Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Mexico's horrific war on drugs failing

Mexico's horrific war on drugs is failing hopelessly even as all the drug business indicators get healthier. The war was declared for political reasons by a politically desperate President Calderon (Yes, that old story).
...40 people died in firefights between police and army forces and the drug cartels. More than 6,500 fatalities will have occurred this year alone, topping last year's total, which was double that in 2007...

Of the 220,000 people arrested on drug charges since Mr Calderón took office, three-quarters have been released. Only 5 per cent of the remaining 60,000 or so have been tried and sentenced.
So reports Jorge G Castañeda, former foreign minister of Mexico (2000-3), a Global Distinguished Professor of Politics and Latin American Studies at New York University, in The New Scotsman.

Señor Castañeda says the war is...
...unwinnable because it fails to comply with the tenets of the Powell Doctrine, elaborated 18 years ago by Colin Powell, then chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, in relation to the first Gulf War.

Mr Powell enumerated four conditions that must be satisfied to succeed in a military operation. One was deployment of overwhelming force, which the Mexican military lacks. Another was definable victory, which one never has in a war on drugs. The third condition was an exit strategy at the outset, which Mr Calderón lacks, because he can neither withdraw in defeat in his own country, nor withdraw and declare victory.

Monbiot shreds Plimer

The battle over climate change has descended to the level of religious bickering since the sceptics have massaged enough anti-science to counter the mainstream of science on climate change.

Both sides can muster arguments sophisticated enough to baffle the average Joe, so such people have to accept one side or the other as a matter of faith.

So it's good to see one of the current stars of the sceptic movement, Professor Ian Plimer, being shredded on Lateline by non-scientist George Monbiot.

As blogged here previously, Plimer's book spouts numerous denial-side factoids that have been soundly and publicly discredited -- but there are always a few ignoramuses left who will believe them, so he keeps getting paid to spout them. Monbiot and host Tony Jones asked Plimer the hard questions about these points and Plimer evaded, evaded and evaded, unable to defend his stance.

This helps me avoid any crises of faith as I find it hard to believe someone who repeats an argument after it has been soundly discredited. Plimer is the inspiration for such leading 'experts in the field' as Tony Abbott and Barnaby Joyce, our alternative government. The sad thing is, the ludicrous flat-earthery of these people helps make Kevin Rudd look good by doing next to nothing.

It's almost funny.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Sounds from the vault -- early Fairlight demo

Classic 1970s uber-cool dudes demonstrate the new-fangled Fairlight synthesiser in 1980 -- it's played by Michael Carlos who was a bit of a keyboard hero for me in the early '70s, playing with Jeannie Lewis on her album Free fall through featherless flight and earlier with Tully.

While the clip shows the Australian origin of all today's techno sound, best of all is the endless grinding sound of the huge floppy disc loading some sounds (probably about 128k). Comparing that with today's flashcards, I wonder what we will be using 29 years from now?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Violence down as moral panic rises

It's official -- alcohol-related violence IS down 4.5% over the past two years, even as Council clamps down on Sydney's night economy, repeatedly justifyling the policy with claims that violence is rising and 'out-of-control'.

The new figures, as reported in today's Sydney Morning Herald, come from the NSW Bureau of Crimes Statistics and Research.

They make nonsense of the statistics produced by Council's recent late-night trading research, with Clover Moore and her cohort repeatedly quoting that 60% of respondents "consider that those areas are experiencing increasing rates of alcohol-related harm, and that appropriate ways to reduce... such harm include... enforcing a ceiling in the number of alcohol outlets..."

Violence has reduced even more than the average in Kings Cross since a marked increase in high-visibility policing. The Cross interestingly escaped last weekend's well publicised orgy of violence as colourfully described by the police media blitz. The police have, significantly, departed from their usual plodspeak in favour of emotive language highlighting words like 'disgusting'. This marks a shift from straight policing to social engineering, all part of the moral panic.

We observed Kings Cross on Friday night from our favourite kerbside drinking and people-watching spot, and I wrote a commentary on the peaceful night, and the police blitz, for The City News.

The Sydney Morning Herald today also runs a spirited defence of the Nanny State which states:
so too has the public mood been transformed on alcohol by the violence, distress and other harms its causes for others.
...or has the public mood in fact been changed by a tsunami of moral panic unleashed by the AOD sector which gets more funding the more panic they foment, and by politically bereft governments trying to score points by getting 'tough on' things, and by a small army of nannys and NIMBYs?

Today's declining violence figures -- occurring even as the population rises -- lend weight to the latter proposition.

PS (23 12 09) The the Alcohol and other Drugs Council of Australia (ADCA) has joined the police in using morally loaded language:   "Australia's 'Drinking Culture' - a National Disgrace" begins a pre-Christmas media release berating drinkers. It claims "84 per cent of Australians consider intoxication to be unacceptable" before listing the usual 'alcohol-related' horrors that fail to scare the kiddies. Meanwhile packed pubs and clubs around here continue to produce a babble of chatter and laughter whenever I walk past. I guess that must be the sound of the remaining 16 per cent of Australians.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Canberra wants your input on drug strategy

The next five years of drugs strategy is being formulated by the Federal Government. While they are seeking input from experts and the community, the following introduction on the consultation website implies that there will be no fundamental change:
Australia's National Drug Strategy 2004–2009 is in its final year of implementation. The Strategy has been evaluated by independent experts under the auspices of the Ministerial Council on Drug Strategy (MCDS). The evaluation found that the Strategy and its three pillars of supply, demand and harm reduction are fundamentally sound and have been vital to the success of the Strategy in reducing the prevalence of, and harms from, drug use in Australia over a long period.

Nonetheless, significant harms from drug use continue to occur in Australia and new trends are emerging. This Consultation Paper aims to identify emerging issues and seek input from expert stakeholders and the broader community on directions for the next phase of the Strategy 2010–2015.
My translation of that: 'A prohibition model will remain despite a lack of objective evidence that it works, but we are prepared to strengthen harm reduction strategies.'

If they were serious about that they would recommend more medically supervised injecting centres. The Kings Cross Centre has been evaluated to death, and it works well. Nevertheless it remains the only such facility in Australia and the NSW government maintains it on a trial-only basis.

All written submissions can be forwarded to the National Drug Strategy Consultation inbox ( or sent to:

National Drug Strategy Consultation

MDP 27

GPO Box 9848

Canberra ACT 2601

The closing date for submissions is Wednesday 24 February 2010.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Czechs decriminalise 15g of cannabis

The sizeable minority who enjoy recreational drugs other than alcohol can now do so in the Czech Rebublic without being persecuted by police, reports The Wall Street Journal.

Czechs drink the most beer and smoke the most cannabis of any country on the continent. As the WSJ points out, hops and cannabis are related botanically, being "the two sole members of the Cannabaceae family of plants."

Czechs will be able to carry up to 15g of cannabis or grow 5 plants for personal use. New rules for artificial drugs are being drafted which would allow people to carry two grams of methamphetamines, cocaine or heroin, five ecstasy pills or 5g of hashish without committing a criminal offence, reports Czech media.

Let's wait and see if the world ends or if people just do what they are doing anyway, minus the risk of arrest and jail.

PS 21.December.09 The Czech government has now decriminalised the harder drugs as well. The limits are:

Marijuana 15 grams (or five plants)

Hashish 5 grams

Magic mushrooms 40 pieces

Peyote 5 plants
LSD 5 tablets

Ecstasy 4 tablets

Amphetamine 2 grams

Methamphetamine 2 grams

Heroin 1.5 grams

Coca 5 plants
Cocaine 1 gram

Now Australian Governments need to either condemn the Czechs as irresponsible idiots, (and the Portugese, Dutch etc) or re-examine the prohibition culture here because Australia's laws are the idiotic ones... both propositions can't be true.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Copenhagen brings climate debate to a thunderhead

I am amazed at the effectiveness of the climate change sceptic movement in dominating public debate around the Copenhagen conference. Time and again, climate sceptics' pseudo-science is exposed but they just churn away regardless.

They even claim that climate change science is a global conspiracy by (a) the British Monarchy or (b) the communists whereas I think they are the ones in the pay of the fossil fuel industries. Here's a site with a neat list of climate sceptic organisations and where they get their money from. Surprise surprise, it's the oil and coal industries! Who would have thought!

