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Europe: British Science vs. Politics Battle Explodes As Top Drug Advisor Fired for Heresy

The British Labor government has created a firestorm of controversy with its firing of Professor David Nutt, head of the Advisory Committee on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) last Friday. Nutt was canned by Home Secretary Alan Johnson after the psychopharmacologist again went public with his criticism of the government for refusing to follow a science- and evidence-based drug policy.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/davidnutt.jpg
David Nutt
As of this week, after a weekend of furious back and forth in dozens of newspaper articles, two more members of the ACMD have resigned in protest over the firing, and a mass resignation of the 31-member body may come after a meeting next Monday. Johnson told parliament Monday that he had agreed to a request from the ACMD for an urgent meeting, but he also told parliament he had ordered a review of the ACMD to satisfy ministers that the panel is "discharging its functions" and that it still represents a value to the public.

The ACMD's charge is to "make recommendations to government on the control of dangerous or otherwise harmful drugs, including classification and scheduling under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and its regulations," its web page explains. "It considers any substance which is being or appears to be misused and of which is having or appears to be capable of having harmful effects sufficient to cause a social problem. It also carries out in-depth inquiries into aspects of drug use that are causing particular concern in the UK, with the aim of producing considered reports that will be helpful to policy makers and practitioners."

In 2004 the Labor government down-scheduled marijuana on the Advisory Committee's advice, shifting it from Class B, the middle rank in Britain's drug classification scheme, to Class C, the least harmful. The maximum sentence for possession of a Class C drug is two years; for Class B drugs it is five years. Tensions between the ACMD and Labor began rising last year, when Prime Minister Gordon Brown reversed that decision, saying he wanted to send a strong message that use of the drug is unacceptable. Tensions rose again when the ACMD recommended that Ecstasy be down-scheduled from Class A (most harmful) to Class B, and the Brown government promptly ignored that advice too.

At that point, Nutt went public with his criticisms of then Home Secretary Jacqui Smith. He also famously compared the dangers of Ecstasy to those of horse-riding, deeply offending both the horsey set and the Labor government. Smith told Nutt to shut up, and he managed to do so until last week.

Last week, in a lecture and briefing paper at the Center for Crime and Justice Studies at King's College London, Nutt accused Smith of "distorting and devaluing" scientific evidence when she decided to reclassify marijuana. He also said that Ecstasy and LSD are less dangerous than alcohol and tobacco.

"We have to accept young people like to experiment -- with drugs and other potentially harmful activities -- and what we should be doing in all of this is to protect them from harm at this stage of their lives," he said. "We therefore have to provide more accurate and credible information. If you think that scaring kids will stop them using, you are probably wrong."

Nutt's briefing paper included a ranking of various licit and illicit drugs by comparative harm. Heroin and cocaine were ranked the most harmful in Nutt's scheme, with alcohol fifth, marijuana ninth, LSD fourteenth, and Ecstasy eighteenth.

"We need a full and open discussion of the evidence and a mature debate about what the drug laws are for -- and whether they are doing their job," Nutt said.

That was too much for Home Minister Alan Johnson. He told parliament Monday that Smith had warned Nutt not to publicly disagree with ministry decisions again. "Well, it has happened again," said Johnson. "On Thursday October 29 Professor Nutt chose, without prior notification to my department, to initiate a debate on drug policy in the national media, returning to the February decisions, and accusing my predecessor or distorting and devaluing scientific research. As a result, I have lost confidence in Professor Nutt's ability to be my principal adviser on drugs."

Prime Minister Brown is standing behind Johnson. An official spokesman said the firing was based on the "important principle" that advisers should present advice to ministers but not speak out against their policy decisions. "It would be regrettable if there were other resignations, but this is an important point of principle," the spokesman added. "The government is absolutely committed to the importance of having independent advice and evidence presented by advisory bodies."

Nutt defended himself and attacked the government in a London Sunday times opinion piece. "My sacking has cast a huge shadow over the relationship of science to policy," he wrote. "Several of the science experts from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) have resigned in protest and it seems likely that many others will follow suit. This means the Home Office no longer has a functioning advisory group, which is very unfortunate given the ever-increasing problems of drugs and the emergence of new ones. Also it seems unlikely that any 'true' scientist -- one who can only speak the truth -- will be able to work for this, or future, Home Secretaries.

