June 27, 2009 – To quote Leonard Cohen, “Everybody knows” – and according to media reports, everybody knows Michael Jackson abused michael-jackson-neverland-foreclosureprescription medications – legal medications that most likely brought about his death. Was Michael a troubled soul? It appears so. Were laws bent or broken in providing his access to these drugs? Possibly. Recent news reports suggest Hollywood has a plethora of licensed medical doctors who provide and some say “push” prescription drugs onto celebrities.

Should we judge Michael harshly for choosing to use drugs to deal with his personal challenges? Of course not – we should mourn his loss, celebrate his creativity and feel gratitude for the gifts he gave us. However there arises a nagging question – as a caring community, did we fail Michael? Could we have done better? What can we learn from his tragic story?

As we shine our collective lights on Michael Jackson’s life not only do we see an extremely talented individual but we also see a man struggling to make good choices in his life. And like many millions of others of us who choose to medicate with drugs to deal with our life’s challenges – be they legal or illegal – Michael Jackson’s choice of powerful prescription pain killers reminds us that none are immune to getting lost on the path of life and making a fatal choice.

So what is society’s responsibility? How can we help others from meeting a similar end? One important tool we have at our disposal is our drug policies. An recent experience has taught us that implementing strict approaches like prohibitions and imprisonment don’t work. America already arrests one of its citizens every 43 seconds for illegal drug possession and incarcerates more of its people than any other country in the world. Recent reports inform us that now many more deaths occur in America from the abuse of legal prescription drugs than illegal drugs and in fact, prescription drugs are the second leading cause of unintentional death in the United States. These are drugs approved for sale and prescribed by medical doctors. In light of Michael Jackson’s death, how can we continue to differentiate between the abuse of legal and illegal drugs? Which issue is more important – the legality of the drug he used or the outcome of the abuse?

To this point, a recent U.N. Global Drug Report urges global leaders to stop viewing illegal drug abuse as a criminal matter – an approach that judges and vilifies those using drugs. Rather the report’s authors encourage us to view drug abuse for what it is – a health matter – one that can severely impact emotional, physical and psychological health. Impacts that became painfully obvious in the final years of Michael Jackson’s life.

The implications of the U.N.’s recommendations are dramatic. Rather than using our limited resources to wage war on our citizens, throwing them in jail for using illegal drugs to self treat their ailments, we need to shift those resources and our approach to addressing and treating the root causes and effects of drug abuse. This will not be easy.

America does not have a public health care system, so for many Americans access to professional advice can be very costly. This is partly why some people choose to access illegal drugs instead legal drugs in the first place. Furthermore, we need to appreciate that by making certain classes of drugs illegal we socially vilify and marginalize the populations of individuals who self-medicate with those illegal drugs – and consequently, even if they are able to afford it, they often do not seek the necessary medical services that could help them assess and manage their drug use.

It’s time for major change. Our communities are littered with too many sad stories and bad outcomes from untreated drug abuse. It’s time to stop differentiating between illegal and legal drug use and begin to see all drug users as people in need of health services and compassionate support. Michael Jackson’s death is a stark reminder that we in society can judge and marginalize even our most precious contributors. Let’s celebrate Michael’s life by approaching others facing life’s challenges with acceptance, compassion and support. Let’s face it – the absence of this compassion is likely at the root of why drugs are abused in the first place.

By Richard Sharp.

June 25, 2009 – Anything goes in the “war on drugs,” or so it seems. Governments around the world have used it as an excuse for unchecked human rights abuse and irrational policies based on knee-jerk reactions rather than scientific evidence. war-on-drugs-1This has caused tremendous human suffering. It also undermines drug control efforts.

That human rights abuses are widespread is no secret. Nor is frivolous rejection by many governments of proven, effective strategies to protect the health of drug users and communities. Both have been well documented.

In 2003, law enforcement officials in Thailand killed more than 2,700 people in the government’s “war on drugs.” More than 30 U.N. member states, including China, Indonesia and Malaysia, retain the death penalty for drug offenses — some as a mandatory sentence — in violation of international law. In Russia, untold thousands of heroin users cannot obtain opioid substitution treatment because the government has banned methadone, despite its proven effectiveness.

In the United States — and many other countries — prisons are overflowing because drug users are routinely incarcerated for nonviolent, low-level drug offenses. These prisoners often have no access to effective drug treatment or basic medical care. In Colombia, Afghanistan and other countries, crop eradication has pushed thousands of poppy and coca farmers and their families deeper into poverty without offering them any alternative livelihood and has damaged their health.

