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Preview: Transform Drug Policy Foundation: Media Blog

Transform Drug Policy Foundation Blog

Transform Drug Policy Foundation (TDPF) is the UK's leading centre of expertise on drug policy and law reform.

Updated: 2017-10-08T07:49:57.486+01:00


Transform/MUCD workshop at DPA conference in Denver; Making the case for regulation of drug markets in Latin America


Ending the war on drugs: Making the case for regulation of drug markets in Latin America and beyondA workshop organized by Transform DrugPolicy Foundation and MéxicoUnido Contra la Delincuencia as part of The International DrugPolicy Reform Conference 2013Join us to learn and share experiences on how to meaningfully engage with the drug policy reform debate, how to talk about regulation models, messaging and framing arguments for different audiences, and how to respond to common concerns.The focus will be on the debate in Latin America, but the themes will be relevant for all reformers.Saturday 26th October from 1:30 - 3:00 pm Governors Square 14Places are limited. If you’d like to attend please email workshop will be in English, but Spanish interpreting is available. This blog has many contributors; blog entries or comments posted to blog are not necessarily the views of Transform Drug Policy Foundation. For official comment or position statements on any given topic, or with any feedback or queries, please contact Transform. Transform Drug Policy Foundation is a registered charity No. 1100518[...]

New publication launched: 'Ending the War on Drugs: How to win the debate in Latin America'


Transformand MUCD were pleased to launch the latest publication from our joint Latin American Programme for Drug Policy Reform in Mexico City yesterday.‘Ending the War on Drugs: How to win the debate in Latin America'  is the product of a series of workshops and consultations with experts across the region, and builds on Transform's 2007 book 'After the War on Drugs: Tools for the Debate'.It is a guide to making the case for drug policy and law reform in Latin America from a position of confidence and authority, with a particular focus on the issue of legal regulation of currently illegal drug markets, something that is now core to the debate in the region. It is for every policymaker, media commentator, and campaigner who not only recognises that the ‘war on drugs’ is a counterproductive failure that is creating catastrophic unintended consequences, but who also wants to convince others to back reform. It will equip you with the constructive arguments, different approaches and nuanced messaging needed to address the concerns and interests of diverse audiences. This will enable you to not just win the argument, but make the new allies needed to turn the current unparalleled momentum for reform into concrete policy change nationally and internationally. Although the book is tailored to Latin America, the arguments it lays out are relevant for drug policy reformers globally.Print copies are currently only available in Spanish. The English translation is coming soon, but if you can't wait, a pre-publication draft is available from Here are some images from the launch event in Mexico City: Book launch Panel: Armando Santacruz (MUCD), Josefina Ricaño de Nava (president MUCD), Steve Rolles (Transform, co-author), Sergio Sarmiento (Journalist), Lisa Sanchez (MUCD/Transform, co-author)    Lisa Sanchez presenting the book Sergio Sarmiento“Transform/MUCD's Ending the War on Drugs: Making the Case in Latin America workshop in Mexicoabout how to argue for drug law reform in general, and legal regulation in particular, was invaluable. It should be rolled out globally to advocates of drug law reform, and all policymakers considering change. This education is vital to bring about a smooth and effective transition in drug policy.” Ambassador Edgar Guitérrez Girón, Special Mission on Drug Policy Reform for the Republic of Guatemala, 2013“The time has come to discuss new approaches to dealing with the problems of drugs in the Americas. A new approach should try and take away the violent profit that comes with drug trafficking… If that means legalising, and the world thinks that's the solution, I will welcome it.” President Santos of Colombia, 2012Photography by Mario Hernández This blog has many contributors; blog entries or comments posted to blog are not necessarily the views of Transform Drug Policy Foundation. For official comment or position statements on any given topic, or with any feedback or queries, please contact Transform. Transform Drug Policy Foundation is a registered charity No. 1100518[...]

The world's most draconian drug policies


The last few weeks have been marked by several positive developments in drug policy around the world.The Uruguayan Parliament passed a groundbreaking bill that, subject to Senate approval later this year, will make Uruguaythe first country in the world to legally regulate the production and sale of cannabis under government monopoly. In the United States, Attorney General Eric Holder announced changes in the Justice Department’s sentencing policy so that certain low-level, non-violent drug offenders; "will no longer be charged with offences that impose draconian mandatory minimum sentences."The US Federal Government also indicated it will allow individual states to proceed with marijuana legalization, as long as they ensure production and supply are well regulated, including restricting access to minors, and preventing excess production being sold into states that have not legalized.These important advancements come at a time when the heavy-handed tactics of the war on drugs are being increasingly questioned. Nevertheless, for many governments the punitive war on drugs approach continues to be used to justify a wide range of distressing and unacceptable acts that directly breach their international human rights obligations. From the use of the death penalty for drug offences, to compulsory drug detention centres, arbitrary arrests and extrajudicial killings, the state of drug policies is, in many countries, draconian to say the least. Below is a selection of the most oppressive practices around the world. They highlight the urgent need for a global shift away from criminal justice-led drug policies towards those centred around health that support rather than punish. They also underline that this shift needs to happen not just for marijuana, but for all drugs.1. China Official numbers regarding death sentences and executions performed in China are a state secret, and so not readily available. Nevertheless, it is widely believed that China performs more executions than the rest of the world put together. Moreover, the conviction rate is nearly 100%, so if someone is accused of a crime that is punishable by the death penalty, they are almost certain to receive that sentence. According to Amnesty International, defendants often face trials where the court has already decided a verdict and possibly a sentence, a practice that could explain why many people are sentenced to death after trials lasting less than an hour. Although in 2011 China removed 13 mostly economic crimes from the list for which the death penalty can be handed down, but drug offences such as trafficking remain on the list. The “treatment” of suspected drug users in China also presents a grim picture. In theory, the country's Anti-Drug Law of June 2008 ended the programme of sentencing alleged drug users to Re-Education Through Labour. In reality though, it effectively expanded the previous 6-12 months sentence to a minimum of 2 and sometimes 3 years in drug detention centres instead. The law also allows for a period of up to four years of unspecified “community based rehabilitation”, in practice allowing for up to 7 years of incarceration. The detainees are routinely beaten, forced  to work up to 18 hours a day without pay and denied medical or drug dependency treatment. Detention takes place without trial and the Anti-Drug Law gives the police rather than medical professionals the power to determine the “addiction” and need for detention without any legal process or even evidence of current drug use. A 2009 UNAIDS report estimates that at any given time approximately 500,000 people are undergoing drug detention in China.2. IranThe 2011 Amendments to the Anti-Narcotic Law of the Islamic Republic of Iran introduces; “the death penalty for trafficking or possessing more than 30 grams of specified synthetic, non-medical psychotropic drugs, and f[...]

