The D'Alliance: Personal Views on Drug Policy
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Wednesday, June 09, 2010This blog has inspired some great debates over the last six years. Now, the conversation has outgrown the blog format. There's a robust and growing community of reformers on Facebook -- please join us!
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Harm Reduction in Action
Monday, May 03, 2010Many syringe access programs have expanded their reach and efficacy by instituting peer-delivered syringe exchange models. These programs train peer educators from at-risk populations to distribute syringes and inform others in their community about safe practices. Check out the Housing Works blog for more about the peer outreach program at CitiWide Harm Reduction in New York City.
Former Mexican President Calls for an End to Prohibition
Friday, April 30, 2010Former Mexican President Vicente Fox advocated for sensible, humane drug policy reform this week during an interview at the Milken Institute’s Global Conference.
President Fox argued that Mexico’s use of the military to enforce drug laws has led to a surge in human rights abuses and violations of due process. He believes legalizing drugs could end the violence in his country.
You can watch the full interview on the conference website. For a particularly strong statement from the former president on ending drug prohibition, watch from 14:50 to 16:20.
Don't Just Smoke a Joint on 4/20 -- Take Action Against Marijuana Prohibition
Wednesday, April 14, 2010by Bill Piper
Originally published on April 12, 2010, on AlterNet.
April 20th (4/20) has long been associated with marijuana, both marijuana use and marijuana activism. Thousands of Americans will gather on that day at rallies in Boston, Boulder, New York, Santa Cruz, Seattle and other cities. For people who prefer to relax with a joint instead of a beer or martini it's a time to celebrate. For those who don't use marijuana it's a time to stand up in support of their friends, family, and fellow citizens who face arrest for nothing more than what they put into their body. For the Drug Policy Alliance and the drug policy reform movement 4/20 represents something even bigger.
The movement to end marijuana prohibition is very broad, composed of people who love marijuana, people who hate marijuana, and people who don't have strong feelings about marijuana use one way or the other. We all agree on one thing though - marijuana prohibition is doing more harm than good. It's wasting taxpayer dollars and police resources, filling our jails and prisons with hundreds of thousands of nonviolent people, and increasing crime and violence in the same way alcohol Prohibition did. Police made more than 750,000 arrests for marijuana possession in 2008 alone. Those arrested were separated from their loved ones, branded criminals, denied jobs, and in many cases prohibited from accessing student loans, public housing and other public assistance.
Fortunately, the tide is quickly turning against the war on marijuana. Legislators in California, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, South Dakota and Virginia are considering legislation to decriminalize or legalize marijuana. The Economist magazine noted that "marijuana could follow the path that alcohol took in the 1930s" out of prohibition into a regulated market. Celebrities are speaking out. The musician and activist Sting, for instance, recently urged people to oppose the entire war on drugs. In November Californians will vote on whether to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol; the measure is ahead in the polls. Local California papers like the Orange County Register and the Long Beach Press-Telegram have editorialized in favor of the initiative, seven months before the vote. Nationally, support for making marijuana legal is about 44 percent, with support increasing about two percent a year. A recent Gallup poll predicts a majority of Americans will favor marijuana legalization within just four years if current trends hold.
The war on marijuana won't end, however, if everyone who supports reform stays silent. Maybe you smoke marijuana and are tired of being considered a criminal. Maybe you work in law enforcement and are tired of ruining people's lives by arresting them. Maybe you're a teacher or public health advocate tired of politicians cutting money for education and health to pay for the construction of new jails and prisons Maybe you're a civil rights activist appalled by racial disparities in marijuana law enforcement. Or maybe you just don't want your tax dollars wasted on ineffective policies.
Regardless of your motivation, April 20th (4/20) is a good opportunity for you to make a pledge to end marijuana prohibition. The Drug Policy Alliance is asking people to use 4/20 as the time to commit to doing something in 2010 to end the war on people who use marijuana. There are many ways to help end marijuana prohibition. Donate to a drug policy reform organization. Support the 2010 California ballot measure. Tell your elected representatives to end marijuana prohibition. Talk to your friends and family about why people who use marijuana shouldn't be arrested. Twitter this oped. Change your Facebook status to announce your support for ending the war on marijuana. Stand up today with other Americans and get the word out there. This war will end; how soon depends, in part, on you.
Bill Piper is director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance.
Sting: Let's End the War on Drugs
Monday, April 05, 2010by Sting
Composer, Singer, Actor, Activist
Originally published on March 31, 2010, on the Huffington Post
Whether it's music, activism or daily life, the one ideal to which I have always aspired is constant challenge -- taking risks, stepping out of my comfort zone, exploring new ideas.