And this article in today's SMH rounds up some science showing alarming global warming and extreme weather patterns -- as I wrote to the Herald in August when we had bushfires simultaneously in both hemispheres. It rings true to this lay person.

Photo: A storm out to sea pictured from the roof of the Blanco Restaurant building in Roslyn St, Kings Cross on 19 November. No, I'm not saying this is a result of global warming, it just seemed a graphic illustration. A few minutes later the storm produced a classic anvil thunderhead, below, as the sunset peeked through to highlight buildings in the eastern suburbs:

PS: 702 Radio is reporting the last six months were Australia's hottest on record with an average temperature of 20.1 degrees since June, according to the National Climate Centre. I know weather is not climate but... what's the downside of building renewable power stations and a decent rail network, just in case?

Are pushy web ads self-defeating?

Reading my news on The Sydney Morning Herald website, I get mildly annoyed by those ads that jump out and obscure the content. They are already highly animated to draw your attention, but at least they usually have an X button to close them. But today's ad for GIO's car insurance breaks new ground. Not only does it jump out but its 'close' button jumps around and is invisible most of the time, so you are drawn into a computer-game style shooting match instead of reading the news.

I don't even own a car. GET OUT OF MY FACE!

Result: I hate GIO. And the SMH.

I know it's problematic making money from web ads but I think this tactic damages everyone. If it keeps up I will simply turn elsewhere for my news.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Seized drugs boomerang back to the street

Another police-linked corruption scandal has erupted in Victoria, this time over shenanigans in the Forensic unit, reported The Age yesterday. It seems its civilian staff have been 'recycling' confiscated drugs and selling weapons that should have been destroyed.

This is one of the nasty side-effects of prohibition, which artificially inflates the price of drugs to the point where the temptation becomes too much for some scions of the law when a lucrative offer is made by crooks flush with cash from drug profits.

The black market industry, being unregulated, also attracts guns and shooters as criminals defend turf and punish wrongdoers.

The Age reports that "seized drugs were recycled by the former drug squad and either sold or given to informers as a reward for information."

It can be inferred that not only were drugs being 'recycled' but evidence was also being destroyed: "The 15-month Ombudsman's investigation began after an internal police audit found drugs worth millions of dollars were missing from the centre. The review found drugs listed as destroyed had been kept and exhibits that should have been stored were destroyed."

Two men have so-far been charged. In this case honest cops have blown the whistle on the crooks, which is heartening. But without prohibition, these honest cops would be better employed fighting actual crimes that hurt victims instead of spending their time digging out the endless dirt on their own side of the fence.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

The retail mix of Kings Cross, then and now

In cleaning out some comment spam this morning, I found an interesting list of main street businesses posted in 2004 when the strip was half-dead from the overtime and uncompleted street upgrade (Pictured here in September 04, pre-Smartpoles). If someone (me?) gets the time, a comparison today might be informative.

One consequence of the upgrade was killing the fruit barrow by moving it away from the station (where all those exiting the station passed it) into the mouth of Springfield Plaza (where only half the people exiting the station pass it). But Council didn't halve the rent and several operators have gone under. Now it sits there doing nothing but carry advertising and block the footpath. Does anyone have any ideas for an alternative use? It would make a great community access noticeboard... but Council bends over backwards to prevent THAT.

17 closed
7 sex shop
7 fast food
7 Accommodation
6 Pub / Bar
6 internet
5 strip joint
4 Money exchange
4 convenience
4 chinese massage
4 Café
3 souvenir
3 photolab
3 chemist
2 Tobacconist
2 newsagent
2 Hairdresser
2 Drug addict facility
2 Bottle Shop
1 Tattoo
1 Tab
1 Phone Shop
1 Library
1 gym
1 Flower
1 Club
1 Brothel
1 Bank
1 Fruit Barrow

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

NIMBYS call for total blockade of Kings Cross

My comments in The City News on police blockades of Macleay Street on Friday and Saturday nights have drawn a number of angry emails from supporters of the scheme. In reply to my contention that blockading one area only shunts the noise to other residential areas, several of them have said the other areas should also be blockaded.

The comment below is a fair (and polite!) summary of their position:

My reply to Ms Westmeyer is also below.

On the City News site...

  1.   Rebecca Westmeyer said,

      I couldn’t agree more that Macleay St residents should not be enjoying noise-free nights “while others cop the overflow”. The fact of the matter is NO RESIDENTS should be made or expected to tolerate the level of noise, disruption and anti-social behaviour which we have for so long campaigned for individually and via various residents’ groups, ad nauseum. So the hoons and late night revelers will have to also be moved on from wherever their detour now takes them. And so it goes until they get the message that they are not wanted in anyone’s neighbourhood. Mr Gormly’s comment about “the city’s role as a destination for work and entertainment” is incomplete. Cities, and in particular this most densely populated area of Australia, is also for living which not unreasonably includes a decent night’s sleep. And ‘entertainment’ also means things other than too much alcohol, drugs and general sleaze which is about all Kings Cross offers can currently offer the local community. So the bottom line about traffic diversion is that it is merely a symptom of very much bigger, generic and pathologic issues to do with Kings Cross.

2. Michael Gormly said,

      Rebecca neatly sums up the NIMBY position, confirmed by other campaigners who have angrily emailed me — they want to effectively blockade Kings Cross (and maybe the whole city) from suburban visitors who come here for entertainment. They postulate a global city with no entertainment precinct, a dull, economically depressing prospect that horrifies the majority of us who intelligently moved here because we actually want to live in the entertainment precinct.

      The very definition of a city is “a destination for work and entertainment”. Just because a small minority of us choose to live in the city does not alter that. Sure, find ways to mitigate problems without killing the party, but to simply gate off the city is arrogant and absurd.

      The NIMBYs don’t agree with this, but that’s because their sense of self-entitlement knows no bounds. They seriously propose that taxpayers’ dollars be permanently sunk into a weekend blockade of the whole of Kings Cross (and wherever else the party goes) to exclude the very people who pay most of those tax dollars. I think the police have better things to do that serve privileged elites.

Ms Westmeyer faithfully uses the language this well organised minority have evolved to present its position.  Note the moral panic intrinsic to the portrayal of our party precinct  as "too much alcohol, drugs and general sleaze" -- it's even "pathologic". These people always protest the noise etc they are "expected" to tolerate. But no-one "expects" them to tolerate it -- they simply chose to move into an area that doesn't suit their tolerance levels. They could always have moved to Pymble, or even just a few streets away where it's not so noisy. It's a similar issue in Lane Cove where privileged waterfront landowners are trying to get fishing banned from the public wharves because of the noise.

Photo: The Macleay St blockade in place on the weekend of 22/11/09 at 12.36 am. Supporters advocate this for all roads into Kings Cross. What do you think?

PS (5 December) I have learned that Council is taking over the Macleay St closures for another three months, paying the same commercial operators they pay to protect the rich people in Walsh Bay at The Rocks. Aren't you glad your rates and taxes are being spent on behalf of privileged NIMBYs? I am disgusted -- it shows our over-wealthy society has lost all vestiges of egalitarianism and a fair go for all.

Ms Westmeyer will be pleased, though.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Drugs in prisons show underbelly of prohibition

A story by an ex-prisoner in today's Sydney Morning Herald explains in gory detail the reality of drug use in prisons, where an astounding 50% of prisoners have a history of injecting drug use.

While the story pleads for needle exchanges in jails, it could equally present an eloquent case against prohibition, both because people convicted of drug-related crimes would not be in there in the first place, and because it demonstrates that policing and control simply cannot stop drugs.

In fact, as the story shows, they increase the harms. The tale of one prisoner who bled to death trying to inject himself with an eyedropper is educational to say the least.

The mechanics of full cavity searches are discussed. If prohibitionists imagine a world where each day half the population searched the anal cavities of the other half, the question remains: who searches the searchers? It does not even work in a prison, let alone the wider world.

