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 première 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.

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CCC talk — the Four Wars

Here is my recent talk at the CCC in Ham­burg, dis­cuss­ing the war on ter­ror, the war on drugs, the war in the inter­net and the war on whis­tleblowers:

30C3 — The Four Wars; Ter­ror, whis­tleblowers, drugs, inter­net from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

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.

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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.

MI6 “ghost money”

Here’s the full art­icle about MI6 “ghost money”, now also pub­lished at the Huff­ing­ton Post UK:

Afghan Pres­id­ent Ham­id Kar­zai, has recently been cri­ti­cised for tak­ing “ghost money” from the CIA and MI6. The sums are inev­it­ably unknown, for the usu­al reas­ons of “nation­al secur­ity”, but are estim­ated to have been tens of mil­lions of dol­lars. While this is nowhere near the eyebleed­ing $12 bil­lion shipped over to Iraq on pal­lets in the wake of the inva­sion a dec­ade ago, it is still a sig­ni­fic­ant amount.

And how has this money been spent?  Cer­tainly not on social pro­jects or rebuild­ing ini­ti­at­ives.  Rather, the report­ing indic­ates, the money has been fun­nelled to Karzai’s cronies as bribes in a cor­rupt attempt to buy influ­ence in the coun­try.

None of this sur­prises me. MI6 has a long and ignoble his­tory of try­ing to buy influ­ence in coun­tries of interest.  In 1995/96 it fun­ded a “ragtag group of Islam­ic extrem­ists”, headed up by a Liby­an mil­it­ary intel­li­gence officer, in an illeg­al attempt to try to assas­sin­ate Col­on­el Gad­dafi.  The attack went wrong and inno­cent people were killed.  When this scan­dal was exposed, it caused an out­cry.

Yet a mere 15 years later, MI6 and the CIA were back in Libya, provid­ing sup­port to the same “rebels”, who this time suc­ceeded in cap­tur­ing, tor­tur­ing and killing Gad­dafi, while plunging Libya into appar­ently end­less interne­cine war. This time around there was little inter­na­tion­al out­cry, as the world’s media por­trayed this aggress­ive inter­fer­ence in a sov­er­eign state as “human­it­ari­an relief”.

And we also see the same in Syr­ia now, as the CIA and MI6 are already provid­ing train­ing and com­mu­nic­a­tions sup­port to the rebels — many of whom, par­tic­u­larly the Al Nusra fac­tion in con­trol of the oil-rich north-east of Syr­ia are in fact allied with Al Qaeda in Iraq.  So in some coun­tries the UK and USA use drones to tar­get and murder “mil­it­ants” (plus vil­la­gers, wed­ding parties and oth­er assor­ted inno­cents), while in oth­ers they back ideo­lo­gic­ally sim­il­ar groups.

Recently we have also seen the West­ern media mak­ing unveri­fied claims that the Syr­i­an régime is using chem­ic­al weapons against its own people, and our politi­cians leap­ing on these asser­tions as jus­ti­fic­a­tion for openly provid­ing weapons to the insur­gents too. Thank­fully, oth­er reports are now emer­ging that indic­ate it was the rebels them­selves who have been using sar­in gas against the people. This may halt the rush to arms, but not doubt oth­er sup­port will con­tin­ue to be offered by the West to these war crim­in­als.

So how is MI6 secretly spend­ing UK tax­pay­ers’ money in Afgh­anistan? Accord­ing to west­ern media report­ing, it is being used to prop up war­lords and cor­rupt offi­cials. This is deeply unpop­u­lar amongst the Afghan people, lead­ing to the danger of increas­ing sup­port for a resur­gent Taliban.

There is also a sig­ni­fic­ant over­lap between the cor­rupt polit­ic­al estab­lish­ment and the illeg­al drug trade, up to and includ­ing the president’s late broth­er, Ahmed Wali Kar­zai.  So, anoth­er unin­ten­tion­al con­sequence may be that some of this unac­count­able ghost money is prop­ping up the drug trade.

Afgh­anistan is the world’s lead­ing pro­du­cer of heroin, and the UN reports that poppy growth has increased dra­mat­ic­ally. Indeed, the UN estim­ates that acre­age under poppy growth in Afgh­anistan has tripled over the last 7 years.  The value of the drug trade to the Afghan war­lords is now estim­ated to be in the region of $700 mil­lion per year.  You can buy a lot of Kalash­nikovs with that.

