Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Activists will mark 40 years of British Drug War outside the Home Office.

Press Release

Contact: Levent Akbulut
Tel: 020 7324 2987
Tuesday 31st of May 2011
For Immediate Release
Another Bloody Birthday: Activists mark 40 years of British Drug War
Youth activists hold a 40th birthday party for Misuse of Drugs Act calling for a more evidence-based approach.
At 12:00PM on Thursday the 2nd of June,  a group of activists will gather outside the Home Office to call for evidence-based drugs policies to coincide with the release of a report by the Global Commission on Drug Policy. This week marks 40 years since the adoption of the Misuse of Drugs Act into UK legislation. The demonstrators will be holding a ‘birthday party’ to remember the impact this single piece of legislation continues to have on life in the United Kingdom. 
Activists will sing Happy Birthday to the Misuse of Drugs Act before delivering a Birthday Card to the Home Office.  
The event is a witty and comical way of mocking the government’s intransigence on this very serious issue. The group hopes that by highlighting forty years of failed drug policy, the Home Office may take the Commission’s report seriously.  
The demonstration is being called by “Students for Sensible Drug Policy UK” - a network of students and young people campaigning for better drug policies. Students for Sensible Drug Policy first came to prominence when they campaigned against the sacking of  Professor David Nutt from the drugs advisory council.
Levent Akbulut, a spokesperson for the organisation said; “In the last 40 years we have seen increased addiction, the expansion of organised crime and the complete inability of the government to control the flood of legal highs onto the market - it is clear our drug laws are not working. We call on the government to look very seriously at the findings of the Global Commission’s report and embrace evidence-based drug policy”. 

Students for Sensible Drug Policy UK cordially invites all individuals concerned about British drug policy to attend the birthday party outside the Home Office at 12-2pm on Thursday the second of June. Come and show your support for evidence-based drug policy!

12PM, Thursday the 2nd of June, Home Office, Marsham Street, London SW1P 4DF.

Nearest Tube stations are Westminster and St James Park. 

Please confirm your attendance on the Facebook event:http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=222278087802242

Friday, 27 May 2011

The 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act: Happy 40th Birthday?

Levent Akbulut explores the impact the Misuse of Drugs Act has had on British society and touches on recent developments in drug policy reform.
As days pass through history, their meaning and relevance can become lost in time. Anniversaries and birthdays give us a chance to reflect on noted events and their impact on humankind. Today we reflect on the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act achieving Royal Assent and becoming law, this piece of legislation embodies the British role in the global drug war and marking its 40th birthday we have to ask - what have we done?

The Act has the noble aim of classifying drugs based on relative harm with the goal of protecting society by criminalising the possession, production and supply of certain drugs.
“A drug free world” has been touted as an achievable and desirable goal by a well meaning population who concerned about the advent of a of new psychoactive drugs into British life.
However, birthdays are usually a time of celebration, a time to remember the successes of the great and the good around us - the Misuse of Drugs Act has certainly had its mark on life in the United Kingdom and arguably around the world.
Those old enough to remember will recall when back in the sixties, harmful drugs like heroin, cocaine and amphetamines were available on prescription to a small number of addicts numbering no more than a couple of thousand. The number of heroin addicts in the UK has now increased by 2000% and has resulted in lost generations as well as an obscene increase in petty crime committed by these vulnerable individuals simply doing their best to avoid the horror of opioid withdrawal. One may say that these individuals inflicted it upon themselves, but it is worth considering that a lot of these people will have been the victims of childhood abuse or some kind of trauma earlier in life. We recognise alcohol addiction as a social problem, yet for some reason we put other drugs in a separate category. There is no more shocking example of how prohibition actually encourages the spread of harmful behaviour with drugs than what has happened with heroin in this country.
Then there has been the massive increase in criminalised individuals, for some people the recreational use of some drugs is nothing more than a youthful indiscretion - just like for say, David Cameron. But if you’re poor, from an ethnic minority and live in an inner city there is a much greater chance you will be stopped and searched then prosecuted if they find anything on you. There are hundreds of thousands of people prevented from entering many careers just because they got caught when young. While others make it to Downing Street or even the White House.
And then there’s the drugs trade. The impact it has on people living in communities where dealing happens and those where they are produced. The United Kingdom has the greatest demand for cocaine in all of Europe - yet no amount of pesticide being dropped on developing nations in Latin America has stopped its flow to this country.
Regular readers of this blog will have figured that we do not think our drug laws are working - only last week when the UK Drug Policy Consortium published a report showing how our current drugs legislation could not possibly keep up with the rise of the legal highs phenomena, the Home Office simply retorted that they felt our current system was working just fine. SSDP members who campaigned against the sacking of Professor David Nutt back in 2009 will remember how strongly we feel about evidence-based drug policy and how disinterested successive governments seems to be in the matter.
Next week leading individuals across the globe from former to current heads of State will be launching a new report from the Global Commission on Drugs that describes the global drug war as a failure and calls for a paradigm shift in global drug policy. If you feel as strongly as we do about supporting evidence-based approaches to drug policy and that our current laws have had their day, then join us outside the Home Office on Thursday the 2nd of June at 12PM for a birthday party marking what will hopefully be the beginning of the end of the global drug war.