This is the unpleasant and ludicrous culmination of prohibition. Those people who say "just get rid of the drugs" need to explain how that would be done.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Let's avoid a moral panic about drug driving

Melbourne's Age newspaper published a letter of mine yesterday about the vexed question of drug driving. I was responding to a piece by Beth Wilson who puzzlingly wrote "The likelihood of impairment because of drugs may be three times that of alcohol."

This referred to statistical numbers, not actual danger, so (as my letter said) it only muddied the waters, effectively supporting the latest moral manic about drug driving being generated by state governments and the National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre (NCPIC).

Why do I call it a moral panic? NCPIC's own evidence review into drug driving concluded in part that "a clear synthesis of results" was "unlikely". My own review of the evidence concludes that impairment from cannabis driving, for instance, is about the same as driving with .05% alcohol in your blood, which is legal. To throw the same enforcement resources and penalties at cannabis driving as are thrown at illegal drunk driving, then, is plainly wasteful and unjust.

While NCPIC positions itself as evidence-based, its own funding guidelines make it impossible for to provide any information that contradicts government policy. It contributes nothing to the body of scientific knowledge so effectively it is little more than a propaganda outlet. Instead of spending many millions each year to achieve this, the government could simply hire advertising agencies on an ad hoc basis and save themselves a packet.

The very public sacking of Professor Davis Nutt, the UK's chief drugs adviser, because he dared to say that the government's drugs policy was not supported by the evidence, created a media storm. Several of his colleagues have resigned in protest.

Interestingly, Professor Nutt's honorary position was not paid, and he spoke the truth. NCPIC on the other hand is well funded and cannot speak the whole truth. If you want to know what's going on, just follow the money.

Friday, November 13, 2009

ABC Radio reverts to ill-informed sensationalism

ABC Radio's World Today current affairs program departed from its usual high standard yesterday to run a tabloid-style piece blaming most of the problems of remote Aboriginal communities on cannabis use.

The piece is based on a 'study' by Alan Clough from James Cook University. Readers of this blog, or anyone abreast of the current evidence, will recognise the ludicrous basis of the piece from the following:
Cannabis use is now so extensive that psychotic episodes are becoming common place.
Really? This evidence-free assertion, if true, would turn the world of drug research on its head. Mr Clough is not a drug researcher, however, but works at the University's School of Indigenous Studies. It seems he has simply co-opted a few prohibitionist myths and worked them into his otherwise sensible research and scored a national headline.

No authoritative evidence review has yet been able to establish causality between cannabis and psychosis -- only "links" or "correlations" as used in this story. Even then, the numbers affected are so low -- a fraction of one per cent of cannabis users -- that the academic and media focus on this "link", compared to innumerable activities with far higher risk, is ludicrous. This type of issue is why six members of the UK's drugs advisory panel have now resigned -- because political panic merchants have ignored their considered advice about the relatively minimal dangers of cannabis.

That the article treats petrol-sniffing and cannabis use as roughly equivalent is also deeply ignorant and ignores any objective assessment of toxicity. It's similar to comparing rat poison with beer.

There is wealth of reliable evidence easily available online to support my statements. I blog hundreds of such links -- start with this or this; or this from the authors of the new, very well researched Marijuana is Safer book.

Mr Clough's attempt to link cannabis with violence is almost laughable, especially as it assumes withdrawal symptoms from "addiction" which is remarkable for something that is not physically addictive. Even the suicide rate and child sexual abuse were 'clearly linked' with cannabis use.

The piece is a political beat-up, the more so because it ignores the role of prohibition, firstly because it creates the very illicit market the story laments, and secondly because it makes cannabis easily available to minors in a totally unregulated market.

Worse, the story quotes Johnathon Nicholls of Wesley Uniting Care who blames a lack of policing, implying that more policing would somehow stop  cannabis use. Messrs Nicholls and Clough should come to Kings Cross where platoons of police with sniffer dogs make no difference at all.  Clough claims 70 per cent of remote Aborigines are using cannabis -- so what is he proposing? Arresting half the population? What could possibly go wrong?

Any 13-year-old smoking cannabis must be already suffering a deeper set of social and parental disadvantages. Cannabis use is only a symptom of these, not the cause as implied by this misleading story. These disadvantages existed long before cannabis was so popular, as Mr Clough must know.

This research could just as easily have linked chronic unemployment with problems among remote Indigenous people -- but drugs are a much better headline-maker.

The story is arguably racist as well, reading more like a 19th-century colonial report about the Pygmies than balanced discourse.

Shame on The World Today -- it's a stain on your usually excellent standard of journalism. Do a bit of basic research, please, before broadcasting such sensationalist tripe again. At least get a balancing view (Journalism 101). Same goes for Mr Clough.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Kings Cross glitz glamourised again

A lovely piece on Kings Cross appears in The Sydney Morning Herald today. Dugald Jellie writes of the suburb's starring role in the coming third series of Underbelly:

...a dissolute cast of strippers, gamblers, gunmen, hookers, dealers, bouncers, bagmen and boys in blue who ran the fabled red-light district in the days before the 1995 Wood Royal Commission.

This crossroads of debauchery – a place of shoot-outs, bright lights, ceaseless parties and all too many sordid nights to remember and mornings to forget – never has strayed too far from the headlines. Chk chk boom!
He quotes writer George Johnstone:
A cocky, callous place,” was how writer George Johnston long ago summarised this capital of deviance. He thought it an “awkward masquerade”; a strip with “misfitting foreigners about and odd eccentrics, [where] a raffishness has persisted, and it is better than Melbourne and better than the rest of Sydney”.
All of which strikes me as pretty true, and puts the lie to a few locals who write to newspapers claiming that The Cross used to be a "genteel" place "but now it's gotten worse" and the place should therefore be regulated into suburban blandness.

In fact the place is now tamer than it has been for nearly a century, even as Clover Moore, the Police and the State Government intensify their purse-mouthed War against Kings Cross with road closures, selective laws against licensed premises, sniffer dogs and anti-cluster rules designed to remove adult entertainment from the strip. Clover Moore in particular seems obsessed with turning it into "a mother-and-child-friendly shopping precinct" -- like every other suburb of Sydney. Don't these people realise there is a fringe of individuals and eccentrics who do not fit into suburbia, and we have a right to just one district that's different? Gentrification is death.

Pictured: Kings Cross last Saturday night – the testosterone swirls around Dugald Jellie’s "more bare legs than a man ought reasonably expect" as Sydney's youth in their thousands conduct their mating rituals. If only a few old locals hadn't lost their sense of humour and zest for life.

Monday, November 09, 2009

UK sacking backfires on prohibitionists

The British government must be regretting the sacking of its chief drugs adviser, Professor David Nutt. This heavy-handed attempt to gag the facts of the drugs debate has backfired -- an international media storm has broken out with most pieces mentioning Prof Nutt's argument that taking ecstasy is less dangerous than equestrian horse riding.

This is not the 'message' prohibitionists want spread about.  While they and the tabloid rags have been forced to retreat to a very suspect argument that Science is one thing and Policy is another, throwing the term 'evidence-based' out the window, the debate nevertheless rages on. A new piece in The Guardian not only collects a lot of evidence to show that tough-on-drugs policies (including alcohol) don't reduce drug use, but it also lists some unquestionable harms of prohibition.

Meanwhile the editor of Horse & Hound commented in a BBC News analysis that "Most people accept riding is a risk sport. The reward and the thrills more than make up for it."

A blog entry on the Release site picks this up, venturing into into previously unmentionable ground by stating that the risks of drugs, like horse-riding, can also be weighed up against their benefits, writing:
Every weekend millions of UK citizens perform the same kind of cost-benefit calculation in relation to their drug use. “Doing an E tonight? Yes, there are risks, but the reward and the thrills more than make up for it,” says the blog post.
This is heresy to prohibitionists who pretend that drugs have no benefits, or at least that the harms greatly outweigh them. How many times have you heard them say "Drugs ruin lives and destroy families"? Not for the vast, vast majority of users, they don't, any more than horse-riding, car driving or mountain-climbing.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Needle exchanges bring 27x cost-benefit

A clear and concise piece published in The Australian shows the tremendous success of needle and syringe programs (NSPs) in Australia which were yielding a 27-fold return in health, productivity and other gains. Gino Vumbaca, executive officer of the Australian National Council on Drugs, then calls for such services to be extended into prisons.

