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Portugal to All-Out Legalize Marijuana?

Human Rights Groups Call on Nations to End Death Penalty for Drug Offenses

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Issues Centennial Report

Germany to Establish Heroin Maintenance Program

Croatian Supreme Court Overturns Conviction of Medical Marijuana-Using PTSD Sufferer

UN's 52nd Committee on Narcotic Drugs Meets in Vienna

Dutch to Close Border Cannabis Coffee Shops

Australian State of New South Wales Legalizes Hemp Production

Czech Marijuana Laws May Lighten Up

Reform Organizations Return from UN "Beyond 2008 NGO Forum" in Vienna

Amsterdam Psychiatrist Frederick Polak Continually Embarrasses UN Drug Czar, Challenging Costa's Positions with Actual Facts

UN Anti-Drug Agency Embraces Harm Reduction

Redefining Loss As Victory: UN Issues 2007 World Drug Report

UN Issues World Drug Report 2006

US Pressure May Weaken UN Declaration On AIDS

US State Dept. Releases 2006 International Narcotics Control Report

International Narcotics Control Board Releases 2005 Annual Report – Calls For Increased Government Help For Socially Excluded Minority Groups And The Poor

Hands Across The Water: Cocaine Traffickers Using West African Nations As Transshipment Points On Route To Europe

Iraq Becoming Transit Nation On Heroin Trail

Secret UK Government Report Blasts Drug War

China More Humane Than US? Chinese Government Endorses Needle Exchange

UNAIDS: Syringe Exchanges Are A Necessary Part Of Global AIDS Prevention Efforts; UN Office On Drugs And Crime: Just Say No

Russia Decriminalizes Possession

European Monitoring Centre on Drugs and Drug Addiction Releases 2003 Annual Reports on EU Member States and Candidate States

European Monitoring Centre on Drugs and Drug Addiction Releases 2002 Annual Report

Swiss Health Insurers To Cover Most Of Cost For Heroin Prescription For Addicts

Study: UK Cannabis Reform Could Save Millions, Improve Police Image With Public

United Kingdom Moves Closer To Historic Reform Of Drug Policies

US Issues 2001 Narcotics Certification Determinations On 23 Nations; Myanmar Singled Out For De-Certification, Two Others Receive Waivers

International Narcotics Control Board Releases 2001 Annual Report; US-Dominated Board Restates Opposition To Cannabis Decriminalization And Other Policy Reform/Harm Reduction Measures

Annual Report on European Drug Use Issued By EU Monitoring Agency

Half A Step Better Than No Progress: UK Home Secretary Urges Reclassification, Medicalization of Marijuana

Since Sept. 11 Drug Smuggling Into US Has Gone Down ... Or Up ... Or ...

Health Canada Report Endorses Harm Reduction To Deal With Injection Drug Use; Critics Express Some Disappointment But Praise Progress

Jamaican National Ganja Commission Issues Report, Urges Decriminalization/Legalization Of Cannabis

Australian National Law Enforcement Agency Calls For Heroin Prescription Trials#&059; Doctors, Prosecutors Join In Call For Reform

Parliament To Examine Decriminalization Of Marijuana

Portugal Decriminalizes Soft Drugs

Cannabis Legalization Bill Introduced In UK House Of Commons

UK Police Shift Local Enforcement Priorities, Ease Up On Marijuana Users; Broader National Shift Also Seen

United Kingdom Moving Toward Reform Of Cannabis? Home Secretary Open To Debate, Poll Shows Public Support For Move

UK Tory Leadership Contenders Call For Discussion Of Cannabis Legalization

Jamaican Government Commission Considers Decriminalizing Marijuana; US Pressure May Keep Recommendation Out Of Report

Canadian Medical Journal Urges Marijuana Decriminalization

US Thrown Off UN's International Narcotics Control Board

Researchers Say Decriminalization Does Not Increase Cannabis Use; Suggests Netherlands Provides Good Model For US

UK House Of Lords Committee Urges Legal Medical Marijuana

Swiss Move Closer To Cannabis Legalization

Australia Prepares For Prescription Heroin Trial; Injection Room Opens In Sydney

United Kingdom Relaxes Cannabis Laws As House Of Lords Committee Calls For Legal Medical Marijuana

Belgium Decriminalizes Personal Use Marijuana Cultivation, Possession

Drug Policy Reform Moves Ahead Outside US

Harm Reduction, Relaxed Cannabis Policies The Rule Internationally

This news page contains general information about international drug policy developments. For more about specific nations or regions, see these other CSDP news pages:
Colombia & the US Drug War in South America
Thailand & South Asia
United Kingdom

Portugal to All-Out Legalize Marijuana?

As the writer of a July 5, 2009 Drug War Chronicle feature ("Marijuana Legalization Legislation in the Works in Portugal") observes, "Portugal has been the subject of a lot of attention lately over its decriminalization of drug possession," a successful and highly lauded - even by the United Nations - policy the Portugese have had in place for nearly a decade but has "only this year caught the world's attention." However, some Portugal lawmakers want to push the policy further and outright legalize marijuana. As the Chronicle reports, "The Leftist Bloc (Bloco de Esquerda) is preparing legislation that would legalize the possession, cultivation, and retail sales of small amounts of marijuana." The proposal also seeks to "provid[e] for regulated wholesale cultivation to supply the retail market."

Legislators have had - and, in fact, encouraged - the assistance of the European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies (ENCOD) in crafting their legalization proposal. According to the feature, "The alliance comes too late to influence the marijuana bill, but [it] will provide an entree for drug reformers in the process of future drug legislation, or even revising the current marijuana bill if it does not make it through parliament this year." Indeed, that help may be needed; sources told the Chronicle that the "bill's immediate prospects are uncertain." However, its proponents are gaining ground and report feeling optimistic about the bill's prospects. As ENCOD steering committee member, Portugese law student, journalist, and activist Jorge Roque told the Chronicle, "Honestly, at first I thought this would never pass, but with time and after discussing this with the deputies, I am much more optimistic. [...] Of course, the Left Bloc alone cannot get it passed, but as usual, they provoke debate of ideas, and then, since they are seen as an intelligent and humane group, they can pick up support among other political parties."

For more information about this exciting development, head over to the above-linked Chronicle feature. The informative piece's author had access to a draft version of the bill and mulls over potential pitfalls and positive indicators throughout the article.

