Monday, August 30, 2010

Undercover cops betrayed by War on Drugs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 27, 2010

A little perspective on the booze blight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Proof that prohibition has failed

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

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

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

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

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

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

More perspective, from online discussion about this story:

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Amarni bikies make billions from drugs

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

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

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

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

Nothing has been done about this operation.

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

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

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Five models for regulating illicit drugs

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Prohibitionist axioms don't hold water

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 16, 2010

Why do so many experts talk nonsense?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Inquiry links prohibition with Police corruption

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Glimmer of hope in media drugs discourse

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Cannabis and Schizophrenia - link or cause?

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

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

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

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

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