Ending drug prohibition


in Bombs and rockets, Economics, Law, Politics, Rants, Security

Earlier, I wrote about whether the phrase ‘greenhouse gas pollution’ is accurate, and whether it might be useful for building political will to do something about climate change. The phrase is accurate – CO2 is an unwanted by-product of various processes and it does harm to people all over the world – and it may be a useful way to remind people that ‘greenhouse gas emissions’ are a real problem that needs to be dealt with. It calls to mind phrases like “make the polluter pay [for the cost of cleaning up pollution]”.

I wonder whether a similar change in language might be helpful for opposing unreasonable drug laws. Mention ‘marijuana legalization’ and the eyes of the people around you will glaze over. They have heard the debate, they have their view, and they probably don’t care about it too strongly one way or the other.

Maybe we can do better by saying things like: “End marijauana prohibition” or “End the prohibition of drugs”.

People remember the prohibition of alcohol, the way it failed, and the problems it caused. It enriched organized crime and pushed alcohol use underground. It led to inferior and dangerous kinds of alcohol being sold. It cost tax revenues, crowded the prisons, and so on. All this is true of drug criminalization today. Most of the problems associated with drugs only exist because they are illegal, or are made much worse because they are illegal. Drug prohibition turns the drug trade into a violent, dangerous business and it turns ordinary people who use substances that are often more benign than alcohol or tobacco into criminals.

Al Capone was the natural consequence of alcohol prohibition. His successors created by the drug war may be less famous – and they may kill more people in Mexico than in Chicago – but their business has arisen for exactly the same reason, and operates according to the same logic. Stratfor describes what has been happening recently in Mexico as “a stalemate” “between the Sinaloa Federation, Los Zetas and the government” and argue that it has produced 50,000 deaths. That is more than 16 times the number of people killed in the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001. It’s about 6% of the number of deaths associated with the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

Ending drug prohibition just makes sense. It is both unethical and ineffective for governments to try to control what consenting adults do with their bodies. Their efforts to assert that control are doing demonstrable harm. Perhaps by speaking about the situation in terms of ‘ending prohibition’ rather than ‘legalizing’ this or that, the political debate can be moved forward just a little.

{ 94 comments… read them below or add one }

. February 17, 2012 at 11:31 am

And so the first time I ate E – or X, or EX, or XTC, or MDMA (methylenedioxymethamphetamine) – it was having given my son permission to sell it to me. I became his customer, a buyer, a reliable and steady client, the lowest link on the food chain of the multibillion-dollar commerce that proceeds unabated every day, every hour, in every large city and small town in every state in this union, in what is called by those paid to “war” against them “controlled substances”.

I find it ironic. Because I cannot think of a single commodity in our country that is less controlled than such substances, nor a single “war” that is as pathetically futile, vaingloriously chimeric and long-ago-lost as is this one. Wrestle as you will, you cannot reform or arrest human appetite. Ecstasy is as illegal as heroin. This is just the sort of run-amok governmental lunacy guaranteed to ensure that those like myself – and more importantly, our children – will write off that same government and those who enforce its drug laws as out of touch, coercive, morally bankrupt and, yes, un-American. Because America is not, or did not used to be, about throwing 16-year-old kids in jail for – all in the spirit of free-market capitalism and entrepreneurial enterprise – home-growing a little cannabis, even as the rest of us chain-smoke our Camels, sip our Absoluts with a twist, and devour our Prozac.

Tristan February 22, 2012 at 2:16 am

This language change sounds quite promising.

. February 28, 2012 at 2:31 pm

In addition to the 15 tons seized last week, we saw a record seizure of 675 tons of methylamine, a key ingredient of methamphetamine, in Mexico in December. From 2010 to 2011, seizures of precursor chemicals like methylamine in Mexico increased 400 percent, from 400 tons to 1,600 tons. These most recent reports are similar to reports in the 1920s of U.S. liquor seizures going from barrels to shiploads, which indicated bootlegging was being conducted on an industrial scale. They are also eerily similar to the record cocaine seizure in 1984 in Tranquilandia, Colombia, when Colombian National Police uncovered a network of jungle cocaine labs along with 13.8 metric tons of cocaine. It was the watershed moment, when authorities moved from measuring cocaine busts in kilograms to measuring them in tons, and it marked the Medellin cartel’s rise to power over the cocaine market.

Anyone can make methamphetamine, but it is a huge organizational, financial and legal challenge to make it on the industrial level that appears to be happening in Mexico. The main difference between the U.S. labs and the Mexican labs is the kind of input chemicals they use. The U.S. labs use pseudoephedrine, a pharmaceutical product heavily regulated by the DEA, as a starting material, while Mexican labs use methylamine, a chemical with many industrial applications that is more difficult to regulate. And while pseudoephedrine comes in small individual packages of cold pills, methylamine is bought in 208-liter (55-gallon) barrels. The Mexican process requires experienced chemists who have mastered synthesizing methamphetamine on a large scale, which gives them an advantage over the small-time amateurs working in U.S. methamphetamine labs.


. March 4, 2012 at 7:25 pm
. March 11, 2012 at 11:17 am

Drugs policy
Pills and progress
Signs of compassion mixed with pragmatism are emerging in America’s treatment of drug users, who are also changing their habits

ON A recent evening, some 50 people turned up for their weekly reckoning at Judge Joel Bennett’s drug court in Austin, Texas. Those who had had a good week—gone to their Narcotics Anonymous meetings and stayed out of trouble—got a round of applause. The ones who had stumbled received small punishments: a few hours of community service, a weekend in jail, a referral to inpatient treatment. Most were sanguine about that. Completing the programme will mean a year of sobriety and the dismissal of their criminal charges.

After the session, Mr Bennett noted that the drugs problem has grown worse during his nearly 20 years on the bench, largely due to poverty, poor education and cycles of abuse. Still, he reckoned, less punitive approaches to drug users are gaining acceptance. That is largely because the punitive approach has failed.

More than 40 years have passed since Richard Nixon declared a federal “war on drugs”, and drug use is still a big problem. In 2008 roughly 8.9% of Americans aged 12 and older used an illegal drug, up from 5.8% in 1991-93. Nor have the consequences abated: in 2008, according to preliminary data from the Centres for Disease Control (CDC), there were 37,792 drug-induced deaths, compared with 14,218 in 1995.

. March 11, 2012 at 11:18 am

“But if America’s war on drugs has failed to curb drug use, it has been a boon to the prison industry: in 2008 non-violent drug offenders accounted for a quarter of American prisoners, up from less than 10% in 1980.

The cost of jailing so many people, particularly in straitened times, together with a lessening in the pressure on politicians (because of the declining violence) have led to a change in the tough-on-crime rhetoric. In 2009 Gil Kerlikowske, the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, announced that the office would no longer use the phrase “war on drugs”. Sixteen states have legalised marijuana for medical use, and over a dozen have similar legislation pending.”

. April 1, 2012 at 5:47 pm

Drug policy in Latin America
Burn-out and battle fatigue
As violence soars, so do voices of dissent against drug prohibition

LATIN AMERICA is rich in sought-after commodities, including narcotics. The coca leaf, from which cocaine is refined, is grown only in the foothills of the Andes. Mexico produces more heroin than anywhere but Afghanistan, as well as much cannabis. Latin American traffickers are even diversifying into synthetic drugs such as methamphetamine.

The illegality of this successful export business means that its multi-billion-dollar profits go to criminal gangs. Their battles for market control have a high cost: according to the UN, eight of the world’s ten most violent countries are in Latin America or the Caribbean. Drugs are not the only business of organised crime, but they account for the bulk of the gangs’ income and thus their firepower. Honduras, a strategic spot on the trafficking route, has the world’s highest murder rate, about 80 times that of western Europe.

. April 16, 2012 at 11:54 am

Softening tone, Harper concedes drug war ‘is not working’


Something is just not working with the way the hemisphere has tackled powerful and violent drug traffickers, Prime Minister Stephen Harper acknowledged Sunday as he wrapped up a meeting with the leaders of the Americas.

