Canvassing for Opinion - aka "Blairs Brain on Cannabis"

IMHO prohibition sentiment requires inherent addiction to status quo, an incapacity to visualise beyond the here and now and a desperate desire to know others might feel the same... Reform is not revolutionary, rather it is evolutionary. Having survived banging your head against a brick wall the evolutionist relishes having stopped. / Blair

Monday, October 24, 2005

HartfordCT IllicitDrugs, Burden & Policy Oct21&22

HartfordCT conf on Illicit Drugs, Burden and Policy Oct21&22
Date: Sun, 23 Oct 2005 16:37:07 -0400
From: clifford thornton
----- Original Message -----
From: To:
Sent: Sunday, October 23, 2005 3:50 PM
Subject: ARO: HartfordCT conf on Illicit Drugs, Burden & Policy Oct21&22

I write to share some observations about the just concluded Hartford conference, chaired by Dr. Bob Painter (a retired thoracic [chest&lungs] surgeon; wasn't that doctom's specialty?), the world's whitest "minority leader" (says his business card; he's a Republican city councillor to a Democratic Hispanic mayor). The fingerprints of
Cliff Thornton, however, were all over the conf content (w Dr. Bob's enthusiastic cooperation and "cover"). I attended being only 2 hrs away in Boston and enjoyed the company of CliffT, Nick Eyle, VCL/Seattlites
RogerG & Rachel, EricS (soon to issue a report on mature vs. immature drug use), DaleG (what doesn't he know about the history of cannabis in America?), Jack Cole, Doug McVay, Dean Becker (I ask forgiveness of
others present; at my age I have only so much memory left). As I cannot join many of you out West next month, I valued an east coast nip of reform elixir. Weep not for me, however: December opens for me at NORML's Key West Legal Conf (Atty's Branch of NORML, aka ABNORML).

I could write a far longer article, about the content of the conf, the public leadership of Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez, the importance of a conference in a state capitol, the value of diversity both in the audience and on the panels, the invaluable cooperation of Trinity College, and the visibility of a conference hosted by the City, the College and the nonprofit foundation of health insurer Aetna (which financed the conference, and whose exec director (a latina attorney) gave a moving keynote address about destigmatizing addiction during which she discussed her own struggle w chronic depression.

To value the time of my colleagues I will share only two observations, concerning legalization and the conference as a template/model/prototype. First, the "L" word. I recall long discussions on the list in time past about whether to "admit" the L word and its capacity to alienate or attract the under-educated (silent or default prohibitionists aren't stupid, it's just that everything they think they know happens to be wrong). I respect the considered opinion of many who feel marijuana or even all drug decrim is an acceptable public topic, but that the L word is a "bridge too far" beyond the mainstream w the capacity to scare more than persuade.

Whatever may have been the reality "then," this is now and in 2006 the need to prove that prohibition has failed is fading; it's conceded by the mainstream. To endorse Doug McVay's recent post on the elevator speech (and to the legion of McVay fans on this list aware of his past health concerns, I am pleased to report he looks & feels great), the unconverted but open minded are more concerned w what the alternative looks and sounds like, whether you call it legalization, regulation, normalization, destigmatization or liberation. I watched a mayor, a
judge, a state prison commissioner, city councillors, doctors & therapists, recovering addicts, nurses, teachers, Hispanic and black community activists assume w/o questioning the failure of current policy and the need for an alternative involving more treatment and fewer police. Opinions differed, but legalization was mentioned many times as a tool for better public health and safer neighborhoods, not as pie-in-the-sky or a worsening of current conditions. No one ran screaming from the room. While most spectators were sympathetic to reform, many were merely fed up w prohibition & struggling for an alternative.

