Wednesday, December 18, 2013

More prohibitionist propaganda busted - it seems legal cannabis reduces road deaths

Prohibitionists in the US are bending over backwards to show legalisation of cannabis in some US states is causing the sky to fall in, just as they always predicted. Recently an Australian prohibitionist triumphantly circulated this 'important' information on email lists:

Panic stations! Legalisation has started a rush of those dangerous stoned drivers! We told you so! (SAM, by the way, is the new soft-pedalling face of prohibition.)

Smelling a rat, I immediately asked: "Was there a corresponding increase in traffic accidents?"

No reply.

I later speculated on the lists that police, deprived of their 'easy money' busting potheads, might be doing more drug-driving tests, which would account for the increase.

Then a list member posted the following, supporting my speculations:

"...according Washington State’s Traffic Safety Commission “Target Zero” data for 2013, the fatality rate from incidents involving drunk and/or drug-affected drivers is actually the LOWEST that has been recorded in more than seven years.

"So far, the 2013 fatality rate is down 22% for alcohol-related road deaths, and down 30% for other-drug-related road deaths, compared to 2012.

"If more people really are driving whilst seriously impaired, why is there no spike in road fatalities?

"And yes Michael you are quite correct, police in Washington State have indeed conducted significantly more drug tests in 2013 than in previous years.

"That last piece of information comes from Bob Caulkins, the Media & Community Relations Officer for the Washington State Patrol:

"However, the number of tests being ordered has increased, on pace for 180 more than the prior year. It can also be true that cops are more likely to order a blood test in a pot case now. As Caulkins told Huffington Post, “We’re testing blood we didn’t test before.” So do we actually have more stoned drivers on the road or are cops now just better trained and incentivized to go after them?"

Then the post got even better:

"Could it be that greater access to marijuana equals less abuse of alcohol, leading to lower traffic deaths from both?

Let's see what Time magazine has to say on the subject:

Monday, December 02, 2013

Getting the facts about Thomas Kelly's manslaughter.

The War on Kings Cross continues, with the king-hit killing of Thomas Kelly being dragged in by both sides of the debate.

In letters to the Wentworth Courier, the AHA's Paul Nicolau rebuts a previous claim by local resident Jo Holder that Keiran Loveridge had been served alcohol in Kings Cross before he king-hit Thomas Kelly. In fact both are wrong. J Campbell's published Supreme Court judgement says:
"...before catching a taxi to Kings Cross where they went to a bar in Darlinghurst Road shortly before 9pm. There is no agreement about whether the offender consumed more alcohol in this bar."
The anti-alcohol brigade always blame venues for violence, claiming they don't apply Responsible Service of Alcohol (RSA) provisions, ie refusing to serve drunks. Apparently they ignore this in the interests of maximising their evil profits. However I can get absolutely shitfaced and still act sober enough to get into a pub and then served.

The judgement does say Loveridge had been refused entry to a bar in Bayswater Road at about 9.30pm immediately before he started on his violent rampage. Possibly this bar's correct application of RSA principles actually triggered or aggravated his violence, illustrating the dilemma venues have in managing pre-fuelled drunks - they are damned if they do or don't. It illustrates that RSA is an inexact science and tighter enforcement will not necessarily solve problems.

It also annoys me that this tragic crime has been enrolled by the anti-alcohol brigade in their campaign for earlier closing and lockouts at venues.  It happened at about 10pm folks. How would earlier closing have helped that?

Paul Nicolau also claims that violence in Kings Cross has already dropped by 37% as new precinct management principles have been applied over the past few years. This fits with what I know from local sources and neutralises the anti-alcohol brigade's mantra that Kings Cross should emulate Newcastle's lockout regime, which is said to have reduced violence by the same amount.

It's also interesting reading the rationale behind the controversial sentence imposed on Keiran Loveridge. I think it was a fair sentence by the standards of our legal system. However the role of Loveridge's involvement with Rugby League is seen as a mitigating factor rather than part of the problem, as I have previously blogged.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

As legal cannabis spreads in the US, surprise! The sky has not fallen.

A map of the USA showing states in green that have
legalised medical marijuana use. States in orange
have legalised recreational use (as of November 2012).
It must be a worst-case scenario for prohibitionists. Their horror scenarios warning against legal cannabis, always evidence-free, are quickly being roundly refuted by reality.

As this New York Times story shows, there are no armies of stoned teenage zombies staggering around the streets, crime has not increased, there is no carnage on the roads and it looks as if less alcohol is being consumed - explaining why self-interested alcohol industry bodies oppose legalisation.

Meanwhile some counties are raking in a nice little tax earner.