So on the one hand we have our west­ern gov­ern­ments bank­rupt­ing them­selves to fight the “war on ter­ror”, break­ing inter­na­tion­al laws and mur­der­ing mil­lions of inno­cent people across North Africa, the Middle East, and cent­ral Asia while at the same time shred­ding what remain of our hard-won civil liber­ties at home.

On the oth­er hand, we appar­ently have MI6 and the CIA secretly bank­rolling the very people in Afgh­anistan who pro­duce 90% of the world’s heroin. And then, of course, more scarce resources can be spent on fight­ing the failed “war on drugs” and yet anoth­er pre­text is used to shred our civil liber­ties.

This is a luc­rat­ive eco­nom­ic mod­el for the bur­geon­ing mil­it­ary-secur­ity com­plex.

How­ever, it is a lose-lose scen­ario for the rest of us.

RT article about MI6’s Afghan “ghost money”

Here’s a link to my new art­icle, pub­lished exclus­ively today on RT’s Op-Edge news site.

I dis­cuss the recent news that MI6, in addi­tion to the CIA, has been pay­ing “ghost money” to the polit­ic­al estab­lish­ment in Afgh­anistan, oth­er examples of such med­dling, and the prob­able unin­ten­ded con­sequences.

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.

Iceland Tour

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!

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The House I Live In” — drug panel discussion

I recently rep­res­en­ted LEAP at a pan­el dis­cus­sion in Lon­don about the failed war on drugs after a screen­ing of the excel­lent film The House I Live In, along with Steve Rolles of Trans­form and Niamh East­wood of Release:

Oval Space Cinema Club: ‘The House I Live In’ — Pan­el Dis­cus­sion from Oval Space on Vimeo.

LEAP Interview on The Real News Network, October 2012

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.

The tide of his­tory is with us — more and more coun­tries are speak­ing out about the fail­ure of pro­hib­i­tion.  LEAP sup­ports and con­trib­utes to this dis­cus­sion.

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:

Interview for the Release newsletter, “TalkingDrugs”

An inter­view I did on behalf of LEAP this week for the news­let­ter of the UK cam­paign, Release.

Release, run by the indefatig­able Niamh East­wood, does excel­lent work provid­ing leg­al advice about drug issues, and cam­paign­ing for fairer and more com­pas­sion­ate drug laws.

The inter­view appeared in the campaign’s news­let­ter, “Talk­ing­Drugs”.

Here’s the link, and here’s the text:

Q1 What led you into think­ing that cur­rent drug policies on illi­cit drugs were fail­ing?

My jour­ney began when I was work­ing as an intel­li­gence officer for MI5 in the 1990s.  One of my roles was invest­ig­at­ing ter­ror­ist logist­ics and work­ing closely with UK Cus­toms.  I learned then that try­ing to stop the flow of illi­cit mater­i­al into the UK (wheth­er drugs, weapons, or people) is like look­ing for a needle in the pro­ver­bi­al hay­stack.  Plus there is a huge over­lap between the fund­ing of organ­ised crime and ter­ror­ist groups.

Over the last dec­ade I have become a writer, com­ment­at­or and pub­lic speak­er on a vari­ety of inter-con­nec­ted issues around intel­li­gence, the war on ter­ror, whis­tleblowers, poli­cing, and civil liber­ties.  To me, the war on drugs meshes very closely with all these top­ics.  Three years ago I was approached by LEAP to become a speak­er, and then in March this year I became a mem­ber of the inter­na­tion­al board and also the Dir­ect­or of LEAP Europe in order to con­sol­id­ate the organisation’s work here.

Q2 Do you think that there are bar­ri­ers to police officers being hon­est about the effect­ive­ness of their actions to com­bat the trade in illi­cit drugs and is the great­er dis­quiet amongst those involved in law enforce­ment about cur­rent policies than is pop­ularly per­ceived ?

Yes, abso­lutely, and it’s not just amongst the police but also the wider law enforce­ment com­munity.

LEAP sup­port­ers, approach­ing 100,000 in over 90 coun­tries around the world, include judges, law­yers, pris­on gov­ernors, cus­toms and intel­li­gence officers, and former drug czars.  With­in all these pro­fes­sions there is a tacit under­stand­ing that you toe the con­ven­tion­al line.  In my exper­i­ence, most people go into this type of work hop­ing not only to have an inter­est­ing job, but also to do some good and make a dif­fer­ence.  Many then see the social fall-out, or that friends, fam­ily or com­munity are affected by the drug wars, and many serving offi­cials do ques­tion what it is all about and what it is really achiev­ing.