In China, hundreds of thousands of drug users are forced into drug detoxification centers, where they can be detained for up to three years without trial, treatment, or due process. In India people are dying in uncontrolled detoxification programs.

The “war on drugs” has distracted countries from their obligation to ensure that narcotic drugs are available for medical purposes. As a result, 80 percent of the world population — including 5.5 million cancer patients and 1 million terminally ill AIDS patients — has no access to treatment for severe pain. Strong pain medications are almost unavailable in most African countries. In India alone some 1 million cancer patients endure severe pain; most have no access to appropriate medications because of restrictions on prescribing them.

Such failure by the governments to ensure access to controlled medicines for pain relief or to treat drug dependence may violate international conventions proscribing cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Moreover scarce resources are being diverted from effective treatment to programs with no proven efficacy.

This is not only a human rights problem: It is bad public policy. Research shows that abusive drug control practices, including mass incarceration, are ineffective in controlling illicit drug consumption and drug-related crime, and in protecting public health. Scientific evidence has shown that more supportive “harm-reduction” programs prevent HIV among injection drug users, protect people’s health and lower future health costs. And for those with untreated pain, ignoring their needs removes them and their caregivers from productive life.

In March 2009, the United Nations met in Vienna to set new drug policies for the next 10 years. Sadly, the strategy adopted by member states contains scant human rights commitments. It congratulates the international community for what it says are successes of the past 10 years of drug policy, without mentioning its collateral damage. It proposes to continue those policies, with little change, for the next 10 years.

On Friday, the United Nations observes both the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking and the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. As the U.N. special rapporteurs on health and torture, we take this occasion to urge member states to end abusive policies and to create drug policies based on human rights that include harm reduction, access to evidence-based drug treatment and essential medicines, and protections against torture in law enforcement.

Too many lives are at stake for the current head-in-the-sand politics, and if the United Nations and member states continue to bury their heads, they will be complicit in the abuses. Source.

24 June 2009 – Amid an increasingly brutal struggle for a bigger slice of the $50 billion global cocaine market between Central American drug 24-06-2009drugscartels, the head of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has warned that legalizing narcotics would be an “historic mistake,” in a call for a global boost in drug treatment and crime control.
UNODC Executive Director, Antonio Maria Costa, acknowledged that laws controlling narcotics have created a huge black market for illicit drugs that thrives on violence and corruption.

However, “a free market for drugs would unleash a drug epidemic,” said Mr. Costa, as UNODC launched its 2009 World Drug Report today in Washington, DC.

“Proponents of legalization can’t have it both ways,” he said. “Legalization is not a magic wand that would suppress both mafias and drug abuse.”

Mr. Costa stressed that attempts to remove drug-related crime by decriminalizing illicit drugs – as some have suggested – would be an “historic mistake” because of the danger narcotics pose to health.

“Societies should not have to choose between protecting public health or public security. They can, and should, do both,” he said in a call for more resources for drug prevention and treatment, and stronger measures to fight drug-related crime.

The international cocaine market is undergoing seismic shifts, with purity levels and seizures in the main consumer countries going down, prices on the rise, and consumption patterns in a state of flux, noted Mr. Costa. “This may help explain the gruesome upsurge of violence in countries like Mexico. In Central America, cartels are fighting for a shrinking market.”

Over 40 per cent of the world’s cocaine is seized, mostly in Colombia, compared to less than 20 per cent of opiates – opium, morphine and heroin – captured, according to the World Drug Report.

In West Africa, a major transportation hub for trafficking to Europe, a decline in seizures seems to reflect lower cocaine flows after five years of rapid growth, the report said.

“International efforts are paying off,” said Mr. Costa, who launched the report along with newly appointed Director of the US Office of National Drug Control Policy, Gil Kerlikowske. Yet drug-related violence and political instability continue, especially in Guinea-Bissau, he added.

“As long as demand for drugs persists, weak countries will always be targeted by traffickers,” said Mr. Costa, adding that if “Europe really wants to help Africa, it should curb its appetite for cocaine.”

The new UNODC study reported that opium cultivation in Afghanistan, where 93 per cent of the world’s total is grown, declined by 19 per cent in 2008, and Colombia, which produces half of the world’s cocaine, saw an 18 per cent decline in cultivation and a 28 per cent decline in production.

