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The Hempire News - July 05

UK News
Being proved wrong is embarrassing. Especially so when we've a lot invested in being proved right. The temptation to wheedle our way out of admission can be overwhelming. Our tendency is to whisper and hope no one notices.

No one was supposed to notice Lord Birt's report. Our Government has too much invested in prohibition to make any kind of song and dance when one of their key thinkers condemns it from top to bottom. So they released the report on the Friday night before Live 8. Well actually, they released half of it. The really juicy stuff was withheld for 'security reasons'.

So thank God for Transform and the Guardian for publishing Lord Birt's criticism in full. If they hadn't we wouldn't know the only people the Government was protecting was itself.

The report reveals that the entire annual UK consumption of heroin and cocaine could fit in four standard shipping containers yet is worth about four billion pounds. The fact such huge profits can be made from something so small means there's no chance of effectively disrupting supply.

Catch the big guys and you remove some drugs from society but this requires enormous resources and is often fruitless. Catch the small fry and someone new steps in to take their place. As will inevitably happen when a supply vacuum is created.

In fact, the only consequence of reducing supply is that drug lords can up their price for what has become a scarce resource. They make more money and more crime is committed by addicts desperate to fund an increasingly expensive habit.

Drug-related crime currently costs the country about £14bn each year. The burden on the health service and 'social functioning' costs adds another £10bn to this. Then we've got billions more for the cost of enforcement and imprisonment. Plus the lack of revenue which could be gained from taxing drug sales.

In simple economic terms legalisation is a no brainer - and not just because of the fiscal benefits. Drugs are a demand led issue. Drugs aren't pushed they're pulled and the demand for drugs will always, always, ensure their supply.

Until the truth of this elemental law is acknowledged we're not going to get very far.
- the Guardian
- Transform

Lord Birt believes that catching dealers is highly resource intensive and a bit of a waste of time. To find supporting evidence we need look no further than the police of Wilmslow. They monitored a house for a year, then assembled a team of fifteen riot-geared coppers to raid the place. The total seized after all this effort and expense amounted to about three ounces of weed.

Apparently the aim wasn't to bag a large haul but to send a message. Yes, another one. The problem with all these messages is that no one seems to be listening. The message givers certainly can't hear what thirty years of prohibition screams loud and clear. This wont make a scrap of difference.
- full story here

What might make a difference is a worrying trend identified by the Foresight programme. Foresight was set up by the Department of Trade and Industry to examine how new discoveries might shape the future. One of their visions is for a time when people will be vaccinated against drugs in order to 'protect' them from the euphoria they bring.

Which would be fine if people chose the vaccines in their attempt to beat an addiction. Only problem is Foresight imagines children at risk of addiction will be some of the ones inoculated.

How you identify these children isn't clear. Nor do we know the wider consequences of dulling the sense of euphoria. But big pharmaceuticals are already developing the vaccines and they could easily be ready in a few years time.

Perhaps euphoria will be gained from the pleasure enhancing drugs being developed by, funnily enough, the big pharmaceuticals. Yes, the same pharmaceuticals also creating the vaccines.
- full story here

Dr Clare Gerada isn't exactly a legaliser. So when she says there's little evidence drug testing works for children we know this is one flawed policy.

In a paper presented to the British Journal of General Practice, Dr Gerada reports that drug testing doesn't deter children already using and doesn't prevent drug taking in those who haven't started. Instead children hide their drug use, drug use becomes harder to detect and the policy means the most vulnerable become more unreachable.

Which is what we've been saying for years. But her seeing things our way shouldn't come as a surprise. Most prohibitionists are genuinely interested in reducing the harm drugs cause. We part company only when it comes to approach. Since we keep getting proved right and they proved wrong it is only a matter of time before all but the most stubborn realise prohibition is the problem, not the solution.
- full story here

Medical News
Donald Tashkin is someone else you couldn't call a legaliser. His many reports for the American National Institute on Drug Abuse highlight the dangers of cannabis. His findings have been used by the US Drug Czar to prove cannabis causes cancer and until now he's always believed there was a link.

To put an end to any doubt he studied over 1,200 Los Angelenos to find out what might have caused their cancer. The base level for people who had never used any kind of drug was set at 1.0. Tobacco users had a risk factor of 21.0. The maximum risk factor for cannabis users, regardless of the amount consumed or the length of use, was 0.85.

Which kind of turns things on their head. The cannabis users studied here, all of whom smoked pure, were less likely to develop cancer than those who hadn't used anything at all. This might not be true elsewhere but Tashkin did have the grace to concede that: "it would be difficult to extract from these data the conclusion that marijuana is protective against lung cancer. But that is not an unreasonable hypothesis."
- full story here

What remains beyond doubt is the value of cannabis for some patients with MS. Many of whom depend on the generosity of others to provide something which is expensive to buy and, for them, difficult to source. Without their medicine their life becomes intolerable; they experience agonising pains, uncontrollable muscle spasms and are dependent on a carer.

So what sense does it make to bust people who might be helping and consequently to bestow suffering on hundreds of those who received life through the post? What purpose does this serve? Where are the benefits?

Who else would like to hear someone answer that?
- full story here

Steve McWilliams is one campaigner who had had enough. In unbearable pain and facing six months in prison for growing other people's medicine, he committed suicide.

It is probably too much to say the war on drugs killed him, but he's certainly part of its collateral damage.
- full story here

International News
A change seems to be happening in America. Whilst their government is prosecuting cannabis users like never before, businesses, the states, schools and even conservative organisations are beginning to reject the get-them-at-all-costs approach.

So while the Feds bust medical marijuana co-operatives, Rhode Island is on the brink of becoming the eleventh state to make medicinal use legal. Cities throughout the country are declaring cannabis enforcement to be of the lowest priority. Drug testing is falling out of favour with schools and businesses and even the much vaunted mandatory minimum system has been revoked or reduced by half the 50 states.

Partly the change comes because of crystal meth, partly it's because of the war on terror. Both are considered a greater priority to almost everyone other than Mr Bush.
- full story here

A German company has a novel way of getting round the increasing tendency to ban smoking in public places. They've launched a beer with nicotine. In their press release the makers claim NicoShot is a smoking-cessation tool, though they make a point of noting just how many countries have made it illegal to light up in pubs.

So now two of the most addictive substances in the world are joined as one. If NicoShot doesn't taste disgusting alcohol will be even harder to quit. Something the makers must know and something which hints at the possibility this has nothing to do with smoking cessation but everything to do with shameless profiteering and a complete disregard for the damage their product could cause.

It is, of course, fully legal.
- full story here

Miscellaneous News
A major new American tv series is set to show that sometimes housewives are desperate for cannabis. The drama profiles a recently widowed woman who learns she can maintain her lifestyle by serving up puff to her equally middle-class neighbours. That's one well heeled step forward for normalisation.
- full story here

Madassar Javid had a novel stash, Wolverhampton police found thirteen 'wraps' of cannabis hidden in his rolls of fat. Strangely the judge decided his previous convictions meant he shouldn't go back in jail, commenting that: "it is only because of the time you have served in prison that I am not imposing a custodial sentence."
- full story here

There are more than twice as many medical marijuana dispensaries in San Francisco as there are MacDonald's. As a city official states, there is clearly more demand for cannabis than Big Macs. Though sometimes of course the two go hand in hand.
- full story here