Tuesday, 28 June 2011

June 30th: Supporting the Strikes

On the 30th of June, thousands of education and public sector workers in four trade unions will be out on strike. Jess Bradley from Manchester SSDP argues that drug law reformers should support the strikes, demonstrations, actions and occupations happening around the 30th.

A few months ago at conference, SSDP delegates from chapters across the country voted in favour of motion calling for a national campaign against cuts to education and health services, particularly those which disproportionately effects vulnerable groups and those more likely to be harmed by the 'War on Drugs'.

Trade unions representing teachers, lecturers, and job centre workers have all voted overwhelmingly in favour of taking strike action in response to cuts to pensions, but have made it clear that their actions are broadly oppositional to the recent agenda of cuts to frontline services.

It has long been said that the most important part of the services we access are people who deliver them, in this case the workers in the education and health sectors. In supporting the workers as they fight for better pay, conditions and pensions, we support the services themselves – because a teacher who is struggling to make ends meet is not a teacher who is fully focussed on providing the best education to those who need it.

Why is it important for drug law reformers to support the strikes on Thursday? Because drug users, both problematic and non-problematic, disproportionately rely on the services that are being defended. Valuable research on the harms of drugs, or different aspects of drug policy, may no longer be undertaken if academics in University departments are priced out of working in education institutions because the pay in industry is so much better, and the money available for funding diminishes.

Pastoral services, such as drug and sex education in schools may be overlooked as teachers struggle financially, and class sizes rise as less people are able to enter teacher training. Problematic drug users may find it harder to get back into work or education if services at Job Centres, schools and colleges are cut.

As activists aware of the spiralling cost of funding an unnecessary and harmful War on Drugs, it seems clear that, regardless of your opinion on whether the current cuts are necessary, we are wasting vast amounts of money on pursuing a failed drug policy at the expense of funding education and health services.

What can we do? Get involved in your local anti-cuts campaign by joining demonstrations and pickets at your institutions, job centres, and workplaces. Take a banner or a placard linking the rising cost of prohibition and the increasing levels of cuts to services that drug users rely on. Go to your local meetings and talk to activists about drug law reform. Remember to send pictures of you supporting demonstrations and pickets to education[at]ssdp.org.uk

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Friday, 24 June 2011

Bolivia to withdraw from UN Single Convention

The Bolivian government has approved a Bill of Complaint filed by President Evo Morales’ to withdraw Bolivia from the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs over its prohibition of the personal use, consumption, possession or cultivation of the native coca leaf. The withdrawal will come into effect in 2012, and although the complaint over the coca leaf ban will technically withdraw it from Convention compliance, Bolivia has stated it intends to continue complying with the drug trafficking and narcotics control sections of the Convention.

The Bolivian government has publicly stated its support for developing a legal global market for coca products, including coca-based tea, soft drinks and pharmaceuticals, which it argues would reduce demand for cocaine.

This action comes in the wake of growing support for protecting the cultural heritage of coca use amongst the Bolivian people, a popular movement which arguably lead to the election of President Evo Morales on the basis of his actions defending coca-growers against US-lead eradication programmes.

In 2009, Bolivia began a process to amend Article 49 of the Convention, which prohibited consumption of the coca leaf from 2001. Its proposal for amendment was formally opposed by 17 other Convention signatories, including the United States, U.K., France, Japan, and Russia.
The Chinese government has been supportive of Bolivia's actions, comparing a ban on chewing coca in Bolivia to a ban on drinking tea in China.

See also: 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act. Happy Birthday?

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

SSDP supports SlutWalk; marching against sexual assault

Students for Sensible Drug Policy activists took to the streets to support Manchester SlutWalk on Friday 10th June. The SlutWalk protests have sprung up after a policeman in Toronto misguidedly advised a group of female students to “avoid rape by not dressing like sluts”. This caused outrage as it was seen to place the blame of rape onthe rape survivor and not on the rapist themselves.

SSDP Education Officer, Jess Bradley, was part of the organising collective behind SlutWalk Manchester; “We recognise that not everyone wants to reclaim the word 'Slut', but the central message that rape is not the fault of the survivor, whatever they are wearing or however inebriated they are, is one worth getting behind”. The marches come as Justice Secretary Ken Clarke has been widely criticised for trying to categorise some sexual crimes as “serious rape”, implying that other sexual crimes are less serious.

SlutWalk Manchester organiser Greta Friedlander said; “There is a prevailing attitude of taking sexual assaults less seriously if the survivor had been drinking, taking drugs, or engaging in sex work. This attitude is disturbing as it somehow implies that some people are more deserving of rape than others”.

See Also: Sexuality and Drug Use

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Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Won't Legalising Drugs Increase Use?

This series of blog posts will be discussing the social aspects of drug use. It’s taken in the main from Jock Young’s 1971 seminal work The Drugtakers: The Social Meaning of Drug Use. Each post will cover questions commonly encountered whilst campaigning for drug law reform, hopefully it’ll be useful for when you yourself are out talking to people. This post’s question is: “Won’t drug use increase if we legalise drugs?”

Now, we could argue the merits of the term “legalise drugs”, that wouldn’t address the concerns of the people posing the question. The majority of people believe that the current drug policies do stop people from using drugs, and that any attempt at “legalising” or “liberalising” drug-users would result in increased drug use. We can quote countries with punitive drug laws and high drug-use such as the USA and the UK, comparing them to countries with “liberal” drug laws and low drug-use such as Portugal and the Netherlands. Unfortunately I’ve had this simply discounted by “It might work there, but I don’t think it’ll work here”, or the prohibitionists favourite of Sweden with punitive drug laws and low drug use.

An underlying issue of the posed question is that drug use is seen in a negative light. Trying to overcome 50 years of prejudice is a difficult task, and will take more work than the few minutes you get to talk to someone. But what is commonly ignored is the extent to which drug policies or our approaches towards drugs may actually encourage use.

Last time I discussed how people of different values and cultures use different drugs for effects that are more appropriate to those factors. For those who support prohibition, it is these values and cultures that are considered so removed from social acceptability that criminal sanctions are deemed necessary. To justify such actions prohibitionists highlight these values of the drug user. By doing this they place the values they deem negative not just on the user, but also on the drug in question in an attempt to deter people from its use.

To some extent this does work, many people do not use certain drugs because they view them in a negative way or because of the punitive law surrounding them. Indeed, I know a number of people who no longer use certain drugs because of the risk of prosecution. However, this isn’t what happens in every case, for the drug user these values are, unsurprisingly, not seen as negative but actually as superior to those values to which the mainstream mass media push as socially acceptable.

In the face of society’s disfavour, the drug user may increase use of their drug of choice as a way of reaffirming their values. Some drugs may also be seen as attractive to people who wish to adopt or develop these values. Adolescents, who are at a stage of their development where experimentation with personality is common, are particularly likely to be interested in the values and cultures of drug use. The individuals who view drugs so negatively are unwittingly creating the environment to which drug use becomes appealing.