“The more opium is seized in Afghanistan’s neighbourhood, the less heroin on the streets of Europe, and vice versa, the less heroin is consumed in the West, the more stability there will be in West Asia,” said Mr. Costa who plans to bring the message to a Group of Eight industrialized nations (G-8) ministerial conference on Afghanistan later this week in Italy.

Mr. Kerlikowske said that US President Barack Obama’s Administration is “committed to expanding demand reduction initiatives,” adding that through “comprehensive and effective enforcement, education, prevention, and treatment, we will be successful in reducing illicit drug use and its devastating consequences.”

The Report provides a number of recommendations on how to improve drug control, including the treatment of drug use as an illness.

“People who take drugs need medical help, not criminal retribution,” said Mr. Costa, appealing for universal access to drug treatment with the argument that people with serious drug problems provide the bulk of drug demand and treating this problem would contract the market.

Mr. Costa also called for an end of what he characterized as the “tragedy of cities out of control,” pointing out that most “drugs are sold in city neighbourhoods where public order has broken down. Housing, jobs, education, public services, and recreation can make communities less vulnerable to drugs and crime.”

Government enforcement of international agreements against organized crime, such as the UN Conventions against organized crime and corruption, and greater efficiency in law enforcement with a focus on the large volume of petty offenders, would also help international drug control efforts, he said.

Mr. Costa noted that in some countries, five times as many people are imprisoned for drug use compared to drug trafficking. “This is a waste of money for the police, and a waste of lives for those thrown in jail. Go after the piranhas, not the minnows.”

Source.

June 22, 2009 – Glenn Greenwald is a civil rights attorney, a blogger for Salon, and the author of a new Cato Institute policy study called “Drug Decriminalization in Portugal: Lessons for Creating Fair and Successful Policies.” The paper examines Portugal’s 2944324647_66c24facabexperiment with decriminalizing possession of drugs for personal use, which began in 2001. Nick Gillespie, editor of reason.com and reason.tv, sat down with Greenwald in April.

Q: What is the difference between decriminalization and legalization?

A: In a decriminalized framework, the law continues to prohibit drug usage, but it’s completely removed from the criminal sphere, so that if you violate that prohibition or do the activity that the law says you cannot do you’re no longer committing a crime. You cannot be turned into a criminal by the state. Instead, it’s deemed to be an administrative offense only, and you’re put into an administrative proceeding rather than a criminal proceeding.

Q: What happened in Portugal?

A: The impetus behind decriminalization was not that there was some drive to have a libertarian ideology based on the idea that adults should be able to use whatever substances they want. Nor was it because there’s some idyllic upper-middle-class setting. Portugal is a very poor country. It’s not Luxembourg or Monaco or something like that.

In the 1990s they had a spiraling, out-of-control drug problem. Addiction was skyrocketing. Drug-related pathologies were increasing rapidly. They were taking this step out of desperation. They convened a council of apolitical policy experts and gave them the mandate to determine which optimal policy approach would enable them to best deal with these drug problems. The council convened and studied all the various options. Decriminalization was the answer to the question, “How can we best limit drug usage and drug addiction?” It was a policy designed to do that.

Q: One of the things you found is that decriminalization actually correlates with less drug use. A basic theory would say that if you lower the cost of doing drugs by making it less criminally offensive, you would have more of it.

A: The concern that policy makers had, the frustration in the 1990s when they were criminalizing, is the more they criminalized, the more the usage rates went up. One of the reasons was because when you tell the population that you will imprison them or treat them as criminals if they identify themselves as drug users or you learn that they’re using drugs, what you do is you create a barrier between the government and the citizenry, such that the citizenry fears the government. Which means that government officials can’t offer treatment programs. They can’t communicate with the population effectively. They can’t offer them services.

Once Portugal decriminalized, a huge amount of money that had gone into putting its citizens in cages was freed up. It enabled the government to provide meaningful treatment to people who wanted it, and so addicts were able to turn into non–drug users and usage rates went down.

Q: What’s the relevance for the United States?

A: We have debates all the time now about things like drug policy reform and decriminalization, and it’s based purely in speculation and fear mongering of all the horrible things that are supposedly going to happen if we loosen our drug laws. We can remove ourselves from the realm of the speculative by looking at Portugal, which actually decriminalized seven years ago, in full, [use and possession of] every drug. And see that none of that parade of horribles that’s constantly warned of by decriminalization opponents actually came to fruition. Lisbon didn’t turn into a drug haven for drug tourists. The explosion in drug usage rates that was predicted never materialized. In fact, the opposite happened.