After pointing out that drug use is only a temporary part of most users’ lives and explaining the logic of protecting their health during this period,  he writes:
In particular prisons are a real blind spot in Australia’s response to HIV and hepatitis C. Prisons have over 30,000 people pass through their gates each year, often for less than 6 months, much higher hepatitis C rates than we see in the broader community, extremely risky injecting practices with at time dozens sharing the same old needle and syringe repeatedly, a high level of sexual assault and other violence and a large number of people with drug problems.

After leading the world for so long on preventing HIV, no prison in Australia has a needle and syringe program operating, or has even trialled one. This is despite such programs already operating in other countries including Spanish, Swiss and even Iranian prisons.

The opposition in Australia to a prison needle and syringe program generally focuses on two areas. First, just stop the drugs getting in. The reality is that there probably isn’t a prison in the world where drugs are unavailable. Huge numbers of people go in and out of prisons every day other than prisoners, such as staff, contractors, legal officials and visitors. Drugs are so easy to hide that it would require a full body cavity search every man, woman and child every time they entered a prison to find them.
His piece comes after the conservative-Christian-dominated group Drug-Free Australia issued a 'Parliamentary Briefing' attempting to persuade politicians that NSPs don't work and should be abolished. Mr Vumbaca's last paragraph above shows how unrealistic is any claim that prohibition can create a 'drug-free Australia'. If they can't keep drugs out of prisons, imagine trying to keep them out of a whole continent, and imagine the oppressive police state we would all be suffering and paying for during the attempt.

I'm pretty clear which side of the argument Jesus would have backed.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

UK government sacks drugs advisor

A few minutes after writing the post below which mentions the UK's Professor David Nutt, I learned that the government had sacked him as head of their scientific advisory panel on drugs.

They could not rebut his findings that some illicit drugs are less harmful than the legal ones, so they simply removed him, acting more like the Stasi or the Gestapo than representatives in a mature democracy.

The move, which followed calls in the shockjock press for the sacking, shows that only 'yesmen' can safely offer advice to the government. Inevitably such advice will often be flawed and decisions based on it will be bad for the country. This is one of the intrinsic weaknesses of totalitarian states and a key reason they fail.

Truth is toxic to ideologues, it seems, and this corruption of democracy will cause far more harm than any drug -- as one Guardian columnist writes.

The news is truly saddening, the action disgusting and its perpetrators guilty of a gross abuse of power.

"Professor Nutt clashed with Jacqui Smith when she was home secretary after he compared the 100 deaths a year from horseriding with the 30 deaths a year linked to ecstasy," reports The Guardian.

That journal also roasted the current home secretary in an editorial, quoting Professor Nutt:

"Alcohol ranks as the fifth most harmful drug after heroin, cocaine, barbiturates and methadone. Tobacco is ranked ninth," he argued. "Cannabis, LSD and ecstasy, while harmful, are ranked lower at 11, 14 and 18 respectively."

Go figure. Shooting the messenger does not change the truth.

PS (2 Nov): Two of Professor Nutt’s colleagues have reportedly resigned from the Advisory Panel in protest at the sacking, and more may leave. One of them is Dr Les King, a respected chemist and former head of the Drugs Intelligence Unit in the Forensic Science Service, who said: "Academics, medics and others are going to ask themselves if they want to serve on these agencies without payment, on their own time and expense, when the advice that they produce is routinely ignored."

The Independent lays out the small political storm triggered by the sacking.

Even Auntie ABC is on this one, reporting that the Scientists "have joined the criticism of a government accused of ignoring sound science in favour of tabloid driven myth."

Warning: The same danger is present in NSW, with a politically desperate government inclined to opportunism and appointing 'yesmen', while columnist Miranda Devine has called for the sacking of Dr Alex Wodak who campaigns for rational drug policy here.

PS (5 November): The Guardian has weighed in, roasting hypocritical politicians in an editorial:
Half the government, as well as the Conservative leader and three US presidents in a row, have used drugs in their own youth, and yet punitive laws continue to threaten others who do the same with prison...

The politicians from the main parties are thus united in continuing to talk rot. It is hardly surprising that the experts feel a need to make themselves heard – and do so in rather blunt terms.
Notably none of the usual prohibitionists nor the UK government have challenged the advisory panel's evidence and conclusions. The only remaining opposition comes from people with closed minds who deny fact in order to continue an unwinnable war. By Arthur Miller's definition these people are not even idealogues because that would require the 'principled denial of fact'. But hypocrites are not principled, so what does that make them?

Cannabis/schizophrenia link 'minimal' -- UK study

While we are saturated with assertions that cannabis causes psychotic mental illness, prohibitionists always act as if the evidence is concrete and stay very quiet about the very small numbers of users who actually have the disease.

And the numbers are very small. A new UK study looked at it the other way around -- How many people would you have to prevent from using cannabis to prevent one case of Schizophrenia?
The study found it would be necessary to stop 2800 heavy cannabis users in young men and over 5000 heavy cannabis users in young women to prevent a single case of schizophrenia. Among light cannabis users, those numbers rise to over 10,000 young men and nearly 30,000 young women to prevent one case of schizophrenia.
This shows how exaggerated is the moral panic on this subject, when many other activities acceptable to society carry FAR higher risks*. Of course the study stops short of describing the deeper fallacy in prohibitionist ideology -- where is the evidence that prohibition prevents anyone from using cannabis, let alone the millions that might be required to significantly reduce schizophrenia?

Professor David Nutt, who heads the UK Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, also says cannabis does not cause major health problems and repeats his claim that ecstasy is no more dangerous than riding a horse.

The UK government ignored the advice of the ACMD and upgraded cannabis into the Class B category, attracting higher penalties, in a move that Professor Nutt described as "devaluing scientific research". The Liberal Western Australian Government has just made a similar move, also against the advice of its own research  body. In both places, cannabis use had reduced during the period the drug was subject to lighter penalties.

WA brought its crackdown just as Dr Norm Stamper was in the state with his message of legal regulation. He reports in the Huffington Post on the rude reception he met in Parliament, the refusal to listen to evidence and the political paranoia of the lawmakers.

Check the letter below from one of the WA Liberal politicians. Every statement in it is demonstrably wrong. Truly, as Arthur Miller said, ideology is "the principled denial of fact".

Reply from WA politician Hon Nick Goiran MLC to a letter re repeal of the Cannabis Control Act 2003.


21 October 2009

Dear Mr X


Thank you for your letter regarding Premier Colin Barnett's announcement to introduce legislation to repeal the Cannabis Control Act 2003.

The State Government recognises that illicit drug use is a significant problem which affects the lives of users, their families, friends and the wider WA community and cannabis-related legislation is sending a clear anti-drugs message to the community.

Research shows that cannabis use can lead to a mass of health and mental health problems including respiratory problems and cancer risk, abnormalities in reproductive functioning and schizophrenia.
Drugs are an insidious threat to the fabric of our society. l have personally seen how people are enslaved, threatened and exploited because of drug debts and addiction. Illegal drugs ruin lives, shatter families and can create a downfall on our community foundation. We should seek to protect our fellow West Australians and these initiatives will crackdown on the plague of illicit drugs in our State.

From what you have written, you support a policy of 'Harm Minimisation'- a strategy to ameliorate the adverse consequences of drug use while drug use continues. I firmly believe that harm minimisation strategies communicate a message condoning drug use, a message I do not espouse. Furthermore, in my view harm minimisation strategies have been an abject failure.

Accordingly, l strongly support the Premier's announcement and the use of criminal law to deter drug use and look forward to voting in favour of the proposed legislation.

Yours sincerely

Hon Nick Goiran MLC

Member for the South Metropolitan Region


* Activities which carry FAR higher risks than using cannabis: Playing football (especially Gridiron); mountain-climbing; night yacht racing; rock fishing; riding a pushbike or motorbike; flying ultralight aircraft etc etc.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Some cities transcend the mundane

Just for some light relief, a friend put me onto the Village of Joy site which has a lovely collection of things of the imagination made real. I liked the 'Strange buildings of the world' section.

