Monday, August 31, 2009

Savage sentencing shames Australia

Sydney Barrister Charles Waterstreet, writing in yesterday’s Sun Herald, compares Australia with Indonesia in the extreme severity of its sentencing for drug offences. He tells of two Dutch police here to testify in an ecstasy importation case who were "astonished at the savagery of our sentences for large ecstasy importations from Europe."

"We send them away for 20 years," wrote Waterstreet. "In the Netherlands, ecstasy supply is treated as a tax offence – offenders are dealt with for the taxes they avoided in the supply. They get a couple of years."

"The Netherlands regards Australia as the Indonesia of the Pacific," he wrote in the context of Schapelle Corby's 20-year sentence there.

Our sentences are severe by any standard, but considering that drug offences are victimless crimes, this sentencing is deeply unjust and therefore immoral. Local hard-heads with an empathy bypass (usually alcohol drinkers) dismiss this with the line "Well they knew it was against the law so tough luck."

But that doesn't make the law right or justify giving someone an effective life sentence for a victimless crime. At the very least, it mocks the punishment we hand out for real crimes such as rape, assault and murder, which are often shorter than drug sentences. An unjust life sentence steals a life, so it's comparable to murder. The state is the real criminal here.

The War on Drugs is a civil war, a cultural battle between a hard right ideological hangover from the 1950s and a sizeable subculture of people who simply prefer safer, better quality drugs than alcohol. As Waterstreet says:
Blood tests of everyone in Darlinghurst, Kings Cross and the rest of the city at a weekend would be over 50 per cent positive to ecstasy, cocaine, speed and/or cannabis. Sniffer dogs would be at risk of overdosing if unleashed and given their heads in public streets at weekends in the inner city.
The War on Drugs is a civil war, a war against our own people. The stupid thing is, it doesn't even work. As Albert Einstein said: "Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." Australian governments should be ashamed of themselves.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

World tide shifting against prohibition

Dr Alex Wodak has an opinion piece in the SMH today neatly summarising how the global tide is changing against prohibition and the War on Drugs.

None of it is new news but it's a good window into the increasing irrelevance of prohibitionist attitudes.
  • Mexico is the latest country to decriminalise. Interestingly, the Obama Administration did not apply pressure to stop the Mexican move like the Bush administration successfully did.
  • Argentina has also now decriminalised possession of small amounts of cannabis, reports The Wall Street Journal. The government praised the move, saying criminalisation had been brought in three decades ago by the then military government at the behest of US President Richard Nixon. A Catholic Church bishop has criticised the move, essentially saying it "sent the wrong message" -- that last defence of those with no valid defence.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

More Junk Science exposed

In grappling with the disconnect between what prohibitionists tell us and the reality I see on the streets, I have found over and over that they quote junk science, 'studies' which often have such gaping holes in their assumptions and method that even a layperson can see through them.

The malaise extends beyond illicit drugs. My recent criticism in The City News of the City of Sydney's alcohol research shows that the data do not even vaguely support the spin Clover Moore puts on it (a spin that I note is now rapidly changing its focus, but that's another story).

It appears we the public can put little or no faith in the Science we pay for. Mostly, it seems to be engineered to support preordained agendas. There should be a law against it.

An insightful article in Today's SMH by Jessica Irvine looks at the 'modelling' that creates a lot of headlines which turn out to be simply wrong. Ms Irvine also takes a good swipe at credulous journalists who parrot this rubbish.

Take the following quote, talking about the mining sector's campaign against emissions trading:
In June the Minerals Council of Australia published a report saying ''23,510 direct jobs will be lost across Australia's minerals industry by 2020''. Wrong.

The modelling, produced for the council by another consultancy, Concept Economics, found jobs in the mining industry would grow over that time, just not by as much when compared against a certain ''reference case'', which, as it turns out, involved assuming a much higher level of ''no-change'' emissions than anyone is predicting.
A lot of the headlines claiming that [X] costs the economy $16 billion a year (or whatever) are similarly suspect. I reckon if you added up all those claims they would exceed GDP by a fair bit. Can journalists at least please lift their game? Jessica Irvine excepted! She's on the money.

