduction – they do not pay attention to warning about risks. Drug-takers have already decided that the pleasure brought by the drug outweighs the risk to themselves. However, they are willing to and do listen to health campaigns and to make use of harm reduction paraphernalia when it is made accessible to them. It is important that we realise this as a society and direct our resources fully into harm reduction rather than enforcement, if we want to ensure a healthy society and reduce the spread of disease.

Fiscal responsibility

15. Prisoners are currently costing the taxpayer £42,000 each, every year, and it is estimated that around 10,000 people, or 15% of the UK prison population, are there for offences regarding the production, supply, and possession of drugs. As the current recidivism rate is at nearly three quarters of prisoners, and the social stigma of criminal records for drug-related offences is severe and increasing under the current government, people who are imprisoned for non-violent drug offences are forced to keep committing those same offences after they leave prison, because they have no other option. This is costing our prison system a fortune and failing to stem the drugs trade – in fact because nearly every prisoner in Britain has access to heroin and little to do, you are more likely to become a heroin addict when you enter prison than to quit being one before you leave.#

16. While not directly applicable to the UK, RAND Corporation’s paper Controlling Cocaine showed that treatment programmes were by far the most cost-effective way to reduce the number of cocaine users in the US#, with every one dollar spent on treatment saving $7.48 in societal costs (compared with 15-52 cents of savings for a dollar of enforcement spending). As far as we are aware, there is no research similar to this in the UK, but even if enforcement spending in the UK is an order of magnitude more effective at reducing supply or demand than in the US, it would likely still be less fiscally efficient than spending the same amount on treatment.

17. We would like to echo Transform’s point in a submission to the previous Inquiry into Drugs which called for the ACMD to have more funding so that it could examine such questions on an ongoing basis.Human rights

Private life

18. Article 8 of the Human Rights Act (HRA) is about the right to privacy:11. Everyone has the right for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.

19. The Equalities and Human Rights Commission guidance on Article 8 points out that “the courts have interpreted the concept of ‘private life’ in a very broad way”#, and it means that the government should not interfere in one’s private life as long as one respects the rights of others.

20. Current drug policy does not respect this right. Drug use forms a regular part of many people’s private lives that does not significantly affect the exercise of others’ rights, and as such should be protected under the HRA. However, private drug-taking in the presence of consenting adults is technically criminal. The criminalisation of private and consensual activities for political reasons runs contrary to the principles of human rights.

The burden of enforcement

21. Fundamentally, it is impossible to enforce the law effectively on users because of the numbers of people involved and the amount of state surveillance that would be required. In practice this means that a significant proportion of the population are technically criminals – at least 8.8% of all British adults between 16-59 took controlled drugs in the last twelve months alone. (British Crime Survey figures).

22. In practice, however, some groups are criminalised more than others – non-whites, young people and people who look “different”. Alex Stevens’ research shows that Black people are far more likely to be stopped and searched, arrested, prosecuted or imprisoned for drug offences than white people. This is despite no evidence that taken as a group, Black people use or sell drugs any more than white people.#

23. Anecdotally, Re:Vision members have seen trends in enforcement where young people are more likely to be stopped than older people. Having long hair, wearing “hippyish” clothes or having dreadlocks all seem to make someone significantly more likely attract attention from the police.

24. The way the law is enforced means that a private life with regard to drug use is allowed for some but not for others. Article 14 of the HRA demands that human rights are available to all, without distinction based on factors such as ethnic group, age, or appearance. In theory all drug users are criminal, but in practice they are not, and the difference between the two leaves the government’s policy running contrary to the principles of human rights.

25. The government could step up enforcement, spending more on policing, jail and surveillance, in order to avoid discrimination, but it cannot do this while respecting Article 8. If drugs are to be treated as human rights issue, the government must stop the blanket criminalisation of drug use.


26. A conviction for drug use is likely to damage someone a lot more than taking the drug itself. A criminal record is considered stigmatic, and a conviction for any kind of drug related offence doubly so. An early conviction for a non-violent drug offence for a teenager from a disadvantaged background (the demographic most likely to be stopped and searched) forces them into a vicious cycle where they are unable to integrate into mainstream society and must remain dependant on drug dealing to support themselves or dependant on drug use in order to deal with the pressures upon them. This is not a situation which benefits the teenager, the taxpayer, or society.


27. Should the government wish to change its current trajectory, it does not need to look far for comprehensive alternative strategies. The Transform Drug Policy Foundation published a document in 2009 called After the War on Drugs: The Blueprint for Regulation, in which they comprehensively discussed how drugs could be controlled and regulated, including production, supply, consumption, advertising, using a phased introduction. This document is specific to Britain and thorough in its analysis.

28. Alternatively, the government could take its current policies to their logical conclusion and press enforcement even harder. This has been the approach of Russia, which has successfully all but shut down the heroin trade in its territory. Instead of reducing drug use, however, drug users are now creating their own opiates from household chemicals and iodine. This drug is known as “Krokadil”, because injecting it causes the skin to rot and develop gangrene around the injecting site, giving a reptilian appearance.


29. It is clear that the current system is ineffective at reducing drug use, use-related harms, or providing good value to money. As outlined above, our alternatives are to move to a controlled and regulated system, or to press ever more harshly on enforcement. Re:Vision Drug Policy Network considers control and regulation to be the obvious and compelling model for drug policy-makers.Full document.