Prohibition

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DEA Criminalization of 'Fake Marijuana' Repeats Mistakes of Past Prohibitions (Opinion)

Grant Smith, federal policy coordinator in the Drug Policy Alliance's office of national affairs in Washington, D.C., says we know from marijuana prohibition that law enforcement has no control over the drug market and the criminals who run it. By choosing to ban K2 outright, lawmakers are committing millions of taxpayer dollars to investigate, prosecute and incarcerate K2 users. He points out that we simply cannot afford to expand the war on drugs at a time when budgets are in the red and the United States incarcerates more people than any country in the world.
Publication/Source: 
Alternet (CA)
URL: 
http://www.alternet.org/drugs/149036/dea_criminalization_of_%27fake_marijuana%27_repeats_mistakes_of_past_prohibitions

DEA Bans Synthetic Marijuana

The US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced Wednesday that it is issuing an emergency ban on five chemicals used to make synthetic marijuana products. The ban will go into effect in 30 days and will at least temporarily place the chemicals on Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act.

Banned in 30 days (Image courtesy Wikimedia)
Marketed as incense and sold under names including Spice and K2, the stuff has grown increasingly popular since it first appeared on store shelves around two years ago. Spurred on by prohibitionist reflex, as well as reports of emergency room visits and calls to poison centers, 15 states have already banned synthetic pot products. Similar legislation is pending in several more. Last week, powerful Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) wrote a letter to the DEA seeking a federal ban.

The ban announced Wednesday is temporary and will be in effect for one year, with the possibility of a six-month extension. During that period, DEA and the Department of Health and Human Services will decide whether the substances should be permanently controlled. 

“The American public looks to the DEA to protect its children and communities from those who would exploit them for their own gain,” said DEA Acting Administrator Michele Leonhart. “Makers of these harmful products mislead their customers into thinking that ‘fake pot’ is a harmless alternative to illegal drugs, but that is not the case. Today’s action will call further attention to the risks of ingesting unknown compounds and will hopefully take away any incentive to try these products.”

The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) was quick to criticize the DEA's move. "The DEA says that prohibiting synthetic marijuana will 'control' it – yet we know from history that prohibition is the complete opposite of drug control," said DPA spokesman Tony Newman in a Wednesday press release. "DPA is advocating for establishing regulatory restrictions, such as age limits and product labeling requirements, rather than banning it outright and relegating it to the black market."

Despite approximately 2,000 poison control center contacts from synthetic pot users complaining of a variety of symptoms including nausea, rapid heartbeat, and disorientation, DPA noted that there are no known cases of fatal synthetic pot overdoses and that there is no evidence the stuff is addictive.

"Scheduling [synthetic marijuana] as a controlled substance will have unintended detrimental consequences," DPA warned. "If K2 were banned outright, young adults could face immediate, devastating and life-long legal barriers to education, employment, voting and government benefits for K2-related drug law violations, despite a lack of evidence of harm to themselves or others. The use of scarce government funds to enforce, prosecute and incarcerate people who use K2 would put a strain on criminal justice resources."

Washington, DC
United States

Sen. Orrin Hatch Asks DEA to Ban Spice, K2

Products containing synthetic cannabinoids possessing psychoactive properties similar to marijuana if ingested, have been banned in a number of states -- and more are currently considering bans -- but are not illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act. Not yet, anyway. Last week, Sen. Orrin Hatch, the powerful Utah Republican, sent a letter to the DEA asking the agency to use its emergency powers to make synthetic cannabinoids a Schedule I controlled substance.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/orrin-hatch.jpg
a new target for the stalwart drug warrior
Sold under names such as K2, Spice, Yucatan Fire, and Solar Flare, among others, the stuff is marketed as incense or potpourri and can be found at smoke shops, head shops, gas stations, and other retail outlets in states where it is legal. It is also easily available via the Internet.

Users seek to replicate the high of marijuana without the attendant legal risks, but according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, they sometimes get more than they bargained for. The centers issued a report Monday saying that they had received more than 2,000 calls about synthetic cannabinoids so far this year.