It was the first time Harper has suggested he is open to discussing new approaches to the war on drugs. Several Latin American countries, including Guatemala, Mexico and Colombia have called for an open and frank discussion about how to deal with the cartels.

“There is increasing doubt about whether we are taking the best approach to doing that, but nobody thinks these transnational networks are good guys, or that changing the law is somehow going to make them good people,” Mr. Harper told reporters at a news conference following the close of the Summit of the Americas.

“I think what everyone believes and agrees with, and to be frank myself, is that the current approach is not working, but it is not clear what we should do.”

The gathering of 31 leaders agreed to analyze the approach to the drug situation in a more formal way through the Organization of American States.

While some voices in Latin America and the Caribbean have suggested legalization and regulation of drugs might alleviate some of the suffering and violence in the region, others have opposed the idea.

. June 2, 2012 at 5:29 pm

The path to decriminalisation

ON TUESDAY, Beto O’Rourke, a former city councilman from El Paso, defeated the longtime incumbent Silvestre Reyes in the Democratic primary for Texas’s 16th congressional district. It was probably the biggest upset in the state, and an outcome that has attracted national attention, for a simple reason: Mr O’Rourke, who will almost certainly win the general election in November, supports legalising marijuana.

While not entirely unprecedented, this is an outlying opinion among politicians. Polling shows that fully half of Americans now support legalising marijuana. Yet among national office-holders, the figure is about 0-1%. As Paul Waldman argues, the disparity might arise from the fact that there aren’t really any electoral incentives for the politician who wants to go to bat on this issue, but there are plenty of risks—the risk of being seen as soft on crime, the risk of being seen as a crank, etc. Mr O’Rourke is perhaps insulated from these risks, because this is manifestly an issue that affects the district he hopes to represent, rather than some kind of dilettantish libertarian thing. He and Susie Byrd, also a former city representative, published a book last year describing the devastation of Mexico’s drug war, particularly in El Paso’s twinned city of Juarez, and arguing that decriminalising marijuana would be the best way to dismantle the black market that fuels the trade. The Economist supports decriminalising drugs for similar reasons, and such arguments are more compelling than complaints about personal freedom which, while valid, can come across as tasteless and self-absorbed. You can’t open a paper from Juarez without reading about somebody being beheaded or disemboweled.

. June 8, 2012 at 12:25 pm

Do it for the young black males: legalize marijuana, writes Touré in TIME

“Black men are targeted and stopped and frisked for the crime of being black in poor black neighborhoods,” Touré writes, “and those found with small bags of marijuana are sucked into the justice system and forever branded a criminal. This means they will struggle to find work, may not qualify for student-aid and likely stay in public housing. These men are virtually removed from society for a nonviolent offense that many Americans commit. They are failed by America.”

. June 8, 2012 at 12:25 pm

Recognizing that, I called Ohio State University Associate Professor of Law Michelle Alexander, the author of the The New Jim Crow, a definitive study of the impact of the War on Drugs. Professor Alexander told me that the loss of human potential for possessing small amounts of marijuana is staggering. “If Barack Obama had been caught for making that mistake [smoking weed in high school], he would have been branded a criminal and the odds that he would’ve made it to college are slim,” Alexander said. “He might not even be eligible to vote.” Decriminalization is a positive step toward stopping the damage, Alexander said, but she also thinks we should do even more.

“I find it encouraging that Cuomo acknowledged the racial dimensions of these marijuana arrests and the lifelong consequences of acquiring a criminal record. Once you are branded a criminal, even for marijuana possession, that record follows you for life,” Alexander said. “It’s encouraging that Cuomo acknowledges how people of color have been subject to discriminatory enforcement, and a criminal record can relegate you to permanent second-class status. What I’d like to see is Cuomo go even further and call for the expungement of records for those who’ve been criminally charged with marijuana possession to ensure those who were ensnared before this likely policy change aren’t branded for life.”

. June 17, 2012 at 5:48 pm

Pure ecstasy can be ‘safe’ if consumed responsibly: B.C. health officer

At least 16 people from B.C. to Saskatchewan have died since last July from a tainted batch of ecstasy they obtained from criminal dealers, the only way an average person can acquire the drug in Canada. It was cut with a toxin called PMMA.

Police say an average of 20 British Columbians who consume street ecstasy die each year.

Dr. Kendall and several other health colleagues liken the mutation of MDMA into a contaminated street drug to the wave of bootleg beverages during the 1920s prohibition era.

“Methyl alcohol led to huge rates of morbidity and mortality in the United States under alcohol prohibition because of illicit alcohol manufacturing,” said Dr. Evan Wood, a lead researcher at the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS and internationally-recognized expert in drug addiction and related policies.

“PMMA is a natural and expected consequence of the prohibition on ecstasy.”

. June 17, 2012 at 5:48 pm
. August 24, 2012 at 3:16 pm

MURDER has become so common in parts of Mexico that gangsters craving attention must go to ever more appalling lengths. The 49 or so mutilated bodies dumped on May 13th on a roadside close to Monterrey, a wealthy city near the Texan border, were enough to make the front pages. The massacre was the worst since last August, when 52 people were killed in an arson attack on a casino in the same city. The latest outrage may be even deadlier: investigators are still not sure how many victims the body parts add up to.

The horror diverted attention from a rare drop in Mexico’s overall murder rate. The opening quarter of 2012 saw the first year-on-year fall in killings since the government’s assault on the gangs got going in 2007. The 5,037 murders (which include ordinary killings as well as mafia hits) represented a 7% drop compared with the same period last year, and a 17% decline compared with the worst three months of last summer. The government no longer breaks out mafia-linked murders, but Reforma, a newspaper, reckons that so far this year these are 10% down on last year.

. August 26, 2012 at 1:24 pm

FOR a few months in 2009, David Nutt was the most famous pharmacologist in Britain. As chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), he was responsible for advising the government on the relative dangers posed by different kinds of illegal substances. He published a scientific paper that landed him in hot water, when he compared the risks of taking Ecstasy with those posed by horse-riding, and found riding to be several times riskier.

He was publicly rebuked, on the spurious grounds that the two activities are not comparable, by Jacqui Smith, the home secretary at the time. The following year he contributed to a paper that came to the conclusion that alcohol was a more harmful substance than cannabis, LSD or Ecstasy. Alan Johnson, Ms Smith’s successor, responded by removing Professor Nutt from the committee.

. September 6, 2012 at 3:12 pm
. September 10, 2012 at 2:00 pm

“[A] great many other sorts of harm have been more or less accidental, perverse effects which although predictable were not intended by those who instigated the War [on Drugs]. These ‘perverse effects’ include:

1. Increasing the spread of infectious diseases
2. Causing terminally ill people to die in agony
3. Increasing instability and unaccountability in the financial system
4. Holding back research on new medicines
5. Increasing levels of drug-related violence and crime
6. Increasing the number of users by forcing them to become dealers
7. Bringint the law into disrepute; allowing discriminatory policing
8. Diverting attention away from the dangers of alcohol and tobacco”

Nutt, David. Drugs Without the Hot Air: Minimising the Harms of Legal and Illegal Drugs. p.273 (paperback)

. September 10, 2012 at 2:17 pm

“So, prison is worse for people’s mental health, more likely to lead to hard drug use, more likely to ruin someone’s career, more likely to lead to a cycle of destructive behaviour, and far more expensive for society than cannabis: imprisoning people for using cannabis increases harm, rather than reducing it. Al alternative model for punishing those caught in possession of cannabis is the ‘Cameron approach’. When [British Prime Minister] David Cameron was caught with the drug at Eton, he was made to write out hundreds of lines of Latin; there are certainly thousands of young people across the UK whose lives would be immeasurably improved if this became public policy.”