PS 27 August: The prostitution of Science was again highlighted this morning in a 720 ABC radio interview with Dr Tim Hawkes, headmaster of The King’s School. He was part of a panel at Macquarie University's Annual Oration by its Vice-Chancellor Steven Schwartz about returning morality to education, which had become corrupted by post-modern relativism and reduced to the pragmatic function of wealth creation.

Dr Hawkes in the radio interview criticised the practice of drug companies writing a paper about their own products and then paying an academic to put their name to it.

Ironically Miranda Devine, whose prohibitionist columns generously regurgitate junk science about illicit drugs, was also on the panel.

PPS 30 August: Oh, and here's a story about how George W Bush's Chief Scientist in the Office of National Drug Control Policy was a political appointee with no direct experience in the field -- and he is still there, trying to undermine current policies.

Let's investigate the real causes of violence

Melbourne and The Age continues to have a more in-depth discussion about alcohol than does Sydney. Today's article goes through the usual retinue of anti-alcohol regulators who want to quadruple the price of alcohol, raise the drinking age, make bar staff responsible for others' actions and close pubs etc. But only Melbourne has dared talk about the fact that most of the the bad guys come from certain suburbs, indicating deep-rooted cultural causes behind most violence, whether 'booze-fuelled' or not. The corollary of this is that the rest of us -- by far the majority -- do not bash people and would be unfairly penalised by draconian measures.

Says The Age:
Ross Homel, a professor of criminology at Griffith University who has investigated the link between alcohol, bar aggression and violence for nearly 20 years, believes subtle changes could make a difference. He says that while alcohol seems to have a role in creating violence, many other factors - dozens in fact - come into play. [snip]
''At a time when there is an increasing demand in many countries for the authorities to 'do something' about the malign effects of the night-time economy on public health and safety, experts are not in a position to offer any firm advice, at least not advice that is firmly grounded in robust evidence,'' Homel and his co-researchers wrote in their initial findings. ''We actually know very little about how to systematically stop violence and aggression.''
So you have to wonder about the zealots who are so sure about the solutions they propose. In stirring up a moral panic about the problems they also ignore that most of the alcohol-related violence occurs among the same minority of thugs and thus has less effect on the rest of us -- so there is even less reason to punish the majority for the misdeeds of a small minority.

I would be very interested in seeing research into people who have been convicted of serious violence to see what common factors exist in their personalities and backgrounds. Addressing these factors might produce better results than further over-regulating the rest of us, and demonstrate that alcohol is only a contributing factor, not a first cause of the problems.

Nor, of course is the possibility explored that prohibition of more benign drugs might aggravate the alcohol situation. That's taboo among the panic merchants.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Why drug law reform should go 'straight'

Veteran US drug law reform advocate Eric Sterling argues at length that the reform movement is not helped by 'Hempfests' and 'pot rallies', mini-Woodstocks that are ignored by the mainstream.

He's probably correct, given that happy hippies have close to zero credibility among today's slick, sharp urban elites, political advisers, the chemical generation and vigorous right-wing movements powered by corporate subsidies.

On the other hand, argue Hempfest organisers, getting 350,000 people to an event that runs peacefully and happily says a lot about the superiority of cannabis over boozefests.

Unfortunately that is not necessarily the message that gets reported. Cheap jeers at hippies are an easy option for supercilious reporters. Take yesterday when the Nimbin Hemp Embassy floated a giant inflatable joint as PM Kevin Rudd visited Lismore Hospital to talk health. It got lots of press but I wonder how many people got the message that cannabis has medicinal value and that ending prohibition would release huge funding which could be spent on health?

Ironically and perhaps symbolically, the inflatable joint was pricked by the sharp corner of the hospital's "smoke free site" sign. Kevin Rudd just laughed.

Sadly, hippies have not been cool since about 1977 and the rise of punk. All power and joy to today's tie-dyed longhairs but there does NOT lie the path to wider reform.

Picture below of the inflatable joint lifted with thanks from the Northern Rivers Echo.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Are we driving Sydney to drink?