Symptoms reported included nausea, rapid heartbeat, elevated blood pressure, anxiety, and disorientation. While the centers reported that some symptoms can be "life-threatening," there are no known cases of a fatal synthetic cannabis overdose.

"Young adults and adolescents are turning to 'Spice' as a form of legalized marijuana, Hatch wrote in his letter to DEA acting administrator Michelle Leonhart. "Currently, almost two dozen states have passed legislation identifying spice as a controlled substance. I am requesting your assistance in having the Drug Enforcement Administration exercise its emergency scheduling authority to classify Spice as a schedule I substance."

Spice use in Utah was at "epidemic proportions" among the state's youth, Hatch complained.

If the DEA accedes to Hatch's demand, synthetic cannabinoids would be officially considered drugs with no accepted medical use and high potential for abuse, like marijuana, LSD, and heroin. Sales would be banned, and their users and sellers would be subject to federal prison sentences.

But Hatch's demand is no guarantee the agency will act. The DEA has had salvia divinorum on its list of drugs of interest for close to a decade now and has still not moved to make it a controlled substance, even though it has been banned or restricted in more than a dozen states.

Washington, DC
United States

European Blueprint Signals Way for America to End the War on Drugs (Opinion)

As America's drug war spirals out of control, Europe's reformist organizations offer a view that policymakers must heed, argues Charles Shaw.
Publication/Source: 
The Guardian (UK)
URL: 
http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/joepublic/2010/nov/15/america-war-on-drugs

The Writing on the Wall: Calendar Portrays America's Longest War

It's easy to say and easy to document, but quite difficult to really internalize, the human suffering and the outright absurdities wrought by our 40-year-old war on drugs. Sometimes it takes a picture to drive the point home. The Drug Policy Alliance has teamed up with award-winning artist Ricardo Cortes to produce an engaging, eye-catching 2011 wall calendar about the history of drug prohibition in the United States.
Publication/Source: 
Alternet (CA)
URL: 
http://www.alternet.org/drugs/148791/the_writing_on_the_wall%3A_calendar_portrays_america%27s_longest_war

Despite Prop. 19 Loss, Marijuana Debate Still Aflame in Mexico

Location: 
Mexico
While some Mexicans expressed relief that California’s Proposition 19 was defeated in Tuesday’s election, others felt that the fight in Mexico was just beginning. The proposition, which essentially would have legalized marijuana in California, had a renewed sense of urgency south of the border, where the body count in the government’s crusade against drug trafficking organizations continues to rise.
Publication/Source: 
New America Media (CA)
URL: 
http://newamericamedia.org/2010/11/after-prop-19-marijuana-debate-still-aflame-in-mexico.php

Time for Latin America to Reconsider Prohibition (Opinion)

Location: 
Erika De La Garza, program director of the Latin American Initiative at the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice, and William Martin, the Harry and Hazel Chavanne Senior Fellow in Religion and Public Policy at the Baker Institute, opine on the general failures of drug prohibition and what direction Latin America should go.
Publication/Source: 
The Houston Chronicle (TX)
URL: 
http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/editorial/outlook/7280128.html

European Union Uses Weak Evidence to Urge Mephedrone Ban

The European Commission, the executive body of the European Union (EU), called for an EU-wide ban on the synthetic drug mephedrone last week, describing it as "dangerous psychoactive substance," but based that call on scanty evidence. The stimulant drug, with effects likened to those of cocaine and ecstasy, is already illegal in 15 EU countries, but remains available in 12 more.

mephedrone sample (photo from mephedrone.org)
Mephedrone, also known as meow meow, MCAT, or meph, is derived from cathinone, the psychoactive stimulant in khat. It first appeared in European markets in 2007, presumed to be courtesy of Chinese manufacturers, and has been popular in the club scene. For the last year, mephedrone has been breathlessly reported on, especially by tabloids in Britain, where it is now banned.

"It is a dangerous drug that is available online and on the street corner. People have died because of this drug, so I urge governments to move fast to control and criminalize it," said justice commissioner Viviane Reding in a Wednesday statement. "We have a responsibility to protect young people against dangerous new psychoactive substances."

