War on Drugs has failed – ENCOD Article

Below is an article I recently wrote for the excellent European drug policy reform organisation, European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug PoliciesENCOD.  And here is the link to the original on the ENCOD website.

I have had the honour of serving as the European Director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) for the last four years, and have been thrilled to oversee the establishment of thriving national groups in the UK and Germany, with the possibility of more on the horizon. In my view, law enforcement offers a unique and critical voice to the international drug policy reform debate.

LEAP, founded in 2002, today has over 150,000 supporters and speakers in 20 countries. We consist of police officers, lawyers, judges, prison governors, probation officers, intelligence and military personnel, and even international drug czars. What unites us is a shared professional knowledge, experienced across the full spectrum of law enforcement, that drug prohibition has egregiously failed.

Over the last 50 years global drug use has exponentially increased, the potency of illegal drugs has increased, they are ubiquitously available, and the price of street drugs has gone through the floor. Faced with this information, how can our governments claim they are winning the “war on drugs” to create a “drug free world”?

Quite the opposite – prohibition has enabled a global and exponentially growing black market.

I became aware of drug prohibition failure while I was working for MI5 back in the 1990s. One of my postings involved investigating terrorist logistics, which meant that I had to work closely with UK Customs across the UK. This experience made me aware that the “war” had been lost. It also made me very aware, early on, that there was a massive overlap between the illegal drug market and terrorist funding.

The US DEA estimates that over half the designated terrorist groups around the world gain the bulk of their funding from drugs money. So on the one hand prohibiting drugs and fighting the “war on drugs” sends the market underground and the resulting massive profits provide a key revenue stream to terrorists, not least ISIS which controls part of the flow of heroin from central Asia into Europe. On the other hand the West is also waging the “war on terror” to fight these same groups.

So what our governments give the military-security complex with one hand, they also give with the other.

But is not all bad news. Countries in Latin America and states in North America are legalising cannabis, safe injection rooms have rolled out across Europe, Canada is looking to legalise cannabis, and the decriminalisation of drugs has been hugely successful in countries such as Portugal and the Czech Republic.

Even at the UN level, which recently held a once-in-a-generation General Assembly Special Session in New York, the concept of harm reduction is at least now being tabled by some countries, although the progress is glacial.

The times may not be changing fast enough for many of us in the drug policy reform world, despite baby steps being made in the right direction by some countries. Yet even the more progressive countries within the international community are still constrained by the legal straight jacket that is the UN drug treaty framework.

And while harm reduction is good progress in that it no longer criminalises those who choose to use, it utterly fails to address the bigger problem that I mentioned before: that the criminalisation of certain drugs drives the market underground, providing huge profits to organised crime cartels and terrorist groups around the world every year. Prohibition has unleashed the biggest crime wave the world has ever seen. As with alcohol prohibiton in 20th century America, only legalisation and regulation will remove this market from the greedy grasp of criminals.

I have just watched a old BBC Newsnight debate between comedian and actor, Russell Brand, and right-wing writer and commentator, Peter Hitchens. The debate encapsulated the entrenched positions of both the reformist and prohibitionist camps. The former was represented by Brand, a former drug user in recovery, advocating abstinence-based therapy. The latter by Hitchens, an anti-drug warrior largely approaching the issue from a morality position, who argued that taking drugs is a crime and that all such crimes should be prosecuted as a deterrence.

While naturally I lean more towards the position of Brand, who two years ago electrified a rather turgid annual UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting in Vienna by calling for full drug legalisation, and also while respecting his personal experiences, I do think he’s missing a trick.

Yes, those with drug dependencies need help and compassion not prison, but the vast majority of those who choose to use do so recreationally, just for fun, and never develop an addiction, just as only a minority of those who choose to drink go on to develop alcoholism. And yet the parameters of the drug debate rarely stray beyond the well-worn issue of “problem” users, both amongst reformist as well as prohibitionist circles. We do not call all drinkers alcoholics so why, in the public discourse, are all users of other drugs clumped together as “addicts” in high-profile debates?

As for Hitchens, I remain baffled. He seems to think that all laws are immutable, graven in stone with words from on high, and as such must therefore be strictly enforced. This is tosh. All laws change and evolve to reflect the changing mores of the societies which write them. If this were not to happen, we in the West would still burn witches, own slaves, not allow women to vote, outlaw homosexuality and, in America of course, alcohol would remain prohibited. Yet now, all these outdated, unjust, and cruel laws have been swept away,

In 2014 LEAP published a Proposed Amendment of the UN Treaties, in which we argue that all drugs should be brought within the orbit of the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (2003). We argue that only full regulation and control of the drug market will end the scourge of the illegal global drug trade. Until this happens at least $320 billion per year profits will continue to benefit only crime cartels and terrorist organisations.