How­ever, they are there to do a job, which is uphold­ing and apply­ing the law.  The cul­tur­al pres­sure with­in such groups can make it extremely dif­fi­cult on many levels for them to speak out.

Any change to the inter­na­tion­al and nation­al drug laws will have to come from the politi­cians with­in the UN and nation­ally.  LEAP increas­ingly con­trib­utes to the polit­ic­al debate and is build­ing a groundswell of sup­port inter­na­tion­ally.   Most people today will know someone who has at least tried a cur­rently illeg­al drug.  They also instinct­ively know this is mere social exper­i­ment­a­tion, relax­a­tion or, at worst, a health prob­lem.  And pen­al­isa­tion, impris­on­ment and a crim­in­al record exacer­bates rather than helps the situ­ation.

Q3 Does the poli­cing of drug pos­ses­sion impact the effect­ive­ness of poli­cing gen­er­ally and what bene­fits do you think could stem from ceas­ing to use law enforce­ment to attempt to dis­cour­age drug use?

There are mul­tiple strands to this issue: the diver­sion of police resources, the addi­tion­al crime caused by pro­hib­i­tion that is not dealt with suc­cess­fully, the diver­sion of resources from harm reduc­tion pro­grammes, the crim­in­al­isa­tion of what are essen­tially health issues, and the dis­rep­ute that res­ults for law enforce­ment.

The poli­cing of drug pos­ses­sion takes away vast resources from invest­ig­at­ing oth­er crimes such as burg­lary, rape and murder.  Yet it is largely point­less – those with a drug depend­ency need health inter­ven­tions, and there will always be replace­ments for any low-level deal­ers who are arres­ted and imprisoned.  If you arrest and con­vict a rap­ist, he will not be on the streets com­mit­ting more rapes; but if you catch a drug deal­er, you just cre­ate a job vacancy for which many will com­pete in ever more viol­ent ways for a slice of an incred­ibly luc­rat­ive mar­ket.

The UK anti-pro­hib­i­tion advocacy group, Trans­form, estim­ates that even if just can­nabis were leg­al­ised in the UK, an addi­tion­al $1.6 bil­lion would flow into the Brit­ish eco­nomy every year.  While tax raised on a con­trolled and reg­u­lated can­nabis trade is pre­dicted to provide the bulk of this ($1.2 bil­lion), $170 mil­lion would be saved from law enforce­ment, $155 mil­lion from the justice sys­tem, and $135 mil­lion from the pris­on sys­tem.

In the cur­rent eco­nom­ic situ­ation, can the UK afford not to con­sider altern­at­ives to the cur­rent drug war?

Also, as we have seen since the decrim­in­al­is­tion laws in Por­tugal since 2001 and Switzer­land since 1994, the “peace dividend” by end­ing the war on drugs would not only see a drop in prop­erty crimes (about 50% of which are com­mit­ted to fund drug depend­en­cies), it could also be used to fin­ance and extend harm reduc­tion pro­grammes.  As we have seen in the case of tobacco across the West, we do not need to ban a sub­stance to reduce its use; edu­ca­tion and treat­ment are far more effect­ive.

Finally, illeg­al drugs are avail­able to any­one who wants to buy them on the streets of the UK.  The increas­ing mil­it­ar­isa­tion of the police to fight the war on drugs, the break­down of civil liber­ties for the same reas­on (mir­ror­ing the war on ter­ror), and the wide­spread flag­rant flout­ing of the drug laws by large num­bers of the pop­u­la­tion, thereby “mak­ing an ass of the law”, has led to a break­down of trust and respect between the police and the policed. One of LEAP’s aims is to rebuild this trust, this social con­tract.

Q4 The impact on the safety of law enforce­ment per­son­nel of the ‘war on drugs’ should be an issue for oth­er mem­ber­ship organ­isa­tions rep­res­ent­ing the sec­tor, will you be reach­ing out to them to encour­age cam­paign­ing on the issue?

Safety is cer­tainly an issue, although we have been more for­tu­nate in Europe than our col­leagues in the USA, where the more pre­val­ent gun cul­ture leads to many more law enforce­ment deaths.  That said, gang viol­ence is on the rise across Europe where organ­ised crime gangs fight increas­ingly viol­ent turf battles.