The law enforcement panel attempted to opine otherwise, but even they (w some exceptions, like the DA who said the problem w current policy was that there was too little public "shame" for drug use and users) used the rhetoric of treatment first, even tolerating relapse (once). The police chief angrily denounced such experiments in his grandchildren's neighborhood, but later expressed (privately) genuine curiosity with how reform would "work." I could go on about the prohibition panelists, but the point is their "demand reduction" lip-service to treatment demonstrates their failure of ignoring or demonizing legalization. My observation: Prohibition no longer "owns" the "L" word as a scare-tactic in public discourse; we have a growing opportunity to explain what we mean, although that opportunity comes with a risk of confirming the lay-person's fear of change worsening the status quo. Let's work on those elevator speeches.

Lastly, on the conf template. Involving the police, the state prosecutor's office and the DEA early in the presentation was powerful. They spent some time "shamelessly" promoting "more of the same" and claiming (vaguely) the failures of Amsterdam, Zurich and Baltimore, but the contrast between their "policy views" and reformers' framing of the public health question and the regulation policy answer struck me as quite educational & enlightening to the unconverted. Also, since they are part/most of the problem, they ought not be excluded from problem-solving; after we win, we will have to work together (at least at the municipal and state level; screw the feds, oops, sorry for the intolerant comment).

A panel of the state prison commissioner, deputy commr (the commr wanted to but could not attend) of mental health and addiction services and the former chief judge of the local drug court, while staking out some kinder and gentler turf for abstinence and coerced treatment, struck me as sharing far more common ground w reformers than prohibitionists. Beyond their excellent content, obtaining their participation was a major score for "us."

Sr Judge Burnett of DC, modeling black professional criminal justice experience with the criminal justice system, exemplified a powerful source for policy change virtually immune from criticism. Demographic studies about the Hispanic community, female addiction, testimony of recovered addicts now delivering therapy, juvenile justice workers, DaleG's stories of how Oakland has survived medicalized mj distribution without an earthquake (so far), all provided knowledgeable and respected views about practical change from prohibition to regulation.

The panel on drug use management (incldg as a star, prof. & psycho-pharmacologist Robert Heimer of Yale's Public Health School) provided invaluable info on the role of drugs in drug abuse management, even for a mental health law practitioner like me. We can all say that "treatment works," but it's useful to know more about what and why, particularly because prohibitionist coerced-abstinence "treatment" funds so many junk-science narco-therapy programs for mj users.

The conf closed on the compelling issue of what can be done now by cities and local activists, within the framework of federal prohibition laws and state prohibition enforcement (sidebar: Prohibition, the most
expensive unfunded federal mandate for state law enforcement, except for the fed's invaluable source country and border interdiction success). RogerG/Rachel are working up a list of "little changes" for distribution, but there's doable work to reduce the harm of prohibition.

My observation on the template: You can, with stamina (thanks to Trinity for the nonstop food&drink) pack a quite comprehensive education into two days, with a big city as the focus. Every city has players in this issue, its containment (current policy), frustrated health care delivery experts, frustrated community activists, academic experts, addiction survivors and law enforcement. To be seen is whether the connections made by local activists at such confs can be harnessed to provide an ongoing source of political organizing and pressure on state legislators and municipal leaders (this city happens to have a mayor who is ready to lead a neighborhood parade without fearing soft on crime demagoguery).

Law Office of Michael D. Cutler
Cell: (617) 816-6056
Fax: (1-253) 322-9606
PO Box 1234
860 657 8438
Hartford, CT 06143
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  • At 2:46 pm, November 01, 2005, Blogger Blair J Anderson said…

