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, July 12, 2010

Sabin: "Liar Liar Pants on Fire"

Cato InstituteImage via Wikipedia
Commenting on Auckland SuperCity Mayoral candidate Simon Prast's community safety initiative, a former policeman [a job that entails never ever telling lies] came out with;

"Cannabis use has increased to highest levels, overall drug use has increased to highest levels in Portugal since they've relaxed their drug laws a few years ago," says drug educator Mike Sabin.

OK, so what did Portugal really do.... here from TIME magazine last year. (see Drugs in Portugal: Did Decriminalization Work?)
However, the media can only come up with... "its last weeks news, no story there!".
Mike Sabin, your a liar... now sue me!

"Judging by every metric, decriminalization in Portugal has been a resounding success," says Glenn Greenwald, an attorney, author and fluent Portuguese speaker, who conducted the research. "It has enabled the Portuguese government to manage and control the drug problem far better than virtually every other Western country does."

Compared to the European Union and the U.S., Portugal's drug use numbers are impressive. Following decriminalization, Portugal had the lowest rate of lifetime marijuana use in people over 15 in the E.U.: 10%. The most comparable figure in America is in people over 12: 39.8%. Proportionally, more Americans have used cocaine than Portuguese have used marijuana.

The Cato paper reports that between 2001 and 2006 in Portugal, rates of lifetime use of any illegal drug among seventh through ninth graders fell from 14.1% to 10.6%; drug use in older teens also declined. Lifetime heroin use among 16-to-18-year-olds fell from 2.5% to 1.8% (although there was a slight increase in marijuana use in that age group). New HIV infections in drug users fell by 17% between 1999 and 2003, and deaths related to heroin and similar drugs were cut by more than half. In addition, the number of people on methadone and buprenorphine treatment for drug addiction rose to 14,877 from 6,040, after decriminalization, and money saved on enforcement allowed for increased funding of drug-free treatment as well.

Portugal's case study is of some interest to lawmakers in the U.S., confronted now with the violent overflow of escalating drug gang wars in Mexico. The U.S. has long championed a hard-line drug policy, supporting only international agreements that enforce drug prohibition and imposing on its citizens some of the world's harshest penalties for drug possession and sales. Yet America has the highest rates of cocaine and marijuana use in the world, and while most of the E.U. (including Holland) has more liberal drug laws than the U.S., it also has less drug use.

"I think we can learn that we should stop being reflexively opposed when someone else does [decriminalize] and should take seriously the possibility that anti-user enforcement isn't having much influence on our drug consumption," says Mark Kleiman, author of the forthcoming When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment and director of the drug policy analysis program at UCLA. Kleiman does not consider Portugal a realistic model for the U.S., however, because of differences in size and culture between the two countries.

But there is a movement afoot in the U.S., in the legislatures of New York State, California and Massachusetts, to reconsider our overly punitive drug laws. Recently, Senators Jim Webb and Arlen Specter proposed that Congress create a national commission, not unlike Portugal's, to deal with prison reform and overhaul drug-sentencing policy. As Webb noted, the U.S. is home to 5% of the global population but 25% of its prisoners.

At the Cato Institute in early April, Greenwald contended that a major problem with most American drug policy debate is that it's based on "speculation and fear mongering," rather than empirical evidence on the effects of more lenient drug policies. In Portugal, the effect was to neutralize what had become the country's number one public health problem, he says.

"The impact in the life of families and our society is much lower than it was before decriminalization," says Joao Castel-Branco Goulao, Portugual's "drug czar" and president of the Institute on Drugs and Drug Addiction, adding that police are now able to re-focus on tracking much higher level dealers and larger quantities of drugs.

Peter Reuter, a professor of criminology and public policy at the University of Maryland, like Kleiman, is skeptical. He conceded in a presentation at the Cato Institute that "it's fair to say that decriminalization in Portugal has met its central goal. Drug use did not rise." However, he notes that Portugal is a small country and that the cyclical nature of drug epidemics — which tends to occur no matter what policies are in place — may account for the declines in heroin use and deaths.

The Cato report's author, Greenwald, hews to the first point: that the data shows that decriminalization does not result in increased drug use. Since that is what concerns the public and policymakers most about decriminalization, he says, "that is the central concession that will transform the debate."

Blair Anderson

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  • At 1:01 pm, August 09, 2010, Blogger Rachael said…

    But Blair, the figures for lifetime use incidence aren't going to change much in just a few short years, and your post doesn't even give the Portugese figure pre law change for comparison, only saying it's Internationally low. Could be religion, availability of competing opium ciggys (I found it high in Spain), or anything.
    Your post says the cannabis figures rose for 16-to-18-year-olds. Which could be interpreted as the start of an all age trend to Portugal catching up with the rest of the prohibition and decriminalised countries in their high use. I can't agree that Sabin is a liar - it looks more like Portugal has achieved harm reduction in some metrics, but not in "all metrics" as that study claims. I'd reserve judgement for a few more years. Right now it's in the eye of the beholder.

  • At 3:17 pm, August 09, 2010, Blogger Blair Anderson said…

    Then you dont understand the metric 'lifetime use' - ever used might be a better if simplistic description. If less young people have ever used then surely a metric describable as success. Whereas we need no time to discover prohibitions failure, here in NZ youth, cannabis is tantamount to compulsory.

    You might enjoy ADDICTION (august/2010) Journal. Major focus on cannabis.

    There is little comfort there for prohibitory practice. Grab it from a medical library near you or wait until others copy/quote. It is compelling reading for evidence based nerds.


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