With Sydney, and Kings Cross in particular, consumed by a battle over booze, a new book published in the US approaches the issue from a wider perspective.

Marijuana is Safer: so why are we driving Americans to drink echoes our local situation. But here, the public discourse ignores the nexus between the two most popular recreational drugs. The alcohol debate ignores cannabis, because you can't be seen to support such a terrible, dangerous, irresponsible thing.

But as the book shows, cannabis is a lot less dangerous than alcohol in every way, making its prohibition anomalous. Yet I have watched the recreational landscapes of Kings Cross and Oxford street change during several years of the sniffer dog blitz. These dogs mainly find cannabis and ecstasy -- the two least harmful drugs -- and police often publicly search up to 100 people a week, arresting or cautioning a few and confiscating their drugs.

It stands to reason that the 'tribes' targeted by this blitz will move elsewhere and/or change their behaviour. Has the blitz accelerated the flight of gay culture from Oxford Street? Is it therefore partly responsible for the vacuum being filled by straight suburbans who drink more and are more violent? I know for a fact that aware locals no longer carry drugs when they go out. It's too risky. Word quickly gets around the backpacker set, many of whom can't believe Sydney is so backward. So they take their illegal drugs before going out (sometimes taking more than they usually would), or don't go out, or just stick to booze.

Those who do go out find that the nice drugs wear off after a time and booze becomes the only option. It all adds up to people drinking more, a dangerous monoculture.

So is the sniffer dog blitz driving people to drink? It stands to reason.

If so, it's an example of inappropriate rules creating more problems than they solve. Meanwhile the anti-alcohol lobby calls for yet more and tougher rules to solve problems which are being aggravated by other rules. At the same time prohibitionists call for ever-tougher prohibition. The balloon just gets squeezed this way and that. One rule cancels out the other.

But each debate remains in a separate box and the stupidity goes on.

If you are swayed by the anti-cannabis propaganda and think it's the 'new scourge', have a look at the link above to a Q and A around the Marihuana is Safer book. It's a measured, sensible work with a wealth of links to solid evidence, and it does not by any means claim that marihuana is harmless -- just safer. More and more, prohibitionists have to rely on a shrinking base of uninformed people. Truth will out.

You can get the book from Amazon.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

NCPIC Director described as 'prohibitionist'

Professor Jan Copeland, highly paid Director of The National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre (NCPIC), has been described as "a very enthusiastic supporter of prohibition" on the UKCIA blog.

The writer, who says he has heard Professor Copeland speak three times at forums in the UK, claims her input into NCPIC publicity is slanted and easy to spot. This opinion resonates with this blog's sharp criticism of NCPIC's output since its inception.

Questions must be asked about a supposedly evidence-based public organisation which is seen to be driven by the personal ideology of its director. Our tax dollars should be spent on establishing the truth, not selectively interpreting evidence to support a preordained ideology.

The public has a right to assume that information presented as scientific is unbiased and reliable, especially when it comes from a Professor and they are paying for it.

And credulous media accepting NCPIC's media releases as authoritative need to look a little further into the facts, or at least seek opposing comment, before amplifying such propaganda. I name The Sydney Morning Herald and 702 Radio's Deborah Cameron as guilty in this regard. At least Professor Copeland's inaugural essay on the ABC blog was open to comments and was factually flamed.

To see previous posts on this subject, with links to the abovementioned material, just type NCPIC into the blog search field above.

Smoking marihuana gives you lung cancer, right?

Prohibitionists and credulous media are always spruiking studies that show smoking cannabis is carcinogenic. These studies usually analyse the smoke and list many of its components as carcinogenic, concluding along the lines that cannabis is "40 times more carcinogenic than tobacco" etc.

These are the type of studies preferred by prohibitionist politicians, and the research cohort knows very well this type of research is more likely to get funded and create headlines.

Such research adopts a reductive approach, and the conclusions seem intuitively to make sense, although they tend to ignore that cannabis smokers typically consume a lot less smoke than the typical tobacco smoker (who is driven by a strong physical addiction). They also fail to take into account the possible interactions between the various components of cannabis smoke in the gestalt.

