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.

Interview, Czech National Radio

Here is a link to an in-depth interview I did recently at the Czech national radio station in Prague.

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.

Just Say No – the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs

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.

Un_system_chart_colourThe 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.

3_wise_monkeysUN 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.

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Cops Take Pro-Legalization Message to UN War on Drugs Meeting

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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.”

VanwicklerRichard 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.

GierachFormer 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.

Maria.KaramAlso 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.

CONTACT:

Tom Angell: 001 202 557-4979 or media@leap.cc

Shaleen Title: 001 617 955-9638 or speakers@leap.cc