Stay posted for more details!

Drug War Birthday Party
12PM, Thursday the 2nd of June, Home Office, Marsham Street, London SW1P 4DF.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Canadian Drug-User Activist on Self-medication, Harm Reduction and Pleasure Maximisation

A long term drug user and now harm reduction activist, recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder, talks about the intersection of drug use and mental illness. She discusses how there is little space for dialogue on the pleasurable aspects of drug use in the mainstream harm reduction field.
Via TalkingDrugs

See Also: Mat Southwell talks about drug user activism

Avaaz Petition, and a Historic Moment.

For too long the failures of the War on Drugs have been highlighted, and over and over again they have been ignored by those in power to do anything about it. It’s commonly accepted by many in the field of drug law reform that politicians know that the system needs to change, yet in public they’re too scared to raise their heads and call for what needs to be done. Even David Cameron knows this, when he was a member of the Home Affairs Select Committee he voted in favour of calls for the UN body on drug policy to look at regulation of drugs.
A historic moment is the coming. “In days, a global commission including Kofi Annan and five other senior statesmen will break the taboo and publicly call for a move from prohibition towards decriminalization and regulation of drugs.” This will be the first time a (former) Secretary-General of the United Nations has called for an end to the UN conventions on drugs of 1961, 1971, and 1988. The UN conventions mean that any country, regardless of what their governments believe, cannot legally regulate the control of drugs in a way that shall reduce harm to our society.
To coincide with this, Avaaz.org is currently collecting signatures for a petition that shall be presented to world leaders, but only if enough people sign it! Lets stop letting the politicians get away with saying that we, the public, do not want this horrendous policy to continue. Go to “End the War on Drugs!” petition now.
Mexico's Drug War
“We call on you to end the war on drugs and the prohibition regime, and move towards a system based on decriminalisation, regulation and education. This 50 year old policy has failed, fuels violent organised crime, devastates lives and is costing billions. It is time for a humane and effective approach.“

Make your voice count. Share the petition with family and friends.

Second image: Mexico drug war murders: Federal police officers take suspects into custody after a shooting in Tijuana. Photograph: Shaul Schwarz/Getty Images (guardian.co.uk [14 January 2011])

See also: Why should I get involved in SSDP?
Add SSDP UK on twitter

Friday, 20 May 2011

Sexuality and Drug Use: No place for homophobia in the ACMD

Dr Hans Christian-Raabe, the fundamentalist Christian GP who was sacked from the Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) is launching a legal bid to get his job back. The Manchester based GP was fired after the press discovered his earlier writings for a Christian health organisation advocating controversial “gay-cure” therapy and linking homosexuality with paedophilia, drug use and disease. Dr Raabe says he is a victim of liberal drug campaigners who dislike his strong views on the subject but the Home Office said he was fired because he failed to mention the controversial past work in interviews. Jess Bradley explores some of the issues around drug use, sexuality and the ACMD.

The LGBT community does indeed have a strong link to drug use; many of the “party drugs” are pioneered in the gay scene before filtering out into the wider population, LGBT people are more likely to take drugs, and much more likely to experience a problematic relationship with them than their straight/non-trans counterparts. What Dr. Christian-Raabe fails to realise are the reasons behind this link – it is not, as he would have us believe, some form of direct consequence of their sexuality or gender identity, but rather a consequence of the homopho
bia, biphobia and transphobia which is sadly still endemic in society.