Sydney developers would do well to spend some time browsing these triumphs of playful, self-confident flights of the imagination.

Pictured is the National Theatre of Beijing (apparently photographed on the one clear day they have had since it was built).

Clive Small reveals size of drugs market

Clive Small, the former senior NSW cop behind much of the information used in the Underbelly series, is out spruiking his next book. He exposes the shallow spin that constitutes most police announcements about drug busts, referring in a radio interview to the four tonnes of ecstasy tablets that was nabbed in Melbourne a few years ago without making any difference to supply or price. Police get only a tiny fraction of the illicit drugs in the market.

Mr Small reminds us of the size of the $12 billion drugs black market and exposes Police successes in that area as mere fiddling around the edges ('Organised crime is out of control', SMH 27 October). He speaks blithely of "spending the big money needed to fight organised crime."

But he ignores the proverbial elephant in the room: that prohibition makes possible the vast profits that feed the beast, which is now so large that financing an effective drugs war would bankrupt whole areas of expenditure elsewhere and create something approaching a police state.

It was the repeal of prohibition that brought down Al Capone's gangs, and the same is required now. Whatever problems drugs cause they are less than the harms of prohibition and are best dealt with by education, regulation and treatment. The tax revenue would be a bonus.

Clive Small would do well to listen to his US counterpart, Norm Stamper, who takes the same arguments to a more logical conclusion.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A tricky one for climate change sceptics

A new bit of scientific evidence that humans are causing global warming will be difficult for deniers to rebut. It seems the Earth's orbit cycle has the planet some 966,000km further away from the sun than it was in the time of the big J, when temperatures were 5-6° warmer than they are now.

We should therefore be going through a cooling cycle, according to boffins who have analysed core samples from an Arctic lake that show cycles going back 200,000 years. But the samples show things have been getting much warmer since 1950, bucking the cosmic cooling trend and pointing to human activity as the likely cause.

So much for Senator Steve Fielding's global warming graph beginning in 1998.

PS 27/10/09: Funnily enough, that climate change expert Cardinal George Pell was using the temperatures at the time of Jesus to argue the opposite on radio yesterday -- saying that it was warmer then so global warming isn't happening. He also brought up the 1998 fallacy which has been rebutted so many times, so publicly, that it beggars belief how much information these dogmatists can ignore. No doubt God has fed him his factoids direct.

'Experts' repeat the dogma of moral panic

They've been around for years but the Adelaide Advertiser has just discovered a website for ecstasy users who exchange information about different pills. The users see it as a way of safeguarding  against the dangers of bad or dud pills, a risk that prohibition creates in the first place as there is no regulation or quality control beyond the efforts and goodwill of those who make the product.

But the Advertiser demonises the site as "an open forum for illicit narcotics dealers and users... exposing the truth about Adelaide's drug underworld." Not that ecstasy is even a narcotic but that's a minor detail to tabloid hacks.

"It's a really worrying trend," opines one sententious 'expert' who would apparently prefer kids swallowing pills to have absolutely no information about their effects (given that total abstinence is just not going to happen).

One user reported on the 'horrific' results of taking his pills:

"I was dancing and chatty and had some nice feelings on them," 'machetevip' said.

The Police were not impressed, saying the site provided no safeguards. But then, neither does prohibition.

A look at today reveals warnings about adulterated pills circulating, while it leads with a news story about a death in the UK possibly connected to a "rogue batch" of pills. There is a link to an online counselling site.

In its introduction the site states "Please Note: exists as a harm reduction tool and does not condemn or condone ecstasy use."

Far from exposing the 'underworld of narcotics dealers', this site appears to be a responsible and effective tool to safeguard the millions who prefer ecstasy to the coarse effects of toxic alcohol.

But then the Advertiser did publish the web address, so I guess they are really doing users a favour, while covering all bases by couching the report in shock-horror language that reinforces assumptions that prohibition is valid.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

More high-level studies show cannabis fights cancer

A slew of recent studies have shown that cannabis fights cancer, including one major population study by UCLA Medical professor Donald Tashkin who had previously fuelled reports that it caused cancer. He had earlier conducted several small reductive studies analysing the components of cannabis smoke and finding it had lots of nasties in it, then extrapolating that cannabis might be more carcinogenic than tobacco smoke. The media of course jumped on these with glee and ran shock-horror headlines world-wide.

Most media of course ignored the much larger population study which reversed the findings.

A good summary of such findings appeared today in Northern California's Times Standard newspaper, currently its most-read story.

Of course this does not mean cannabis brings no harms -- like everything, it has its dangers and can be abused. But let's get things into an accurate perspective please!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Just another noisy night in the Cross

I was awake anyway, listening to Sean Jones trying to start his Mr Bean Mini, when all hell broke loose.

The Sun-Herald bought the story from me, heading it: 'It's a nine-car wrecking machine' as a rampaging Nissan Pathfinder careened through Brougham and McElhone Streets, finishing up on its side outside our place after a 15-metre slide.

The hard copy edition also ran four of my photographs like the ones below:

Monday, October 12, 2009

WA returns to the dark ages with tough drug laws

Well, the Western Australians voted the Liberals in and now, true to form, Premier Colin Barnett has returned to a harsh prohibitionist regime without a shred of evidence that it will actually help anyone or reduce the harms of drugs.

Police will need no grounds to justify searching anyone they like. This will make it easy for police to persecute people and will inevitable fall harder on people who don't fit the 'normal' middleclass stereotype (although Liberal voters should be pretty safe). No-one can now call Australia a free country.

Premier Barnett even trots out the old saw that cannabis is a 'gateway drug' leading to the use of harder drugs. The fact that 99% or so of cannabis users never inject seems to to have escaped Mr Barnett -- but then ideologies are notoriously blind to fact.

Anyone caught with ten grams or less of cannabis will be forced to attend the Cannabis Intervention Requirement Scheme (CIRS), which will attempt to inculcate prohibitionist myth into the heads. Anyone who does not attend will be prosecuted. The joke is, a five-minute Google search can refute most of the message being preached at these sessions.

Anyone selling 'implements' now faces a $5,000 fine, double for selling to a minor.

But far from protecting young people, these laws will push more young people to improvise toxic 'Orchy bongs' made from plastic bottles, PVC hose and aluminium foil cones. Or will Mr Barnett also ban all those materials?

By driving illicit drugs further underground Mr Barnett also perpetuates an unregulated illicit supply model that contains no mechanisms to block supply to young people. As Dr Norm Stamper says, dealers don"t ask for ID.

To any small extent that Barnett succeeds in reducing cannabis use it's likely that alcohol consumption will rise correspondingly, which is a shame as cannabis is safer than alcohol by any objective comparison -- including in its connection with mental illness which is far less for cannabis than for alcohol.

The bad news is, the Libs are likely to win in NSW in 2011 and are likely to act in a similar way.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Confronting the fear of legalisation

The demonisation of recreational drugs has been a sustained and well-funded campaign going back to the days of Reefer Madness and beyond. As a result, many people have an acute fear and loathing of illicit drugs, which divides them from users who have tested the truth and found the War on Drugs to be largely based on scaremongering.

Last night Dr Norm Stamper, ex Police Chief of San Diego and Seattle and who now campaigns for regulated legalisation, spoke in Sydney about this.

"I agree in principle to what you are saying," said one listener, "but how can any government possibly consider the legalisation of a drug like methamphetamine [ice]?"

Dr Stamper told the story of a person he met who had been an ice addict for ten years before getting clean, and who was similarly horrified at the prospect of legalising it. Dr Stamper replied by asking where had the addict obtained his drugs every day for ten years, and pointing out that this continuous availability showed prohibition had failed. The man hadn't thought of it that way, and neither do prohibitionists want you to see it like that.

But, as Dr Stamper pointed out, "It doesn't matter what the drug, the principle is the same."

Listeners at the Centre for Independent Studies last night went through the usual litany of objections, the next one being a concern that regulated legalisation would tempt more people to try such drugs. Dr Stamper referred to the recent Zogby Poll which asked 1,028 people this very question. Only 0.6% said 'Yes'. After all -- as I keep asking people -- if heroin was legal would you start sticking a needle in your arm? So-far the answer has been 100% 'No'.

