Thursday, December 16, 2010

'Legalise and regulate drugs' says UK's former drugs and defence Minister

Bob Ainsworth MP, former Home Office drugs minister and Secretary of State for Defence, will call for the legalisation and regulation of drugs during a Parliamentary debate he is leading in Westminster Hall, at 2.30pm, Thurs 16th December 2010.

Mr Ainsworth said;

“I have just been reading the Coalition Government’s new Drugs Strategy. It is described by the Home Secretary as fundamentally different to what has gone before; it is not. To the extent that it is different, it is potentially harmful because it retreats from the principle of harm reduction, which has been one of the main reasons for the reduction in acquisitive crime in recent years.

However, prohibition has failed to protect us. Leaving the drugs market in the hands of criminals causes huge and unnecessary harms to individuals, communities and entire countries, with the poor the hardest hit. We spend billions of pounds without preventing the wide availability of drugs. It is time to replace our failed war on drugs with a strict system of legal regulation, to make the world a safer, healthier place, especially for our children. We must take the trade away from organised criminals and hand it to the control of doctors and pharmacists.

As drugs minister in the Home Office I saw how prohibition fails to reduce the harm that drugs cause in the UK, fuelling burglaries, gifting the trade to gangsters and increasing HIV infections. My experience as Defence Secretary, with specific responsibilities in Afghanistan, showed to me that the war on drugs creates the very conditions that perpetuate the illegal trade, while undermining international development and security.

My departure from the front benches gives me the freedom to express my long held view that, whilst it was put in place with the best of intentions, the war on drugs has been nothing short of a disaster.

Politicians and the media need to engage in a genuine and grown up debate about alternatives to prohibition, so that we can build a consensus based on delivering the best outcomes for our children and communities. I call on those on all sides of the debate to support an independent, evidence-based review, exploring all policy options, including: further resourcing the war on drugs, decriminalising the possession of drugs, and legally regulating their production and supply.

One way to do this would be an Impact Assessment of the Misuse of Drugs Act in line with the 2002 Home Affairs Select Committee finding – which included David Cameron – for the government to explore alternatives to prohibition, including legal regulation.

The re-legalisation of alcohol in the US after thirteen years of Prohibition was not surrender. It was a pragmatic move based on the government’s need to retake control of the illegal trade from violent gangsters. After 50 years of global drug prohibition it is time for governments throughout the world to repeat this shift with currently illegal drugs.”

Peter Lilley MP, former Conservative Party Deputy Leader said
“The current approach to drugs has been an expensive failure, and for the sake of everyone, and the young in particular, it is time for all politicians to stop using the issue as a political football. I have long advocated breaking the link between soft and hard drugs – by legalising cannabis while continuing to prohibit hard drugs. But I support Bob Ainsworth’s sensible call for a proper, evidence based review, comparing the pros and cons of the current prohibitionist approach with all the alternatives, including wider decriminalisation, and legal regulation.”

Tom Brake MP, Co-Chair, Liberal Democrat Backbench Committee on Home Affairs, Justice and Equalities said;
“Liberal Democrats have long called for a science-based approach to our drugs problem. So it is without hesitation that I support Bob Ainsworth’s appeal to end party political point-scoring, and explore sensitively all the options, through an Impact Assessment of the Misuse of Drugs Act.”

Labour’s Paul Flynn MP said;
"This could be a turning point in the failing UK 'war on drugs.' Bob Ainsworth is the persuasive, respected voice of the many whose views have been silenced by the demands of ministerial office. Every open rational debate concludes that the UK's harsh drugs prohibition has delivered the worst outcomes in Europe - deaths, drug crime and billions of pounds wasted."



Neil Smith, Office of Bob Ainsworth MP SMITHN(at)
Martin Powell, TDPF head of campaigns martin(at)
Steve Rolles, TDPF Senior Policy Analyst steve(at)
Transform Office 0117 941 5810

Notes for Editors:

  • Bob Ainsworth MP has represented Coventry North since 1992 and has held a number of shadow and ministerial positions including:
Home Office - Parliamentary secretary, with responsibility for drugs (Jun 2001 - Jun 2003)
Deputy Chief Whip (June 2003 – June 2007)
Minister for the Armed Forces (June 2007 – May 2009)
Secretary of State for Defence (June 2009 – May 2010)
Shadow Secretary of State for Defence (May 2010 – October 2010)

Bob Ainsworth's Blog Biography
and Guardian profile

  • The Liberal Democrat party policy recognises “The failure of prohibition”, supports decriminalisation of drugs, and calls for an audit comparing the current approach with the alternatives. Lib Dem drug policy paper. Lib Dem manifesto

  • There is a long history of those involved in developing or delivering drug policy supporting reform once out of office. See Transform's 'supporters of reform' archive which includes:
- Former drugs Minister Mo Mowlam: 'Fight terror: legalise the drugs trade' (Guardian 2002)

- Julian Critchley, former Director of the UK Anti-Drug Coordinating Unit: 'All the experts admit that we should legalise drugs' (Independent 2008)

  • The difference between decriminalisation and legalisation:
Decriminalisation is the removal of criminal sanctions for the production, supply or use of an illegal drug. Civil or administrative sanctions, such as a fine or requirement to enter treatment, may remain, even if criminal sanctions (resulting in prosecution and a criminal record) are removed. In popular usage, the term 'decriminalisation' usually refers to the removal of criminal sanctions for possession of drugs for personal use, while sanctions often remain for the production or supply of drugs.

Legalisation and regulation - ‘legalisation’ is a process - moving away from absolute prohibition - and does not specify what legal framework to regulate production, supply and use of drugs replaces it. ‘Legalisation and regulation’ is not the free for all some have envisaged, and is not a free market model as espoused by some libertarians. Instead it involves controls on producers, products, vendors and consumers. For example models of strict legal regulation see Transform's 2009 publication: “After the War on Drugs: Blueprint for Regulation”

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Watch Speakers from Transform's 'Ending the War on Drugs' Event

We have now uploaded footage of the speakers at our 'Ending the War on Drugs' event which has held last month in London.

This was a really successful event, with some great speeches from a range of people who each provided their own particular insight into the so-called 'War on Drugs'.

The speakers are Angus MacQueen, award-winning documentary maker and director of the recent Channel 4 series 'Our Drugs War'; Carel Edwards, former head of the European Commission's Anti-Drug Coordinating Unit; and Misha Glenny, a specialist on Southeastern Europe and author of 'McMafia: Seriously Organised Crime'.

Carel Edwards speaking at Transform Event from Transform on Vimeo.