The “war on drugs” has failed.

Albert Einstein, who was not exactly a dullard, said that the very definition of insanity was to continue to do the same thing, even if it repeatedly fails, in the hope that you will eventually get a different outcome. That is what we are seeing with prohibition.

It is time for this insanity to cease.

Webstock in New Zealand

Webstock_2016_2I just want to say a huge thank you to the organisers of the 10th Webstock Festival in New Zealand earlier this month – definitely worth the interminable flights.

This is a tech-focused conference that very much looks at the bigger picture and joins a whole number of different societal dots.

Plus they look after their “inspirational speakers” exceedingly well, with scary coach trips out of Wellington and up the cliffs, a chance to appreciate the finer aspects of bowling at a NZ working men’s club, and a rip-roaring party at the end of the festival. It was great to have the time to chat with so many amazing people.

Oh, and I experienced my first earthquake – 5.7 on the Richter Scale. Slightly distant, but still impressive when you’re in a swaying 5th floor hotel room.  I initially thought a bomb might have gone off in the basement….  Thankfully, NZ hotels are made of pliable, if stern, stuff.

I was also shunted on to Radio New Zealand for a half hour interview, discussing whistleblowers, spies, drugs and surveillance.  Here it is – it was fun to do – so thank you NZ.

War on drugs meets terrorism

Last month I had the pleasure of attending the biennial Drug Policy Alliance shindig in Washington on behalf of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (www.leap.cc).  We also held our annual LEAP board meeting ahead of the DPA, and it was great to have the chance to catch up again with my fellow directors.

I’ve been the European Director for LEAP for a while now and am thrilled to say that LEAP Germany launched (LEAP_DE_Launch_Article) last September in the Bundestag in Berlin, with some senior police officers, lawyers and judges as the founding members.  LEAP UK is also up and running and will be holding an official launch event early next year, so watch this space.

While in Washington all the directors were interviewed about our specific areas of interest around the failed war on drugs.  Here is a video of former prosecutor, Inge Fryklund, and myself discussing the links between the war on drugs and terrorism:

LEAP Directors discuss link between the war on drugs and terrorism from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Next year we have UNGASS in April in New York – the UN General Assembly Special Session – the first such since 1998 when the UN decided it would achieve a drug free world by 2008.

Well, that was obviously a raging success, as drugs are cheaper, more easily accessible and more potent than ever before in the key consumer areas such as North America and Europe, while whole regions of the world comprising the producer and transit countries are being decimated by the violence attendant on the drug trade as organised crime cartels and terrorism fight for control of a highly lucrative trade.

UNGASS 2015 should provide the world with a chance to rethink this failed policy of prohibition.  Certainly the tone has shifted since 1998 to at least an understanding of the benefits within some consumer countries of de-penalisation of drug use – those who choose to use their preferred substance are no longer criminalised, and the estimated 15% who go on to develop dependencies are in many Western countries now offered health interventions rather than prison.

However, from our law enforcement perspective, this still leaves the drug trade in the hands of organised crime and terrorist organisations such as ISIS. The UN has itself variously put the annual illegal drug trade profits at anywhere between $320 billion and half a trillion dollars per year. This is the biggest crime wave the world has ever seen, and we need the UN to develop some joined-up thinking and produce a radical and effective policy to deal with it: regulate, control and tax.

The war on drugs funds terrorism

Here is a short excerpt from a panel discussion I took part in after the London premiere of the new cult anti-prohibition film, “The Culture High“. This is an amazing film that pulls together so many big issues around the failed global 50 year policy of the war on drugs. I seriously recommend watching it.

Also in the clip: Brett Harvey (the director of the film) Niamh Eastwood (the director of Release) Jason Reed (executive director of the nascent LEAP UK – watch this space) and comedian and compere Rufus Hound.

wod

LEAP talk at Akzept drug conference in Bielefeld

Here’s a talk I did last week at the international Akzept Conference in Bielefeld about prohibition and the failed “war on drugs”:

Akzept Kongress 2013 from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Interview on London Real TV

Here’s my recent interview on London Real TV, discussing all things whistleblowing, tech, intelligence, and the war on drugs.  Thanks Brian and Colin for a fun hour!

London Real TV Interview – coming soon

Here is a taster of my recent interview on London Real TV. It was diverse, lively and fun, and should be broadcast in full tomorrow:

Annie Machon – Whistleblower – London Real TV from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

The Culture High

Culture_High_InterviewI had a fabulous time doing an interview on behalf of LEAP for the new anti-prohibition film, The Culture High.

