Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Jury stages revolt in marihuana case

So many potential jurors in a cannabis case in Missoula County Idaho refused to serve that the trial failed, according to reports.

A man was charged with possessing about 2 grams after neighbours dobbed him in for 'dealing'.

"District Judge Dusty Deschamps took a quick poll as to who might agree. Of the 27 potential jurors before him, maybe five raised their hands. A couple of others had already been excused because of their philosophical objections," says The Missoulian newspaper.

"Is it fair, Deschamps wondered, in such cases to insist upon impaneling a jury of “hardliners” who object to all drug use, including marijuana?

“I think that poses a real challenge in proceeding,” he said. “Are we really seating a jury of their peers if we just leave people on who are militant on the subject?”

Interesting times indeed. Just how long can democracies continue to prosecute something that so much of the population does not agree is a crime?

It would be wonderful to see such healthy scofflaw attitudes burgeoning in Australia. Don't hold your breath.

The charged man was separately convicted on a stealing-related charge. I'm not saying he was a saint. The point is, prohibition is absurd and more people are realising it.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Letter of the week: Clover Moore = Alan Jones?

The widening cultural gap between regulators and the rest of us was beautifully expressed in a Sydney Morning Herald letter today. The sad thing is, the Law and Order class will never understand.
The zombie-like security process at the Jack Johnson concert occurs often enough, but rarely on this delicious scale. That is, the middle-aged leisure classes who bray for ''law and order'' and curbs on those outside their own lifestyle are finally subjected to their own rules. To sinfully paraphrase William Makepeace Thackeray: it is one thing to hoot in agreement with Alan Jones and Clover Moore from a snug armchair at home. It is another to experience the reality first-hand.

William Cattell Sydney
What's most interesting is the comparison of Clover Moore and Alan Jones, who are usually cast as mortal enemies. But they share this in common: Raising a moral panic and then demanding heavy-handed regulation to solve the 'problem'.

Yesterday the state government revoked Clover's Late Night Trading Development Control Plan, a surprise move that has Clover spitting chips, accusing the government of caving in to the AHA and the alcohol industry. While this may be true, I'm cheering because it's a great outcome for youth culture, youth employment and my right to live in a global city with a 24-hour entertainment precinct.

And after Clover used her casting vote "with great pleasure" to order the demolition of the caretaker's cottage and ending Rory Miles' hopes of continuing to run the adjacent Rushcutters Bay Tennis courts, I am truly over Clover. Rarely have I seen such a ruthless trampling of clear community desires.

The action casts Clover as an old, out-of-touch dictator rather than the resident-friendly progressive pollie she likes to portray. She has destroyed a community for the sake of her old-maidish Tidy Towns obsession. As one older man said from the gallery at the Council meeting after her vote: "Shame, Clover - you're a disgrace to Australia".

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Defining addiction

The term 'cannabis addiction' is now bandied about as if it is an established fact. It seems that the addiction industry has redefined the term to suit, as discussed in a Time article.

Having known people who used many types of drugs, I always agreed that cannabis could be psychologically addictive -- but then, so can golf, good chardonnay or even blogging.

Compared to the "shaking, puking heroin junkie who can't quit because the withdrawal sickness is impossible to bear", giving up cannabis is a breeze as far as I have observed -- people just do it naturally when their life changes or they reach a certain age (As I have previously described in 'Confessions of a cannabis addict').

But the addiction industry argues that mental addiction is harder to break than the physical, and it is well known that junkies or tobacco smokers who give up find it difficult to fill the social vacuum left in their lives.

So if both kinds of addiction are simply addiction, and therefore treated similarly under the law or in medicine, isn't someone having a lend of themselves? Is weaning a serious injecting drug user off their habit the same as advising a newly pregnant woman to stop smoking pot while they are pregnant, or a final year student to give up while studying for their final exam?

As the Time article says, you can die from alcohol withdrawal but not from cannabis withdrawal. The seriousness of an addiction must be considered in relation to the harm caused. One woman became addicted to carrots, for instance.

And given that cannabis is the least harmful of drugs, legal or not, (notwithstanding the moral panic generated by the anti-cannabis industry), all this po-faced concern about cannabis addiction needs to be taken with a grain of salt.

But the biggest injustice is that nicotine addicts are treated as having a health problem and help is provided to wean them, which along with other measures results in steadily declining rates of use. But cannabis 'addicts' are punished by law. Why? Who would tolerate a government that punished smokers, drinkers (or golfers) with fines and jail? Interesting.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Top cop living in the dark ages

It seems Victorian Deputy Police Commissioner Sir Ken Jones was misquoted in the press and did NOT advocate drug law reform as per a previous post.

It seems, rather, that this university-educated cop is a died-in-the-wool prohibitionist willing to make entirely unsupported statements about law and drugs that do not stand up to even the most cursory analysis.

Blogger Terry Wright nailed it in his Heroin Diaries, quoting Sir Ken who said:
I think you have to look at it (drug courts), case by case because people who are absolutely addicted beyond help, they should and will be punished but they also need treatment and help as well.
-- Deputy Police Commissioner Sir Ken Jones
Terry comments:
This is breathtaking. “… people who are absolutely addicted beyond help, they should and will be punished …”. Is Sir Ken really suggesting that addiction itself is a crime and should be punished? It’s this mindset, where addiction is not considered a medical condition but a law & order issue, that is so repugnant. I can’t help but feel repulsed at this attitude. Can anyone imagine someone in his position calling for alcoholics or cigarette smokers to be “punished” because they are addicted?

This type of obdurate behaviour as seen in many anti-drug zealots, will often involve mass exaggeration and a reliance on popular myths. Assumptions like all drug use will lead to addiction or the debunked ‘Gateway Theory’ should have ceased years ago but reliable research seems to have no place in the drug debate when Sir Ken and co. have their say.
It's worth having a read of Terry's detailed post in which he critiques this top cop's beliefs. The sad thing is, the new Liberal government in Victoria ran the usual law-and-order campaign and Commissioner Jones' erroneous views will probably be inflicted more harshly on the people of Victoria.

Strategies to end the War on Drugs

An interesting post on the ACDA's Drugtalk email list broached questions about the best strategy to change public perceptions about drugs, and eventually to move beyond prohibition:

I think it’s time we admitted that using reasoning from facts is not a very good advocacy tool. So how should we advocate for better drug policy?

I put the question to a panel at a public screening of films organised by Harm Reduction Victoria. The best answer… said we need to focus on people’s compassion – illustrate the harm of current policies with stories to highlight the personal side.

That sounds like a good overarching strategy – what do people think?

I agree that the compassion approach has its place, but it will fall on many deaf ears while a number of false beliefs spread by prohibitionists remain current.

Uninformed people continue to believe  that:
  • drug dealing = murder
  • there is no safe level of use of illicit drugs
  • today's cannabis is a different and more dangerous substance than the low potency weed baby boomers smoked in the 1970s
  • regulated legal supply would lead to an explosion of drug use
  • prohibition reduces drug use and reduces harms
  • drug users commit serious crime to a greater degree than straight people.
It's all very well inviting compassion but that is easily trumped by thoughts such as "but it's for their own good" or “they should have thought of that before they committed the crime".

I like the LEAP billboard that said something like "Drugs are harmful but the War on Drugs is worse"

While I disagree with the unqualified  "drugs are harmful" statement on its own -- clearly many accepted legal activities are more risky -- it harnesses a popular mindset so the main message can penetrate.

As for getting a more truthful multipronged message out (including a realistic assessment of the harms of drugs, as per David Nutt's recent work), I know how to do it but it would be a fulltime job. Budget: around $150,000 a year, maybe $200,000, with the possibility of becoming self-funding over time.

"Using reasoning from facts" is the best policy, but the message has to be polished, sloganised and constantly promoted both directly and through the press -- a 'War on Spin".