Nutt, David. Drugs Without the Hot Air: Minimising the Harms of Legal and Illegal Drugs. p.262 (paperback)

. September 11, 2012 at 10:12 am

“Another thing we could do to learn more about new drugs as they appear is to set up a Drugs Information and Monitoring System (DIMS) like the one they have in the Netherlands, which is a fascinating example of applying common sense to drug use. Across the Netherlands there are a number of hospitals where drugs can be tested. Users can take their drugs to the centre knowing that they will not be arrested. After the tests they are given information on what the drug is, health and safety advice to help them decide whether to take it or not, and what to do if they get adverse effects. Not only does this offer an opportunity for harm prevention, but also the Dutch authorities get to know exactly what drugs are in circulation and where, and they catch ‘bad batches’ before they do too much damage.”

Nutt, David. Drugs Without the Hot Air: Minimising the Harms of Legal and Illegal Drugs. p.124 (paperback)

. October 13, 2012 at 1:54 am

The 1315 Project (a documentary film)

An unchanging 1.3% addiction rate. A $1.5 trillion price tag. Stories from the front lines of a war we cannot win but will not end.

. November 8, 2012 at 3:55 pm

CO and WA Voters Legalize Marijuana

Colorado and Washington have become the first U.S. states to approve regulating, taxing and controlling marijuana similar to alcohol.

Statement from Ethan Nadelmann, Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance

Colorado and Washington have become not just the first U.S. states – but the first political jurisdictions anywhere in the world – to approve regulating, taxing and controlling marijuana similar to alcohol.

The Drug Policy Alliance and its electoral arm, Drug Policy Action, worked closely with local and national allies to draft these initiatives, build coalitions and raise funds.

“The victories in Colorado and Washington are of historic significance not just for Americans but for all countries debating the future of marijuana prohibition in their own countries,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “This is now a mainstream issue, with citizens more or less divided on the issue but increasingly inclined to favor responsible regulation of marijuana over costly and ineffective prohibitionist policies.”

The Colorado and Washington initiatives inspired diverse coalitions that included traditional drug policy reformers, law enforcement, organized labor, advocates for fiscal responsibility, mainstream civil rights organizations, advocates for children, and people from across the political spectrum. The campaign in Washington gained strength and legitimacy from the unprecedented number of endorsements by elected officials as well as former and current law enforcement officials.

. November 12, 2012 at 8:10 pm

If pot were truly legal, high-quality joints would cost the same price as a Splenda packet

How cheaply could pot be grown with advanced farming techniques? One potential data point is Canada’s industrial hemp industry, where production costs are about $500 per acre. If the kind of mid-grade commercial weed that accounts for about 80 percent of the U.S. market could be grown that cheaply, it implies costs of about 20 cents per pound of smokable material: Enough pot to fill more than 800 modest-sized half-gram joints for less than a quarter!

. December 6, 2012 at 1:41 pm

Marijuana smokers breathed a puff of relief today as they lit up legally for the first time in Washington state and were not cited, ticketed, or arrested for what is still a federal offense.

“There are no federal agents out there busting people,” Seattle police Sgt. Sean Whitcomb said today, hours after a new state law legalizing pot went into effect.

Seattle police spokesman Jonah Spangenthal-Lee wrote on the department’s blog, “The police department believes that, under state law, you may responsibly get baked, order some pizzas and enjoy a Lord of the Rings marathon in the privacy of your own home, if you want to.”

. December 17, 2012 at 9:38 pm
. December 17, 2012 at 9:40 pm

Although your typical non-violent drug inmate isn’t the white child of a celebrity, he’s usually a minority user who gets far stiffer sentences than rich white kids would for committing the same crimes – we all remember the crack-versus-coke controversy in which federal and state sentencing guidelines left (predominantly minority) crack users serving sentences up to 100 times harsher than those meted out to the predominantly white users of powdered coke.

The institutional bias in the crack sentencing guidelines was a racist outrage, but this HSBC settlement blows even that away. By eschewing criminal prosecutions of major drug launderers on the grounds (the patently absurd grounds, incidentally) that their prosecution might imperil the world financial system, the government has now formalized the double standard.

They’re now saying that if you’re not an important cog in the global financial system, you can’t get away with anything, not even simple possession. You will be jailed and whatever cash they find on you they’ll seize on the spot, and convert into new cruisers or toys for your local SWAT team, which will be deployed to kick in the doors of houses where more such inessential economic cogs as you live. If you don’t have a systemically important job, in other words, the government’s position is that your assets may be used to finance your own political disenfranchisement.

On the other hand, if you are an important person, and you work for a big international bank, you won’t be prosecuted even if you launder nine billion dollars. Even if you actively collude with the people at the very top of the international narcotics trade, your punishment will be far smaller than that of the person at the very bottom of the world drug pyramid. You will be treated with more deference and sympathy than a junkie passing out on a subway car in Manhattan (using two seats of a subway car is a common prosecutable offense in this city). An international drug trafficker is a criminal and usually a murderer; the drug addict walking the street is one of his victims. But thanks to Breuer, we’re now in the business, officially, of jailing the victims and enabling the criminals.

. December 26, 2012 at 2:06 pm

80 Years After the End of Prohibition, Prohibition is Finally Coming to an End

Voters in Washington and Colorado made history on Election Day when they voted to legally regulate and tax marijuana. Their votes signaled the beginning of the end for the costly and unjust war on drugs.

Thank you to the citizens of Washington and Colorado.

The Drug Policy Alliance is especially proud of this milestone, as we worked for years to make this historic day happen.

We’d also like to thank: President Bill Clinton for acknowledging the drug war’s futility and failure; President Jimmy Carter and Pat Robertson for saying it’s time to legalize marijuana; Governor Christie for calling the drug war a failure and Governor Cuomo for working to end New York’s racially discriminatory marijuana arrest crusade; Congressmen Ron Paul and Barney Frank for introducing the first bill to end federal marijuana prohibition; Presidents Santos (Colombia), Pérez Molina (Guatemala) and Mujica (Uruguay) for breaking the taboo on alternatives to drug prohibition; and, most of all, our many allies around the world for demanding no more drug war.

We strive for the day when drug policies are no longer motivated by ignorance, fear and prejudice but rather by science, compassion, fiscal prudence and human rights, with education and treatment available for everyone. Help us fight the good fight by making a tax deductible donation.

. December 26, 2012 at 7:41 pm

The Next Seven States To Legalize Pot

Why Oregon, California and more are likely to follow Colorado and Washington toward legalization

. January 3, 2013 at 5:58 pm

Drugs and violence
A glimmer of hope
After five years of soaring murder rates, the killings have at last begun to level off

Nov 24th 2012 | from the print edition

WHEN FEUDING BETWEEN drug traffickers was at its most brutal in Ciudad Juárez, a border city on the edge of the Chihuahua desert, the deadliest time to step into its mean streets was 4.45pm. The main television news bulletin is broadcast at 5pm, and Juárez’s gangsters, experts in public relations, would time their murders to lead the evening headlines. “They would kill in the streets, by the highways, on the main avenues. They wanted to send a message to the authorities,” says David García, head of the city’s forensic service. Five years ago his team dealt with about 400 homicides a year, giving the city of 1.3m a murder rate roughly equal to that of New York in the early 1990s. By 2010 the small mortuary had to accommodate 300 murdered bodies a month, making Juárez by some reckonings the most violent city in the world.

anon January 21, 2013 at 9:42 am

Wood & Antweiler: Canada should follow America’s lead in liberalizing marijuana laws


As of November, any Canadian caught with as few as six cannabis plants faces a mandatory six-month minimum prison term. Ironically, the new rules came into effect at the same time that Washington state and Colorado voted to tax and regulate the recreational use of marijuana by adults.

The results of the legalization measures in those states came as a surprise to many Canadians, including, presumably, Prime Minister Stephen Harper. When asked about the four former Vancouver mayors who publicly support the regulation and taxation of marijuana in Canada, he argued “it would inhibit our trade generally because they’re certainly not going to make that move in the United States.”

That may have been true in the past, but Canada has fallen way behind the U.S. when it comes to progressive drug policy. In addition to the two states that legalized the adult use of marijuana, three more legalized it for medical uses. A total of 18 states now allow medical marijuana, and 12 have decriminalized possession of the drug. Meanwhile, Canadian policy is moving in the opposite direction.