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Human Rights Groups Call on Nations to End Death Penalty for Drug Offenses

As UPI reported on June 22, 2009 ("Groups Want End to Drug Offense Executions"), several advocacy groups - including the Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network, Human Rights Watch, and the International Harm Reduction Association "said in a release as the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking approaches [on] June 26, Asian governments need to rethink their willingness to execute people for drug related offenses." Although 16 of the region's country's mete out the death penalty for drug law violations, human rights groups "singled out China, Indonesia, and Vietnam for particular concern, saying that they continue to execute people for drug offenses and that some countries have marked the occasion of the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking with such executions." Groups also warn that the exact number of drug offenders sentenced to death is difficult to estimate, but "reports from Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand indicate a high percentage of executions in those countries are imposed on those convicted of drug offenses."

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United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Issues Centennial Report

The United Nations' World Drugs Report 2009 should surprise readers in more ways than one. Most notably for the drug policy reform movement, UNODC head Antonia Maria Costa's preface actually acknowledges anti-prohibitionist sentiments; provides a generally positive analysis of Portugal's decriminalization efforts; and, rather than approaching drug policy from a strictly punitive viewpoint, considers global drug laws in light of health-based, economic, and public safety concerns. More peculiar surprises include Costa's comparision of drug legalization to the legalization of human trafficking and slavery and his strange ability to put together a cohesive report while simultaneously, as Drug Policy Alliance executive director Ethan Nadelmann put it to The Drug War Chronicle, "talk out of both sides of his mouth." Nadelmann elaborates, stating that "On the one hand [Costa] admits global drug prohibition is destabilizing governments, increasing violence, and destroying lives [...]. But on the other hand he offers facile arguments dismissing the need for serious debate on alternative drug policies." He adds, "The report erroneously assumes that prohibition is the ultimate form of control when in fact it represents the abdication of control."

For a more indepth analysis of the report, stop by the Chronicle's June 26 feature ("UN Drug Czar Attacks Legalizers -- Legalizers Say 'It's About Time'"). You can also view both a summary of the report and download the full text in PDF form at the UNODC's web page (UNODC Launches 2009 Annual Report).

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Germany to Establish Heroin Maintenance Program

According to a report contained within the June 5, 2009 edition of the Drug War Chronicle, "The German parliament has voted to allow the prescription of heroin to addicts who have not responded to other treatments" ("German Parliament Approves Heroin Maintenance"). The new law applies only to those "who have been using [heroin] for at least five years, are at least 23 years old, and who have failed to stop in other treatment programs." Eligible individuals will "receive pharmaceutical heroin in designated treatment centers," following a successful pilot program on which the law is based.

Other countries - including Britain, Canada, the Netherlands, Spain, and Switzerland - have implemented similar measures, which have generally produced positive outcomes. Germany's pilot study, "conducted in seven cities between 2002 and 2006," concluded that the program resulted in "reduce[d] crime, overdose fatalities, and HIV among hard-core [heroin] users.

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Croatian Supreme Court Overturns Conviction of Medical Marijuana-Using PTSD Sufferer

On June 3, 2009, the Croatian Supreme Court "threw out a jail sentence given to a war veteran who used medical marijuana" to cope with the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that has haunted him since he returned from "the 1991-1995 wars" that followed "the break up of former Yugoslavia," the Drug War Chronicle informed readers in its June 16 edition ("Croatia Supreme Court Throws Out Jail Sentence in Veteran's Use of Medical Marijuana for PTSD"). Despite Croatia's "zero tolerance" drug policy, the "high court held that the man's use of marijuana was a 'meaningless act' under Croatian law, which means he cannot be prosecuted." As the Chronicle reports, the June "ruling is viewed as a precedent for other war veterans" suffering from PTSD.

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UN's 52nd Commission on Narcotic Drugs Meets in Vienna

The United Nations' Commission on Narcotic Drugs held its first meeting since the 1998 passage of a UN General Assembly declaration that set out the governing body's 10-year drug control plan; the March 2009 meeting, held specifically for the purpose of evaluating that plan, did little to change the course of international narcotics control strategies, but the commission meeting was notable not only for its final declaration's near complete dismissal of thoughtful and hard-earned suggestions submitted by 2008 NGO forum participants ("Drug War Allies: Russia, Cuba, Pakistan . . . USA?") but, on a more positive note, for the lively protests anti-prohibitionist activists staged in Vienna.

For a thorough and targeted reaction to the UNOCD's resulting report, take a look at the Drug War Chronicle's March 14, 2009 feature ("Human Rights in the Drug War: NGOs Slam UN Drug Bureaucracies, Demand Compliance with UN Charter"). In addition, if you're interested in developing a fuller picture of the drug policy reform movement's concerns regarding the UN's approach - generally unchanged since 1998, as previously noted - to drug control, you can read the Human Rights Watch, International Harm Reduction Association, and Beckley Foundation Drug Policy Program-endorsed report, Recalibrating the Regime: The Need for a Human Rights-Based Approach to International Drug Policy, which was "presented [...] in Vienna during a discussion of the worldwide human rights impact of the drug war conducted as part of a series of events countering the official CND meeting." Further, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs' own blog documents the sessions' proceedings here. The Harm Reduction Coalition also provides a useful FAQ regarding the 2009 review on their site

That the UN continued to endorse a criminal justice-based narcotics control strategy (as opposed to a harm reduction, public health, or evidence-based approach) should not surprise movement activists or frequent readers. But the theatrical demonstrations staged by reform groups outside of the conference only surved to underline the enginuity, creativity, and intellectual strengths that characterize our movement. And, indeed, the events were rather surprising. Leaders from the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU), Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), and The European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies (ENCOD), among others, held "an open air press conference" during which "speakers gave interviews from inside cages;" displayed "symbolic urine samples to show delegates the absurdity of the war on drugs;" and dressed as mobsters while "distribut[ing] fake [USD] banknotes" featuring Antonia Maria Costa's picture "and a message in the name of In Memoriam Al Capone Trust, the international network of criminals, who congratulated the governments [for] keep[ing] drugs illegal, thus creating a huge tax-free income for them." For more information on these advocacy efforts, see the HCLU's blog post about them ("HCLU in Action: Stop the Global War on Drugs!"), and watch a caged Kris Krane speak by following the link on this page.