The end of cannabis prohibition - beyond the tipping point


The first system of state government regulated production and supply of cannabis for non-medical use came one step closer this week, with the publication by the Washington State Liquor Control Board of its latest draft rules for the production and supply of marijuana. (See below for highlights)These proposed new rules appear to meet the requirements laid down by US Attorney General Eric Holder in his recent announcement that the Federal Government will allow individual states to proceed with marijuana legalization, as long  they ensure production and supply are well regulated, including restricting access to minors, and preventing excess production being sold into states that have not legalized.Transform welcomes the broad thrust of Washington State's regulations which, are in line with what we have been calling for, including in our book After the War on Drugs: Blueprint for Regulation, and in our forthcoming publication How to Regulate Cannabis: A Practical Guide.We also find the detail fascinating, shaped as it is by a combination of the requirements of the wording of the ballot initiative that voters passed; existing federal and state regulatory frameworks and laws they must accommodate and comply with, for example on packaging, advertising, intoxicants etc; the Federal Government's specific requirements; and last but not least, the rapidly changing US political and cultural landscape too.Included in that changing landscape is the fact that cannabis legalisation ballot initiatives significantly increase the number of young voters who make it to the ballot box, something that favours Democratic candidates (by and large).  As a result, with over half of all Americans now supporting marijuana law reform, and 83% saying the war on drugs has been lost, for Democrats at least, cannabis law reform is no longer a third rail issue - it is a vote winner, whether Obama can say so publicly or not. How do the Republicans respond to this? Calling for the Federal Government to stamp all over states rights is not acceptable for most of them, and with even former Presidential Candidate John McCain saying "Maybe we should legalize" marijuana, surely the game is up.Internationally, these changes combined with a general reduction in international influence means that the US can no longer effectively dictate a global prohibitionist approach to cannabis, as underlined by Uruguay's bold moves. With legislators in many other regions expressing support for Uruguay, or interest in legalizing cannabis in their own cities or countries, it is clear we are not at a tipping point on ending cannabis prohibition. We have passed it.September 4, 2013LCB Rulemaking ObjectiveCreating a tightly controlled and regulated marijuana market;Including strict controls to prevent diversion, illegal sales, and sales to minors; andProviding reasonable access to products to mitigate the illicit market.LCB Role and ResponsibilityEnsuring public safety is the top priority;Creating a three-tier regulatory system for marijuana;Creating licenses for producers, processors, and retailers;Enforcing laws and rules pertaining to licensees; andCollecting and distributing taxes.TimelineDecember 6, 2012 Effective date of new lawSeptember 4, 2013 File Supplemental CR 102 with revised proposed rulesOctober 9, 2013 Public hearing(s) on proposed rules (time and location TBD)October 16, 2013 Board adopts or rejects proposed rules (CR 103)November 16, 2013 Rules become effectiveNovember 18, 2013 Begin accepting applications for all three licenses (30-day window)December 1, 2013 Deadline for rules to be complete (as mandated by law)December 18, 2013 30-day window closes for producer, processor and retailer license applicationsProposed Rules HighlightsLicense Requirements30-day WindowThe LCB will open registration for all license types for a 30-calendar-day window (November 18, 2013)LCB may extend the time or reopen application window at its discretionState Residency Requirement&n[...]

History is made as Uruguay MPs vote for legally regulated cannabis


The Uruguayan Parliament yesterday voted to pass a Bill that will legalise and regulate the production, sale, use and personal cultivation of cannabis for non medical use by adults. The Bill will now pass to the Senate for a vote (and possible amends) in October before returning to the Congress before final approval from the Board of Deputies. Although these are potential stumbling blocks, the Congress vote was 'the big one' and it looks highly likely that the Bill will now pass into law later in the year.At this point Uruguay will be the first national government in the world to have voted through a new law to legalise and regulate cannabis - or indeed any drug prohibited by the UN drug conventions. To this extent the change differs from the groundbreaking developments in Washington and Colorado, where the legalisation measures were passed by popular vote (via ballot initiatives), with both local State and Federal governments firmly opposed. By contrast, Uruguayan public opinion is not yet behind the legalisation move, with Uruguayan politicians tackling drugs by showing something alien to most governments around the world: leadership. Uruguay's House of Representatives historic vote for changeSummarised details of the Bill are as follows (with thanks to Hannah Hetzer):The State will assume control and regulation of all activities relating to import, export, planting, growing, production, storage, commerce and distribution of cannabis and its derivatives. Any plant from which psychoactive drugs can be derived will remain prohibited with the following exceptions:For scientific research or medical use. These must be authorised by the Ministry of Public Health and will be under its direct control.Cannabis. This must be authorised by the Institute of Regulationand Control of Cannabis (IRCCA) and will be under its direct control.Psychoactive cannabis (THC equal or higher to 1% of its volume) will be under the direct control of the IRCCA. Non-psychoactive cannabis (hemp) will be under the direct control of the Ministry of Livestock, Agriculture and Fisheries.Domestic cultivation of cannabis for personal consumption will be permitted up to six plants and its product should not exceed 480 grams. Social clubs for cannabis growers (similar to those in Spain) will be controlled by the IRCCA. They may have a maximum of 100 members and may plant a maximum of 99 plants. Cannabis commerce licenses will be given to pharmacies authorised by the Ministry of Public Health. The authorised pharmacies will require users to present either a medical prescription or they must be included in the registry of users. All unauthorised cultivation must be destroyed with an intervention by a judge. All unauthorised production, importation, exportation, transit, distribution, and sale will be penalised with 20 months to 10 years imprisonment. Purchase for personal consumption will be understood to be up to 40 grams of cannabis per month. The IRCCA will have a register of users, home growers and membership clubs. The registry will be free and will solely be used to ensure traceability and control of cultivation and use. The information will considered confidential data, conforming to the associated norms in article 18 of Law N° 18.331, of August 11, 2008. The National Integrated Health System (SNIS) must implement policies pertaining to the promotion of health, the prevention of problematic use of cannabis, and provide adequate advice, guidance and treatment for problematic cannabis users.In cities with more than 10,000 inhabitants, mechanisms will be installed for Information, Advice, Diagnosis, Referral, Attention, Rehabilitation, Treatment and Integration of those affected by problematic drug use. These will be managed by the Junta Nacional de Drogas, which can sign agreements with departmental and municipal governments and NGOs. The National System of Public Education (SNEP) must have education polici[...]

Help make legal cannabis a reality


One day currently illegal drugs will be legalised, taxed and regulated - starting with cannabis.Can you imagine what that would look like? We can.At Transform Drug Policy Foundation we’ve have spent nearly two decades researching and refining our vision of how to do it safely.Today we are fundraising for our new publication, 'How to Regulate Cannabis: A Practical Guide'.It will show policy makers how a regulated cannabis market can take control away from organised criminals and put it back in the hands of the government. The models we are proposing will make better use of taxpayers' money and safeguard young people, communities and public health.For more detail about the book see our dedicated Justgiving page for this project.We have already raised half the money for the book, and we’re now seeking £5,000 more to match it and finish the job. The book is due to be launched in October, so we’ve given ourselves a month to raise the match-funding.In 2009 our book 'After the War on Drugs: Blueprint for Regulation' (which has been downloaded over 500,000 times) described how a legally regulated drug market could work.“Blueprint is the most evidence-based, balanced discussion of drug control policy that I have seen. It should be compulsory reading for all policy makers”-- Professor R Morgan, Former HM Chief Inspector of Probation'Blueprint' showed people that the unthinkable was thinkable. 'How to Regulate Cannabis’ will show how legalising cannabis is doable.Please donate today, and ask your friends to do the same. You can also like us on Facebook and tweet the following to show your support for the project:Help make legal #cannabis a reality: Transform is crowdfunding its vital new guide 'How to Regulate Cannabis' pls RTMany thanks for helping us get drugs under control.This blog has many contributors; blog entries or comments posted to blog are not necessarily the views of Transform Drug Policy Foundation. For official comment or position statements on any given topic, or with any feedback or queries, please contact Transform. Transform Drug Policy Foundation is a registered charity No. 1100518[...]