I'm looking for another job at the moment. Any rich benefactors out there?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Nick Cowdery repeats call to end War on Drugs

On the same day that Tony Abbott is in the news suggesting that judges be elected (rather than appointed) to enable ever-tougher sentencing, Director of Public prosecutions Nick Cowdery has criticised existing 'get tough on law and order' policies as being too responsive to the 'ranting' of the tabloid media,"  as reported in The Australian.

This divide of conservative and progressive thought occurs against an underlying trend of overall crime actually reducing according to crime statisticians.
Mr Cowdery said the current approach to illicit drugs was "ineffective, wasteful and inconsiderate of the human rights of those concerned".

"I would decriminalise drug possession and use and small-scale trafficking," he said.

Mr Cowdery believes the only area of drug use that should remain a crime should be large-scale commercial enterprises.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Do I look good in the battle at El Alamein?

Mr Gormly ... "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Photo: Helen Nezdropa
Photographers generally hate being photographed -- you know how the picture never matches your self-image.

So it's weird seeing my picture in today's Sydney Morning Herald, in a story about our local campaign against the demolition and redevelopment of Fitzroy Gardens .

Forget the issues -- I look like a sad, sagging old bloke instead of the fit, statuesque Adonis I feel myself to be.

But the story's not bad for a brief summary. Council justifies their intention to remove over 5,000 convict bricks by saying they "appear to have been imported from elsewhere" -- like, perhaps Japan?

No, wherever they came from, they "appear" to have been in situ for 40 years now and, unlike a museum piece or a brass plaque are still functioning as they were intended to - forming useful walls, and totally in the public domain where people can appreciate them and touch part of the earliest white history in Australia.

The story mentions key points like the rally to be held tomorrow and the unsuitability of opening up the entertainment precinct to the residential precinct behind via a new visual boulevarde running past the police station.

Clover Moore's latest pro-redevelopment letter is quoted, saying the ''renewal will respect the park's extensive heritage since 1939."

How does demolishing something respect its heritage? Mind you, the sentence is a finely crafted piece of spin, using their current buzzword "renewal" when the Local Action Plan says "refresh"; and it refers to lost 1939 heritage and ignores the heritage-listed 1971 layer of significance, as per the whole Council justification for their radical plans.

[at 5.16am there were three people reading the SMH story. Hello to those anonymous kindred spirits - or are they Council spin-doctors girding themselves for another day battling the residents they are supposed to represent? Hullo! at 5.18 there were six people reading it! It's the new craze!]

But that story is only a tame introduction to local writer Delia Falconer's opinion piece in the same edition, headlined: "Council's plan to rip out heart of the Cross". [Mind you, only two people were reading it at 5.22am! -- but the day is still young).

More on that on the Save Fitzroy Gardens website!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Wave of support to save Fitzroy Gardens

Beautiful Fitzroy Gardens - if it ain't broke, don't fix it!
The City's plan to demolish and redesign Fitzroy Gardens in Kings Cross, site of the El Alamein Fountain, is stirring a growing wave of opposition as locals realise the treasure in their midst. Meetings among all the local business and resident groups, a fast-growing petition and a rally to be held at the Gardens on Saturday 6 November are just some of the roadblocks being erected in front of Council's bulldozers.

Yours truly volunteered to make the website in co-operation with a network of locals and, even if I say so myself, when you see the facts and photos laid out you have to wonder what ignorance prompted Council to launch this project -- which has been on their books at least since 2003, although they are spinning that the community requested it in 2007.

The site is at http://www.savefitzroygardens.com/index.html (not all the pages are finished at the time of writing, but you'll get the idea.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Top cop advocates debate on drug law

Deputy Commissioner Ken Jones
(pic: Herald-Sun)
Another senior police officer has 'broken ranks' with the normal police support of the War on Drugs with a call to educate the public about the on-costs and ineffectiveness of prohibition, and to have an informed debate.

Victoria's Deputy Commissioner Sir Ken Jones is one of the few to name the costs we bear in less obvious areas because of prohibition:

He said the public should be educated about the flow-on costs, from higher insurance premiums to delays in elective surgery as hospitals treated the fallout from drugs and crime...

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Who benefits from prohibition?

It's only a month till California votes on Proposition 19, a Bill to legalize and tax cannabis. As the battle lines form, it's interesting to see who opposes the Bill and why. Many are scratching their heads at opposition from drug police, jail supervisors and... the alcohol industry who are, ironically, contributing to an anti-cannabis campaign called Public Safety First. As reported on Alternet, the financial self-interest of these bodies is obvious 

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

'Shocking numbers' show success of Kings Cross

6,000 people per hour in the Cross -
"Shocking evidence," says Clover

Did you know the WHOLE CAPACITY of Town Hall (2,000 people) goes through the Bayswater Rd intersection in Kings Cross EVERY 20 MINUTES on a big night? That’s 6,000 people between 1am and 2am, while there are 5,500 footfalls on Darlinghurst Road. It’s a “major event”, says Clover Moore.

She’s right. These thronging young crowds comprise the most educated, healthy, well dressed and gorgeous generation in human history. Most people see their weekly gathering as a great party,  a movement, a celebration of the very wealth and freedom we fight wars for. Certainly the tens of thousands in the fun-filled crowds see it that way.

But our ageing Councillors see it as a “shocking problem” that has to be eliminated. Here we see two opposing mindsets across a generational divide, and mindsets are dangerous because they cause people to ignore facts or at least interpret them selectively.

The footfall figures probably come from Council’s new research which is intended to “progress the cumulative impact argument” in the words of Council’s CEO Monica Barone.

But facts can be a double-edged blade. The huge numbers are also proof that any violence is only a very small part of a very big scene. And given those numbers, Clover Moore’s alarmist figure of $3.2 million a year being spent by St Vincent’s Hospital dealing with alcohol related injuries doesn’t look so alarming. In times where billion is the new million, maybe that’s just the price society must pay to deal with its own damaged underbelly.

The knee-jerk response by Council and police to shut the scene down punishes the benign majority to target the thuggish few, ‘throwing the baby out with the Bayswater’.

[snip]

[rest at http://www.altmedia.net.au/my-generation%E2%80%99s-war-on-nightlife-puts-down-a-new-generation/25092]

Herald journalist gets all mixed up

Vanda Carson has been writing in The Sydney Morning Herald about Kings Cross lately. Her story in Saturday's  edition though, shows either terrible confusion or really bad sub-editing. It was a long weekend, after all.

In a story about Council’s War on Kings Cross, Vanda writes:
Residents are also mostly supportive of the plan, with the majority of Kings Cross and Oxford Street residents wanting fewer pubs or a cap on the number of liquor licences, according to a council survey.
The survey also showed 20 per cent of Oxford Street residents and 16 per cent of Kings Cross residents believed either the opening hours or the number of alcohol outlets should be restricted to curtail violence, noise, vomiting and public nuisance issues.
Excuse me, Vanda, how do figures of 16% and 20% justify the phrase "the majority of Kings Cross and Oxford Street residents wanting fewer pubs". They sound like a rather small minority to me, as I have been banging on about.

The only survey Vanda Carson could have been referring to* showed only 16 percent of residents wanted to "Restrict opening hours/alcohol outlets". That's far from a majority. Perhaps Vanda is a bit mathematically challenged and reads what she expects to believe.

Vanda also qualifies Council's recent series of losses in court by describing the victors with terms like "powerful hoteliers", as if Council's bottomless budget and corporate size does not match or exceed that of their opponents. The fact is, Council's evidence simply does not stack up, as I reported on at length in the current City News.

In a series of reports, I show from Hansard records (2 June 2010) how Clover Moore wants to shut everything down at midnight (Off to bed early, Sydney, says Clover);

And how Police and Council are ignoring other measures to improve amenity in Kings Cross (DIY Policing offer ignored).

All the above were tied up in a comment piece (My generation’s War on Nightlife puts down a new generation).


