Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Jury stages revolt in marihuana case

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Letter of the week: Clover Moore = Alan Jones?

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Defining addiction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Top cop living in the dark ages

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

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

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

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

Strategies to end the War on Drugs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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