Category Archives: modernizing drug law enforcement

Yes, legalizing marijuana breaks treaties. We can deal with that.

By John Walsh, Tom Blickman, Martin Jelsma and Dave Bewley-Taylor

This Op-Ed was originally published in iPolitics on December 11th, 2017

Buzzing in the background of Canada’s debate on cannabis legalization is the issue of the three UN drug control treaties, and what to do with them.

The issue arose during the House of Commons’ consideration of Bill C-45, and may well come up again now that the bill is coming under Senate scrutiny. There is no doubt that legalizing and regulating cannabis markets for non-medical use will mean Canada is no longer in compliance with the obligation under the treaties to restrict cannabis to “medical and scientific” purposes. And Canada will need to address those treaties — in due time.

However, what ‘due time’ should mean has been the subject of some alarmist commentaries. It has been argued that Canada should have initiated the process of withdrawing from the treaties by this past July 1 to avoid a breach of international law when cannabis is legal for recreational use in July, 2018, as the government intends. Some have suggested that, by missing this supposed deadline, Canada has now limited its legal options and might even suffer international sanctions if its reforms continue as scheduled.

This raises two key questions. Did the supposed July 1 deadline really exist? And does Canada really now have fewer options with regard to managing the mismatch between cannabis regulation and UN drug treaties?

The 1961 UN Single Convention specifies that if formal notification of withdrawal from the treaty is submitted before July 1, it takes effect on January 1 of the next year; if notification is submitted after July 1, then withdrawal takes effect a full year later. But at this stage in Canada’s reform effort, the mechanics of the treaty withdrawal process do not dictate hard deadlines. The alarmism about treaty violations, deadlines and delays is misplaced.

Canada certainly has important decisions to make about how to ensure that its impending cannabis reforms will align with its international obligations. As we describe in our report Cannabis Regulation and the UN Drug Treaties: Strategies for Reform, a range of alternatives merit Canada’s careful consideration. Beyond simply withdrawing from the drug treaties, these options include the possibility of withdrawing from and then rejoining the treaties with reservations (a procedure that Bolivia used with regard to coca) or of modifying certain treaty provisions by means of a special agreement among a group of like-minded countries.

In reviewing its options, Ottawa would be wise to be protective of Canada’s positive reputation as a country that upholds international law. But there is no need to postpone the regulation of cannabis, and there is also no reason to rush to withdraw from the drug treaties — certainly not before the relevant legislation has even become law, and not even immediately afterwards.

The experience in Uruguay — the first country in the world to regulate cannabis — demonstrates why immediate withdrawal from the treaties is not necessary. Having justified its policy position via its human rights obligations, Uruguay has suffered no negative consequences beyond mentions in the annual reports of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), the watchdog of the UN drug conventions — noting that the country’s law regulating cannabis is contrary to the provisions of the drug conventions and urging a resolution.

The United States — where eight states have legalized adult-use cannabis and where the federal government has adopted a policy of accommodation — has received a similar message from the INCB regarding Washington’s legally dubious interpretation of the drug treaties.

Canada has better and more legally-grounded options, and plenty of time to consider them carefully. A good starting point would be for Canada to publicly acknowledge that moving forward with regulation of adult-use of cannabis will result in a period of respectful non-compliance with certain treaty obligations — a route that, in the absence of a seamless transition, displays the appropriate regard for international law.

Canada could explain the reasoning behind its reforms and why the country’s new regulatory approach is justified by the need to realize other domestic and international legal and policy commitments, particularly with regard to public health, child protection and human rights.

Canada is not alone in reforming its cannabis policy, nor is it the first. In addition to Uruguay and the eight U.S. states, many local authorities in other countries, notably in Europe, are pushing national governments to follow suit. In the Netherlands this has resulted in the October 2017 decision of the new coalition government to allow for experiments with regulated supply of cannabis to coffee shops. This would extend toleration of cannabis sales in these premises to tolerated regulation of the supply.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization has initiated a review of the classification of cannabis under the drug conventions. Canada’s cannabis regulation is part of a bigger trend and there is no reason to rush to unilaterally withdraw from the drug conventions. Acting unilaterally may not even be in Canada’s best interests; it could be wiser to act in concert with like-minded states.

The bottom line is that Canada ultimately will need to choose a path forward with regard to cannabis regulation and the drug treaties. But there is no need for hasty decisions and plenty of time for Canada to evaluate its options — and act when the time is ripe.

John Walsh is director for drug policy at WOLA (Washington Office on Latin America) in Washington, DC. Tom Blickman is a senior policy analyst and Martin Jelsma is director of the Drugs & Democracy program of the Netherlands-based Transnational Institute (TNI). Dave Bewley-Taylor is director of the Global Drug Policy Observatory (GDPO), Swansea University, U.K.

Read the Original Publication Here

View from the Ground – Harm reduction, drug policy and the law in the Maghreb: focus on Tunisia and Mauritania

View from the Ground – Harm reduction, drug policy and the law in the Maghreb: focus on Tunisia and Mauritania

Khalid Tinasti
Honorary Research Associate, Swansea University
July 2017

Introduction:

The Maghreb countries – Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia – while seldom discussed, are crucial to global debates on drug control policies. These countries are at the heart of drug trafficking routes for various substances, from Latin America to Europe, from the Middle East to Europe, and from West Africa to North America. The region is also home to the largest producers of cannabis, as well as amphetamine type stimulants (ATS). Illicit drugs are prohibited and drug laws are harsh if not efficient – Mauritania retains death penalty for drug-related offences.

The Maghreb (in green), copyright epidop.com

This blog will focus on two of these countries, Tunisia and Mauritania, who share common religious, ethnic groups, cultural and socio-economic realities, but face clearly different challenges related to illicit drugs.[i] The two countries nevertheless face a drug trafficking framework which is unparalleled. In fact, the Maghreb and its neighbouring Sahel region represent large desert areas, sparsely populated, with porous borders and the existence of terrorist and other separatist groups. These parameters, combined with failed states and inadequate drug control policies, make drug trafficking thrive. This blog attempts – through available data and literature – to analyse the drug situation currently in both countries, review their drug control laws, and evaluate the outcomes of their implementation. The piece also narrates the current efforts to reform the drug law by the Tunisian government.

The current situation:

There are an estimated 140,000 people who use drugs (PWUD) in Tunisia,[1] with around 10,000 people injecting drugs.[2] Other sources report up to 400.000 PWUD in the country.[3] In 2015, 21.44% of new HIV infections were among people who inject drugs.[4] Moreover, HIV prevalence among this same population has increased from 3% in 2011 to 4% in 2014, while it is of 0,1% in the general population.[5] This increase takes place in the absence of a national strategy of harm reduction. There are no opioid substitution programmes, and the distribution of syringes is mainly undertaken by non-governmental organizations. In 2013, the 48.000 syringes distributed in the country were by the ATIOST, the ATUPRET and the ATL-MST.[6] The prevalence of hepatitis C in the same population is 29%.[ii]

Drug control policies are steered through law 52 adopted in February 1992 – referred to as law 92-52. The law, which sentences prison terms even for simple use or consumption, has resulted in an unprecedented prison overcrowding, mainly targeting young males incarcerated on cannabis use charges. Out of the 25.000 inmates in the country prisons, 8.000 are incarcerated for drug offences, of which it is estimated that 9 out of 10 are there for simple possession or personal use,1 the law allowing for urine tests in prisons and in the community to prove the consumption. In 2015, 7.451 people were arrested and prosecuted for drug offences, of which about 70% were related to cannabis possession or consumption.[7] A year later, 8.984 people were arrested on the same charges, with 6.212 of them aged 18 to 30 years old.[8]

In Mauritania, data on the prevalence of drug use is unavailable. Similarly, the prevalence of HIV among the general population reaching 0,6%, the prevalence among people who inject or use drugs is unavailable. More worryingly, the National Committee to fight AIDS does not recognize PWID as a key population most at risk of acquiring HIV.[9], The non-inclusion of PWUD as a key population deters a discussion on evidence-based interventions to respond to AIDS, including prevention, harm reduction services and treatment.