Transform event 'Time to Count the Health Costs of the War on Drugs'


Professor Averil Mansfield, Chair of the British Medical Association, speaking at the Count the Costs health eventTransform, as the leading coordinator of the Count the Costs initiative, held a lunch-time meeting last month for some world-leading health professionals and NGOs. The event included presentations from Professor Averil Mansfield, Chair of the British Medical Association Board of Science; Anton Olfield-Kerr, Head of Policy of the International HIV/AIDS Alliance; and Martin Drewry, Executive Director of Health Poverty Action.Attendees at the event came from a wide range of organisations, including The Faculty of Public Health, The Royal College of Nursing, Addaction, Médecins du Monde, the National Aids Trust, the People's Health Movement and Save the Children.The lunch time session started with a presentation from Professor Mansfield, who freely admitted to being strongly influenced by the launch of Transform’s flagship publication, 'After the War on Drugs: Blueprint for Regulation'. At that time [2009] she was President of the BMA and it was not until she became Chairman of the BMAs Board of Science that she was able to take the lead on this issue. The result was a publication, produced by the BMA, entitled ‘Drugs of dependence: The role of medical professionals’, which looked at alternative approaches to drug policy and highlighted the need to deal with drugs as a health issue.Professor Mansfield’s presentation was followed by talks from representatives from Health Poverty Action and the International HIV/AIDS Alliance, who stressed, among other things, the importance of more NGOs engaging with the drugs issue, in an effort to generate pressure from civil society in the lead up to the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs in 2016.The event was an informal, off-the-record discussion and we were delighted by the number of newcomers to the debate who attended. We have received very encouraging feedback and hope it will lead to a number of new supporters and joint initiatives going forward, as we build up the campaign in advance of UNGASS 2016. The event was also mentioned by Tom Chivers, who wrote a great article on drug policy in The Daily Telegraph the following day. You can also read the health briefing that we developed for the campaign here. The dinner was the second in a series of outreach events that we are planning over the coming year in an effort to mainstream support for our Count the Costs campaign. We are delighted that the campaign now has over 100 supporters, a full list of which can be found here.This blog has many contributors; blog entries or comments posted to blog are not necessarily the views of Transform Drug Policy Foundation. For official comment or position statements on any given topic, or with any feedback or queries, please contact Transform. Transform Drug Policy Foundation is a registered charity No. 1100518[...]

The UK Government bans khat, ignores advice of its own experts


The UK government has today announced it will go against the recommendations of its own drugs experts (again) and ban khat, a plant mostly used by the UK’s Somali and Yemeni communities, that produces a mild stimulant effect when chewed.Earlier this year, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, the body responsible for providing the government with expert advice on drugs, produced a detailed review of the evidence (PDF) on the social and health harms of khat and offered recommendations on responses to the drug in the UK.Although acknowledging gaps in the research data available, the ACMD found little evidence to support causal link between khat use and most of the adverse medical effects around which concerns had been raised (although noting a risk of liver toxicity in heavy users), and could also find only weak evidence that use of the drug was a cause of some the societal problems that it has been blamed for by some observers. Along with a series of prgamatic recommendations on educating and supporting affected communities, and treating those whose use becomes problematic, their conclusion on khats legal status was clear:“The ACMD considers that the evidence of harms associated with the use of khat is insufficient to justify control and it would be inappropriate and disproportionate to classify khat under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.”The Home Secreatary who ordered today's ban, Teresa May, has argued that the UK has become a transshipment point for khat because other countries have prohibited it. The ACMD, however, note that:"it is likely that some khat is re-exported to countries where it is banned" (p.82)but.."Fears of the UK becoming a hub for importation of khat appear not borne out by  the VAT figures provided by the HMRC regarding the volume of khat imported  into the UK since 2005 or by any evidence suggesting the UK is a landing point for the onward transportation of significant quantities of khat"(p.10)The ACMD also point out that khat needs to be consumed within 36-48hours of harvesting or it loses its effects - another reason why the UK trafficking hub proposition lacks credibility. there simply isnt time for it to be transited through multiple destinations - it needs to go direct to consumer markets to be a viable product.  The other key argument made by May has been concerns about a link between the khat trade and terrorism, specifically the Al Shabaab group in Somalia. On this question the ACMD are equally clear:"in regard to international crime, it is known the Al Shabaab militia,which control parts of southern Somalia, tax sales of khat as all retail transactions of any product are taxed. However, in countries beyond the UK where khat has been prohibited it enters the illegal market through smuggling and illicit sale, and so becomes criminal activity by definition. To clarify, the ACMD has not been provided with any evidence of Al Shabaab or any other terrorist groups‘ involvement in khat export/sale, despite repeated requests for this information from a number of national and international official sources, including various Government bodies."(p.55)Dr Axel Klein, one of the key experts on khat who gave evidence informing the ACMD report, told Transform that: "There's no reason to support the ban except that other countries have done so. There is an alleged terror link but this looks ridiculous given that Al Shabaab in Somalia have been banning khat themselves. The trade has provided hundreds of UK Somalis with a livelihood, and their countrymen with a peaceful and agreeable past time. For Islamic campaigners this has long been a thorn in the flesh of the community. Mafrishes are public spaces, where discussion ranges widely and freely, as friends gather to relax and enjoy. At a time of rising hostility and nationalism making the assimilation for even second or third Generatio[...]

No more war on drugs with Transform designer mugs


Ever thought of making a regular donation to Transform, but were put off by the lack of a merchandising incentive?  Well, we've put that right.You can now show your support for drug policy reform with one of our new ‘No More Drug War’ mugs. These beautiful artworks are made from fine English bone china, and have been individually produced and expertly decorated by the People’s Republic of Stokes Croft, here in Bristol.Below are examples of some of the beautiful, original designs available.  So, what's the cost of this wonderful new addition to my home, I hear you ask.  It's free!  To get your hands on one these limited edition, hand crafted mugs, all you need to do is visit our donations page, sign up to a £5 (or more) monthly donation with Transform and then email requesting your free mug.You'd be an absolute mug to pass up on this... This blog has many contributors; blog entries or comments posted to blog are not necessarily the views of Transform Drug Policy Foundation. For official comment or position statements on any given topic, or with any feedback or queries, please contact Transform. Transform Drug Policy Foundation is a registered charity No. 1100518[...]

