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The damage caused by drugs or the damage caused by drug policy?

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Julian Buchanan

on 21 October 2015

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Transcript of The damage caused by drugs or the damage caused by drug policy?

Source: Guerino, P. M., Harrison, P., & Sabol, W. (2011). Prisoners in 2010. Washington, DC: Bureau of Justice Statistics
‘the MDA should be reviewed to take account of modern developments in medical, scientific and sociological knowledge’ (Police Foundation, 2000, ch.3 para.7) however, the Labour government backed away from overhauling this seriously outdated law. Although following advice of the ACMD and the findings of the Runciman Report, the Government in 2001 decided to reclassify cannabis from Class B to C.'
However, the implementation was delayed until 2004 while the government introduced stiffer penalties for the supply of Class C drugs to ensure they matched those of supply of Class B drugs.

When cannabis became a Class C drug the maximum penalty for supply of any Class C drug was increased from five years in prison to 14 years.
Cannabis rarely led to problems in respect of intoxication or drug-driven crime but it occupied considerable police and court time with 93,500 seizure recorded in 2001 accounting for 71 per cent of all drug seizures
drugs that pose a
A. Very high risk of harm are classified as Class A
B. High risk of harm are classified as Class B
C. Moderate risk of harm are classified as Class C
United Kingdom
Buchanan, J (2010) Drug policy under New Labour, 1997-2010: Prolonging the war on drugs, Probation Journal Special Edition, Vol. 57 No.3, pp250-262
contrary to advice from the ACMD the Government later reversed its decision on cannabis and the drug was reclassified as Class B in January
2009. This u-turn illustrated the government’s struggle to support a scientifically evidenced drug policy
NZ MDA 1975
The Portuguese experience cannot provide a definitive guide to the effects of decriminalization of drugs, but only indications of the results of decriminalization in the specific Portuguese context. (p.9)
Key stakeholders in Portugal were in general agreement that there has been
small to moderate increases in overall reported drug use among adults. Yet, there were differences as opinion regarding three issues, namely whether the reported increase is: real, significant/concerning and attributable to the reform. (p.1005)
Portuguese trends largely mimicked the trends observed in neighbouring Spain and Italy (see Tables 3 and 4). All three nations reported increases in lifetime prevalence of hashish, amphetamines and cocaine as well as increases in the last year prevalence of cannabis and cocaine use.
Thus, while general population trends in Portugal suggest slight increases in lifetime and recent illicit drug use, studies of young and problematic drug users suggest that use has declined. P.1008
Portugal is the only of these nations to have exhibited declines in PDU provides strong evidence that the Portuguese decriminalization has not increased the most harmful forms of drug use. P.1008
Lifetime prevalence of illicit drug use amongst school students in Portugal, Italy and the European Union, aged 15–16, 1995–2007
by drug type and country. Source: Hibell et al. (2009).
the reform provides important evidence for the debate on the impacts of decriminalization. It demonstrates that—contrary to some predictions —decriminalization does not inevitably lead to rises in drug use. It can reduce the burden upon the criminal justice system. It can further contribute to social and health benefits. Moreover, such affects can be observed when decriminalizing all illicit drugs. P.1016
small increases in reported illicit drug use amongst adults;
reduced illicit drug use among problematic drug users and adolescents, at least since 2003;
reduced burden of drug offenders on the criminal justice system;
increased uptake of drug treatment;
reduction in opiate-related deaths and infectious diseases; increases in the amounts of drugs seized by the authorities;
reductions in the retail prices of drugs. P.1017
there are no signs of mass expansion of the drug market in Portugal ... The Portuguese evidence suggests that combining the removal of criminal penalties with the use of alternative therapeutic responses to dependent drug users offers several advantages. It can reduce the burden of drug law enforcement on the criminal justice system, while also reducing problematic drug use. ...
holds numerous benefits, principally of increased opportunity to integrate drug users and to address the causes and damages of [problematic] drug use. p.1018
'drugs' but known as
legal and
commercially promoted
substances not generally perceived as 'drugs' embedded in leisure, pleasure & occasion
legal substances not defined as 'drugs'
USA vc Netherlands: Cannabis Use