Population studies, on the other hand, consistently fail to find higher lung-cancer rates among long-term smokers. The NORML site in the US runs a series on their blog under the banner "If Cannabis didn't [X] you would have read about it, right?" It lists the good news stories about cannabis that the major media consistently ignore.

It links to this story about research into cancer risk and this one about the effects on lung capacity. Both studies, along with others, showed that cannabis had either zero effect or a positive effect such as a 48% reduced risk of head and neck cancers among moderate cannabis smokers. Funny, we don't see these stories in Australian newspapers, either.

I'm not saying that cannabis is risk-free -- commonsense says that dragging smoke into your lungs can't be a good thing -- but population studies consistently fail to find the horror results the reefer madness industry constantly predicts. Let's have the truth, please.

Monday, August 17, 2009

'Big Nanny' creates angry drinkers

The Daily Tele today makes a point I have been thinking about for some time.

Anti-alcohol activists in Kings Cross regularly call for tougher RSI (Responsible Service of Alcohol) rules. But how practical is that? Writes The Tele:
There are doctors and scientists across the globe struggling to pinpoint the nexus between alcohol and bad behaviour yet on a Saturday night this judgment is being made in a second by hotel bouncers under riding instructions from terrified publicans.
Indeed. Many violent incidents are in fact caused by staff, "terrified" by already draconian fines and penalties for venues, over-reacting and denying drinks or entry to people who then get annoyed. I once saw an 18-year old barmaid refuse service to a friend of mine, a truckie in his 50s, who had had only two glasses of wine all afternoon, compliments of the pub during a 'friendly' PR reception for its local neighbours. He had a slow Aussie drawl and the north shore girl mistook it for drunkenness.

My friend was furious. Fortunately he was also a peaceful, sober type and didn't lose his cool. He never went back to that pub again. So much for PR.

Yet temperance types are always calling for even tougher enforcement of RSA rules. Just how would that work? Compliance officers lurking in the crowd, breath-testing patrons and then sacking the bar person who had served those found to be over .05?

Sorry, Big Nanny, can you please leave us adults alone to make our own decisions?

Meanwhile The Tele also reports on police pushing around a the licensee from The Gaslight Hotel in Crown St, which has now won an appeal against glass restrictions. The Tele has CCTV footage of the incident. If a customer did this it would be 'Alcohol-Fuelled Violence'.

The police should be freed to fight actual crime, not enforce nannyism.

Stings reveal corrupt police

Between a third and half of police officers and staff are believed to fail entrapment-type tests for corruption, reports The Sydney Morning Herald today.

The tests involve fake drug labs and sham bribery offers. State police forces have used the strategy for some time and now the Australian Federal Police are looking to adopt it.

The use of drug busts as a prime temptation in these stings illustrates the high correlation between prohibition and corruption, one of the core reasons why ever-tougher prohibition measures will never prevent drug use.

The insidious nature of corruption was revealed when the Police Association warned that the police conducting the tests might themselves be corrupt.

''Corruption is its most serious when those who are tasked with seeking out corruption are themselves corrupt," said a spokesperson.

Comforting, isn't it?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

NCPIC reviews cannabis-driving with mixed results

A quick read of the evidence behind a new campaign from the National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre (NCPIC) reveals nothing new, although lurid posters to be circulated throughout schools bely the mixed results of the brief evidence review.

I have long wondered about the facts of this issue when I compare such reports with decades of observing drunks often pranging cars and smokers generally not. I have noticed that laboratory studies usually demonstrate higher risk but population studies don't -- and this report reflects that observation.

I would be interested in the views of others. Comments are open below!

I am automatically suspicious of anything that comes out of NCPIC, which seems to have a mission to demonise cannabis and so-far has a woeful record of amplifying junk science. The new campaign seems much more considered.