Made by Adam Scorgie, who directed the cult film, The Union, his new work promises to be the film on the subject of cannabis prohibition.  Thanks to the team for a wide-ranging, lively and stimulating interview.

If you want to support their work, click here.  And the film will be released next summer.

Keeping Abreast of Privacy Issues

In the wake of the Edward Snowden disclosures about endemic global surveillance, the rather threadbare old argument about “if you have done nothing wrong and have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear” has been trotted out by many Big Brother apologists.

But it’s not about doing anything wrong, it’s about having an enshrined right to privacy – as recognised in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights agreed in 1948.  And this was enshrined in the wake of the horrors of World War 2, and for very good reason.  If you are denied privacy to read or listen, if you are denied privacy to speak or write, and if you are denied privacy about whom you meet and see, then freedom has died and totalitarianism has begun.

Those were the lessons learned from the growth of fascism in the 1930s and 1940s.  If you lose the right to privacy, you also lose the ability to push back against dictatorships, corrupt governments, and all the attendant horrors.

How quickly we forget the lessons of history: not just the rights won over the last century, but those fought and died for over centuries. We recent generations in the West have grown too bloated on ease, too financially fat and socially complacent, to fully appreciate the freedoms we are casually throwing away.

body_armourSo what sparked this mini-rant? This article I found in my Twitter stream (thanks @LossofPrivacy). It appears that a US police department in Detroit has just sent out all the traditionally vital statistics of its female officers to the entire department – weight, height and even the bra size of individual female police officers have been shared with the staff, purely because of an email gaffe.

Well people make mistakes and hit the wrong buttons. So this may not sound like much, but apparently the women in question are not happy, and rightly so. In the still macho environment of law enforcement, one can but cringe at the “joshing” that followed.

Putting aside the obvious question of whether we want our police officers to be tooled up like Robocop, this minor debacle highlights a key point of privacy. It’s not that one needs to hide one’s breasts as a woman – they are pretty much obvious for chrissakes – but does everyone need to know the specifics, or is that personal information one step too far? And as for a woman’s weight, don’t even go there…..

So these cops in Detroit, no doubt all up-standing pillars of their communities, might have learned a valuable lesson. It is not a “them and us” situation – the “them” being “terrorists”, activists, communists, liberals, Teabaggers – whatever the theme du jour happens to be.

It is about a fundamental need for privacy as human beings, as the Duchess of Cambridge also discovered last year. This is not just about height, bra size or, god forbid, one’s weight. This is about bigger issues if not bigger boobs. We all have something we want kept private, be it bank statements, bonking, or bowel movements.

However, with endemic electronic surveillance, we have already lost our privacy in our communications and in our daily routines – in London it is estimated that we are caught on CCTV more than 300 times a day just going about our daily business.

More importantly, in this era of financial, economic and political crises, we are losing our freedom to read and watch, to speak and meet, and to protest without fear of surveillance. It is the Stasi’s wet dream, realised by those unassuming chaps (and obviously the chapesses with boobs) in law enforcement, the NSA, GCHQ et al.

But it is not just the nation state level spies we have to worry about. Even if we think that we could not possibly be important enough to be on that particular radar (although Mr Snowden has made it abundantly clear that we all are), there is a burgeoning private sector of corporate intelligence companies who are only too happy to watch, infiltrate and destabilise social, media and protest groups. “Psyops” and “astro-turfing” are terrifying words for anyone interested in human rights, activism and civil liberties. But this is the new reality.

So, what can we do? Let’s remember that most law enforcement people in the varied agencies are us – they want a stable job that feels valued, they want to provide for their families, they want to do the right thing. Reach out to them, and help those who do have the courage to speak out and expose wrongdoing, be it law enforcement professionals speaking out against the failed “war on drugs” (such as those in LEAP) or intelligence whistleblowers exposing war crimes, illegal surveillance and torture.

Thomas_PaineBut also have the courage to protest and throw the tired old argument back in the faces of the security proto-tyrants. This is what the founding fathers of the USA did: they risked being hanged as traitors by the British Crown in 1776, yet they still made a stand. Using the “seditious” writings of Tom Paine, who ended up on the run from the UK, they had the courage to speak out, meet up and fight for what they believed in, and they produced a good first attempt at a workable democracy.