One of the ACMD members who resigned, chemist Les King, said ministers were putting inappropriate pressure on scientists to make drug policy decisions based on political -- not scientific -- reasons. "It's being asked to rubber stamp a predetermined position," he said, warning that others could leave the council over the brouhaha. "If sufficient members do resign, the committee will no longer be able to operate," King said.

Scientist and Labor MP Robert Winston said Nutt had a "very reasonable" point about the relative dangers of legal and illegal drugs, and that he was disappointed by the firing. "I think that if governments appoint expert advice they shouldn't dismiss it so lightly," he said. "I think it shows a rather poor understanding of the value of science."

Reuters reported Saturday that the firing is causing consternation in scientific circles. Scientists told the news agency the decision could undermine the integrity of science in policymaking, including critical areas like health, the environment, education, and defense.

"Scientific data and their independent interpretation underpin evidence-based policy making -- and nobody rational could possibly want a government based on any other type of policy making," said Chris Higgins, chair of an advisory committee on spongiform encephalopathy, or "mad cow" disease.

Maurice Elphick, a professor of animal physiology and neuroscience at Queen Mary, University of London, said politicians should look elsewhere if they wanted data to back social policies and allow science to maintain objectivity. "If, however, politicians really do want to have an objective assessment of the relative risks to health of different recreational drugs, then they should listen to what the medical scientist has to say, not sack him." he said.

Press Release -- New Report: Marijuana Arrests Don't Affect Use; Penalty Structure Boosts Illegal Market

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                             
NOVEMBER 5, 2009           

 

Most Exhaustive Set of Marijuana Arrest Data Ever Shows No Relation Between Arrests and Use Rates; Penalty Structure Boosts Illicit Market
Florida Has Toughest Penalties, Arrest Rate Highest in D.C, Black Arrest Rate 3 Times That of Whites

CONTACT: Bruce Mirken, MPP director of communications …………… 415-585-6404 or 202-215-4205

                  Jon Gettman ………………………………………………...……………………540-822-5739

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The most exhaustive collection of data ever on U.S. marijuana arrests, penalties and related information, released today, finds no relationship between marijuana arrest and use rates, while penalty structures act as a price support mechanism that boosts the illegal market. Assembled by Jon Gettman, Adjunct Assistant Professor in Criminal Justice at Shenandoah University in Winchester, Virginia, the new report finds:

·      Marijuana arrests have nearly doubled since 1991, while levels of marijuana use remained fundamentally unchanged.

·      Penalties that escalate for increased amounts of marijuana encourage consumers to make multiple small purchases, acting as a price support for the illicit market.

·      Florida has the nation’s harshest marijuana penalties, while the District of Columbia has the highest arrest rate for marijuana offenses.

·      Although the rate of marijuana use is only about 25 percent higher for African-Americans than for whites, blacks are three times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession as whites.

         “These figures paint a devastating portrait of a failed policy that burns through tax dollars while doing nothing but harm,” said Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, D.C. “Most Americans agree that marijuana prohibition doesn’t work, even if most politicians aren’t yet ready to publicly agree with their constituents.”

          Gettman’s summary report, “Marijuana Arrests in the United States (2007),” is available at http://www.drugscience.org/Archive/bcr7/bcr7_index.html. The full Marijuana Policy Almanac, including state rankings and individual reports for all 50 states plus the District of Columbia, is at http://www.drugscience.org/States/US/US_home.htm.

         With more than 29,000 members and 100,000 e-mail subscribers nationwide, the Marijuana Policy Project is the largest marijuana policy reform organization in the United States. MPP believes that the best way to minimize the harm associated with marijuana is to regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol. For more information, please visit http://MarijuanaPolicy.org.

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Town Hall Forum: Exploring the Role of the Medical Community in Shaping Drug Policy