Copyright West Africa Commission on Drugs, 2014

Rather, the debate on drugs focuses heavily on trafficking, with Mauritanian authorities, media and other stakeholders considering that the country is only a transit country. This vision of a country where illicit drugs transit – through the routes of Senegal, Mali, Algeria, Niger, Morocco or the Canary Islands – and where there is no local consumption is emphasized by the geographic position of Mauritania, its limited population (4 million inhabitants), and a large, desert and difficult to control territory. Whether such assertion is true or not – it remains difficult to define in the lack of data on illicit drug use – the country rightly faces challenges related to the smuggling and trafficking of drugs, intertwined with terrorist groups’ financing and their unlawful intrusion in the Mauritanian territory. Drug-related cases often make the headlines in Mauritanian media, due to the large seizures of illicit drugs by customs and law enforcement agents, including cases where relatives of former Presidents or former Presidents themselves are cited.[10][11] The nature of the implication of political authorities in drug trafficking remains anecdotal since it is not proven. Nevertheless, the characteristics of drug trafficking depends on many parameters that are specific to Mauritania and the Sahel region. As stated earlier, the country has a large desert territory that is difficult to control. Moreover, trafficking relies on ethnic groups, their inter-relationships and their control of their territories that transcend the Sahel borders.[12]

Drug seizure in northern Mauritania by the Gendarmerie (military law enforcement). Copyright Sahara Medias

Very limited data shows that there is a small cannabis production in the south of the country near the Senegal River, while cocaine is imported from Latin America and heroin from Asia through Nigeria or other West African countries.[13] Trafficking of illicit drugs includes alcohol, which is a banned substance in Mauritania. Moreover, Mauritania’s authorities address money laundering as the banking system is sensitive to drug profits laundering, mainly due to the important volume of foreign currency circulating from tradespeople and other economic emigrants working mainly in the Gulf countries.

The laws and policies for drug use and trafficking:

Tunisia, country of the Jasmine revolution and youth-driven democratization, has the harshest law in terms of repression of drug use and possession for personal use. Mauritania, on the other hand, is the only Maghreb country sentencing drug traffickers and growers/producers to death penalty.

The Tunisian law – to be explored in more detail below – punishes individuals who consume or possess a narcotic or psychotropic drug with imprisonment of one to five years and with a monetary fine between 400 and 1.200 USD (1.000 to 3.000 Tunisian Dinars). It also punishes the attempt to consume or possess drugs with the same sanction. Therefore, the Tunisian law punishes the possession for the purpose of consumption and for the actual consumption even if there is no possession involved. The court may as well force the convicted offender to undergo detoxification for a period set by a medical doctor at a public hospital. If the detoxification is refused, a permit can be issued by the president of the court forcing the offender to undergo this treatment in a compulsory manner.[14] The most problematic provision of the law, until its partial reform in April 2017 (see following section), was article 12 of the law, providing that judges cannot take into account mitigating factors, and have to pronounce a prison sentence for drug use offences. This was problematic as the law 52 was the only one in the Tunisian criminal code to deprive judges of their free choice and of sentencing proportionally to the offences. Under the terms of the law as well, traffickers and growers of narcotics are sentenced to prison terms from 6 to 10 years, while those importing or exporting drugs face a minimum of ten years of incarceration, up to a life sentence.

“Our kids and friends are not criminals #end law 52”[iii]

In Mauritania, the law responds to drug use and possession for personal use by a prison term of a maximum of two years and a monetary fine between 140 and 280 USD (50.000 to 100.000 Mauritanian Ouguiya). Prosecutors also have the obligation to inform health authorities about the arrest of people who use drugs. The health authorities investigate the health conditions and family conditions of the arrested individual, and prescribe mandatory detoxification. Producers and growers of illicit drugs face 15 to 30 years in prison, the same penalty as drug traffickers. This punishment, in case of recidivists, becomes a sentence to the capital punishment. Finally, laundering illicit drugs’ profits is punished by a prison term between 10 to 40 years.[15]

It is also important to note that both laws have been amended and adopted following the adoption of the United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances in 1988 and right before the adoption of the Arab Convention against Illicit Use of and Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances in 1994. The articles of both countries’ laws and the lack of proportionality vis-à-vis the real severity of the offences represent an example of the interpretation countries make of the international drug conventions, and the impact these conventions have on people’s lives when implemented on the ground, far from the debates of diplomats drafting and negotiating them in multilateral forums.

What reform for the Tunisian drug law?

In Tunisia, the excessive number of young people arrested under the provisions of law 92-52 started a heated debate on the need for its reform. This debate has been deepened through the use of the law provisions to arrest young Jasmine revolutionaries, and by their own capacity to stand for their rights in the post-Revolution era.[16] Movements such as the Sajin52 (prisoner 52) emerged and denounced the law. In his 2014 presidential campaign, the current head of state Béji Caïd Essebsi promised a reform of the law and denounced the use of prison terms for first-time drug use. In December 2015, his government approved a new narcotics bill to amend law 52, and introduce the following provisions: i) the establishment of a national drug observatory to collect data; ii) the establishment of treatment centres, including the introduction of substitution therapy; iii) the diversion of first and second-time offenders, arrested for use, to social services (third-time offenders will serve the same terms as the current law provides, between one and five years); and iv) the possibility of judges to decide on the most appropriate sentences.[17]

Infographic by the movement “Al habes lé” (no incarceration) calling to reform law 52

The latter, targeted at article 12 of law 92-52, has been amended in April 2017 when Parliament gave judges the right to apply Article 53 of the Criminal Code to reduce penalties, not only for consumption, detention and consumer intent (Article 4 of law 52) but also for attending consumption spaces (Article 8 of Law 52).[18]

The process leading to this partial amendment started with the submission to Parliament of bill 79 amending law 52. With the bill not finding a majority necessary for passage into law for more than 12 months, President Essebsi decided in January 2017 to use his executive powers to freeze all the arrests related to Law 92-52, and urged Parliament to find a consensus and vote for the reform. A month later, the President convened a meeting of the National Security Council, which decided to revise the criteria for granting special grace to people charged with drug use or possession, and to have the Grace Committee meet once a month to overturn the judges’ decisions on arrests. The National Security Council also repealed partially law 92-52, and specifically its article 12 leading to the reform of April 2017 by Parliament, giving judges the capacity to take into account mitigating factors.

In the current economic, social and security framework in Tunisia, where tensions among society are numerous – from the declining standards of living of the population, the decline of the industrial, tourism and service sectors, as well as the security and fight against terrorism – the calendar of the adoption of bill 79 in Parliament remains unclear.

Conclusion:

The debate on drug policies in the Maghreb, when it occurs, is usually focused on Morocco, the largest producer of cannabis in the world, and one of the main suppliers of the European Union due to its geographic proximity with Spain. With the deterioration of the security situation in the Sahel and the rise of terrorist risks, along with some evidence that terrorist groups are either involved in trafficking, protect traffickers or benefit from trafficking revenues,[19] combined with the disintegration of the state apparatus in the fifth Maghreb country, Libya, is also beginning to attract some interest.

Nevertheless, as discussed here, other states within the region are increasingly worthy of attention with debate around drug policy emerging for a complex range of internal, societal and social peace reasons.
Tunisia is currently being driven to reform its policies due to the population’s pressure, while this debate does not exist in Mauritania. However, while differences exist on this point,, the two countries seem to share a common lack of understanding of drug policies, providing similar legal responses to people who use drugs (PWUD), to small players in the illegal drug market (small dealers, farmers and other couriers), and to large-scale traffickers and terrorist groups suspected of trafficking illicit drugs to fund their terror actions. Such policies, intended to deter drugs’ presence in society, are failing to achieve their objectives and are extremely costly to society, to the criminal justice and health systems.

While it remains unclear when the Tunisian drug policy reform will take place, it provides the brightest prospect of reform in the Maghreb, as bill 79 will bring along the first policies based on evidence, and provide space for scientific monitoring to inform and fill gaps in the future. The adoption of this bill, its successful implementation and flexibility, as well as its tight monitoring is all highly important not only for the Tunisian society but the whole Maghreb.

[I] This is the second and last blog on drug policy in the Maghreb. The first blog was published in October 2016 and titled “View from the Ground – Harm reduction, drug policy and the law in the Maghreb: focus on Morocco and Algeria”.