I am writing because I believe the United States must do precisely that -- and so, therefore, must all of us -- in the case of what has been the most unsuccessful, unjust yet untouchable issue in politics: the War on Drugs.
The War on Drugs has failed -- but it's worse than that. It is actively harming our society. Violent crime is thriving in the shadows to which the drug trade has been consigned. People who genuinely need help can't get it. Neither can people who need medical marijuana to treat terrible diseases. We are spending billions, filling up our prisons with non-violent offenders and sacrificing our liberties.
For too long, the War on Drugs has been a sacrosanct undertaking that was virtually immune from criticism in the public realm. Politicians dared not disagree for fear of being stigmatized as "soft on crime." Any activist who spoke up was dismissed as a fringe element.
But recently, I discovered just how much that's changing--and that's how I came to speak out on behalf of an extraordinary organization called the Drug Policy Alliance.
I learned of DPA, as they're known, while reading what once might have been the unlikeliest of places for a thoughtful discussion of the Drug War -- the op-ed page of the Wall Street Journal.
It featured an op-ed that dared to say in print -- in a thoughtful, meticulous argument -- what everyone who has seriously looked at the issue has known for years: the War on Drugs is an absolute failure whose cost to society is increasingly unbearable and absolutely unjustifiable.
The author of that piece is a former Princeton professor turned activist named Ethan Nadelmann, who runs DPA. I was so impressed by his argument that I began reading up on the group.
Their work spoke directly to my heart as an activist for social justice -- because ending the War on Drugs is about exactly that.
For years, the Drug War has been used as a pretext to lock people in prison for exorbitant lengths of time -- people whose "crimes" never hurt another human being, people who already lived at the margins of society, whose voices were the faintest and whose power was the least.
Civil liberties have been trampled. Law enforcement has been militarized. Literally hundreds of billions of dollars -- dollars denied to urgent problems ranging from poverty to pollution -- have been spent. People who do need help with drugs have been treated as criminals instead. Meanwhile, resources to fight genuine crime -- violent crime -- have been significantly diminished.
And in exchange for all this, the War on Drugs has not stopped people from using drugs or kept drugs from crossing the borders or being sold on the streets.
To me, it all adds up to a clear message of exactly the sort I've always tried to heed in my life: It's time to step out of our comfort zone and try something new.
That's where DPA comes in. Their focus is on reducing the harm drugs cause rather than obsessively and pointlessly attempting to ban them.
I'm partnering with DPA because they champion treatment, advocate effective curricula for educating young people about drugs -- and from local courtrooms to the Supreme Court, they are utterly relentless defenders of the liberties that have been sacrificed to the Drug War.
Now, political conditions in Washington seem finally to be aligning in favor of profound change in drug policy. President Obama has openly said the Drug War is a failure. Legislation to decriminalize marijuana is pending on Capitol Hill.
But success is far from guaranteed. Indeed, the echoes of the old politics of intimidation and demagoguery that have long surrounded the War on Drugs can still be heard. We must all work to ensure this issue becomes a priority and is acted upon in a meaningful and sensible way.
That's why I hope you'll join me in becoming a member of the Drug Policy Alliance today. We need a movement that will put the team at DPA in a position to take maximum advantage of the political changes in Washington while continuing to fight for sanity in drug policy across the nation.
Everyone knows the War on Drugs has failed. It's time to step out of our comfort zones, acknowledge the truth -- and challenge our leaders ... and ourselves ... to change.
GOP and Dems Agree: Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity Unjust and Needs Reform
Tuesday, March 23, 2010The U.S. Senate has unanimously approved bi-partisan legislation reforming a failed two-decade old policy.
by Bill Piper and Jasmine Tyler
Originally published on March 18, 2010, on AlterNet.
On almost every issue Democrats and Republicans are viciously fighting each other. A surprising exception, however, is reducing the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity. The U.S. Senate unanimously approved bi-partisan legislation yesterday reforming this two-decade old policy. The original bill, the Fair Sentencing Act of 2009 (S. 1789), was introduced by Sen. Durbin, D-IL, and was intended to completely eliminate the disparity. It was amended in committee, however, to just reduce the 100 to 1 disparity to 18 to 1 in order to get bipartisan and unanimous support. The amended bill passed the full Senate last night. While they bicker over healthcare, unemployment, education and other issues, Senators agree that U.S. drug laws are too harsh and need to be reformed.
Pharmacologically the same drug, crack and powder cocaine are treated very differently within the walls of the criminal justice system. Current policy generates a 100 to 1 penalty ratio for crack-related offenses. For instance, distribution of only 5 grams of crack cocaine (about a thimble full) yields a 5 year mandatory minimum sentence. It takes 500 grams of powder cocaine, however, to prompt the same sentence. Crack cocaine is also the only drug for which the first offense of simple possession can trigger a 5 year mandatory minimum sentence. Simple possession of any quantity of any other substance by a first time offender - including powder cocaine - is a misdemeanor offense punishable by a maximum of one year in prison.
