Friday, September 25, 2009

Speech of Colombia President Uribe at the UN General Assembly

Colombia's President Alvaro Uribe spoke at the UN General Assembly this week. He lauded the success of the Colombian state in creating more peace and security.

But his attack on the concept of legalization of drugs was understood to be the heart of his speech.

We believe that instead of advocating for the legalization of drugs, we must
reflect on the need to make consumption illegal. There is no coherence
between the severity facing production and trafficking and the permissiveness
of consumption. This has lead to murderous micro-trafficking in cities, to
encouraging consumption by adolescents and youth and to involving children
in the criminal enterprise. We are advancing in the constitutional process to
make consumption illegal, making sure not to confuse the sick addict with the
criminal distributor.

Colombia's Supreme Court recently affirmed an old decision of the Constitutional Court that the use of drugs was permitted under the Colombian Constitution.

President Uribe's government is trying to amend the Constitution to change this. Uribe successfully amended the Constitution to permit him to run for a second term, which will conclude soon. He is now trying to amend the Constitution to permit him to serve a third successive term. President Obama recently hinted to President Uribe that two terms were enough for George Washington.

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Tuesday, September 08, 2009

In El Paso, they will be thinking seriously about drug policy

Melissa del Bosque of The Texas Observer, blogging at La Linea, reports on the drug situation and the now infamous resolution of the El Paso City Council seeking “honest open national debate on ending the prohibition on narcotics.” I called the ten words of the city council resolution "legislative scatology" last winter.

She notes the University of Texas at El Paso is holding a conference Sept. 21-22, 2009 on the drug situation. It also got a mention in The Guardian in the United Kingdom recently.

The extremely articulate Terry Nelson from LEAP will be on the first panel!

The UTEP SSDP chapter describes its activities here and here. Chapter president, Vanessa Romero, will introduce one of the best critics of the "war on drugs," California Superior Court Judge Jim Gray, the luncheon speaker!

Monday evening's keynote address, featuring Dr. Sergio Fajardo, former Mayor of Medellin, Colombia, will be in Ciudad Juarez.

On Tuesday:

Three of the most accomplished scholars of the drug phenomenon, Dr. David Courtwright, Dr. Craig Reinarman, and Dr. Michael Agar will speak.

Dr. Westley Clark, the Director of the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment of SAMSHA.

The Federal government's "border czar" Alan Bersin, Dr. William Martin, and Dr. Ethan Nadelmann, Executive Director, the Drug Policy Alliance will be on a concluding panel.
There are other numerous other speakers I regret that I am not familiar with, and who are not identified in the conference on-line program.

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Friday, September 04, 2009

Hey, Sierra Club!!

In Cambodia, forests are being destroyed to obtain the ingredients to make MDMA (ecstasy). This is the result of drug prohibition.

Again, if you love Mother Earth, you need to add ending drug prohibition to your to do list.

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Thursday, September 03, 2009


There is a terrific new book about marijuana on the market, Marijuana is SAFER: So why are we driving people to drink?.

The book is wonderfully written in easy-to-read, breezy style, yet it is full of facts and very carefully documented. Steve Fox at MPP, Paul Armentano at NORML, and Mason Tvert at SAFER have done an outstanding job. It is a useful tool for families to have useful discussions about drug use.

If you are a marijuana smoker and getting hassled by someone for that fact, this book is a great tool to help put your marijuana use in context.

If you are a drug policy reform activist, this book should be read and regularly referred to. The only quibble I have with the authors is that in encouraging students to become active on their campus -- a key audience of the book -- they did not mention Students for Sensible Drug Policy. I hope that this oversight does not discourage SSDP chapters from adopting this book as a universally referred-to text.

The book has a strong foreword by Norm Stamper, the former Chief of Police in Seattle, Washington, now a prominent spokesperson for LEAP.

This is a book that I will be giving to family and friends!

Order it now on and save more than 1/3 off the cover price!

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Hey, Sierra Club!

America's national forests are increasingly being damaged because of illegal marijuana cultivation, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal.

The Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, the National Wildlife Federation, the League of Conservation Voters, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Environmental Defense Fund, Greenpeace, and the many other groups devoted to protecting the wild need to make repeal of drug prohibition part of their conservation agenda!

Prohibition doesn't work, and it does not work to protect the forests! In the summer of 1986 I helped U.S. Representative Harley Staggers, Jr. write the "National Forest System Drug Control Act of 1986," Title XV of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, P.L. 99-570, sections 15001 to 15007. Those provisions directed the Secretary of Agriculture "to take actions necessary, in conjunction with the administration and use of the National Forest System, to prevent the manufacture, distribution, or dispensing of marijuana and other controlled substances." (P.L. 99-570, section 15002).

Obviously these laws and the additional resources and new crimes have done little to protect the forests as drug prohibition has raised the value of the cannabis crop and enforcement activities made the forest more attractive refuges for these crimes.

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Is heroin consumption like other kinds of consumption?

The critique of the drug war of LEAP speaker, Major Stanford O. ("Neill") Franklin of the Maryland Transit Administration, a career cop, was highlighted in Esquire magazine. Franklin recently co-authored a very cogent piece on the op-ed page of The Washington Post with former Baltimore cop, Peter Moskos, about the price of prohibition in the deaths of cops.

