November 27, 2009 – Europe has yet to come up with a unified approach to medical marijuana. The Dutch will tell you it is legal to use the drug to treat certain illnesses; while the Swedish don’t recognize any medical use for cannabis at all.

“European policy is not really changing at all and I don’t think this issue is even on the European agenda. The topic is too controversial and too political,” said Catherine Sandvos, a legal expert for the Hague-based Cannabis Bureau, a Dutch national agency aimed at providing high-quality cannabis for medical purposes.

Ms. Sandvos’s native Netherlands has led Europe when it comes to legalizing medical marijuana, which it treats separately from marijuana legally available at one of Amsterdam’s famous coffee shops. The Dutch police stopped enforcing laws against marijuana in 1976 following an overall tolerance policy in the country. “It’s hard when you try to explain to outsiders that it is illegal to grow cannabis in the Netherlands, but that it is tolerated to buy it,” she says.

But those who buy the drug on the streets are not getting the quality severely ill patients would need. The Dutch government set up the Cannabis Bureau — the only institution of its kind in the continent — in September 2003.

“The state realized that so many people wanted to use cannabis, so it said ‘why not give it to them via prescription instead of them accessing the drug illegally,’ ” Ms. Sandvos added.

The Cannabis Bureau ensures that patients who have a prescription from a doctor are getting marijuana that has been tested to make sure it doesn’t contain any pesticides or bacteria. Not only does the Cannabis Bureau sell cannabis across all pharmacies in the Netherlands through a prescription, but it also distributes the drug to Italy, Finland and Germany through the Ministry of Health of each country. According to the agency’s data, it sells around 100 kilos of cannabis every year.

The situation couldn’t be more different in the U.K., where it is unlawful to self-medicate cannabis regardless of the disease people suffer from. In 2005, Barry Quayle and Reay Wales, who were both afflicted by serious and chronic conditions, found no relief in prescription drugs and turned to cannabis to alleviate their pain. But a U.K. court ruled against them.

“The whole debate in relation to the use of cannabis for medical purposes is highly politicized,” said Daniel Godden, an associate solicitor for Hodge Jones & Allen LLP in London. Those who say marijuana is relatively safe can face severe political consequences. Last month, Professor David Nutt, the British government’s chief drug adviser, was removed from his post after he said the drug was less harmful than alcohol.

Favorable views toward cannabis face opposition from some local politicians and international lobbying groups. Jorgen Sviden, director of Stockholm-based European Cities Against Drugs, which represents 261 cities in 30 countries, isn’t convinced of the drug’s medical qualities.

“In principle, we don’t have an argument against cannabis as a treatment, but we haven’t seen any scientific evidence that provides a convincing argument for its medical use,” he said. “If in the future we come across proof that cannabis is a good treatment, then this is good.”

Some initiatives have managed to stay away from the political debate, however. The U.K. happens to be home to GW Pharmaceuticals PLC, which manufactures a drug based on marijuana extract — Sativex. Although it has some ingredients that derived from the actual drug, it has been treated by the U.K.’s regulators as a medicine like any other as it doesn’t contain the psychotropic substances marijuana does. The company is preparing to launch the drug into other parts of Europe, in partnership with Germany’s Bayer AG and Spain’s Almirall SA.

GW is hoping to sell its product, which will treat the symptoms of multiple sclerosis, across all countries in Europe but has initially filed for a license in the U.K. and Spain so far. Paul Cuddon, an analyst with KBC Peel Hunt in London, says he expects the drug to win approval in both countries in the first half of 2010 and then the firm will file for individual approval in each country.

“I’m not anticipating any legal problems in the rest of Europe at all,” Mr. Cuddon added. “This is a treatment that is highly different from raw cannabis and it has undergone rigorous chemical trials.”

Other countries have tough stances, however. Ireland, for example, doesn’t recognize marijuana as a drug with medical benefits. This means that manufacturing, producing, selling or possessing cannabis is unlawful for any purpose. The Ministry of Health is the only government branch that can grant an exception, but a spokesman said it never has.

Noel McCullagh, 34, has learned this the hard way. An Irish citizen, Mr. McCullagh lives in the Netherlands, where he uses cannabis medication to treat the severe effects of his muscular dystrophy. However, Irish authorities have warned him that he will be arrested if he enters his native country in possession if cannabis-based treatment.

In Sweden, the law doesn’t recognize the cannabis to have any medical use.

Beyond the debate of marijuana’s use, Dr. Willem Scholten, of the World Health Organization, believes patients should have access to high-quality medicine. So if cannabis has medical attributions, “there needs to be a system in place to ensure that patients get their medicine without any contamination and that they get the same content every time.”

Despite the radically different approaches in Europe, some believe the continent will eventually adopt it as a medical treatment.

“I can imagine European citizens will eventually think cannabis is a good medicine and that it should be accessible to people who suffer from serious pain as a result of HIV, multiple sclerosis or other grave illnesses,” said Brendan Hughes, senior legal analyst of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction in Lisbon. By JAVIER ESPINOZA. Source.

August 25, 2009 – Last week, Mexico passed a new law decriminalizing simple possession of marijuana and other drugs. Perhaps our neighbor to the south will now consider the possibility of full legalization5088-LREM_round_sticker_green2post (regulating marijuana like alcohol, as opposed to simply removing penalties for possession). A number of people in Mexico are calling for a debate, with former President Vicente Fox as one of the most prominent voices in that chorus. However, others are wondering if legalization in Mexico would make a difference. The answer, as I see it, is unfortunately no.

The World Health Organization’s 2008 report on drug use found that more Americans use marijuana than people in any of the other 16 countries studied (which included Mexico). The report, along with many other sources, concludes that America is the largest illicit drug market in the world. The cartels in Mexico cater almost exclusively to customers in the U.S., pulling in huge profits every year (70% of which are from marijuana sales). If Mexico were to legalize marijuana, the cartels’ business would continue as usual. They would still smuggle marijuana into the U.S. and continue to profit from doing so.

No, the answer to the cartel problem does not lie in Mexico; it lies here in the U.S.

The U.S. alone has the power to wipe out the cartels, and it can do so with a simple change in policy. Were we to abolish marijuana prohibition and replace it with a system of taxation and regulation based on alcohol laws, a new, legal marijuana industry would put the criminal competition out of business overnight. We did it once before. In the 1930s, following our failed experiment with alcohol prohibition, the fledgling alcohol industry took over, producing a safer product and putting money into the economy rather than taking it out. And it happened without the moral degradation prohibitionists predicted.

This is precisely why the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy released a report in January calling on the U.S. to change its marijuana laws. Drug producing countries in Latin America have first-hand experience with the devastating effects of America’s war on drugs. The violence and organized crime feeding the U.S. market have been rooted there for decades, with disastrous results. The U.S., on the other hand, has never faced these realities on its own soil – not to the same scale and severity as our neighbors in Mexico or those who lived through the reign of Pablo Escobar in Columbia.

But that is beginning to change. Violence in Mexico is spilling over into Texas, Arizona, and southern California. The cartels now operate in 230 American cities – think about what that means. 230 means more than New York, Los Angeles, and other large metropolitan areas, it means Bismark, N.D., Wichita, Kan., and even Kalamazoo, Mich., small towns where Americans are feeling the impact of bad drug policy. More directly, it means that the U.S. government can no longer ignore the failures of its war on marijuana.

The sensible solution is right in front of us. We just need the political will to see it through.

If you’d like to help make a change, write your member of Congress and ask him or her to support marijuana policy reform. More information on how to do so can be found at mpp.org/federal-action.
by Ben Morris. 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.