When the crack/powder disparity was enacted into law in the 1980s, crack cocaine was believed to be more addictive and more dangerous than powder cocaine. Copious amounts of research, including a recent study by the U.S. Sentencing Commission, have shown that the myths first associated with crack cocaine, and the basis for the harsher sentencing scheme, were erroneous or exaggerated. For over two decades, powder cocaine and crack cocaine offenders have been sentenced differently, even though scientific evidence, including a major study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, has proven that crack and powder cocaine have similar physiological and psychoactive effects on the human body.
Even though two-thirds of crack cocaine users are white, more than 80% of those convicted in federal court for crack cocaine offenses are African American. Moreover, two-thirds of those convicted have only a low-level involvement in the drug trade. Less than 2% of federal crack defendants are high-level suppliers of cocaine. Taxpayer money should be spent wisely, and concentrating federal law enforcement and criminal justice resources on arresting and incarcerating low-level, largely nonviolent offenders has done nothing to reduce the problems associated with substance misuse.
Equalizing sentences for crack cocaine and powder cocaine would eliminate the most glaring instance of racial disparities in the criminal justice system and focus federal law enforcement resources on higher-level traffickers. The House Judiciary Committee approved legislation last year that would completely eliminate the disparity. Advocates fought hard to pass Senate legislation eliminating the disparity, but Democrats and Republicans worked out a compromise to reduce the disparity to 18-1 instead. The revised bill passed the full Senate under an expedited process designed to move uncontroversial bills that have unanimous support (or at least no formal opposition).
This Senate bill is a move in the right direction - many, many families will benefit from the change - but it obviously doesn't go far enough. Members of Congress need to know that advocates of change consider this bill to be only a down payment on completely eliminating the disparity, and a stepping stone to reforming punitive drug policies more broadly. Despite spending hundreds of billions of dollars and arresting millions of Americans, drugs remain cheap, potent, and readily available. Meanwhile the war on drugs is creating huge racial disparities, filling prisons with nonviolent offenders, and fueling prohibition-related violence on both sides of the U.S./Mexico border. It is time for massive change. Reducing the crack/powder disparity is the first step of many.
Bill Piper and Jasmine Tyler are Director and Deputy Director of National Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance.
Denmark's First Heroin Assisted Treatment Clinics to Open this Week
Tuesday, March 09, 2010Denmark is the latest country to offer heroin assisted treatment (HAT). After reviewing trials in Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany and Great Britain, the Danish parliament determined that HAT was an effective treatment method, and legislators approved the implementation of a Danish program without first mandating another trial. The program's first two clinics, both in Copenhagen, will open Thursday.
Michael Jourdan of Copenhagen's Centre of Alcohol and Drug Research provides more details below:
COPENHAGEN - After many years of debate Denmark is now joining the exclusive club of nations in which prescription of heroin to addicts is possible.
The motion to do so passed through parliament by an overwhelming majority 178-1 two years ago. Now, the preparatory phase of working out the guidelines, training treatment staff and addressing a myriad of devilish details is over. Thursday the 11th of March marks the official opening of the capital's first two heroin clinics. Later this year the cities of Aarhus, Odense - the birthplace of Hans Christian Andersen - and Esbjerg will follow.
The Danish model is not a trial with a closing date and a strict scientific protocol, because yet another trial has been deemed unnecessary. Having closely monitored the heroin trials of Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany and Great Britain, the Danes have concluded that the evidence is in. Prescribed heroin is feasible, beneficial, safe, cost effective, and yielding better results with some addicts than other forms of substitution treatment.
The international treaties allow for scientific or medical use. By including heroin in the pharmacopoeia for the specific purpose of treatment of addiction the Danes have gone straight for the medical option. A small number of specialist medical doctors have been empowered to make legal requisitions from two appointed suppliers of pharmaceutical heroin (diacetylmorphine). Under the supervision of these specialists medical staff at the 5 treatment centres can adjust dose to fit the individual patients. A target group has been set to 3-400 addicts who have not benefited from methadone and continue injecting illegal drugs with detrimental health effect. Two daily injections are allowed, supplemented by take home doses of methadone. The medical treatment is integrated in a comprehensive treatment programme offering psycho-social support to all users. All prescriptions and outcomes are closely monitored by the Danish National Board of Health.
Even before opening, the clinics have attracted considerable attention. Nationally, support is massive, but critics have voiced concern that the guidelines are too restrictive and the setup of the clinics too burdensome for the users - that in effect the whole effort is set up to fail. However, in the Danish model, adhering to a strict scientific protocol is not an issue. Though one could say from the outset that the many tricky issues of prescribing heroin have been dealt with in a manner that could be described as erring on the side of caution, modification in the form of revision of guidelines and adjustment of practice is possible if and when experience shows need for change.
