Here’s a talk I did last week at the international Akzept Conference in Bielefeld about prohibition and the failed “war on drugs”:
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!
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.
As 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and decriminalisation of personal use, and despite the fact that these laws are from a different era and are wildly out of date — in the 1960s HIV and AIDS had yet to emerge, and rapidly mutating “legal highs” were unknown.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.
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:
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.
Well, this will be an interesting week. On the invitation of Snarrotin, the Icelandic civil liberties organisation, I’m off to Iceland for a series of talks and interviews on behalf of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (www.leap.cc).
Iceland is an inspirational and interesting country. Following the 2008 credit crash, the Icelanders bucked international trends and actually held some of their ruling élite — the politicians and bankers who had brought about these financial problems — to account. The government fell, some bankers were fired and prosecuted, and the Icelandic people are having a serious rethink about the way their democracy could and should work.
And indeed why should the people pay the price for the decisions made in their name by an unaccountable élite? One could speciously argue that the people had a meaningful choice at the ballot box.… but back in the real, 21st century political world, Iceland was as stitched-up as all other notional Western democracies. The worst allegation that can be thrown at the people was that they were disengaged, uninvolved and sidelined from how their country was really run — as many of us across the West feel to this day.
But apparently no longer in Iceland: since the financial crisis the citizens of this small democracy have re-engaged in the political process, and the future is looking rosy.
New, accountable politicians have been elected to form a new government. Citizens have been involved in drawing up a new constitution, and heated debates are challenging the established shibboleths of the corporatist governing class: revolving around such issues as finance, internet freedoms, free media, terrorism, and how a modern country should be run in the interest of the many. And next week, I hope, a rethink of the country’s obligations to the international “war on drugs”.
While the issue is strenuously ignored by the Western governing élite, it is now widely recognised that the current prohibition strategy has failed outright: drug trafficking and use has increased, the street price of drugs has plummeted and they are endemically available, whole communities have been imprisoned, whole countries have become narco-states and descended into drug war violence, and the only people to profit are the organised crime cartels and terrorist organisations that reap vast profits. Oh, and of course the banks kept afloat with dirty drug money, the militarised drug enforcement agencies, and the politicians who now, hypocritically, want to look “tough on crime” despite allegations that they also dabbled in their youth.….
Well, the time has come for an adult discussion about this failed policy, using facts and not just empty rhetoric.
So, a week discussing all my favourite happy topics: the “war” on drugs, the “war” on terror, and the “war” on the internet. My type of mini-break!
As a Director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), I was invited to Prague by the progressive Czech National Drug Co-ordinator, Jindrich Voboril, to speak at a drugs conference in the Czech Parliament.
I participated in the Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) board meeting last October in Baltimore. While there, I arranged for board members to do a series of interviews about the failed global “war on drugs” with the excellent and independent Real News Network.
LEAP has representatives across the world with a wide range of professional expertise: police officers, drug czars, judges, prison governors, lawyers, drug enforcement officers, and even the occasional former spook.…
Our varied experiences and backgrounds have brought us to one conclusion: we all assess the “war on drugs” to have been an abject failure that causes more global societal harm than good, as well as funding organised crime, terrorism and white collar bank crime.
We urgently need to rethink the failed UN drug conventions.
Here is the RNN interview I participated in, along with Brazilian Judge Maria Lucia Karam:
Last month, in my new role as Director of LEAP Europe, I was invited to do a talk at the SSDP conference in London. It was great to meet the key SSDP organisers, and also share a platform with Jason Reed, the co-ordinator of LEAP UK.
The student activists of SSDP are demanding that our political classes instigate a mature, fact-based discussion about the “war on drugs”.
Sorry to rehash all the well-known articles about why this “war” is such a failure on every conceivable front, but just let me reiterate three key points: prohibition will always fail (as this classic “Yes Minister” scene depicts), and the regulation and taxation of recreational drugs (in the same way as alcohol and tobacco) would be good for society and for the economy; it would decapitate organised crime and, in some cases, the funding of terrorism; and it would make the use and possible abuse of recreational drugs a health issue rather than a criminal matter.
The students get this — why can’t our politicians?
Jason and I had a warm welcome from the SSDP. They can see the value of law enforcement professionals — police, judges, lawyers, and customs and intelligence officers — using their experience to contribute to the debate. I look forward to LEAP working more closely with the SSDP.
And do drop me an email if you would like to help LEAP in Europe.
Just back from the annual United Nations happy-clappy session about drug prohibition in Vienna, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs. I was there as part of the delegation from Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a global campaign of serving and former police officers, lawyers, judges, intelligence officers, customs officers and prison governors, all with years of experience on the front line of the drug war, and all of whom campaign against prohibition.
Why do they do this? Precisely because they have, during their professional lives, witnessed the terrible failure of the drug prohibition laws.
LEAP’s message is simple, logical and powerful, and its membership credible and experienced — have a look at the website.
The UN delegation consisted of former US drug prosecutor Jim Gierach, retired Brazilian judge Maria Lucia Pereira Karam, award-winning US prison superintendent Rick Van Wickler, and myself.
Needless to say, LEAP and all this breadth of relevant expertise was marginalised at the UN.
The UN is the sine qua non of bureaucracies, an organisation of such Byzantine complexity it makes your eyes bleed to look at it.