• The mean age at onset of use was 16.95 years in Amsterdam and 16.43 years in San Francisco
The Netherlands effectively decriminalized marijuana use in 1976, and it is available for purchase in small quantities by adults in licensed coffee shops; in the United States, marijuana use carries stiff criminal penalties, and more than 720,000 people were arrested for marijuana offenses in 2001.
May 2004, Vol 94, No. 5 | American Journal of Public Health Reinarman et al. | Peer Reviewed | Research and Practice
• In both cities, users began their periods of maximum use about 2 years after they began regular use: 21.46 years in Amsterdam and 21.98 years in San Francisco.
• About 75 percent in both cities had used cannabis less than once per week or not at all in the year before the interview.
• Majorities of experienced users in both cities never used marijuana daily or in large amounts even during their periods of peak use, and use declined after those peak periods.
• The mean age at which respondents began using marijuana more than once per month was 19.11 years in Amsterdam and 18.81 years in San Francisco.
Proponents of criminalization attribute to
their preferred drug-control regime a special
power to affect user behavior. Our findings
cast doubt on such attributions.
Despite widespread lawful availability of cannabis in Amsterdam, there were no differences between the 2 cities in age at onset of use, age at first regular use, or age at the start of maximum use. Either availability in San Francisco is equivalent to that in Amsterdam despite policy differences, or availability per se does not strongly influence onset or other career phases.
Controlled = uncontrolled

Rooted in 1960s convention

Runciman Report

ACMD Classification of cannabis from B to C

Making a Hash of it



Insite DCR


HIV & Harm Reduction

Toxic Deaths –Liverpool

Damage of Drug Policy

Prohibition & gangsters

Criminalisation, Drugs offence and prison

NZ Law Commission

Global Commission Drug Policy Report

Australian 21 Report

Blueprint Transform

Strict – Moderate- Liberal –Free Market

 Prescription
 Pharmacy sales
 Licensed sales
 Licensed premises
 Unlicensed sales

Times Days Places of Sale
Quality Controls
naloxone provision reduces rates of drug-related death.... The efficacy of naloxone is not in dispute. Naloxone is a WHO-recommended medicine, and efficacy has been proven in several published studies and pilots. Naloxone is a safe, effective drug, with no dependence-forming potential. Its only action is to reverse the effects of opioid overdoses
Critics have suggested that naloxone provision in the community could
encourage people to use drugs more dangerously, if they know naloxone is
available. (p.3)
San Francisco reported 148 heroin overdose reversals over three years (2004-06) as a direct result of its naloxone availability efforts.
Overdose deaths in the San Francisco declined in 2004, while overdoses in the rest of California increased by 42%. (p.7)
It is time to stop sloganeering and insist to all of
our political representatives and to our media
that Australia must have an informed national
debate about the alternatives to a policy that
has failed disastrously and is criminalising
our young. (p.23)
there is room within the conventions for taking a more flexible approach to small-scale dealing and personal possession and use, particularly where these activities are linked to addiction p.9
We consider that the supply by drug users of small amounts of drugs with no significant element of commerciality (“social dealing”) is entirely different from commercial dealing. p.12
We recommend that it no longer be an offence to possess utensils for the purpose of using drugs. p.13
We have concluded that a mandatory cautioning scheme is the most appropriate response to personal possession and use offences that come to the attention of the police. This option provides a formal opportunity, at the earliest stages of the criminal justice process, to consider the drug treatment needs of low-level drug offenders. It is also consistent with the direction of the Government’s 2009 Methamphetamine Action Plan, which notes that “sending users to prison rather than diverting users to [alcohol and other drug treatment] can make the problem worse” and includes proposals to divert users from the criminal justice system at an early stage.

The key objectives of the proposed cautioning scheme are twofold: ·· to remove minor drug offences from the criminal justice system; and ·· to provide greater opportunities for those in need of treatment to access it. (p.14)
The present classification of drugs in the MDA should be reviewed to take account of modern developments in medical, sociological and scientific knowledge.
Ecstasy should be transferred from Class A to Class B.