Another scary drug is LSD which, while inspiring the likes of Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon and Martin Sharpe, has also messed with the brains of various 'acid casualties' -- all under prohibition of course. Yet the drug is making a research renaissance as Swiss and US clinicians find its guided use can produce excellent results in treating cluster headaches, depression and post-traumatic stress, often removing the cause of the problem rather than just masking the symptoms like legal antidepressants. Such research was shut down in the 1960s when acid was made illegal. So much for the evidence base of the War on Drugs.

Warning: Don't try this at home, especially with a new 'super LSD' available on the black market in Australia called DOI which police claim produces a three-day trip.

Pictured: Dr Norm Stamper speaking at a meeting in Parliament House last week.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Signs of sanity in the WoD

Michael Duffy again sortied into sensible analysis of Australia's War on Drugs in the Herald this weekend.

'Australian governments spend about $4.7 billion a year on the war on drugs,' he wrote.

And: 'John Humphreys, an economist with the Centre for Independent Studies, says: "It gets interesting when you try to do a cost-benefit analysis on the prohibition. Basically, there aren't any benefits."

Today I'm going to hear Norm Stamper speaking at Parliament House -- He's the ex-cop from Seattle who is a spokesman for LEAP, (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition), also featured separately by Michael Duffy in the SMH this weekend, quoting Mr Stamper:

"Every once in a while, someone in government has claimed progress," he said, "but they've been wrong. The immutable law of supply and demand will continue to work its magic for ever. Purity and prices will fluctuate, people's behaviour will fluctuate, but there has never been any point in the drug war where we've come close to winning. It is unwinnable, and it's immoral."

Still, the drug warriors will continue their moral panic and our local police will continue believing the fairy stories they learned during their training at Goulburn so they can continue fooling themselves they are doing something useful as they persecute Sydney's counter-cultures.

But for how long can they keep it up?

I wrote my own piece last week on the travails of Oxford Street, highlighting the role of over-regulation in aggravating the problems it seeks to solve -- including the way sniffer dogs frighten the nice people away from the inner city and thus promote the drinking culture people complain about so regularly. Here's the link to the City News piece.

Monday, September 28, 2009

More casualties in the War on Drugs

It seems Victorian police are improving their tactics in the War on Drugs, resulting in a sharp rise in the number of women being jailed. This might be a 'result' for the police, but it has led, according to a report in The Age, to...
a raft of complaints about the management of the state's female maximum security prison, the Dame Phyllis Frost Centre.

... community advocates want the prison's general manager, Emma Cassar, removed over a recent spate of near-fatal suicide attempts and drug overdoses and an unpopular restructuring of prisoners' pay.
Drug overdoses and suicide attempts? Gee, what a great outcome. Then, as The Age points out, what do these women do when they are released? What would you do if you were, say, a penniless female parolee with no job or home? The options are not attractive.

And who called a jail "The Dame Phyllis Frost Centre"? The very name would give you the heebie-jeebies. But apparently the late Dame Phyllis was a kindly soul who worked to improve the diet of female prisoners and help them keep their babies with them.

Sounds like things have changed for the worse. It's time to end this unjust and ineffective "War".

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Heroin addiction treatment: is forced rehabilitation the way?

Drug Free Australia's Gary Christian is again asserting that harm minimisation measures such as heroin trials or methadone maintenance just keep people addicted to drugs, and Sweden's harsh regime of forced rehabilitation is the answer. His reasoning is that Sweden also has very low rates of drug use, and a 1997 study showed 96% support by the Swedes for forced rehabilitation. It's a seductive thought -- just catch 'em, lock 'em up until they are over the withdrawals and let 'em go to become model citizens, problem solved!

As usual though, Gary Christian ignores several key points made by others in the debate -- could it be that Sweden's Lutheran majority with its temperance tradition is the main cause of both the harsh drug laws and the low usage rate? Prohibitionists always present the former as being the cause of the latter. Maybe not? Drug usage rates in nearby European countries with much more liberal approaches to drugs are as low or lower than Sweden's. This clearly indicates that the harsh approach is not the only way.

Also I wonder if forced rehabilitation (which I understand to mean involuntary incarceration) is very successful. What are the recidivism rates? Mike Ashton, writing in 2007 about outcomes from residential rehabilitation programs aiming at abstinence (the most expensive form of treatment), said:

"Despite the investment made in their rehabilitation, perhaps just 1 in 7 were enabled to sustain abstinence out in the real world and some (conceivably, every single one) of these will have had to enter methadone or other community-based treatment programmes to avoid continued relapse. Of the heroin users among them, within a fortnight of leaving residential care half had returned to the drug. (Gossop M. et al. “Factors associated with abstinence, lapse or relapse to heroin use after residential treatment: protective effect of coping responses." Addiction: 2002, 97, p. 1259–1267)

Added to this is the increased death rate as people with newly low tolerances accidentally overdose. And how many 'abstinent' success stories simply switch to alcohol abuse but are counted as 'cured' by prohibitionists with their double-standard regarding licit and illicit drugs?

And If Sweden is the shining success story it is claimed to be, someone had better explain it to several of their neighbours who must be really ignorant if prohibitionists are right: To quote from Alex Wodak in The Age the other day:

"In 1997, a large Swiss study concluded that for this minority of entrenched heroin users who had never benefited from repeated episodes of diverse treatments or prison, giving them heroin as part of their treatment provided huge benefits, with few side effects. Their physical and mental health improved considerably. Consumption of street drugs decreased. Crime, measured three different ways, decreased substantially. The treatment was much more expensive than the standard methadone treatment, but for every Swiss franc the program cost, there were gains of two Swiss francs.

"Rigorous scientific studies were then also conducted in the Netherlands, Spain, Germany and Canada. All showed similar results. All were published in reputable journals. This month, the results of a British study were released. Again, the results were similar to the previous studies. In each, heroin was self-administered under stringent supervision. Abundant, high-quality psychological and social support was provided.

"After a decade of heroin-assisted treatment in Switzerland, the treatment is still only provided to a steady 5 per cent of those seeking help.

"This small minority of severely dependent drug users is so important because they account for a disproportionate share of the drug-related crime.

"In a national referendum last year in Switzerland, 68 per cent supported retaining heroin-assisted treatment as a last resort. The Netherlands now also provides the treatment. Earlier this year, 63 per cent of members of the German parliament voted to allow heroin-assisted treatment. All major political parties in Denmark recently supported the treatment."

Could it be that 96% of Swedes are wrong? Or that their solution might be right for their country but not others? These shades of grey have no place in DFA's black-and-white world of harsh judgement. But they exist, Mr Christian, whether you ignore them or not.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

UK heroin trial slashes crime

A UK trial supplying chronic addicts with heroin under medical supervision has produced clear, positive results, reducing use, normalising the users' lives and slashing the crime they otherwise committed to feed their habit, reports the BBC.

It seems everyone wins. Now for governments to grasp the nettle and respond to the evidence. Don't hold your breath.

PS 22 Sep: The Age today ran a piece quoting Dr Alex Wodak recommending prescription heroin in Australia. The interesting thing is the readers' comments -- almost all in favour except a few flint-hearted individuals with an empathy bypass who recommend zero tolerance and execution, without offering any evidence that it actually works.

PS 23 Sep: And here's a firsthand account from a nurse who worked on the UK trial, with comparative costs of different approaches to drug abuse. He paints a a very positive picture of the trial and its benefits. It's a very different outlook from that of prohibitionists who would rather see continuing high rates of crime and death than 'send the message' that drugs are OK by treating addicts. There were 1,952 drug-related deaths in the UK in 2008, 45% from opiates and 39% from alcohol.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Prohibitionist campaign struggles with self-contradiction

The prohibitionist group Drug Free Australia is promoting a worldwide petition commending and supporting the War on Drugs. Its header states it is from Parliament House NSW but no Parliamentarian is identified in the document.

The No Place for Drugs Commitment, A Proclamation about the Harms of Illicit Drugs is Co-sponsored by Drug Free Australia and Women’s Federation for World Peace, for whom a web search reveals only a listing in a business directory and the Yellow Pages, with a Seaforth NSW address but no website [I have since learned WFWP is a branch of the Moonies].