The commission claimed that mephedrone "has been linked to at least 37 deaths in the UK and Ireland alone" and acted in an emergency manner because of a mephedrone risk assessment report published last week by the European Monitoring Center on Drugs and Alcohol (EMCDDA). The commission added that the report "showed that mephedrone can cause acute health problems and lead to dependency."

But the report itself says that no direct causal link can yet be made between mephedrone and the reported deaths. "There have been a very limited number of deaths reported to be related directly to the use of mephedrone," the EMCDDA report said.

There are only two in which mephedrone appears to be the sole cause of death. Of the other 35 reported deaths, the EMCDDA report noted, "In some of these cases it is likely that other drugs and/or other medical conditions or trauma may have contributed to or been responsible for death. The inquests into the deaths are pending for the majority of these cases therefore it is not possible at this time to determine the contribution of mephedrone."

The evidence base for assessing mephedrone is weak, the report found. "The studies available on mephedrone are few, largely preliminary and focused on user self-reports. To date no epidemiological data on prevalence has been published. The majority of studies originate from the United Kingdom and evidence from other member states is scarce."

As a result, EMCDDA warned against a rush to judgment about mephedrone's danger. "Taken as a whole, the scientific evidence base available for drawing conclusions is limited and this proviso should be borne in mind when interpreting the findings of the risk assessment exercise," the report said.

But that, of course, is what the EU has done with its call for a union-wide ban on the new club drug. That didn't sit well with former British Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs head David Nutt, who was fired for criticizing the government there as "politically motivated rather than scientifically justified" for rescheduling cannabis to a more serious schedule.

"An EU-wide ban on mephedrone is remarkable for its lack of scientific evidence," Nutt told EUobserver. "The report primarily relies on user experiences and a handful of hospital admissions, with no formal studies to demonstrate the actual or potential harms of the drug. It is not yet possible to say how harmful mephedrone is given the lack of evidence. However, by legislating on a substance without reliable scientifically-based evidence, we run the risk of causing more harm through criminalizing users than might be caused by the drug itself. The evidence on drug harms should not be sacrificed for political and media pressure."

Mothers Lead the Charge Against the Nation's War on Drugs

Location: 
Sacramento, CA
United States
Mothers from across California rallied at the state capitol Wedneday to launch a national movement to end the nation's war on drugs. The group wants alternatives to jail time for drug offenses, such as addiction treatment. "While it may seem counter-intuitive that a group of mothers would say such a thing, it's because we love our children and we really feel the war on drugs is more harmful than the drugs themselves," Gretchen Burns Bergman, mother and rally leader said.
Publication/Source: 
KGET (CA)
URL: 
http://www.kget.com/news/local/story/Mothers-lead-the-charge-against-the-nations-war/Wc-7YovDr0K28HXAqFrLug.cspx

New Report: U.S. Government Data Demonstrates Failure of Cannabis Prohibition (Press Release)

New Report: U.S. Government Data Demonstrates Failure of Cannabis Prohibition

Leading International Scientific Body Supports Call for Legalization and Regulation to Reduce Cannabis-Related Harms

October 7, 2010 [Vancouver, Canada] – The International Centre for Science in Drug Policy (ICSDP) today released a new research report that demonstrates the clear failure of U.S. marijuana prohibition and supports calls for evidence-based models to legalize and regulate the use of cannabis. The British Medical Journal, one of the world’s most influential medical journals, published a supportive commentary to coincide with the report’s release today.

The new report, entitled Tools for debate: U.S. federal government data on cannabis prohibition, uses 20 years of data collected by surveillance systems funded by the U.S. government to highlight the failure of cannabis prohibition in America. The report has deep relevance for California as the state prepares to vote on the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis proposition and, potentially, legalize cannabis.