. February 25, 2013 at 3:46 pm

Prison and the Poverty Trap

Published: February 18, 2013

. March 10, 2013 at 11:18 pm

A budding market for legal pot

AS COLORADO grapples with the logistics of legalising marijuana, lessons are being drawn from the medical-marijuana industry

. March 25, 2013 at 9:15 pm
. April 23, 2013 at 10:34 pm

But immigration offences and Prohibition redux—America’s drug war—drove both numbers up in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. In 1990 29,011 defendants crowded the federal court system; by 2010 that number had nearly tripled, to 83,946. Of those, 81,217 pleaded guilty, meaning that prosecutors did not have to convince juries of their guilt beyond reasonable doubt. They merely had to persuade a grand jury to charge the defendants, a far lower standard of proof (not for nothing did a New York judge once say that a good prosecutor could convince a grand jury to “indict a ham sandwich”), and they had to persuade defendants that pleading guilty was a sound rational choice.

They have been helped by another unfortunate legacy of the drug war: mandatory minimum sentences. From 1990 to 2010 the number of federal defendants whose conviction carries at least one mandatory minimum sentence has more than tripled, from 6,685 to 19,896. Intended to ensure fairness and reduce variation in sentencing between jurisdictions, mandatory minimums have instead, in effect, transferred discretion from judges to prosecutors. Many judges dislike mandatory minimums, and last week Patrick Leahy, who heads the Senate Judiciary Committee, called for ending them, but where that ranks among the priorities of the incoming Congress is unclear.

. April 23, 2013 at 10:53 pm

Illegal drugs
The great experiment
At last, drug prohibition is being challenged by fresh thinking

UNTIL recently it seemed that nothing would disturb the international consensus that the best way to deal with narcotic and psychotropic drugs is to ban them. Codified in a United Nations convention, this policy has proved impervious to decades of failure. Drug consumption has not, in most parts of the world, fallen. Prohibition inflicts appalling damage, through the spread of organised crime, the needless deaths of addicts exposed to adulterated drugs and the mass incarceration of young men.

. April 23, 2013 at 10:53 pm

Winding down the war on drugs
Towards a ceasefire
Experiments in legalisation are showing what a post-war approach to drug control could look like

. April 23, 2013 at 11:11 pm

Marijuana legalisation
Tax, and tax again
America’s first market for recreational marijuana will be far from free

. April 23, 2013 at 11:18 pm

Drugs in Brazil
Cracking up
The world’s biggest crack market seeks a better way to deal with addicts

. June 24, 2013 at 11:40 pm

Harm reduction more effective than war on drugs, study says

Harm reduction – not a war on drugs – has reduced illicit drug use and improved public safety in what was once Ground Zero for an HIV and overdose epidemic that cost many lives, says a 15-year study of drug use in Vancouver’s impoverished Downtown Eastside.

The report by the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS found that from 1996 to 2011, fewer people were using drugs and, of those who were, fewer were injecting drugs, said Dr. Thomas Kerr, co-author of the report and co-director of the centre’s Urban Health Research Initiative.

. June 24, 2013 at 11:41 pm

“Vancouver took a public health approach to the crisis, opening the country’s first supervised injection site in 2003, and Kerr said the statistics show that approach was successful.

There were fewer people sharing needles in 2011, and there were fewer new infections of HIV and Hepatitis C related to sharing needles, the study found.

In 1996, almost 40 per cent of drug users reported sharing needles, but by 2011, that had dropped to 1.7 per cent. About 25 per cent of Vancouver’s drug users are HIV positive, and about 90 per cent suffer from Hepatitis C.

The overall health of drug users had improved and more people were accessing addictions treatment, jumping from 12 per cent on methadone treatment in 1996 to 54.5 per cent since 2008, statistics showed.

“This is probably the city with the most aggressive harm reduction approach, yet we’re seeing declining rates of drug use within this community,” Kerr said.”

. July 2, 2013 at 2:18 pm

The report will be debated at the OAS’s annual summit next month in Guatemala; the government there is perhaps the hemisphere’s most radical on drug policy. Otto Pérez Molina, the president, has called for the legalisation—and strict regulation—of all narcotics, including the hard ones. A former military man who has burned down his fair share of cannabis fields, he makes a strange ally to the libertarian-minded legalisation movement. But he has said that fighting the drug war only made him realise its futility. He has appointed Fernando Carrera, a former local head of the Open Society Foundations, as his foreign secretary.

. July 2, 2013 at 2:28 pm

The foreign ministers of the Organisation of American States agreed to “encourage the consideration of new approaches to the world drug problem in the Americas”, which some countries take to include legalisation of marijuana. But they also asserted the importance of fully implementing the prohibitionist UN conventions on drugs.

. August 3, 2013 at 7:37 pm

Uruguay’s proposed law would break new ground by legalising the entire business, from cultivation to consumption, across the whole country. If the bill becomes law, Uruguayans will be allowed to cultivate up to six cannabis plants per household, or join cooperatives licensed to grow up to 99 plants each. Private firms will be allowed to grow weed too, but only to sell to the government, which will sell it to customers through pharmacies. Each person will be allowed to buy up to 40g (1.4oz) per month, enough to fuel most habits. Minors will be excluded, and driving under the influence will remain a crime. Foreigners thinking of booking a holiday to Uruguay should be warned that only Uruguayan citizens will be eligible to use the pharmacies.

Uruguay’s government argues that the law will allow the police to focus on violent crime and on stopping the smuggling of harder drugs. Other Latin American governments, many of them battling criminal gangs made rich by the export of illicit intoxicants, are considering similar proposals. The presidents of Colombia and Guatemala have said they are in favour of legalising marijuana (and perhaps other drugs), but only as part of an international effort. Such a concerted push has long been blocked by more conservative voices, among them the United States. But since Colorado and Washington voted to legalise marijuana, it has been harder for Barack Obama to lecture other governments on the benefits of temperance. Expect more countries to follow Uruguay’s lead.


. August 26, 2013 at 4:01 pm

Legal highs
A new prescription
New Zealand’s plan to regulate designer drugs is better than trying to ban them and failing

Sick of trying to keep up with drugmakers, the government is trying a new tack. Last month a law was passed which offers drug designers the chance of getting official approval for their products. If they can persuade a new “Psychoactive Substances Regulatory Authority” that their pills and powders are low risk, they will be licensed to market them, whether or not they get people high. Drugs will have to undergo clinical trials, which the government expects to take around 18 months—much less than for medicines, because the drugs will be tested only for toxicity, not for efficacy. Drugs that are already banned internationally, such as cocaine and cannabis, are ineligible. Only licensed shops will sell the drugs, without advertising and not to children.

While New Zealand and Uruguay are discussing what level of toxicity or what dosage is acceptable, every other country is leaving the matter to drug dealers, who do not care about quality control and who peddle to children on the same terms as adults. As New Zealand ponders what rate of tax to levy, in the rest of the world the business is tax-free. A hard road lies ahead for New Zealand and its fellow policy innovators. But every dilemma they face is a reminder that, unlike other jurisdictions, through government they are regulating the drugs business, not the gangs.

. August 29, 2013 at 6:52 pm

U.S. allows states to legalize recreational marijuana within limits

. September 29, 2013 at 9:11 pm

Top UK cop calls for end to war on drugs, legalization of Class A substances


. October 1, 2013 at 12:01 pm
. October 7, 2013 at 2:50 pm

Marijuana legalisation
Tokers’ delight
A sensible drug-policy decision from the federal government, for once
Sep 21st 2013 | LOS ANGELES |From the print edition

. December 2, 2013 at 3:50 pm

Leaked paper reveals UN split over war on drugs

Latin American nations call for treatment strategy, claiming UN’s prohibition stance plays into hands of paramilitary groups

. December 11, 2013 at 11:49 am

“A CRITICAL turning point in the failed war against drugs,” is the verdict of Martin Jelsma of the Drugs and Democracy Programme at the Transnational Institute, an Amsterdam-based think-tank. On December 10th Uruguay’s Senate approved a law that not only legalised marijuana use but also regulated its production and sale. Others have gone down this route before: the American states of Colorado and Washington legalised marijuana for recreational use in 2012. But Uruguay is the first country to do so.

