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Australia: NSW Greens' Call to Decriminalize Drug Possession Causes Pre-Election Stir

Drug policy is becoming a major campaign issue in Australia's most populous state, New South Wales (NSW). With an ongoing, highly publicized "epidemic" of methamphetamine use under way and elections now less than 10 days away, the NSW Green Party is calling for the decriminalization of drug possession -- even the dreaded ice, as meth is commonly referred to Down Under -- and Liberal and Labor party foes are attacking them for it.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/learhiannon.jpg
Lee Rhiannon
Although Greens hold only a handful of seats in the state parliament, by throwing their support to the governing Labor Party in some key districts, they could end up holding the balance of power in the Upper House. The NSW Greens' leading Upper House candidate, Lee Rhiannon, has been the party's main spokesperson in the increasingly nasty exchanges over drug policy.

The Greens' position on the decriminalization of drug possession is not ad hoc. It reflects the party's formal platform on drug policy, adopted last October after extensive consultations with party members. The platform also calls for the stronger embrace of harm reduction measures and the decriminalization of marijuana growing for personal use.

While the Greens' drug platform is not new, Rhiannon's public reiteration of it Monday ignited a firestorm of criticism and mischaracterization. The Daily Telegraph blurted to its readers that the Greens were "effectively saying that ice junkies should be free to buy as much of the deadly substance as they want." The Daily Telegraph also described the Green position that decriminalizing drug possession was less dangerous than prohibition as "a bizarre defense."

Liberal leader Peter Debnam was also caustic, writing in his blog: "Any Member of Parliament who thinks we should decriminalize drugs, including 'Ice', should take a good hard look at themselves, do the community a favour, and resign" and "This drug is death to young people and it is undermining a whole generation."

While Debnam accused the Greens and the Labor Party of cooking up some sort of "ice deal," there was little sign of that from Labor Premier Morris Iemma. He responded to the Green drug platform by saying: "It is just an absurd, ridiculous and disgusting policy." Any MP who supported such a policy was "completely out of touch with reality," he said.

Just to make things perfectly clear, Labor Party secretary Mark Arbib added that while Labor was willing to cut an electoral deal with the Greens, it does not endorse Green drug policy. "There will be no watering down of the (Labor) party's tough drug laws or positions on other social issues," he said.

But the Greens are fighting back, against both the political attacks and the yellow journalism. "The allegation in today's Daily Telegraph that the Greens policy would allow people to buy unlimited amounts of the deadly drug 'ice' is totally false," Rhiannon said in a Tuesday statement. "The Greens policy does not support unlimited supply of any drug, least of all crystal methamphetamine. This attack on the Greens is an election scare tactic which will distract from the urgent task of protecting young people from ice. The Greens do not support drug use and our policy does not condone people using the new drug known as ice."

Rhiannon also went after Premier Iemma for both failure and hypocrisy. "The Iemma government has failed to deal with the increased use of ice," she said. "The use of crystal methamphetamine has increased during the term of the Iemma/Carr government. There are now more than 17,700 regular methamphetamine users and 14,700 dependent methamphetamine users in Sydney and the number is growing rapidly," she noted.

"The drug policies of the Labor government are failing to deal with the epidemic," Rhiannon continued. "What is needed are prevention initiatives that educate the target populations to the dangers of using the drug and effective and accessible treatment programs for dependent and addicted users."

In fact, as the Greens noted in a Wednesday press release, Labor actually quietly supports many Green harm reduction notions and treatment and diversion programs for meth users. "The Premier is quick to put the boot into the Greens for our approach to ice. But the reality is Labor has instituted innovative ice programs, based on the harm minimization principles advocated by the Greens," Rhiannon said.

Among those programs is a stimulant treatment program at two hospitals, the safe injection room at Kings Cross, and the "MERIT" program that diverts meth users into treatment instead of jail. "If we really want to make NSW ice free, these programs need to be expanded and receive a massive increase in funding," said Rhiannon. "Premier Iemma should shout these initiatives from the rooftops instead of hiding behind his tough "law and order" policies. It appears that he is more concerned about a political backlash. To successfully eradicate ice politicians must be willing to take action that may be at first unpopular. Without brave policy from government, ice will continue to wreak havoc in our society."