*P 32 (print) or P 38 (pdf pagination) of Late night trading - Community perceptions (June 2008, Urbis)


Thursday, September 23, 2010

More on the Don Weathurburn and Wayne Hall opinion piece

A friend defended by email one part of the piece by Don Weatherburn and Wayne Hall (first see post below),  writing the following:
Friend: This, for example, I agree with although I question the way drug law enforcement is enforced and whether certain aspects of the law is workable:

Weathurburn & Hall: "It's a sad fact that many dependent drug users only seek treatment when the personal and financial cost of continued drug use gets too high. The financial cost is attributable in large part to prohibition.

"The personal cost includes trouble with police and the courts, which is one of the most commonly cited reasons for entering treatment.

"Coercing drug-dependent offenders into treatment is known to be effective in reducing drug use and drug-related crime.

"We don't have to choose between treatment and drug law enforcement. We can and should support both."

This is nothing more than Drug War rhetoric. The first sentence would more accurately read "It's a sad fact that VERY FEW dependent drug users seek treatment only when the personal and financial cost of continued drug use gets too high."

The statement projects the Drug War myth that illicit drugs users are typically dysfunctional addicts and that drug use is a scourge on society. The facts, however, do not support this characterisation.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

More experts talk nonsense in the media

Researchers Don Weatherburn and Wayne Hall have seriously damaged their professional credibility in an opinion piece in today's SMH.

They attempt to rebut several arguments for drug law reform but contradict themselves and rely on obvious fallacies.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Charges dropped over Elizabeth Bay drug death

On the same day news broke that the Medically Supervised Injecting Centre in Kings cross will be legitimised (see post below), the SMH also reports that Manslaughter charges have been dropped over the overdose death of a former Socceroo player in Elizabeth Bay last year:
Prosecutors have withdrawn a manslaughter charge against a woman linked to the drug-related death of former Socceroo Ian Gray.

Mr Gray, 46, was found dead in the lounge room of his apartment in Elizabeth Bay in Sydney's east on February 15.

A court has heard previously that he was found to have a "plethora" of drugs in his system, including heroin.
Sherryn Marie Davis, 22, pleaded guilty to two counts of possessing equipment for the administration of a prohibited drug.

It's just more tragic 'collateral damage' from the failed War on Drugs.

Mexico's drug war comes to Sydney as Injecting Centre legitimised

It's official - the cocaine boom in Australia is being supplied by Mexico's Sinaloa drug cartel, says a report in today's SMH.

Well it had to be coming from somewhere, and the quality has been much better than in recent years, I am told, so this news is no real surprise.

Reports of rich punters paying up to $500 a gram for the best product explain how there is a profit to be made out of what must be a torturously difficult business -- getting tonnes of an illegal substance right across the planet, evading armies of police and customs to supply an illegal distribution network here.

This price, and the profits, are of course possible because prohibition makes it so. Despite this, there is again no mention of prohibition in the lengthy SMH report.

It even takes a swipe at users because they indirectly support this violent, murderous cartel, ignoring the fact that it's the government's prohibition regime that makes it so.

The ABC's AM program, however, ran the legalisation story front and centre, piggybacking it on the news that the Medically Supervised Injecting Centre in Kings Cross was to be legitimised, quoting drug law reformers Tony Trimingham, Dr Alex Wodak and Wayside Chapel Pastor Graham Long.

Premier Kristina Keneally announced the MSIC move yesterday, ending a pattern in which legislation had to be passed regularly to maintain funding for the Centre. An incoming Coalition government could have finished the Centre by simply doing nothing, a possibility given fierce opposition from far right Christians in the Liberals led by MLC David Clarke. This faction advocates a moralistic zero tolerance enforcement approach, arguing that the Centre legitimises and perpetuates drug use.

But founding Director of the Centre Dr Ingrid van Beek commented on 702 radio that such moral objectors “would rather see people dead than addicted – really I’ve never gotten that.”

Wayside Chapel Pastor Graham Long then joined other drug law reformers on the national AM program calling for an end the the War on Drugs, which he said had failed.

“There is no shortage of drugs,” he said. “You can buy anything you want at any time. Give me a minute and I’ll be back with anything you like.”

Dr Alex Wodak from St Vincent’s hospital said the global drug trade was worth $320bn a year which gave drug dealers more access to resources than law enforcement.

Tony Trimingham made similar comments. Mr Trimingham is a founder of Family Drug Support, a group based on the families of people who, like Mr Trimingham’s son, died or suffered from drug addiction but realise that prohibition is a problem, not a solution

Even Kings Cross Police Superintendent Tony Crandell commented on radio that "Prohibition isn't working", in the context of a supportive message about the MSIC having improved amenity for local residents. It underlines the difficulty police face. Tasked with prosecution the War on Drugs, they must either put their heads in the sand and believe the prohibition myths or carry out their duties knowing they are nearly futile.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Incredible discovery: Australians like to drink!

Salvation Army musos spread the message on
Kings Cross station, London - where the tubas were
shiny, the playing excellent and the
fractional platform numbers bemusing
The nanny state kicked into overdrive yesterday with blanket media coverage of a survey by those teetotalling prohibitionists, the Salvation Army.

Despite going into pubs across the country for decades collecting money in buckets, the Army needed to conduct a survey to establish that:

• 4 million Australians drink out of habit (hmmn, that would include me)

• 1.4 million of "them" drink to feel "normal". This seems a bit shocking until it's explained that "normal" can mean simply that people think it's normal to drink when they socialise, celebrate or commiserate. (Hmmn, that would again include me).

According to the Sydney Morning Herald:
The Salvation Army state drug and alcohol services co-ordinator, Kathryn Wright, said the findings were alarming and showed a culture saturated by alcohol.
It seems that when a few drinks in a pub relaxes people enough to throw money into buckets, that isn't so alarming to the Sallies.

But worst of all, did you know that some people "drink to get drunk"! Get out of here, who would have thought? Next they'll tell me people eat to prevent hunger, or smoke pot to get stoned!

This sanctimonious and mindless non-news nevertheless got blanket coverage from the media who are not generally known for their temperance, happily feeding a general moral panic which is stridently calling for the night economy of cities to be shut down.

Now THAT's alarming!

It would be interested to know where the funding came from for the survey and PR campaign. The cash certainly didn't go to the poor and needy. Perhaps the Sallies should go back to charity and tuba-playing. Leave the propaganda out, please! Meanwhile I'm happy with my habits, I don't cause problems for others or myself with my drinking, and resent being preached to.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Detective murdured in War on Drugs

Some of the armed and armoured police who swarmed
 into Bankstown after the shooting
(photo Kate Gehragty, SMH)
As reported in the Sydney Morning Herald:
William Crews, a 26-year-old detective-in-training, was taken to Liverpool Hospital after he was shot in the head with a .22 calibre rifle. He was pronounced dead at 12.30am today.

Mr Crews, a detective senior constable originally from rural Australia, was involved in a raid on an apartment building on Cairds Avenue, Bankstown, about 9pm. Officers were executing a search warrant for drugs when a number of shots were fired.

A group of people inside the building opened fire and the officer was shot, sources said.

Five people were initially arrested, while police had to negotiate the surrender of another three suspects. 
Detective Crews was a member of the Middle Eastern Organised Crime Squad. The incident sparked an inrush of police, from the Riot Squad to counter-terrorism specialists and helicopters. The whole street was cordoned off and residents were cowering in fear, several saying they did not feel safe in their own suburb.

The media is following a well-worn route here, reporting the tragedy in terms of heroic police, bad guys, guns and of course DRUGS.

But I will be very surprised if public figure mentions prohibition and the War on Drugs - the fundamental cause of all this pain, mayhem and massive spending of public money.

The sad fact is that this death, and others, are unnecessary. The victims are casualties in and martyrs to a War which causes far more harm than the drugs it fails to control.

No drugs were found in the raid. [On day two of this story no-one has been charged with murder and there is speculation the policeman was shot by one of his own colleagues in "friendly fire", making this a double tragedy. Two men named Nguyen and Geehad were charged with shooting offences.]

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Cocaine: the new ecstasy

Cocaine use in Sydney is booming, say some analysts in this weekend's SMH.