Town Hall Forum Tuesday at Columbia Medical School: Exploring the Role of the Medical Community in Shaping Drug Policy Topics to be Discussed: Marijuana Policy, Heroin Maintenance Programs and Other Health Strategies to Reduce the Death, Disease and Suffering Associated with both Drug Use and Drug Policies Nationally and locally, a shift in the 40-year-old drug war is underway. President Obama has stated he wants to advance a public health approach to drug policy, and Gil Kerlikowske, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, has called for an end to the term “war on drugs” because it signifies a war on people. Congress is close to removing the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine and ending the federal ban on funding syringe exchanges, which reduce the spread of blood-borne diseases. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder instructed federal agencies not to target patients who comply with state medical marijuana laws, raising new questions about federal marijuana policies. In New York, Governor Paterson enacted reform of the Rockefeller Drug Laws, signifying a shift away from a criminal justice-oriented approach to drug policy in favor of a health-oriented approach. What is the role of the medical community in shaping health-oriented approaches to drug policy? This town hall-style seminar will explore the role of the medical and research community in shaping a more evidenced-based drug policy. Drs. H. Westley Clark and Ethan Nadelmann will give presentations on what components an evidenced-based drug policy should include, and discuss the role the medical community can play in their development. Speakers: H. Westley Clark, M.D., J.D., M.P.H. Director of the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment under the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Ethan Nadelmann, Ph.D., J.D. Founder and Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance, the nation's leading organization promoting policy alternatives to the drug war that are grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights. Moderated by Dr. Carl Hart, Departments of Psychiatry and Psychology of Columbia University This event is free and open to the public.
Date: 
Tue, 10/27/2009 - 12:00pm - 2:00pm
Location: 
1051 Riverside Drive
New York, NY 10032
United States

Exploring the Role of the Medical Community in Shaping Drug Policy

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                Contact: Tony Newman 646-335-5384

October 26, 2009                                                                                  Gabriel Sayegh 646-335-2264

Town Hall Forum Tuesday at Columbia Medical School: Exploring the Role of the Medical Community in Shaping Drug Policy

Topics to be Discussed: Marijuana Policy, Heroin Maintenance Programs and Other Health Strategies to Reduce the Death, Disease and Suffering Associated with both Drug Use and Drug Policies

Nationally and locally, a shift in the 40-year-old drug war is underway. President Obama has stated he wants to advance a public health approach to drug policy, and Gil Kerlikowske, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, has called for an end to the term “war on drugs” because it signifies a war on people. Congress is close to removing the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine and ending the federal ban on funding syringe exchanges, which reduce the spread of blood-borne diseases. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder instructed federal agencies not to target patients who comply with state medical marijuana laws, raising new questions about federal marijuana policies. In New York, Governor Paterson enacted reform of the Rockefeller Drug Laws, signifying a shift away from a criminal justice-oriented approach to drug policy in favor of a health-oriented approach.

What is the role of the medical community in shaping health-oriented approaches to drug policy? This town hall-style seminar will explore the role of the medical and research community in shaping a more evidenced-based drug policy. Drs. H. Westley Clark and Ethan Nadelmann will give presentations on what components an evidenced-based drug policy should include, and discuss the role the medical community can play in their development.

Speakers:

H. Westley Clark, M.D., J.D., M.P.H.

Director of the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment under the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Ethan Nadelmann, Ph.D., J.D.

Founder and Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance, the nation's leading organization promoting policy alternatives to the drug war that are grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights.

Moderated by Dr. Carl Hart, Departments of Psychiatry and Psychology of Columbia University

Time:              Tuesday, October 27th 2009 from 11:00 am - 1:00 pm

Place:              First Floor Hellman Auditorium

                        New York State Psychiatric Institute

1051 Riverside Drive, New York, NY 10032

This event is free and open to the public.

###

Location: 
New York, NY
United States

Press Release: Pharmacy Board ordered to appear in Polk County District court again on October 9th

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 5, 2009 CONTACT: Carl Olsen at 515-343-9933 Pharmacy Board ordered to appear in Polk County District court again on October 9th The Iowa Board of Pharmacy will conduct a third in a series of four monthly public hearings on the medical value of marijuana. The hearing is scheduled to take place Wednesday, October 7, 2009, Noon to 7:00 p.m. in the 3rd Floor Auditorium of the Bowen Science Building, University of Iowa, Iowa City. Carl Olsen and George McMahon of Iowans for Medical Marijuana will attend the hearing in Iowa City and will be available to answer questions from the press and public. On April 24, Polk County District Judge Joel D. Novak ruled that the Pharmacy Board unlawfully rejected a petition by Iowans for Medical Marijuana’s Board of Directors to remove marijuana from its current classification as a substance having no accepted medical use in treatment in the United States. The petition was based on the fact that marijuana has been accepted for medical use in 13 states in the United States. On July 21, the Board of Pharmacy again rejected the petition, ruling that accepted medical use in treatment in the United States means accepted medical use in all 50 states. The Iowa Board of Pharmacy insists it can determine whether marijuana has accepted medical use in the United States based on science, not on 13 state laws. Another court hearing has been scheduled for October 9 in the Polk County District Court to review the Board’s July 21st supplemental ruling. Whatever the science shows, it’s clear the Iowa Board of Pharmacy has no authority to recommend marijuana be accepted for medical use in any state other than Iowa. The authority of a state administrative agency ends at its own state’s borders. ###
Location: 
Iowa City, IA
United States