Perhaps Debnam, Arbib and Iemma should listen to prominent Australian physician Dr. Alex Wodak's interview last year with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Among Wodak's quotes of note: "Prohibition didn't work in America in the 1920s and it won't work now."

Mark Kleiman gives drug reformers something to chew on

Mark Kleiman is one of a relatively small number of US academics who thinks and writes about drug policy. I don't always agree with him—especially his proposals for licensing drug users, higher alcohol taxes, and "coerced abstinence"—but his work is thoughtful, and, after listening to what passes for drug policy discourse among the political class, a veritable breath of fresh air. Kleiman is at it again this week, with a lengthy article, "Dopey, Boozy, Smoky—And Stupid," in the magazine The American Interest. After noting that 35 years into the war on drugs, the country still has a massive drug problem, as well as a massive police and prison apparatus aimed at drug users and sellers, Kleiman observes that no policy is going to eradicate drug use and what is needed is "radical reform." But real reform requires a better understanding of drugs and drug use, and that is where reality confronts mythology. As Kleiman notes, "most drug use is harmless," but drug abuse is not. That's quite different from "just say no." Similarly, he goes up against another drug policy mantra, this one popular with some reformers, that "drug abuse is a chronic, relapsing condition." That is true for only a minority of a minority of drug users, he correctly notes. After discussing some of the basics, Kleiman gets to the fun and thought-provoking part of his article—general policy recommendations:
These facts having now been set out, five principles might reasonably guide our policy choices. First, the overarching goal of policy should be to minimize the damage done to drug users and to others from the risks of the drugs themselves (toxicity, intoxicated behavior and addiction) and from control measures and efforts to evade them. That implies a second principle: No harm, no foul. Mere use of an abusable drug does not constitute a problem demanding public intervention. “Drug users” are not the enemy, and a achieving a “drug-free society” is not only impossible but unnecessary to achieve the purposes for which the drug laws were enacted. Third, one size does not fit all: Drugs, users, markets and dealers all differ, and policies need to be as differentiated as the situations they address. Fourth, all drug control policies, including enforcement, should be subjected to cost-benefit tests: We should act only when we can do more good than harm, not merely to express our righteousness. Since lawbreakers and their families are human beings, their suffering counts, too: Arrests and prison terms are costs, not benefits, of policy. Policymakers should learn from their mistakes and abandon unsuccessful efforts, which means that organizational learning must be built into organizational design. In drug policy as in most other policy arenas, feedback is the breakfast of champions. Fifth, in discussing programmatic innovations we should focus on programs that can be scaled up sufficiently to put a substantial dent in major problems. With drug abusers numbered in the millions, programs that affect only thousands are barely worth thinking about unless they show growth potential.
Hmmm, sounds pretty reasonable. Now, here is where Kleiman gets creative. Below are his general policy recommendations. I will leave the comments for others, but there is plenty to chew on here:
A PRACTICAL AGENDA What would actual policies based on the forgoing facts and principles look like? Here is a “to do” list to get us started: Don’t fill prisons with ordinary dealers. While prohibition clearly reduces drug abuse (otherwise there wouldn’t be several times as many abusers of alcohol as of all illicit drugs combined), and some level of enforcement is necessary to make prohibition a reality, increasing enforcement efforts against mass-marketed drugs cannot significantly raise the prices of those drugs or make them much harder to acquire. If we had only 200,000 dealers behind bars rather than 500,000, the drug markets would not be noticeably larger, and they might be less violent. Given the fiscal and human costs of incarceration, and the opportunity cost of locking up a drug dealer in a cell that might otherwise hold a burglar or a rapist, the current level of drug-related incarceration is hard to justify. We can reduce that level with arrest-minimizing enforcement strategies and by a discriminating moderation in drug sentencing. Lock up dealers based on nastiness, not on volume. All drug dealers supply drugs; only some use violence, or operate flagrantly, or employ juveniles as apprentice dealers. The current system of enforcement, which bases targeting and sentencing primarily on drug volume, should be replaced with a system focused on conduct. If we target and severely sentence the nastiest dealers rather than the biggest ones, we can greatly reduce the amount of gunfire, the damage drug dealing does to the neighborhoods around it, and the attractive nuisance the drug trade offers to teenagers. As a practical matter, too, we cannot create adequate differential disincentives for the most destructive forms of dealing solely by ramping up sanctions for those who engage in them. If we’re already locking up ordinary drug dealers forever, locking up the nastier ones forever and a day won’t create much competitive disadvantage for violence-prone or juvenile-employing organizations. The base level of sanctions needs to be reduced to make differentiated sentencing effective. Pressure drug-using offenders to stop. The relatively small number of offenders (no more than three million all together) who are frequent, high-dose users of cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine accounts for a large proportion both of theft and of the money spent on illicit drugs. Getting a handle on their behavior is inseparable from getting a handle on street crime and the drug markets.
There is much, much more in the recommendations, from more frequent drug testing of offenders to breaking up drug markets without mass arrests to raising the tax on beer and eliminating the minimum drinking age (!) to letting pot-smokers grow their own but not completely legalizing the weed. And that's not all. Read it and come back and tell me, whaddya think?
Location: 
United States