Punters are paying up to $500 a gram to be assured of a quality product. Some say the boom is caused by a shortage of ecstasy after disruptions to the international supply of precursor materials. This is a perfect example of the 'balloon effect' -- squeeze the balloon in one place and it swells in another, making prohibition a rather pointless exercise. This is especially so as restricting a relatively safe, non-addictive drug like ecstasy-MDMA pushes people to more dangerous drugs including cocaine which is addictive.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Ben Cousins prompts a good debate on prohibition

A recent series of letters in The Sydney Morning Herald contains succinct rebuttals of prohibition. SMH readers tend to think a bit more deeply than the average Joe, so these letters offer little hope that the public in general is waking up. Still, I am sure the following conversation would not have appeared a few years ago. Things are moving on.

30 August 2010

Devine misses the point on Cousins drug story
I was appalled by Miranda Devine's article on the Ben Cousins' documentary and her opinion on drug addiction and those afflicted by the disease (''Seven's weak tackle on Cousins'', August 28-29).

However, the tragedy is that the most Australians would agree with her. Whatever your opinion of Ben Cousins, he has done a great thing in getting people talking about addiction.

Drugs are a serious problem in society. If people are genuinely concerned and fear for their children becoming another statistic, they should not listen to opinions of journalists but to those who have lived through the experience. None of the addiction specialists who shared their views on the documentary condemned Cousins, and these are the people we should be listening to.

I was in active addiction for nearly 25 years and was deeply offended by Devine's comments. Over the years I've had to deal with the death of many of my friends at the hands of drugs. I'm sure their parents would be comforted by Devine's wisdom that ''they were not afflicted by a disease. They were simply narcissists who took drugs because it makes them feel good.'' Until people understand that addiction is a mental health issue and drug abuse is symptomatic of underlying mental disorders we will continue to watch our children die. The children being sexually abused and neglected today are tomorrow's drug addicts.

Alison Fitzgibbon Broadmeadow

The replies start, 31 August 2010:

A choice disease
Alison Fitzgibbon (Letters, August 30) says ''addiction is a mental health issue and drug abuse is symptomatic of underlying mental disorders''. Really?

Then how does she explain that very first time? Is it mental health disorders that prompt a young trendy to pop a pill in a nightclub? I don't think so. As for drug addiction being a disease, with the possible exception of sexually transmitted diseases, I can't think of a single disease that gives a person complete choice over whether to be exposed to it.

Daniel Lewis Rushcutters Bay


Monday, August 30, 2010

Undercover cops betrayed by War on Drugs

'Joe' before his undercover steroids, and after, pictured
with his former undercover colleague 'Jessie', now his wife
More lives destroyed by the War on Drugs – this time an undercover cop who worked Kings Cross in the 1990s. Relatively unsupervised by his employers, 'Joe' took on the persona of a Lebanese kingpin, tasked to expose corrupt police who were in on the drug profits.

Joe pumped himself up on illegal steroids increasing his weight from 75 to 145 kilos. Now he has been abandoned by the Police Force, his kidneys have failed, and his body is starting to reject a transplanted kidney.

His younger brother, unaware that Joe was in fact a cop, emulated his big-time-in-the-Cross- image and ended up in jail for armed robbery.

It's all explained in a book by Clive Small and Tom Gilling, Betrayed, and in a piece by Michael Duffy in today's SMH.

Michael Duffy is one of the more enlightened writers on drugs, because he usually highlights the futility of prohibition, writing:
Does [Joe] think locking up some drug dealers made a difference? "No. They say there's a war on drugs but there's no such thing. The police take 200 kilos off the street and say they've made a big dent, but the next day you can buy drugs for the same price. It makes no difference. For every importation they catch, five more get in."
There you have it from the mouth of one who knows.

Tighten up on alcohol, lighten up on other drugs - Guardian

When heroin, the best painkiller, was legal
and abuse  almost non-existent compared to today
The Guardian newspaper in the UK has run another penetrating analysis spotlighting the unbalanced and unworkable approach to alcohol and other, banned drugs. It's titled 'Drink, drugs and uneasy hypocrisy' and points out that the alcohol industry in the UK spends £800m per year on advertising while users of alternative drugs are arrested and jailed.

Writer James Meek observes that he can get a lethal dose of vodka at his local off-license for £30, no questions asked.

On the other hand in the USA, the country that experienced the disaster of alcohol prohibition, one in 100 of its citizens are now in jail, predominately on drug charges. This is five times the incarceration rate in the UK. The social damage from this pointless inquisition is immeasurable. Meek adds to this the carnage in Mexico, where another 72 people have been found executed, probably by a drug cartel which thrives on the supersized profits made possible by prohibition.

In 18185 when cocaine was legal, we did not have
a child addiction epidemic. Hmmmmn.
Meek wonders what advertising for drugs would look like, but he's off the mark there. Drugs are now one of the most popular and profitable commodities in the world - with no advertising. In a legalised, regulated and balanced environment, the advertising of alcohol, cigarettes and recreational drugs would all be banned. They could also tighten up on the advertising of medical drugs, too. In this light, the free market days of the late 1800s (above) are a universe away!

Friday, August 27, 2010

A little perspective on the booze blight

It's interesting to watch the ever rising moral panic about booze that drives our politicians into a neo-prohibitionist frenzy. I rarely agree with conservative think tank the Centre for Independent Studies but their libertarian aspect leads them to support informed debate about the repeal of drugs prohibition and the perils of over-regulation, so they deserve points for consistency.

Below, they analyse the latest shock-horror report from the anti-alcohol industry, a report that the police are using to back their calls to shut down Sydney's night-time economy:
$36 billion ways to make a media splash
The first lesson for anyone wanting to make a big splash in the media is to have a big, scary, shocking number. It’s practically fool proof. Just put out your press release and wait for the phone to ring.

This tactic was put to good use this week by the Alcohol Education and Rehabilitation Foundation, which released its finding that alcohol abuse costs the Australians $36 billion a year.

Newspapers and television stations around the country were quick to interrupt blanket coverage of the election to report on the newly quantified evils of booze.

The fact that the story could be accompanied by sensational footage of drunken louts punching on in Kings Cross didn’t hurt either.

But in the fast-paced world of news, not many journalists have the time to read a report that’s more than 200 pages long. And here’s the rub.

Many of the assumptions used to deduce the big scary figures are laughable.

The report says 70% of the population have been negatively affected by someone else’s drinking. This figure is clearly meant to shock. But a closer look reveals that it’s not so shocking after all. In this study, ‘negatively affected’ means anything from being in a relationship with a violently abusive alcoholic right down to being kept awake by a neighbour’s boozy barbeque. With such rubbery assumptions, it’s a wonder that it is only 70%.

Of those survey respondents who say they have been negatively affected by someone else’s drinking, 16.5% say they have suffered between ‘$5 and $25,000 per year’ of property loss or damage.

But the report doesn’t say where on this scale most respondents lay, so we can’t differentiate between people who have had their car written off by a drunk driver and those who have ended up with a broken wine glass at a dinner party.

Alcohol causes serious problems in our society. But not all drinking is the same. Wildly inflating the costs of drinking, while taking none of the benefits into account, trivialises the very real costs of drinking – and grossly damages the report’s credibility.

Jessica Brown is a Policy Analyst at The Centre for Independent Studies.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Proof that prohibition has failed

While many people think this story from the Murdoch stable is a fit-up, I am not surprised that some parents might be so stupid as to let this happen. (See full text below. Note the April 1 dateline, and that NT welfare authorities do no corroborate it.)

If the story is true, it's proof that prohibition has failed. Unfortunately the prohibitionist frame of reference that most Australian media inhabit means this story will be generally interpreted the opposite way -- that we need an even tougher 'War on Drugs'.

I suspect that even under strictly regulated legalisation, you couldn't stop this degree of parental failure. It's child abuse.