Mex­ico has been one of the worst hit coun­tries in the world.  Since the ramp­ing up of the war on drugs  almost six years ago, over 62,000 men women and chil­dren have been tor­tured and murdered in that coun­try, and many of them had no involve­ment what­so­ever in the drugs trade.  In fact, LEAP USA has just suc­cess­fully par­ti­cip­ated in the Mex­ic­an Cara­van for Peace, a group of act­iv­ists and fam­il­ies high­light­ing the tragedy, that toured across the USA for a month to raise aware­ness and fin­ished with a rally in Wash­ing­ton last week.

The increas­ing viol­ence of the drugs trade and the mil­it­ar­isa­tion of the response should be of con­cern to all law enfor­cers, mem­ber­ship organ­isa­tions and allied groups work­ing in the drugs sec­tor.  We need to think urgently about how to avoid a sim­il­ar spir­al of viol­ence in Europe.   LEAP is happy to reach out to such organ­isa­tions to devel­op a more humane solu­tion.

Q5 How would you like to see LEAP in Europe devel­op and will you be look­ing to lobby European policy makers in Brus­sels?

There are already LEAP speak­ers across most European coun­tries.  We in LEAP see the organisation’s primary goal as edu­ca­tion­al.  We shall be work­ing to build up speak­ing engage­ments for a wide vari­ety of groups and audi­ences, includ­ing the polit­ic­al sec­tor, as well as strength­en­ing our media expos­ure.  We recog­nise the valu­able work Release and oth­er NGOs and advocacy groups are already doing across Europe, and hope that you will see that we offer a unique voice and pool of expert­ise that can be used to strengthen your work.

It is won­der­ful that so many organ­isa­tions and indeed gov­ern­ments around the world (par­tic­u­larly in Europe and Lat­in Amer­ica) are now focus­ing on explor­ing altern­at­ives such as decrim­in­al­is­tion and harm reduc­tion pro­grammes.  Based on our pro­fes­sion­al exper­i­ence, LEAP argues that we need, at very least, to con­sider the next logic­al step in the chain: con­trolled reg­u­la­tion of the drug mar­ket as we cur­rently do with alco­hol and tobacco.

Decrim­in­al­isa­tion may help to reduce the harm for the drug users, but leaves the drug trade in the hands of increas­ingly viol­ent glob­al organ­ised crime net­works.  Only by remov­ing the profit motive from this illi­cit trade can we end the involve­ment of the crim­in­al ele­ment and all the attend­ant viol­ence, and work to make the world safer for all.

DoubleThink Disorder — a new pathology

An update is appar­ently due of the 1994 edi­tion of the “Dia­gnost­ic and Stat­ist­ic­al Manu­al of Men­tal Dis­orders”, the psy­chi­at­rists’ bible that allows them to tick-box their patients into a dis­order, and then, no doubt, pre­scribe Big Pharma industry drugs or an expens­ive form of ther­apy.  Any­one who has ever watched Adam Curtis’s excel­lent “Cen­tury of Self” will be aware of the patho­lo­gising of soci­ety to the bene­fit of the psy­chi­at­ric pro­fes­sions and far bey­ond.

I am not mak­ing light of ser­i­ous men­tal ill­nesses requir­ing spe­cial­ised and long term treat­ment such as bipolar, schizo­phrenia or chron­ic depres­sion.  These are crip­pling and soul-des­troy­ing con­di­tions and many fam­il­ies, includ­ing my own, have been touched by them.

RitalinBut I am con­cerned by the appalling Pharma-creep that has been going on over the last few dec­ades where, for example, increas­ing num­bers of chil­dren are labeled with ADHD and ladled full of Rital­in (which can also lead to a thriv­ing black mar­ket in the onward sale of said drug). And we are appar­ently about to see ever more divar­ic­at­ing dis­orders added to the shrinks’ bible.  

Kevin_and_PerryAs this recent art­icle in The Inde­pend­ent states, stroppy teens will now have “oppos­i­tion­al defi­ance dis­order”, and adults who think of sex more than every 20 minutes are suf­fer­ing from “hyper­sexu­al dis­order”. (How on earth will this be dia­gnosed — will poten­tial suf­fer­ers have to keep a thought crime diary as they go about their daily lives? Man­age­ment meet­ings could be so much more divert­ing as people break off to write an update every so often — although they might have to pre­tend they’re play­ing buzzword bingo.)   And those suf­fer­ing from shy­ness or loneli­ness will suf­fer from “dys­thy­mia”.  Well, as a clas­si­cist, I’m glad to see that ancient Greek still has a role to play in today’s lex­icon.