    Three probing articles, that most will interesting to say the least./Clifford WT

    >Pubdate: Fri, 21 Oct 2005
    >Source: Province, The (CN BC)
    >Copyright: 2005 The Province
    >On the face of it, Canada's approach to the use of illegal drugs has
    >failed. The number of addicts continues to rise, and putting them in
    >prison does little or nothing to cure their habit.
    >It makes sense, therefore, that when B.C.'s medical officers of
    >health, sitting as the Health Officers Council of B.C., recommend a
    >major shift in policy we should pay close attention.
    >In a report released to a conference held in Vancouver this week, the
    >council proposed legalizing and regulating access to mind-altering
    >drugs such as cocaine and heroin.
    >Drug abuse, the council said, should in future be a health issue, pure
    >and simple -- and be removed entirely from the criminal justice system.
    >One of the arguments is that people given controlled access to drugs
    >would no longer be driven to steal to support their addiction.
    >They also argue that regulation would cut down on the number of
    >drug-related deaths by ensuring the purity of the product. Sharing
    >dirty needles and spreading Hep C would be a thing of the past.
    >It is a tempting vision. And the integrity and depth of experience of
    >those behind it are beyond question.
    >Nor are the health officers alone. There is a growing consensus within
    >the medical community that treating addicts as criminals will do
    >nothing to lessen the havoc caused by drug abuse.
    >But will the idea fly?
    >Legalizing heroin and cocaine -- or, for that matter, marijuana -- may
    >make perfect sense on an intellectual level.
    >But there are times when what the head tells us, our basic instincts
    >are disinclined to accept.
    >Public opinion is a fickle thing. It may lag frustratingly behind
    >expert opinion, it may be fuelled by ignorance and prejudice -- but it
    >cannot be discounted.
    >While people may be sympathetic to the plight of addicts -- many of
    >them from the most vulnerable sectors of society -- are people really
    >ready to see their tax dollars pay for the druggies' daily fix?
    >Millions of ordinary families across B.C. work hard every day to make
    >ends meet, to feed and clothe their kids, to put money aside for a
    >rainy day, to take care of their health.
    >They can be forgiven if they hesitate to embrace with enthusiasm
    >radical policies designed to help those whom, fairly or unfairly, they
    >may see as the architects of their own misfortune.
    >In theory, we endorse the health officers' report.
    >In reality, it will have to wait.
    >What do you think? Leave a brief comment, name and town at:
    >604-605-2029, fax: 604-605-2099 or e-mail:
    >Pubdate: Tue, 18 Oct 2005
    >Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
    >Copyright: 2005, The Globe and Mail Company
    >Author: Gary Mason
    >Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)
    >Bookmark: (Harm Reduction)
    >VANCOUVER -- Whether we like it or not, we appear headed for what
    >will certainly be a loud and rancorous debate over this country's
    >drug policies. And framing the discussion will be the ever-growing
    >view of health professionals that it's time to turn convention on its ear.
    >Almost certain to be cited in the national conversation that's ahead
    >will be a study being released here today by the Health Officers
    >Council of British Columbia entitled: A Public Health Approach to
    >Drug Control in Canada. It may be the most comprehensive, progressive
    >and controversial report yet to be published on the issue.
    >Certainly, by a group as qualified as this one.
    >The most contentious recommendation? Mind-altering drugs, including
    >heroin and cocaine, be legalized and regulated. The thinking being
    >that by gaining control over the pharmacological makeup (see purity)
    >and delivery of drugs on the market, there would be fewer deaths from
    >things like overdoses.
    >In other words, the emphasis in Canada should be on harm reduction
    >rather than on the fruitless notion of eliminating drug use through
    >jail sentences. An approach that is clearly not working.
    >"Prohibition is contributing to many of the problems stemming from
    >substance abuse," said Gillian Maxwell, chair of a two-day conference
    >on drug use where the paper will be presented.
    >"You throw people in jail and they pick up diseases like Hepatitis C
    >or HIV and then when they return to society their lives are a mess.
    >They are stigmatized and are often worse off than they were before.
    >So they turn to crime and it begins a vicious cycle."