The gay-rights charity Stonewall reports that two thirds of gay pupils in schools are subject to homophobic bullying, a figure that rises to three quarters in faith schools. Trans people are regularly denied access to essential healthcare. Homophobic, biphobic and transphobic hate crime is still a common experience, and most LGBT experience some level of street harassment. This undoubtedly takes its toll on the LGBT community - with 1 in 3 LGBT people being known to attempt suicide, and levels of self-harm and eating disorders within the community is significantly higher than the population as a whole. The link between mental health issues and drug use is well documented so it comes as no surprise that LGBT people are more likely to do drugs. Of course, not all LGBT drug use is motivated by mental health issues, but when a group is ostracised from society for breaking of norms around sexuality and gender, it seems likely that that group would also be more likely to break other social norms as well.

The appointment and subsequent firing of Christian-Raabe is just another controversy in a line of resignations since the last Labour government sacked the then chair Prof. Nutt for his criticisms of punitive drug policies. The Coalition government, in appointing the strict prohibitionist Christian-Raabe to the council, seems to be continuing the trend of treating the ACMD like a talking shop for polarised views instead of a council of academics and professionals providing evidence based analysis of drug policy. But unfortunately for us, the government will continue to treat the ACMD like a soap opera for as long as at it serves as a distraction to the fact that their own punitive policies are fundamentally failing to protect communities from the harms associated with drugs.

Hopefully, Dr. Christian-Raabe's legal challenge will be unsuccessful as his views on both homosexuality and drug policy are part of the problem not the solution, and will lead to the increasing unnecessary incarceration of LGBT people. We need to send a strong message about how prohibition disproportionately impacts on the community, and recognise the fact that the oppression of drug users and of other marginalised groups can only be meaningfully fought against if we fight together.

To find out more about our LGBT and drugs workshops, please email education[@]ssdp.org.uk Follow Students for Sensible Drugs Policy on twitter and subscribe to our blog on the right.

See also: NUS LGBT Campaign to fight against drugs stigma

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Mat Southwell talks about Drug User Activism

Drug User Activism SSDP from Matthew Southwell on Vimeo.

Mat Southwell, organiser for the West Country Respect Drug User Rights group and the International Network of People who Use Drugs (INPUD) gives a history of drug user organising in the developed world and describes the current state of drug user activism in the UK, as well as talking about issues of “coming out” as a drug user activist.

Follow Students for Sensible Drugs Policy on twitter and subscribe to our blog on the right.

See also: Why should I get involved in SSDP?

3 Days, 3 Anniversaries: Student Activism, Bicycle Day and 420 Day - Youthful Rebellion Against the Drug War

Monday, 16 May 2011

Why should I get involved in SSDP?

Levent Akbulut talks about why you should start a chapter of SSDP and what you get out of being involved.

Why do I matter?
I am just one person, what good could I possibly do to change the drug laws?
This is perhaps one of the first questions people ask themselves before they decide to get involved in SSDP. The answer is often simpler than people expect and it is to do with the fact that you interact with other people.
In some circles the support of drug policy reform may seem like a fringe issue or have an element of stigma attached to it, you can make a difference to the people around you by simply being vocal about your views. The art of being an effective reform advocate is very much down to being able to introduce conversations about drug policy reform in groups and settings where it has not been approached. There are of course many ways to get people to think about the issues other than talking to people in person or getting people to show up to your events and these will be discussed in later blogposts.
Remember that you won’t necessarily change someone's mind straight after talking to them, give them space and get back to them later.

Ok, I’ll become an activist!
So you’ve decided to become an activist, congratulations! You’re entering a world full of idealism and hope. You have chosen to become a fully participating citizen exercising their democratic right to call for a better world and taking responsibility for it too!

Activism does not mean you have to recruit an army of volunteers to run a local campaign or canvas your entire town on drug policy reform, although it does help if you have the motivation and patience to develop a local team of campaigners. Sounds daunting? It needn’t be. You can still make a difference by ensuring the debate is occurring in circles where it has not yet made an appearance. You will make friends with all kinds of people with similar views and as with any good activist team you will spend time socialising with these people - every year you will also meet new people who will join your group and get more involved. You will also meet many more likeminded people nationwide at our annual conference and at other national events. You will get into the mindset of acting when you are not happy about things happening around you. You will be inspired and you will inspire others. You are all leaders of the drug policy reform movement.