I know that such beha­vi­our­al traits can be debil­it­at­ing, but to patho­lo­gise them seems rather extreme — enough to give a per­son a com­plex.….

Ivory_tower2On anoth­er some­what facetious note I was intrigued to see this doing the inter­net rounds recently.  It appeared to sug­gest that hav­ing a robust dis­trust of your gov­ern­ment was also about to be patho­lo­gised as Anti-Gov­ern­ment Pho­bia, which I pre­sume would mean that vast swathes of the world’s pop­u­la­tion were men­tally ill.  How­ever, I think the clue to the legit­im­acy of the piece was in the name of the sup­posed author: Ivor E. Tower MD.….

How­ever, back to the point of this art­icle. This was the para­graph in the Indie report that really got my goat:

More wor­ry­ing, accord­ing to some experts, are attempts to redefine crimes as ill­nesses, such as “para­ph­il­ic coer­cive dis­order”, applied to men engaged in sexu­al rela­tion­ships involving the use of force. They are more com­monly known as rap­ists.”

So it appears that crime will now be explained away as a dis­order.  

LEAP_logoBut, but, but.… the key point LEAP­ing out at me, if you’ll for­give the clumsy link, is that this seems to be in dir­ect, sharp con­trast to how we deal with an immense and ongo­ing prob­lem in the world today: namely the 50 year old failed “war on drugs”.  In this phoney war mil­lions of people across the world have been, and against all expert advice, con­tin­ue to be treated as crim­in­als rather than as patients.

Rather than rehash (sorry) all the well-known art­icles about why this war is such a fail­ure on every con­ceiv­able front, let me just make 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, most per­tin­ently for the pur­poses of this art­icle, it would make the use and pos­sible abuse of recre­ation­al drugs a health issue rather than a crim­in­al mat­ter.

Many people at some point in their lives exper­i­ment with drugs such as dope, E, coke, or whatever and have fun doing so, just as many like to have a drink to unwind after work.  A small per­cent­age will go on to devel­op med­ic­al prob­lems.  

That is the crux of the argu­ment here. Excess­ive abuse of drugs, both licit and illi­cit, is mani­festly a health issue and yet some people are crim­in­al­ised.  Com­pare and con­trast the pro­posed new shrinks’ bible, where what were formerly deemed to be crimes will now be seen as med­ic­al dis­orders.

Tony_BlairI would call this rank hypo­crisy, but per­haps the shrinks can come up with a more high-brow name?  I pro­pose Soci­et­al Double­Think Dis­order.  

The Bankers’ Bonus being that it would con­veni­ently (psycho)pathologise all our “peace-speak­ing” war-mon­ger­ing politi­cians, “free mar­ket” mono­pol­ist­ic big busi­nesses, and “pub­licly owned but private profit” banks.

Praise the Gov­ern­ment and pass the Rital­in.…

Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP)

LEAP_logo

Law Enforce­ment Against Pro­hib­i­tion (LEAP).

Pro­hib­i­tion has nev­er worked, as proven through­out his­tory. 

Around the world many judges, law­yers, officers from the police, cus­toms, and intel­li­gence organ­isa­tions, as well as many oth­er experts, are chal­len­ging the failed concept of the “war on drugs”.   This policy, in place for dec­ades now in many coun­tries des­pite its mani­fest, abject and repeated fail­ure, crim­in­al­ises great swathes of our pop­u­la­tions, causes health prob­lems, social prob­lems and untold suf­fer­ing, and funds organ­ised crime and ter­ror­ist groups, rather than provid­ing poten­tially enorm­ous tax rev­en­ue to the state. 

It is time for a mature, calm debate about the issue, rather than hys­ter­ic­al, tabloid head­lines.

I am hon­oured to be one of this group speak­ing out.


 

LEAP State­ment of Prin­ciples

1. LEAP does not pro­mote the use of drugs and is deeply con­cerned about the extent of drug abuse world­wide. LEAP is also deeply con­cerned with the destruct­ive impact of viol­ent drug gangs and car­tels every­where in the world. Neither prob­lem is remedied by the cur­rent policy of drug pro­hib­i­tion. Indeed, drug abuse and gang viol­ence flour­ish in a drug pro­hib­i­tion envir­on­ment, just as they did dur­ing alco­hol pro­hib­i­tion.