[ii] In Mauritania, HIV key populations are female sex workers and their clients, women and youth, inmates, people living with STIs, truckers, sailors and fishermen.

[iii]Protest against law 52 in front of the Assembly of the Representatives of the People (Parliament) on 28 December 2015. Copyright Nawaat

[1] Amraoui, A. Drogues : une jeunesse victime de l’échec de la politique de prévention. Nawaat.org; September 2015. Available from: https://nawaat.org/portail/2015/09/05/tunisie-drogues-jeunesse-victime-echec-politique-prevention/ (accessed 10 July 2017) 

[2] Tunisie Numérique. 10 000 toxicomanes usagers de drogue intraveineuse en Tunisie. Turess; April 2012. Available from: http://www.turess.com/fr/numerique/119208 (accessed 10 July 2017) 

[3] Bentamansourt, N. Tunisie-Drogue : 3,9% des consommateurs contaminés par le VIH! African Manager; October 2016. Available from: https://africanmanager.com/mots-cles/association-tunisienne-de-la-prevention-contre-la-toxicomanie/ (accessed 10 July 2017)

[4] Africaine Santé. VIH/SIDA en Tunisie: Où en est-on? December 2015. Available from: http://africaine-sante.com.tn/a-la-une/vihsida-en-tunisie-ou-en-est-on/ (accessed 10 July 2017)

[5] UNAIDS. Key Populations Atlas: Tunisia- People who inject drugs: HIV Prevalence 2014. UNAIDS; 2014. Available from: http://www.aidsinfoonline.org/kpatlas/#/home (accessed 10 July 2017)

[6] National HIV/AIDS Programme of Tunisia. Rapport d’activités sur la riposte au sida 2012-2013. UNAIDS; 2014. 

[7] Human Rights Watch. « Tout ça pour un joint » La loi répressive sur la drogue en Tunisie et comment la réformer. Tunis; December 2015. Available from: https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/report_pdf/tunisia0216fr_sumandrecs_.pdf (accessed 11 July 2017)

[8] African Manager. Tunisie-stupéfiants : Le bilan de 2016 en chiffres. March 2017. Available from: https://africanmanager.com/tunisie-stupefiants-le-bilan-de-2016-en-chiffres/ (accessed 10 July 2017)

[9] Comité national de lutte contre le Sida. Rapport d’activité sur la réponse au sida en Mauritanie 2014. Nouakchott; March 2014. Available from: http://www.unaids.org/sites/default/files/country/documents/MRT_narrative_report_2014.pdf (accessed 10 July 2017)

[10] Berghezan, G. Panorama du trafic de cocaïne en Afrique de l’Ouest. Group for Research and Information on Peace and Security: Brussels; June 2012.

[11] Attar, A. Mauritanie : fin de parcours pour Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz ?. Afrik.com; February 2013. Available from: http://www.afrik.com/mauritanie-fin-de-parcours-pour-mohamed-ould-abdel-aziz (accessed 10 July 2017)

[12] Simon, J. « Le Sahel comme espace de transit des stupéfiants. Acteurs et conséquences politiques ». Hérodote, 142 (3); 2011: pp. 125-142.

[13] Dialogues, propositions, histoires. « La situation des drogues en Mauritanie ». DPH: Paris; citing the Observatoire géopolitique des drogues; November 1994. Available from: http://base.d-p-h.info/fr/fiches/premierdph/fiche-premierdph-2016.html (accessed 11 July 2017)

[14] Official Journal of the Tunisian Republic No. 33 of 1992. Law No. 92-52 of 18 May 1992 on Narcotic drugs. Tunis; 1992.

[15] République Islamique de Mauritanie. Loi No. 93-37 relative à la répression de la production, du trafic et de l’usage illicite des stupéfiants et substances Psychotropes. Nouakchott ; July 1993.

[16] Tinasti, K. Are cannabis laws used for political repression in the Arab Spring countries?.  Addiction, 110 (12); 2015: p. 2037.

[17] Tunisian government. Projet de loi N 79 de l’année 2015 relatif aux stupéfiants. Tunis; 2015.

[18] Huffpost Tunisie. Tunisie-La loi 52 a été amendée: “Une étape considérable franchie” se félicite l’avocat Ghazi Mrabet. Huffpostmaghreb.com; April 2017. Available from: http://www.huffpostmaghreb.com/2017/04/25/tunisie-loi-52-stupefiant_n_16231606.html (accessed 12 July 2017) 

[19] UNODC. World Drug Report 2017, booklet 5. Vienna; June 2017

British System, American Century: A short case study

British System, American Century: A short case study

Chris Hallam

This blog shows the intimate ties between the international and domestic domains of drug control. This is a well-known phenomenon; however, it involves considerable complexity. The lengths to which governments will go to reduce potential tension at the international level are apparent. This is especially so when states – as in the following case – are wary of the US position. At the same time, powerful domestic forces can counteract the influence of international powers, even when the United States is concerned, as in the aftermath of the Second World War.
The blog selects the example of Britain during that period in which the negotiations leading to the Single Convention were taking place. The then-famous ‘British System’ of drug treatment was a key aspect of Britain’s drug policy relationships; stemming from Sir Humphrey Rolleston’s inquiry into addiction that reported in 1926, the ‘British System’ permitted any doctor to supplyheroin, morphine, cocaine and other drugs to those who were dependent upon them. Unlike the present mode of ‘Heroin Assisted Treatment (HAT), the British System imposed few requirements on patients, who could take their prescription to a pharmacy, collect their drugs and consume them more or less at will. This depended on the regulatory context, the liberal views and the largesse of the doctor, but these were generally forthcoming.
Both the international and the domestic domains played a part in the changes that overtook the British regulatory framework in the 1950s and 60s, leading to the demise of the ‘British system’ of prescribing and its replacement with a much more restrictive ‘clinic’ system in 1968. The international dimension was always important, but in the period preceding the agreement of the 1961 Single Convention, it was especially significant as countries sought to shape the draft treaty to suit their national interests, or (less rationalistically) to forge the global order of intoxication according to their mythological image.