    >"We have experts from all over the world now saying that chronic
    >dependence, regardless of the drug, cigarettes, alcohol, heroin, is a
    >problem that should not be dealt with by the criminal justice system."
    >Fine. So how would it work?
    >Dr. Richard Mathias, a specialist in community medicine and a
    >professor of public health at the University of British Columbia,
    >said he envisions a regulatory framework that looks at drugs on an
    >individual basis. Cannabis, for instance, would be legally sold and
    >regulated because the "benefits out weigh the harms."
    >And heroin?
    >"Heroin is actually an exceedingly safe drug," said Dr. Mathias, one
    >of the authors of the consensus report being released by the health
    >officers. "It is not toxic. What's causing the major harm with heroin
    >is the sharing of needles and impure product. We would propose and
    >advise people use it other than through injection if they want to use it.
    >"If you choose to inject the drug it would be in a single dose
    >syringe with pharmacological purity and with a known dose. If it's a
    >single dose you don't share the needle."
    >Both dose and needle would be purchased at your local pharmacy.
    >Dr. Mathias agrees that part of the national debate will centre on
    >the concern that by legalizing these drugs you will only encourage their use.
    >"We don't believe this will create more users," he said. "We sell
    >cigarettes and we've cut down usage substantially over the years
    >through education. We'd do the same here."
    >On his most optimistic days, Dr. Mathias sees a new national drug
    >policy that resembles what the public health officers recommend in
    >place some time during his lifetime.
    >In more pessimistic moments, he sees someone dying and a lawsuit
    >being launched and the whole issue arriving on the door step of the
    >Supreme Court, where it's decided drugs are a Charter issue.
    >"This has to be decided in the political sphere," he said.
    >"Let's forge ahead with this and if we're wrong we'll change it. But
    >it's at least worth a try. We all know what we have now doesn't work."
    >Pubdate: Sat, 22 Oct 2005
    >Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
    >Copyright: 2005, The Globe and Mail Company
    >Author: Margaret Wente
    >Bookmark: (Harm Reduction)
    >I'll Go Out On A Limb Here: Reduce Drug Use
    >They're not junkies -- they're clients! Still addicted to your
    >pathetic cigarettes? Shame on you. You, my friend, are a pariah, to
    >say nothing of a public-health menace, and we are slowly driving you
    >to the margins. Stay at least six feet away from the office door,
    >please, so you don't contaminate the rest of us, and enjoy your
    >filthy habit while you can, because some cities are about to ban
    >smoking in any public space. Have kids? Double shame. Don't you know
    >secondhand smoke is a form of child abuse? Watch out, or you're gonna
    >lose custody.
    >On the other hand, if you're a crackhead, our city's public-health
    >workers are here to help you. Here, have a free crack kit. It has a
    >nice clean mouthpiece and a pipestem. Or maybe you'd like a needle
    >and some alcohol swabs for your heroin habit? If you don't like
    >shooting up in the back alley, how about a safe consumption site,
    >where a registered nurse will give you some useful tips about vein
    >maintenance and injection techniques?
    >I'm not making this up. This is the innovative new drug strategy that
    >has been unveiled by Toronto's leading public-health officials. It is
    >very similar to the drug strategy adopted by Vancouver, which
    >operates "safe" injection sites in the notoriously drug-ridden
    >Downtown Eastside. And it's merely an extension of what Toronto is
    >already doing. Residents of Cabbagetown recently discovered a pile of
    >used needles, alcohol pads, matches and "safe crack kit gear"
    >scattered near a children's playground. Some of these items bore the
    >Toronto public-health logo.
    >In the world of progressive drug policy, the word "addict" has been
    >outlawed. Even the word "abuser" is avoided, because it's too
    >judgmental. Such persons are now known as "users," or sometimes
    >"clients." As one safe-injection nurse in Vancouver put it, her job
    >is to "educate participants and to support them in making their own
    >informed choices."
    >British Columbia's public-health officers have weighed in with their
    >ideas, too, in a document called A Public Health Approach to Drug
    >Control in Canada. In their view, it's no good fighting drug use, so
    >we might as well make illegal drugs legal, cut the criminals out of