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Dutch to Close Border Cannabis Coffee Shops

In an effort to "bring an end to the nuisance created by the 25,000 drug tourists" who visit the country's cannabis-peddling cafes each week, the mayors of two Dutch border towns - Roosendaal and Bergen op Zoom - have decreed that all such operations in those areas "must close by September 16, 2009," Dutch News reported on March 5, 2009 ("Border Cannabis Cafes to Close"). An attorney representing the affected business, Harrie Nieland, "told the paper that there was little he could do [for the coffee shops and their operators] until they are actually closed down." However, he "told the Telegraaf" that "if you want to change drug policy, you first need to discuss it nationally and also check EU law if you want to discourage European tourists."

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Australian State of New South Wales Legalizes Hemp Production

As Australia's Sydney Morning Herald reported on November 20, 2008 ("High Hopes for Cannabis"), "After years of debate, the State Government [of New South Wales] has approved large-scale hemp farming and will consider licence applications under a new scheme." New South Wales police will utilize the "licensing system [...] to prevent industrial hemp being grown to camouflage illegal crops of marijuana." Growers will also be &qout;audited and inspected regularly" and can produce only "police-approved cannabis varieties[, which] all have low levels of tetrahydrocannabinol, the compound people smoke to get high." By legalizing hemp production, Australian manufacturers can begin using "the fibrous stems [...] in clothing, cosmetics, livestock and animal feeds, and building materials."

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Czech Marijuana Laws May Lighten Up

On November 11, 2008, Czech paper CeskéNoviny described a "new code that is yet to be discussed by the upper house and signed by the president into law" but has been passed by the country's lower house ("Czech Law to Punish Marijuana Less Strictly than Other Drugs"). Under the new code, citizens arrested carrying "small amount[s] of marijuana" will be convicted only of "an offence," whereas "the production and sale of drugs can be punished with five to 15 years in prison." Lawmakers passed the legislation due to concerns about "present unclarities on when a person is to go to prison for drug possession." The article states that "a government draft decree" defines "a small amount of drugs" as "20 marijuana cigarettes, three cannabis plants, 25 magic mushrooms, and about 10 doses of other drugs" like ecstasy, cocaine, morphine, heroin, and LSD. While the new code would not, if passed, erase penalties for possession of these amounts entirely, it would reduce a defendant's sentence to "up to two years in prison if [s/he is] found guilty" of non-marijuana drug possession and enact sentences of "12 months to six months, respectively," for people convicted of marijuana possession and growing.

The new code also "punishes those who offer drugs to children with 10 years behind bars," criminalizes "doping in sport," and "includes 10-year bans from sports, cultural and other events [...] to help fight mainly against football rowdies."

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Drug Policy Reform Organizations Return from UN's "Beyond 2008 NGO Forum" in Vienna

Over 300 drug policy-related nongovernmental organizations of all stripes turned out for the United Nations' "Beyond 2008 NGO Forums" in Vienna in early June of 2008 and returned to their countries of origin armed with, as the Drug War Chronicle reports ("Beyond 2008 -- Global Civil Society Tells the UN it's Time to Fix International Drug Policy"), "a resolution that [was] presented to the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) at its meeting" several weeks later. The discussion was, according to the Chronicle, "sometimes heated," but the unanimous declaration of the NGOs at Beyond 2008 called" on the UN to "recogni[ze] 'the human rights abuses against people who use drugs," create an "'[e]vidence-based' drug policy focused on 'mitigation of short-term and long-term harms' and 'full respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms," "report on the collateral consequences of the current criminal justice-based approach to drugs and to provide an 'analysis of the unintended consequences of the drug control system," conduct "[c]omprehensive 'reviews of the application of criminal sanctions as a drug control measure," recognize "harm reduction as a necessary and worthwhile response to drug abuse," "shift [its] primary emphasis from interdiction to treatment and prevention" develop and implement alternatives to incarceration, and "acknowledg[e] that young people" not only "represent a significant portion of drug users worldwide" but also that they "are disproportionately affected by drugs and drug policy" and should thus "be actively involved in the setting of global drug policy." While the report was in no way binding, it represents a notable achievement.

For more information on the NGO forum, check out the Chronicle's June 18, 2008 feature and read the delegation's full declaration to the UN here.

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Amsterdam Psychiatrist Frederick Polak Continually Embarrasses UN Drug Czar, Challenging Costa's Positions With Actual Facts

Antonio Maria Costa does not want to answer ENCOD board member and Amsterdam-based psychiatrist Frederick Polak's question. For the last three years, Polak has presented to Costa (at every opportunity) the same simple query: "If prohibition is the only way to contain the drug problem, how do you explain that the prevalence of cannabis use is lower or similar in the Netherlands than in many neighboring countries?" As the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union explains ("Silenced NGO Partner"), "the hypothesis behind drug prohibition is that if we repress the supply of drugs the demand will automatically reduce." Thus, if that theory held true, marijuana use should have skyrocketed in the Netherlands after its government decriminalized the drug in 1976 ("Timeline: Use of Cannabis," BBC, 2005), and eventually implemented their much-discussed "coffeeshop" distribution model. However, "this is not the case: according to statistics cannabis use patterns remained relatively stable in the Netherlands and did not hit the sky as a result of legal availability." Clearly faced with a conundrum, Costa discussed tangentially-related issues in order to avoid the meat of Polak's question; when pressed again by Polak, the czar "lost his temper and grudgingly refused to engage in further discussions, giving the floor to another speaker, while Polak was approached by a security guard."

As intimated earlier, however, Polak did not stop seeking his answer after the March 2008 incident (a video of which can be viewed on the above-linked HCLU post). On December 6 of the same year, Polak composed an open letter addressed to Costa in which he stated that "On 6 December 2007 at the Drug Policy Alliance Conference in New Orleans I asked you the following question.&qout; Costa goes on to repeat the aforementioned inquiry and begins his next paragraph by stating that he is "still waiting for your answer." In short, despite having asked the world's leading authority - at least nominally - on illicit drugs a relatively simple question about marijuana prohibition three times, Frederick Polak has yet to receive an answer. Maybe next time, Mr. Costa?

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UN Anti-Drug Agency Embraces Harm Reduction

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has explicitly endorsed harm reduction programs including syringe exchange and substitution treatment.

In its publication released Jan. 22, 2008, titled "Reducing the Adverse Health and Social Consequences of Drug Abuse: A Comprehensive Approach," the authors at UNODC conclude:

"Member States should provide both prevention/treatment opportunities and the tertiary prevention measures to reduce adverse health and social consequences, as part of a comprehensive plan. Unfortunately, due to resource limitations, some communities are not able to provide comprehensive programmes which take into account the real needs of drug abusers.