Sir Humphrey Rolleston

Following the war and the continuing rise of the United States as an international military, political and economic superpower, there was friction between it and Britain over aspects of the latter’s drug policies. The 1955 American attempt to impose a global prohibition on heroin was eventually faced down by the British government after internal pressure from the medical profession in support of the drug’s retention in medical therapeutics, including in the treatment of drug dependence. The medical profession was a powerful force in British politics and culture, sufficient to bring the government to resist US pressure.
Britain’s representative at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), the policy-making body for the new UN international drug control system, was J.H. ‘Johnnie’ Walker. Bing Spear, the Home Office civil servant who had written extensively on UK drug policy, identified Walker as providing the initiative that led to the first Brain Committee, which, commencing its meetings in 1958, reviewed the British drug control system for the first time since Rolleston did so in the 1920s. Government documentation from the mid- to late-1950s supports this claim. The context for Walker’s views was largely international, with the British System undergoing criticism from a number of countries, particularly the United States, through the mechanism of the new United Nations drug control regime.
In 1955, Walker sent a lengthy and thoughtful memorandum to the Home Office suggesting that it was time to look again at the British drug control system. Despite the system’s smooth domestic running, said Walker: ‘It so happens that a number of problems have arisen, or are on the horizon, which indicate that this is a suitable moment to review the present system of control.’ These problems or potential problems included the proliferation of new synthetic drugs such as pethidine and methadone; the UK policy on addiction (by which was meant in particular the Rolleston-inspired regulations permitting the long term of maintenance of opiate habits and the belief in the ‘stabilised addict’); addict doctors; and improper prescribing and supplies to addicts (the issues surrounding ‘script doctors’). The memorandum paid the greatest attention to the second and the fourth of these categories, replicating the situation that obtained when the Rolleston Committee reported and showing that the issue of doctors prescribing dangerous drugs to addicts had remained at the heart of governmental anxieties. Walker claimed that the Rolleston Committee never intended the ‘lavish supply of dangerous drugs to addicts merely for the maintenance of addiction’. He then made reference to a ‘small but potentially dangerous group of drug addicts (mainly heroin addicts) in London at the present time’. This group was ‘disturbing’, as it represented ‘the first real sign of a significant increase in heroin addiction for very many years’. The group’s members had become addicted young and were mostly under thirty – often nearer twenty; many shared an involvement in one particular field of entertainment and therefore met socially at regular intervals – a reference to the jazz club scene. The social context of this drug use made it ripe for proselytism, contended Walker, ‘always one of the more dangerous features of drug addiction’.
He continued that many ‘appear to obtain supplies from a small number of doctors who make no attempt whatever at cure or even, so far as can be judged, at reduction of the dose. In other words, their addiction is deliberately fed, almost certainly in some instances for purposes of gain.’ Walker concluded that: ‘The “script doctor” who thus makes drugs freely available to addicts represents a special problem…’
Walker’s memorandum showed that the Home Office was by this time fully aware of the flourishing new London addict subculture, a full ten years before these facts were published in the Second Brain Report. As noted by Spear, the peculiar thing is that the first Brain Committee did not address it in their deliberations nor their report. At the Home Office, it was Tom Green (who succeeded Walker at the Drugs Branch) who led the drafting of the advice and information sent to the Ministry of Health, from which emerged the shape of the review. For ‘some inexplicable reason’, while drawing heavily on Walker, Green did not include evidence of the emergence of London’s expanding heroin subculture.
One possible reason for this startling omission lay in the international relations around the topic of drug control. Walker points out that US medical opinion was firmly against maintenance and the notion of the stable addict. The ‘strongly held’ view in the American medical profession was that it is ethically unacceptable to condemn a patient, especially a young patient, to perpetual addiction by offering this form of treatment. It was also remarked that the CND and World Health Organisation were highly critical of ambulatory treatment of the kind practiced in the UK. Indeed at its 10th session, the CND ‘expressed the view that ambulatory treatment (including the so-called “clinic” method) was not advisable and asked the World Health Organization to prepare a study on the appropriate methods of treatment.’ Furthermore, a clause had recently been inserted into the draft Single Convention which spoke of treatment being given on ‘a planned and compulsory basis, in properly conducted and duly authorised institutions’. However, by virtue of a qualifying clause that was initiated by the UK, such measures would be applicable only in those countries having a large addict population; it was this proviso that permitted the UK government to sign the 1961 treaty despite its differences with respect to drug treatment. Notwithstanding this, Walker expressed concern that the general trend at the CND was toward compulsion, and that there may in due course be concerted pressure for the removal of the UK clause. He added that, ‘it is unlikely that the United Kingdom could ever accept an obligation to require compulsory treatment of drug addicts in a closed institution’. In fact, Walker made it clear that such a measure could prevent the UK from signing the treaty, and would have been in conflict with the overall trend of mental health policies in Britain at this time, as expressed in Lord Percy’s 1957 Report of the Royal Commission on the Law relating to Mental Illness and Mental Deficiency. This optimistic document led the trend away from confinement, toward voluntary and community based mental health treatment, and fed into the 1959 Mental Health Act. In relation to addiction, Walker commented in closing that: ‘There is a limit to what the State should attempt, and the deprivation of personal liberty for medical reasons is far too serious a matter to contemplate unless there is overwhelming evidence of the need for it because of some widespread and particularly virulent social problem. This need does not exist in the United Kingdom’.
This last sentence is the key one. In order to fight its corner at the CND, the UK government needed powerful evidence that the domestic drug problem continued to be so small as to be negligible, a point which some other countries disputed. Consequently, ‘there would be much to be said from the point of view of strengthening our case in international circles for obtaining an authoritative opinion from a body of experts on the necessity for, and the feasibility of, providing special treatment for drug addicts in this country.’77 In other words, a Committee set up to review Britain’s arrangements could prove very useful in providing the government with ammunition which to fight its international drug policy corner, so long as this evidence indicated that the problem was tiny and relatively insignificant.
Although, as Spear claims, Walker’s superiors at the Home Office were initially unreceptive to his argument, the Brain Committee may well have been influenced by it at the meetings which produced the first report. Green led the way in producing the documentation for the Committee; mention of the expansion of the opiate subculture was entirely absent, and the growth in heroin addiction strongly downplayed. Accordingly, its Report was structured on precisely the lines that would support the government in its negotiations at the CND. It stated baldly: ‘After careful examination of all the data put before us we are of the opinion that in Great Britain the incidence of addiction to dangerous drugs… is still very small.’
This argument remains for the present a speculative one; nonetheless, the omission of the West End heroin subculture from the Home Office memorandum of evidence to the first Brain Committee, and the Report’s conclusion, which supports the UK’s requirements at CND in the run up to the 1961 Single Convention, are highly suggestive. Beyond this specific question, however, it is clear that the construction of international drug policy is a matter of both international and domestic (and transnational) domains, and that it is impossible to understand countries’ conduct in international fora without taking into account international politics and culture. And vice versa.

Dr John Petro

[1] Departmental Committee on Morphine and Heroin Addiction: Report (London: HMSO, 1926). (Rolleston Report)

[2] 59 D. R. Bewley Taylor, The United States and International Drug Control, 1909-1997 (London and New York: Continuum, 1999) p.141.

[3] Spear, H. B. & (ed) Mott, J. Heroin Addiction, Care and Control: The British System. London: Drugscope, 2002. Pp.65-89.

[4] Spear, H.B., Heroin Addiction, Care and Control p.90

[5] The National Archives HO 319/1 and MH 58/565.

[6] McAllister, W. B. Drug Diplomacy in the Twentieth Century: An international history. London and New York: Routledge, 2000. Pp.185- 211.

[7] TNA HO 319/1 ‘Dangerous Drugs Administration and Policy in the United Kingdom’ 25 October 1955.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Spear, H.B., Heroin Addiction, Care and Control, p.92.

[14] Ibid.

[15] The Tenth Session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, 1955. http://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/data-and-analysis/bulletin/bulletin_1955-01-01_2_page005.html Accessed 3rd September 2016

[16] TNA HO 319/1, ‘Dangerous Drugs Administration and Policy in the United Kingdom’ 25 October 1955. In this passage, Walker was quoting from a 1954 CND draft of the Single Convention.

[17] Ibid.

[18] E. Percy Baron of Newcastle Report of the Royal Commission on the Law relating to Mental Illness and Mental Deficiency (London: HMSO, 1957).

[19] TNA HO 319/1, ‘Dangerous Drugs Administration and Policy in the United Kingdom’ 25 October 1955.

[] Report of the Interdepartmental Committee on Drug Addiction 1961 London: HMSO. Paragraph 24.

Trust in the Crypto-Drug Markets

By Juan Fernandez Ochoa
Team Assistant – IDPC

Despite perceived novelty, drugs have been online from the Internet’s very beginnings.  Anecdotal as it may be, it is widely understood that the very first transaction on ARPANET involved a small amount of cannabis. Ever since, cyberspace has provided fertile ground for all sorts of drug-related exchanges.

The appeal of the Internet for people who use drugs is evident. Faced with criminalisation, misinformation and stigma “offline”, the world-wide web can offer people who use drugs a space to interact in [relative] anonymity and safety. Online forums, such as Erowid, have provided a platform for people to share experiences and advice related to their drug use; fostering a sense of community that remains difficult to replicate “in real life”.

Silk Road, however, was a game changer. Launched in February 2011, the site was the first “archetypical” crypto-drug marketi. This “eBay for drugs” combined sophisticated encryption, communications and trust technologies to offer a broad range of [mostly illicit] products and services to users around the world. Cannabis, LSD, MDMA and other controlled substances were now just a click away… plus shipping & handling.

As it is often the case with drug-related developments in a context of prohibition, the initial response from public authorities ranged from cluelessness, to politically expedient outrage, to repression. Less than three years into the Silk Road experiment, and before the site’s impact on the market could be fully understood, the FBI shut it down. Its convicted mastermind, Ross Ulbricht, now serves a life sentence without parole in a federal prison in New York.

Mirroring the reality of “physical” markets, dismantling the Silk Road, and subsequent similar operations, have achieved anything but the intended effects. The original site might no longer exist, but dozens more have been created in its stead, with overall sales and reach continuing to grow at a gradual but unwavering pace.

