Author Archives: Least Squared Difference

Reforming New Zealand’s Misuse of Drugs Act 1975

The New Zealand Law Commission today released “Controlling and Regulating Drugs” which reviews the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975.

The NZ Drug Foundation has an overview of some of the salient points. More comment from us later after we’ve had a chance to read the report ourselves, but at least they recognised how antiquated the law is, being drafted in the wake of moral panic about psychedelics.

In the mean time, I invite you to head over to read the documents yourself and have your say. Please make a submission or comment if you feel the current drug laws are ineffective at dealing with what we feel should be a health and education issue.

The Independent Council on Drug Harms

You may remember the government advisor Prof. Nutt who got sacked for reporting relative harms of various drugs and promoting evidence based drug reform. Nutt has gone on to found the The Independent Council on Drug Harms with 20 other specialists, some of whom were on the British Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) before they quit in retaliation to Prof. Nutt’s removal from the advisory council.

Context from the BBC article: “Prof Nutt was sacked by Home Secretary Alan Johnson last October after publicly disagreeing with the government’s decision to re-classify cannabis as a Class B drug and not to downgrade ecstasy.”

MPAA don’t want you to think drugs could be fun

The New York Times reports how marijuana use in “It’s Complicated” contributes to its R rating:

“The romantic comedy “It’s Complicated” arrived at the multiplex on Friday complete with an R rating, ranking it in the same category as “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and “Basic Instinct” in the eyes of the Motion Picture Association of America.”

The article goes on to say that there is no violence and the bedroom scenes are decidedly tame. The only real reason it’s R-rated is due to the marijuana use, and apparently this is making some conservative segments of America happy with the ratings board for a change:

Dan Isett, director of public policy for the Parents Television Council, which also monitors movies, said “It’s Complicated” was a “rare instance” of the board getting a rating correct.
“The last I checked, smoking pot was still illegal, illicit behavior,” he said. “Too often material gets rated lower than it should be.”

Of course, Mr. Isett ignores that activities like physical assault and shooting people are also illegal, but that they routinely show up in PG-13 movies, and I’d wager such an act of violence causes more harm to society than smoking pot.

Solution to Mexico’s drug crisis? Lift prohibition.

An article in the Wall Street Journal is reporting that some advisors are saying “the U.S. should legalize marijuana, let cocaine pass through the Caribbean and take the profit motive out of the drug trade”.

Interesting points:

Forbes magazine put Mexican drug lord Joaquin “Shorty” Guzman as No. 401 on the world’s list of billionaires.

Imagine if some of that profit went towards treating drug use as a health issue?

Mexico’s deputy agriculture minister, Jeffrey Jones, told some of the country’s leading farmers that they could learn a thing or two from Mexican drug traffickers. “It’s a sector that has learned to identify markets and create the logistics to reach them,” he said. Days later, Mr. Jones was forced to resign. “He may be right,” one top Mexican official confided, “but you can’t say things like that publicly.”

It seems Prof. Nutt isn’t the only one being sacked for being rational about the drug debate.

Oh, and by the way, if you think it’s just those of us that can responsibly use drugs that are after a lift of prohibition, think again. The very same people who’ve been on the front-line of the war against drugs are saying the same thing.

Update: It seems Joaquin Guzman is also the #41 most powerful person. Would he still be the world’s most powerful person and the USA’s most wanted man if it wasn’t for prohibition?

The Australian firewall

Currently there is a big hoohah about the Australian web firewall. Why is this of interest to us, as proponents of drug reform? Well, in the linked article it says:

“Content defined under the National Classification Scheme as Refused Classification includes child sexual abuse imagery, bestiality, sexual violence, detailed instruction in crime, violence or drug use and/or material that advocates the doing of a terrorist act.”

Notice the reference to content that’s related to drug use. Do you think Erowid will be filtered? Given that there is a plethora of drug information which includes chemical synthesis, I wouldn’t be surprised. Especially since Australia has in the past been one of the few countries that refused classification of Fallout 3 due to it depicting drug use. This seems strange because plenty of games have power-ups (mushrooms from Mario Brothers anyone?), perhaps the mistake Fallout 3 made was to depict this as actually have a realistic method of implementing these power ups? And surely the impacts of negative consequence and addiction in the game probably scared the censors too, since it’d be terrible thing for people to be forewarned of the potential dangers of drug use right?

Now the Australian government can prevent the public from doing their own research about drugs, and they won’t have to be pestered by the public finding out the relative safety of illegal substances versus alcohol in society. Instead, they can feed people whatever misinformation they like.

A rational scale to assess the harm of drugs

One of the events that catalysed the creation of DrugR was the sacking of Professor Nutt, a drug advisor in the UK, who refused to cow to political pressure to stop being rational about a drug policy based on scientific evidence of relative harm instead of moral judgement. Among the papers that Prof. Nutt has published is a relative ranking for a number of legal and illicit drugs. And it’s no surprise to us that alcohol and tobacco are some of the worst whereas MDMA and LSD are among the safer choices.

I’d like to quote a bit from the introduction which struck me in particular:

“Most other countries and international agencies—eg, the UN and WHO—have drug classification systems that purport to be structured according to the relative risks and dangers of illicit drugs. However, the process by which harms are determined is often undisclosed, and when made public can be ill-defined, opaque, and seemingly arbitrary.”

This is actually one of the sources of my many frustrations. During my formative years, school taught me about drugs… except they blatantly told lies which, due to them also teaching my science, I could see through. I did my own research and began to mistrust what authorities said about drugs. Obviously not everything is scare-mongering, and drugs do have risks and harms, but rarely do these match with what drug classification schemes dictate. I would like to trust that my government ad my best interests in mind, but given the buy-in by the alcohol and tobacco lobbies it’s obvious that the government is mostly about maintaining the status quo. Which is somewhat of losing platform when the only constant is change.

The paper is also the source of this often-displayed harm graph. A relative ranking of the drugs they assessed:

drug harm ranking graph

You’ve got to wonder if the people behind the drug-classifications schemes are smoking crack.

If your interested in reading the original paper, which I highly recommend, it’s available for download here.

Illegitamacy of nootropic supported research?

More moral absolutes by “Scientific” Blogging. On the potential for drug screening of academic students, with comparison to the anti-doping rules in sports:

It could happen, says an article in the Journal of Medical Ethics. And maybe it should. Everyone recognizes the illegitimacy of chemically enhanced academic performance but these drugs will be near impossible to ban.

Illegitimacy? If someone contributes to a field of science and advances our understanding, but all of a sudden we realise they were taking a nootropic substance, does that make their research invalid? Unlike most sport, science and technology isn’t a game (… even if it sometimes feels like it for me!), so throwing in these assertions is really just sloppy reporting and showing how deeply the ingrained “drugs are bad” mantra as penetrated many facets of our society.

In fact, why not look at one the most prolific mathematicians of all time: Paul Erdős. Erdős was known to take amphetamines, and once his friend Ron Graham expressed concerned and bet him $500 that he could not stop taking the drug for a month.

Erdős won the bet, but complained during his abstinence that mathematics had been set back by a month: “Before, when I looked at a piece of blank paper my mind was filled with ideas. Now all I see is a blank piece of paper.” After he won the bet, he promptly resumed his amphetamine habit. (Book reference, via Wikipedia)

Does this long-term habit of taking a stimulant mean that a large portion of mathematical theory is now invalid? No, no it doesn’t.