"Many substance abusers, who would be motivated to treatment but do not find accessible well-equipped treatment facilities in their neighborhood are de facto condemned to remain in a condition of dependence and to perpetuate their dependence in social exclusion. Some countries provide only selective services and do not provide harm reduction opportunities for dependent individuals who are not involved in treatment. Untreated drug dependent people, without any contact to the health care system and welfare facilities, are exposed to the highest level of risk and may cause consistent harm to themselves and society as a whole.

"Measures to reduce adverse health and social consequences should be offered in a nondiscriminatory and comprehensive programme. If they are included in a comprehensive strategy, including easy access to high quality clinical facilities, drug abusers may be more motivated to seek treatment.

'Harm reduction' measures combined with good-practice treatment facilities may prevent immediate adverse health and social consequences and be effective in the long-term reduction of drug-related harm for individuals and society."
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Redefining Loss As Victory: UN Issues 2007 World Drug Report

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime released its 2007 World Drug Report on June 26, 2007, to coincide with the International Day Against Drugs. According to the UNODC's news release, ("UN Drugs Agency Reports 'Significant And Positive Changes' In World Drugs Markets"), "Whereas a few years ago the world appeared to be heading for an epidemic of drug abuse, growing evidence suggests that the problem is being brought under control, the Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Antonio Maria Costa, said on Tuesday. 'Recent data show that the run-away train of drug addiction has slowed down,' he said in a statement marking the launch of UNODC's 2007 World Drug Report. The Report shows global markets for illicit drugs remained largely stable in 2005-06. 'For almost all drugs - cocaine, heroin, cannabis and amphetamines – there are signs of overall stability, whether we speak of production, trafficking or consumption,' Mr Costa said."

Notably, the UNODC claimed that "Coca cultivation in the Andes continues to decline and global cocaine consumption has stabilised, although the reduction in the United States is offset by alarming increases in Europe."

The claim is notable because the UN's figures seem to be off by half. The UN claims that only 156,900 hectares of were used to cultivate coca throughout the entire Andean region. Yet on June 4, 2007, the US Office of National Drug Control Policy released its estimate of Colombian cocaine production ("2006 Coca Estimates For Colombia"). According to the US ONDCP: "The results of the 2006 U.S. Government survey of cultivation in Colombia indicate that statistically there was no change in the amount of coca being grown between 2005 and 2006. The 2006 coca cultivation estimate is subject to a 90 percent confidence interval of between 125,800 and 179,500 hectares. The 90 percent confidence interval for the 2005 estimate was between 127,800 and 160,800 hectares. The significant overlap between the two years' estimates means that it is not possible to infer year-to-year trend information.
"The survey estimates that there were 157,200 hectares under cultivation, an increase of 13,000 hectares from the 2005 estimate, subject to the confidence limitations described above. The 2006 area surveyed increased by 19 percent compared with 2005, and almost all of the increase was identified in these newly surveyed areas. Because they had not been previously surveyed, it is not possible to know with certainty if the coca found in these areas is in fact newly planted and had not been producing for a period of time."

In other words the official US estimate for coca production, based on surveillance of an expanded area in Colombia, is nearly double the UN's guess. Though the reliability of both sources has been called into question in the past by independent analysts, the evidence seems to support the US ONDCP's estimate. The UNODC in its report admitted that "Consumption increased significantly in Europe, doubling or tripling in several countries over the last decade. In Africa, notably in the countries of western Africa, cocaine use has also increased." (WDR2007, p. 13). Also, the US ONDCP has been forced to admit that cocaine prices in the US are at or near record lows and purity levels remain high (for more info see CSDP's Drug Czar: Cocaine Now Cheaper, More Pure Than Before). Low prices, high purity, expanding market and availability – these are indicators of excess, not of success.

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Redefining Loss As Victory: UN Issues 2007 World Drug Report

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime released its 2007 World Drug Report on June 26, 2007, to coincide with the International Day Against Drugs. According to the UNODC's news release, ("UN Drugs Agency Reports 'Significant And Positive Changes' In World Drugs Markets"), "Whereas a few years ago the world appeared to be heading for an epidemic of drug abuse, growing evidence suggests that the problem is being brought under control, the Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Antonio Maria Costa, said on Tuesday. 'Recent data show that the run-away train of drug addiction has slowed down,' he said in a statement marking the launch of UNODC's 2007 World Drug Report. The Report shows global markets for illicit drugs remained largely stable in 2005-06. 'For almost all drugs - cocaine, heroin, cannabis and amphetamines – there are signs of overall stability, whether we speak of production, trafficking or consumption,' Mr Costa said."

Notably, the UNODC claimed that "Coca cultivation in the Andes continues to decline and global cocaine consumption has stabilised, although the reduction in the United States is offset by alarming increases in Europe."

The claim is notable because the UN's figures seem to be off by half. The UN claims that only 156,900 hectares of were used to cultivate coca throughout the entire Andean region. Yet on June 4, 2007, the US Office of National Drug Control Policy released its estimate of Colombian cocaine production ("2006 Coca Estimates For Colombia"). According to the US ONDCP: "The results of the 2006 U.S. Government survey of cultivation in Colombia indicate that statistically there was no change in the amount of coca being grown between 2005 and 2006. The 2006 coca cultivation estimate is subject to a 90 percent confidence interval of between 125,800 and 179,500 hectares. The 90 percent confidence interval for the 2005 estimate was between 127,800 and 160,800 hectares. The significant overlap between the two years' estimates means that it is not possible to infer year-to-year trend information.
"The survey estimates that there were 157,200 hectares under cultivation, an increase of 13,000 hectares from the 2005 estimate, subject to the confidence limitations described above. The 2006 area surveyed increased by 19 percent compared with 2005, and almost all of the increase was identified in these newly surveyed areas. Because they had not been previously surveyed, it is not possible to know with certainty if the coca found in these areas is in fact newly planted and had not been producing for a period of time."

In other words the official US estimate for coca production, based on surveillance of an expanded area in Colombia, is nearly double the UN's guess. Though the reliability of both sources has been called into question in the past by independent analysts, the evidence seems to support the US ONDCP's estimate. The UNODC in its report admitted that "Consumption increased significantly in Europe, doubling or tripling in several countries over the last decade. In Africa, notably in the countries of western Africa, cocaine use has also increased." (WDR2007, p. 13). Also, the US ONDCP has been forced to admit that cocaine prices in the US are at or near record lows and purity levels remain high (for more info see CSDP's Drug Czar: Cocaine Now Cheaper, More Pure Than Before). Low prices, high purity, expanding market and availability – these are indicators of excess, not of success.