Despite the available evidence, the role of public authorities in this evolving ecosystem continues to go unchecked. The UNGASS Outcome Document urges Member States to “strengthen law enforcement, criminal justice and legal responses, as well as international cooperation, to prevent and counter drug-related criminal activities using the Internet” (Art. 5 p). As if expecting different results from doing the same thing over and over again.

In stark contrast with a mainstream law enforcement discourse that perceives these online markets essentially as “a safe haven for criminals”, the burgeoning field of research on crypto-drug markets reveals a more nuanced landscape. An interdisciplinary research project on trust in these markets by the Global Drug Policy Observatory (GDPO)ii, for instance, can shed light on the short-sightedness of fundamentally repressive law enforcement interventions targeting crypto-drug markets.

Borrowing tools from linguistics, ethnography and computer science, the investigators have sifted through thousands of megabytes of messages from the now-defunct Silk Road[s] 1 and 2iii. The careful analysis of “collocates”iv has made it possible to produce a statistically meaningful snapshot of some of the prevailing discourses in these communications.

One strand of the project, led by Professor Nuria Lorenzo-Dus, revealed that trust among users was largely mediated by the exchange of personal experiences and other forms of knowledge, as well as the provision of advice on how to reduce potential harmful effects of drug use. User-based harm reduction strategies have been previously identified in crypto-drug markets and offline communitiesv. However, by focusing on the issue of trust, the authors centre and highlight the social bonds underpinning this “indigenous harm reduction”. Public authorities should consider the opportuneness of law enforcement responses that might entail weakening these community strategiesvi, favouring interventions that support the life and health of people who use drugs insteadvii.

A second project strand, headed by Martin Horton-Eddison, provides further evidence on the unintended, although not unexpected, consequences of “hard” law enforcement interventions. Using the same methodology and sources, the study suggests the takedown of Silk Road by the FBI acted as a starting gun for technological innovation in crypto-drug markets – resulting in even more difficulties for law enforcement to target the dark net. Specifically, this research captures the emergence of collective concerns about the “escrow” system.

Escrow has been an essential trait of crypto-drug markets, mitigating some of the multiple risks associated to online transactions. A number of these risks are related to the non-abidance by one of the parties to the terms of the sale/purchase. In the absence of formal institutions to act as arbiters, crypto-drug markets stepped in to fill the gap, offering a service that holds the funds until the other parties (in this case the buyer and seller) both agree to release them. When Silk Road 1 was seized, the FBI expropriated $3.6million from the system. Immediately after Silk Road 2 came to exist, users began to discuss ways to offset these potential losses. Intensified by major “exit scams”, these anxieties in the community seem to have led to the development of better alternatives, such as decentralised and multi-signature escrow systems. Law enforcement action, in short, made crypto-drug markets more resilient and possibly sustainable.

The insights from these studies strongly mirror certain realities of offline drug markets. The global drug control regime has a conspicuous track record of futile interventions that are not motivated, and in fact come at the expense of the wellbeing of people who use drugs. Crypto-drug markets, which are often framed as a threat in international policy debates, might actually offer an opportunity to provide remedial action. Public authorities should rethink their engagement with these spaces, capitalising on the self-regulatory and harm reduction practices deployed by these communities to positively influence, support and empower people who use drugs on- and offline.

This blog post draws on material presented at the Roundtable on Cyber-Trust in Crypto-Drug Markets: Implications for Policy and Policing (London, 21 February 2017), organised by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) and the Global Drug Policy Observatory (GDPO), with support from the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) and the Challenging Human Environments and Research Impact for a Sustainable and Healthy Digital Economy (CHERISH-DE) fund.

Notes

i Crypto-drug markets can be defined as “digital platforms that facilitate P2P trade of goods and services with the added features of recommendations systems and a reliance on cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin. They utilize anonymizing Internet-routing technologies [….] to conceal the physical-[world] identity and location of users and create and open network for such interactions”.

ii Swansea University.

iii February 2011 – October 2013 and Nov. 2013 – November 2014, respectively.

iv Words that co-occur with statistical significance, denoting “features of the data that are both salient and peculiar”. Di Cristofaro, M. & Horton-Eddison, M. (2017) Corpus Linguistics on the Silk Road(s): The Escrow Example, GDPO Situation Analysis.

v See, for instance: Bancroft, A., & Reid, P. S. (2016). Concepts of illicit drug quality among darknet market users: Purity, embodied experience, craft and chemical knowledge. International Journal of Drug Policy, 35, 42–49; and Friedman, S. R., de Jong, W., Rossi, D., Touzé, G., Rockwell, R., Des Jarlais, D. C., & Elovich, R. (2007). Harm reduction theory: Users’ culture, micro-social indigenous harm reduction, and the self-organization and outside organizing of users’ groups. International Journal of Drug Policy, 18(2), 107–117.

vi For more on law enforcement and harm reduction, see, for instance: Monaghan, G., Bewley-Taylor, D., 2013. Modernising Drug Law Enforcement – Report 1 Police Support for Harm Reduction Policies and Practices Towards People Who Inject Drugs. International Drug Policy Consortium, London

vii See, for instance: Caudevilla, F. The Emergence of Deep Web Marketplaces: A Health Perspective. The Internet and Drugs Market (European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction). Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg; 2016.

ICSDP (re)Blog: Scientific Experts Launch Open Letter on Need for New Metrics to Evaluate Drug Policy

Reblog from:

http://www.icsdp.org/scientific_experts_launch_open_letter_on_need_for_new_metrics_to_evaluate_drug_policy

On January 21, 2016, more than eighty representatives from Member States, UN agencies, and civil society organizations gathered for the launch of a scientific open letter on the path forward for drug policy evaluation.

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Titled, “Identifying Common Ground for UNGASS 2016: Rethinking Metrics to Evaluate Drug Policy,” the event hosted by the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy (ICSDP) at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City provided valuable expertise and guidance to Member States and UN agencies in the lead up to the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Drugs (UNGASS) in April 2016.

The ICSDP’s open letter calls for a reprioritization of the metrics used to evaluate illicit drug policy. Co-authored by ten global scientific leaders, the open letter uses decades of scientific research to demonstrate that the small number of indicators currently prioritized by the vast majority of UN agencies and Member States – such as levels of illicit drug use and availability – fail to capture the complex ways that drug policy can impact communities. The open letter therefore argues for the adoption of indicators in the areas of health, peace and security, development, and human rights in order to provide a broader and more granular understanding of drug policy impacts. This, in turn, would equip policymakers with the data required to optimize outcomes and substantively control the world drug problem.

Screen_Shot_2016-02-23_at_5.03.55_PM.pngDr. Dan Werb, Director of the ICSDP, focused his presentation on the development challenges that have undermined the successful implementation of Mexico’s drug policy reform. In 2009, Mexico decriminalized the possession and use of small amounts of drugs and legislated a system of diversion that would see drug dependent individuals triaged into drug treatment rather than prison. Despite one of the most progressive drug policies on the books, research measuring the effectiveness of the policy reform in Tijuana – conducted by Dr. Werb and colleagues at the University of California, San Diego – indicates that implementation has fallen short of expectations, as the number of arrests for drug possession in Tijuana have continued to rise despite the policy of decriminalization. According to Dr. Werb, this can be at least partially attributed to the lack of capacity of the Mexican state to provide members of law enforcement with adequate levels of pay, as well as training in the basic tenets of the drug policy reform. Problematically, although a cornerstone of the drug policy reform relies on increased coverage and accessibility of evidence-based addiction treatment, such as methadone maintenance therapy (MMT), resource constraints have resulted in a lack of adequate treatment scale up. Dr. Werb concluded his presentation by emphasizing that, as the Mexican case study demonstrates, a lack of resource commitment by Member States can seriously undermine drug policy goals and development indicators must therefore be captured in drug policy evaluations.