Seeking Justice In The Drug War

Location: 
Washington, DC
United States
Publication/Source: 
TomPaine.com (DC)
URL: 
http://www.tompaine.com/articles/2007/03/12/seeking_justice_in_the_drug_war.php

Gov. Perry Pardons Man's Life Sentence For Pot [Tyrone Brown]

Location: 
Austin, TX
United States
Publication/Source: 
Dallas Morning News
URL: 
http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/latestnews/stories/031007dnmetpardon.35307679.html

Marijuana candy makers sentenced to federal prison

Location: 
Oakland, CA
United States
Publication/Source: 
Tri-Valley Herald (CA)
URL: 
http://www.insidebayarea.com/trivalleyherald/localnews/ci_5349182

Governador do Rio de Janeiro defende a descriminalização das drogas

Location: 
United States
Publication/Source: 
Terra Notícias
URL: 
http://noticias.terra.com.br/brasil/interna/0,,OI1404995-EI306,00.html

Vermont Mayor Says Execute Drug Dealers, Legalize Marijuana

The increasingly obvious failure of the drug war is spawning some odd discussions this year. There's Joe Biden and Dan Burton calling for biological warfare in South America. There's a crazy former DEA agent promising a one-year turnaround if we bust all the "druggies" and force them to stop partying. Lou Dobbs is really frustrated too, and someone should talk to him before he starts racially profiling people and asking for consent to search.

But the prize might go to Barre, VT Mayor Thomas Lauzon who wants to try some of everything. From The Times Argus:
BARRE – Mayor Thomas Lauzon on Saturday said he hoped the Legislature would consider imposing the death penalty on convicted crack and heroin dealers, and to legalize marijuana.

Failing that, the mayor said, he would call for a public forum in Barre to kick off a statewide discussion about the growing drug problem in Vermont and steps – including the death penalty and legalization — to control the situation.
Sounds like an episode of South Park. If the citizens of Vermont indulge him, this could be a highly entertaining public forum. For my money, Vermont is much more likely to legalize marijuana than execute anyone (they haven’t imposed the death penalty in 50 years).

Expect to hear plenty more crazy talk of executing drug dealers and such this year. And don't be surprised to see more politicians calling for marijuana policy reform. The failure of the drug war is all around us and people are talking about it, for better or worse.

The drug war isn’t going to start working one day. Inevitably, the road to reform will be paved with crazy idiots. If they want to legalize marijuana and execute crack dealers, we'll help with the former and talk them out of killing people later.