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UN Issues World Drug Report 2006

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime released its World Drug Report on June 26, 2006. According to UNODC (UN Drugs Chief Sounds Warning About Afghan Opium Production, Cocaine Consumption In Europe"), "Cocaine consumption in western Europe is reaching alarming levels while opium production in Afghanistan could rise again this year despite a welcome decline in 2005, the Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Antonio Maria Costa, said on Monday. UNODC's 2006 World Drug Report showed global opium production fell five percent in 2005 while cocaine production was broadly stable. Seizures of both drugs, especially cocaine, reached record highs. Consumption of cannabis, the most widely used illicit drug, continued to increase while the market for amphetamine-type stimulants stabilised. Africa is growing in importance for trans-shipments of cocaine and heroin to Europe."

The full two-volume report is available in PDF:
Volume 1: Analysis
Volume 2: Statistics

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US Pressure May Weaken UN Declaration On AIDS

AIDS experts and advocates are concerned that US pressure may hinder the worldwide fight against AIDS. The Washington Post reported on June 1, 2006 ("Weaker UN Declaration On AIDS Is Feared") that "Negotiations over an updated version of the United Nations' 'declaration of commitment' on AIDS are bogging down in battles over the language sensitivities of Islamic countries and the reluctance of the United States to have specific, very expensive global targets spelled out in detail. According to numerous people in close contact with the negotiating teams, the declaration that will be presented to the General Assembly tomorrow may be far weaker than the one adopted in 2001. Though that declaration was not a binding document the way a treaty is, it is widely believed to have been a key factor in marshaling the world's energy and resources to address the needs of AIDS patients in the developing world. Some participants said it will be ironic if the new declaration turns out to be vague in its goals and sanitized in its language, as an unprecedented number of activist groups and civil society organizations -- about 800 in all -- were invited to take part in preparing it and have been pressing for greater explicitness and accountability. 'We are seeing the U.N. system poised to take an enormous step backward,' said Kim Nichols of the New York-based African Services Committee. 'If we can't arrive at a unified set of global targets, then we're in deep, deep trouble.'"

According to the Post, " UNAIDS, the United Nations' AIDS program, estimates that $20 billion to $23 billion a year will be needed by 2010. The United States now spends more on AIDS in the developing world than any other country and is considered likely to continue supporting the large number of people now getting antiretroviral therapy through the $15 billion President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) even after its five-year term expires. People familiar with the negotiations here said the U.S. delegation fears that the United States will be held more accountable than other donors for funding shortfalls that may occur in the future if the targets are spelled out explicitly. Civil society groups want a target of providing drugs by 2010 to 80 percent of people whose infection is advanced enough to require antiretroviral treatment and to 80 percent of infected pregnant women, as well as to all people who have both tuberculosis and AIDS. None of those goals is mentioned in a draft of the declaration dated May 30. The United States is seeking to have the document 'take note' of a goal of providing UNAIDS $20 billion to $23 billion by 2010, rather than having that need 'recognized.'"

UN officials and AIDS experts are expressing concern that anti-AIDS efforts are faltering internationally. Reuters reported on May 30, 2006 ("Anti-AIDS Drive Still Falling Short After 25 Years") that "Twenty-five years after AIDS was first recognized, the world is still falling short in its battle against the disease with severe gaps in prevention and treatment, the United Nations said on Tuesday. 'Despite some notable achievements, the response to the AIDS epidemic to date has been nowhere near adequate,' said UNAIDS, the U.N. agency that coordinates the global campaign against the pandemic."

According to Reuters, "The global AIDS incidence rate is believed to have peaked in the late 1990s. About 1.3 million people in the developing world are now on life-extending antiretroviral medicines, which saved about 300,000 lives last year alone. Still, some 4.1 million people were newly infected and 2.8 million died in 2005. There were 4.9 million new infections and 3.1 million deaths in 2004. Fewer than half of young people were knowledgeable about AIDS. Among those injecting illegal drugs or having homosexual sex, few received preventive services last year. The global supply of condoms was less than 50 percent of what was needed, and antiretroviral drugs, while more widely available, remained costly and hard to get. Ignored in many countries are prostitutes, said Thoraya Obeid, the Saudi Arabian executive director of the U.N. Population Fund. She said they also had the right to prevention and treatment, especially since many were poor women or girls, sold into prostitution and victims of violence. However, a final statement by governments at the conference this week is not expected to refer to prostitutes, drug users or homosexuals, due to objections from Islamic nations, some Catholic countries and the United States which fear that merely mentioning these groups would endorse their behavior. Infected individuals still suffer from ostracism and discrimination, while the vast majority of the world's 40 million infected people have never been tested for HIV and are unaware of their status, the report said."

Reuters noted that "While $8.9 billion is expected to be available in 2006 to combat AIDS in developing countries, $14.9 billion will be needed, UNAIDS said. By 2008, it predicted, $22.1 billion would be needed, including $11.4 billion for prevention plans alone."

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US State Dept. Releases 2006 International Narcotics Control Report

The US State Dept. released its 2006 International Narcotics Control Report on March 1, 2006. The New York Times reported on March 2, 2006 ( "US Lists Its Pluses And Minuses In Fighting Narcotics Worldwide") that "The Bush administration published an annual report Wednesday on international narcotics control, listing its accomplishments in disrupting the production and trafficking of cocaine, heroin, marijuana and other drugs to the United States. But perhaps the most important measure of the programs' efficacy was issued just a few weeks ago, when the White House drug-policy office reported that 'cocaine is widely available throughout most of the nation.' The office offered similar assessments for heroin and marijuana."

According to the Times, "In singling out trouble spots, the State Department report focused on two countries in particular, Colombia and Afghanistan. In Colombia, the United States has financed a multibillion-dollar antidrug program since 2000. Every year, thousands of acres of coca plant have been sprayed with herbicides; the department reported record spraying of 36,000 acres in 2005. But each year, growers plant new bushes so quickly that for the past three years, acreage under cultivation has remained stable. As a result, the report said, 'Colombia is the source of 90 percent of the cocaine entering the United States.' Congress is to debate the financing for the Colombia project this spring. The antidrug campaigns have run for more than 25 years, but, officials acknowledged, traffickers have almost always been able to meet American market demands. Drug enforcement officials measure their success on small fluctuations in purity and price. On Wednesday, an official pointed to a note in the report that said preliminary reports indicated that enforcement efforts 'may have led to an increase in the U.S. street price of cocaine' and 'a reduction in purity.' Afghanistan is the other country of major concern. About 30 percent of Afghanistan's economic activity is a result of opium poppy cultivation, which supplies about 90 percent of the world's heroin."