Misha Glenny speaking at Transform Event from Transform on Vimeo.

Monday, December 13, 2010

'The Nation' magazine special issue / cover feature on ending the Drug War

Great to see yet more mainstream media coverage of the drug law reform debate, this time in a special issue  of The Nation Magazine. The cover story includes a visual riff on the logo of the infamous D.A.R.E drug prevention program, a gag used previously by Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP is covered in one of the feature articles, by SSDP director Aaron Houston - see below).  

The feature content list is as follows (most available online for non-subscribers):

A special Nation forum, with contributions from Ethan Nadelmann, Marc Mauer, Bruce Western, Tracy Velázquez, David Cole and Laura Carlsen.
The prospects for reforming drug policy have never been so good. Ethan Nadelmann

Congress's vote to scale back mandatory sentences for federal crack cocaine offenses was a watershed in the long campaign for better drug policy. Marc Mauer

America doesn't have a drug problem. It has a poverty problem. Bruce Western

Drug courts have helped some addicts recover. But they may be delaying expansion of treatment programs that will best reduce harms from addiction. Tracy Velázquez

(Subscribers only) The drug war has been waged not only on traffickers and users but on liberty and equality. David Cole

(Subscribers only) The problem with the drug war in Mexico is not that it's unfunded. It's unwinnable.Laura Carlsen

Despite the defeat of Proposition 19, growers in California are expanding a profitable system for cultivating pot. Sasha Abramsky

Fueled by serious funds, young advocates of legalization are poised for big gains. Aaron Houston

The administration is promoting failed law enforcement programs as economic stimulus. Michelle Alexander

The killing in Juárez bears less resemblance to warfare between cartels than to criminal anarchy. Ed Vulliamy

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Transform Launches New Impact Assessment Web Page

We have recently added a new page to the Transform website promoting our call for an Impact Assessment (IA) of drug policy.

An IA would make an independent, non-partisan evaluation of the merits and flaws of existing domestic and international drug policy, and compare them with the costs and benefits of alternatives - including further resourcing for a criminal justice led approach, decriminalising personal possession, or legally regulating production and supply. The outcomes of this evaluation would then point the way to the most effective policies to manage drug production, supply and use.

In 2007 a UK government review concluded that such an evaluation could not be made – a conclusion that the UK Home Affairs Select Committee strongly condemned (in its report March 2010 report on the cocaine trade). The Committee diplomatically declared it “careless” that the Government published its Drugs Strategy in 2008 without having assessed the effectiveness of existing drug policy. Consequently, the Committee said that it

“support[s] calls for a full and independent value-for-money assessment of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and related legislation and policy.”

Since then support for an IA has grown rapidly, with several prominent public figures and organisations calling for an objective review of current drug policy - including the Howard League for Penal Reform, Prof Sir Ian Gilmore and Lord Norton of Louth.

The beauty of this call is that it is policy neutral and therefore can be supported by those who support prohibition, those who are undecided, as well proponents of reform. To his great credit Prof Neil McKeganey has signed up to support an IA.

To find out more about what an IA would involve, and to see who supports it, please visit the new web page here.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

California's message - end the War on Drugs, cut the deficit

Campaigners are confident that it is now when, not if, marijuana is legalised in the US, with several states likely to vote on legalisation initiatives in 2012, and a Presidential election year that increases turn out of liberal voters likely to vote “yes” in California. Where the largest US state leads, others follow, but the ramifications would be global. Mexican and Colombian politicians have said their countries would follow suit, with a snowball effect all but inevitable.

Colombia’s President Santos has said:

"How does one explain to indigenous people that they are not to grow marijuana at the risk of being thrown into jail, but that in the richest state of the United States, they have legalized its production, sale, and consumption?"
If the architect of the War on Drugs acted in direct contravention of the UN Conventions underpinning prohibition, the unravelling of the current approach to all drugs could be rapid.

But why is legal regulation of marijuana in the California now on the cards, and are the circumstances the same in the UK?

Partly it is the bloody reality of the Drug War's failure arriving uniquely on America’s Mexican doorstep. Partly it is a generational shift as older voters are replaced by younger ones who lean towards reform - which is also happening in the UK.

But the most important trigger is probably economic. As public spending is slashed to reduce California’s budget deficit, the State Board of Equalisation estimates that legalising and taxing cannabis could raise $1.4 billion dollars, with huge additional savings in reduced enforcement costs. Others have disputed this figure on and the precise number will clearly depend on price controls tax levels and other variables. Regardless, this is an argument that is not going away soon - in the UK as much as the US.

As dust from the Comprehensive Spending Review settles, ministers claim no area of public spending will escape scrutiny. Exploring non criminal justice responses to drug users, or more ambitiously, legally regulated drug production and availability, could dramatically improve outcomes for society, make substantial cost savings, and generate tax revenues. Currently, enforcement aimed at reducing supply costs us £380 million per year, but the Home Office estimates the additional cost of ‘dealing with drug related crime’ is £1.7 billion a year, rising to over £4 billion a year, if costs across the criminal justice system (prisons etc.) are included.

Yet despite these billions, the Government’s own analysis shows we are further than ever from the promised ‘drug free world’. Drugs are cheaper than ever before, use of the most harmful is at record highs, and massive levels of drug motivated crime is fuelling a crisis in the criminal justice system - at a time when the Government plans to reduce prisoner numbers.

Despite this staggering cost ineffectiveness, drug enforcement spending remains protected from public scrutiny within a political bubble of law and order populism. This year alone, reports from the National Audit Office, The Public Accounts Committee and Home Affairs Select Committee have blasted the Home Office for having no meaningful evaluation of the impact of the money spent. In terms of major public spending initiatives, drug policy is unique in this regard. But with widespread concern about public spending cuts, the blank cheque for the drug war may soon be a thing of the past.

Crucially, it is now widely accepted that many of the costs of ‘the drug problem’ – including gang violence and acquisitive crime committed by addicts - are primarily fuelled by drug prohibition, not drug use per se. The Home Office does not dispute this, nor does the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, which has acknowledged a ‘vast criminal black market’ is one of the ‘unintended negative consequences’ of the current approach.

Yet such is the political fear of more cost-effective approaches, including Portuguese-style decriminalisation or the regulatory models for drug production and supply explored in Transform’s Blueprint for Regulation (with controls over products, vendors, outlets, access and marketing), that they have never been seriously considered. Questions about legal regulation are rebuffed with claims that the benefits would be outweighed by increased health costs from an assumed increase in use. These claims are baseless. The Home Office has never, and will not do, the cost benefit analysis needed to substantiate them. There is also no evidence that prohibition has been an effective deterrent, or reduced drug harms, or that strictly controlled legal availability would increase misuse. When challenged, successive governments have admitted all they have is a ‘belief’ the current system is effective.