. December 11, 2013 at 11:50 am

The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), the body charged with implementing United Nations drugs conventions, is also concerned. Uruguay’s law violates the 1961 Convention on Narcotics Drugs, which prohibits the production and supply of all drugs not used for medical or scientific purposes. Mr Jelsma insists the problem is with the INCB’s treaty, not Uruguay’s legislation. “Uruguay’s government is doing what it is convinced is the correct move for the health and safety of its population,” he says. “That is more important than living up to the letter of the INCB treaty.”

. January 4, 2014 at 6:08 pm

New York State Is Set to Loosen Marijuana Laws

ALBANY — Joining a growing group of states that have loosened restrictions on marijuana, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York plans this week to announce an executive action that would allow limited use of the drug by those with serious illnesses, state officials say.

he turnabout by Mr. Cuomo, who had long resisted legalizing medical marijuana, comes as other states are taking increasingly liberal positions on it — most notably Colorado, where thousands have flocked to buy the drug for recreational use since it became legal on Jan. 1.

Mr. Cuomo’s plan will be far more restrictive than the laws in Colorado or California, where medical marijuana is available to people with conditions as mild as backaches. It will allow just 20 hospitals across the state to prescribe marijuana to patients with cancer, glaucoma or other diseases that meet standards to be set by the New York State Department of Health.

. January 27, 2014 at 4:26 pm

“Should’ve done it 40 years ago!” growls a middle-aged man making his first purchase at Medicine Man, one of Denver’s biggest retail outlets. (A home-grower, he later confides that he got bored smoking the same old strains.) For optimists, the votes in Colorado and Washington suggest that America’s war on drugs is finally winding down. The casualties have been legion: 750,000 people are arrested each year for marijuana alone; the subsequent blotted records can derail lives. Some 40,000 people languish in prison for pot-related offences. Murderous gangs fill the supply gap created by prohibition.

The ill-effects of marijuana, including cognitive impairment and a risk of dependency, are fairly well documented (though more research would help). Around 20% of users account for 80% of consumption; as Mark Kleiman, an analyst, points out, it is in a profit-seeking industry’s interest to target these problem users. Set against this is the genuine pleasure that smoking or eating marijuana brings millions of adults. Moreover, increased marijuana use may turn out to be a net positive for public health if, as some studies suggest, it replaces some consumption of alcohol—a far more destructive drug by most measures.

. February 9, 2014 at 6:41 pm

Switzerland and the Netherlands pioneered this “Heroin Assisted Treatment” (HAT) approach in the 1990s, and both countries later adopted it as national policy. HAT trials have also been run in Spain, Britain, Germany and Canada. The evidence suggests that HAT slashes heroin-related deaths and HIV infection, since users are shooting up under medical supervision. It also drastically reduces heroin-related crime, since addicts have no need to steal or sell their bodies to get money for their fix. Some studies find that HAT actually works better than methadone or buprenorphine. Heroin use is falling steadily in both Switzerland and the Netherlands; by the late 2000s the Dutch incidence of new heroin users had fallen close to zero, and the ageing population of addicts from the 1970s and 1980s continues to shrink.

Decriminalisation of marijuana use has also played a role in limiting Dutch heroin use, since it separates the use of cannabis from the use of harder drugs. More interestingly, harm reduction including HAT appears to lead to lower illicit heroin consumption, in part because free government heroin drives out private-sector providers. When addicts shoot up in safe rooms monitored by public-health staff, where they are recruited into treatment programmes or (if they fail or refuse) simply receive free heroin, it gradually erodes the market for dealing the drug. As they say in the tech world, you can’t compete with free. One study found that such policies cut the illegal heroin trade by about 30%.

. March 3, 2014 at 4:11 pm

Over the past two decades many have come to favour tackling heroin abuse through “harm reduction” policies, rather than tougher policing. Many governments have decriminalised personal use and provided free therapy programmes, using drugs such as methadone and buprenorphine that block heroin’s high. Two other proven ways to reduce harm, however, are more politically controversial: setting up safe sites where users can inject while monitored by health-care staff, and—for registered addicts who cannot or will not comply with treatment regimes—providing heroin itself free.

Switzerland and the Netherlands pioneered this “Heroin Assisted Treatment” (HAT) approach in the 1990s, and both countries later adopted it as national policy. HAT trials have also been run in Spain, Britain, Germany and Canada. The evidence suggests that HAT slashes heroin-related deaths and HIV infection, since users are shooting up under medical supervision. It also drastically reduces heroin-related crime, since addicts have no need to steal or sell their bodies to get money for their fix. Some studies find that HAT actually works better than methadone or buprenorphine. Heroin use is falling steadily in both Switzerland and the Netherlands; by the late 2000s the Dutch incidence of new heroin users had fallen close to zero, and the ageing population of addicts from the 1970s and 1980s continues to shrink.

. April 7, 2014 at 12:09 pm

These teams, whose members wear body armour and are equipped with military-style weapons, were originally intended to tackle only the most dangerous criminals, such as murderers or hostage-takers. Now they are most commonly used to serve search warrants in drug-related cases. The police raided Mr Mallory’s home, for example, because they thought they would find a methamphetamine factory there. Instead they found two marijuana plants, belonging to a stepson who had a California medical-marijuana licence.

. July 6, 2014 at 10:33 am

That is why decriminalisation makes sense only as a step towards legalisation. Jamaica and other countries frustrated with the current regime should adopt the policy pioneered by brave Uruguay, Colorado and Washington state, the only places in the world to put criminals out of business. By legalising cannabis from cultivation to retail, these places have snatched the industry away from crooks and given it to law-abiding entrepreneurs. Unlike the mafia, they pay tax and obey rules on where, when and to whom they can sell their products. Money saved on policing weed can be spent on chasing real criminals, or on treatment for addicts.

. July 19, 2014 at 12:33 pm

Federal prison panel votes to shave 80,000 years off drug sentences

Prisoners incarcerated and handed harsh sentences during America’s War on Drugs, soon could be eligible for release after federal officials voted Friday to ease policies that have caused system-clogging mass incarcerations.

In April the US Sentencing Commission- the federal judiciary appointed to establish punishments for federal crimes- voted to reduce sentencing guidelines for those newly convicted of possession and selling of illegal drugs. Friday’s unanimous vote extends the same approach retroactively to those already serving time.

. July 26, 2014 at 11:15 am

Legalisation promises three benefits. First, it will stop governments from wasting lots of cash locking up people who haven’t hurt anyone. Second, it will raise tax revenue. Third, it will put criminals out of business. Washington’s experience suggests that the third promise may be hardest to keep. Even in Colorado, dispensaries rather than shops accounted for two-thirds of sales between January and April.

. July 29, 2014 at 1:55 pm

America’s four-decade war on drugs is responsible for many casualties, but the criminalization of marijuana has been perhaps the most destructive part of that war. The toll can be measured in dollars — billions of which are thrown away each year in the aggressive enforcement of pointless laws. It can be measured in years — whether wasted behind bars or stolen from a child who grows up fatherless. And it can be measured in lives — those damaged if not destroyed by the shockingly harsh consequences that can follow even the most minor offenses.

Outrageously long sentences are only part of the story. The hundreds of thousands of people who are arrested each year but do not go to jail also suffer; their arrests stay on their records for years, crippling their prospects for jobs, loans, housing and benefits. These are disproportionately people of color, with marijuana criminalization hitting black communities the hardest.

Meanwhile, police departments that presumably have far more important things to do waste an enormous amount of time and taxpayer money chasing a drug that two states have already legalized and that a majority of Americans believe should be legal everywhere.

Nationwide, the numbers are hardly better. From 2001 to 2010, the police made more than 8.2 million marijuana arrests; almost nine in 10 were for possession alone. In 2011, there were more arrests for marijuana possession than for all violent crimes put together.