The Times noted that "Though the report did not address it, the administration remains gravely concerned about Evo Morales, the new president of Bolivia, who once led a major coca planters' union and has vowed to end the American-financed eradication programs. Although Mr. Morales has not said what he intends to do, he has offered the paradoxical position that he will not impede coca cultivation but will fight drug trafficking. Government troops in charge of coca eradication have stopped work, awaiting orders."

A copy of the 2006 INCSR can be downloaded from the State Dept.'s Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (otherwise known as "Drugs & Thugs"), and can also be viewed or downloaded from here.

International Narcotics Control Board Releases 2005 Annual Report – Calls For Increased Government Help For Socially Excluded Minority Groups And The Poor

The UN's International Narcotics Control Board released its 2005 annual report on March 1, 2006. According to an INCB news release on the report:
"The links between drug abuse, deprivation, unemployment and certain types of criminal behaviour are well known. None of these, individually or collectively, cause drug abuse any more than drug abuse is the sole cause of crime, poverty and unemployment. However, these adverse conditions and behaviours often co-exist and reinforce each other. In such an environment, and with a readily available supply of drugs, the criminal lifestyle that accompanies drug abuse may be much easier and more attractive than legitimate activities. It is proposed therefore that the principles of alternative development, in its widest sense, should be applied in socially marginalized urban environments as well as in the remote rural areas where earlier efforts have been focused. This will require sustained and comprehensive efforts to tackle social deprivation and to develop alternative legitimate occupations and lifestyles.
"A much broader application of alternative development in both rural and urban societies will reap greater dividends than if it is practised in either of these societies alone because of the symbiotic nature of the relationship between supply and demand. Both rural farmers and socially marginalized city dwellers need and are entitled to the opportunity of a legitimate livelihood and we should make renewed efforts to reach all of them, striving to create environments less conducive to the production and abuse of drugs. These are not simple solutions. However, the simple truth is that there are no simple solutions in international drug control."

The INCB also joined some in the US in expressing concern over methamphetamine use. According to another of INCB's news releases on the report, "The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) sounds the alarm on the rapid increase in the illicit manufacture of methamphetamine, in its Annual Report released today (1 March 2006), in Vienna. Besides rapidly increasing in North America and South-East Asia, the illicit manufacture of methamphetamine is also spreading to other regions such as Africa, Eastern Europe and Oceania. This trend is fuelled by traffickers' ability to divert ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, the key precursors for methamphetamine, from licit distribution channels."

According to the INCB, "Following the monitoring of nearly 2,000 shipments of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine in licit international trade in 2005, the Board was able to zero in on a series of suspicious shipments of the two substances. These shipments were headed towards North America and South-East Asia, where illicit methamphetamine manufacture is known to take place, but also to countries in Africa and Central and South America. The largest of those cases include the prevented diversion of 26 tons of pseudoephedrine to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and 7.3 tons to Kenya, 19.5 tons of ephedrine to Paraguay, and 3 tons each of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine to Belize."

The INCB noted that "In the Americas, traffickers are turning to new routes of diversion and to preparations containing pseudoephedrine as a source for illicit methamphetamine manufacture. In response, under Project Prism, the international initiative focusing on ATS precursors, Governments have started to introduce voluntary measures to identify and prevent such diversions, such as the assessment of licit requirements in the substance and the sending of pre-export notifications for pharmaceutical preparations containing pseudoephedrine. Exports of pseudoephedrine to Mexico increased five-fold between 1998 and 2004. A number of suspicious shipments of pseudoephedrine to that country were identified in 2005. In response, the Mexican authorities have prohibited brokers from importing pseudoephedrine, and reduced imports of the substance by half."

A copy of the INCB's annual report can be downloaded from the INCB website by section or in full.

Law enforcement and human rights officials warn that traffickers are using West African nations as transshipment points for cocaine bound for Europe. Reuters AlertNet on Sept. 22, 2005 ( "Senegal Fights Colombian Cocaine Flooding W. Africa") reported that "Colombian drug cartels are flooding West Africa with tonnes of cocaine bound for Europe but police in Senegal say a crackdown in the major regional port of Dakar can help stem the tide. With hundreds of containers passing through the port every day, Senegal is launching a new brigade of police and customs agents this month to tackle drug smuggling in cooperation with the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). 'Cartels active in South America have come to Dakar and set up here,' said Abdoulaye Niang, Senegal's top anti-narcotics policeman. 'Since last year we have discovered structured networks composed of Senegalese, Colombians and Europeans.' The price of cocaine on the streets of Dakar had slumped as drugs flooded the market, Niang said, with the cost of a gram halving over the past year to 8,500 CFA francs, or around $16. 'International trafficking is rising, especially cocaine,' he said. 'We are talking about tonnes of cocaine passing through the port. Last year, in an operation with Spanish police, 15 tonnes were seized -- and that is just a tiny part.'"

According to Reuters, "West Africa is an attractive back door into Europe for international drug traffickers because of its underfunded police, established criminal networks and widespread corruption which means gangs often operate with impunity, officials say. 'The problem of drugs in West Africa falls on very fertile ground because of the inability by the state to exercise its powers, to administer law and order,' said Antonio Mazzitelli, regional head of the UNODC based in Dakar. Some European crime bosses have even set up residence in Dakar, using it as a base to run their regional operations. 'It's not just Dakar, all of West Africa's capitals are being used as transit points or even drug depots,' Niang said. 'Lots of ships from South America are flooding West Africa with cocaine -- especially Senegal, Togo and Ghana.'"

Reuters noted that "Typically, cocaine bound for Europe would leave Brazil and pass through Dakar before being changed to another boat, often in the former Portuguese colony of Cape Verde, a group of islands off the West African coast. 'The drugs come mainly from Brazil, but what you notice is that the owners are Colombian,' said Niang. 'It comes to Dakar to camouflage its tracks: a few days or perhaps a week.' According to Niang, many major drugs seizures made in Europe rely on information from the Dakar police. 'The gangs think we know nothing, we are an underdeveloped police. But that suits us. It makes us more efficient,' he said."

