#411 Tide Turns In Favour Of Drug Reform

Date: Thu, 27 Aug 2009
Subject: #411 Tide Turns In Favour Of Drug Reform



DrugSense FOCUS Alert #411 – Thursday, 27 August 2009

Some DrugSense FOCUS Alerts are produced because of targets worthy of
letters to the editor.

Others because a news clipping is worthy of the attention of a wider
audience – like the OPED below by Doctor Alex Wodak.

More information about the work of Doctor Wodak appears on the
International Harm Reduction Association website on this page


Source: Sydney Morning Herald (Australia)

Copyright: 2009 The Sydney Morning Herald

Contact: letters@smh.com.au

Author: Alex Wodak

Note: Alex Wodak is director of the Alcohol and Drug Service at St
Vincent’s Hospital.


One hundred years ago, the US convened the International Opium
Conference. This meeting of 13 nations in Shanghai was the beginning
of global drug prohibition.

Prohibition slowly became one of the most universally applied policies
in the world. But a century on, international support for this blanket
drug policy is slowly but inexorably unravelling.

In January, Barack Obama became the third US president in a row to
admit to consumption of cannabis. Bill Clinton had admitted using
cannabis but denied ever inhaling it. George Bush was taped saying in
private he would never admit in public to having used cannabis. When
Obama was asked whether he had inhaled cannabis, he said: “Of course.
That was the whole point.”

Obama has candidly discussed his drug use. “Pot had helped, and booze;
maybe a little blow [cocaine] when you could afford it.” He has also
admitted the “war on drugs is an utter failure” and called for more
focus on a public health approach.

In February, a Latin American drug policy commission similarly
concluded that the “drug war is a failure”. It recommended breaking
the “taboo on open debate including about cannabis decriminalisation”.
The same month, an American diplomat said the US supported
needle-exchange programs to help reduce the transmission of HIV and
other blood-borne diseases, and supported using medication to treat
those addicted to opiates.

In March, the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs met in
Vienna as the culmination of a 10-year review of global drug policy. A
“political declaration” was issued which, at the urging of the US,
excluded the phrase “harm reduction”. This omission caused a split in
the fragile international consensus on drug policy and resulted in 26
countries, including Australia, demanding explicit support for harm
reduction in a footnote.

In April, Michel Kazatchkine, of the Global Fund to Fight Aids,
Tuberculosis and Malaria, argued in favour of decriminalising illicit
drugs to allow efforts to halt the spread of HIV to succeed. The same
month, a national Zogby poll in the US provided evidence of changing
opinion on the legalisation of cannabis: 52 per cent supported
cannabis becoming legal, taxed and regulated.

In May there was movement on several fronts. The Governor of
California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, said: “I think it’s not time for
[legalisation], but I think it’s time for a debate.” He was supported
by a number of other American politicians, while Vicente Fox, a former
Mexican president, said he was not yet convinced it was the solution
but asked: “Why not discuss it?” The Colombian Vice-President,
Francisco Santos Calderon, is already convinced. “The only way you can
really solve the problem [is] if you legalise it totally.”

Obama’s drug czar, Gil Kerlikowske, the director of the Office of
National Drug Control Policy, said he wanted to banish the idea of
fighting a “war on drugs”, while the United Nations Secretary-General,
Ban Ki-moon, said criminal sanctions on same-sex sex, commercial sex
and drug injections were barriers for HIV treatment services. “Those
behaviours should be decriminalised, and people addicted to drugs
should receive health services for the treatment of their addiction,”
he said.

In Germany, the federal parliament voted 63 per cent in favour to
allow heroin prescription treatment.

In July, the Economic and Social Council, a UN body more senior than
the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, approved a resolution requiring
national governments to provide “services for injecting drug users in
all settings, including prisons” and harm reduction programs such as
needle syringe programs and substitution treatment for heroin users.
This month, Mexico removed criminal sanctions for possessing any
illicit drug in small quantities while Argentina is making similar
changes for cannabis.

Portugal, Spain and Italy had earlier dropped criminal sanctions for
possessing small amounts of any illicit drug, while the Netherlands
and Germany have achieved the same effect by changing policing policy.

It is now clear that support for a drug policy heavily reliant on law
enforcement is dwindling in Western Europe, the US and South America,
while support for harm reduction and drug law reform is growing.
Sooner or later this debate will start again in Australia.


Prepared by: Richard Lake, Senior Editor www.mapinc.org