. July 29, 2014 at 1:59 pm

Repeal Prohibition, Again

There is honest debate among scientists about the health effects of marijuana, but we believe that the evidence is overwhelming that addiction and dependence are relatively minor problems, especially compared with alcohol and tobacco. Moderate use of marijuana does not appear to pose a risk for otherwise healthy adults. Claims that marijuana is a gateway to more dangerous drugs are as fanciful as the “Reefer Madness” images of murder, rape and suicide.


Let States Decide on Marijuana


The Injustice of Marijuana Arrests

. November 7, 2014 at 2:20 pm

The surface area of the United States in which you can adequately and legally hold a proper Dark Side of the Moon/Wizard of Oz viewing party just got a lot bigger: Alaska, Oregon, and the District of Columbia voted Tuesday to legalize recreational marijuana. In Alaska and Oregon, residents passed referenda that will set up regulated cannabis retail similar to the systems that voters in Colorado and Washington state approved in 2012. And D.C. voters passed Initiative 71, which legalizes the growing and possession of small amounts of marijuana but does not permit its sale. Under all of those laws, users must be 21 or older to possess pot.


. November 11, 2014 at 12:33 am

NYPD will stop arresting brown people for possessing small amounts of marijuana

“When an individual is arrested, even for the smallest possession of marijuana, it hurts their chances to get a good job; it hurts their chances to get housing; it hurts their chances to qualify for a student loan,” DeBlasio said. “It can literally follow them for the rest of their lives and saddle young people with challenges that for many are very, very difficult to overcome.”

. November 13, 2014 at 3:36 pm

Ethan Nadelmann, founder and executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, delivered this TED Talk at TEDGlobal 2014 about the insanity of the drug war.

. June 15, 2015 at 7:01 pm

Global Compass: “Drugs: War or Store?”

For 20 years The Economist has led calls for a rethink on drug prohibition. This film looks at new approaches to drugs policy, from Portugal to Colorado. It kicks off our “Global Compass” series, examining novel approaches to policy problems

. September 3, 2015 at 6:21 pm

“DR. GABOR MATÉ: Well, again, if you look at the literature on addiction, what you find is that the biggest driver of addictive relapse is actually stress. So, whether you take animals or human beings and you infuse them with the stress hormone, cortisol, their consumption of drugs goes up. This is true for rats. It’s true for human beings. Now, there’s no better way to stress people than to criminalize them, marginalize them, and ostracize them, just as this commission points out. So when you’re stressing people, you’re actually promoting their drug use. So if I had to come up with a system to promote drug use, I would come up exactly with the system we have right now. Furthermore, if I had to come up with a system that promoted the profits of the cartels, I would come up exactly with the system we have right now.” — http://www.democracynow.org/blog/2011/6/6/dr_gabor_mat_more_compassion_less_violence_needed_in_addressing_drug_addiction

. December 14, 2015 at 1:12 pm
. December 29, 2015 at 3:10 pm

In May 1972, a federal commission of inquiry into the non-medical use of drugs handed an audacious recommendation to the government of then-prime minister Pierre Trudeau, whose flower-child bride, Margaret, was smoking weed behind the backs of her RCMP bodyguards.

After two years of public hearings, including testimony from John Lennon and Yoko Ono, the Le Dain commission said laws against simple possession of marijuana and hashish should be abolished in the face of a blossoming social attitude among a growing minority of people that grass was relatively harmless. It stopped short of saying the stuff should be made legally available and consumed.

“The use of cannabis is a problem but so also is the present use of the criminal law to suppress it. It is clear that the law has had no serious effect on this issue. There can be no doubt that the law on the books is at extreme variance with the facts. It is simply not a feasible policy in the long run.”

Emily Murphy, a police magistrate and juvenile court judge in Edmonton, and later leader of the Famous Five champions of the rights of Canadian women, had spearheaded an anti-narcotics campaign in the 1920s that would profoundly influence national drug policies, including the demonization of cannabis. Her 1922 book, Black Candle, warned of the menace of marijuana and quoted the chief of police of Los Angeles saying many users experienced utter insanity.

Some believe Murphy’s fear-mongering led to marijuana being criminalized in 1923 without any apparent public debate, scientific basis or any real sense of social urgency. Over the years, stiffer penalties for opium, heroin and other heavy narcotics were automatically applied to cannabis. And its increasing illegality seemed to make it more dangerous.

“The attempt to enforce the prohibition … is bringing the criminal law to bear against thousands of young people with very serious consequences for their lives,” Le Dain later declared.


. January 5, 2016 at 11:18 pm

Legalizing pot in Canada will run afoul of global treaties, Trudeau warned
Trudeau’s plan to legalize, regulate and restrict access to marijuana complicated by treaty obligations

The Liberal policy means that Canada will have to amend its participation in three international conventions:

— The Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961, as amended by the 1972 Protocol;

— The Convention on Psychotropic Substances of 1971;

— The United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances of 1988.

“All three require the criminalization of possession and production of cannabis,” says the briefing note.

“As part of examining legalization of cannabis possession and production, Canada will need to explore how to inform the international community and will have to take the steps needed to adjust its obligations under these conventions.”

. February 20, 2016 at 12:06 am

IT IS like a hash-induced hallucination: row upon row of lush, budding plants, tended by white-coated technicians who are bothered by the authorities only when it is time to pay their taxes. Cannabis once grew in secret, traded by murderous cartels and smoked by consumers who risked jail. Now, countries all over the world have licensed the drug for medical purposes, and a few are going still further (see article). Four American states have so far legalised its recreational use; little Uruguay will soon be joined by big, G7-member Canada in the legal-weed club. Parliaments from Mexico to South Africa are debating reforms of their own.

Those (including this newspaper) who have argued that legalisation is better than prohibition will welcome the beginning of the end of the futile war on weed. Cannabis accounts for nearly half the $300 billion illegal narcotics market, and is the drug of choice for most of the world’s 250m illicit-drug users. Legalising it deprives organised crime of its single biggest source of income, while protecting and making honest citizens of consumers.

Libertarians may ask why cannabis, which has no known lethal dose, should be regulated at all for adults who can make free, informed decisions. There are two reasons for care. First, cannabis appears to induce dependency in a minority of users, meaning the decision whether to light up is not a free one. Second, cannabis’s illegality means that the research on its long-term effects is hazy, so even the most informed decision is based on incomplete information. When decisions are neither always free nor fully informed, the state is justified in steering consumers away, as it does from alcohol and tobacco.

In one respect, governments should be decidedly illiberal. Advertising is largely absent in the underworld, but in the legal world it could stimulate vast new demand. It should be banned. Likewise, alluring packaging and products, such as cannabis sweets that would appeal to children, should be outlawed, just as many countries outlaw flavoured cigarettes and alcohol-spiked sweets. The state should use the tax system and public education to promote the least harmful ways of getting high. The legal market has already created pot’s answer to the e-cigarette, which reduces the damage done by smoke to lungs.


. February 20, 2016 at 12:08 am

Legalisers argue that regulated markets protect consumers, save the police money, raise revenues and put criminals out of business as well as extending freedom. Though it will be years before some of these claims can be tested, the initial results are encouraging: a big bite has been taken out of the mafia’s market, thousands of young people have been spared criminal records and hundreds of millions of dollars have been legitimately earned and taxed. There has so far been no explosion in consumption, nor of drug-related crime.

What’s more, some struggle to give it up: in America 14% of people who used pot in the past month meet the criteria by which doctors define dependence. As in the alcohol and tobacco markets, about 80% of consumption is accounted for by the heaviest-using 20% of users. Startlingly, Mr Caulkins calculates that in America more than half of all cannabis is consumed by people who are high for more than half their waking hours.

No one yet knows which is more likely. A review of mostly American studies by the RAND Corporation, a think-tank, found mixed evidence on the relationship between cannabis and alcohol. Demand for tobacco seems to go up along with demand for cannabis, though the two are hard to separate because, in Europe at least, they are often smoked together. The data regarding other drugs are more limited. Proponents of the Dutch “coffee shop” system, which allows purchase and consumption in specific places, argue that legalisation keeps users away from dealers who may push them on to harder substances. And there is some evidence that cannabis functions as a substitute for prescription opioids, such as OxyContin, which kill 15,000 Americans each year. People used to worry that cigarettes were a “gateway” to cannabis, and that cannabis was in turn a gateway to hard drugs. It may be the reverse: cannabis could be a useful restraint on the abuse of opioids, but a dangerous pathway to tobacco.