The nonsense in the story about 'addiction' to this non-addictive drug absolutely condemns it to beat-up status. The child is said to throw a tantrum if she is denied cannabis, tobacco (which is of course addictive) or alcohol. But kids throw a tantrum if they are denied a piece of chocolate cake, too. It just means they are spoiled.

The real danger to the child is that drug use at such an early age might rewire the way her immature brain develops. But keep it in perspective -- few parents blink an eye when kids are prescribed Ritalin etc, a huge and controversial trend.

And ninety-something percent of cannabis users never have any serious problems with it, yet the War on Drugs is a war on all users.

More perspective, from online discussion about this story:

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Amarni bikies make billions from drugs

The beautifully stylised Nomads bike pack,
parked in Kings Cross in July 2004
Suit-wearing bikies working within the corporate system are committing major international fraud to establish money-laundering networks to process billions of dollar profit made mainly from methamphetamines.

And while the police know about it, they are too wary of the bikies to do anything about it, because the gangs use better counter-surveillance techniques than the police to identify undercover officers and target their families with threats.

This is the alarming scenario presented in a new book, Above the law by Ross Coulthard (also spelt 'Coulthart' on the bookselling websites) and Duncan McNab.

One of the scams involved the identity theft of all the customers of an Australian mortgage broker. These identities were then used to buy and sell properties, resulting in drug profits being cleansed into legitimate money.

Nothing has been done about this operation.

The new book, sequel to Dead man running by the same authors, describes how the bikies have become a major international franchise underpinned by massive drug profits and the ability to intimidate rivals and police with extreme violence.

But, as usual, the elephant in the room, prohibition, is not mentioned in any of the online blurbs or in an interview with the author broadcast today by Deborah Cameron on the 702 Morning Show.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Five models for regulating illicit drugs

An article in the British Medical Journal neatly describes the circular logic of prohibition and then proposes models for regulation within legalisation or decriminalisation.

Writer Stephen Rolles first challenges several prohibition axioms including the belief that ending prohibition would increase drug use. He argues that the harms of prohibition are not only greater than the harms of drugs, but increase those harms.

He then describes the circular logic of the War on Drugs thus:
The criminalisation of drugs has, historically, been presented as an emergency response to an imminent threat rather than an evidence based health or social policy intervention.11 Prohibitionist rhetoric frames drugs as menacing not just to health but also to our children, national security, and the moral fabric of society itself. The prohibition model is positioned as a response to such threats,12 13 and is often misappropriated into populist political narratives such as "crackdowns" on crime, immigration, and, more recently, the war on terror.

This conceptualisation has resulted in the punitive enforcement of drug policy becoming largely immune from meaningful scrutiny.14 A curiously self justifying logic now prevails in which the harms of prohibition—such as drug related organised crime and deaths from contaminated heroin—are conflated with the harms of drug use. These policy related harms then bolster the apparent menace of drugs and justify the continuation, or intensification, of prohibition. 
Later in the article, Rolles presents the five basic models for regulating drug availability proposed by the long-established UK lobby group Transform:

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Prohibitionist axioms don't hold water

Associate Professor Stephen Jurd has kindly responded to the post below -- via comment under the post and by email. [It turns out he and I went to the same school in another life].

But Dr Jurd's response does not address the points made in that post.

He writes via email (my responses interweaved):
Even the prohibitionists may have some evidence.
Of course, but how sound is it? Given that nearly all the research is funded by governments on condition that it looks for harms, and further funding for such research depends on getting the 'right' result, it's not surprising that  a lot of research demonstrates the harms of drugs. But this is not the point. If you researched anything on that basis you would show harms (research the harms of cars for instance, or rock fishing, or Rugby League). And law reformers do not dispute that drugs have side-effects. What they question is prohibition, and there is no convincing evidence that it works.  Indeed, 28,000 deaths in one country alone is a stark argument against.
A soundbite is not the place to present evidence.

All drugs have side effects. More drugs more side effects. Legalising drugs may eradicate some, but certainly not all of the side effects - see cirrhosis, lung cancer and sedative overdose deaths.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Why do so many experts talk nonsense?

The former president of Mexico has declared that 'legalisation' of drugs is the best way to stop that country's ongoing Drug War massacre which has seen 28,000 people killed in recent years.

Mexico is seen by reformers as the clearest case showing that the harms of prohibition are worse than the harms of the drugs it fails to control.

It was covered on Saturday night by SBS News in a story that distinguished itself by even talking about 'legalisation' -- although it still never mentioned the flip side, prohibition.

Current President Calderon opposed the idea, falling back on an assertion that 'legalisation' would cause an explosion in use of the drug. Perhaps this unsupported claim is understandable as he receives swags of money from the US government so the damage ultimately caused by US demand for drugs is kept across the border for the Mexicans to deal with. He's a politician.

But what is the excuse for  Associate Professor Stephen Jurd, an Australian addiction specialist who seems to have become one of the media's 'go-to' guys on drugs.

He mirrored President Caldéron, opposing 'legalisation' on the grounds that cannabis use would dramatically increase because it would be more easily available and that would lead to an increase in psychoses.

But he tellingly offered no evidence for these assertions, which are straight from the prohibitionist hymn-book.

For a start he seems to assume that legalisation equals an unregulated free-for-all. But all drug law reformers I know of support a highly regulated regime designed to moderate drug use, particularly among young people.


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Inquiry links prohibition with Police corruption

NSW Police are in trouble for having "improper associations" with the wrong sort of people, reports today's SMH:
Over the past year, the Ombudsman has been made aware of cases involving friendships between policemen and members of bikie gangs, the leaking of confidential information about police investigations, and friendships with known users of or dealers in drugs, he said in his submission.

Other cases involved attempts to influence criminal investigations, and claims of police seizing a large amount of drugs without charging the person in possession of the drugs.
Of course if these drugs were legal, taxed and regulated, a major opportunity for police corruption would vanish. And it's pretty difficult for some Police not to know "users of drugs" as that might be 20-30% of the adult population, or more in some areas.

It's also difficult for those police who know prohibition and its myths lack credibility, when they have to bust people they know have done no-one any harm.

Then there are those police who use drugs themselves. That would make it really difficult to respect the laws they enforce, even as drug users who know the truth about their tipple of choice must find it hard to respect the police.

Gee, prohibition causes a lot of damage to the fabric of society. Trouble is, most people just take it for granted because 'that's how things are'. But they needn't be...


Thursday, August 05, 2010

Glimmer of hope in media drugs discourse

Yesterday a psychiatrist moderated his claims that cannabis causes schizophrenia with an encouraging side-comment that the War on Drugs was ineffective. But he got quite a few other things wrong.

Dr Neil Phillips, who is a practising psychiatrist but not a drug specialist or researcher,  appeared on Richard Glover's ABC 702 radio show rounding up the research linking cannabis and mental illness as discussed in the previous post.

Richard Glover had been lobbied earlier in the day by an interested colleague who referred him to the Time article  discussed in the post below, pointing out that schizophrenia has not increased over the decades during which cannabis use expanded many many times over since the 1960s. This is a real thorn in the side for those who claim cannabis causes schizophrenia.

Richard Glover did ask that question but the Doctor dodged it, simply referring back to the research he was quoting. Hmmn.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Cannabis and Schizophrenia - link or cause?

The prohibition establishment keeps promoting studies which claim cannabis causes psychosis in a small minority of people, and credulous media faithfully regurgitate them, usually with sensational headlines.

Given the dominant media mindset on drugs, which almost never questions prohibition, such reports automatically skew opinion in favour of prohibition.

But the link between cannabis and psychosis or schizophrenia is not simple.

The knotty question is thoroughly explored in Time magazine, a journal that, unlike many media outlets, fact-checks its content.

The piece by Maia Szalavitz brings up the biggest confounder for the alarmists: that schizophrenia has not increased over the decades during which cannabis use expanded many many times over since the 1960s.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

More local blogs

I found a new and different local blog, Vampires of Potts Point.

It presents "creative Goth" fiction using local settings. It's giving me ideas to extend my Gothic Sydney photoart series. I'd like to meet the mysterious author!