The trafficking shift has also been noted by human rights activists in the United Kingdom. Reuters AlertNet reported on Oct. 6, 2005 ( "Nigerian 'Drug Mules' To UK On Rise - Campaigners") that "The number of women from Nigeria being recruited as drug couriers is rising sharply after a clampdown in Jamaica hit the hiring of smugglers there, drug experts and prisoners' rights campaigners have warned. 'Our main concern now is Nigeria,' said Olga Heaven, director of Hibiscus, a charity that supports foreign prisoners in British jails and which led the Caribbean drive to stop women being lured into being 'drug mules.' 'We now have well over 100 Nigerian women in British prisons. That figure could treble in the next six months,' she told Reuters. West Africa is seen as an attractive transit centre for drug traffickers because criminal networks there have proved notoriously difficult for police and customs to break. These criminal gangs are well placed to sell drugs to West African nationals living in the West and to recruit couriers among a cheap labour force at home."

According to Reuters, "'We had a terrible problem as hundreds of Jamaican women were coming in. A huge education campaign was launched in Jamaica telling them about the consequences,' Heaven said. 'It worked. Now there has been a direct shift to Nigeria.' The drug couriers get paid up to 5,000 pounds ($8,850) for bringing in up to four kilos of cocaine, she said. They could face 20 years in a British jail if caught. United Nations experts say South American drug cartels are moving into West Africa, lured by lax policing and the presence of criminal groups to work for them. 'If you look at recent seizures of cocaine, the biggest are all linked to groups with operations on the West African coast,' Antonio Mazzitelli, head of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, told Reuters in a recent interview in Senegal."

Reuters noted that "In Jamaica, a TV promotion campaign showed the cautionary tale of Eva, a Jamaican woman duped and bribed into carrying drugs into Britain where she was caught. Prison activists and drug experts believe a similar approach would work in Nigeria. 'There are 4,300 women in prison in Britain. Over 1,000 are foreign nationals,' Heaven said. 'The bottom line is poverty and lack of information,' she said of single women desperate to borrow money for schooling or to finance hospital treatment for relatives. 'The consequence for the families of these women are devastating,' said Dr Axel Klein, who worked for the UN drug control programme in Nigeria's main city Lagos for several years. Klein, now lecturer in addiction at the University of Canterbury, told Reuters: 'These women have no idea what they are letting themselves in for. A prevention campaign in Nigeria would go a long way to dissuade them from becoming couriers,' he said."

Post-war Iraq is becoming a major transit point for the heroin trade, officials are now warning. The London Sunday Telegraph reported on Sept. 4, 2005 ( "Heroin Trade Thrives On Back Of Chaos And Terror In Iraq") that "Fears that lawless post-war Iraq is becoming a haven for international drug trafficking have escalated after the country's biggest ever seizure of heroin. Officers posing as would-be buyers found 20kg of the drug hidden in a car on Monday, the latest in a string of increasingly large seizures in the past year. The Afghan-produced heroin comes in via Iraq's porous border with Iran, creating what United Nations officials say is an important new drug route to Europe and Britain. During Saddam Hussein's rule, heroin was virtually unknown in Iraq because of his police-state law enforcement, which imposed the death penalty even for possession. Since his fall, however, the lawless environment has offered the perfect conditions for smuggling, promising a lucrative income for terrorists and other criminals."

According to the Telegraph, "Monday's seizure took place in the Shia holy city of Kerbala, 100 miles south of Baghdad, where the regular pilgrimages of Shias from Iran give smugglers easy cover. Major Mehdi Saleh, the head of Kerbala's major crimes unit, told The Sunday Telegraph: 'We arrested three Iraqis with 20kg of heroin and 40kg of hashish. Half of the drugs were hidden inside the car's body in a professional manner. This is our biggest seizure but it's not the first. We have carried out at least 30 operations like this in the past year.' The seizure followed warnings from UN officials in May that Afghan traffickers were allying with insurgents to turn Iraq into a leading drugs transit area between Asia and Europe. 'Whether it is due to war or disaster, weakening of border controls and security infrastructure make countries into convenient logistic and transit points, not only for international terrorists and militants but also for drug traffickers,' said Hamid Ghodse, the president of the International Narcotics Control Board."

The Telegraph noted that "Iraq's new government is training its fledgling police force in drug-fighting measures, but says drugs will be given little priority as long as the fight against insurgents is raging. Ra'ad Mehdi Abdul Saad, of the interior ministry's new drugs office, said: 'It happens because we have a weak security system and the border is not protected by the Iraqi forces. For the past year I have been asking for sniffer dogs at the borders but there is no response.' Heroin is increasingly popular among Iraqis driven to blot out the numerous woes of everyday life. Figures compiled by Iraq's health ministry last year estimated that Kerbala alone had almost 1,000 addicts. British-controlled Amara, a smaller city of 300,000 near the Iranian border, had 500. 'We don't have updated figures yet, but we would say that in the past year those figures have probably doubled,' said Sarwan Kamel Ali, the head of the health ministry's new anti-drugs programme. 'In the old days people would take pharmaceutical drugs. Now they take ones like heroin as well.'"

A policy report on the drug war prepared by the Blair government in June 2003 but withheld from the public was leaked to the press in early July 2005.

The Guardian reported on July 5, 2005 ( "Revealed: How Drugs War Failed") that "The profit margins for major traffickers of heroin into Britain are so high they outstrip luxury goods companies such as Louis Vuitton and Gucci, according to a study that Downing Street is refusing to publish under freedom of information legislation. Only the first half of the strategy unit study led by the former director general of the BBC, Lord Birt, was released last Friday. The other half was withheld but has been leaked to the Guardian."

According to the Guardian, "It says that the traffickers enjoy such high profits that seizure rates of 60-80% are needed to have any serious impact on the flow of drugs into Britain but nothing greater than 20% has been achieved. The study concludes that the estimated UK annual supply of heroin and cocaine could be transported into the country in five standard-sized shipping containers but has a value which at a conservative estimate tops [4 billion UK pounds]."

The Guardian noted that "The report was presented in its full form to Tony Blair in June 2003. Only 52 of its 105 pages were published on Friday night on the eve of the Live 8 concert, with a note saying the rest was being withheld under the Freedom of Information Act. The government yesterday defended its decision not to publish the half of the report that delivers a scathing verdict on efforts to disrupt the drugs supply chain. The first 50 pages deal with drug consumption patterns and drug-related crime. A Downing Street spokeswoman said the second half contained information supplied by law enforcement agencies dealing with security matters, it concerned the formulation of government policy and its publication would be prejudicial to the conduct of public affairs. But critics last night said much of the unpublished material was already in the public domain. Among the data suppressed because it was supplied by an agency involved in security is a table on page 12 from the National Criminal Intelligence Service showing average street prices for various drugs. It estimates the average cost for a heavy user at UKP89 a week for cannabis and UKP525 for crack cocaine - information that is presumably at the fingertips of every hardcore drug abuser and dealer in the country."