The three cannabis-related deaths in Colorado all followed the consumption of edibles. Hospitals in the state also report seeing an increasing number of children who have eaten their parents’ grown-up gummy bears. In response the authorities have tightened their rules on packaging, demanding clearer labelling, childproof containers, and more obvious demarcation of portions.

Even without such intervention big companies are likely to emerge. Sam Kamin, a law professor at Denver University who helped draft Colorado’s regulations, suspects that eventual federal legalisation, which would make interstate trade legal, could well see cannabis cultivation become something like the business of growing hops, virtually all of which come from Washington, Oregon and Idaho. Big farms supplying a national market would be much cheaper than the current local-warehouse model, driving local suppliers out of the market, or at least into a niche.


. March 26, 2016 at 5:56 pm

War on drugs harmed public health: report

3 decades of the war on drugs had no measurable impact on supply or use

The war on drugs has failed, fuelling higher rates of infection and harming public health and human rights to such a degree that it’s time to decriminalize non-violent minor drug offences, according to a new global report.

The authors of the Johns Hopkins-Lancet Commission on Public Health and International Drug Policy call for minor use, possession and petty use to be decriminalized following measurably worsened human health.

“We’ve had three decades of the war on drugs, we’ve had decades of zero-tolerance policy,” said Dr. Chris Beyrer, a professor of infectious disease epidemiology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore and the senior author of the report published Thursday in The Lancet. “It has had no measurable impact on supply or use, and so as a policy to control substance use it has arguably failed. It has evidently failed.”

. March 28, 2016 at 2:09 pm

Five former presidents demand an end to the war on drugs

But don’t hold your breath—a UN summit on drugs next month looks likely to be a flop

. April 22, 2016 at 5:42 pm

UN meeting could be 1st step to ending global war on drugs

General Assembly meets this week to debate future of global drug policy


. May 31, 2016 at 11:45 am

Until last Thursday, many Canadians could probably be forgiven for thinking marijuana was, at least in practical terms, basically legal in this country. It’s just a matter of waiting for the Liberal majority government in Ottawa to write a bill and win a few votes. No big deal.

Then Toronto police raided 43 storefront marijuana shops and arrested more than 90 people, adding a potent hit of confusion to the status of Canada’s pot laws and the will of police to crack down.

Of course there are the laws as they are written, and police from coast to coast to coast have have pointed out it’s their sworn duty to enforce them.

But there have also been marijuana compassion clubs in cities across the country for decades, as well as dispensaries, whose owners often claim to operate in a legal grey area.


. May 31, 2016 at 11:46 am

The fact is the marijuana landscape in this country is thoroughly hazy and filled with unknowns: new medical marijuana legislation due in late August, a new bill for legal recreational pot use to be unveiled next spring and a mind-boggling explosion of medical marijuana dispensaries across Canada. Toronto, for example, went from a handful of dispensaries to, according to police, about 100 in just a few years.

“Right now it’s confusing for the public, policy-makers and especially for patients,” Hilary Black, co-founder of the B.C. Compassion Club based on Vancouver Island, told CBC News in a recent interview.

“We have two parallel systems: one licensed, and one civilly disobedient.”

. May 31, 2016 at 11:47 am

The force says it was one of the single largest mobilizations of police officers in Canadian history and resulted in 186 charges and the seizure of about 270 kilograms of dried marijuana — a drug that will probably be legal next year.

Some shops closed up for good, some look temporarily shuttered and others continue to operate.

. May 31, 2016 at 11:48 am

With a first draft of a promised legalization bill nearly a year off, dispensary operators across the country are left wondering if they could be targeted next.

“The biggest problem is that nobody knows what’s coming down the pipeline as they draw up this piece of legislation. There was already supposed to be a task force in place — of course that hasn’t happened,” says Alan Young, lawyer and associate professor at Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto.

“But the vast, vast, vast majority are good people, here. They just want to help people.”

Dispensaries could very easily remain illegal, even under the new system, especially if provinces like Ontario decide to use their liquor control boards as distributors.

“We spent decades in Ontario arguing about whether to buy beer out of grocery stores, so it’d be nice to see us get this one right. There’s room for everyone,” Young says with a laugh.

. July 4, 2016 at 8:27 am

The federal government is moving toward a restrictive market for recreational marijuana, vowing to impose potency limits, controls on advertising, and strict rules over the production and sale of the drug.

Ottawa has unveiled a nine-member panel to draw up Canada’s new marijuana framework, sending out the clearest signal to date that it is not bowing to the demands of members of the illegal pot industry that has boomed in recent months.

A number of producers and users of marijuana are advocating a liberalized regime, but Ottawa says it will continue to treat marijuana as a dangerous drug, especially for young Canadians and frequent users.

There will be no amnesty for current pot users, and the government promised to continue to support the crackdown on illegal dispensaries in cities around the country.


. May 17, 2017 at 12:23 pm

What will the decline in prosecutorial discretion mean for America’s prisons? Marc Mauer of The Sentencing Project, a think-tank, says Mr Sessions’ memo “will again fill federal prisons with people convicted of low-level drug offences serving excessive sentences”. Recent efforts to ease overcrowding will be abandoned and Mr Sessions’s change will “exacerbate prison overcrowding, increase spending and jeopardise the safety of staff and prisoners”. Though federal prisons hold fewer inmates than state prisons, a larger percentage of federal inmates are serving time for drug crimes.

Shoving more and more low-level drug violators in prison for long stints may make good sense if the harsher punishments discouraged crime. But the data suggest otherwise. “Research over many decades has demonstrated the deterrent effect of the criminal justice system is a function of the certainty of punishment”, Mr Mauer says, “not its severity”. A 2014 report by the National Research Council surveying several studies on the link between sentence length and crime reduction found that “the deterrent return to increasing already long sentences is modest at best”. Mandatory minimum laws “typically increase already long sentences, which…is not an effective deterrent”.

. June 18, 2017 at 5:08 pm

Fentanyl is the next wave of America’s opioid crisis

Criminalisation is not the right way to approach it or other drugs

THE roadside billboards in some American towns do not advertise fast-food chains or home insurance. Instead, they tell people what to do in case of a drug overdose. Deaths in America from opioids, pain-relieving drugs that include both prescription painkillers such as OxyContin and illegal ones such as heroin, have almost quadrupled over the past two decades. In some states the share of babies who are born with withdrawal symptoms has increased by 300% since 1999; at least 8,000 were born suffering from them in 2013. Each day 91 Americans die from an opioid overdose.

Much of this catastrophe stems from the over-prescription of legal painkillers. In 2015 some 650,000 prescriptions were handed out on an average day. But when prescriptions end, addicts sometimes turn to illicit substances. The latest one that worries experts is a synthetic opioid called fentanyl, which is around 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more powerful than morphine. Most of the fentanyl making its way to America has been made, often legally, in factories in China before being shipped to criminal networks in Mexico and Canada and then smuggled over the border. Thousands of Americans have died from using fentanyl since 2013.

It takes guts to legalise drugs when so many are dying from them. But it is better that addicts take safe doses of familiar substances under sanitary conditions than for them to risk their lives enriching criminals. Switzerland followed the legalisation path after a heroin epidemic in the 1980s, treating drugs as a public-health problem. Since then drug-taking and drug-related deaths have fallen. America should follow suit.

. August 7, 2017 at 7:39 pm

The battle for Baltimore

Your article about the rising tide of homicides in Baltimore called for better policing and schools, and fewer drugs (“On murderous streets”, July 1st). Yet the one biggest change that could help the city, and the rest of America, would be to end the insane war on drugs itself. The policy’s vast economic and human costs might be justified if it reduced the harm of drugs. But it does the opposite, wreaking devastation, as in Baltimore.

