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went last went food shopping, none of the food you bought made you sick because the supermarket had thrown away all the out of date stock.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 revisiondrugs.org and visit our Facebook.

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.

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.