Transform’s analysis, which the Government does not dispute, shows that legally regulating drug supply could save around £2 billion a year from the Home Office budget alone (primarily through a 75% drop in drug motivated crime), with much greater savings to society as a whole. On top of this is the potential to tax cannabis in particular. California’s $1.4 billion marijuana tax take would be from a population only about two thirds that of the UK, whilst in the Netherlands (one quarter of the UK population, with lower levels of use) ‘coffee shop’ tax revenue is 400 million Euros a year, which would rise by 260 million Euros if the supply of cannabis to the coffee shops were taxed as well.

The stark reality is that squandering money on the War on Drugs is not just counterproductive, it starves worthwhile projects of funds. If legally regulating drugs realised £2 billion a year in savings and taxes - which is an extremely conservative estimate - it would be equivalent to paying the salaries of 86,000 police constables, or 92,600 teachers, or 94,000 nurses. Alternatively we could refurbish around 250 schools every year and reverse the cut in Child Benefit. Or just fund proven drug treatment and education programmes properly.

Whilst this research is based on limited data, it demands that at the very least the Government formally counts the costs and benefits of the current approach, and explores alternatives. No more, in fact, than has been called for by the pre-coalition Lib Dems, and David Cameron when on the Home Affairs Select Committee.

When even the US is exploring legal regulation, what is the UK still afraid of? The Government needs to ask; is it really still worth squandering billions a year just to sound tough on drugs?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Drug warriors coming in from the cold? Calls for legal marijuana to be strictly regulated

With US support for the legalisation of cannabis/marijuana fast approaching the 50% threshold  (California's Prop 19 legalisation ballot measure recently polling the highest ever US support, at 46.1%), and a string of new referendums and Bills coming up in the next couple of years, the debate is moving from if marijuana is legally regulated, to how to regulate it properly. Arguably it was concerns about the legislation in practice rather than priciple that led to Prop 19 falling short. 

US views on marijuana laws - from Nate Silver's fivethirtyeight blog

An interesting sign of the changing debate is that even a year ago it would have been unthinkable for a historically prohibitionist US organisation like National Families in Action to launch “But What About the Children" campaign. In their own words this is:
“…a campaign to hold a legalized marijuana industry accountable for ensuring that children will not have access to the drug if any law is passed to legalize the drug. The campaign holds that any marijuana legalization law should incorporate provisions to avoid what medical science has learned about alcohol and tobacco use in order to prevent marijuana use and addiction among children.”

In other words, whilst NFIA remains adamantly opposed to marijuana legalisation, it recognises it is now on the cards, and if it happens, then production and supply should be properly regulated. It is particularly interesting to see the 'imperilled child' narrative - so long used to argue against drug law reform - now being used as the basis for a call for more effective market regulation (based in significant part on lessons learned from mistakes with alcohol and tobacco regulation). Quite right too.

Given research shows steadily increasing availability and falling price, and that 80-90% of US 12th graders have easy access to cannabis, (many finding alcohol harder to get), amongst the many benefits of legal regulation of the currently criminal trade, regulation presents an obvious opportunity to protect children and young people. Below are NFIA’s suggestions for how regulation should function, with some added commentary and quotes from the relevant sections of Transform's recent 'Blueprint for Regulation (pdf)', (see in particular the chapter on cannabis regulation, page 110).

10 Provisions to Protect Children if States or Local Communities Legalize Marijuana

 1. No Advertising - An advertising ban on legal marijuana.

 From Blueprint (p.48):

"Links between the advertising and promotion of alcohol and tobacco products, and increased levels of usage of those products, are well established. Such advertising and promotion could easily drive a similar expansion in psychoactive drug usage. 

Therefore, the default position of any licensing regime should be a complete ban on all advertising, promotion or marketing of all drugs, with any exceptions made only on a cautious case by case basis by the relevant authorities. This ban should include any alcohol and tobacco marketing activities. A default ban should also exist on political donations from any commercial opera­tors in the drugs market. 

The distinct nature of drug risks relative to most other commodities, and the particular need to protect vulnerable groups from exposure to these risks, justifies this stringent restriction of standard commercial freedoms. These controls should extend to point of sale advertising, and the external appearance and signage for outlets.

Such controls should be as strict as possible, within the context of local legal regimes. For example, in the US, a free speech argument can be made against such a ban. However, even though the Supreme Court has extended a degree of ‘free speech’ protection to commercial speech, such speech is still subject to various controls and limitations."
Interestingly the NFIA site specifically discusses the free speech point here.  In Blueprint there is some additional detailed discussion on how this ban might operate for cannabis specifically on page 114 (see also - point 4 below).   

 2. A Penalty Fee - on the marijuana industry for every underage user.

Retailers selling to those underage should face a hierachy of penalties including fines and loss of licenses, potentially even criminal sanctions, as should producers found to be colluding in this practice. However it would be unfair to fine legitimate producers and retailers meeting their legal duties. There is no obvious equivalent to this suggestion in alcohol and tobacco policy, although taxes (sometimes described as 'sin taxes') could be seen as a parallel despite generally being argued as a form of dissuasion and/or income generation.  Blueprint does, however, call for vendors to have 'Shared responsibility re: nuisance in the immediate environment, litter, local enforcemetn costs'

3. Automatic Repeal of marijuana legalization if underage marijuana use exceeds certain levels.

Presumably the NFIA does not think prohibition should be repealed if use hits a certain level! Drug policy should be based on evidence of what works best for society, not arbitrary levels of use. Levels of use and misuse are influenced primarily by a complex interplay of social economic and cultural variable (for which the industry is not responsible)  not drug policy or legislation. However, Blueprint does, none the less, urge caution (p.68):

"This [cautious phased introduction] approach should be, by default, based on a precautionary prin­ciple, particularly where evidence from existing policy is thin, or specific high-risks are identified. New models will thus initially err towards stricter, more intrusive regulation, with lower restriction levels only subsequently coming into play. A precautionary and incremental approach allows for key concerns, such as availability to youth, increase in high risk behaviours or other specific public health concerns, to be closely monitored. If problems do arise, policy can take a step back, be refined and adjusted, and alternative or additional regulatory tools can be deployed."