Perhaps the Danish way of setting up this treatment modality could be dubbed version 2.0. Time will tell whether other nations will set up programs inspired by the Danish approach.
- Michael Jourdan, Centre of Alcohol and Drug Research, Copenhagen
Monday, February 22, 2010There's a new substance on drug prohibitionists' hit list. Spice, also known as K2, is an herbal incense blend sprayed with a synthetic compound that chemically mimics THC. Right now, a relatively small number of people have used Spice, but new attention from lawmakers and the media is sure to raise its profile - showing exactly why a reactionary approach to drugs and drug use is always counterproductive.
Legislators in Kansas and Missouri are considering banning Spice, and the media has seized onto the drug war hysteria. In the past week, news outlets across the country have reported on Spice, and many have regurgitated the alarmist rhetoric of those pushing a ban. Some sample headlines:
"Cops: Imitation pot as bad as the real thing"
"K2 - the new buzz on the street"
"Fake Weed (Spice, Genie, K2) Getting Kids High, But There's Nothing Cops Can Do"
In most respects, it's a familiar story. The government bans one drug (marijuana), so people seek a legal alternative (Spice). Drug war proponents then employ scare tactics claiming the alternative drug is the next big threat, and the media plays into the hype. Lawmakers hoping to appear "tough on crime" seek to ban the new drug. And the cycle continues.
But I'm curious to see how effective the fear-mongering around Spice will be now that support for ending marijuana prohibition is so widespread. Will the public really be so up in arms about a marijuana-like substance when the most recent polling shows nearly half the country in favor of legalizing marijuana outright and a substantial majority in favor of allowing medical marijuana access?
It seems like the tide is turning, and, hopefully, more people than ever will recognize the hypocrisy of drug war scare tactics.
Can Heroin-Assisted Treatment Happen Here?
Thursday, January 21, 2010Those of us in the drug policy reform movement have learned time and again that the most effective solution to a drug-related social problem is often counterintuitive.
One clear example of this trend is heroin-assisted treatment (HAT), an approach to helping otherwise treatment-resistant heroin addicts using well-monitored doses of the drug itself. HAT programs provide a safe place to inject for those users most at risk of contracting a disease or suffering an overdose.
I got to learn more about this harm reduction strategy last night at a DPA-sponsored panel on HAT at George Washington University in Washington, DC. The event featured an international panel of health professionals, researchers, and advocates familiar with the topic.
Donald MacPherson, former Drug Policy Coordinator for the City of Vancouver, spoke about the heroin-assisted treatment program he oversaw in his city. Dr. David Marsh shared his experiences as one of the lead researchers in the North American Opiate Medication Initiative (NAOMI) trial of prescription heroin in Canada. Peter Reuter, a University of Maryland professor and leading scholar on heroin maintenance, discussed treatment programs in Switzerland and the Netherlands. And DPA Executive Director Ethan Nadelmann spoke about the prospect of implementing a heroin-assisted treatment program or trial in the United States.
DC's Ward 6 councilmember, Tommy Wells, also spoke, and it was heartening to see a DC politician there in support of HAT, as DPA's DC Metro program has been investigating whether creating a HAT pilot program in the District is feasible. Washington, DC has one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS in the country, and many contracted the disease through injection drug use.
I came away from the panel with an understanding that the most important step we can take to make heroin-assisted treatment a reality in the United States is to change perceptions about the people these programs would help.
Why have other countries been able to institute heroin-assisted treatment programs or trials while the prospect of doing so here in the U.S. still seems so far off? Because in the United States drug users are too often characterized as criminals and unworthy of help. The stigma associated with heroin use in the United States is the main reason HAT is not widely accepted in the U.S. as a viable treatment option.
The key to gaining acceptance for this kind of treatment is combating this stigma and convincing people that saving a life, under any circumstances, is more important than projecting a "tough on crime" image. As David Marsh put it, speaking of his two young grandchildren, "I would never want to say to them that I had the chance to stop people from dying, but I didn't do it because I was afraid it would send them the wrong message."
Read more on heroin-assisted treatment.
Ethan Nadelmann is a Change.org Changemaker
Wednesday, January 13, 2010DPA Executive Director Ethan Nadelmann was chosen by Change.org members as one of the site's Changemakers.
Ethan's selection means that through a series of featured posts, he will have the opportunity to engage the Change.org community in a dialogue about ending the drug war and pursuing smarter drug policies based on science, compassion and human rights.
Check out Ethan's first post, "The War on Drugs is a War on People."