Ban Ki-moon calls for "all options" to be considered in drug policy debate


It was welcome to note that during a special event held to mark the Unite Nations International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking on June 26th, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon declared:“Next year, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs will conduct a high-level review. This will be followed, in 2016, by the UN General Assembly Special Session on the issue. I urge Member States to use these opportunities to conduct a wide-ranging and open debate that considers all options.”His call for a “wide-ranging and open debate that considers all options” is certainly a welcome development, one that strikes the same note as the Count the Costs campaign statement:“The 'war on drugs' is a policy choice. There are other options that, at the very least, should be debated and explored using the best possible evidence and analysis. We all share the same goals – a safer, healthier and more just world. Therefore, we the undersigned, call upon world leaders and UN agencies to quantify the unintended negative consequences of the current approach to drugs, and assess the potential costs and benefits of alternative approaches”The Secretary General's remarks echo the positive sentiments he and other high level UN officials have previously expressed regarding the need for a re-think of current policy, and an openess to explore alternative approaches. In recent years the push for more pragmatic debate around alternative paths for drug control at the UN level have primarily come from Latin American leaders. During the 67th session of the UN General Assembly in September 2012 the presidents of Mexico, Colombia and Guatemala challenged the current policy framework in the face of its obvious failures and mounting costs. Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos urged a reassessment stating that "It is our duty to determine - on an objective scientific basis - if we are doing the best we can or if there are better options to combat this scourge", while Mexican President Felipe Calderon explicitly called on the United Nations to lead a global debate over a less "prohibitionist" approach to drugs.In recent years increasing numbers of incumbent and former heads of state from all various parts of the world are starting to speak out in favour of reform, and the high-level debate regarding alternatives to the current prohibitionist approach gained further prominence after the recent publication of the groundbreaking report by the Organization of American States.Let’s hope that this rhetorical shift at the highest level of global policy making will translate into meaningful debate and positive outcomes in the run up to the UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs in 2016, which is set to "review the current policies and strategies to confront the global drug problem".It is clear that more and more government and UN leaders, now including the UN Secretary General himself, accept the need for change and are taking the first tentative steps to begin the process of reform at the highest level. This blog has many contributors; blog entries or comments posted to blog are not necessarily the views of Transform Drug Policy Foundation. For official comment or position statements on any given topic, or with any feedback or queries, please contact Transform. Transform Drug Policy Foundation is a registered charity No. 1100518[...]

Support. Don't punish - protesters around the world call for decriminalisation


Today, 26th June, is the UN’s International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, a day for governments to “celebrate” the war on drugs – which some of them do by executing drug offenders. “Support. Don't Punish”, a global advocacy campaign calling for an end to the criminalisation of people who use drugs (and supported by Transform), is seeking to reclaim the day, through a series of protests in 26 major cities around the world. The protests are intended to raise awareness of the need for more humane and effective policies that prioritise the health and welfare of people who use drugs, and their families and communities.Highlighting the need for such a policy shift, the UNODC today also released its annual World Drug Report (PDF), along with its new, somewhat optimistically – and clunkily – titled campaign, “Make health your ‘new high’ in life, not drugs” (don’t take that pill; have a salad instead!). As this year’s report makes clear in its preface, not much progress has been made in the past 12 months: “We have to admit that, globally, the demand for drugs has not been substantially reduced and that some challenges exist in the implementation of the drug control system, in the violence generated by trafficking in illicit drugs, in the fast evolving nature of new psychoactive substances, and in those national legislative measures which may result in a violation of human rights” But according to the UNODC, violence, human rights abuses and a failure to meet its stated aims aren’t sufficient to warrant a meaningful change to the current approach to drugs. As they state: “The real issue is not to amend the [UN drug] Conventions, but to implement them according to their underlying spirit.” So basically, keep pressing on with more of the same, despite more than 50 years of failure.To read more about the extent of this failure, and what could be done about it, download the Alternative World Drug Report, produced last year by the Count the Costs initiative (now supported by over 100 NGOs) to tell the other side of the drugs story to the one told by the UNODC.The two initiatives launched today present us with a stark choice – support, or punish. They are totally incompatible, despite UNODC’s protestations to the contrary.Silence is not an option. Transform urges those currently trying to straddle a non-existent fence in the debate, to oppose punishment and support humane, just and effective drug policies.This blog has many contributors; blog entries or comments posted to blog are not necessarily the views of Transform Drug Policy Foundation. For official comment or position statements on any given topic, or with any feedback or queries, please contact Transform. Transform Drug Policy Foundation is a registered charity No. 1100518[...]

RIP Iain Banks – world-renowned author and Transform patron


We are sad to announce the death of one of Transform’s most well known supporters – the writer Iain Banks. Here is the Telegraph's comprehensive obituary.Iain was one of the early adopters of Transform in the 90’s, and gladly gave his name to support our work. I contacted him after reading The Wasp Factory (always my favourite Banks straight fiction). He never hid his fascination with drug culture, indeed, much of his his sci fi writing was set in an interstellar anarcho-communist utopia called 'The Culture'.  Iain Banks 1954-2013When he became a patron he gave us this message of support:"I think Transform is a necessary voice of sanity in the debate about drugs. Supporting Transform will help end the drug war and promote a society at peace with itself."Iain also supported the work of our sister organisation, TDPF Scotland from the outset."I think it's long past time that Scotland faced the truth about drugs and the extra level of damage their illegality and prohibition imposes on individuals and society. The sort of rational debate and fact-based response to drug use that Transform has been championing throughout the UK for years needs to be brought to focus on Scotland, to reflect both the legislative realities brought about by the Scottish Parliament and the particularly Scottish mix of health, social, deprivation and addiction problems that people here face. I look forward to offering continuing support to a laudable and much-needed cause."Aside from brief email correspondence with him over the years I only met Iain once at a reading he gave in Bristol. He was very approachable and had no airs and graces. Iain always had strong political views and an anger I can relate to. He famously tore up his passport over the invasion of Iraq and mailed the tatters to Tony Blair - "I was so angry about the illegality and immorality of the war. And this was me - a comfortably off, white Caucasian atheist from a vaguely Protestant background. If I thought it was a disgusting, what would Muslims think about how their co-religionists were being treated?"I emailed him in April when he announced his terminal illness, and his reply included the following:“Ah well. Hoped I'd live to see the world come to its senses re drugs, but I guess it's not to be. Still, don't regret the small part I've played trying to turn things around. One day...”Happily for all of us who enjoyed Iain’s presence, his writing and his politics, his legacy will live on, and when the drug war ends, Iain’s call for peace will be remembered.RIP Iain.This blog has many contributors; blog entries or comments posted to blog are not necessarily the views of Transform Drug Policy Foundation. For official comment or position statements on any given topic, or with any feedback or queries, please contact Transform. Transform Drug Policy Foundation is a registered charity No. 1100518[...]

12 heads of state who support drug policy reform


The commitment of heads of state is crucial in pushing for drug policy reform since they have the power to challenge the current prohibitionist framework at its political roots.Sadly, when in office many key players like Barack Obama and David Cameron seem afflicted by post-election amnesia when it comes to rethinking the War on Drugs. Indeed, historically, the issue has been taboo and thus it was that was only former presidents were willing to speak out.Nevertheless, in the absence of much significant engagement on the side of Western consumer countries, Latin and Central American presidents have taken the lead in challenging the prohibitionist status quo. And what is increasingly encouraging is that more and more incumbent political leaders are now daring to challenge the prevailing orthodoxy. Below is a selection of some of the more prominent past and present heads of state who are not afraid to champion reform, divided up into 'Incumbents' and 'Formers'.IncumbentsJosé Mujica, ‘the world’s poorest president' who famously donates 90% of his salary to charity caused quite a stir back in October 2012 when he declared that Uruguay will be legalising the production and supply of cannabis under monopoly state control. When asked about his motives he replied that "The traditional approach hasn’t worked [...] Someone has to be the first”. Since then, he has announced that the plan has been delayed due to lower than hoped public support in ongoing polling. Nevertheless he remains committed to the reform and the Bill continues to make its way through the Uruguayan parliament. He hopes to go ahead with this groundbreaking policy when the population understands the intent of the measure, underlining that "The majority has to be in the street and the people have to understand that with shootings and putting people in prison we are giving a gift to drug traffickers."Juan Manuel Santos. Colombia’s president is an increasingly vocal proponent of reform, who, since coming to power, has drawn significant attention to the suffering of Latin American producer countries, the unintended consequences of current interenational drug control. He is now a major advocate calling for a rethink of the failed War on Drugs. In contrast to his Uruguayan counterpart, he rules out any possibility of unilateral action on the issue on Colombia’s side, instead calling on the international community to address the obvious failure of the War on Drugs and stressing that responsibility has to be shared among producing, transit and consuming countries. In his calls for a debate he is much bolder than other politicians, bringing up both the legalisation of cannabis and perhaps even cocaine as a subject for international discussion. Laura Chinchilla, president of Costa Rica, joined the group of incumbent presidents calling for a rethink of the prevailing prohibitionist approach stating that drug legalization in Central America merits a 'serious' debate in order to reduce the crime and violence spreading through the region, even if it runs up against U.S. opposition; once more drawing on the fact that Central Americans “have the right to discuss it” because “we are paying a very high price”. Otto Pérez Molina of Guatemala is another Central American president leading the debate on a need for a global shift in drug policy and challenging the U.S to move in the same direction."I believe that as he is entering his second term, [Obama] is going to be more open to this debate. In the end, this is the direction we all have to move in. There is going to be a change away from the paradigm of prohibitionism and the war against drugs, to a process tha[...]