Nick Gillespie. Source.

June 21, 2009 – In 1991, an editorial in the British Journal of Addiction condemned the inordinate amount of resources devoted to drug law enforcement, and compared the war on drugs to the witch hunts of the past.who

It’s an apt comparison, since drug warriors around the world are influenced more by myths, stereotypes and propaganda than by solid evidence. And when confronted by evidence that conflicts with the myths, stereotypes and propaganda of the drug war, the warriors seek to bury it rather than address it head on.

The 1995 Cocaine Project, a joint effort of the World Health Organization and the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute, is a case in point.

You might never have heard of the Cocaine Project, and you might wonder why we’re discussing a report that’s 14 years old. The answer is simple: The WHO has never published the report, and even denied its existence, at least until last week when it was leaked to a Netherlands-based think-tank, The Transnational Institute.

This is unfortunate, given that the report sought the advice of experts from around the world, assessed cocaine use from Australia to Zimbabwe, and is the largest global study on cocaine ever conducted.

But a brief look at some of the study’s conclusions and recommendations reveals why it has been buried for the past 14 years.

For example, the report condemns the “over-reliance on law enforcement measures,” and recommends that “education, treatment and rehabilitation” programs be increased to re-balance our approach to problematic drug use.

Perhaps because the report was buried, this over-reliance on enforcement continues today, and many experts are saying the same thing the WHO said 14 years ago. But such recommendations don’t sit well with many drug warriors, who remain convinced of the seminal importance of law enforcement in decreasing drug use.

Reasonable people can disagree on how best to deal with drug abuse. But the facts are a different thing entirely, and what bothered the drug warriors the most wasn’t the report’s recommendations, but its statements of fact — that is, its findings about the effects of cocaine use.

The report notes, for instance, that health problems from “the use of legal substances, particularly alcohol and tobacco, are greater than health problems from cocaine use.”

If that weren’t enough, it states that “few experts describe cocaine as invariably harmful to health,” and that problems “are mainly limited to high-dosage users.” Indeed, “occasional cocaine use does not typically lead to severe or even minor physical or social problems . . . a minority of people start using cocaine or related products, use casually for a short or long period, and suffer little or no negative consequences, even after years of use.”

To top it off, the report states that the “use of coca leaves . . . has positive therapeutic, sacred and social functions for indigenous Andean populations” — a reference to South American aboriginals who have used coca leaves for thousands of years.

Now, however politically incorrect these conclusions are, they are either factually correct or incorrect. If they’re incorrect, they ought to be countered vigorously; if correct, they ought to inform our drug policy.

Instead, the WHO buried the report, largely as a result of pressure from the United States.

It’s interesting to note that in 2008, the WHO reported that the U.S. has the highest rate of cocaine use in the world. Interesting, but not surprising, for no drug control approach can be “proven” if it is the result of intentionally ignoring the evidence.

In fact, the U.S. provides a perfect example of the folly of attending to the evidence one likes, and ignoring the rest.

Now that the WHO report has been published by the Transnational Institute, it’s time for all countries to take a long, hard look at their drug policy, and at the evidence, and to ensure that the former is informed by the latter.

June 20, 2009 – When you say, “A priest, a minister, a rabbi and a nun,” it’s usually the lead-in to a joke — but here they were, seated in the pews of St. Mary’s Episcopal in 600px-Religious_symbolsHarlem. We had called them together for an interview about the drug war and we would have been hard-pressed to find a group that knows more about the damage drugs can do. As prison chaplains and community organizers, these clergy members have seen it up close, and their thinking about how to deal with the problem is undergoing an evolution. The teenage slaughter in Chicago — 26 students shot dead this year — is a reminder of the state of siege that has turned our inner cities into free-fire zones.

Rabbi Michael Feinberg believes drug prohibition is at the root of this chaos. Feinberg, who heads the Greater New York Labor Religion Coalition, said: “The war on drugs has caused as much devastation to communities around this country as the drugs themselves.”

As a Catholic chaplain at Riker’s Island Correctional Facility for 20 years, Sister Marion Defeis has seen an endless parade of dazed young women facing major time — often for having been duped by a boyfriend into carrying a package through customs. After watching this meat-grinder in action, she could see that the outside world was as violent and drug riddled as ever — nothing had changed. Today she is an outspoken advocate for reform.