According to Dr. Kanna Hayashi, Research Scientist at the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, evaluating levels of coverage for health services would be incomplete without also including indicators to assess quality, such as in the context of treatment for substance use disorders. Describing her research among people who inject drugs in Bangkok, Thailand, Dr. Kayashi noted that although Thailand added MMT to their universal health coverage in 2008, thereby increasing the accessibility of this health service, negative attitudes towards MMT by healthcare providers has led to suboptimal quality and rollout of this treatment modality. Research from 2011 found that the average dosage of methadone in Thailand was 30 milligrams, falling far below the 60-120 milligrams range recommended by the World Health Organization. As a result, 16% of those accessing MMT were also obtaining methadone illicitly and 19% reported syringe sharing. Dr. Hayashi stressed that if MMT were provided appropriately, these outcomes – which undermine efforts to reduce rates of drug dependence and to control the HIV epidemic – could have been avoided. The presence of compulsory drug detention centres is also an issue of suboptimal quality in treatments for substance use disorders. Research from 2011 indicates that, despite a lack of evidence that compulsory treatment for addiction is effective in treating drug dependence, 60% of people accessing drug treatment in Thailand were in compulsory treatment. Hence, as Dr. Hayashi’s presentation outlined, evaluations that do not include assessments of both treatment quality and availability will have limited utility in improving the health impacts of drugs and drug policy.

Dr. Daliah Heller, Clinical Professor at CUNY School of Public Health, provided concrete steps towards the adoption of health indicators by explaining how the majority of Member States could enhance existing data sets to evaluate the health impacts of their drug policies. For example, by collecting information on the presence of drug use as a contributor to death, existing death data in the United States could assess the impacts of dug use in a population. Dr. Heller also emphasized the importance of accompanying health indicators for drug policy with benchmarks for scaling up effective interventions. Monitoring and setting benchmarks for health interventions related to drug use, such as sterile syringe coverage, could help define government funding priorities and highlight disparities to ensure equity in the scale up of health services.

After explaining that the separation between the international drug control and human rights regimes has created an environment of systemic human rights risk in drug policy, Ms. Genevieve Sander, Human Rights Research Analyst at Harm Reduction International, described a series of steps that could be used to ensure the adoption of human rights indicators into drug policy evaluations. First, the specific human rights relevant to drug policy, such as the right to life, must be identified. Human rights standards should then be reviewed to determine the key characteristics of each right in the context of drug policy. A relevant key characteristic of the right to life, for example, would be the use of the death penalty for drug offences. Next, in order to design comprehensive human rights indicators for drug policy, structural, process, and outcome indicators must be included. Structural indicators can be used to shed light on the intent of a Member State. For the right to life , these may include the ratification of international human rights treaties relevant to protecting this human right. Process indicators indicate complicity in human rights violations, and in the example of the right to life, could include the number of convicted people facing the death penalty for drug offences. Finally, a relevant outcome indicator in the context of the right to life is the number of executions for drug offences in the last 12 months. Ms. Sander noted that incorporating all three types of indicators helps to reveal connections between actions and human rights outcomes, and thereby provides information on accountability. Ms. Sander concluded her presentation by emphasizing that all Member States are bound by their obligation in the UN Charter to respect, protect, and fulfill human rights. Adopting human rights indicators, targets, and benchmarks would allow Member States to better meet this obligation by reframing global priorities, focusing on more effective policies and interventions, and redirecting resources to where they are most needed.

Event attendees left with a greater understanding of the need to integrate scientific evidence into the development of a broader set of drug policy metrics, and were equipped with clear and demonstrable steps to better evaluate the multilayered impacts of drug policy on communities.

[WATCH A VIDEO RECORDING OF THE EVENT]

PRESENTATION SLIDES: [DR. WERB] [DR. HAYASHI] [DR. HELLER] [MS. SANDER]

View From the Ground: Bocas del Toro; Drugs in Paradise

By Alastair Smith, Panama

Following exploratory fieldwork in the rural coca growing fields of Colombia, GDPO followed the cocaine supply chain to Panama. Most recently, time spent on the Northern Caribbean coast soon revealed the permeation of drug trafficking into the already complex socioeconomic context that many perceive as paradise.

Paradise

Paradise of Bocas del Toro (MandingA 2013)

First impressions of Bocas del Toro – the name of both the 7,000+ person settlement on Isla Colon, just off the north eastern seaboard of Panama, but also the wider surrounding Province – largely confirm its international reputation as an accessible tropical ‘paradise’. With sympathetic afternoon light, the final leg of the 1-hour flight from Panama City reveals aqua marine water lapping at golden sands backed by lush green forests. Once established in the area, other widely talked about attractions of Bocas quickly emerge. There is a wealth of outdoor activities. Many international tourists, largely backpackers, and domestic visitors come to enjoy the Caribbean Sea: to scuba dive and snorkel, surf the notorious waves of Playa Bluff, or to take things a little easier with sunbathing and guided tours to spot the charismatic wildlife.

Party goers in one of Bocas' bars open late into the morning

Party goers in one of Bocas’ bars open late into the morning (Taken by Author 2015)

Another attraction of Bocas del Toro for many, and particularly backpackers, is undoubtedly the opportunity to mix Salsa and Reggaeton music, with low cost national beers and regional rum cocktails, as they enjoy the party life offer on Isla Colon (primarily in BocasTown) and the surround islands. Many of the bars and clubs in Bocas town are right on the water: making it very possible to ‘live the dream’ of enjoying beers in a hammock, dancing off the alcohol, and when things get a little too hot back-flipping off the dock into the cooling sea.

In this hedonistic environment, it is seemingly easy to forget the volumes of boat traffic and not think about the dubious quality of the sea water while enjoying a midnight swim. Another undercurrent in the town is the availability cocaine and cannabis. Sellers freely mix in the nightlife with various degrees of subtly in communicating their offerings. During the day, it is unusual to walk the length of town without being offered ‘weed’ – sometimes as a follow up to the initial list proposal of taking a boat tours to the beach – although there is little menacing about time spent in Bocas, and disinterest is well-accepted by opportunistic sellers.

Part of the reason for the level of supply is the demand of international tourists and more permanent life style migrants willing to pay higher prices than local consumers. However, Bocas del Toro is also well supplied with drugs as one of the recognized points of refuge for traffickers making the journey up the EasternCoast from Colombia to North America

Originally founded as a settlement of concentrated population by foreign banana producers, the region remained disconnected from administration in Panama City due to a lack of a reliable road connection: and therefore, the centralized government administration has lacked a presence in many respects. The archipelago is also composed of some highly remote islands that fall well beyond almost all government services and authority: and as in many cases across the world, the lack of state institutions supports the trafficking of drugs.

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View of coastal geography from the air (Author 2015)

Despite limited resources, local law enforcement officers in Bocas confirm that they have been involved in interdiction operations in partnership with central authorities and the US Coast Guard: furthermore, these operations have yielded high powerboats used by the traffickers that are then repurposed for local counter narcotics operations. Discussions with the local police support existing knowledge that traffickers use the inland water ways of the Panamanian coast to evade the authorities during the day, and then make their staged journeys under the cover of night (UNODC 2012). In some cases it is believed that small shipments of drugs are consolidated in Panama before being moved on (UNODC 2012). Local testimony also identified that during chases, traffickers will jettison quantities of drugs in attempts to bribe the police.

It is through a combination of these mechanisms that trafficked drugs enter the Bocas economy. The availability of drugs then provides relatively easy returns for those willing to become involved. This option is especially attractive so some due to the poor quality of education, high levels of poverty and general limitations on livelihood opportunities in the Bocas region. Despite Panama’s average national economic growth of 7.2% between 2001 and 2013, of the mainly indigenous population of the Bocas del Toro province, 25% are classified as poor and 11% as extremely poor (Omar and Moreno 2014). Many of these people live on subsistence agriculture and fishing on outer islands. There is therefore a potentially strong pull incentive to become involved in the distribution of drugs. In this case, as was found in Colombia, rural development will likely be as important an anti-trafficing policy as strengthening governance capacity for interdiction operations.

In conclusion, while the vast majority of visitors to Bocas del Toro find their expectations of fulfilled, the reality is that the international trafficking of drugs is playing into a complex socioeconomic situation, which many of the ‘poor’ permanent residents might well not accept as ‘paradise’. Again, genuine investment in enhancing the life opportunities of those currently motivated to support drugs distribution will likely contribute to a reduction in the global trade in narcotic drugs.

Sources

Omar, A. and V. Moreno ( 2014). Pobreza e Indigencia. Panama, Ministerio de Economia y Finanzas.

