Criticism of Myanmar’s census hit fever pitch last week when residents of Rakhine State were not allowed to self-identify according to their wishes, with even the United Nations appearing to turn on the government for its apparent back-flip.
In a statement released last week, the European Commission Directorate General for Trade sought to allay concerns raised by local civil society groups over the bilateral investment treaty currently being finalised by the European Union and central government.
The head of the United Nations’ technical advisory board for Myanmar’s census has dismissed criticisms of the process and blamed civil society and human rights groups for having “inflamed” tensions surrounding the count.
Registered voters heading to the polls this fall for elections in Colorado, Washington, and perhaps California will have a chance to enact historic cannabis legalization in 2012. A Colorado group said it will file 155,000 signatures with the state on January 6 — enough to qualify the group's recreational cannabis legalization and tax initiative for the November ballot. A group in the state of Washington said on December 29 that it filed at least 355,000 signatures. And California?
Medical marijuana advocates are hoping state governments can succeed where their efforts have failed by asking federal authorities to reclassify pot as a drug with medical use. Recently, Colorado became the fourth state to ask the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to reclassify marijuana as a narcotic in the same league as heavyweight painkillers including oxycodone. The governors of Washington and Rhode Island filed a formal petition with the agency in November, and Vermont signed onto that request shortly afterward.
A small Dutch city less than 20 kilometres from Amsterdam's Schiphol airport has become the hub of Europe's sales of khat, a plant chewed for its stimulant qualities, soon to be banned in the Netherlands. In a discreet warehouse tucked away in the city of Uithoorn, around a hundred Somalis and Yemenis were haggling over the latest delivery: a tonne of khat. But 15 of the European Union's 27 states and Norway have already listed khat as an illegal narcotic and the Netherlands too announced earlier this month it would ban khat.
The UK could become a hub for smuggling the herbal stimulant khat, European police and politicians have warned. The Netherlands is the latest country to outlaw the sale of the plant, which is now banned in sixteen EU member states and Norway. Khat is freely sold in the UK and observers say the UK's isolated stance could make it the main base for Europe's khat trade. The British government has commissioned a new review of khat use.
Twelve years ago, Portugal eliminated criminal penalties for drug users. Since then, those caught with small amounts of marijuana, cocaine or heroin go unindicted and possession is a misdemeanor on par with illegal parking. Experts are pleased with the results. Portugal has stopped prosecuting users. The substances listed in Law 30/2000 are still illegal in Portugal -- "Otherwise we would have gotten into trouble with the UN," drug policy coordinator João Goulão explains -- but using these drugs is nothing more than a misdemeanor, much the same as a parking violation.
São Paulo’s Cracolândia was Brazil’s first and is still its biggest. It is home to 2,000 addicts. But most Brazilian cities now have similar districts. Recent studies put the country’s crack-using population at 1m-1.2m, the world’s largest. Some city governments have used strong-arm tactics against the crack epidemic—with little effect other than to fill prisons, which have more than twice as many inmates as a decade ago.
In 2001, Canada became the first country to adopt a formal system to regulate the medicinal use of marijuana — the Marijuana Medical Access Regulations. The policy allowed people suffering from terminal illnesses or severe conditions such as epilepsy, AIDS, multiple sclerosis and cancer to use the drug if it eased their symptoms. Some people would be able to grow marijuana themselves under strict guidelines.
The leaves of kratom, a native of Southeast Asia in the coffee family, are used to relieve pain and improve mood as an opiate substitute and stimulant. The herb is also combined with cough syrup to make a popular beverage in Thailand called "4x100." Because of its psychoactive properties, kratom is illegal in Thailand, Australia, Myanmar (Burma) and Malaysia. Thailand is considering legalizing kratom as a safer alternative for meth addicts, and U.S. researchers are studying its potential to help opiate abusers kick the habit without withdrawal side effects.
Some European countries prescribe heroin for the most severe cases of addiction. Patients taking heroin are less likely to use illicit drugs and drop out of treatment than those who use methadone, a substitute. Vancouver’s eagerness to follow is not surprising. It has long had Canada’s most liberal drug policies, and it has a big problem. Addicts congregate in Downtown Eastside, two derelict blocks right next to tourist attractions and the financial district. In the late 1990s the city had the highest rate of HIV infection outside sub-Saharan Africa.
A group of sickle-wielding vigilantes made its way through Myanmar’s northern Kachin State in January and February, clearing poppy fields nearly ready to be harvested in a quest to end production of the illicit drug. The mission turned farmers whose livelihoods were being cut down into angry and, at times, armed adversaries.
There is no reliable evidence that tougher criminal sanctions deter drug use or offending. On the contrary, criminalisation worsens the health and wellbeing of drug users, increases risk behaviours, drives the spread of HIV, encourages other crime and discourages drug users from seeking treatment. A report by Australia21, Alternatives to Prohibition, subtitled Illicit drugs: how we can stop killing and criminalising young Australians, sets out the lessons learnt about the failed war on drugs from other countries, especially Sweden, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Portugal.