However I note a drastic disconnect between the lurid posters they will be flooding schools with, and the conclusion of the research, which begins:
There are numerous methodological limitations in the studies reviewed above that may account for the great variations and inconsistencies in their findings, which detracts from the likelihood of a clear synthesis of results.
When in doubt, demonise, seems the continuing NCPIC policy. The posters say smoking is as bad as drinking but it isn't.

The conclusion also speaks about developing new guidelines for cannabis/driving research. I have long thought that a large population study could provide a clearer answer. Take 1,000 or more long-term users (with, say three decades of smoking cannabis) and the same number of people who have never smoked. Then compare their driving and crash records. The study could also look at other factors such as health history, employment, family dynamics, social factors and the like.

Some things I note about the NCPIC report:

• It is not clear whether alcohol has been eliminated as a confounding factor for car accidents in the various population studies.

• Where studies show a percentage of injured drivers testing positive for cannabis, this percentage often seems to be below the percentage of the population which uses cannabis -- so is this statistically significant? There is also a drastic diversity of results from different studies, which makes me wonder about the alcohol factor.

• A common belief among counter-cultures which use cannabis is that the well-known 'paranoid' effects of cannabis cause drivers to be extra-cautious when driving while its other effects make them less aggressive and more relaxed. The old joke about the hippies being pulled over for driving at half the speed limit is legion. This could explain why the laboratory and driving simulator tests show such different results.

• While it is no doubt prudent to advise young people NOT to drive under the influence of cannabis (especially for inexperienced drivers, I would think), this report will be used to justify more drug-testing of drivers who will be penalised at the same levels as for drunk driving when the risk they pose to others is far lower.

The effects of drunk driving are clear, and observable anecdotally. The effects of cannabis driving are not. The report will also be gleefully brandished by prohibitionists to support their failed regime.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

It's the bogans, not the venues

Melbourne, which dumped its pub lockout regime last year after violence actually rose, is now grappling with statistics that show most perpetrators of CBD violence come from its outer suburbs (see quote from The Age below).

The same is fairly obviously true of Sydney but the statistics are not published. It wouldn't be politically correct. Meanwhile our authorities insist that venue-saturation is the problem, even though violence rates are lower in the concentrated precincts like Kings Cross and higher in outlying suburbs with a lower concentration of venues.

Of course Council's real agenda is to squelch entertainment precincts in the name of gentrification, with Council egged on by a small minority of residents who seem to hate the suburb they choose to live in. The panic about violence is just a moral cover. Council's own research shows only 16–20% of Cross residents wanted fewer pubs and clubs, but as they are mostly over 50 and so are our Councillors, they drive the agenda. If this seems to contradict Council's spin, it does. I have analysed these aspects of the research in more depth in tomorrow's City News. (I'll link it on publication)

Meanwhile here's reportage from The Age on Melbourne's suburb-fuelled violence problem:
Yesterday The Age published police statistics showing that most assaults in the central city were by offenders from the western and northern suburbs, including the Premier's Broadmeadows electorate...

...Lord Mayor Robert Doyle called on police to stop troublemakers from the outer suburbs travelling to the city. He said Melbourne should follow the lead of former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani and target city trouble spots, transport corridors and suburbs offenders are coming from with more police.

How do you stop 'troublemakers' coming into the city? How do you know in advance who's going to cause 'trouble'? It's time we chardonnay-sippers faced the fact that we live in a young, raw, colonial country with more than its share of macho idiots in its urban hinterlands. (Think Kyle and Jackie O.) Shutting down or gating the 'naice' areas is not the answer. While we continue to blame and punish the venues in the destination areas we are not even beginning to address the real, more complex problem.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Drug laws create major social injustice

If prohibition is a false and failed instrument -- and this blog shows there is a very strong case for that proposition -- then all the people arrested, jailed, injured or killed in its name are the victims of a social injustice that ranks with any of the more visible progressive causes.

Concerned and caring people fight for the rights of minorities oppressed because of their race, gender or religion etc, but the victims of prohibition remain a relatively unseen class, even though their numbers overlap hugely with the more readily identified oppressed groups.