And yet another, Tracey Grace's blog, which features longish well-written pieces and local pics focusing on street people. Tracey is fairly new to the area and records her journey as she grapples with being confronted by the street people society has discarded.

Her latest piece asks how to respond to begging. It's good.

Drugs enter the Federal election; Clichés fuel Lingo Bingo

Oh oh! Today both major parties announced they would "Get tough on crime", singling out gangs and knife crime. There was talk of police using metal detectors to find knives. Fair enough I guess. Knife crime gives me the shudders, but banning the import of knives won't stop people using kitchen knives.

Of course the Liberals tied the crime to illicit drugs. True, but only because of prohibition and "getting tough on drugs" creates the huge profits that attract the criminals. The same old dog is chasing its tail.

Regulated legalisation would knock the stuffing out of the whole illicit industry and make the streets a lot safer for the rest of us. And it would make money through taxes instead of costing billions.

Meanwhile I've had a bit of fun publishing the ultimate political speech, in The City News, based on the political clichés submitted by listeners to the Lingo Bingo competition Richard Glover is running on ABC 702 -- plus a few the listeners missed.

I've offered the speech to aspiring candidates because if they delivered this speech somewhere verifiable, they might resolve the Lingo Bingo game in one swoop and get a free kick on air.

Enjoy!

How the War on Drugs victimises minorities

A major study conducted by the UK Drug Policy Commission has found that gay men may be three or four times as likely than straight men to use drugs.

This will come as no surprise to people who know inner city life and culture, and backs up data in Australia's Household Drug Surveys which show young men use recreational drugs more than other demographics.

But what it quantifies for the first time is that the War on Drugs is inflicted more heavily on minority groups than the general population.

Prohibitionists might respond that this is unavoidable simply because certain groups use more drugs than others, and this is by definition bad and therefore interdiction is for their own good.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Magistrate invokes fairy tale in cannabis custody case

The prohibition of cannabis has been used by an "obsessive" father as a lever in a court battle over custody of his child, as reported in The Sydney Morning Herald.

The 5-year-old lives with his mother, and the father's case rested significantly on her occasional cannabis use. Without her knowledge he had the child drug-tested and also complained that she gave the boy food containing artificial colouring.

Magistrate Warwick Neville awarded custody to the mother on condition that she submit to urine and hair follicle drug tests for the next 18 months. However he accepted that the mother was committed to her role and there was no evidence the child had come to any harm in her care.

Mr Neville's approach -- in which he somehow likened the vicious little drama to the Harry Potter stories -- swallows whole the prohibitionist myth that a parent's moderate use of cannabis is equivalent to child abuse, while on the other hand alcohol use by parents is acceptable.

There is absolutely no evidence for this. Rather the opposite, as alcohol is more dangerous than cannabis by any objective measure.

So here we have the alcoholic down the road allowed to keep the kids while the moderate, caring toker up the road has to go on the wagon and have her time taken and bodily privacy invaded for 18 months. If the poor woman switches to drink, everything will be fine in this fantasy land the Magistrate appears to inhabit.

In his Harry Potter analogy, he likened the mother's sometime cannabis use to being under an evil spell, "caught in a twisting vine called the Devil's Snare".

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Media still spreading drug war myths

An otherwise creditable report by Asher Moses in The Sydney Morning Herald spreads one of the most blatant Reefer Madness style lies of recent times.

In a story detailing how the 'legal high' industry is using the internet and innovation to get around prohibitionist intervention, Moses wrote:
The Wall Street Journal reported that the so-called "legal highs" had been blamed for the deaths of two young people in Britain and Sweden and British authorities said they may have contributed to as many as 30 deaths.
This referred to Mephedrone, (Cat or Miaow), a derivative of the mild social stimulant Khat that is taken daily in North African countries but banned in the west.

However a Sky News report by China Correspondent Holly Williams said this:
Mephedrone hit the headlines in March after the drug was linked to the deaths of two teenagers in Scunthorpe. However, post mortems revealed no trace of the chemical in the blood of Louis Wainwright, 18, and Nicholas Smith, 19.

Drug warriors chasing their own tails

Police comments about a recent massive cocaine bust unintentionally underline the futility of prohibition.

As reported in The Australian:
WHEN NSW Police this week announced they had seized a 240kg shipment of cocaine from Mexico, officers were full of praise and caution.

"Until the head's taken off, it's never over," Detective Chief Superintendent Ken McKay told the ABC. "These people will come back at us. The profit margins are too great not to."
My bolding of the last sentence betrays the essential unworkability of prohibition, which is the very thing that jacks up the prices and creates the irresistible profits. Yet still the DEA in the US boasts about the success of their War on Drugs by citing price increases resulting from their efforts.

The quote above continues a current theme of police commentary which demonises a drug because of problems actually created by prohibition, a circular argument. The other big theme in the same vein is that people should avoid ecstasy pills because they don't know what's in them.

What the drug warlords seem not to understand is that the normal rules of price elasticity or risk are not the same for drugs as for, say, apples. If apples are in short supply and double in price, buyers simply switch to bananas for example.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Dodgy sparkies and appeals to dob in neighbours mark War on Growers

I always feel sad when I hear police on morning radio congratulating their peers on another bust of an indoor cannabis grower.

This week it was a 74-year-old man caught growing 162 cannabis plants in a house in Minto. He was remanded in custody, set to face a major charge and probably a long jail term.

I was sad because he had done nothing worse than a brewery worker, because cannabis is safer than alcohol by any objective measure, and fuels far less social damage than its violence-inducing cousin.

His worst crime may have been simple greed. Or 'ambition' as it's called in the big end of town.

But according to a report in today's SMH, the panic about indoor growing has moved to the sparkies who rig up the grow-rooms, often stealing power from the grid (which presumably the rest of us pay for -- another cost of prohibition).

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Details around murder emerge in court

The Ibrahim family has -- almost inevitably it seems -- been connected with the execution of Kings Cross 'identity' Todd O'Connor in 2008. The SMH reports on the trial of  Hugo Jacobs, in which prosecutors infer the murder is connected with a web of events around the shooting of Fadi Ibrahim and his girlfriend, who are out on bail, accused of plotting the revenge murder of John Macris.

The lawyers paint a colourful picture of nightclubs and drugs, with the accused claiming he was meeting the murdered man to buy $20,000 of cocaine, but heard the shots as he approached the rendezvous in Tempe and fled. Todd O'Connor's ex-flatmate turned up to testify, watched from the gallery, according to prosecutors, by a large tattooed man they said was John Ibrahim's bodyguard.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Surveys ain't surveys

A good researcher can design a survey to prove anything -- or two surveys that show opposite results. Organisations who commission surveys know this, and spend a lot of time shaping the questions before going live.

So the approach taken by a UK survey that showed 70% of people support the conditional legalisation of cannabis is interesting, especially when commissioned by the Liberal Democrats, who are junior coalition partners in government and who ran on a decriminalisation platform.

Rather than asking the bald question "Do you approve of legalisation" like our Australian equivalent surveys, the Lib-Dem survey gave people options that defined the term explicitly as explained below:

"Rather than just ask whether each drug should be "legalised", the poll gave brief descriptions of three regulatory options and asked the public to pick which they thought most tolerable for each of a series of drugs. The options were:

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Who still believes the prohibition myth?

That's the title of my story in the latest edition of The Hub, summarising some of the themes of this blog. A change of layout plans meant it was significantly subbed down from 700+ words and published without the pic I supplied. So just for the record, herewith is the original story and the pic.

Poison pills show harms of drug war

Today's Daily Telegraph runs a piece about pills and cocaine in Sydney being cut with poisons in the face of a worldwide MDMA shortage.

Police, as per usual of late, rail against the drugs on the grounds that people don't know what's in them.

But it is their own War on Drugs that created the MDMA shortage and keeps the whole drug dealing business in the hands of criminals who put whatever they like into their unregulated product, so the police argument is circular and ludicrous.