Unfortunately, the USA establishment has long been corrupted and subverted by corporatist interests. And unfortunately for the rest of the world, with the current geo-political power balance, this still has an impact on most of us, and provides a clear example of how the changing political landscape can shift the goal posts of “acceptable” behaviour – one day your are an activist waving a placard, the next you are potentially deemed to be a “terrorist”.

But also remember – we are all, potentially, Tom Paine. And as the endless, nebulous, and frankly largely bogus “war on terror” continues to ravage the world and our democracies, we all need to be.

In this post-PRISM world, we need to take individual responsibility to protect our privacy and ensure we have free media. At least then we can freely read, write, speak, and meet with our fellow citizens. We need this privacy to be the new resistance to the creeping totalitarianism of the global elites.

Read the seminal books of Tom Paine (while you still can), weep, and then go forth…..

With thanks to my mother for the title of this piece. It made me laugh.

OHM 2013 – Geeks and Drugs

ohm2013_logoAs I have mentioned before, the Dutch geekfest Observe, Hack, Make (OHM 2013) was not just a chance for geeks to play with cool tech toys, the whole event also had a very strong political track. While there was inevitably a lot of focus on whistleblowing in the wake of the Snowden disclosures, another speaker track attracted a lot of attention: global drug policy and the failure of prohibition.

This was a track I suggested and I was pleased that three speakers were given the chance to discuss this on the main stage. While coming to the subject from radically different perspectives and experiences, the underlying message of all three was that the “war on drugs” was an abject failure that caused massive and increasing harm to the global population.

John Gilmore was first up. John made his dosh during the tech boom, and has since spent significant sums trying to reform the failed drug policies within his home country, the good ol’ US of A. Of course, there, it was always going to be an uphill battle.  The USA is the fountain head of prohibition, ramming the drug conventions of 1961, 1971, and 1988 through the United Nations by brute diplomatic force.

To this day, the US remains the key power ensuring that the UN upholds these conventions, despite the fact that the policy of prohibition has manifestly failed, despite the fact that many countries have experimented successfully with harm reduction and decriminalisation of personal use, and despite the fact that these laws are from a different era and are wildly out of date – in the 1960s HIV and AIDS had yet to emerge, and rapidly mutating “legal highs” were unknown.

And let’s not forget that the USA is the world’s biggest consumer country of drugs. It is America that drives this illegal market. And it is in America that 20 states have legalised the medicinal use of cannabis, and two states have fully legalised the use even, gasp, purely for pleasure. The hypocrisy is breathtaking.

But change is afoot. Primarily, I believe, because the USA no longer needs the “war on drugs” as a pretext for invading/interfering with other countries, now it has the “war on terror”. But also because of the excellent work of research and educational civil society groups. The Beckley Foundation, set up by Amanda Feilding in 1998, is one such.

Amanda gave an excellent talk, focusing on the dual nature of Beckley’s work: policy and scientific research. Her view is that sound national and international policy cannot be developed unless it is based on evidence, research and facts. Yet the current “war on drugs” has become almost an article of faith that too many politicians are afraid to challenge.

Beckley aims to provide the research and the facts. It funds and establishes scientific research that enables leading scientists, such as Professor David Nutt in the UK, to research the potential therapeutic benefits of currently illegal drugs, and also to assess the different societal harms caused by all drugs, both licit and illicit. To date, the prohibition orthodoxy has inhibited free scientific research to the detriment of many people across the planet.

Amanda was pleased to be able to announce two new research projects just starting in the UK, into the potential therapeutic benefits of psilocybin (magic mushrooms) and LSD. Beckley has also recently commissioned a cost benefit analysis of the legalisation of (only) cannabis is the UK. The results will be formally announced in September, so for now I shall confine myself to saying that they are encouraging.

Using such research, Beckley is thus in a position to advise governments about developing fact-base policy. One of the key areas of the world investigating potentially beneficial alternatives to prohibition is Latin America, and Amanda has developed close working relationships with a number of governments across the region.

And understandably so – Latin America, as one of the key producer regions of the world, has been ravaged by the drug wars. Violent organised crime cartels have grown so wealthy and powerful that they can subvert whole countries, corrupt governments and law enforcement, and terrorise whole populations in their quest to dominate the illegal drugs trade.

In Mexico, since the war on drugs was ramped up 7 years ago, it is estimated that over 70,000 innocent people have been kidnapped, tortured and killed in drug-related violence. Many have simply been disappeared.

Finally I also did a talk at OHM as the European director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP).

LEAP is a unique voice in the global drug policy debate. The organisation, only 11 years old, has over 100,000 supporters and a presence in 120 countries. We consist of police officers, judges, lawyers, prison governors, intelligence personnel, and even drug czars. What unites us is a shared professional knowledge, experienced across the spectrum of drug law enforcement, that prohibition has egregiously failed.