“Data, collected and paid for by the U.S. government, clearly shows that prohibition has not reduced cannabis consumption or supply. Since prohibition is not working, we need new approaches to better address the harms of cannabis use,” says Dr. Evan Wood, founder of the ICSDP. “Scientific evidence clearly shows that regulatory tools have the potential to effectively reduce rates of cannabis-related harm.”

Despite dramatically increased law enforcement funding, the U.S. government’s data demonstrates that cannabis prohibition has not resulted in a decrease in cannabis availability or accessibility. According to the US Office of National Drug Control Policy, federal anti-drug expenditures in the U.S. increased 600% from $1.5 billion in 1981 to over $18 billion in 2002. However, during this period, the potency of cannabis increased by 145% and the price of cannabis decreased by a dramatic 58%.

According to U.S. government funded reports, in the face of increasing enforcement expenditures over the last 30 years, cannabis has remained almost “universally available” to young Americans. Cannabis use among U.S. grade 12 students increased from 27% in 1990 to 32% in 2008 and approximately 80-90% of grade 12 students say the drug is “very easy” or “fairly easy” to obtain.

“From a public health and scientific perspective, the evidence demonstrates that cannabis prohibition has not achieved its intended objectives,” states Dr. Carl Hart, a co-author on the report and Associate Professor of Psychology at Columbia University. “The fact that cannabis prohibition has also enriched organized crime groups and fueled violence in the community creates an urgency to implement evidence-based alternatives that may be more effective at controlling cannabis supply and access.”

In addition to describing the failure of cannabis prohibition, the report notes that legalization combined with the implementation of strict regulatory tools could be more effective at controlling cannabis use and reducing cannabis-related harms. Research demonstrates that similar regulatory tools have been successful in controlling the harms of tobacco and alcohol when strictly enforced.

The report also discusses the regulatory tools available to governments, including conditional licensing systems; age restrictions; product taxation; retailer operating and location limitations; marketing prohibitions; and packaging guidelines.

While the report urges an evidence-based approach to cannabis regulation and notes the comparative successes several European countries have had in decriminalizing cannabis use, it also notes the limitations of models in place in Netherlands and Portugal. People who use marijuana in these two European countries do not face prosecution, but the production and distribution of cannabis remains illegal and largely controlled by organized crime.

“Legalization and strict regulation are more likely to be effective at eliminating the role of organized crime in marijuana production and distribution, because the profit motive is effectively removed,” said Dr. Wood.

In his commentary published in today’s British Medical Journal (bmj.com), Dr. Robin Room notes that regulatory tools developed at the end of alcohol prohibition in the 1930s can also be used today to successfully control cannabis.

“The evidence from Tools for Debate is not only that the prohibition system is not achieving its aims, but that more efforts in the same direction only worsen the results,” says Dr. Room, Professor of Social Research at the University of Melbourne. “The challenge for researchers and policy analysts is to now flesh out the details of effective regulatory regimes.” 

Dr. Wood is one of the six international illicit drug policy experts who authored the report, which has been endorsed by over 65MDs and PhDs in 30 countries who are members of the ICSDP Scientific Network.

The full report is available online at www.icsdp.org.

A related ICSDP report released in April 2010 demonstrates that the illegality of cannabis clearly enriches organized crime and drives violence, as street gangs and cartels compete for drug market profits. In Mexico, an estimated 28,000 people have died since the start of the drug war in 2006. U.S. government reports have previously estimated that approximately 60% of Mexican drug cartel revenue comes from the cannabis trade.

The full 26-page report, “Effect of Drug Law Enforcement on Drug-Related Violence: Evidence from a Scientific Review,” is available online at http://www.icsdp.org/research/publications.aspx.

– xxx –

International Centre for Science in Drug Policy
ICSDP is an international network of scientists, academics, and health practitioners who have come together in an effort to ensure illicit drug policies are informed with the best available scientific evidence.  The ICSDP aims to be a primary source for rigorous scientific evidence on illicit drug policy in order to benefit policymakers, law enforcement, and affected communities. To this end, the ICSDP conducts original scientific research in the form of systematic reviews, evidence-based drug policy guidelines, and research collaborations with leading scientists and institutions across diverse continents and disciplines.

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