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.

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.

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.

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.