She and other community leaders are alarmed by the open warfare between youth and law enforcement. “My father was a New York City policeman,” Sister Marion said, “and the police, many years ago, were the people we went to if we were in trouble. And unfortunately, we see that’s not the case today.”

The Rev. Eddie Lopez , a United Methodist pastor, who works with young people in the Bronx, said: “It’s amazing when you get youth groups together, whether it’s in our churches or our communities, and how they talk about police abusing them and stopping them and frisking them. We know we have a drug problem but war is definitely not the answer. We need to find the moral, just, and effective way to solve this problem, and I think that lies outside the criminal justice system.”

The Rev. Earl Kooperkamp, who hosted the gathering at the church in Harlem, is white, but he’s familiar with the inequality of drug war punishment.

As Sister Marion put it: “The word on the street is, if you’re white and you’re famous you go to rehab. If you’re poor, you’re black, you’re Hispanic, you go to jail.”

For these spiritual leaders, that is a central issue. They believe we have infected our society with a deadly virus called “disrespect for the law.”

The positive lesson kids should be learning — crime does not pay — is false. Crime pays very well and everybody knows it. On the street you can’t conceal the fact that the guy with the babes, the bling, and the bundle of cash is the dealer.

Charles Thomas, head of the Interfaith Drug Policy Initiative in Washington, sees a groundswell for reform with more than 750 clergy working to help change laws in Congress and in their states. He noted that the United Methodist Church has taken an official position opposing criminal penalties for drug use.

Former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper, a spokesman for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, calls the drug war, “arguably the single most devastating, dysfunctional, harmful social policy since slavery.”

What these people of faith and public servants have in common is a vision of the future in which drug addiction is seen as a medical problem to be treated by doctors instead of cops.

The Rev. Edwin Sanders, senior pastor at Nashville’s Metropolitan Interdenominational Church, said the world would be totally different if that adversarial relationship did not exist between law enforcement and young people. He looks forward to a time when our inner cities are no longer occupied military zones, addicts have access to treatment and drug dealers can’t make a nickel. “I think of the term peace officer,” he said.

Mike Gray lives in Los Angeles and is chairman of the Common Sense for Drug Policy.

Source.

June 19th, 2009 – The Massachusetts Bar Association, in a wide-ranging report released yesterday, called for the overhaul and war-on-drugsreexamination of law enforcement efforts to combat drug use and the penalties nonviolent drug users face under current laws.

The report, titled “The Failure of the War on Drugs: Charting a New Course for the Commonwealth,’’ says its recommendations could save the state $25 million annually through reduced minimum sentencing and the parole of nonviolent drug offenders, according to a statement from the bar association.

The report calls drug policies obsolete. “What appears to the task force as obsolete in state drug policy is the idea of using the criminal justice system to control what people consume,’’ it says.

The report points to four areas of widespread failure: the increase of arrests without the diminished use of illegal drugs, a disparate impact of drug laws on minority groups, economic effects for offenders looking for work with a criminal record, and high rates of recidivism.

In the short term, the report calls for reformulation of mandatory minimum sentences linked to drug crimes in school zones, diversion programs for nonviolent offenders with drug addiction, and more opportunities for work-release, parole, and “good conduct’’ credit.

Long-term goals include increasing addiction treatment programs, the reformulation of educational programs, and a better utilization of parole programs.

The task force was created in 2007 to study Massachusetts sentencing mandates and incarceration policies concerning drug addiction and related crimes committed by drug offenders. The task force was composed of 33 area lawyers, law enforcement officials, members of the judiciary, mental health professionals, physicians, social workers, and public policy advocates.

Suffolk County Sheriff Andrea J. Cabral, a task force member, said in the bar association statement that the costs of dealing with the 2,500 inmates and pre-trial detainees in custody are unsustainable.

“Sheriffs have made great progress in creating programs that increase post-release opportunities and reduce recidivism, but we need much broader authority to properly classify eligible inmates to those programs,’’ Cabral said.

June 19th, 2009 – In 2001, the Portugese government decriminalised recreational drugs including heroin and cocaine in an attempt to reduce the number of hard drug users in the country. Eight years Picture 37later, Claudia Hammond visited Lisbon to see whether the change in the law had been effective.

View of Lisbon city centre from city center from Sao Jorge Castle
Lisbon was the European City of Culture in 1994

The first time I visited Lisbon was for a weekend break in 2001.