2. LEAP advoc­ates the elim­in­a­tion of the policy of drug pro­hib­i­tion and the inaug­ur­a­tion of a replace­ment policy of drug con­trol and reg­u­la­tion, includ­ing reg­u­la­tions impos­ing appro­pri­ate age restric­tions on drug sales and use, just as there are age restric­tions on mar­riage, sign­ing con­tracts, alco­hol, tobacco, oper­at­ing vehicles and heavy equip­ment, vot­ing and so on.

3. LEAP believes that adult drug abuse is a health prob­lem and not a law-enforce­ment mat­ter, provided that the abuse does not harm oth­er people or the prop­erty of oth­ers.

4. LEAP believes that adult drug use, how­ever dan­ger­ous, is a mat­ter of per­son­al free­dom as long as it does not impinge on the free­dom or safety of oth­ers.

5. LEAP speak­ers come from a wide diver­gence of polit­ic­al thought and social con­science and recog­nize that in a post-pro­hib­i­tion world it will take time to strike a prop­er reg­u­lat­ory bal­ance, blend­ing private, pub­lic and med­ic­al mod­els to best con­trol and reg­u­late “illi­cit drugs.” LEAP speak­ers are free to advoc­ate their view of bet­ter post-pro­hib­i­tion stratagems without toe­ing a LEAP “party line.”

6. LEAP recog­nizes that even in a post-pro­hib­i­tion world, still, drugs can be dan­ger­ous and poten­tially addict­ive, requir­ing appro­pri­ate reg­u­la­tion and con­trol. Even in a free-mar­ket eco­nomy, reas­on­able reg­u­la­tion for the pur­poses of pub­lic health is a long-stand­ing, accep­ted prin­ciple. Such reg­u­la­tion must not allow cas­u­al, unfettered or indis­crim­in­ate drug sales.

7. LEAP believes that gov­ern­ment has a pub­lic health oblig­a­tion to accur­ately ascer­tain the risks asso­ci­ated with the use of each “illi­cit drug” and a duty to clearly com­mu­nic­ate that inform­a­tion to the pub­lic by means of labeling and warn­ings sim­il­ar to what is done regard­ing food, tobacco, alco­hol and medi­cine.

8. LEAP believes that an inor­din­ate num­ber of people have been mis­guidedly incar­cer­ated for viol­a­tion of zero-tol­er­ant, non­vi­ol­ent, con­sen­su­al “drug crimes.” The end of drug pro­hib­i­tion will allow those per­sons to be promptly released, to have their record of con­vic­tion expunged, and their civil rights com­pletely restored. How­ever, the repeal of drug pro­hib­i­tion does not imply the exon­er­a­tion from charges for con­nec­ted offenses, such as viol­ent crimes, gun crimes, theft, or driv­ing under the influ­ence of drugs. Fur­ther­more, LEAP believes that people using alco­hol or oth­er drugs must be held account­able for any mis­be­ha­vi­or, which harms oth­er people or prop­erty of oth­ers, while under the influ­ence of mind-alter­ing sub­stances.

9. LEAP believes that per­sons suf­fer­ing from drug abuse afflic­tions and addic­tion, who want help, should be provided with a vari­ety of help, includ­ing drug treat­ment and drug main­ten­ance, even for unin­sured addicts. LEAP believes that with an end to drug pro­hib­i­tion and regained con­trol of crim­in­al justice expendit­ures, a frac­tion of those sav­ings would be more than suf­fi­cient to pay for expan­ded addic­tion ser­vices.

10. LEAP recog­nizes that dif­fer­ent “illi­cit drugs” pose dif­fer­ing risks of harm. As such, in a post-pro­hib­i­tion world, LEAP recog­nizes that an appro­pri­ate set of reg­u­la­tions and con­trol for one sub­stance may not be a suit­able or suf­fi­cient reg­u­la­tion and con­trol for anoth­er sub­stance. LEAP believes that the nation states of the world and vari­ous states with­in the United States must be giv­en the reg­u­lat­ory lat­it­ude to try new mod­els that wisely bal­ance the notions of free­dom over one’s own body with the need for com­mon sense reg­u­la­tion of drugs to reduce death, dis­ease, addic­tion and harm.

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