Each country around the world funds the UN via voluntary donations. Once they have coughed up, they are allowed to send national delegates to represent “their” interests at shindigs such as the CND. Those delegates are pre-briefed by their bureaucrats about the line they must take, and no dissent is allowed.
NGOs are notionally able to feed in their views to their delegates, although access is limited, and over the last few years the language of the CND has indeed moved towards harm reduction and children’s rights. But this merely propagates the basic, flawed premise that “drugs” are bad, not that the “war on drugs” has comprehensively failed, is ill-thought out, and actively damages society.
UN decisions on drug policy are made by consensus, which means that there is no real democratic debate and that the resolutions are so bland as to be meaningless. At no point whatsoever are evidence-based alternative solutions, such as regulated legalisation, even whispered in the corridors of power.
The CND’s key achievement this year was to get all the nations to reaffirm their commitment to the 100-year old International Hague Convention, the first drug prohibition law in a long and escalating legal litany of failure and harm. And this in the teeth of all evidence provided by the successful decriminalisation experiments in Portugal, Switzerland and the Netherlands.
So here’s where the fun kicks in, but I stress that this is my highly personal take on what it was like to attend the CND last week:
WARNING: CND appears to be a potent psychotropic drug which has unknown and potentially damaging effects on the human brain. Exposure to CND for even so short a period as a week can lead to disorientation, numbness, depression and a dislocation from reality. No data exists about the long-term psychological effects of prolonged exposure, but some subjects can display uncharacteristic aggression after only a couple of days’ experience of CND.
CND appears to be highly addictive leading to rapid dependency, and delegates return year after year for another hit. For a week, it’s party time, but then comes the crashing low, as they have to push CND on their own countries for another long year, against all common notions of decency, humanity and community.
CND is continually presented to vulnerable delegates as the only lifestyle choice. Those who question its efficacy are outcast from the gang. But what of the delegates’ rights to live a CND-free life, away from the peer pressure, bullying and violence? What about reducing the harm that CND increasingly causes to communities across the world?
As the godfathers of CND push the line of harm reduction programmes, developing countries are increasingly drawn into a life of sordid “money dependency”, even prostituting themselves politically to enable their continued reliance on CND.
The organisations controlling CND garner huge profits, and there is little political will to change the current set-up.
So, a win-win for the drug cartels, terrorists, enforcement agencies, governments, bureaucrats and the wider global “drug war” infrastructure.
Not so good for the rest of us.
Law Enforcers Say Ending Prohibition Will Improve Global Security & Human Rights
VIENNA, AUSTRIA – Judges, prosecutors and jailers who support legalizing drugs are bringing their message to the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting next week in Vienna. At the U.N. session, which comes just days after the Obama administration stepped-up its attempts to counteract the emerging anti-prohibition sentiment among sitting presidents in Latin America, the pro-legalization law enforcement officials will work to embolden national delegations from around the world to push back against the U.S.-led failed “war on drugs.”
Richard Van Wickler, a currently-serving jail superintendent who will be representing Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) in Vienna, says, “World leaders who believe we could better handle drug problems by replacing criminalization with legal control are becoming less and less afraid of U.S. reprisal for speaking out or reforming their nations’ policies. And for good reason.”
Van Wickler, who has was named 2011’s Corrections Superintendent of the Year by the New Hampshire Association of Counties, explains, “Voters in at least two U.S. states will be deciding on measures to legalize marijuana this November. It would be pure hypocrisy for the American federal government to continue forcefully pushing a radical prohibitionist agenda on the rest of the world.”
In recent weeks, Presidents Otto Perez Molina of Guatemala, Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia, Laura Chinchilla of Costa Rica and Felipe Calderon of Mexico have added their voices to the call for a serious conversation on alternatives to drug prohibition, causing U.S. Vice President Joe Biden to travel to Latin America this week in an unsuccessful attempt to quash the debate.
Former Chicago drug prosecutor James Gierach, recently a featured speaker at a conference in Mexico City last month attended by the first lady of Mexico and the former presidents of Colombia and Brazil, says, “The unending cycle of cartel violence caused by the prohibition market has turned a steady trickle of former elected officials criticizing prohibition into a flood of sitting presidents, business leaders and law enforcement officials calling for an outright discussion about legalization. It’s time for the U.S. and the U.N. to acknowledge that legal control, rather than criminalization, is a much better way to manage our drug problems. The world can have either drug prohibition, violence and corruption or it can have controlled drug legalization with safe streets and moral fabric, but it can’t have both.”
The UN meeting in Vienna is an annual opportunity for nations around the world to re-evaluate drug control strategies and treaties. More information about the meeting is here
In recent years, countries like Portugal and Mexico have made moves to significantly transform criminalization-focused drug policies into health approaches by fully decriminalizing possession of small amounts of all drugs. Still, no country has yet to legalize and regulate the sale of any of these drugs. Doing so, the pro-legalization law enforcers point out, would be the only way to prevent violent transnational criminal organizations from profiting in the drug trade.
Also attending the conference on behalf of LEAP will be former Brazilian judge Maria Lucia Karam and former UK MI5 intelligence officer Annie Machon.
Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) represents police, prosecutors, judges, FBI/DEA agents and others who support legalization after fighting on the front lines of the “war on drugs” and learning firsthand that prohibition only serves to worsen addiction and violence. More info can be found here.
Tom Angell: 001 202 557‑4979 or email@example.com
Shaleen Title: 001 617 955‑9638 or firstname.lastname@example.org