Martha Fernback, 15, died from taking 91% pure ecstasy. The response of her mother, Anne-Marie Cockburn was unusual. She refused to blame her daughter, her friends, or the dealer or the manufacturer. Cockburn, a single mother, focused on a greater target: the government. "It quickly became obvious that prohibition had had its chance but failed," she said. "Martha is a sacrificial lamb under prohibition. The question is: how many more Marthas have to die before we change our approach? It's not acceptable to allow the risks to remain."
Today, khat joined the range of prohibited substances that fall under the UK Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. Those who distribute this Class C drug can now face 14 years imprisonment – the same maximum sentence that applies to individuals who cause death by dangerous driving, and four years more than the maximum penalty for sexual assault. So what exactly is khat, and why has it attracted such harsh legislation? (See also: Khat: Update - Ban to be implemented on the 24th of June)
Police have been officially advised to use their discretion in deciding how to enforce the ban on qat, a mild herbal stimulant, that has been widely used in Britain's Somali, Yemeni and Ethiopian communities. Official guidelines from the Association of Chief Police Officers tells constables that in applying a "three strikes" enforcement policy they should take into account that qat has "historically not been a controlled drug and was part of the culture of certain communities linked to the Horn of Africa." (See also: Stimulant khat banned as illegal class C drug in UK)
The House of Commons will today debate whether to rethink the war on drugs. While it is only a backbench business debate, and is therefore not binding, it still represents a step towards reviewing the UK’s drug laws. There is a simple reason why the UK’s drug policy is so expensive and ineffective: the law is so old. Policy is still dictated by the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act, signed into law shortly after the 1971 UN Convention on Drugs. In 43 years since, the approach has failed catastrophically.
The statistics were released after six teenagers in Gothenburg were rushed to hospital after taking the drug in excessive quantities. Police have opened an investigation into the matter, while two of the teens remain in a serious condition in the hospital. National broadcaster SVT asked young people in Gothenburg for their feedback on the rise of Spice. Many reported that the drug was cheap and relatively easy to get a hold of.
France has sought to stamp out a new electronic cigarette containing cannabis, launched with the claim that it provides all of the relaxation but none of the mind-altering effects of the drug. The health minister, Marisol Touraine, said the product would incite the consumption of cannabis and she intended to approach the courts to ban it. “I am opposed to such a product being commercialised in France,” she told RTL radio. The product was launched by a French-Czech company called Kanavape which said it hoped to offer millions of people a legal and flavourful way to consume cannabis.
The number of people arrested for possessing drugs in New South Wales (Australia) has doubled over the past six years, with NSW leading a national trend towards increased law enforcement directed at individual drug users. Yet the spike in arrests appears to have done nothing to stem the tide of drug use, with the state this week hitting the 1 million mark for the number of people who have recently used illicit drugs. The data comes as the NSW Bar Association released a report finding drug prohibition has been a failure and calling for reform. (Fact sheet: Cannabis and the law)
Dr Hans-Christian Raabe, who was removed from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs after one month, this week wrote two rather provocative articles on the Conservative Woman website. Raabe’s main argument is that a better, “alternative approach to the drug problem” would be to create a “drug-free society”. Punitive, zero-tolerance, abstinence-based approaches have been the dominant drug policy model in most parts of the world for over half a century now – and they haven’t worked. They've caused a great deal of harm and haven’t really stopped people taking drugs.
A recent neuroscience study from Harvard Medical School claims to have discovered brain differences between people who smoke marijuana and people who do not. Such well-intentioned and seemingly objective science is actually a new chapter in a politicized and bigoted history of drug science in the United States. Different-looking brains tell us literally nothing about who these people are, what their lives are like, why they do or do not use marijuana, or what effects marijuana has had on them.
As the world marks the United Nations' International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, millions of drug addicts in Russia have nowhere to go for treatment, and specialists are in despair over the lack of progress in the country's rehabilitation system. The Federal Drug Control Service, or FSKN, recently announced plans to create a system of communes to treat drug addicts, but drug counselors dismiss such statements as empty promises.
It took 13 years for the United States to come to its senses and end Prohibition, 13 years in which people kept drinking, otherwise law-abiding citizens became criminals and crime syndicates arose and flourished. It has been more than 40 years since Congress passed the current ban on marijuana, inflicting great harm on society just to prohibit a substance far less dangerous than alcohol. The federal government should repeal the ban on marijuana. (See also: Why the New York Times editorial series calling for marijuana legalization is such a big deal and Evolving on Marijuana)
Writing in 1996, Norbert Gilmore noted that ‘little has been written about drug use and human rights. Human rights are rarely mentioned expressly in drug literature and drug use is rarely mentioned in human rights literature.’  Almost twenty years later, the literature examining drug control issues through the lens of international human rights law has grown, but the total body of peer reviewed commentary and analysis in this area would barely rank the issue as a footnote in the broader human rights lexicon.
The Expert Group on the Economics of Drug Policy was convened to produce the most thorough independent economic analysis of the current international drug control strateg ever conducted. It aims to use this analysis to design a successor strategy to the failed global war on drugs. In so doing it will provide the academic underpinnings for a new international paradigm that promotes human security, public health and sustainable development.
The federal law that makes possession of marijuana a crime has its origins in legislation that was passed in an atmosphere of hysteria during the 1930s and that was firmly rooted in prejudices against Mexican immigrants and African-Americans, who were associated with marijuana use at the time. This racially freighted history lives on in current federal policy, which is so driven by myth and propaganda that it is almost impervious to reason.
The Community Anti-Drug Coalition of America (CADCA), one of the largest anti-legalization organizations in the US has a curious sponsor: Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of Oxy-Contin, the highly addictive painkiller that has been linked to thousands of overdose deaths nationwide. A familiar confederation of anti-pot interests have a financial stake in the status quo, including law enforcement agencies, pharmaceutical firms, and nonprofits funded by federal drug-prevention grants.
As Americans continue to embrace pot—as medicine and for recreational use—opponents are turning to a set of academic researchers to claim that policymakers should avoid relaxing restrictions around marijuana. It's too dangerous, risky, and untested, they say. Just as drug company-funded research has become incredibly controversial in recent years, forcing major medical schools and journals to institute strict disclosure requirements, could there be a conflict of interest issue in the pot debate? (See also: The real reason pot is still illegal)
When the poster child for marijuana legalization is released from a U.S. prison later this week, he'll be re-entering a world where many of his ideas have taken root and in some places have sprouted right up. Marc Emery, Canada’s self-styled “Prince of Pot,” concludes a five-year sentence and will emerge into a lucrative marijuana landscape, where two U.S. states are now issuing recreational pot licences, medical growers are reaping profits and investors aren’t hedging on potential opportunities.