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Drugs – Not a human rights issue? Not a big issue?

Have some quotes from the zeitgeist about drugs. This is in response to an offhand comment from someone I know, who indicated they thought my dedication to ending prohibition was a small issue, that there are bigger issues of equality and human rights in the world that I could be focusing on. I think many people aren’t aware of the cost of prohibition in terms of human rights, and how easily we accept the idea that discrimination against drug users is ok.

“We don’t allow dogs to breed. We spay them. We neuter them. We try to keep them from having unwanted puppies, and yet these women are literally having litters of children.” – Barbara Harris, Project Prevention, on crack-addicted mothers.

I would cheer if every junkie died.” – Ian O’Doherty, Irish Independent, on heroin addicts. This article was withdrawn after a press ombudsman determined that it was hate speech.

She was a drug addict whore and she deserved to die. Lowering the flag for her is the same as burning it.” – By Obama, Mommyish (internet forum where upstanding parents display their moral superiority to each other), on Whitney Houston’s death and whether she should be mourned the same way as soldiers killed in battle.

Mr. Jackson says that he is as committed to it as he is to his belief that drug users are people, too.” – New York Times on a drug users’ union. Apparently drug users being people is something you believe in without knowing it to be true, like faith.

Forty thousand drug users are detained at any one time in Vietnam, and forced labor is their main “treatment.” – Human Rights Watch, on the forced slavery of drug users to facilitate Vietnam’s cashew export market. Drug use is not a criminal offence in Vietnam, these people are ‘patients’.

“Casual drug users ought to be taken out and shot.” – Daryl Gates, LA Police Chief

“At least 676 people were executed there last year. Of those, 480, or 71%, were executed for drug offenses.” – Iran Human Rights, on executions in Iran in 2011.

“In the 2003-04 academic year, about 41,000 applicants for federal student aid were disqualified because of drug convictions.” – USA today on the exclusion of former drug users from financial help for college fees. It should be noted that other criminals are not disqualified, only drug users.

“The most serious offense for 65% of women in federal prisons and 29.1% of women in state prisons is violation of drug laws. – Women and the Drug War. Plenty more facts here about the intersection of race, gender and the war on drugs.

“Most people, including most cops, believe women have only themselves to blame when they’re raped while trying to score drugs.” – SashaSaid, When Rape Victims Lie.

“Pregnant women who use drugs should be prosecuted because they harm the life of their unborn children.”Paul A. Logli, Illinois prosecuting attorney. Did you know that smoking crack cocaine while pregnant harms the foetus no more than tobacco use?

“”At least 12,000 children have lost one or both of their parents.”Jennifer Gonzalez, AFP, on the children orphaned by the drug wars in Mexico.

““While there certainly are legitimate needs for public assistance, it is unfair for Florida’s taxpayers to subsidize drug addiction.”Republican commentor, Florida on why he thinks it’s ok to force welfare applicants to submit to a drug test and deny them help for a year if they test positive. Alcohol is ok, naturally. 10 states have introduced this legislation in the USA, and in NZ the Welfare Working Group recommended the same thing.

“Employers may discharge or deny employment to those who currently engage in the illegal use of drugs.”Americans with Disabilities Act, in which drug use is the only health issue for which an employer in the US may legally dismiss someone. Again, alcohol is just fine. By the way, the NZ employment court has also ruled that recreational drug use is not a disability, leaving employers here also free to sack people for drug use. And people think it’s reasonable to expect someone to undergo pre-employment drug testing, and to refuse them employment if they test positive for cannabis.

“A good playground will attract good members of the community, not the dope smokers.”Fine Upstanding Citizen.
“Druggies are not known for their honesty. Trust me on this one.”House.

Drug users are losers.” Drug addicts should go to jail.” “Drug users are morally degenerate.” Drug users shouldn’t get healthcare.”

“The War on Drugs is justified.”

I don’t know, do you think it’s a big enough human rights issue?

Oh look, an unregulated industry!

So there’s this stuff called Dime. It’s been sold as a legal high in NZ for a grand total of about three weeks. Now someone’s ‘discovered’ that it may contain one of the 2C analogues, which are classified here as Class C, the same level as cannabis. Naturally, the sale has now been stopped.

The importer apparently never bothered to test the stuff to see if it had anything illegal in it, because it was taken on trust that it would be fine.

Colour me completely unsurprised that someone is being irresponsible in the legal high market. This industry is almost completely unregulated, the government having instead elected to go for a prohibition and criminalisation approach to new substances. There was a small glimmer of hope when a Class D was added to the Misuse of Drugs Act. It was thought that this would become a ‘holding class’ for untested new substances while it was decided how to regulate them and their safety was tested. Instead, the only things in Class D are precursor substances, and the legal high market remains unregulated.

What this means is that people can import stuff without testing it, and then sell it to the public. Remember when it was found that Kronic contained benzos?. Same thing. There is no requirement for these things to be tested at all, never mind proven safe before sale. And then people are surprised when folks import things that may be dodgy.

Personally, I don’t think the 2C analogues are particularly dodgy – at least, not the ones that have achieved status as substances in this country. They were synthesised by Alexander Shulgin, who is perhaps most well known for the resynthesis and popularisation of MDMA. Man has an interesting history – but one of the important things about him and his 2C analogues is that his process and testing were all meticulously recorded in a set of books that are available for anyone to read. In terms of information of both the scientific and subjective experience nature, these substances are much more transparent than many other substances available today. They are certainly more transparent than the ‘other piperazines’ that were in some of the party pills you could buy in 2007. So in terms of safety and education and prior knowledge, a pill containing a 2C is probably safer than one containing a benzo, or one that you don’t know what’s in it.

And that’s the problem. This dime stuff was being sold without people knowing what was in it and I place the blame for that squarely at the feet of this government that refuses to seriously address the issue of legal high regulation. In this case, dime will be taken off the market if it’s found to contain a prohibited substance – the 2Cs are already illegal so it’s a simple matter. But if they really gave a crap about people’s safety, why is there no requirement for new legal highs to be tested to ascertain their contents before they hit the market? Why is there no labelling requirement so that people know what they are ingesting, the way alcohol is required to be labelled? How does someone get to import something from Poland that’s made in China and sell it to kiwis and not bloody well know what’s in it? And how do people who are that irresponsible get to be in a position to sell things?

It happens because of the head in the sand attitude of our government which continues to believe that trying to prevent people from using anything other than alcohol is the best way to approach ‘the drug problem’.

Hint: approximately 17% of NZers have used an illegal substance in the last year. Of those, only about 3% experience difficulties due to their substance use. Is there really ‘a drug problem’ in this country?

Frankly, I think the 2Cs would be a good opportunity to test out a regulatory framework for legal highs in this country. What do you reckon the odds are of that happening when this is the sort of data we are using to judge a substance in the public sphere:

““Because it’s such a tiny amount of powder which does something for so long, there must be some pretty hard-out chemicals in it.”” ~ Random 19 year old.

*cough*

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.

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.