True, there are some downsides. Some people have complained about the smell emanating from their neighbours' cannabis crops, a very serious first-world problem I would say. And precincts that didn't properly regulate medical marijuana outlets have had some local nuisances.

Still prohibitionists bang their drums, one police advocate complaining that new relaxed rules have resulted in "robberies of cash-rich marijuana farms in Northern California". I guess he would prefer to continue locking up disproportionate numbers of Blacks and Hispanics on pot charges instead of solving actual crime, or the old system where illegal growers could not report similar robberies and perhaps resort to illegal means of obtaining justice (the Al Capone/bikie gang factor). Or maybe he's just concerned that his fiefdom will shrink now it is no longer so super-sized by prohibition.

Meanwhile 58% of Americans support legalising the drug. Prohibitionists must be panicking (because one thing's for sure - most of them will not let reality change their ideology-based opinions).

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Teen tragedy reported but the point is totally missed - again

Drugs for sale on the Silk Road site.
Again I found myself shouting at the TV last night as ABC's 7.30 reported on the death of James Munro at Sydney's recent Defcon festival after taking some pills.

His grief-stricken father was featured, saying the things you would expect someone to say in such horrible circumstances.

He and the editors focused the blame on the Silk Road website, now shut down. It seems James had bought his pills there, believing them to be MDMA ecstasy.

James and two friends had driven all night from Melbourne. While waiting in line to enter the festival,  the presence of police with sniffer dogs induced James to take his three pills. Within 15 minutes he was convulsing and later died in hospital after suffering a 42-degree temperature.

James' father thinks his son would still be alive if Silk Road had been shut down two weeks earlier, and he could be right.

But maybe not. The whole story is really about prohibition, and it is very arguable that prohibition killed James Munro. But, as usual, that subject was entirely absent from the story.

The elements of the tragedy are all too common.

The police and sniffer dogs who triggered James' tragic decision to drop a probable overdose of pills are simply the face of prohibition.

The story pointed out that no-one knows what is actually in these illicit substances - very true, but that too is entirely because of prohibition. If the better quality drugs were legal, regulated and properly labelled with dosages - like legal pharmaceuticals - most damage could be averted. What James suffered sounds like an allergic reaction, but to what?

Silk Road, a marketplace for unregulated, unlabelled drugs, also thrived under prohibition, and if it had been shut down earlier James could have obtained his drugs from another site or from the streets of Melbourne, so shutting it down may not have saved the teenager's life. That's also a feature of prohibition - shut down one dealer and several more pop up immediately.

Because most public discourse about drugs, like this story on 7.30, boils down to "Just say no", good constructive advice about safe drug use is hard to find.

The kids drove all night, so they were physically and mentally low before starting an all-day festival on drugs. Properly advised people would know this is not a good idea at all.

To report stories like this without mentioning prohibition is misleading, unbalanced and irresponsible, only perpetuating the prohibition framework that in fact contributes to the tragedies.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Aussie idiots chase their own tails but never mention the War

Discarded syringes in a Kings Cross gutter
- this is not what prohibition is supposed to look like.
Why are there so many idiots in Australia? Especially, it seems, among police, politicians, academics and journalists.

A lengthy piece on ABC Radio National this morning looked at the escalating War on Bikies in Queensland and Victoria, where they are apparently supplying methamphetamines (Ice) more and more into regional and country towns.

As usual, however, prohibition was not mentioned once in any report on the above that I heard.

The brilliantly intelligent Queensland government is going to - wait for it - ban bikies from working in tattoo parlours!!! Woo-hoo, that'll do it!

RN's James Carlton this morning interviewed Criminal Law Professor Andreas Schloenhardt from Queensland University who specialises in organised crime and 'narcotrafficking'.

Carlton asked Prof Schloenhardt what was the root cause of the drugs/gangs problem. Professor Schloenhardt replied: "That's the $64 million dollar question". I'm thinking: "Here comes a mention of Prohibition!" but no -  he went on to say that we needed to do more research into the gangs and "engage" with them. Hello! Engage with the nice bikies and they'll just stop dealing drugs? Is this gentleman serious? No doubt the professor himself would be the best person to get any such funding.

Mind you Radio National might have edited out talk of prohibition, in which case I apologise to the good professor but it looks like the old pattern of people making money from prohibition having a vested interest in defending it.