Press Release: 33 U.S. Clinical Studies Show Marijuana's Medical Use, New Journal Article Says

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE   
SEPTEMBER 14, 2009

33 U.S. Clinical Studies Show Marijuana's Medical Use, Journal of Opioid Management Article Says
Contrary to Opponents' Claims, Controlled Studies Have Repeatedly Demonstrated Safety, Efficacy


CONTACT: Bruce Mirken, MPP director of communications ............... 415-585-6404 or 202-215-4205


SEATTLE, WASHINGTON -- In a landmark article in the Journal of Opioid Management, University of Washington researcher Sunil Aggarwal and colleagues document 33 U.S. controlled clinical trials published from 1971 to 2009 confirming that marijuana is a safe, effective medicine for specific medical conditions.    


     Under federal law, marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug, defining it as having high potential for abuse, unsafe for use even under medical supervision, and lacking currently accepted medical uses in the U.S. "In fact," Aggarwal and colleagues write, "nearly all of the 33 published controlled clinical trials conducted in the United States have shown significant and measurable benefits in subjects receiving the treatment."  Additionally, the paper documents the growing acceptance of the therapeutic use of marijuana among organized medicine groups and estimates that "in 2008, approximately 7,000 American physicians have made such authorizations for a total of approximately 400,000 patients."


     Regarding abuse and safety issues, Aggarwal et al. write that withdrawal symptoms -- a classic symptom of drug dependence -- are notably absent from the published trials, while "the vast majority of reported adverse events were not serious ... It is clear that as an analgesic, cannabis is extremely safe with minimal toxicity."


     Unfortunately, the article continues, ignorance regarding marijuana remains widespread in the medical community. "There remains a near complete absence of education about cannabinoid medicine in any level of medical training," Aggarwal writes.


     "This is arguably the most thorough review of the literature on medical marijuana since the Institute of Medicine report over a decade ago, with a trove of data that wasn't available to the IOM," said Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project. "It is simply incomprehensible that a medicine that is so clearly safe and effective remains banned from medical use by federal law and the laws of 37 states."


     The article, "Medicinal Use of Cannabis in the United States: Historical Perspectives, Current Trends, and Future Directions," is available at http://tinyurl.com/m9oo44. A complete list of the 33 U.S. clinical trials is available from Sunil Aggarwal at [email protected] or 206-375-3785.


     With more than 27,000 members and 100,000 e-mail subscribers nationwide, the Marijuana Policy Project is the largest marijuana policy reform organization in the United States. MPP believes that the best way to minimize the harm associated with marijuana is to regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol. For more information, please visit http://MarijuanaPolicy.org.

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Advocacy Anti-patterns

Software developers study anti-patterns. The practice can be applied to advocating social change, i.e. fighting the drug war.

Inspired by some of the comments I've read here, I've begun observing and cataloging some common anti-patterns I find amongst those of us struggling to end, or at least mitigate the harms inflicted by, drug prohibition. My first post describes the apathy of despair anti-pattern, and touches on the apathy of denial pattern one often finds in our opponents. The entire post can be read here. I welcome your comments. www.glenstark.net

Press Release: Seton Hall Center for Health & Pharm Law Supports NJ Medical Marijuana Act