What responsibilities will I have?

If you want to make a difference and start a local chapter then do so and do not waste time. It doesn’t matter if it’s just you at the beginning as there is so much you can do - simply making drug policy reform visible has an impact and will make it easier for you to recruit members. Drag your friends to help you get a society affiliated as early as possible, go out and ask people to put their names to agree to the formation of your society. Get all the forms filled in. Make sure you understand how your student union works and that you have applied for funds when they are available and that you have a stall at the welcome fayre. When people contact you, reply to them swiftly and make sure you actually plan for the year ahead. Getting involved in other groups can help you pick up the skills to run your society but make sure you have time for SSDP. By the way, we can help you with all of this if you hit any obstacles or need advice.

What do I get out of this?

You mean other than the satisfaction from knowing you did what you could to make a difference? Over time the work you put into developing a good campaign group will motivate others to do the same and improve on the work you did, and even though groups will go through periods of being less effective than previous times you can rest assured that your work planted the seeds for many more people to get involved. Think of the spread of information like a vine, first you plant the seed and then a shoot emerges from the ground, this shoot then branches off into different directions, with some branches stronger and bigger than others but so long as there are the right conditions all will yield fruit eventually.

You can then turn around and say I did that. One may be thinking this is very well and good if one wants to make wine but I need to use my time studying as usefully and effectively as possible. And possibly have time to drink some wine too...

Campaigning for drug law reform may seem like a radical minority pursuit but actually you will develop transferable skills along the way which will place you in good stead for a wide variety of careers. While you and your friends may currently associate drug policy as a fringe interest, of youthful idealism, there are already a growing number of high profile advocates for reform such as Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, the former head of the Royal College of Physicians, Nicholas Green QC, Chairman of the Bar Council for England and Wales and many more prominent scientists. Even the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister have both called for some kind of reform in the past. It is only a matter of time before someone high profile with influence calls to make positive changes to our drug laws.

The skills we will help you develop as an activist will not only empower you to be an effective advocate for reform and help you make your contribution to change but will make you more employable. At the very least, to get through your degree and run an effective local group you will have to get good at planning and multitasking. Depending on what role you have decided to fulfill, you are most likely still going to have to develop communication and negotiation skills. A group which is well known on campus or locally almost certainly has avid networkers on board and a well thought out advertising strategy. You may also have to manage a budget or become a fundraiser, you are an events organiser and a political strategist. Do not forget you are running a policy group too! So, I guess that makes you a leader? Can you think of anything else? And yes we will give you a reference.

Whatever kind of experience you want out of getting involved in SSDP we are here to support you and help you develop your full potential as an activist and a student.

If you are interested in starting a local chapter or simply want help with your current one, do not hesitate to get in touch with myself or any board member.
Follow Students for Sensible Drugs Policy on twitter and subscribe to our blog on the right.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

YouthRISE and the impact of prohibition on young people

Anita Krug from YouthRISE talks about the impacts of drug prohibition on young people worldwide outside the 54 Session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) on March 21st, 2011.
Follow Students for Sensible Drugs Policy on twitter and subscribe to our blog on the right.

Monday, 9 May 2011

NUS LGBT Campaign to fight against drugs stigma

This weekend (6-8th May), the National Union of Students' Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans (LGBT) Campaign voted to continue to work with SSDP in campaigning for specialist treatment programmes for LGBT people and against the stigmatisation of drug users. The policy, submitted by SSDP activists from the University of Manchester Students Union, also calls for LGBT awareness training for drug and alcohol counsellors.

Alan Bailey, NUS LGBT Officer (Open Place), said; "Its great that NUS LGBT and SSDP are campaigning together for LGBT specific drug and alcohol services. LGBT people, whilst more likely to use drugs, are less likely to get the help they need in a society where both drug users and LGBT people face stigma and oppression"

Last year, the NUS LGBT campaign voted to affiliate to the SSDP network and to call on the Home Office to produce an impact assessment of drug prohibition and how it effects the LGBT community.

Vicki Baars, the NUS LGBT Officer (Women's Place), said; “"Its fantastic that we have this policy to help fight against the unnecessary criminalisation of LGBT people, and for a more coherent understanding on how the war on drugs is effecting LGBT people."