The violence is a consequence of giving criminals control of the drug trade, so they battle over turf. The illicit high prices force many addicts into crime to finance their habit. Around 50,000 Americans die annually from overdoses. All this could be eliminated if a fraction of the billions wasted on the failed drug war were instead spent on treating addicts compassionately rather than punitively, and making drugs legal, regulated and safe.

Albany, New York

. September 4, 2017 at 4:14 pm
. September 8, 2017 at 1:35 pm

Ontario plans 150 LCBO-run pot shops by 2020

TORONTO — Ontario plans to sell marijuana in as many as 150 dedicated stores run by the province’s liquor control board after Ottawa legalizes its recreational use next summer, the Liberal government announced Friday.

Those looking to purchase marijuana when it becomes legal across the country will be subject to the same age and usage restrictions currently in place for alcohol, said Attorney General Yasir Naqvi. The process of purchasing recreational cannabis will closely mimic the one currently in place at the Liquor Control Board of Ontario.

Naqvi and Finance Minister Charles Sousa said residents 19 or older will be able to purchase marijuana at separate retail outlets or through a government-run website.

. October 3, 2017 at 3:51 pm

One of the federal government’s key promises has been to ease the burden of prohibition on the justice system. The federal Liberals’ website states that “arresting and prosecuting these offenses is expensive for our criminal justice system” and that prohibition “traps too many Canadians in the criminal justice system for minor, non-violent offenses.” However, the MCSCS document clearly says, there’s an “anticipated increase in enforcement capacity pressures due to cannabis legalization.” This is hardly a surprise, considering the federal government has already promised $274 million for policing and border enforcement related to cannabis legalization, but nonetheless it shows the province is fully aware that legalization won’t clear up the backlog in criminal justice system.


. December 19, 2017 at 10:09 pm

Recreational marijuana has been legal in Washington since 2015, when the government passed Proposition 71, a law which allows an adult to keep as many as three mature plants at home and to carry up to two ounces with them in public. The law has had two big effects. First it dramatically reduced marijuana-related arrests, which fell from 1,840 in 2014 to just 32 in 2015. Second it has put weed back into the hands of the straight-laced wonks and political operatives who have long eschewed it for the sake of their careers.

But its implementation has been rocky. While they were unable to block legalisation, conservatives in Congress used their power over the metropolitan budget to block the city from regulating marijuana or creating the conditions for a legal market. Giving cannabis as a gift is legal, but selling it or using public funds to test supplies for strength and purity are not. This has led to a booming underground market in home-grown weed. Legions of entrepreneurs – or “ganjapreneurs”, as they like to be known – have set themselves up as vendors of cheaply produced tchotchkes like T-shirts or flimsy backpacks like the one Bea bought for $100, and then throw in marijuana as a present. This has caused problems. “If someone is giving marijuana to you,” says Kate Bell, a lawyer for the Marijuana Policy Project, “you don’t know if they screwed up their home-grow or sprayed it with toxic pesticides.”

. February 22, 2018 at 6:35 pm

Officers are particularly worried about one drug: fentanyl. Kevin McAleenan, the acting commissioner of CBP, says the drug is the agency’s priority. A synthetic opioid, fentanyl is 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine. The drug is largely behind the increase in America’s drug-overdose death rate. Between June 2015 and June 2017, overdose deaths rose by 34%. During the same period, fatalities linked to synthetic opioids other than methadone, a category dominated by fentanyl, more than tripled from 7,551 to 23,995. On January 10th President Donald Trump signed the INTERDICT Act, a law that will provide CBP with $9m in extra funding to look for fentanyl. On February 1st China will begin restricting two precursors used to synthesise fentanyl, which American officials hope will stem the flow into the country.

The drug has long been used legally to treat cancer pain, but in recent years has flooded into America’s black market, where it is found mixed into other drugs, punched into pills that resemble prescription painkillers or, less commonly, sold on its own. Fentanyl is very profitable for drug-traffickers: a recent Drug Enforcement Administration report estimated that a kilogram of heroin sells for $80,000 on the street, whereas a kilogram of fentanyl can command between $1.28m and $1.92m. So traffickers are highly motivated to push it on their customers. Consumers often use it inadvertently, unaware that it has been stirred into their heroin or that their illicit OxyContin pills are not what they seem.

Between October 2016 and September 7th 2017, CBP seized 299lb (136kg) of fentanyl sent through international postal services and private carriers such as FedEx, UPS and DHL. During the same period the agency seized 494lb of the drug on America’s land border with Mexico, but it was often mixed with other substances. The average purity of fentanyl shipped into America by post is over 90%, compared with 7% for that seized on the land borders.

. February 20, 2019 at 4:17 pm

New Zealand university students offered free drug-testing in ‘harm-prevention’ first

Students’ association in Otago will help check pills during orientation week

. April 10, 2019 at 2:08 pm

Legalization pushed up price of pot by 17%, StatsCan says | CBC News

Still, the average $8.04-a-gram price is the post-legalization average across the legal and illegal markets put together.

People who have bought legal marijuana have paid an average of $9.99 a gram, while those purchasing from illegal sources have paid an average of $6.37 a gram.

That’s a gap of almost 57 per cent.

And not only is legal cannabis more expensive, but it seems like the illegal stuff is getting even cheaper.

The price of marijuana has increased in every province since the drug became legal. (Scott Galley/CBC)

The illegal price is down to $6.37 a gram, on average, from $6.79 per gram before legalization, according to StatsCan.

. June 10, 2019 at 6:57 pm
. September 11, 2019 at 5:44 pm

Doctor to stock Downtown Eastside vending machine with 35-cent opioid pills

VANCOUVER – A doctor whose focus is on public health says he will soon be dispensing opioids through a vending machine in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside in order to prevent overdoses from fentanyl-laced street drugs.

Dr. Mark Tyndall says the machine that’s been created in Toronto would scan a patient’s hand for identification before dispensing a pre-programmed number of hydromorphone pills that are a substitute for heroin.

Tyndall, who’s also a professor of medicine at the University of B.C., says the pills cost about 35 cents each and focus groups with drug users have suggested most people would need about 10 to 16 pills a day.

. October 9, 2019 at 4:16 pm

Pot price in Canada falls 6.4 per cent to $7.37 a gram: StatCan

The average cost of a gram of cannabis fell 6.4 per cent in the third quarter as the legal price fell for the first time, but illicit weed continued to be significantly cheaper, according to an analysis by Statistics Canada using crowdsourced data.

The overall average price of cannabis fell to $7.37 per gram compared with $7.87 per gram in the second quarter, as both illegal and legal retailers cut their prices, the federal agency said Wednesday.

“This is the first decline in price for legal cannabis since legalization,” said Statistics Canada in a report.

The price of illicit cannabis has been falling steadily since the fourth quarter of 2018, when Canada legalized recreational pot on Oct. 17, but the cost of legal weed had been slowly rising until now.

. December 5, 2019 at 9:31 pm

Prescription Alcohol Can Help Problem Drinkers

In managed alcohol programs, booze is doled out in doses, saving lives in the process

. February 10, 2020 at 11:34 pm

And empathy is surely the quintessence of all this. We need to try to feel what others feel, and thus stand with them in an emotional solidarity. That is genuine comradeship.

Yet as soon as Peterson’s condition was made public, social media was drenched in celebratory and mocking comments, sometimes from relatively influential people: Peterson deserved it, they hoped he would die, this was karma (that’s not really what it means), and so on. The ghouls were out in force, in their dark dance of Schadenfreude.

I understand that there is a certain inconsistency involved, in that Jordan Peterson has long emphasized strength and fortitude, and I’m not suddenly saying that I support his views. On the contrary, my point is that his views are irrelevant and that it’s his agony and neediness that should inform our reaction. How we respond in fact says far more about us than it does about Peterson, and our humanity is measured not by how angry and self-righteous we become, but how communal and caring we grow to be. Mere self-interest makes us kind to those we consider friendly and on our side, something far deeper and revealing leads us to be generous to those we find objectionable. The first is an instinct, the second is a grace.


. September 18, 2020 at 5:24 pm

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