4. No Product Placements, sponsorships, point-of-purchase marketing, or depictions in entertainment venues.

Broadly speaking we support this. The discussion of cannabis regulation in Blueprint (p 114) suggests that:

"Cannabis use is embedded in much popular culture. Cannabis products and product  iconography are generally non-branded and generic, so a blanket prohibition of anything that might constitute promotion or advertising of cannabis would therefore be impractical. Reasonable controls on exposure to children and young people may be easier to put in place, but would remain difficult to globally define and enforce. However, best practice and evidence from existing controls already widely applied to references to drugs—legal and illegal—in youth media and advertising can be more widely applied.
 Clear lessons can be learnt from experiences with restrictions on promotions and marketing of alcohol and tobacco. Areas where cannabis advertising promotion controls are more realistic include:

Advertising for venues for commercial sales could be limited both in content and scope—for example, to specialist publications, or adult only venues. A complete ban on advertising for promotion of venues is not realistic. Dutch coffee shops are not allowed to advertise but do to some extent—the prohibition in practice acts as a moderating influence, rather than a total ban
Restrictions could be placed on appearance and signage of venues/outlets. In the Netherlands, coffee shops are not allowed to make external references to cannabis, or use related imagery. Rastafari imagery, a palm leaf image, and the words ‘coffee shop’ have become the default signage.

Restrictions could be placed on advertising for certain types of paraphernalia that contain drug references."

5. An Industry-Financed Fund from marijuana profits to pay for the damage legal marijuana will do, so that taxpayers won’t have to pick up the tab.

There is a mistaken presumption here that legal marijuana will do more damage, and incur more cost, than illegal marijuana - the tab for which taxpayers already pay - as well as the huge enforcement tab. The industry should be taxed at an appropriate level to balance the potentially conflicting interests of maximising returns, influencing use levels and minimising the illegal markets (see price controls discussion in Blueprint on page 41) .Any tax income (and it is assumed this would be significant given the scale of the market) could support proven public health interventions including treatment, education and prevention, as well as helping to address some of the underlying social drivers of problematic use. 

6. A State Agency to Tax and Regulate the marijuana industry, including marijuana purity and potency.

We agree. It is vital that a state agency, or agencies should regaulate all relavant aspects of production and availability. On purity and potency specifically, from Blueprint (page 113):
"Controls could manage the strength/potency of herbal or resin form cannabis, based on relative proportions of active ingredients (that is, ratio of THC [tetrahydrocannabinol] to CBD [cannabidiol]). Maximum and minimum % content could be specified." 
7. Licensed Growers, Distributors, and Retail Sellers Marijuana sold only in licensed retail stores where no other products are sold.

We agree on strict licensing including of retail outlets, though we also envisage Dutch-style licensed "coffee-shops", that could sell food and non-alcoholic drinks too. From Blueprint:
"The basic models would involve various forms of licensed sales, for consumption on premises or for take-out—these would be conditional on controls outlined below, and would not preclude a potential pharmacy sales model.

A regulated market model (see: page 27) might be an appropriate incremental step as legal supply infrastructure and outlets were established. A key task of any regulatory body would be to manage supply so as to prevent the emergence of branded products and limit all forms of profit driven marketing and promotions
Blueprint also considers how the inevitable small scale growing for personal use could be catered for in a new legal system (p. 214).

8. No Drugged Driving - A ban on driving with marijuana in the systems of drivers or passengers.

We agree that no one should drive with levels of any drug in their system sufficient to impair their performance - and, to be fair, no one arguing for reform has ever said different. Just as with alcohol, the detail of what level that is needs setting in law - there is ongoing debate whether it should be zero (it varies between jurisdictions). Technical issues exist with cannabis as, unlike alcohol, it is detectable in the system long after any impairment is evident. Until these issues are resolved it may be that impairment testing (possibly in support of more conventional drug testing) is the most effective  response. This is a developing field and should be guided by evidence of what is effective at reducing drug impaired driving and its negative consequences.

We disagree with a ban on passengers with drugs in their system, and even the NFIA gives no justification for including them. It might prove impossible to enforce - would the resposibility for drug free passengers be with the driver? What about buses, trains, planes?

9. No Drugged Employees or Students - A ban on people coming to work or school with marijuana in their systems.

No one should be going to work or school intoxicated so that it impairs their performance, particularly for safety critical responsibilities, but this should be dealt with consistently for all substances (including alcohol) through existing practices, contracts and agreements. We would caution against over-intrusive testing regimes that do not focus on impairment – which have generally shown to be unjustified and ineffective.

10. Smoke-Free Laws Apply - No marijuana use where tobacco smoking is banned.

We agree (see page 61) - although there should usefully be a caveat, detailing different rules for non-smoked cannabis.

2 More Provisions to protect children if Congress legalizes marijuana.

11. Marijuana Controlled by FDA. Marijuana placed under the control of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, like tobacco is now.

We agree. This seems sensible - unless a separate agency is established as suggested in point 6 above.

12. A Surgeon General’s Report on the impact of legal marijuana.

We agree, but as part of a much broader ongoing evidence-based evaluative process of all aspects of the approach taken to drugs at the national and international levels.


Essentially we agree in whole or part with the majority of the regulatory measures the NFIA is suggesting, many of which could have been taken from Transform's “Blueprint for Regulation”. Whether they have been reading it or not doesn't matter, indeed if they are reaching the same conclusions without reading it that is probably a good sign that when people think sensibly about regulating drugs they will tend to come to similar conclusions. And there are plenty of sensible people advising this campaign initiative.

We look forward to genuinely trying to find a common platform that all groups and individuals interested in regulating drugs properly can support in any post-prohibition world.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

High Society: Wellcome Collection exhibition of drugs in history

A new, free exhibition (curated by Transform trustee and author Mike Jay) is opening tomorrow at the Wellcome Collection in London and will be running until February the 27th 2011. The exhibition will explore the role of mind-altering drugs in our history.

With the illicit drug trade estimated by the UN at $320 billion (£200bn) a year and new drugs constantly appearing on the streets and the internet, it can seem as if we are in the grip of an unprecedented level of addiction. Yet the use of psychoactive drugs is nothing new, and indeed our most familiar ones - alcohol, coffee, tobacco - have all been illegal in the past.

From ancient Egyptian poppy tinctures to Victorian cocaine eye drops, Native American peyote rites to the salons of the French Romantics, mind-altering drugs have a rich history. 'High Society' will explore the paths by which these drugs were first discovered - from apothecaries' workshops to state-of-the-art laboratories - and how they came to be simultaneously fetishised and demonised in today’s culture

A number of complimentary side events and discussions are also be organised. You can find out more here:

Transform's Danny Kushlick will lead a tour in February. Further details will be advertised nearer the time via our e-newsletter

An article on the exhibition in today's Independent can be read here

Friday, October 22, 2010

UN expert calls for a fundamental shift in global drug control policy

Media Advisory

At a press conference in New York on Tuesday 26 October, at the 65th session of the United Nations General Assembly, one of the UN’s key human rights experts will call for a fundamental rethink of international drug policy.