Contrast this imbecilic Australian discourse with what's going on in the UK, where Durham's chief constable Mike Barton - the intelligence lead for the Association of Chief Police Officers - wrote an opinion piece in The Observer calling for decriminalisation and regulation of Class A drugs because "prohibition had put billions of pounds into the hands of villains who sell adulterated drugs on the streets".
Britain's police forces all map the activities of organised crime. In my force area we have 43 organised crime groups on our radar. Most of them have their primary source of income in illicit drug supply; all of them are involved in some way. These criminals are often local heroes and role models for young people who covet their wealth. Decriminalising their commodity will immediately cut off their income stream and destroy their power.
In a separate BBC piece, medical researchers show that the "War on illegal drugs is failing" because the drugs "are now cheaper and purer than at any time over the last 20 years".
The report said street prices of drugs had fallen in real terms between 1990 and 2010, while their purity and potency had increased. In Europe, for example, the average price of opiates and cocaine, adjusted for inflation and purity, decreased by 74% and 51% respectively between 1990 and 2010, the Vancouver-based centre said. The seven drug surveillance systems the study looked at had at least 10 years of information on the price and purity of cannabis, cocaine and opiates, including heroin.
Among the 945 comments underneath that story was this bit of light relief:
"Only a user loses drugs" - Wideboy

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Drug addiction is less about the drugs

You often see public vitriol poured onto drug addicts, and the poor presentation and behaviour of some of them fuels a contempt that prohibitionists then enrol as a reason for further prohibition. However my knowledge of the drug addicts who inhabit the streets of Kings Cross is that they mostly have other serious problems such as illiteracy and/or a dysfunctional, violent and poverty-stricken family history. It seems to me that many are condemned to a miserable life and what solace they can obtain from drugs seems a relatively rational choice - a little comfort in a very hard life.

New research from the USA reinforces my view. Carl Hart, a black, dreadlocked associate professor at Columbia University, has been experimenting with people under controlled conditions by giving them crack and ice, and observing their choices when later offered money as an alternative to further doses. The results question the stereotypical addiction narrative because he found people will choose against drugs when they have an alternative. The NY Times article linked above concludes as follows:
So why do we keep focusing so much on specific drugs? One reason is convenience: It’s much simpler for politicians and journalists to focus on the evils of a drug than to grapple with the underlying social problems. But Dr. Hart also puts some of the blame on scientists.
“Eighty to 90 percent of people are not negatively affected by drugs, but in the scientific literature nearly 100 percent of the reports are negative,” Dr. Hart said. “There’s a skewed focus on pathology. We scientists know that we get more money if we keep telling Congress that we’re solving this terrible problem. We’ve played a less than honorable role in the war on drugs.”

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Moral panic and the 'pathogenic narrative on drugs'.

Here's an interesting article describing the 'negative loop' that exists in the media and society about illicit drugs - a loop consisting of prohibition - negative media - moral panic - prohibition.

It flags the twisted basis of research into drugs in Australia (as typified by our National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre, whose director Professor Jan Copeland has recently been getting active in online discussions, pushing her anti-cannabis stance - click the tags below for detailed stories about NCPIC).
An analysis of Australian discourse about psychoactive substance use explains this process in terms of the dominant pathogenic narrative of drugs, which limits discussion to their harm. Since Australian government funding is directed towards research that seeks to provide evidence of drug-related harm, the pathogenic narrative is self-reinforcing.
The article also explores the growing awareness that psychedelic drugs are not as dangerous as popular mythology holds and in fact may be very useful in treating some mental illnesses, especially MDMA's usefulness in treating post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Monday, August 19, 2013

How anti-cannabis laws created crime in Holland

Sometimes live action video gets the message across better than words, words, words. Here's footage of a street dealer threatening people in a coffee shop when the ban on selling cannabis to tourists was lifted in Maastrecht and the dealer lost his customers. Then he is pursued, maced, arrested but still not charged.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Forget the hysteria, these are the real relative harms of drugs

The South China Morning Post has reported on the polarised cannabis debate in Hong Kong, where penalties for using it run to a HK$1 million fine and seven years in prison.

But the chart above puts the 'problem' into perspective (noting that, even in this analysis, the benefits of any of these drugs are not considered - itself a form of bias). Ignoring evidence and logic, the government remains staunchly conservative:
"A dangerous drug is a dangerous drug. We have a zero-tolerance policy," says Commissioner for Narcotics Erika Hui Lam Yin-ming.
But the SCMP report broaches a broader reality:
In 2010, the British medical journal the Lancet published a study on how harmful 20 different substances, from alcohol to cannabis to heroin, were to users and to people around them in the UK. The study put alcohol at the top of the list, followed by heroin, crack cocaine. Several others including tobacco, came in above cannabis. 
The scientific journal Nature published a review in January that said old research that had shown a link between long-term cannabis consumption and decreasing IQ among users no longer held water.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Early research questions stoned driving orthodoxy

Early, tentative research shows a significant drop in road deaths in US states with legal medical cannabis. Who'd a thought?