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: August 27, 2009 CONTACT: Ken @ (609) 394-2137 Seton Hall Center for Health & Pharm Law Supports NJ Medical Marijuana Act WHO: Seton Hall University School of Law Center for Health & Pharmaceutical Law & Policy WHAT: Published support for the “New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act” WHEN: August 26, 2009 WHERE: A Position Paper in HEALTH REFORM WATCH available at: http://www.healthreformwatch.com/2009/08/26/position-paper-in-support-of... WHY: Because the legislation has been carefully drafted to allow New Jersey residents with debilitating medical conditions access to marijuana to ease their suffering without creating an undue risk of abuse or diversion. The Seton Hall University Center for Health & Pharmaceutical Law & Policy published a Position Paper today that supports the passage of the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act. The Center said that the legislation has been carefully drafted to allow New Jersey residents with debilitating medical conditions access to marijuana to ease their suffering without creating an undue risk of abuse or diversion. The Center cited available medical evidence that supports the use of marijuana to treat each of the debilitating medical conditions set forth in the Act: AIDS/HIV; cachexia (wasting syndrome); cancer; glaucoma; severe and persistent muscle spasms; severe nausea; severe or chronic pain; and seizures. The Center also addressed the issues of abuse and diversion. The Center noted that no state that has passed a medical marijuana law has subsequently experienced an increase in recreational marijuana use among its children and youth. The Act’s multiple safeguards against abuse and diversion of medical marijuana provide further reassurance, it noted. If passed, the Act would be among the most restrictive of all the states’ medical marijuana laws. Thirteen states, covering about 25% of the U.S. population, currently have medical marijuana programs. On February 23, the New Jersey Senate voted 22-16 to pass S119, the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act. The Assembly health committee voted 8-1 to pass an amended version of the bill on June 4. The bill must now pass the full Assembly. If the amended bill clears the Assembly, it would return to the Senate for a second vote because of the changes before it goes to Gov. Jon Corzine (D), who has said that he will sign the bill if it makes it to his desk. The mission of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana--New Jersey, a 501(c)(3) public charity, is to educate the public about the benefits of safe and legal access to medical marijuana. The Coalition is grateful for this well-researched and well-written Position Paper. For more info, contact: Ken Wolski, RN, MPA, Executive Director Coalition for Medical Marijuana--New Jersey, Inc. www.cmmnj.org 844 Spruce St., Trenton, NJ 08648 609.394.2137 [email protected]
Location: 
NJ
United States

Press Release: Study -- Marijuana May Protect Against Alcohol Brain Damage

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE   
AUGUST 21, 2009   

Study: Marijuana May Protect Against Alcohol Brain Damage

CONTACT: Bruce Mirken, MPP director of communications ............... 415-585-6404 or 202-215-4205

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A study just published online by the journal Neurotoxicology and Teratology suggests that marijuana may protect the brain from some of the damage caused by binge drinking.

     The study, by researchers at the University of California San Diego, used a type of high-tech scan called diffusion tensor imaging to compare microscopic changes in brain white matter. The subjects were students aged 16-to-19, divided into three groups: binge drinkers (defined as having five or more drinks at one sitting for boys or four or more for girls), binge drinkers who also smoked marijuana, and a control group who had very little or no experience with either alcohol or drugs.

     As expected, the binge-drinking-only group showed evidence of white matter damage in eight regions examined, as demonstrated by lower fractional anisotropy (FA) scores. But in a finding the researchers describe as "unexpected," the binge-drinking/marijuana group had lower FA scores than the controls in only three of eight regions, and in seven regions the binge-drinking/marijuana group had higher scores -- indicating less damage -- than the binge drinkers who did not use marijuana.

     Brain white matter tracts were "more coherent in adolescents who binge drink and use marijuana than in adolescents who report only binge drinking," the researchers wrote. "It is possible that marijuana may have some neuroprotective properties in mitigating alcohol-related oxidative stress or excitotoxic cell death," as has already been shown in lab and animal studies.

     "This study suggests that not only is marijuana safer than alcohol, it may actually protect against some of the damage that booze causes," said Steve Fox, Marijuana Policy Project director of state campaigns and co-author of the new book, "Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink?" (which hit number 17 on the Amazon.com bestseller list). "It's far better for teens not to drink or smoke marijuana, but our nation's leaders send a dangerous message by defending laws that encourage the use of alcohol over marijuana."

     REFERENCE: Jacobus, J. et al. "White matter integrity in adolescents with histories of marijuana use and binge drinking." Neurotoxicology and Teratologyhttp://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ntt.2009.07.006

     With more than 27,000 members and 100,000 e-mail subscribers nationwide, the Marijuana Policy Project is the largest marijuana policy reform organization in the United States. MPP believes that the best way to minimize the harm associated with marijuana is to regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol. For more information, please visit http://MarijuanaPolicy.org.

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Ecstacy and the war on empathy.

I recently read an article on the Sotomeyer Hearings, which discussed how "Republicans Question Need for Empathy". This led me to contemplate how our entire war on drugs is a war on empathy, particularly the drug policies started by the Nixon administration. These were of course part of an overall strategy against the counter culture which preached (among other things) increased empathy. The war on drugs was one of the earliest and longest lasting fronts in the culture war which has played such a large part of American politics in my life time. I think the rather disproportionate vilification of ecstacy is in no small part because of an anti-empathy attitude among fundamentalists. So I wrote a little article about it here. Perhaps some of you would enjoy reading it. I look forward to reading any comments.

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