Anand Grover, from India, is the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right of Everyone to the Highest Attainable Standard of Physical and Mental Health, whose mandate is derived from the UN Human Rights Council. Mr Grover’s annual thematic report, to be presented on October 25/26, sets out the range of human rights abuses that have resulted from international drug control efforts, and calls on Governments to:

  • Ensure that all harm-reduction measures (as itemized by UNAIDS) and drug-dependence treatment services, particularly opioid substitution therapy, are available to people who use drugs, in particular those among incarcerated populations.
  • Decriminalize or de-penalize possession and use of drugs.
  • Repeal or substantially reform laws and policies inhibiting the delivery of essential health services to drug users, and review law enforcement initiatives around drug control to ensure compliance with human rights obligations.
  • Amend laws, regulations and policies to increase access to controlled essential medicines
  • To the UN drug control agencies, Mr Grover recommends the creation of an alternative drug regulatory framework based on a model such as the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

The report is the clearest statement to date from within the UN system about the harms that drug policies have caused and the need for a fundamental shift in drug policy.

The report has been welcomed by the European Union in the EU statement on crime and drugs to the UN General Assembly.

Press conference details:
Tuesday, 26 October at 1:15pm at the Dag Hammarskjöld Auditorium, New York, (close to the UN library in the Secretariat Building - entrance on 42nd Street and 1st Avenue). There will be a press release issued.

Mr Grover WILL NOT BE AVAILABLE for press comment prior to the press conference.

For press enquiries please contact:

Fiona Lander, MBBS(Hons)/LLB(Hons)
Research Assistant to Anand Grover, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health
+91 9930 925496 fionalander at

Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health

UN Doc No A/65/255


The current international system of drug control has focused on creating a drug free world, almost exclusively through use of law enforcement policies and criminal sanctions. Mounting evidence, however, suggests this approach has failed, primarily because it does not acknowledge the realities of drug use and dependence. While drugs may have a pernicious effect on individual lives and society, this excessively punitive regime has not achieved its stated public health goals, and has resulted in countless human rights violations.

People who use drugs may be deterred from accessing services owing to the threat of criminal punishment, or may be denied access to health care altogether. Criminalization and excessive law enforcement practices also undermine health promotion initiatives, perpetuate stigma and increase health risks to which entire populations - not only those who use drugs - may be exposed. Certain countries incarcerate people who use drugs, impose compulsory treatment upon them, or both. The current international drug control regime also unnecessarily limits access to essential medications, which violates the enjoyment of the right to health.

The primary goal of the international drug control regime, as set forth in the preamble of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (1961), is the “health and welfare of mankind”, but the current approach to controlling drug use and possession works against that aim. Widespread implementation of interventions that reduce harms associated with drug use — harm-reduction initiatives — and of decriminalization of certain laws governing drug control would improve the health and welfare of people who use drugs and the general population demonstrably. Moreover, the United Nations entities and Member States should adopt a right to health approach to drug control, encourage system-wide coherence and communication, incorporate the use of indicators and guidelines, and consider developing a new legal framework concerning certain illicit drugs, in order to ensure that the rights of people who use drugs are respected, protected and fulfilled.


Member States should:

  • Ensure that all harm-reduction measures (as itemized by UNAIDS) and drug-dependence treatment services, particularly opioid substitution therapy, are available to people who use drugs, in particular those among incarcerated populations.
  • Decriminalize or de-penalize possession and use of drugs.
  • Repeal or substantially reform laws and policies inhibiting the delivery of essential health services to drug users, and review law enforcement initiatives around drug control to ensure compliance with human rights obligations.
  • Amend laws, regulations and policies to increase access to controlled essential medicines.

The United Nations drug control bodies should:

  • Integrate human rights into the response to drug control in laws, policies and programmes.
  • Encourage greater communication and dialogue between United Nations entities with an interest in the impact of drug use and markets, and drug control policies and programmes.
  • Consider creation of a permanent mechanism, such as an independent commission, through which international human rights actors can contribute to the creation of international drug policy, and monitor national implementation, with the need to protect the health and human rights of drug users and the communities they live in as its primary objective.
  • Formulate guidelines that provide direction to relevant actors on taking a human rights-based approach to drug control, and devise and promulgate rights-based indicators concerning drug control and the right to health.
  • Consider creation of an alternative drug regulatory framework in the long term, based on a model such as the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Transform launches updated and re-designed 'Comparative Cost-Effectiveness of Drug Prohibition/Regulation' report

On the eve of the Comprehensive Spending Review it seems like an opportune moment to relaunch Transform's 2009 report: 'A Comparison of the Cost-Effectiveness of Prohibition and regulation of Drugs', now updated and beautifully redesigned (available online pdf). The publication created a decent media splash, led to a PQ and ultimately a meeting with the Prime Minister (see below for summary and details). 

‘The benefits of… [legalisation/regulation] – such as taxation, quality control and a reduction in the pressures on the criminal justice system – are far outweighed by the costs and for this reason, it is one that this Government will not pursue either domestically or internationally.”
Home Office Briefing, 2008
  • Despite the billions spent each year on proactive and reactive drug law enforcement, the punitive prohibitionist approach has consistently delivered the opposite of its stated goals. The Government’s own data clearly demonstrates drug supply and availability increasing; use of drugs that cause the most harm increasing; health harms increasing; massive levels of crime created at all scales leading to a crisis in the criminal justice system; and illicit drug profits enriching criminals, fuelling conflict and destabilising producer and transit countries from Mexico to Afghanistan. This is an expensive policy that, in the words of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, has also created a raft of 'negative unintended consequences’.

  • The UK Government specifically claims the benefits of any move away from prohibition towards legal regulation of drug markets would be outweighed by the costs. No such cost-benefit analysis, or even a proper Impact Assessment of existing enforcement policy and legislation has ever been carried out here or anywhere else in the world. Yet there are clear Government guidelines that an Impact Assessment should be triggered by amongst other things, a policy going out to public consultation or when ‘unintended consequences’ are identified, both of which have happened with drug policy in recent years.

  • Alternative approaches - involving established regulatory models of controlling drug production, supply and use - have not been considered or costed. The limited cost effectiveness analysis of current policy that has been undertaken has frequently been suppressed. In terms of scrutinizing major public policy and spending initiatives, current drug policy is unique in this regard.