The Commitment lavishly praises the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) which remains radically prohibitionist and claims to control drugs, despite worldwide evidence that drugs are rife and the War on Drugs kills thousands of people each year.

The Commitment focuses on harms to children and indigenous communities but contains typical rhetoric such as: "drugs control the body and mind of individual consumers, drug crops and drug cartels control farmers, and trafficking and crime controls communities;"
-- which seems to be a tacit admission that prohibition has failed to control drugs, especially after UNODC declared in 1998 it would make the world drug-free in ten years.

Herschel Baker of Drug Free Australia included me in a broadcast email promoting the Commitment. Concerned that their message could actually result in more harm to children, I replied to the address list as follows:

I have read the commitment disseminated by Herschel Baker of Drug Free Australia and commend the concern shown for children, who indeed should be kept away from drugs.

However the core message in the commitment is that prohibition is an effective way to do this. Given the latest claims about an eight-year-old Australian indigenous child smoking cannabis, it is evident that prohibition and the war on drugs has failed in its objective.

The Commitment itself claims that indigenous drug use is 21 times higher than the general population. This recognises that prohibition is therefore 21 times less effective among indigenous communities. Do you seriously believe society can intensify its war on drugs by a factor of 21 to combat this, or that it would be effective?

It's more likely that drug use by indigenous children is a symptom of wider social problems in those communities. What is wrong with the eight-year-old's parenting and environment that leads to the child's cannabis use? And even if prohibition did choke the supply of cannabis to that community, the child would most likely turn to sniffing glue or petrol, or drinking alcohol, all of which are far more dangerous than cannabis.

The cure for this problem is a lot more complex than drug prohibition, and concentrating on this one aspect risks diverting attention from the deeper causes of the problem. The drug use is not the fundamental problem -- it is a symptom of the problem.

The illicit drugs industry rivals the global oil industry in size, so the UN's Antonio Maria Costa's depiction of this as a 'stabilised' market is a hollow claim.

I and many other responsible people who support the reform of drug laws believe regulation and education based on truth rather than one-sided arguments will effect better control over drugs than prohibition, which historically creates the fertile ground for the very illicit industry that it seeks to proscribe.

It must be admitted that drugs are not 'controlled' when they are easily available to any young person in any town in most countries of the world.

I urge you to reconsider your position. Prohibition in fact worsens problems and puts young people at greater risk. I am sure supporters of this Commitment have the very best intentions but the solution they support in fact aggravates danger and harm.


Michael Gormly

The petition today has 25 names including Drug Free America head Calvina Fay -- although a couple of people have signed twice and Herschel Baker's own name is misspelt.

Below is a cut-and-paste of the signature list today -- for the record, as it will probably be edited in future:

Peter Phillips
EDward Kenneth Dove
John Chapman
Nan Ott
Jan Baker
Sandra Bennett
mary gillespie
Chuck Doucette
lynn sanchez
Mina Carakushansky
Elizabeth Pallett
jeremiah ronshausen
amy ronshausen
Bill Cameron
Bill Cameron
David Raynes
Lana Beck
Karen Belanger
Dianne Glymph
Dianne Glymph
Frans Koopmans
Cecilia Piedra
Calvina Fay
chris behrens
Hereschel Baker

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

NCPIC hard-wired for bias

The National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre is not funded to provide balanced information according to its director, Professor Jan Copeland.

Prof Copeland revealed this to a reporter from The City News who asked her why the Centre failed to provide information about the medical uses of cannabis.

“The free national cannabis information and helpline is not targeted at those who seek information on possible medicinal uses of cannabis and is not funded for this purpose,” Prof Copeland is reported as saying.

In other words, the Centre is tasked to provide only one side of the story. This of course makes a mockery of its claim to be 'evidence-based' as it relies only on negative evidence and must ignore positive evidence – evidence which is sufficient to have persuaded 14 states in the US to legalise medicinal cannabis, because it has been found to help people suffering a number of serious diseases including multiple sclerosis, post-traumatic stress syndrome and cancer.

A tagline on NCPIC's homepage coyly acknowledges this: "evidence-based information and related harms", it says (my bolding).

This makes a mockery of the term 'evidence-based' because if you acknowledge only the negative evidence about ANYTHING you create an unbalanced picture of it. Imagine researching cars, looking only for harms. Or football, or mountain-climbing. Focusing on only the negative aspects of any of these things (which are far more 'harmful' than cannabis) makes it easy to produce a horrifying picture of death, disease, violence and incapacitation. In other words, demonisation.

So it's fair to say NCPIC, a leftover from the John Howard years, has no more credibility than any political propaganda machine and people should balance its offerings with less one-sided sources of information, such as the myriad links via this site.

We acknowledge that there are harms to cannabis, so in that crucial sense The Kings Cross Times is more balanced and credible than NCPIC.

Just to prove it, we link to NCPIC above. For a really good look at some full-on prohibitionists check Drug Free Australia's site -- then compare their information to some of the other sites linked in the right-hand column. Then there's the Scientology anti-drug site Drug free Ambassadors, members of whom I encountered dressed in identical clothing running around Kings Cross distributing an anti-ecstasy booklet that was almost laughable in its panic-mongering. Ironically the warcry of this bunch of clones was "think for yourself, don't follow the crowd".

Below is a very scientific Scientology graphic illustrating the evils of ecstasy. It's rather good, don't you think?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Jan Copeland spins the evidence

If the worldwide consequences were not so disastrous, it would be almost funny to watch prohibitionists spinning their self-contradictory message. This week Professor Jan Copeland, Director of the National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre (NCPIC) made a startling statement reported in The City News -- nothing to do with me although I write for that journal -- in a story covering NCPIC's recent Cannabis Conference:
The Hemp Embassy also believes that the NCPIC, as an information service, should be providing information to the public about studies that suggest cannabis is not a gateway drug, cannabis does not have a causal link with schizophrenia and that cannabis does not cause lung cancer.

Professor Copeland said: “Each of these studies is of interest, although up to five years old, but none are without significant methodological flaws.”
Methodological flaws? ALL of them? Up to five years old? It's funny how all those studies are common traffic among AOD professionals and I have seen no credible claims that these studies are flawed, whereas many of the studies claiming cannabis is more and more dangerous are quickly exposed as junk science, especially NCPIC's offerings. Further, the studies suggesting cannabis is not so harmful tend to be large population studies, reflecting actual reality, while the studies portraying cannabis as the 'new satan' tend to be very small reductive exercises which are designed to show harm, and usually get all the headlines.

I think this is a case of the kettle calling the 'pot' black.

A great example of junk science is NCPIC's own study which attempted to label cannabis as a cause of (sorry, 'linked with') violence. It did a quick statistical crunch of people presenting at St Vincent's Casualty and found that a lot of the people involved in violence had used cannabis. Never mind that they may have also taken ice, or alcohol, or been beaten up because they owed their dealer $400 (a symptom of prohibition, not the substance). Never mind that St Vincents Casualty is constantly besieged by marginalised, dysfunctional junkies trying to wangle opiate medicine, which would skew your sample somewhat and is another consequence of prohibition. Never mind the St Vincent's Casualty doctor who wrote to the SMH observing that he had never seen an emergency caused by cannabis. Never mind the swathe of studies showing that cannabis does not cause violence.

And these studies are not tinpot little junk studies such as NCPIC's, either. Major, credible evidence reviews consistently find that cannabis is not a cause of violence -- carried out by such bodies as the Canadian Special Senate review (2002), the British Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, SUNY Buffalo's Department of Family Medicine (2005), the US National Drug Intelligence Center, and Oxford University. Are these organisations all producing flawed science, Professor Copeland? Or are you little more than a propagandist on a payroll?

I got all the above references from a new book, Marijuana is safer, So why are we driving people to drink? Funnily enough, another of the 45 footnoted references in the same chapter is a 2007 study by none other than Jan Copeland herself. It showed that 70% of Americans who seek treatment for cannabis are coerced into it by the courts (rather than presenting because they thought they had a problem), which pricks another of the current prohibitionist myths -- that an increase in cannabis-related presentations to doctors shows that today's 'skunk' is super-potent and causing problems which send the 'victims' to the doctor.