US Attorney-General pulls back from the War on Drugs

In a speech to the American Bar Association, US Attorney-General Eric Holder broaches a significant admission that the War on Drugs is ineffective and unsustainable:
As we come together this morning, this same promise must lead us all to acknowledge that – although incarceration has a significant role to play in our justice system – widespread incarceration at the federal, state, and local levels is both ineffective and unsustainable. It imposes a significant economic burden – totaling $80 billion in 2010 alone – and it comes with human and moral costs that are impossible to calculate. 
As a nation, we are coldly efficient in our incarceration efforts. While the entire U.S. population has increased by about a third since 1980, the federal prison population has grown at an astonishing rate – by almost 800 percent. It’s still growing – despite the fact that federal prisons are operating at nearly 40 percent above capacity. Even though this country comprises just 5 percent of the world’s population, we incarcerate almost a quarter of the world’s prisoners. More than 219,000 federal inmates are currently behind bars. Almost half of them are serving time for drug-related crimes, and many have substance use disorders.
Holder goes on to outline plans to move away from mandatory sentencing, increase compassionate release and boost drug treatment programs. It's a small enough start and runs the danger of diluting anti-prohibition campaigns - but as Holder points out, the measures appear to have cross-party support (as well as being driven by GFC-related budget cuts). You've gotta start somewhere.
Chart from the Washington Post

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Killing people in the name of prohibition is disgusting

This perceptive story in The Guardian clearly illustrates how barbaric the death penalty really is. Writer Brigid Delaney references the execution of Van Nguyen in Singapore, recently dramatised in Better Man on SBS.

But even this story, like all too many in the media, fails to name prohibition as a key driver of this violence. Delaney argues:
There is the argument that trafficking drugs leads to the death of countless others who use your drugs, and that death is a just punishment.
She rebuts it with this excellent quote from Auberon Waugh:
Judicial execution can never cancel or remove the atrocity it seeks to punish; it can only add a second atrocity to the original one … So long as one sees killing as wrong there is no need to waste time with the deterrent argument, since it would be nonsense to try to prevent a theoretical evil in the future by perpetrating an actual one in the present.
While that is succinctly put, it fails to address the key fallacy in the original argument - that it is prohibition itself that causes most drug-related deaths, not the drugs. Those who don't yet understand why this is should read this short article, which puts it simply.

Also not mentioned is my own first objection to execution: the very real possibility of a false verdict, leading to the state murdering an innocent person after putting them through the horror of Death Row.

Nevertheless, Brigid Delaney's story is an eloquent condemnation of the death penalty and I commend it.

And Nguyen's case is only the tip of the iceberg - see my previous post on this topic: War on drugs still killing and incarcerating.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

The circular logic of prohibition

We prohibit a ‘bad’ drug on the rationale that it is dangerous, and then construct social policies that assure high risks related to the drug’s use - William L White
That just about sums up the circular logic of prohibition, as illustrated by the current rash of police warning people not to take illicit drugs because you never know what's in them. If that's the main reason not to take them, prohibition is clearly the problem.

These issues are explored in a book by Bill White, Pathways from the Culture of Addiction to the Culture of Recovery.

The book is summarised nicely by blogger David Clark who lists some of the ways prohibition makes drugs more dangerous and describes this as immoral:
In essence, technology is being withheld in order to keep the risk of prohibited drug use high, in the hope it will deter use. This is morally wrong. The price of this approach is that people contract disease and die not because of the drug, but because of the social policy that prevents society from reducing risks associated with its use.
The irony is - and here we revisit the circular logic of prohibition - that the foundation of prohibition is always a 'moral' one (even if you ignore the religious element in the movement). Writes Clark:
The drug and its users are held responsible for a number of problems in society, and the survival of society can be portrayed as being dependent on prohibition of the drug. The drug, dealers and even users are viewed as ‘evil’, corrupting our young people. Anyone questioning these statements is attacked and sometimes characterised as part of the problem that needs to be eliminated.
This stigma then makes it harder for addicts to recover. This prompts prohibitionists to argue for even more prohibition, and the cycle goes on.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Pope needs new media advisors - or a new brain

Oh dear. Pope Francis, whose public image vacillates between uber conservative and champion of the poor, has just revealed himself as a mindless uber conservative.

In a tour of Brazil punctuated by street riots from poor people protesting against the state expenditure on same, he has pontificated about drug prohibition.

He criticised South American governments who, facing the destruction of their societies and economies by the USA-driven War on Drugs, have espoused regulated legalisation.