  • The generalisations being used to defend continuation of an expensive and systematically failing policy of drugs prohibition, and close down a mature and rational exploration of alternative approaches, are demonstrably based on un-evidenced assumptions.

  • This paper is an attempt to begin to redress these failings by comparing the costs and benefits of the current policy of drug prohibition, with those of a proposed model for the legal regulation of drugs in the UK. We also identify areas of further research, and steps to ensure future drugs policy is genuinely based on evidence of what works.

  • This initial analysis demonstrates that a move to legally regulated drug supply would deliver substantial benefits to the Treasury and wider community, even in the highly unlikely event of a substantial increase in use.

A Selection of Media Coverage from the April 09 launch:

BBC radio 4: The Today Programme:

New Statesman: Limping Along on the Left

Daily Mail: Peter Hitchens: Eliot Ness couldn't stop booze, but he would win today's war on drugs ("Another parcel of garbage from the pro-drug lobby")

Further reading:

Thursday, October 14, 2010

67 US law professors back California's prop 19 tax and regulate cannabis measure

The following statement and list of signatories is copied from the website :

To the Voters of California:

As law professors at many law schools who focus on various areas of legal scholarship, we write this open letter to encourage a wholesale rethinking of marijuana policy in this country, and to endorse the Tax and Control Cannabis 2010 initiative—Proposition 19—that will be voted on in November in California.

For decades, our country has pursued a wasteful and ineffective policy of marijuana prohibition. As with alcohol prohibition, this approach has failed to control marijuana, and left its trade in the hands of an unregulated and increasingly violent black market. At the same time, marijuana prohibition has clogged California’s courts alone with tens of thousands of non-violent marijuana offenders each year. Yet marijuana remains as available as ever, with teens reporting that it is easier for them to buy than alcohol across the country.

Proposition 19 would remove criminal penalties for private use and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana by adults and allow California localities to adopt—if they choose—measures to regulate commerce in marijuana. Passage of Proposition 19 would be an important next step toward adopting an approach more grounded in reason, for California and beyond.

Our communities would be better served if the criminal justice resources we currently spend to investigate, arrest, and prosecute people for marijuana offenses each year were redirected toward addressing unsolved violent crimes. In short, the present policy is causing more harm than good, and is eroding respect for the law.

Moreover, we are deeply troubled by the consistent and dramatic reports of disproportionate enforcement of marijuana laws against young people of color. Marijuana laws were forged in racism, and have been demonstrated to be inconsistently and unfairly applied since their inception. These are independent reasons for their repeal.

Especially in the current economic climate, we must evaluate the efficacy of expensive government programs and make responsible decisions about the use of state resources. We find the present policies toward marijuana to be bankrupt, and urge their rethinking.

This country has an example of a path from prohibition. Alcohol is subject to a regulatory framework that is far safer in every respect than the days of Al Capone. Just like the State of New York did when it rolled back Prohibition 10 years before the nation as a whole, California should show leadership and restore respect for the law by enacting the Tax and Control Cannabis 2010 initiative this November.

Click here to sign and endorse!


Jonathan H. Adler
Case Western Reserve University School of Law, Cleveland, Ohio

Ty Alper
University of California, Berkeley, School of Law, Berkeley, CA

Hadar Aviram
University of California, Hastings College of the Law, San Francisco, CA

W. David Ball
Santa Clara Law, Santa Clara, CA

Randy Barnett
Georgetown University Law Center, Washington, DC

Tom W. Bell
Chapman Law School, Orange, CA

Steve Berenson
Thomas Jefferson School of Law, San Diego, CA

Eric Berger
University of Nebraska, College of Law, Lincoln, NE

Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH

David E. Bernstein
George Mason University School of Law, Arlington, VA

Ash Bhagwat
University of California, Hastings College of the Law, San Francisco, CA

Richard Boldt
University of Maryland School of Law, Baltimore, MD

Sande Buhai
Loyola University School of Law, Los Angeles, CA

Paul Butler
George Washington University Law School, Washington, DC

Erwin Chemerinsky
University of California, Irvine, CA

Gabriel J. Chin
University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law, Tucson, AZ

Marjorie Cohn
Thomas Jefferson School of Law, San Diego, CA

Mary Culbert
Loyola University School of Law, Los Angeles, CA

Angela J. Davis
Washington College of Law, American University, Washington, DC

Alan M. Dershowitz
Harvard Law School, Cambridge, MA

Steven Duke
Yale Law School, New Haven, CT

Elizabeth Price Foley
Florida International University College of Law, Miami, FL

David Friedman
Santa Clara Law, Santa Clara, CA

Mary Ellen Gale
Whittier Law School, Costa Mesa, CA

Pratheepan Gulasekaram
Santa Clara Law, Santa Clara, CA

Bill Ong Hing
University of San Francisco School of Law, San Francisco, CA

Paige Kaneb
Santa Clara Law, Santa Clara, CA

Madeline June Kass
Thomas Jefferson School of Law, San Diego, CA

Alice Kaswan
University of San Francisco School of Law, San Francisco, CA

Alex Kreit
Thomas Jefferson School of Law, San Diego, CA

Ellen Kreitzberg
Santa Clara Law, Santa Clara, CA

David Levine
University of California, Hastings College of the Law, San Francisco, CA

Jerry Lopez
UCLA School of Law, Los Angeles, CA

Elizabeth Loftus
University of California, Irvine, CA

Erik Luna
Washington and Lee University School of Law, Lexington, VA

Michael Madow
Brooklyn Law School, Brooklyn, NY

Leigh Maddox
University of Maryland, School of Law, Baltimore, MD

Charles Marvin
Georgia State University College of Law, Atlanta, GA

Lawrence C. Marshall
Stanford Law School, Stanford, CA

David N. Mayer
Capital University Law School, Columbus, OH

Tracy L. McGaugh
Touro Law Center, Central Islip, NY

Andrew P. Morriss
University of Alabama, School of Law, Tuscaloosa, AL

Michelle Oberman
Santa Clara Law, Santa Clara, CA

Tamara R. Piety
University of Tulsa College of Law, Tulsa, OK

Ascanio Piomelli
University of California, Hastings College of the Law, San Francisco, CA

David G. Post
Beasley School of Law, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA

Jenny Roberts
Washington College of Law, American University, Washington, DC

Cesare Romano
Loyola University School of Law, Los Angeles, CA

Margaret Russell
Santa Clara Law, Santa Clara, CA

Barry C. Scheck
Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, New York, NY