Over the last 50 years drug use has exponentially increased, the potency of illegal drugs has increased, they are ubiquitously available, and the price of street drugs has gone through the floor. Faced with this information, how can our governments claim they are winning the “war on drugs” to create a “drug free world”? Quite the opposite – prohibition has enabled a global and exponentially growing black market.

I became aware of the drug prohibition failure while I was working for MI5. One of my postings involved investigating terrorist logistics, which meant that I had to work closely with UK Customs across the UK. This experience made me very aware that the “war” had been lost.  It also made me very aware, early on, that there was a massive overlap between the illegal drug market and terrorist funding.

The US DEA estimates that over half of the designated terrorist groups around the world gain the bulk of their funding from drugs money. So on the one hand prohibiting drugs and fighting the “war on drugs” sends the market underground and that black money provides a key revenue stream to the terrorists. On the other hand the West is also waging the “war on terror”.  What they give with one hand they take away with another.

One stark example of this is the current melt-down in Libya – country that was “gratefully” liberated by NATO two years ago. The dictator was tortured and killed, MI6 and the CIA were helping the “spontaneous” rebels. the infrastructure was ruined, and the bulk of the country is now run by bandit militias which brutalise the inhabitants pr impose hard-line Islamism on them. Many predicted this would happen, including myself.

What was not predicted was the explosion in the drug trade. Over the last decade western Africa has become one of the main transit regions between the producer countries (Latin America) and the consumer countries in Europe. It now appears that this lucrative trade has not only resulted in destabilising countries, leading to violent narco-states such as Mali and Guinea-Bissau, the trade has also become a stream of income to Al Qaeda affiliated groups in Libya. Which is bad for western security, is bad for the stability of Libya, but is also bad for the people of Libya, where there has reportedly been an explosion of drug use and rocketing infections of HIV.

There have been many successful attempts to alleviate the penalisation of drug users in many European countries – Portugal, the Netherlands and Switzerland spring to mind. Because of more liberal decriminalisation laws, all these countries have seen a decrease in drug use and associated crime, plus good health outcomes and the freeing up of law enforcement resources across the spectrum to go for the drug traders.

However, we in LEAP would argue that only full regulation, control and taxation of the drug market will deal with the scourge of the international drug trade. Until that happens, this global trade, estimated by even the UN at being worth between $320 billion and $500 billion per year, will only profit organised crime cartels and terrorist organisations.

The “war on drugs” has failed. Albert Einstein said that the very definition of insanity was to continue to do the same, even if it repeatedly fails, in the hope that you will eventually get a different outcome. That is what we are seeing with prohibition.

And the geek community understand this too. Of course they do, they are scientists. I was heartened by their interest and by their response. Let’s all campaign to end this insanity.

Here is a video of my talk at OHM on the subject:

LEAP – Ending the war on drugs and people (OHM 2013) from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

LEAP_logo

NORML Conference, 18-19th May in Bristol

LEAP_logoThis coming weekend NORML UK will be holding its first AGM and national conference in Bristol.

Mr Nice, aka Howard Marks, will be opening the event and speaking on the Saturday night during the two-day event.

Joining the event to discuss the need for a sensible and evidence-based rethink about drug policy will be many other speakers from groups such as Transform, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, the Beckley FoundationRelease, former Chief Constable of Cambridgeshire Tom Lloyd, and of course, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

The head of LEAP UK, former Met police detective and forensic money-laundering expert Rowan Bosworth-Davies, will be speaking on Sunday19th May.

I shall be speaking at the conference on the Saturday afternoon, and then enjoying the evening with Howard Marks et al.  Come along if you can.

Taken to court….

A fun interview with Heimir Már Pétursson on TV2, filmed during my recent tour of Iceland:

Iceland TV 2 from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Silfur Egils Interview, Iceland

My recent interview on Iceland’s premier news discussion show, Silfur Egils, hosted by the excellent Egill Helgason.

The name refers to an old Norse saga about a hero, an earlier Egill, throwing handfuls of silver to the ground so he could make the Viking politicos of the day scrabble around in the dirt trying to pick up the coins.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Talk at the Icelandic Centre for Investigative Journalism

Wikileaks spokesman, Kristinn Hrafnsson, invited me to speak at the Icelandic Centre for Investigative Journalism while I was in Iceland in February.

While focusing on the intersection and control between intelligence and the media, my talk also explores many of my other current areas of interest.

Iceland Journalists talk 2013 from Annie Machon on Vimeo.