To find out more about how drug use effects the LGBT community or about our workshops about drugs use aimed at LGBT societies and community groups, email education[at]ssdp.org.uk

See also: Sexuality and Drug Use: No place for homophobia in the ACMD

Follow Students for Sensible Drugs Policy on twitter and subscribe to our blog on the right.and subscribe to our blog on the right.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Illegal Drugs Do Not Exist

Recently I posted the first in a series of The Social Meaning of Drug Use blog posts. It was based around the question of why people take drugs, highlighting why different drugs can be used by different people for different purposes, according to various differing social situations. Darryl Bickler, a founding member of the Drug Equality Alliance read the article and was unhappy with the terms ‘illegal drugs’ and ‘illicit drugs’, which conveys a misunderstanding to the reader. As such I’ve asked him to write a short blog to explain why ‘illegal drugs’ do not exist.

"We have been led to believe in their being a ‘War on Drugs’, and even that this is against suppliers of ‘illegal drugs’ and some activists complain that it is irrational to exclude certain ‘legal drugs’. This way of thinking is the result of a prohibitionist propaganda coup; even talking about drug law in these customary terms means that we are starting in the wrong place.

Reformists of drug law are consistently using the enemies’ fake constructs and dogma. Perhaps because drug users are ‘fair game’ in the media, and have suffered for so long, almost anything we imagine being ‘on message’ will do for many. The Drug Equality Alliance focuses on errors in understanding the law before any discussion on policy and how that goes on to affect us all unequally and unfairly. The same errors of legal construction I am referring to here also pervade the activist movement, and that is why many are unwittingly being counter-productive with their communications.

Progress will not come until the intellectual basis of the whole project is factual, coherent and understood. I find myself having to defend what are the facts, and such facts that expose government policy for being irrational, illogical and unsupported in law. The term ‘Legal drugs’ sets up the most obvious concern for us, their corollary, ‘illegal drugs’; both of these expressions are legally meaningless and mask the central untruth behind drug law administration.

The law does not create any such category of ‘legal drugs”. It is entirely misleading claiming that alcohol and tobacco are ‘legal drugs’, as it supports the idea of policy being consistent with law. It is not, despite the jurisdictional facts being made out regarding the harmfulness of these drugs, Government abandoned their powers over drug misuse (and thus the public’s) by declaring them to be involved with ‘legal drugs’. I’m not saying they must ban alcohol at all; the whole starting point is wrong - given that the law is concerned with misuse, then we must assert that an individual’s drug interests in alcohol or any drug are entirely private; the state regulates producers and suppliers of drugs where necessary to ensure safe production and distribution. If a person becomes a problem, and this is through drug misuse, then their drug rights are subject to scrutiny.

To support the myth of ‘illegal drugs’ not only misleads the public that the current regime is mandated in primary law (when it is not), but also obscures that the primary law is already a regulatory instrument intended to steer persons away from drug misuse. Government is blind to this possibility due to the mistaken belief that the law makes some drugs illegal. It confuses people about what is primary law and what is law created through policy. It’s important to remember that using a drug is not illegal in the UK (except opium); this is because the law is an instrument to regulate use through the control of drug property to target misuse.

Consider the talk about new drugs, coining expressions like ‘the soon to be illegal legal highs that aren’t really legal now anyway’. The tensions that seem to arise around the legalisation / regulation / prohibition debate are meaningless discussions from the perspective which activists seek to engage people with. The ground rules are wrong and pervasive. If the core principles of prohibition are not exposed, then anything less builds greater problems in understanding and only perpetuates the stagnation we experience. I would go as far as to say that they actually communicate the opposite of reform by reinforcing the problems we need to overcome.

You simply cannot regulate drugs; laws control people. Wars against illegal drugs do not happen, wars are fought against people. Policy is sold on a lie based upon what is lost in translation when we talk of ‘illegal drugs’ or even legal ones. The artificial divide between different users of different drugs is not only arbitrary, but actually inconsistent with the primary law – a law where ‘legal drugs’ and ‘illegal drugs’ is unknown."

I’d like to say thank you to Darryl for this, and I hope that we can start to get our heads around some of the finer details of why Illegal Drugs Don’t Exist.

*Disclaimer* The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of SSDP UK or it's members.