Ironically, NCPIC itself seems to be propagating this myth, despite Professor Copeland's own study. A story yesterday in the Townsville Bulletin about eight-year-old indigenous kids smoking pot quoted a NCPIC report:
The centre reported last year 19,000 general practice consultations across Australia in 2008 involved the management of cannabis-related problems.
We have 'drug courts' here in Australia which also give people busted for cannabis the choice of conviction or 'treatment'. This one is a furphy, Professor Copeland, as you well know by your own research. Or are you going to claim your own research is 'methodologically flawed'?

While it is obvious that eight-year-old kids should not be smoking pot, I would suggest that the problem is not the pot -- it's the kid's social environment. If you prevented them smoking pot without addressing the larger social problems, the balloon effect would probably just push them onto sniffing petrol or glue, far more harmful. Would heavier pot prohibition really solve the plight of disadvantaged Aboriginals? Or is it a simplistic red-herring?

But such logic is too deep for the moral panic merchants. The story goes on to parrot all the current myths:
...teachers needed to be more skilled in educating students about the serious mental health issues, including addiction and dependency, depression and schizophrenia, associated with regular use of cannabis.
Oh well, so much for accurate public information.

Pot easier for teens to buy than beer

My personal observation of Sydney teenagers demonstrated that alcohol, which is legal but regulated, is more difficult for under-18s to buy than pot, which is illegal and unregulated. Although teen drinking is a problem, I would guess that alcohol prohibition would see kids drinking illegal firewater behind the bus-stop after school, with worse consequences than we see today.

My perception is backed up by a report from Columbia University which says:
Forty-two percent of 12- to 17-year olds can buy marijuana in a day or less; 23 percent in an hour or less. Compared to last year, this is a 35 percent increase in teens who can buy marijuana in an hour or less (23 vs. 17 percent) and a 14 percent increase in teens who can buy marijuana in a day or less (42 vs. 37 percent). From 2007 to 2008 this represents an increase of 1.4 million teens who can buy marijuana in an hour or less (5.8 vs. 4.4 million), and an increase of 1.1 million teens who can buy marijuana in a day or less (10.6 vs. 9.5 million).

Half of 16- and 17-year olds say that among their age group smoking marijuana is more common than smoking cigarettes.

Marijuana continues to be easier to buy than beer: 23 percent of teens find it easiest to buy compared to 15 percent who find beer easiest to buy.

I found the link to that report in a New Scientist piece arguing that prohibition is ineffective and makes the world a far more dangerous and ugly place. Prohibitionists need to disprove that if they are to be taken seriously.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

A voice of reason and compassion

From the voice of paranoid intolerance (see post below) to the words of Pastor Graham Long from the Wayside Chapel in Kings Cross:
If drug law reform is ever to take place in this country, the way will not be led by politicians who count the numbers first and consider the issues second. The pompous end of the media seem to be more interested in generating heat than light. I seriously doubt whether some of the "stars" actually believe what they say and print. Alas too, the Church which at times can lead with courage, on this issue is "fiddling while Rome burns". No, if drug law reform is ever to happen in this country, I believe it will be led by parents with broken hearts. Parents who know deep down that the death of their child need not have been. It is grieving parents who just know that the "war" on drugs is pointless: They know that there must be a better way. There are plenty of parents who see in despair the endless resources we are willing to spend on "the war", that makes criminals of people who need help. It is deeply wounded parents who know that police, courts, gaols and more police are not the answer for people struggling with addiction. I may never see it, but I have a dream that one day we as a society will be able to offer help rather than judgement. I cop criticism from the chest beaters for being "soft on drugs" but I speak with love from the gutter not with a gun or a bible on my hip or from a plush office. Countries that are relaxing their approach to drug law are seeing no spike in drug taking. I think drug control makes a lot of sense and that prohibition makes no sense at all. Just to be clear, I think a drug free life is the best life. I think a country without floods and earthquakes is the best kind of country to live in. To prepare for floods; to regulate building codes for the possibility of earthquakes, does not mean that I'm "soft on earthquakes". On this highly charged subject where everyone is an expert, I would recommend that we listen less to Reverend Gentlemen, less to pompous journalists, less to the righteously indignant radio personalities; I suggest we find some parents with broken hearts and listen to them.

Be careful who you elect

The War on Drugs begun by Richard Nixon is a 'berserk aberration' according to a piece in the Salt Lake Tribune.

Nixon believed that dope was being pushed on the US by Jews, communists and homosexuals to promote immorality and weaken the state.

"You know, it's a funny thing, every one of the bastards that are out for legalizing marijuana is Jewish. What the Christ is the matter with the Jews, Bob? What is the matter with them? I suppose it is because most of them are psychiatrists," said Tricky Dicky, star of the Watergate scandal.

It's hard to believe anyone with such beliefs could run the world's most powerful nation in modern times, and that a policy underpinned by this paranoia is still being enforced.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Another letters exchange in the Herald

Local resident Sue Hanley and I have again crossed swords in the letters pages over the issue of alcohol restrictions in Kings Cross (after the letters people got me to validate my facts). The reader can judge the exchange to see exactly who is "out of step":

Curbs on drinkers overdue
A move that prevents Kings Cross pubs and and making any changes to their buildings that would bring in more drinkers (''Clampdown on pubs and clubs increasing hours or capacity'', September 5-6) is well overdue. This once vibrant hub of inner city living is struggling to retrieve its sophistication and cultural identity following the predations of nightclub entrepreneurs who claimed Kings Cross as their own. Adrian Bartels, of the Potts Point and Kings Cross District Partnership, in advocating on behalf of the liquor industry, is out of step with the local community which desperately wants an end to the liquor-fuelled chaos it endures every weekend.

Sue Hanley Darlinghurst

Statistical glitch
Sue Hanley (Letters, September 7), says Kings Cross residents want more curbs on pubs. That would be why in a recent City of Sydney survey only 16 per cent of locals wanted fewer pubs and clubs. But neither the council nor Ms Hanley seems likely to let a few facts get in the way of a good moral panic.

Michael Gormly Woolloomooloo

What bemuses me is that Ms Hanley's letters say the same thing over and over, ignoring that the debate has moved on, her points refuted. At least this time she didn't sign herself as a member of the City East Precinct Committee, a self-appointed position on a body that that has no members, has never actually done anything or had a meeting for years, and whose only other member I can recall was prolific letter-writer and fellow temperance activist Andrew Woodhouse. On the other hand Adrian Bartels is the very active president of a business association with over 100 paid-up members. His organisation, along with the Kings Cross Liquor Accord, has offered to pay for extra policing on the big weekend party nights, a measure we know works but is being ignored by the nanny state.

The government's new clampdowns will do nothing except to redirect the mayhem a little, possibly away from the well-managed party precincts. The hypocrisy is glaring as the issue is not about violence in the first place -- it's about old people losing their sense of fun but refusing to move out of the noisy fun districts.

The self-contradiction in Ms Hanley's letter is equally glaring -- she is saying the area was "once-vibrant" but complains it is now too busy. A quick reading of Kings Cross history shows that Ms Hanley's memory of a vibrant bohemian wonderland is mere rose-coloured nostalgia. It has been Sydney's party district, warts and all, for many decades.

Monday, September 07, 2009

War on Drugs 'utterly mad'

"The global trade in illicit narcotics ranks with oil and arms. Its prohibition wrecks the lives of wealthy and wretched, East and West alike. It fills jails, corrupts politicians and plagues nations. It finances wars from Afghanistan to Colombia. It is utterly mad," says The Age in an article reprinted from The Guardian.

The comment piece shows how the massive cost of the War on Drugs can be borne by the rich western countries who prosecute the War, but is tearing apart developing countries. The War is therefore deeply immoral.

This macro-level, international injustice is the flip side of the 'micro' level injustice detailed elsewhere in this blog. This is ironic given the number of prohibitionists who cast their belief in moral terms while trying to impose them on everyone else.

Another two-part series in The Atlantic Monthly shows how legitimising the medical marijuana industry in Colorado is boosting the state's tax income while laying waste to the illicit supply chain, contrary to a fairly common assertion that illicit dealing would thrive alongside legitimate, regulated supply.