UNODC (2012). Cocaine from South America to the United States. Transnational Organized Crime in Central America and the Caribbean A Threat Assessment. Vienna, United Nation Office on Drugs and Crime.

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Worrying proposals to discuss the international scheduling of Ketamine at the CND in March 2015

As noted in the 2014 TNI – IDPC report Scheduling in the international drug control system, although often viewed as an obscure technical issue, the problem of scheduling lies at the core of the functioning of the international drug control system. Scheduling – the classification of a substance within a graded system of controls and restrictions, or ‘schedules’ – must take place in order for a substance to be included in the international control framework, and determines the type and intensity of controls to be applied. For this reason, the topic is of central importance.  Within this context, recent years have seen ketamine become an increasing point of contention.  Concerned by ‘recreational use’, some states, China key among them, have been pushing for international control of the drug.  This goes against repeated recommendations from the WHO, the body responsible for providing expert guidance on scheduling decisions within the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND).  As the WHO points out, while some non-medical use certainly takes place within some parts of the world, international scheduling would likely have damaging consequences on medical access to the drug (a WHO listed essential medicine) in developing countries.  Here it is the only available anaesthetic for essential surgery in most rural areas.

This Fact Sheet on the Proposal to Discuss International Scheduling of Ketamine at the 58th CND – endorsed by a wide range of civil society organisations, including the GDPO – provides background on the issue and explains why international scheduling would go against all the scientific evidence on the issue, be procedurally unsound and generate considerable negative public health impacts in parts of the world where there is already an acute crisis in essential surgery.

Need Versus Greed: the Complex Nature of Opium Farming in the North East of India

This blog was written by Romesh Bhattacharji, former Narcotics Commissioner of India, founding member of the Institute of Narcotics Studies and Analysis (INSA) and GDPO Technical Advisor

During the shooting of the film Raw Opium in March 2009 I was interviewed in a poor man’s steep and low yielding opium field in Kadong village of Anjaw district in eastern Arunachal Pradesh, India. The village is a good three hours uphill march from a motorable mountain road. I was overwhelmed by the unrelenting misery that I saw amongst the poor who cultivate opium mainly for their own use and barter the small surplus for essentials like utensils and kerosene oil. Faced with such abysmal poverty and the continuing brutal living conditions, I was so sad and swamped by waves of ineffective empathy that I forgot to highlight the fact that there are both rich and poor cultivators.  As soon as I saw the finished film a year later I realised that I ought to have distinguished between those that farm on account of need and those that are producing poppies commercially.

poor man's opium field on a steep hill side (photo: Romesh Bhattacharji)

A poor man’s opium field on a steep hill side (photo: Romesh Bhattacharji)

Within a year of filming Raw Opium in Arunachal Pradesh, some ex-narcocrats got together to form a think tank – the Institute for Narcotics Studies and Analysis (INSA) – to analyse the drug laws and consequential problems in India. I helped plan a survey that would quantify as precisely as possible opium cultivation and its use in Anjaw and Lohit districts in Arunachal Pradesh, a border state in the North East of India.

The actual survey, carried out by young college students from opium cultivating families, found that a few rich farmers (less than 15%) produced the large majority of the opium. It was noted that the villages close to the road cultivated opium on a commercial scale, while those away from the road (especially in Anjaw district) did so only to provide marginal subsistence and support their addiction. The wealthier farmers have benefited the most from development programmes including financial subsidies for businesses and agriculture such as orange orchards and cardamom plantations, help with marketing their products, interest free loans, free school and college education and free electricity, as well as large-scale government investment in infrastructure projects such as dams, all weather roads, hospitals and schools, employment schemes and health care.    

The rich farmers, who were once poor themselves, have  properties all over the region and are now able to send their children away to be educated to become engineers, bureaucrats, businessmen, doctors, professors, politicians and so on. The poor opium cultivators now hope that one day roads will reach their villages so that they can also become rich by growing opium on a commercial scale. It should be noted however, that many villages reported that they are ready to give up opium cultivation if a viable agricultural alternative is available.

Approximately 95% of villages in Anjaw and 89% of villages in Lohit district had opium addicts: the total number of addicts was almost 11,000 in number in both the districts (largely males but also about a 1000 females). In both districts there were addicts as young as 15 years old. Very few addicts received treatment but a number of them – almost 1600 addicts – were interested in the possibility of treatment. Unfortunately most of the villages did not have any health care facilities nor were there any community efforts in this direction.  It should be noted that whilst locally grown opium is sometimes used for medicinal and ritual purposes, it is increasingly used to support addiction.

A line has to be drawn between greed and need. Those in the former category are selling opium to neighbouring states, to new and old users, and for conversion to heroin. Such cultivators deserve the full brunt of efficient eradication and jail. Those that are poor often grow the opium for their own use and therefore deserve to be given access to opium via the now defunct Opium Registry.  The Government of India set up the Opium Registry in 1971 whereby registered opium users received doctor-certified dosages of opium from government stores.  At the beginning of the programme there were about 300,000 people enrolled on the programme. More than forty years later, less than a handful are alive to benefit from it and new users are not added to the programme.  All over India there are at least 2 million opium users. They get their doses from illicit cultivation and from diversion from licit opium cultivation.  

It is my belief that the Opium Registry should be revived on order to curb opium cultivation. If the opium user/cultivator is given opium by the government he or she will not need to cultivate it. Opium fields could then be eradicated without endangering any one’s health.  In 1999, whilst Narcotics Commissioner, I recommended that the Government of India revive the system but the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) objected, and the idea was dropped. In 2004 the National Drug Dependence Treatment Centre (NDDTC) of All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi held a workshop where this topic was discussed further, but nothing came of it.    

I have been monitoring the plight of the poor opium cultivators since my first visit to the region in January 1987. More than two score visits followed. Until 2003, as Narcotics Commissioner of India, I used to help eradicate illicit opium fields in these parts and elsewhere in India. In India it is still being done as tenderly as possible: no one is arrested and in the operations I participated in, a little would be left for personal use. 

The local government administrators in the late 1980s and early 1990s thought that development and eradication would wean the cultivators away from opium cultivation. It did for a while and the opium available for sale decreased. By the end of the 1990s there were only small cultivators. There were a few large fields but these were collectively cultivated by entire villages. By the end of the 1990s opium cultivation was down to a few hectares in these two districts. However in recent years things have changed and now poppy cultivation is in the thousands of hectares.

The young were initially against opium cultivation but their elders would not listen as they required it for their own use. Development did improve the lives of some villages: electricity and computers have reached wherever the roads have gone, where people once had to walk for days to get to the district headquarters, there are now many buses and taxis and privately owned vehicles plying the roads round the clock; where earlier most people were poorly clothed, they are now dressed in jeans and warm jackets and the young now deliver opium on expensive motorbikes; previously everyone in the district lived off the land, many now have different occupations. In the past they were reluctant to leave their homes and families as they would have no news from their families for months but now they have mobile phones and computers which have helped them leave their homes for employment all over the country.

However despite these improvements in living standards for some, poverty is still rampant in the region and poppy growth is on the rise once again.  As has been mentioned above, now those who have gained from the improvements in infrastructure have turned to farming opium for commercial use rather than in order to survive.

‘The Dilemmas of Drug Policy: Global to local’

On Wednesday 19th February GDPO hosted a film screening of ‘Raw Opium: Pain, Pleasure, Profits’ followed by a panel discussion ‘The Dilemmas of Drug Policy: Global to local’.

Raw Opium-300-q90The film itself follows the trade in opium/heroin from a poppy growing region of India, over the Tajikistan-Afghanistan border and on to Vancouver’s supervised injection site – Insite – to Portugal’s drug dissuasion committees.  There are largely insightful interviews with poppy growers in Arunachal Pradesh, India, a UNDOC enforcement officer on the Tajik-Afghan border, a US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officer, the former Indian Narcotics Commissioner Romesh Bhattacharji (and GDPO Technical Advisor) as well as members of the Insite team, Gabor Mate (a doctor who works in Vancouver with problematic drug users), and Portuguese street workers who offer support and food to drug users on the streets.  It also talks to some of those that use the supervised injection site in Vancouver about why they started using drugs and what Insite means to them.  The film is a powerful exploration of the local and global impacts of the trade.