I was expecting to spend the weekend seeing the sights, taking trams and wandering the old streets looking at the blue and white tiles covering the buildings.

Picture 38But unintentionally, I came face to face with the consequences of the rising rates of drug use.

One evening I was looking for a particular bar and seeing a sign in a broad, covered alleyway went to have a look. It was not the bar and as I turned a man blocked my exit and began backing me down the alleyway.

I screamed and screamed but no-one came. He reached for my bag and for a while we wrestled with it.Picture 39

Then looking into his eyes, I saw that he was high on drugs and decided to let go.

Later the police were helpful and drove me round the streets, looking for him in bars.

The first thing muggers on drugs did, they told me wearily, was to go to a bar to sell your camera for cash, so that they could buy some more drugs.

Picture 40Although I did not know it at the time, the Portuguese government already had its own plans to address the drug problem and the crime associated with it.

Not long afterwards they decriminalised every drug – cocaine, ecstasy, even heroin – all decriminalised.

They are still illegal, but a person caught with less than 10 days’ supply is not considered a criminal, but a patient. Instead they appear before a Dissuasion Commission.

Open discussions

I was intrigued to see what this commission, which is so upfront about its aims, looks like.
A map of Portugal showing the capital Lisbon

In a concrete office block, I was shown into a room containing everyday office furniture.

In came a social worker and a psychologist dressed in jeans and shirts.

The whole idea is that even though the commission has the power to sentence someone to community service or even confiscate their driving licence, it looks and feels nothing like a court.

The panel assesses each person and decides whether they would benefit from going to a treatment centre.

The idea is to bring the subject of drugs into the open and that certainly seemed to be the case.

The first teenager they saw was happy to be interviewed on tape and to appear on the BBC using his own name.

He was super-confident and had hair shaved at the side with a tiny plait at the back.

He told me how he had been caught by the police smoking cannabis with his friends and more of the drug was found in his schoolbag.

Fears that Portugal would become a haven for drug tourists have not come true and the number of deaths from drugs has decreased

Because this was the second time he had been caught, he was sentenced to community service, which he thought was perfectly fair.

What had changed was that after talking to the Dissuasion Commission he was planning to cut down on his drug use.

But he told me quite openly in front of the panel that there was no way he had given up taking drugs completely.

Seeking help

The new system does mean that highly trained staff are spending 60% of their time dealing with people for cannabis possession, but if this means they can get to the people with drug addictions, then they believe it is worth it.
Heroin
Before decriminalisation Portugal had 100,000 hard drug users in 2001

Previously people were so afraid of being arrested that they would not come forward for help.

One doctor told me patients would even ask him to unplug his intercom to his secretary for fear that someone might listen in on the consultation.

And the results? Fears that Portugal would become a haven for drug tourists have not come true and the number of deaths from drugs has decreased.

The secretary of state for health told me it has been a great success, with police figures suggesting that the use of every drug has either gone down or remained stable, apart from cocaine which has recently become fashionable.

In Portugal just 8.2% of people have tried cannabis at least once, compared with 42% in the U.S. But some argue that not enough figures are available to get the whole picture.

The most extraordinary thing for me was that wandering outside office blocks at lunchtime asking smokers on doorsteps what they thought about the drug policy, I could not find a single person who knew that all drugs had been decriminalised.

Feeling safe

During my time in Lisbon I had not been intending to return to the alleyway where I was mugged, but walking along a street to an interview I saw a sign for a clothes shop.

Not wanting to miss a brief shopping opportunity I turned down the drive before realising exactly where I was.

But the seedy dark alleyway was now sunshine-filled with a pretty boutique on the left and a view over the red roofs of Lisbon on the right.

I cannot pretend that the clean-up of the old city is all down to the decriminalisation of drugs. Dealing is after all still done by criminal gangs.

But for me, that street at least is not a place to be afraid of any more.

Source.

Op-ed Letter in New York Times Today
June 18th, 2009 – WASHINGTON – Former White House Drug Policy links_clip_image022Spokesman Robert Weiner is attacking the arguments of the most recent drug legalization advocates: “They invite a catastrophe of greater drug use, car crashes, school and work dropouts, hospital emergency room cases, and crime including domestic violence and date rape.”