This is explained carefully in an article by Harry G. Levine, author and professor of sociology at Queens College, City University of New York. He shows how the 430,000 arrests in New York for possession of small amounts of cannabis since 1997 are often carried out under false pretenses by police, who also discriminate heavily against blacks and hispanics.

This is happening even though the possession of less than one ounce of marihuana is explicitly decriminalised in New York State.

And the same is happening here. While we don't seem to have professors doing the research, it's obvious enough on the streets of Kings Cross. Here police routinely stop people they don't like the look of, demand ID without legal grounds to do so, publicly search people and target particular people with sniffer dogs, while pulling the dogs off others who have been indicated.

These are not wild accusations -- I have photographs of this happening. Pictured above is a policeman clearly pulling a sniffer dog on a tight leash to a Koori man in Springfield Plaza. The man was unconcerned and the dog did not indicate. I also have photographs of several police with two sniffer dogs running down a man who was walking along the street, before putting the dogs onto him. No drugs were found, as usual.

I took this up with a previous local commander who surprised me by claiming that this was legal procedure. I had naïvely thought that the dogs operated like random breath testing for alcohol, simply trotting around until they smelt drugs on someone. But no, it seems they are an active tool of discrimination.

No-one in progressive politics seems to care about this except to a small extent The Greens who, unfortunately, have retreated from their previous policy of regulated supply in the pursuit of more middle class votes. Tough luck for the oppressed minorities, I guess.

PS 18 Aug 09: Here's a fiery talk from Ethan Nadelmann, founder of the Drug Policy Alliance in the US, speaking at an NAACP conference on prohibition as an instrument of racial oppression.

Heroin addict exposes Drug War lies

Here's a link to an excellent post that systematically refutes a series of lies and distortions made on Fox News by Calvina Fay of Drug Free America. The post is from The Australian Heroin Diaries and written by Terry Wright, who has to be commended for his unvarnished portrayal of his own addiction.

It's a great post because it wraps up and refutes the current set of myths that prohibitionists are pushing.

Pictured are American kids orphaned because prohibitionists removed their dad, who presumably got caught with a fair quantity of drugs. It's from another Heroin Diaries post which neatly demonstrates the 'collateral damage' caused by the War on Drugs. The damage is real and horrific -- but the justifications for the WoD are, at the least, extremely debatable if not specious.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Free marketeers analyse the cost of prohibition

The UK's Adam Smith Institute writes about a Transform paper analysing the cost-benefit of prohibition. Prohibition costs the UK £16.8bn per annum. The benefit varies according to how much you think legalisation would change heroin and cocaine use. As this is not quantifiable, the report projects various scenarios ranging from a 50% reduction to a doubling of use.

The benefits vary accordingly from £618m to –£309m. That's right -- we spend billions to get a benefit of millions, while we can't afford quality health and dental care. The analysis does not even take into account tax revenues the government would receive if drugs were conditionally legalised. It's refreshing to see the free market end of politics at least being consistent, unlike our own 'economic rationalists' who generally support prohibition.

While this dry cost analysis is interesting, the post brought a well put comment from one David Hart, who elegantly sums up the arguments against prohibition. I reproduce it here in full -- I have a feeling Mr Hart would not object. He is replying to a previous comment.

You are right, 555pps, in your assertion that crack and heroin can cause misery. However, so do alcohol and tobacco, and all manner of dangerous recreational activities that we would not think it sensible to criminalise. It looks like you have rather missed the point of this whole debate: it is not about whether something is dangerous enough that it should be prohibited, it is about whether prohibition is an effective and humane way of minimising the harms caused by something dangerous. Even a cursory glance at the statistics will show that prohibition of drugs causes great harm to society, almost certainly greater than that caused by the drugs themselves. And after many decades of trying to eradicate illicit drugs, they are more available and affordable than ever before. This is not just failure, this is spectacular counterproductive failure. Even if there is a substantial increase in the number of crack/heroin users after legalisation, the amount of money we would need to spend on regulating those drugs so as to minimise the risks would be small compared to the amount we currently flush down the pan in a quixotic attempt to prevent people getting a hold of them. And that's before we even get started on the gangland violence, the terrorism, the social chaos that is caused by the fact that the drug trade is currently controlled by criminals who have to use violence to resolve their disputes because they cannot use legal means.
Heroin and crack may be 'evil' (though remember we're talking about a molecule here, not something with a will of its own), but you have to answer the question: how many innocent Columbian bystanders are you prepared to see gunned down in shootouts between cartels and the police per kilogramme of cocaine prevented from making it to our shores? How many American or British soldiers killed by Taliban bombs per kilo of opium intercepted? How many Afghan girls denied an education? How many teenagers in our cities knifed because the current prohibition of drugs makes illegal dealing profitable to violent gangsters? Those who support prohibition also have blood on their hands. If you are prepared to see innocent people killed in the name of sending a message to future generations then so be it, but I'd be careful about using terms like 'evil' if you do.