Building upon many of the issues raised within the film, the accompanying panel discussion explored global nature of the illicit market in heroin and other controlled drugs as an area of public policy concern.

Panel members:

Julia Buxton (Chair)  GDPO Senior Research Officer and Professor of Comparative Politics, School of Public Policy at the Central European University, Budapest

Baroness Molly Meacher  Chair, All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Drug Policy Reform

Ifor Glyn  Chief Executive, SANDS Cymru

Mike Trace  Chief Executive, The Rehabilitation for Addicted Prisoners Trust (RAPt), Chair, International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) steering group, former Deputy UK Anti-Drug Coordinator

David Bewley-Taylor  GDPO Director and Professor of International Relations and Public Policy, Swansea University

Kicking off the discussion, Professor Bewley-Taylor emphasised the global nature of the heroin/opium trade.  In this regard, he noted that in 2012-13 there had been a 36% rise in opium production in Afghanistan and that poppies are now being grown in provinces that had previously been designated ‘poppy-free.  He also pointed out that after full ‘Transition’ at the end of 2014, the security situation is likely to worsen with a consequence being that poppy production will continue to increase.  Despite a range of complexities and uncertainties concerning the opium market, any increase in production in Afghanistan may well result in a decrease in price and an increase in purity of heroin on the streets of the UK.

This may have a direct impact upon the heroin markets in Swansea.  On a local level, it was noted by Ifor Glyn that the city has a growing problem with heroin use.  Twenty years ago there was very little heroin use in Swansea and the surrounding area.  Today it is one of the main drugs used by clients at SANDS CYMRU.  This seems to be part of a broader principality-wide situation, with an estimated 17,000 problematic drug users in Wales.  In response, since devolution,  the Welsh Assembly Government has become more innovative regarding drug policy and has invested £32 million into the issue area.  The Advisory Panel on Substance Misuse – the Welsh version of the UK’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) – has recognised that there is a need for drug consumption rooms like the Insite facility shown in the film.  They have also looked into heroin prescription similar to the model used in Switzerland.  On this point, Baroness Meacher noted that the Swiss model provides a wide range of support services from heroin maintenance to counselling and housing support. She also pointed out that it is estimated that for every 1 Swiss Franc (CHF) spent on this programme, the tax payer is saved CHF2.

Whilst the Welsh government has not instituted drug consumption rooms or heroin maintenance as yet, they are considering new approaches to drug policy.  Public Health Wales has set up a government-funded drug testing service – the Wedinos project – where people can have their ‘legal highs’ (or Novel Psychoactive Substances) tested to find out what substances they contain.  It aims to give individual users rapid and accurate information to reduce harms associated with drug use.

On national level issues, Baroness Meacher highlighted that UK Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg, has ‘come out’ in favour of a review of the UK Misuse of Drugs Act  but that Labour and the Conservatives are still resistant to change.  Panel members concurred that politicians often do not engage with drug policy reform because there is a fear that being supportive of decriminalisation or legalisation can be politically damaging.  For example, at the 2002 Home Affairs Select Committee (of which David Cameron was a member) it was agreed that it was necessary to review the MDA.  Cameron supported this but when he became Prime Minister, he jettisoned this proposal.

In response to a question from the audience asking why drug policy is not simply left to the ‘experts’, Baroness Meacher noted that in the UK policy is driven by the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA) and therefore the only people who can change this are politicians.  Scientists, such as members of the ACMD, do their best but are often ignored.  A recent example of this was UK Home Secretary Theresa May’s announcement that the drug khat would become a banned substance against the ACMD’s advice.  You can read more about the ban on the khat trade in GDPO’s Situation Analysis – The UK khat ban: Likely adverse consequences.

On the international level, it seems that rhetorically at least, there has been a shift in emphasis from criminalisation to a more public health orientated approach.  There has been a recognition in much of the world that punishment shouldn’t be a tool of demand reduction.  The UN is holding a special session (UNGASS) on drug policy in 2016 and, as outlined by Mike Trace, diplomats are currently trying to agree on a Joint Ministerial Statement (JMS) that will set the scene for the UNGASS, as well as recording member states’ views of progress towards the goals set at the UN Political Declaration on drugs in 2009.  It is becoming clear, however, that there is little consensus around the issue.    According to Mike Trace states involved in the JMS process can be broadly divided into three camps:

  • Reformers – e.g. Latin American states such as Mexico, Colombia, Guatemala
  • Re-balancers – e.g. European nations who agree that drug policy should be health-based rather than criminal justice-based.
  • Defenders – usually authoritarian countries e.g. Russia, China, Iran, Pakistan.  For these countries the War on Drugs is handy for pacifying citizens.

Member states will attend the annual Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) meeting in Vienna in March for a ‘High-Level Segment’ in order to finalise the Join Ministerial Statement.  But, as yet, there is little agreement on what it should contain. 

Another area of discussion centred on drug policy reform and the relationship between support at the government level and public opinion.

In many countries public opinion on drug policy is way ahead of the politicians.  Mike Trace noted that in the US public support in favour of legalisation has shot up in recent years and now hovers around the 60% mark.  As a result of this jump in public support, more and more US politicians are coming out in favour of cannabis reform particularly since the voter initiatives in Washington and Colorado in 2012.

A Gallup poll produced last October shows how support for legalisation has changed over time.

marijuana-legalization-support-gallup-poll

The situation is somewhat different in the UK where there is no option for voter-driven referendums. However, Mike Trace noted that within 24 hours of an online campaign run by Green Party MP Caroline Lucas and Avaaz hitting 100,000 signatures, all three main political parties became more eager to discuss the issue.  It seems that even in the UK politicians are becoming aware that the public mood might be shifting.

Behind the Staggering Rise in Women’s Imprisonment in Latin America

Harsh drug laws are driving a surge in the number of women imprisoned in Latin America.

Between 2006 and 2011, the female prison population in Latin America almost doubled, increasing from 40,000 to more than 74,000 inmates. The vast majority of incarcerated women are in prison for drug-related offenses. Estimates range from:

  • 75–80 percent in Ecuador
  • 30–60 percent in México
  • 64 percent in Costa Rica
  • 60 percent in Brazil
  • 70 percent in Argentina
  • More than 90 percent of Argentina’s foreign female prison population is incarcerated for drugs

As Latin America assumes the lead in reforming drug laws internationally, many domestic laws are incredibly harsh. In some Latin American countries, sentences for drug offenses can be as high as 30 years of imprisonment, often with no distinction between minor offenses and involvement in organized crime.

It is clear today that our punitive law enforcement strategies are unjust and have failed to achieve policymakers’ stated goals: to protect public health and increase public security.

Women are primarily involved in the lowest rungs of the drug trafficking ladder, and more often than not, they become involved in order to put food on the table for their children, according to Women, Drug Offenses and Penitentiary Systems in Latin America, a new report published by the International Drug Policy Consortium and written by Corina Giacomello.

The criminalization of these women hardly makes a dent in the drug trade. When they are arrested, they are easily replaced and criminal structures remain basically intact.

But their incarceration does have tragic consequences both for the already overcrowded penitentiary system and for the lives of those women and the people who depend on them.

At the OAS General Assembly meeting in Antigua, Guatemala, in June 2013, the hemisphere’s foreign ministers issued a declaration that highlights that drug policies need to be implemented from a human rights and a gender perspective, with a focus on prevention and ensure civil society participation.

To meet this mandate, more research is needed on women incarcerated on drug charges across the hemisphere; more proportionate penalties should be imposed for drug offenses, especially for vulnerable groups; and far more prevention and income generating programs should be established to keep women from going to jail in the first place.

Finally, a special focus should be put on alternatives to incarceration for low-level, nonviolent offenders and for social reintegration for those who do serve time such that they can return to their families and communities with opportunities for employment and adequate housing.

The criminalization of poverty is not the solution to problems caused by drug use and drug trafficking in Latin America.

This blog was written by Coletta Youngers and originally appeared on Open Society Foundations Voices Blog

Coletta A. Youngers is the Latin America regional associate with the International Drug Policy Consortium and a senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America.

Global Drug Policy ProgramLatin America Program