The Esquire writer uses Franklin's estimates about the fraction of drug-related or drug prohibition-related homicides, and the number of drug overdoses from heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine, to estimate that 15,233 Americans were killed as a result of the drug war in an unspecified year. The precision is absurd. But as suggestion of the scale -- on the order of 10,000 deaths annually from drug violence and overdoses -- it is definitely "in the ballpark". Would those deaths "go away" if drugs were legalized? Maybe -- but doesn't it depend on what legalization means in practice?

My friend Mark Kleiman uses the Esquire story renew his attack upon drug legalizers for making up facts, and for having "stupid" proposals that do not pass his "giggle" test.

Having a degree in economics and being a professor, and the founder of the blog, The Reality-Based Community, he tells us about the real world of drug consumption:

In the real world, drug consumption responds to price, and the consumption of heavy users is more responsive than the consumption of casual users, because heavy users spend a bigger fraction of their income on drugs. In the real world, prohibition increases price. Therefore, an end to prohibition would decrease price, and therefore increase consumption, especially heavy consumption. In the real world, alcohol and cocaine (like any depressant-stimulant pair) are economic complements: using more of one leads to using more of the other, and therefore a price drop for one leads to a consumption increase for the other. The legalizer rant consists mostly of ignoring those simple realities.

Many of the arguments in favor of legalization are often incomplete. They are often catch-phrases picked up by a reporter, or squeezed out, soundbite-style, on a broadcast argument couched as a "debate." A key feature of the legalization argument is making the important point that the status quo is not working, and must be replaced. The details of a replacement are rarely analyzed for the purpose of improving the likely outcome of the replacement -- they are usually avoided.

Looking at such presentations for the meat of a regulatory scheme can leave an impatient analyst barking from hunger, and despising the empty calories of such offerings. Certainly Esquire's article is not making a detailed description of what necessarily must be complex regimes of control. Most speakers don't have that opportunity either.

In his defense, Major Franklin told Esquire that we need a system of regulation and, "You can't sell it [the drugs] to just anybody, and you still go to jail if you sell it to the wrong people." What else he said, by way of explanation, may have been omitted, or was deemed unnecessary for the point of the article.

In commenting about heroin sales and price, to simply assert that consumption responds to price, I think omits a key point regarding initiation of use. Currently most new users are initiated into heroin use by another user. Guys encourage their buddies to share the thrill. Boyfriends encourage their lovers to share the pleasure of the high. Without being encouraged to try heroin by a peer, few persons who have never used heroin ever go down the open air drug market and simply ask around for some heroin to buy to shoot up.

As we try to design a legal heroin distribution regime that cuts out most of the criminal market, can it be designed to discourage new users?

Once one is a habituated heroin user, finding a reliable source becomes very important. Such sources are frequently found in networks of users. Yes, the price of heroin has been a factor in an individual addict's consumption, recognizing the uncontrolled nature of the criminal heroin market and the barriers to obtaining treatment outside the criminal justice system. But price is a much smaller factor in initiation, I believe.

My current thinking about heroin legalization is that the government would make heroin available only to addicts. The price may not be so high in dollars, but would be high in potential loss of privacy, and high in the loss of deviant status and outlaw cred. (Such a price may be too high to attract addicts to a legal regime.) If heroin addicts enroll in the government distribution program, it would eliminate most of the illegal heroin market because addicts consume the overwhelming majority of all of the heroin that is sold. The heroin would be dispensed in pre-measured syringes, each with a serial number that is registered to the addict. Addicts will be assured of their supply. Can addicts be provided with varying supplies so that on some days they get enough to avoid getting sick and on other days they can get enough to "get off" on? What can be done to assure that the addicts sticks with the legal regime and does not stray to the criminal regime to get more heroin to "get off" on?

On August 20, 2009, The New England Journal of Medicine reported [try your university library] on the NAOMI project in Vancouver and Montreal which made heroin available for injection to 115 intractable addicts twice a day from 2005 to 2008 at a site where it had to be used. On the European Addiction Severity Index, the experimental population showed improvement, especially in comparison with the "control" population of addicts who received oral methadone. Notably, at some point, 16 of the 115 patients suffered a life-threatening overdose or seizure. Because the drug was used at a supervised site, prompt treatment was applied and all 16 recovered. The NAOMI study authors recommend against unsupervised use.

One key condition of my vision of a legal heroin regime is that the addicts must not be allowed to share their supply with anyone. Perhaps the least troubling approach would be the inconvenient requirement that the injection be done at the place of distribution. To what extent would such an inconvenience lead to a market opportunity for the criminal market to fill?

A more convenient regime would permit syringes to be taken home, but the health risks go up. The syringes would be required to be returned and would be periodically inspected. If there were DNA evidence of the blood of another, the addict would be punished in various ways, but not in a way that would drive him out of the legal system of supply.

Can we reduce the initiation of new users in such an approach? Perhaps. Can we dramatically shrink the size of the criminal market? Most likely? Will this system work perfectly? Of course not! Will there need to be some enforcement of the regulatory system? Sure. Is there a perfect system? Of course not!

Our challenge is to find a better system that meets and balances a variety of needs:
* defunding terrorists and organized crime,
* preventing street crime to get the money to buy drugs,
* keeping addicts out of the criminal justice system,
* getting more order into neighborhoods,
* helping to keep families together,
* reducing deaths and overdoses,
* reducing the initiation of new users,
* does not promote use.

Whatever approach is suggested is likely to have features that "reality-based" critics like Mark will find uproariously flawed.

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