Steven Semeraro
Thomas Jefferson School of Law, San Diego, CA

Steven Shatz
University of San Francisco School of Law, San Francisco, CA

Jonathan Simon
University of California, Berkeley, School of Law, Berkeley, CA

Eric S. Sirulnik
George Washington University Law School, Washington, DC

David Sloss
Santa Clara Law, Santa Clara, CA

Abbe Smith
Georgetown University Law Center, Washington, DC

Ilya Somin
George Mason University School of Law, Arlington, VA

Clyde Spillenger
UCLA School of Law, Los Angeles, CA

Edward Steinman
Santa Clara Law, Santa Clara, CA

Mark Strasser
Capital University Law School, Columbus, OH

Robert N. Strassfeld
Case Western Reserve University School of Law, Cleveland, Ohio

Nadine Strossen
New York Law School, New York, NY

Gerald F. Uelmen
Santa Clara Law, Santa Clara, CA

Alexander Volokh
Emory Law School, Atlanta, GA

Keith Wingate
University of California, Hastings College of the Law, San Francisco, CA

Eric Wright
Santa Clara Law, Santa Clara, CA

Richard W. Wright
Illinois Institute of Technology
Kent College of Law, Chicago, IL

*All affiliations are listed for identification purposes only.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Anti-Smoking poster from 1915

There's something charmingly blunt about this anti-smoking poster from 1915. It also contains a number of strangely prescient cues for tobacco policy (and some elements of illegal drug policy) over the following century.

via Joe Bott (full size image here) 
with hat tip to Boing Boing

Transform's submission to the Drugs Strategy Consultation

The summary and conclusions are copied below, the full document (in Pdf format) is available here

Transform has a number of serious concerns about the consultation process and the contents of the consultation paper itself. These concerns are explored first with reference to the consultation document where relevant, and the Governments consultation code of practice. We then highlight and discuss key areas of policy that are absent from the consultation. 

On the specific questions in the consultation document not covered in this response Transform wishes to endorse the detailed submissions made by Release ( ) and UKHRA / NNEF. ( ) 


The consultation does not adhere to the first three criterion of the Government’s consultation code of practice regarding when to consult, duration of the consultation, or clarity and scope of impact.
There is no Impact Assessment for proposed policy changes, or research data / analysis presented in support of any proposals.
Key areas of the public policy debate are entirely absent from the consultation, specifically:
  • Harm reduction – a key pillar of UK drug policy receives no mention 
  • Sentencing / decriminalisation – the growing body of evidence, high level backing and active public debate are ignored
  •  Supply side enforcement – its efficacy is unquestioned (despite the absence of evidence) and its impacts unexplored
  • The classification system / ACMD – none of the high profile public debates and controversies on this important issue are addressed
  • International drug policy – there is no mention of or engagement with the international dimension of UK drug policy
  • Evaluative framework – there is no engagement with how policy should be evaluated – regards targets, KPIs and or how they should be prioritised
  • Tobacco – there are many mentions of alcohol, but none of the drug associated with the greatest number of addictions and chronic deaths in the UK
Discussion / Conclusions 

There are some positive things in this consultation. We are pleased to see the call for ‘a more holistic approach with drugs issues being assessed and tackled alongside other issues such as alcohol abuse, child protection, mental health, employment and housing’.

Transform have long argued that levels of problematic drug use primarily reflect a complex interplay social, economic and cultural variables. In addition to those above we would certainly include social deprivation, inequality and broader measures of personal and social wellbeing. The corollary of this, of course, is that the impact of drug policy as traditionally conceived (prevention, treatment, and enforcement) should not be overestimated and may be marginal, in many cases irrelevant, relative to the underlying social determinants of drug using behaviours.

This analysis – that problematic use is essentially a barometer of a social wellbeing (or lack of) - has obvious implications for longer term prevention and harm reduction strategies. It suggests that success is likely to flow more from investment in social capital and addressing multiple deprivation and inequality issues, particularly as they affect young people, rather than from pouring ever more money into more conventional interventions that are poorly supported by evidence. 

Whilst conventional drug policy may only be able to achieve, at best, fairly marginal impacts on prevalence of problematic use, the overarching prohibitionist legal framework can, however, have a dramatic impact on levels of harm associated with drug use. This can be both by increasing health risks associated with use, and through the wider social harms created or exacerbated by the illegal drug market. 

This goes to the heart of the drug policy and law reform position that Transform represents; a pragmatic position that accepts both the reality of demand for drugs as it currently exists, and that this demand will be met by illegal supply routes if no legally regulated supply option exists. Drug markets can be controlled and regulated by governments or by gangsters; there is no third option that involves a drug free society. 

We argue that legally regulating drug production, supply and use (as detailed in ‘After the War on Drugs; Blueprint for Regulation’) would deliver better outcomes than the anarchic criminal free for all and underground drug culture we currently have. The pragmatic mindset also requires that whilst we acknowledge  most people do not use illegal drugs, we must also acknowledge that most of those who do, do so relatively responsibly. Their use is not associated with significant personal or social harms, and as such should not be deemed problematic. Of people (globally) who report using illegal drugs in the last year The UNODC only describes 5% as problematic users. It is important to be mindful of the 95% of non-problematic users who do not need treatment – let alone criminal sanction.

Whilst there is a welcome and growing acknowledgement that treatment, prevention and education should be are tailored to individual and local needs - prohibition remains a blunt, inflexible and indiscriminate legislative tool, an absolutist position that criminalises all users regardless of their impact on themselves or those around them, similarly forcing all supply in the hands of criminal profiteers.

The reform position has its roots in the critique of the failings of this approach – both on its own terms, and regards the secondary unintended harms of the illegal trade it fuels. As has been alluded to in this response, the prohibitionist paradigm cannot stand scrutiny, which is at least part of the reason why scrutiny has been so studiously avoided for so long. Indeed the ‘war on drugs’ has required a monumental propaganda effort to sustain it – just as many other wars have.

We only need cast our minds back to the farcical drug strategy consultation of 2007. It was supported by a consultation document described by the ACMD thus:
"it is unfortunate that the consultation paper’s ‘key facts and evidence’ section appears to focus on trying to convince the reader of success and progress; rather than providing an objective review and presentation of the current evidence. The ACMD found the consultation paper self-congratulatory and generally disappointing.’