A Q&A: Drugs, Legal Regulation and Brazil


Transform's Steve Rolles and Lisa Sanchez were interviewed by Willian Vieira for the Brazilian magazine Carta Capital. As only a few sections of the interview were used in the final printed feature (and it was in Portugese) we have copied the complete interview below in English.Carta Capital: Even the U.S., who has supported war on drugs policies for the last decades worldwide (Colombia is the best example), has seen a shift, at least in terms of population approval. New polls suggest Americans are tired of spending so much money and having such poor results. Is it a sign of change for the rest of the world, that tend to follow American policies? Will it have an impact on UN? In the US there is now a majority that supports legalisation of marijuana for the first time, and more than 70% think the war on drugs is not working. These are hugley important shifts, particularly in the context of historic and ongoing bi-partisan opposition to substantive reforms such as legalisation. But the changes go beyond public opinion - rhetoric from the White House and ONDCP has notably shifted away from the more hawkish 'war on drugs' tough-talk towards a greater emphasis on health and treatment. Even though policy change has yet to match this rhetoric it is striking that the US Drugs Tsar has said that he 'ended the war on drugs' and Obama has said legalisation is now 'a legitimate topic for debate'.It is also more than just debate. As well as 14 states decriminalising possession of marijuana and 18 allowing provision of medical marijuana, Washington and Colorado states have become the first jurisdictions anywhere in the world to legalise and regulate non medical cannabis production, sale and use. So the US, even though it is the spiritual home of the 'war on drugs' is ironically now also leading the way on drug law reform, at least for cannabis. It is adding to the global momentum for change but also following the wider global trend in looking for alternatives to the historic failings of the punitive enforcement based approaches. The reforms in the US are creating space for long held views critical of the status quo and supportive of reform to be publicly aired in high level political forums around the world, and this is nowhere more true than in Latin America. With challenges to prohibition unfolding within US borders, the authority of the U.S. to impose its 'war on drugs' in its bilateral relations, in regional forums, and at the UN are dramatically diminished. We can already see this dynamic playing out - objections to Latin state reforms are now much more muted than a decade ago; the OAS has undertaken the first ever review of alternatives approaches; at the request of Latin governments the UN has agreed to a General Assembly Special Session in 2016 to look at the impacts of the current system and consider alternatives. Calls for change from Latin countries are becoming more frequent, vocal and confident- and are no longer just the preserve of former presidents. Now it is sitting presidents getting directly and publicly involved. Carta Capital: In its 2008 World Drug Report the UNODC acknowledged that choosing an enforcement-based approach was having a range of negative "unintended consequences", including the creation of a vast criminal market, displacement of the illegal drugs trade to new areas, diversion of funding from health, and the stigmatization of users. Its costs are soaring. But when Uruguay defended its new policy in the UN, the answer was lukewarm, if not negative. Why has UN been so afraid of taking action? Why international agencies like UNODC are so cautious about changing its policies, policies that so clearly don't work? These comments[...]

Organization of American States launches groundbreaking report exploring alternatives to the war on drugs


Note: The following press release was issued today by the Latin American Programme for Transform Drug Policy Foundation and México Unido Contra Delincuencia.  The full OAS analytical report is available in English (pdf).  The full OAS scenario report is available here (pdf)Organization of American States launches groundbreaking drug policy report exploring alternatives to the war on drugs On Friday, 17 May, in Bogotá, Colombia, Organization of American States (OAS) Secretary General José Miguel Insulza will present Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos with the groundbreaking outcomes of a high level drug policy review. Mandated by 34 heads of state – including the US - at the 2012 Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, this report marks the first time in history that a high level multilateral agency has given serious consideration to the failings of current policies and potential alternative approaches, including decriminalisation and legal regulation. Lisa Sanchez, coordinator of the Latin American Programme for Transform Drug Policy Foundation and México Unido Contra Delincuencia, and also a expert member of the OAS scenario planning team, speaking in Bogotá, Colombia, said: “We welcome the reports from this ground-breaking high level initiative. Drug policy reform has been a taboo issue for decades - but for the first time representatives from 34 countries across the Americas have had the courage to break that taboo and envision real alternatives to the war on drugs. It is a clear acknowledgement that the global prohibition has failed to deliver what was promised and that a range of alternatives should be meaningfully explored.”“The heads of State across the hemisphere who initiated the project can be proud of the fact that it has produced a set of four plausible scenarios, including one for the legal regulation of cannabis and other drugs - including the necessary reform of international law. And that, far from than being a disaster - the regulation scenario foresees a shift to legal regulation capable of producing positive outcomes.” This report provides a groundbreaking visualization of alternatives to the existing regime – in the form of four scenarios of how drug policy and law could develop between now and 2025. These scenarios significantly include one involving the emergence of legally regulated markets for some currently prohibited drugs and explores how the international drug control system evolves to incorporate these developments. Steve Rolles, Transform Senior Policy Analyst said: “The reform scenario explored in the OAS report is already unfolding in reality, as Washington and Colorado move to tax and regulate cannabis for non-medical use, with Uruguay likely to follow suit later this year. This OAS project sets the scene for a vibrant high level debate on alternative approaches in the run up to the UN General Assembly Special Session in 2016 - where the reports will feed into the global debate on policy reform. It will rightly be seen as a watershed moment for the doomed global war on drugs.” “We are urging governments in the region - and beyond - to take the opportunity created by these reports to initiate national dialogues on their central theme: alternatives to the war on drugs that can deliver the safer and healthier communities we all seek.” ENDS Notes to editors: Contacts: · Lisa Sánchez: 00 52 (1) 553 2007 029 (in Bogotá, Colombia from 14 to 19 May. In Mexico City from 20 to 24 May) · Steve Rolles: +44 (0)7980 213 943 London UK The OAS reports will feed into a number of political processes in coming weeks and years:  May 20-22: in Washington, the OAS repo[...]