Because people still want to experience the pleasures of drugs, all prohibition achieves is a balloon effect. If they put the squeeze on the popular, safer drugs, people just move to more dangerous alternatives. Thus the War on Drugs creates more harm.

This is also evident recently with crackdowns on mephedrone (cat or miaow), which has led to Chinese factories churning out variations that tend to be more harmful. Early stories of deaths and mutilations caused by mephedrone have been proved completely false, just more Drug War propaganda spread by immoral media. The British have responded to the new chemicals by automatically banning all new recreational drugs. This completely removes any evidence base from the process and shows up the War as a purely ideological obsession and oppression.

There is some hope, though. The Lib-Dems in coalition power in the UK has launched an internet appeal for people to identify areas of over-regulation, and the War on Drugs features strongly.

Australia, however, remains in a McCarthy-like dark age of ignorance and harm.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Why is marijuana illegal?

You'd have to question anything, let alone a law, that was based on documented lies. But the outlawing of marijuana in the US in 1937 was based on outright lies, extreme racism and 'yellow journalism' largely from the Hearst press.

A pretty well sourced and footnoted account of marijuana prohibition can be found on the drugwar rant site.

The article contains some eye-opening quotes, for example, from a 1934 newspaper editorial:
“Marihuana influences Negroes to look at white people in the eye, step on white men’s shadows and look at a white woman twice.”
After all, you couldn't have a black look a white in the eye, could you.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

AIDS Conference launches major drug law reform declaration

Hot on the heels of the latest world drug report from the UN, the XVIII International AIDS Conference in Vienna has published a major Declaration presenting a very different point of view, and an online petition endorsing it. The Declaration, written and supported by leading scientists from all parts of the world, lists and condemns the failures of the War on Drugs and calls on the UN to decriminalise, regulate and scale up treatment for problem users.

The battle between prohibitionists and reformers is at a delicate point, with prohibitionists hosting their own summit events in an attempt to buttress the UN-driven War. However their arguments are sounding ever more stale as they increasingly ignore damning evidence and argument that refutes their position.

Some lines from the Declaration which list consequences of the War on Drugs:

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Law reform debate gathers pace

Legal luminary Charles Waterstreet returned to the drug law reform theme in the Sun-Herald/Age over the weekend, criticising sniffer dogs for not catching the "Mr Bigs of Baggies" and for spoiling parties.

And tonight, Foreign Correspondent looks at California's "Germinator", a cannabis breeder who purveys boutique strains of cannabis in the same way that wine-buffs enjoy the varieties and blends of fine wines.

The usual arguments apply, but the Foreign Correspondent blurb runs some arguments from the opposition. It shows up the poverty of prohibitionist argument, each point in the following gush about cannabis being objectively and demonstratively untrue:

It’s a major cause of substance dependence in the United State. It’s a leading cause of going into treatment in the United States. It’s a leading cause of highway fatalities that rivals alcohol in the United States. It’s a very serious health problem - and especially I would say, for youth.

-- DR ROBERT DU PONT Head of Drug Policy (Ford/Reagan)

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Teen arrested as drug use soars

Australian Police seem to be in a bit of a frenzy lately as they fight their War on Drugs.

Yesterday a 14-year-old boy was one of nine people arrested over an ongoing drug supply operation between Sydney and Dubbo.

Of course none of the media mentioned it is prohibition itself that makes it possible for a 14-year-old to be involved in an industry that by definition is run by criminals with no regulation applied or enforced. This unfortunate situation was, as usual, associated with the drugs and not the prohibitionist frame which makes it possible. Truly, the harms of prohibition are worse than the harms of the drugs.

Police are proud of their bust, offering video and still pics of the arrests to media.

Meanwhile the Australian Crime Commission (ACC) reports that drug seizures have reached record highs (so to speak). The Australian reports "a record number of cocaine arrests and a doubling of heroin seizures in 2008-09 suggests that hard drugs are more readily available."

This is yet more evidence that the decades-old War on Drugs is not working.

But that's not how ACC chief executive John Lawler put it.

"The illicit drug trade feeds drug habits, which in turn leads to more crime in a destructive cycle,'' he said.

Well yes, Mr Lawler, but only because it's illegal and unregulated in the first place, which jacks up the price, creates the super-profits that attract the criminals and makes drugs actually easier to get than alcohol for minors.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Chickens come home to roost for Rudd

I don't want to say 'I told you so,' but I did. Back on May 26, 2008 I posted a blog about Kevin Rudd being John Howard in disguise, with this undoctored split pic to prove it.

At the time Krudd was still enjoying the honeymoon period of his reign. But I had been reading and analysing Labor policy for some time, and could see they were totally insincere about things such as climate change. One the one hand, in their glossy brochures, they SAID they were 'committed' to addressing it but on the other they were going full-steam-ahead (literally) with coal-fired power and road-based transport.

Now the house of cards has tumbled down. All it took was an opposition leader with cut-through, and continued bad advice to Krudd from his NSW-right advisers.

The government's repeated moral cowardice and backflips have, to their surprise, resulted in a landslide collapse in the opinion polls and The Greens have mopped up the benefit. Now the political discourse, which used to be exclusively about the big two parties, includes The Greens with daily analysis in the major media and even two polls about whether Bob Brown should be included in the next leaders' debate.

The SMH poll was running well into 'yes' territory and Murdoch news was running about 50-50 last time I looked.

With the Lib-Dems sharing power in the UK and The Greens sharing power in Tasmania, The political frame has changed. The traditional two-party power split is unravelling. And Bob Brown is finally capitalising on his steady-as-she-goes media presence, a voice of reason in the maelstrom, someone people would trust to have the balance of power in the Senate.

Krudd's attempts to get out of it with the mining tax has not worked either, because it has stirred up a hornet's nest of well-funded opposition from the miners, yet there was no grassroots popular demand for it in the first place, regardless of whether or not it is a good idea.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Former judge slams War on Drugs

The highly respected former Supreme Court judge Ken Crispin has come out swinging against the War on Drugs, with a new book Quest for Justice.

Interviewed by Kerry O'Brien on the 7.30 Report, he said:
...drug usage has exploded during the war on drugs. To quote one British figure 'the number of heroin users over about 30 years increased from 2000 to 300,000.' The prevalence of drugs has exploded to the point that the prices have fallen so cocaine, in real terms, now costs about a sixth of what it did at the start of the war on drugs. Heroin costs about a tenth of what it did on the start of the war on drugs. 
He goes on to reveal some of his inside knowledge of the mechanism that increases drug use under prohibition:
If the average drug user has to fund his drug usage in some way and he doesn't have a high flying job he usually turns to crime. When he gets sick of breaking into houses or holding up banks or service stations, he then turns to selling drugs. and of course he goes along to see his dealer and his dealer doesn't say 'here's a list of my established customers', he can service them he doesn't need you for that, so he says to you 'go out and persuade other people to take drugs' and you have this constant pressure, therefore, by people to persuade others to take drugs so they can fund their own addiction.
This of course is not what prohibitionists claim -- they say that regulated legal supply would cause an explosion of drug use, as if there were huge latent pools of people out there longing to inject an addictive drug if only it was legal (I have yet to meet such a person).

It partially explains why drug use does not in fact rise significantly when the War is relaxed. This result is, however, counter-intuitive.

By way of comparison, if the police stopped their war against speeding, there would probably be a lot more people speeding. But it's not so for drugs, which contradict a number of commonly accepted economic models. Prohibitionists ignore this (or themselves are ignorant of it) and exploit the lack of first-hand knowledge in the general public.