LSD should be transferred from Class A to Class B

All forms of Cannabis possession should become Class C
In the case of non trafficking offences for Class B & C drugs, the present custodial penalties should be removed
In July 2006 the House of Commons Science & Technology report aptly named
'Drugs Classification: Making a Hash of It' concluded that the:
‘current classification system is not fit for purpose and should be replaced with a more scientifically based scale of harm, decoupled from penalties for possession and trafficking’ (HoCS&T, 2006: 3);
1. Identify two commonly used drugs.

2. What is the maximum penalty for

a) supplying a Class C drug (anabolic steroids, benzodiazepines, ketamine)

b) Section 20 Unlawful wounding/inflicting grievous bodily harm

3. Identify the most dangerous drug in terms of harm to self and others.

The Platzspitz or Needle Park, Zurich
Here is an excerpt from an article which appeared in the “New York Times” September 27th, 1990.

“The strange scene has been a fixture in Zurich for several years, tolerated by city officials who are convinced that drug use should be regarded as a sickness rather than a crime. Social and medical workers estimate that about 300 to 400 heavy drug users live in the park without shelter, toilets or showers, and that as many as 3,000 others pass through daily to buy and use drugs………..the midway of the grotesque carnival is a concrete path along the edge of the Limmat River, lined with makeshift counters covered with neatly arranged spoons, bottles of water and paper cups bristling with slender, disposable syringes. The crowd thickens as night falls and drug hustlers work their way through the sea of bodies clogging the path, calling out ''Sugar, sugar, fine sugar!'' when they mean heroin, and ''Cokay, cokay!'' for cocaine……..the other night, three men crouched under a park lamppost, dividing a white powdery pancake of heroin with a Swiss Army knife. Next to them, a woman lay in the dirt in a stupor. Four or five men were intensely working needles into their arms. A woman in a striped sweater probed for veins in one hand, blood streaming down her fingers, as a woman in leather pants and stained blouse wobbled past, a bloody syringe dangling from her neck.”
Ensure needle exchanges & naloxone provision is widely available
Recognise untold damage caused by prohibition drug strategy.
The war on drugs has become a civil war fuelling stigma, prejudice and discrimination upon particular drug users.
Remove inconsistencies and hypocrisy between legal and illegal
Decriminalise personal possession of all drugs
Repeal the out dated Misuse of Drugs Act 1971
Encourage a rational, informed, mature and sensible debate.
Law and policy should be evidenced based.
Tackle underlying causes of substance misuse
Promote voluntary treatment not enforced change
Accept, manage and regulate substance use
Provide full range of low-threshold user friendly services including drug consumption rooms and prescribing
Bolivia has petitioned the UN to overturn a provision of the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, which requires countries to eradicate the chewing of coca leaf.

1998 UN Declaration http://www.un.org/ga/20special/poldecla.htm
“Drugs destroy lives and communities, undermine sustainable human development and generate crime.
Drugs affect all sectors of society in all countries; in particular, drug abuse affects the freedom and development of young people, the world’s most valuable asset.
Drugs are
a grave threat to the health and well-being of all mankind”.
‘Drug misuse can ruin individual lives, tear open families and blight whole communities with the menace of dealers and crime driven by drug abuse… [we need to get] more drug dealers – people who profit in the misery of others – behind bars… vicious circle of drugs and crime
Drugs are a scourge on the world,
Current drug law & policy is rooted in 1950s & 1960s thinking.

It is based more upon social and cultural norms than any supposed scientific evidence.

Laws and policies written at the time largely written by white middle aged men, and reflecting their self interest.