The 10 most UN-likely critics of the war on drugs


The United Nations' role in shaping and enforcing global drug prohibition becomes stranger with each passing day. On the one hand, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) implements the three UN drug conventions that form the legal basis for the global 'war on drugs' and ensures member states don't deviate from the punitive enforcement model the UN system has built. On the other, the wider family of UN agencies is concerned with guaranteeing UN principles of health, human rights, peace, development and security.The war on drugs has, even by the UNODC's analysis, both failed to deliver on its stated goals, and had a series of disastrous unintended consequences - specifically undermining health, human rights, peace, development and security. This has inevitably created tensions between various UN agencies and led to increasingly contorted rhetoric from within the UNODC itself - as it attempts the impossible task of reconciling drug-war rhetoric and overwhelming evidence of prohibition's failure with the principles of the UN.These tensions and contradictions become all too evident in the public statements from many UN officials, now often openly or implicitly critical of the letter and spirit of UN's own prohibitionist drug policy and legal systems. Even Executive Directors of the UNODC itself have departed from the prohibitionist orthodoxy. The range of views held by officials in other UN agencies also reflects the lack of "system-wide coherence" within the UN, with many questioning the criminalisation of users at the heart of the punitive paradigm (particularly in relation to HIV and people who inject drugs), with others going even further and advocating market regulation approaches, specifically outlawed by the UN conventions.Below is a selection of some of the most high-profile critics of the war on drugs to come from within the UN itself.IncumbentsBan Ki-moon, United Nations Secretary-GeneralThe incumbent Secretary General of the UN, Ban Ki-moon, voiced his opinion on the war on drugs in 2008, following the publication of a report by the Independent Commission on AIDS in Asia. The report was critical of drug-war policies, stating that: "[initiatives such as] large-scale arrests of young drug users under the 'war on drugs' programmes ... can be counterproductive and can keep large numbers of at-risk groups and people living with HIV from accessing even the limited services being provided by the countries." Ban Ki-moon thoroughly endorsed the report's findings, saying:"we need to to review legislation that risks hampering universal access - in cases where vulnerable groups are criminalized for their lifestyles"  "I look to the United Nations family and the donor community to help advance the implementation of the report’s recommendations, including through financial and technical resources."  Yury Fedotov, Executive Director, United Nations Office on Drugs and CrimeDespite being the current head of the specific UN agency charged with overseeing the global drug control system, Fedotov is surprisingly receptive to the idea of legally regulating certain drugs, although only, it would appear, ones that for arbitrary historical reasons, sit outside the UN convention sheduling system. This year, he wrote an article on the staggering array of 'novel psychoactive substances' (NPS or 'legal highs' ) now legally available. But rather than calling for their outright prohibition, he endorsed innovative approach being taken in New Zealand bring certain lower risk NPS within a strict a system of legal regulation, He said:"Today, we are staring at a new drug horizon where those wil[...]

Unitarians vote overwhelmingly in favour of Royal Commission on Drugs


Last week, at the Unitarian and Free Christian Churches' General Assembly meeting at Nottingham University, the Unitarians became one of the first faith groups in the UK to speak out on the drugs issue and call for a Royal Commission on Drugs or an independent inquiry into drug policy. The reolution was passed with overwhelming support;  154 voting in favour, 3 against and 1 abstention. The vote followed presentations from David Barrie, Chair of Make Justice Work, and Jane Slater, Head of Operations at Transform Drug Policy Foundation.The motion stated:“This General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches asks the UK Government to establish without delay a Royal Commission or an interdepartmental public inquiry to: 1) examine the present UK drug-related health and crime situations and compare those in other countries 2) examine and review the efficacy of current UK legislation in relation to drugs both those which are illegal and those which are legal 3) review options for alternatives to the current criminal justice-based approach, drawing on the experience of other countries, including the appropriateness of the medicalisation and decriminalisation of drug substances and the treatment of addictions.”The Unitarians are now embarking upon a campaign to persuade the government to set up a Royal Commission or interdepartmental inquiry, which would give alternative approaches the consideration they deserve and represent an important first step away from counterproductive prohibitionist policies.The Unitarians now join a growing list of public figures and organisations who want to see a review of UK drug policy:Nick Clegg DPM, personallyBob Ainsworth MP, former Labour Home Office drugs minister and secretary of state for defencePeter Lilley MP, former Conservative Party deputy leaderCaroline Lucas MP, Green Party leaderThe Home Affairs Select CommitteeThe All Party Parliamentary Group on Drug Policy ReformLiberal Democrats (almost unanimously at Conference 2012)Plaid Cymru leader Leanne WoodCarel Edwards, former Head of the European Commission's Anti-Drug Coordinating UnitProfessor John R Ashton CBE, Chair UK Public Health AssociationProfessor Sir Ian Gilmore, outgoing President of the Royal College of Physicians Professor Richard Wilkinson, Author of 'The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better'Professor Neil McKeganey, Centre for Drug Misuse Research, University of GlasgowProfessor Ben Bowling, Professor of Criminology & Criminal Justice, King's College London Dr Nick Heather, Emeritus Professor of Alcohol and Other Drug Studies at Northumbria UniversityDr Linda Cusick, Reader in Substance Use, University of the West of ScotlandProfessor David Nutt, Chair of Neuropsychopharmacology, Imperial College London, and Chair of the Independent Scientific Committee on DrugsA range of other organisations including the Prison Governors Association, Health Poverty Action, The Howard League for Penal Reform, and Human Rights Watch.This blog has many contributors; blog entries or comments posted to blog are not necessarily the views of Transform Drug Policy Foundation. For official comment or position statements on any given topic, or with any feedback or queries, please contact Transform. Transform Drug Policy Foundation is a registered charity No. 1100518[...]

News release: Prison Governors Association criticises the War on Drugs and calls on government to explore alternatives


News release 25/04/13This week the Prison Governors Association became the latest organisation to sign up in support of an international initiative that calls upon the government to “quantify the unintended negative consequences of the current approach to drugs, and assess the potential costs and benefits of alternative approaches”.50 Years of the War on Drugs – Time to Count the Costs, is a global project that has the support of nearly 70 NGOs around the world and two former presidents.Eoin McLennan-Murray of the PGA said:“The blanket prohibition on class A drugs allows criminals to control both the supply and quality of these drugs to addicts who turn to crime to fund their addiction.  The Prison Governors' Association believe that a substantial segment of the prison population have been convicted of low level acquisitive crimes simply to fund that addiction. The current war on drugs is successful in creating further victims of acquisitive crime; increasing cost to the taxpayer to accommodate a higher prison population and allowing criminals to control and profit from the sale and distribution of Class A drugs. A fundamental review of the prohibition-based policy is desperately required and this is why the Prison Governors' Association are keen to support the 'Count the Costs' initiative.”  Martin Powell, co-ordinator of the Count the Costs initiative said:"We are delighted the Prison Governors Association - whose members witness the day to day futility of the UK's current enforcement-led approach to drugs - is supporting the global Count the Costs initiative. Increasingly, those involved in picking up the pieces of our failed war on drugs want to see alternatives to prohibition explored. The coalition should heed the PGA's call, and commission a comprehensive policy review as a matter of urgency."ENDSContact:Eoin McLennan-Murray: Martin Powell, Count the Costs Co-ordinator: 07875 679301Notes for Editors:Supporters of the Count the Costs initiative include:Human Rights Watch, the Howard League for Penal Reform, the International AIDS Society and the WashingtonOffice on Latin America.Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Former President of BrazilErnesto Zedillo Ponce de León, Former President of Mexico and Director of the Yale Centre for the Study of Globalization Michael Kazatchkine, Former director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria Sir Richard Branson, Founder and chairman of Virgin Group For the full list of supporters see: the PGA Conference in 2010 the following motion was passed: “This conference believes that the current “War on Drugs” is expensive and ineffective and mandates the NEC to engage with the prisons minister to consider other ways of tackling the drugs problem both within prisons and the wider community.” recent letter organised by rap mogul Russell Simmons attracted a wide range of signatories, including: Susan Sarandon, Justin Bieber, Harry Belafonte, Cameron Diaz, Jim Carrey, Will Smith, Ron Howard, Mark Wahlberg blog has many contributors; blog entries or comments posted to blog are not necessarily the views of Transform Drug Policy Foundation. For official comment or position statements on any given topic, or with any feedback or queries, please contact Transform. Transform Drug Policy Foundation is a registered charity No. 1100518[...]