"The scourge of drug-trafficking that favours violence and sows the seeds of suffering and death requires of society as a whole an act of courage," he said.

His prohibition stance misses out on the unfortunate fact that prohibition itself creates the violence and death. Just think Al Capone's Tommy-gun street shootings compared with your local pub taking a delivery of kegs in the morning. The Pope is effectively saying: "Illegal drugs create violence so you must make them more illegal", an idiotic circular argument.

Francis the Infallible Pontiff  then went all kind and human, saying this: "Rather it is necessary to confront the problems underlying the use of these drugs, by promoting greater justice, educating young people in the values that build up life in society, accompanying those in difficulty and giving them hope for the future."

As if this would be impossible under regulated legalisation, rather than infinitely more possible if it was government policy. His veneer of kindness is just code for a violent military crackdown on people who prefer drugs other than alcohol. He is either a Fool or Evil.

Or both?

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Prohibition contradictions still thriving in mainstream media

Some of the false ecstasy pills thought to contain
chemicals more dangerous than MDMA. Legal pills
would come with a precise list of ingredients and
safe dosage information.
I've been facebooking rather then blogging for a while but I had to comment on this story from The Irish Times because it encapsulates the prohibitionist nonsense that too many supposedly quality news journals accept and regurgitate without balancing comment.  It's as if otherwise intelligent and cynical journalists are so completely blinded by prohibition propaganda that they are hypnotised into toeing the line like rabbits in headlights.

It seems an alarming number of people  have died recently in Scotland and Ireland after taking 'ecstasy' - eight in Ireland and six in Scotland.

As usual it seems the problem is not 'ecstasy' as in MDMA but other more dangerous chemicals such as PMA, 5IT or AMT.

Of course this is happening BECAUSE OF PROHIBITION, which ensures there is no regulation on the underground, untaxed drug trade. This of course is not mentioned, with police and doctors coming out with the usual howlers:
“It is a form of chemical Russian roulette: you don’t know what you are taking, you cannot be sure what they contain and you are putting yourself in harm’s way,” said Det Chief Supt Roy McComb.
That's true, Detective McComb - but it's only because of prohibition. So your statement is the perfect rationale for legalising and regulating the much safer drugs.

The same goes for this:
"...the police service has issued a warning about ecstasy bulked out with a slower-acting chemical, which carries an added risk because users may take extra pills under the misapprehension that the drug is not working."
 Sticking closely to the prohibitionist hymn sheet, Roy McComb also...
"...called for new laws to address the problem of so-called “legal highs”, substances which may be sold as plant food, bath crystals or pond cleaner, but which produce similar effects to controlled drugs.
Detective Chief Supt Roy McComb
"Controlled drugs", Det McComb?  IF THEY ARE "CONTROLLED", HOW COME SO MANY PEOPLE ARE APPARENTLY DYING FROM THEM? Not to mention that prohibition does jack up the price of illicit drugs and creates a market for the newer, untested drugs that sniffer dogs, for instance, are not trained to detect.

Nevertheless, McComb is on a roll:
“We need legislation to deal with the issue,” said Mr McComb. “There are many people out for a fast buck. People are selling products and they don’t know if that person is going to be alive the next day.”
Yes Detective McComb, that's what happens under prohibition.

But here's the real kicker. A common pattern when people have problems from illicit drugs is a reluctance to seek treatment BECAUSE OF PROHIBITION. Dr Richard Stevenson, Glasgow Royal Infirmary's senior specialty doctor in emergency medicine, said of the Scottish deaths:
"All the fatalities were due to symptoms which are treatable if help is sought early - sadly in these cases they all came into A and E too late."
The police in these cases are doing little more than featherbedding their own power and massive drug enforcement budgets. Too bad about the casualties.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Australia's propaganda rag goes over the top

Right here is the main problem with Australian politics. Are Murdoch's readers seriously as stupid as Sydney's Daily Telegraph assumes today? By contrast, Michelle Grattan on 'The Conversation' website gets it about right: "A media policy mouse with a modest roar. That won’t stop the media companies and the opposition treating it as a lion that must be slain." I know where I'd rather get my information.

Tony Abbott and the Liberals are uncannuly in touch with the mentality this nonsense creates and appeals to. They know just how to pitch meaningless but emotive sound-bites to this constituency: "Stop the boats;" "The carbon tax will ruin the economy;" "You can't trust Juliar".

Meanwhile Labor and The Greens labour on under the illusion that actually doing things for the good of the people, or being 'right' matters a damn. Those days are gone, folks. Welcome to the Brave New World.

And so much for the maxim that "The first one to mention the Nazis loses the debate". And using propagandists as fodder for your propaganda is cheeky to say the least.