All the more reason to listen to Ken Crispin, who does know. His book is on my shopping list.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Sports stars and recreational drugs


Thirty-five years ago Bernie Carbo nailed the greatest pinch-hit home run in Red Sox history - bringing three men home in game six to keep them alive against the Cincinnati Reds in the 1975 World Series. This week he divulged the secret of his success

'"I probably smoked two joints, drank about three or four beers, got to the ballpark, took some speed, took a pain pill, drank a cup of coffee, chewed some tobacco, had a cigarette, and got up to the plate and hit.''
That's an apt quote in these days of prohibitionist attack dogs destroying all the intelligent cool sports stars because of recreational drug residues found in their bodies -- an entirely different matter from using drugs to cheat. All this chemical testing is the most extreme invasion of privacy, because inside one's own body is the most private place. Why don't privacy laws cover it?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Drug reformer takes the fight to Washington

While the Obama administration has toned down the language and ferocity of its drug policies, there has been no essential change. About 64% of its budget is still being spent on interdiction and incarceration.

Reformer Ethan Nadelmann recently testified before the U.S. House Domestic Policy Subcommittee, (alongside other contributors such as the Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy [also known as the drug czar], Gil Kerlikowske). Nadelmann's full testimony is well worth a read, but here are some quotes:
The United States now ranks first in the world in per capita incarceration rates, with less than 5% of the world's population but nearly 25% of the world's prison population. Roughly 500,000 people are behind bars tonight for a drug law violation. That's ten times the total in 1980, and more than all of western Europe (with a much larger population) incarcerates for all offenses. More than half of federal prisoners are there for drug law violations; relatively few are kingpins and virtually none are queenpins.

Yet, despite spending hundreds of billions of dollars and arresting millions of Americans, illegal drugs remain cheap, potent and widely available throughout the country...
And referring to the continuing emphasis on drug war methods, he said:
A 1994 RAND study commissioned by the U.S. Army and ONDCP found treatment to be 10 times more effective at reducing drug abuse than drug interdiction, 15 times more effective than domestic law enforcement, and 23 times more effective than trying to eradicate drugs at their source. A 1997 SAMHSA study found that treatment reduces drug selling by 78%, shoplifting by almost 82% and assaults by 78%. 

Friday, May 14, 2010

Racial discrimination and marijuana arrests

It happens in Australia too -- black people are searched by US police far more frequently than white people and  then those who are carrying cannabis are busted. In the  US, 46,500 people were arrested for marijuana possession last year; 87 percent of these people were black and Latino, even though about the same proportion of whites consume the drug.

Considering that possession of marijuana is in fact less dangerous to the public than walking down the street with a bottle of beer in a paper bag, these figures show how prohibition has distorted the so-called justice system.

It's all explained in a new article on the Huffington Post. by eloquent drug law reformer Ethan Nadelmann who writes:
Where's the evidence that this arrest policy does anything whatsoever to make the city safer? Indeed, where's the evidence that most New Yorkers even approve of such a policy? So far as I can tell, most New Yorkers would much prefer that police focus their attention on genuine threats to public safety.
Australian incarceration rates for Indigenous citizens show similar trends -- according to The 7.30 Report:
The grim report by the productivity commission last week on indigenous disadvantage revealed that for indigenous men, the rate of imprisonment increased by 27 per cent in the years between 2000 and 2008, and for women, by more than 40 per cent. Indigenous adults are now 13 times more likely than non-indigenous adults to be sent to gaol, and they're much more likely to re-offend.
Other reports claim cannabis use is rising among Indigenous people, partly in response to crackdowns on drinking. No doubt cannabis is therefore playing a greater role in people being vulnerable to police. And while some self-interested researchers are raising a moral panic about Aboriginal kids smoking pot,  the fact is that it is easier for them to get under the total deregulation of a market created by prohibition.

As for adult users, by objective assessment they and their families are better off if less booze is being consumed.

Picture: Police in Kings Cross lead a sniffer dog on a tight lead towards an Indigenous man. The man was unconcerned and the dog did not indicate, but it clearly shows how Police target certain demographics. Immediately after this shot was taken, two dog handlers and other police ran down the road to catch up with another (Caucasian) guy and put the dogs on him. No drugs were found. Clearly, drug prohibition is being used as a means of social control and is contributing to cruel social injustice.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Mothers' day present

The Women's Marijuana Movement in the US is cleverly offering an e-card people can send to their mums on mums' day, letting them know you support legalisation. This addresses the tendency for people to keep quiet about their recreational preferences, because pot is illegal and governments spend a fortune demonising it, creating a social stigma among people who know no better.

The e-card available on the WMM site (which you can send from the page) uses flash animation and starts with the following text:

Thank you for raising me
to be thoughtful and compassionate,
to think for myself and make good decisions,
to respect my body and my health,
to be considerate of others, and
to be honest with those I love.
Based in part on these valuable lessons, I want to share some news that may surprise you, but should not upset you: I believe marijuana should be legal.

One of the card options comes with an order for the book, Marijuana is safer, reviewed elsewhere on this blog. Link here to that book on scribd.com

Drug cops shoot dog with child present

It seems the millions of people who use illicit drugs in Australia prefer to keep their heads down and let the unlucky few who are caught wear the consequences of enforcement.

If every pot smoker in the country turned up to their local police station at the same time and pleaded guilty, the whole system would break down.

But spare a thought for victims of the War on Drugs in the USA. Below is police video of a night raid on a family in Missouri in which the police break open the door, shoot the dog -- it sounds like several times -- with a child present. They found a small amount of cannabis, and charged the guy with endangering children (because he had some pot in the house, which is safer than alcohol by any objective measure)! Is the terror and violence proportionate to this victimless 'crime'?

Truly, the War on Drugs is far more harmful than the drugs themselves. The Cato Institute estimates there are 40,000 such raids in the US each year.

Warning, this video is distressing.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Kenneally stays tough on kids

The Kenneally government has rejected an independent review that recommends a shift from a punitive criminal approach to youth crime to a social intervention approach, says the SMH:
In Victoria, where greater emphasis is placed on drug and alcohol courts and youth conferencing, nine out of 100,000 adolescents are in custody, compared with 38 in NSW.

Furthermore, community-based interventions are always much cheaper than incarceration, the review said.

"While 'get tough' approaches may be politically attractive, evidence indicates they are not effective."
The review said the heavy stick approach was not helping law and order as the level of youth crime was more or less static.

A disproportionate number of those jailed were mentally ill, socially marginalised or Indigenous.

So much for the evidence.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Not cool: Oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico










This shot of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig looks like something out of a Star Wars movie. But this is reality, not CGI animation. Here the rig is listing badly not long before it sank.

No such problems with Solar Thermal power generation and storage...

Coolhunter hunts cool, even unto the dentist's


Cheeky bastard Bill Tikos has leveraged his excellent eye for quality and style into a blogging sensation at his Coolhunter sites, which seem to have servers on several continents.

Above is a cool dental surgery concept. Check out the site for more stunning examples of architecture -- lots of wood, lots of awesome locations. Plus marketing ideas, cool cars and theories about what cool is and is not. You can subscribe to a newsletter for regular updates.

Below is Bill being cool.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

'Stiletto stoners' want cannabis legalised

Denver attorney and Rebublican Jessica P. Correy writes in support of legalisation and the new Women's Marijuana Movement:
As organizers, we question aloud how we could ever defend to our children the fact that America spends $30,000 a year on each non-violent drug offender we put behind bars at the same time we issue a $45,000 bill to each baby born today as his or her share of the national debt. As one of several small business owners who take part in the event, I'm downright angry that this insane tax burden will inevitably mean more hours spent away from my children.
While it is traditionally the conservatives who have most enthusiastically waged the failed War on Drugs, those true to the party's libertarian principles have a different line, as Ms Correy says:
We are coming together to reclaim our country. For our children. For our pocketbooks. And for the long forgotten American ideal that in the absence of harm to others, government should not interfere in our personal lives.
The WWM site is very upbeat, showing shiny pics of sassy corporate gals in the "stiletto stoner" mould. Kind of like Sarah Palin on pot!

As the legalisation movement goes mainstream, it must be getting hard for prohibitionists to find credulous audiences for their fallacious fantasies. When will the Australian media catch up to the global debate?

The illustration here is from the WMM site. Love the footnote: Source: Every objective study on alcohol and marijuana