Location: 
United States

Mandatory drug terms are targeted in report

Location: 
MD
United States
Publication/Source: 
The Baltimore Sun
URL: 
http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/local/bal-md.minimum27feb27,0,1196962.story?coll=bal-local-headlines

Extreme Politics: Vermont Mayor Calls for Death Penalty for Hard Drug Dealers, Legalizing Marijuana

Barre, Vermont, Mayor Thomas Lauzon's frustration with drugs and drug policy is showing, and it's making him just a touch schizophrenic. In remarks reported in the Barre-Montpelier Times Argus Saturday, Lauzon called for the death penalty for crack and heroin dealers, and in the same breath, called for the legalization of marijuana.

He said he plans to ask the state legislature to adopt the death penalty and to legalize marijuana. Failing that, he said, he hopes to open to a statewide discussion about the state's drug problem, probably beginning with an April forum in Barre.

Barre (pronounced "berry") is an old-time boomtown that in days gone by was known as "The Chicago of New England." Today Barre is famed as an exporter of fine, granite, graveside monuments, a distinction that earned it a "ZipUSA" feature in the October 2003 issue of National Geographic.

"People who are dealing crack and dealing heroin have zero social value and should be put to death," Lauzon said. "I'm sure everyone will distance themselves from me," Lauzon said Saturday of his death-penalty call. "But if anyone tells you we're winning the war on drugs, they're lying."

Saturday evening he reiterated that stance in another interview with the Times Argus. "What social value do they have? They are dealing crack and heroin to young people, knowing full well what the effects will be," the mayor said. "What purpose do they serve in society other than to destroy lives, to destroy families?"

Vermont politicians reacted cautiously. State Sen. Richard Sears (D-Bennington), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he understood Lauzon's frustration, but didn't embrace either the death penalty for dealing hard drugs or legalizing marijuana. "I think the man is very frustrated, and I understand his frustration," Sears said. "The problem in my view is we've ignored this problem until it's out of hand."

Jason Gibbs, a spokesman for Gov. James Douglas, told the newspaper that while the governor was not unalterably opposed to the death penalty, he was opposed to legalizing marijuana. "He's not unalterably opposed to the death penalty, but he doesn't have any plans to introduce it. There are some circumstances he would support a death penalty, but I'm not sure this is among them," Gibbs said. "Marijuana is a gateway drug for some folks, so he would not support legalization."

Lauzon said he had discussed his proposals with some legislators, but hadn't gotten very far. "They listen politely. I would like to have a statewide conversation. The conversation I'd like to start with is 'How are we doing?' Are we happy with our progress in the war on drugs? What are we doing in Vermont with regard to the war on drugs?" Lauzon said. "Maybe we start in Barre."

While Lauzon's proposal for the death penalty for drug dealers is a first in recent Vermont history, his call for legalizing marijuana echoes one made last December by Windsor County States Attorney Robert Sand, who called for the legalization of marijuana and decriminalization of other drugs. And so goes the drug debate in Vermont.

Newsbrief: Colorado Town Backs Away from Tougher Marijuana Penalties

Last week, Drug War Chronicle reported on Judge Leonard Freiling's resignation from the municipal court bench to protest Lafayette, Colorado's move to enact a municipal ordinance increasing penalties for marijuana possession. The same day we went to press last week, the city council withdrew that proposed ordinance from consideration, saying that, "City staff and City Council have determined that more information and analysis are needed on this matter."

While the state of Colorado has decriminalized the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana, leaving offenders facing only a $100 fine, the Lafayette measure would have called for up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Thanks to the heat generated by Freiling's resignation, as well as a fast-acting grassroots campaign by activist groups including Safer Alternative For Enjoyable Recreation (SAFER), the ACLU of Colorado, the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, and Sensible Colorado, the city council found itself forced to retreat. It has now scheduled a public hearing on the issue for April.

"We are very pleased that the Lafayette City Council has withdrawn this drastic and unnecessary measure," said SAFER Executive Director Mason Tvert in a press release announcing the pull-back. "We appreciate their responsiveness to the concerns of Lafayette and Boulder County citizens, and we look forward to serving as a resource for accurate information on marijuana at the council's public workshop on this issue in April."

Score one for the good guys.

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