‘It is of concern that the evidence presented, and the interpretation given, are not based on rigorous scrutiny.'
Of the same document the Government’s own Statistics Commission similarly accused the Home Office of spinning the data to make it look more favourable and failing to ‘provide a balanced presentation of the relevant statistical and other evidence’. 
Meanwhile a rigorous and critical ‘value for money’ study (referred to on page 10) that informed the Home Office’s internal review was not made publicly available – only emerging this year following an absurdly protracted 3-year FOI battle with Transform. 

Many the problems with that ill fated consultation (regards process, content and transparency) have unfortunately now been repeated, although this time around we do not even have crudely spun evidence to criticise – there is simply none.
This is why the core of our call in this response is to return to the evidence; to have, if you will forgive the oft-misused political clichés, a ‘mature and rational debate’ about ‘what works’.

But this time with all options on the table.
This requires open, honest and ongoing evaluation, and as a starting point; independently overseen Impact Assessments of all policies and legislation, new and old (including the MDA 1971). 

In terms of the general mindset, this will entail a move from misplaced moralising and outdated (but entrenched) drug war ideologies to pragmatic public health and social policy norms. If the Government follow the evidence it can only lead to better policies and the better outcomes we all seek. We are confident that if this happens it will only lead in one direction – and it will not be towards criminalisation and prohibition. 

Sadly this consultation falls short on almost every front – it is tokenistic, politicised, and entirely inadequate for the reasons outlined. It is more than a missed opportunity; it is entirely unacceptable as a basis for developing a new drug strategy. We therefore recommend that it be reviewed by the Cabinet Office (and will be requesting this from the Cabinet Minister) with a view to being re-launched. The new consultation process should address the identified shortcomings by adhering to the Government code of practice, including evidential support and Impact Assessments for all proposals, and covering all aspects of UK drug policy of concern to stakeholders.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Leading International Scientific Body Supports Call for Legalisation and Regulation to Reduce Cannabis-Related Harms

October 7, 2010 [Vancouver, Canada] – The International Centre for Science in Drug Policy (ICSDP) today released a new research report that demonstrates the clear failure of U.S. marijuana prohibition and supports calls for evidence-based models to legalize and regulate the use of cannabis. The British Medical Journal, one of the world’s most influential medical journals, published a supportive commentary to coincide with the report’s release today.

The new report, entitled "Tools for debate: U.S. federal government data on cannabis prohibition", uses 20 years of data collected by surveillance systems funded by the U.S. government to highlight the failure of cannabis prohibition in America. The report has deep relevance for California as the state prepares to vote on the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis proposition and, potentially, legalize cannabis.

“Data, collected and paid for by the U.S. government, clearly shows that prohibition has not reduced cannabis consumption or supply. Since prohibition is not working, we need new approaches to better address the harms of cannabis use,” says Dr. Evan Wood, founder of the ICSDP. “Scientific evidence clearly shows that regulatory tools have the potential to effectively reduce rates of cannabis-related harm.”

Despite dramatically increased law enforcement funding, the U.S. government’s data demonstrates that cannabis prohibition has not resulted in a decrease in cannabis availability or accessibility. According to the US Office of National Drug Control Policy, federal anti-drug expenditures in the U.S. increased 600% from $1.5 billion in 1981 to over $18 billion in 2002. However, during this period, the potency of cannabis increased by 145% and the price of cannabis decreased by a dramatic 58%.

According to U.S. government funded reports, in the face of increasing enforcement expenditures over the last 30 years, cannabis has remained almost “universally available” to young Americans. Cannabis use among U.S. grade 12 students increased from 27% in 1990 to 32% in 2008 and approximately 80-90% of grade 12 students say the drug is “very easy” or “fairly easy” to obtain.

“From a public health and scientific perspective, the evidence demonstrates that cannabis prohibition has not achieved its intended objectives,” states Dr. Carl Hart, a co-author on the report and Associate Professor of Psychology at Columbia University. “The fact that cannabis prohibition has also enriched organized crime groups and fueled violence in the community creates an urgency to implement evidence-based alternatives that may be more effective at controlling cannabis supply and access.”

In addition to describing the failure of cannabis prohibition, the report notes that legalization combined with the implementation of strict regulatory tools could be more effective at controlling cannabis use and reducing cannabis-related harms. Research demonstrates that similar regulatory tools have been successful in controlling the harms of tobacco and alcohol when strictly enforced.

The report also discusses the regulatory tools available to governments, including conditional licensing systems; age restrictions; product taxation; retailer operating and location limitations; marketing prohibitions; and packaging guidelines.

While the report urges an evidence-based approach to cannabis regulation and notes the comparative successes several European countries have had in decriminalizing cannabis use, it also notes the limitations of models in place in Netherlands and Portugal. People who use marijuana in these two European countries do not face prosecution, but the production and distribution of cannabis remains illegal and largely controlled by organized crime.

“Legalization and strict regulation are more likely to be effective at eliminating the role of organized crime in marijuana production and distribution, because the profit motive is effectively removed,” said Dr. Wood.

In his commentary published in today’s British Medical Journal (, Dr. Robin Room notes that regulatory tools developed at the end of alcohol prohibition in the 1930s can also be used today to successfully control cannabis.

“The evidence from Tools for Debate is not only that the prohibition system is not achieving its aims, but that more efforts in the same direction only worsen the results,” says Dr. Room, Professor of Social Research at the University of Melbourne. “The challenge for researchers and policy analysts is to now flesh out the details of effective regulatory regimes.”  

Dr. Wood is one of the six international illicit drug policy experts who authored the report, which has been endorsed by over 65MDs and PhDs in 30 countries who are members of the ICSDP Scientific Network.

The full report is available online at

A related ICSDP report released in April 2010 demonstrates that the illegality of cannabis clearly enriches organized crime and drives violence, as street gangs and cartels compete for drug market profits. In Mexico, an estimated 28,000 people have died since the start of the drug war in 2006. U.S. government reports have previously estimated that approximately 60% of Mexican drug cartel revenue comes from the cannabis trade.

The full 26-page report, “Effect of Drug Law Enforcement on Drug-Related Violence: Evidence from a Scientific Review,” is available online here.


International Centre for Science in Drug Policy

ICSDP is an international network of scientists, academics, and health practitioners who have come together in an effort to ensure illicit drug policies are informed with the best available scientific evidence.  The ICSDP aims to be a primary source for rigorous scientific evidence on illicit drug policy in order to benefit policymakers, law enforcement, and affected communities. To this end, the ICSDP conducts original scientific research in the form of systematic reviews, evidence-based drug policy guidelines, and research collaborations with leading scientists and institutions across diverse continents and disciplines.

Note: Transform's 'After the War on Drugs, Blueprint for Regulation' is cited in the report and Transform provided peer feedback on a draft of the text.