Academic refutes 'soft on cannabis' media claims


On 5 April the Daily Mail published this news article: The price of going soft on cannabis: Labour's experiment 'pushed up hard drug use and crime'.The public letter reproduced below and here (PDF) from Dr Nils Braakmann of Newcastle University emphatically refutes the way that the Mail and a number of newspapers reported his research.Contrary to the news reports, his research (which were only provisional findings presented at a conference, not yet published in a peer reviewed journal) did not show that reclassifying cannabis from Class B to Class C led to an absolute increase in cannabis use or crime. He says that he never looked at this, and the research results: "should not be interpreted as evidence that the declassification was “bad”. "He goes on to say:"...our estimates do not contradict potential aggregate crime reducing effects of cannabis depenalisation. As stated earlier, it is quite possible that the aggregate or regional effects of cannabis depenalisation are positive."The Daily Telegraph piece making similar inaccurate claims for the research has now been removed, but the other reports mentioned in Dr Braakmann's letter, including by the Daily Mail, remain online. The report was cited again in the Mail on Sunday in this article from 21 April.It was robustly challenged by Ewan Hoyle of Lib Dems for Drug Policy Reform on in an article titled 'The sloppy journalism that misrepresents cannabis use'.Prof Alex Stevens of the University of Kent also challenged another piece of research discussed in the coverage, carried out by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which relates specifically to the experiment with tolerant cannabis policing in Lambeth (London), and was cited by the Mail and the Telegraph as further evidence of the negative impact of cannabis depenalisation.This story provides yet another example of how the need to support a particular policy perspective can distort objective science reporting. Whilst a common theme in science reporting generally, drug policy has a particularly poor record.    Dr Nils Braakmann's letter11 April 2013 To the interested public, Some further comments on the press coverage and contents of my research on cannabis consumption, consumption of other drugs and crime. I am the lead researcher on the cannabis research piece that received (somewhat distorted) coverage in the Daily Mail and the Telegraph on Friday, April 5, 2013, and the Daily Star on Saturday, April 6, 2013.  Several members of the interested public have contacted me to ask questions about the research in question. The following is a brief reply to these questions. It is also an extension to our initial reaction to the press overage published on on Friday, April 5, 2013. I also recommend the excellent comment and summary of our findings (as well as those by Adda, McConnel and Rasul) by Ewan Hoyle. First and foremost, this research is in its early stages and was presented in front of a professional audience at the Royal Economic Society annual conference on Friday. It was never intended to reach an audience beyond professional scholars at this conference. The paper is not publicly available, we never made any press release and we never talked to any journalist.  My personal opinion is that research should only influence public policy or public opinion after undergoing peer review, not necessarily because all peer-reviewed research is correct, but because (a) peer review ensures that the work has at least received some outside sc[...]

Transform is recruiting


We are currently looking for an Administrator, to work in our head office in Bristol (21 hours per week).

The main duties are to oversee the financial and operational administration of the organisation. For a full job description and person specification, please download the files below.

Now is a great time to join the drug policy reform movement, so if you think you have the required skills and would like to apply, please send your CV and cover letter to

The closing date for all applications is Friday 10th May at 12.00 noon

Interviews will take place on Friday 17th May 2013.

Job description (PDF)

Person specification (PDF)

Drug Courts: A cause for celebration or a misguided attempt at progress?


In 1989 the first known drug treatment court was established in Miamiin response to a crack epidemic. Two decades later, such courts are widespread across the US, offering treatment instead of prison time to some defendants arrested for drug-related felonies. Who is offered treatment is entirely at the discretion of the judge and defendants are usually required to plead guilty in order to be considered. Those who are offered and accept treatment are routinely drug tested throughout the process. Additionally judges can reward or punish the behaviour of those in treatment; incentives used includes certificates, cards and applause from the courtroom while sanctions include admonishments, assigned essays and, disturbingly, increased drug testing and court appearances or even a few days in jail. This year, according to the National Association of Drug Court professionals, 120,000 people will be tried in 2734 drug courts spread across all 50 states. The question of whether these courts are a step in the right direction, towards viewing drug addiction through the sphere of public health as opposed to criminality, has never been so pertinent. The clear positive aspect of this model is that less people are going to prison for drug offences. Many people convicted for non-violent drug-related offences are offered an opportunity to reclaim their lives and access the treatment they need. It is also worth celebrating that people under this model can be saved from needless incarceration and that fewer families will be arbitrarily separated as a result of this. A reported 75% of people who complete the drug court programme are not arrested again for 2 years. This also means that one in every four is, usually for another drug-related offence. Judges acknowledge that relapse is extremely common for an individual fighting an addiction, and the role of a strong support network along the road to recovery cannot be emphasized enough. Given that drug courts appear to subscribe to a model of addiction that allows for relapse, it is odd that relapse is punished and treated as ‘non-compliance’. Could it be that the pressure of an environment in which failing to complete the program successfully could result in incarceration is not conducive to effectively battling an addiction? Perhaps being publicly admonished in a courtroom in front of others who are in treatment, being given a telling off at the point when support and compassion are most needed, is not the best incentive to give up drugs. The use of a few nights in jail as a sanction is an incredibly irresponsible part of any treatment program and can only be a means by which to satisfy the public’s desire to see criminals punished. Given the high levels of stress, helplessness and guilt often associated with attempted recovery, especially in the first year, an experience as stressful as being given jail time, even for only a few nights, could easily push someone back into relapse. It is also likely that not everyone successfully completing ‘treatment’ is addicted to drugs: given that some people have been offered treatment as opposed to sentencing for the crime of possession, it is probable that some recreational users have accepted treatment as preferable to jail. The success rate with genuine addicts would therefore be lower than 75% in reality.The figure of 75% becomes even less impressive when we consider that a meta-analysis by Latimer, Morton-Bourgon and Chrétien indicates that 45% of those admitted to treatme[...]