Bewley Taylor & Jelsma (2012)

The document went through three drafts between 1950-58 (Bewley Taylor & Jelsma 2012 p.74)
‘it introduced widely accepted penal obligations for signatory states to criminalise, under their domestic law, unlicensed production and trade and extended the pre-existing control regime to the cultivation of opium poppy, coca and cannabis. In this way, the Convention provided the international legal basis for the ‘war on drugs’ approach against drug-related crops and farmers that developed later’
P.80 Bewley Taylor & Jelsma 2012
This legal instrument, the bedrock of the current United Nations based global drug control regime p.72)
Re-visiting the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, International Journal of Drug Policy 23 pp. 72– 81
A drug is a contested ‘social construct’
The drug apartheid
The ABC drug classification in MDA 1971 which purports to portray harm is at best scientifically unreliable, or at worst it is seriously misleading and the cause of considerable avoidable harm.
Monitor / Arrest
Fear, Anxiety, Risk and Paranoia
Criminal record
-more damaging than the drug
Stigma, exclusion and distrust
Criminal behaviour
private use becomes public issue
fear of testing positive
fear of gaining a drug conviction
risk of redundancy
Mortgages & insurance
of choosing 'criminalised' drugs
Extracted from:
Buchanan J (2009) Understanding and misunderstanding problem drug use: working together, in R Carnwell & J Buchanan (eds) Effective Practice in Health, Social Care & Criminal Justice: A partnership approach, Open University Press, Maidenhead.
Risks caused by drug policy criminalisation
Drug policy provides a protected privileged position for caffeine, tobacco and alcohol as approved and promoted safer 'non' drugs that are culturally and institutionally embedded as expressions of leisure, pleasure and celebration.

Instruments for celebrating at almost every imaginable social occasion or event.

Multi-national companies have a free market monopoly to 'sell' these recreational drugs and make huge profits
Arguably prohibition causes more damage than good
Ironically once 'controlled' these drugs become uncontrolled and under ground
Banning substances (prohibition) masquerades as effective intervention but is little more than posturing.

‘… the myth that it is possible to win a war on drugs. It gives the illusion that we can eradicate illegal drug use from our society, if only we are willing to try hard enough. The evidence indicates entirely the opposite conclusion – the more you prohibit drugs and push them underground, the more conducive the economic and social environment for a lucrative illegal drug trade.’

‘It is difficult to understand how waging ‘war on drugs’ can continue to be justified, though quite possibly the alternatives may be politically too challenging for this government to consider. Sooner or later an influential western nation will have to lead the way in a radical rethink of international and national drug policy.’
The futility of drug policy prohibition (1998 p.220)
"The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world. Fifty years after the initiation of the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, and 40 years after President Nixon launched the US government’s war on drugs, fundamental reforms in national and global drug control policies are urgently needed."

Caroline Flint, Home Office Minister quoted in drink and drugs news 10 January 2005 p.7
not legal highs
current drug policy: results in racial oppression and mass incarceration
Current drug policy promotes ignorance, confusion and misinformation.
Current drug policy is not evidenced based
Class A drugs
current drug policy does not reduce drug use or drug production
what can we learn from drug policy changes?
what can we do?
We need to redefine 'drugs'
Accept we all use drugs
Learn to live with drugs
Keep drugs out of the criminal justice system

more info google or email me:

thank you!

Buchanan J & Young L (1998 p.220) ‘Failing to Grasp the Nettle: UK Drug Policy’ Probation Journal Vol. 45 No. 4,
Socially constructed divide the creation of the 'Other'
Buchanan 2009 p.117

Buchanan J (2009) Understanding and misunderstanding problem drug use: working together, in R Carnwell & J Buchanan (eds) Effective Practice in Health, Social Care & Criminal Justice: A partnership approach, Open University Press, Maidenhead.
Extracted from:
Buchanan J (2009) Understanding and misunderstanding problem drug use: working together, in R Carnwell & J Buchanan (eds) Effective Practice in Health, Social Care & Criminal Justice: A partnership approach, Open University Press, Maidenhead.
Socially Constructed Risks Caused by Criminalisation
Extracted from:
Buchanan J (2009) Understanding and misunderstanding problem drug use: working together, in R Carnwell & J Buchanan (eds) Effective Practice in Health, Social Care & Criminal Justice: A partnership approach, Open University Press, Maidenhead.
Ghetto to Integration
[or Drug policy is ?]
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