    >the action, and have the government run the whole drug business. They
    >propose a giant state monopoly that would control supply, production
    >and access, regulate drugs for quality, purity and potency, and
    >decide who would get what drugs under what circumstances. Presumably,
    >this monopoly would cover everything from heroin, crack and crystal
    >meth to cooking sherry and solvents sniffed from paper bags.
    >Naturally, money from the proceeds would be set aside for
    >safe-shooting campaigns and even rehab. Crack Control Board of
    >Ontario, anyone?
    >The common notion behind these various schemes is "harm reduction,"
    >which argues that, if you can't get people to kick the habit, you
    >might as well give them clean needles so they don't spread diseases
    >or kill themselves with an overdose. So far, however, there's no
    >solid evidence that harm reduction reduces either diseases or
    >overdoses. What it does do is create a magnet for drug dealers, who
    >know they can operate around safe-injection sites with impunity.
    >Now don't get me wrong. I have a lot of sympathy for addicts, and I
    >think it's useless to criminalize them and throw them into jail. But
    >a bit of stigmatization is no bad thing. Social stigma is the reason
    >why hardly anyone you know smokes any more. When I started smoking at
    >16, it was thought to be sociable and sophisticated. Then it become
    >filthy, unhealthy and disgusting, so I quit. Take it from me and the
    >many other former addicts I know -- shame and self-respect are the
    >most powerful motives to kick your habit, whatever your habit may be.
    >Heroin users say tobacco is more addictive than heroin. And yet, we
    >don't hesitate to treat smokers with scare stories and tough love. We
    >don't give them tobacco kits and matches to win their trust and show
    >them we are non-judgmental about their informed choice. We expect
    >them to keep quitting and quitting till it sticks.
    >The harm-reduction crowd argues that prohibition is futile because it
    >doesn't work. But it does work, although imperfectly. Make cigarettes
    >expensive and prohibit their sale to kids, and fewer kids are going
    >to smoke. Our restrictive strategy for tobacco has been reasonably
    >successful in cutting down on teenage smoking. So has our
    >zero-tolerance crusade against drunk drivers. Nobody is more
    >stigmatized than they are. We set up roadblocks, randomly test them,
    >and throw the book at anyone who flunks the blow test. Because of our
    >intolerance, far fewer drivers are failing the test, and
    >drunk-driving fatalities are dropping.
    >All these public-health manifestos strenuously argue that the
    >distinctions we make between different types of users and their
    >choice of drugs are arbitrary. Drug use is hard-wired into the human
    >species, and you, Mr. Merlot-swilling elitist from suburbia, are
    >essentially no different from that cokehead on Dundas Street. You're
    >both users. In fact, the Toronto Drug Strategy paper spends far more
    >time dwelling on the social horrors of the demon alcohol than on all
    >the city's hard drugs put together. It wants more restrictions on
    >alcohol, except for winos in shelters, who ought to get more.
    >But the differences between legal and most illegal drugs are not
    >exactly trivial. It's pretty hard to argue (although these people
    >try) that alcohol and crack are basically the same. There's also the
    >matter of criminality. Illegal drugs wreck communities, enrich
    >international narco-terrorists and turn their victims into social
    >outcasts. Not all of this is an artifact of prohibition. Some drugs
    >really do deserve to be banned.
    >Personally, I don't think that turning governments into drug enablers
    >is such a great idea. Maybe the real way to reduce harm from drug use
    >-- I know I'm going out on a limb here -- is to reduce drug use.
    >Can this actually be done? Well, maybe. Miami cut drug use among kids
    >in half with a vigorous campaign that combined the efforts of courts,
    >police, business, schools and parents. Sweden (a liberal welfare
    >state that's also strongly Lutheran) has a tough zero-tolerance
    >policy. Although drug use there has soared in the past decade, it's
    >still the lowest in Europe. Most Swedes would think that giving
    >addicts safe crack kits or a steady supply of heroin (Vancouver's
    >latest hot idea) is nuts. So do the people who stumbled on Toronto's
    >official crack kits. The dealers like it, though. As one Cabbagetown
    >resident told a Toronto newspaper, the drug dealers are "absolutely
    >laughing at the fools at City Hall."


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