The picture is from the NORML Foundation.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Financial Times enters the War on Drugs debate

London's Financial Times has run an opinion piece against the WoD, underlining the growing awareness of the issue in mainstream media.

Readers of this blog will be familiar with the arguments it presents but the piece also quotes a typical police argument for prohibition: "Class A drugs destroy the fabric of people’s lives," said Detective Superintendent Paul Carter of Cumbria Police, who is most likely an honest hardworking copper.

But add a few words to his statement and it becomes a lot more accurate and insightful.

If he had said "Class A drugs destroy the fabric of a few people’s lives under prohibition," it would reflect the fact that by far the majority of such users (including at one time George W Bush and Barack Obama) have no problems at all with Class A drugs. It would also acknowledge that prohibition is not preventing the damage that does occur, and is in fact acutely aggravating it.

The next argument in the prohibitionist bible is that reforming prohibition would create a 'tsunami of drug abuse'. They have no credible evidence for this but they still say it. I here repeat my usual response to this: If heroin was conditionally available legally, would you start shooting up? I wouldn't, and so-far everyone I have asked has given the same answer. Try asking people you meet. As the 'no' answers mount up, ask yourself where this 'tsunami of drug abuse' would actually come from.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Prohibitionists still peddling their nonsense

This almost laughable story from the UK Telegraph about a study into cannabis use was actually posted on an email list for Alcohol and other Drug professionals by Herschel Baker of Drug Free Australia. "Cannabis 'can cause psychosis in healthy people'" screams the headline, and it's all about the terrors of the new skunk-style cannabis -- complete with this picture of a skunk joint being rolled.

But the subjects of the study were not even given skunk, and the psychosis was transient, induced by an apparent overdose of pure THC injected into 22 very brave -- or stupid -- men, half of whom got a placebo. Unsurprisingly, those who received the placebo didn't overdose.

An analogy might be injecting people with pure vitamin A -- which is toxic in large doses -- and concluding from the resulting deaths that carrots can kill you (carrots being a good source of vitamin A).

THC overdose is an extremely unpleasant thing, but inducing it via injections proves nothing except that the loony right can still get funding from somewhere and the tabloid press still publish their 'findings'.

The article also repeats the myth that the THC content of street cannabis has risen from 6% in 1995 to 14% now. I have results from a Sydney university study showing potencies of seized NSW-grown marihuana from 1971. They range from 3% to 11.5%, the latter from wild plants picked in the Hunter Valley, decades before 'skunk' was thought of. Meanwhile some of the more looney prohibitionists still claim that potency has increased anywhere between 10 and 25 times. 25 multiplied by a potency of, say, 10% would give us weed which consists of 250% THC, a remarkable exercise in metaphysics.

Note that the study suffers from the usual traits of junk science -- small samples and a reductive method. Surely even the mentally challenged can see the difference between smoking something with an alleged 14% potency and being injected with something that's 100% pure?

It would be almost funny except that these myths still grip the public imagination, which is of course the purpose of such propaganda and of the dishonest charlatans who promulgate it. Never mind the ethics of injecting humans with an overdose.

By contrast, BBC UK published this thought-provoking piece about harm reduction and the concept of 'specific deterrence'. Note the comments below it. Then compare and contrast with the Telegraph piece.