The war on drugs: time to count the costs to women


The below post is reproduced from the Count the Costs blog. Given that today is International Women’s Day, it seems an appropriate time to highlight the fact that the war on drugs has disastrous effects for not only men, but women too. The below extract is taken from the Count the Costs stigma and discrimination briefing, and outlines the particular ways in which the drug war causes undue suffering to women across the globe. (See the full briefing for references.) If you work for, or are a member of, an organisation that promotes women's rights, please email to join our list of supporters.Although most commonly convicted for low-level, non-violent drug offences, and not the principal figures in criminal organisations, women are disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs.Mandatory minimum sentencing for trafficking often fails to distinguish between quantities carried, and even lower-end sentences can be very harsh. Rigid sentencing guidelines often limit judges’ discretion, preventing them from considering mitigating factors that might reduce the sentences handed down. The result has been that many women involved in drug supply at a relatively low level are subject to criminal sanctions similar to those issued to high-level market operatives and large-scale traffickers.This results in particularly severe sentences for so-called “drug mules” – those women who carry illicit drugs from one country to another either in their luggage or inside their person. Usually coming from socially and economically marginalised backgrounds, such women are commonly driven to drug trafficking either by desperation (a lack of wealth and opportunity), or by coercion and exploitation from men further up the drug trading hierarchy. The prison sentences drug mules can receive are all the more excessive considering that these women are often characterised by low levels of literacy, mental health or drug dependence issues, and histories of sexual or physical abuse. Any dependents of these women are a frequently overlooked additional population of drug-war casualties.The war on drugs contributes to the sexual abuse and exploitation of women, with sex sometimes used as currency on the illicit drug market, or women being forced to have sex to avoid arrest or punishment by law enforcement. Reports from Kazakhstan, for example, have described police performing cavity searches on female injecting drug users found in areas near to known dealing points – with any seized drugs reclaimable in exchange for sex.Expending resources on criminal justice responses to drug use, rather than investing in effective public health measures, further places an undue burden on women. Gender-specific treatment programmes that allow women to live with their children are often lacking (where they exist at all), and in certain countries, pregnant dependent drug users do not have access to the safest and most appropriate treatment practices, compromising both their health and that of their unborn children.Drug taking is often equated with negligence or mistreatment of children, as a woman’s drug use or dependence can be grounds for removing a child from her care. This is blanket discrimination on the basis of a lifestyle choice or health condition, often fuelled by populist political and media stereotypes (the term “crack mom” is a notable example). Such weighty decisions should in fact be made on an individual basis, taking into account the real risk of abuse or [...]

Where now for opponents of cannabis law reform?


This opinion piece appears in the Febuary edition of 'Matters of Substance', the magazine of the New Zealand Drug Policy Foundation. As a new high-profile group is established in the US to fight legalisation, Steve Rolles, a long-time advocate for regulating drugs, considers how recent reform victories are reshaping the landscape of the oldest debate in drug policy.The debate around the legalisation and regulation of cannabis has been with us since the 60s, but recent years have seen it move increasingly from the margins into the political mainstream. In the US, support for legalising cannabis has crossed the 50 percent threshold; even in the spiritual home of the War on Drugs, and despite bipartisan political hostility, a majority now support an end to cannabis prohibition. Last November, the issue made the decisive move from theoretical debate to political reality as the states of Washington and Colorado passed ballot initiatives that not only legalised personal cannabis possession for adults but also set in motion the first regulated markets for non-medicinal cannabis anywhere in the world. If, as seems likely, the laws are implemented (the federal government is still considering its response at time of writing), this will represent the first real breach in the global prohibitionist regime. While reform advocates have been understandably jubilant, for opponents, a strategic rethink has become necessary, perhaps best represented by a new group called Smart Approaches to Marijuana. This initiative is led by Kevin Sabet, a US Office of National Drug Control veteran under three administrations and probably the highest profile opponent of cannabis legalisation in the US with hundreds of print and broadcast credits to his name. Sabet is supported in the SAM leadership team by former congressman Patrick Kennedy, journalist David Frum and a group of academics and medical professionals. The SAM project appears to represent a clear strategic repositioning for Sabet and, by inference, the wider coalition of cannabis law reform opponents. Most striking is the recommendation that cannabis possession should become a civil offence and that criminal records for possession be expunged. The additional requirement for a “mandatory health screening and marijuana-education program as appropriate” has met with indignation amongst some US reformers, but suggestions that SAM advocates mandatory rehab are not supported by the text on the site (referrals to treatment are specifically advocated only "if needed"). While the term ‘decriminalisation’ does not appear, it is precisely what is being advocated by most definitions used in drug policy (closely mirroring the Portuguese decriminalisation model, albeit only for cannabis). It is a significant shift for Sabet who, as recently as April 2012, was writing of decriminalisation that “such a policy may actually make us worse off” and flat out that it “won’t work”. It would be gratifying to think his group has been convinced by reform arguments or evidence from 14 US states and 25 or so other countries around the world that have already adopted decriminalisation models. However, equally plausible is the dawning realisation that decriminalisation, at least of cannabis, is now a political inevitability and Canute-like defiance is futile. Obama’s recent statement that ‘we’ve got bigger fish to fry’ (than arresting cannabis users) suggests that SAM may also be echoing (or informing) shif[...]

New Ipsos MORI poll shows 53% of GB public want cannabis legalised or decriminalised


News release Embargoed until 00:01 Tuesday 19 February Tel: 07980 213 943 or 07970 174 747 Web: Registered charity number: 1100518 New Ipsos MORI poll shows 53% of GB public want cannabis legalised or decriminalised, and 67% want a comprehensive review of our approach to drugs   A new poll by Ipsos MORI, commissioned by Transform Drug Policy Foundation, shows that over half of the public (53%) support cannabis legalisation (legal regulation of production and supply) or decriminalisation of possession of cannabis. Only 1 in 7 support heavier penalties and more being spent on enforcement for cannabis offences. In addition, the survey shows that around two thirds (67%) support a comprehensive independent review of all the possible policy options (from legal market regulation to tougher enforcement) for controlling drugs. The findings indicate that 45% of mid-market newspaper readers (including Daily Mail and Express readers) support cannabis legalisation (legal regulation of production and supply) or decriminalisation of possession of cannabis, with less than one in five (17%) supporting heavier penalties and more being spent on enforcement for cannabis offences. For tabloid readers these figures are 47% and 20%. Around 65% of mid-market newspaper readers and 66% of tabloid readers support a full review of all drug policy options. Additional survey findings include: 53% of the public support legal regulation or decriminalisation of cannabis - 50% of Conservative supporters and 55% of Labour supporters also support these options, as do 46% of Daily Mail readersOnly 14% of the public (and 17% of Daily Mail readers) support tougher enforcement and heavier penalties for cannabis offences67% want a comprehensive review of all policy options. 70% of Conservative supporters and 69% of Labour supporters also feel this way, as do 61% of Daily Mail readersWhen outcomes from Portugal were briefly described, almost 40% of the public support the Portuguese-style decriminalisation of small quantities of drugs for personal possession A spokesperson for Transform said: “These results show just how far ahead of politicians the public are. Whilst Labour and Conservative politicians shy away from the debate on drugs, around half of their supporters want to see legal regulation of cannabis production and supply or decriminalisation of cannabis possession, and a significant majority want a comprehensive review of our approach to drugs – including consideration of legal regulation. The poll demonstrates that even amongst Daily Mail readers, almost half support less punitive approaches to cannabis, and a majority back an independent review of all options, which may come as a surprise to the paper’s editors. “Politicians have repeated their ‘tough on drugs’ propaganda for so long that they assume the public are more fearful of change than they really are.[...]

This critique of drug prohibition was written 45 years ago


These are pages from 'The Limits of the Criminal Sanction' written by Herbert L. Packer in 1968. It's striking how spot on Packer was, and how little the critique has changed. The only real difference is that the scale of the problems he identifies has become far, for greater

HT @strayan