Weiner, the spokesman for the White House National Drug Policy Office from 1995 to 2001, states in an op-ed letter today in the New York Times:

“Legalization would be a catastrophe. (Some) use the analogy of legal alcohol. But we have an estimated 15 million alcoholics in this country and 5 million drug addicts; do we want the 5 to become 15?

“Parents, police and the American people know that taking away the incentive of the normative power of the law would increase drug use and related car crashes, school dropouts and work absences. That is why the law has remained in place.

“Hospital emergency rooms would be flooded, and crime would return to the crisis levels of the 1970s and ’80s, when drug use was at its highest. Domestic violence and date rape would be substantially higher. The majority of arrestees in 10 major American cities recently tested positive for illegal drugs, a remarkable indicator of a link between drugs and crime.

“I disagree with those who assert that drugs have ‘won the war.’ With a comprehensive anti-drug strategy in place, involving foreign policy, enforcement, education, treatment, prevention and media, America’s overall drug use has declined almost by half in the past three decades — from 14.1 percent of the population in 1979 to 8.3 percent now — who used drugs in the past month. In addition, cocaine use, including crack — the source of much of the former record-high violent crime numbers — is down 70 percent. Want to go back?

“The new director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, R. Gil Kerlikowske, and another recent drug czar, Gen. Barry McCaffrey, are both correct that we must remove the phrase ‘war on drugs’ and fight drugs like a cancer, which can be managed and treated.”

Source.

Highlights:
*No plans to legalize marijuana
*Substance abuse treatment to get more funds
*May lift federal ban on needle exchange programs

June 5th, 2009 – WASHINGTON – The Obama administration’s top drug cop plans to spend more money on treating addiction and scale down the “war on drugs” rhetoric as part of an overhaul of U.S. counternarcotics strategy.

Drug CzarBut don’t expect the White House to consider legalizing marijuana, drug czar Gil Kerlikowske said on Friday.

“The discussion about legalization is not a part of the president’s vocabulary under any circumstances and it’s not a part of mine,” Kerlikowske said in a telephone interview.

As head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, Kerlikowske coordinates the efforts of 32 government agencies to limit illicit drug use.

He has been in office less than a month, but the Obama administration has already taken a less confrontational approach to the nation’s 35 million illegal drug users.

The FBI is no longer raiding state-approved facilities that distribute marijuana for medical purposes, and the White House has told Congress to eliminate the sentencing disparity between powder and crack cocaine.

Kerlikowske said he hopes to ditch the chest-thumping military rhetoric at the center of U.S. policy since President Nixon first declared a “war on drugs” 40 years ago.

“We should stop using the metaphor about the war on drugs,” said Kerlikowske, a career police officer who headed the Justice Department’s community-policing initiative under President Clinton. “People look at it as a war on them, and frankly we’re not at war with the people of this country.”

Nevertheless, Kerlikowske also plans to disrupt trafficking across the Mexican border through a new focus on the guns and cash that travel south, as well as the drugs coming north.

U.S. drug policy has been criticized for focusing too much on fighting supplies from Colombia and other countries in South America and not enough on curbing demand at home, the world’s largest drug market.

BALANCING THE APPROACH

Kerlikowske said a more balanced approach was needed, with greater emphasis on treatment programs, especially in prisons.

“It’s clear that if they go to prison and they have a drug problem and you don’t treat it and they return … to the same neighborhood from whence they came that you are going to have the same problem,” he said. “Quite frankly people in neighborhoods, police officers, et cetera, are tired of recycling the problem. Let’s try and fix it.”

Obama, who described youthful marijuana and cocaine use in his autobiography, has proposed a budget for the fiscal year starting in October that boosts funding for substance abuse programs by 4 percent to $3.6 billion.

Needle exchanges for intravenous drug users, now banned at the federal level, will be considered a healthcare issue, he said.

As Seattle police chief, Kerlikowske worked in a city that ran a needle-exchange program, celebrates an annual “Hempfest” that draws tens of thousands of marijuana smokers, and passed a referendum that made enforcing marijuana laws the department’s lowest priority.

Other state and local governments have loosened their marijuana laws as well. Medical marijuana is now legal in 13 states, and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger last month welcomed a public debate about proposals to legalize and tax the drug.

While that’s not going to happen on the federal level, Kerlikowske suggested the government should devote less effort to prosecuting nonviolent drug users.

“We have finite resources,” he said. “We need to devote those finite resources toward those people who are the most dangerous to the community.”

By Andy Sullivan. Source.

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