According to the report itself:
"The drugs supply market is highly sophisticated, and attempts to intervene have not resulted in sustainable disruption to the market at any level. As a result:
"- the supply of drugs has increased
"- prices are low enough not to deter initiation
"- but prices are high enough to cause heavy users to commit high levels of crime to fund their habits" (p. 104)

And also:
"Over the past 10-15 years, despite interventions at every point in the supply chain, cocaine and heroin consumption has been rising, prices falling and drugs have continued to reach users
"- government interventions against the drug business are a cost of business, rather than a substantive threat to the industry’s viability
"- however, by increasing risk, government interventions are likely to have slowed the decline in prices" (p. 94)

In a surprising move, Chinese government officials are aggressively working to slow down the progress of HIV/AIDS by supporting condom distribution and needle exchanges. The San Jose Mercury News reported on June 7, 2005 ( "China Urges Needle Exchanges To Fight AIDS") that " In an aggressive new anti-AIDS push, China's Health Ministry is urging the promotion of free condoms and needle exchanges - strategies previously considered taboo by the conservative communist government. The proposed guidelines urge local governments to tailor those measures to high-risk groups in one of the boldest nationwide campaigns yet against the disease. The most striking proposal calls for combining methadone treatment with needle exchanges to promote safe behavior among drug users - a group almost completely ignored in the past."

According to the Mercury News, "China says it has 840,000 people infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and 80,000 have the full-blown disease. But health experts say the true figures are much higher and warn that China could have 10 million infected by 2010 unless stronger measures are taken. The government only recently became open about its AIDS epidemic after years of denying it was a problem, although independent activists are still frequently detained and harassed."

The Mercury News noted that "China launched a new national anti-drug campaign last month. Its aggressive new approach on AIDS was praised Tuesday by Randall Tobias, the U.S. global AIDS coordinator. 'I'm very encouraged by the commitment that the senior leadership of the government has made,' Tobias said at a news conference in Beijing. He warned, however, of massive challenges in the countryside, where AIDS has often spread through unsanitary blood-buying schemes. 'It will be a very long journey,' Tobias said. Washington is providing China with $35 million for AIDS from 2004-08."

China's new anti-drug campaign was launched after an unusual admission of failure in its previous efforts. The Taipei Times reported on May 27, 2005 ( "China Admits Drug War Is Failing") that "Chinese officials issued an unusual appeal to the public yesterday for help fighting drug trafficking, acknowledging in a nationally televised news conference that they have failed to stop surging narcotics abuse despite repeated crackdowns. Drug smuggling and the difficulty of fighting it are rising as a result of globalization and freer trade, the officials said, citing the seizure this month of 400kg of the party drug ketamine brought in from India via the Middle East. 'Although we've made a lot of achievements, the spread of drug problems remains serious,' said Yang Fengrui, secretary-general of the National Narcotics Control Commission. 'Heroin use is down in some areas, but the use of new drugs such as ecstasy, marijuana and others is increasing.' Communist Party leaders declared a 'People's War on Drugs' last month, Feng said. He appealed to the public to inform on traffickers and to help addicts reform -- a rare step by a government that usually says it can handle crime and social problems on its own."

According to the Times, "Communist leaders have been increasingly open in recent years about the spreading use of heroin and other drugs. But even by those standards, Feng and other officials at the news conference were strikingly candid about the failure of official efforts to stamp out narcotics abuse. 'Since the beginning of the 1980s, the problem of drugs has been dealt with by the government and the party, but it has never been resolved,' Feng said. Earlier this year, Chinese police announced that two informers split a reward of 200,000 yuan ( US$24,000 ) - a huge sum by Chinese standards - - for a tip that led to the capture of a gang leader accused of making 14 tons of methamphetamine. Last year, Chinese police arrested 67,000 people on drug charges, seized 10.8 tons of heroin and 2.7 tons of methamphetamines, according to a report distributed at Feng's news conference. Some 273,000 people were sent to compulsory drug treatment centers last year, the report said. They said the number of known addicts rose 6.8 percent last year to 791,000, including 679,000 heroin users. Experts say the true figures are much higher. In addition, the report said, 'addicts of new types of drugs such as ecstasy and ketamine, [used] in entertainment places, are increasing rapidly.'"

The Times noted that "In the case this month, police in the southern province of Guangdong, which borders Hong Kong, seized ketamine, methamphetamines, and more than 1.36 tonnes of drug-making chemicals, said Ji Mengyuan, deputy director of the province's Anti-Narcotics Bureau. Ji said 22 members of a drug gang led by a Hong Kong resident were arrested and police seized a drug-making laboratory. Drug smuggling and manufacturing by gangs with ties to Japan, South Korea, Indonesia and the Philippines also is growing, Feng said."

Two reports of great significance were released by United Nations agencies on June 29, 2005.

First, as Reuters reported June 29, 2005 ( "Illegal Drug Trade A World Force"), "Annual worldwide illegal drug sales are greater than the gross domestic product of 88 percent of the countries in the world, the U.N. said on Wednesday. 'This is not a small enemy against which we struggle. It is a monster,' Antonio Maria Costa, head of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), said in an annual report."

According to Reuters, " The UN report, issued in Stockholm, said the global drug trade generated an estimated $321.6 billion in 2003, the latest year for which figures were available. 'The size of the world's illicit drug industry is thus equivalent to 0.9 percent of the world's GDP or higher than the GDP of 88 percent of the countries in the world,' Carsten Hyttel, East African representative of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), told a Nairobi news conference."

However, as Reuters noted, "The bulk of the money - $214 billion - was made at the retail level; drugs sold in streets and back alleys. North America was the biggest buyer, and accounted for 44 percent of all estimated sales, followed by Europe with 33 percent. Africa was in last place with only 4 percent."

Electronic copies of UNODC's World Drug Report 2005 are available from the UNODC website.

Also on June 29th, the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS released a progress report on international anti-AIDS efforts. As the Guardian reported on June 28, 2005 ( "Britain Rebuffs Call To Block Anti-AIDS Needle Exchanges"), "The US is pressing the UN to block the use of needle exchange programmes in countries where drug use is driving the spread of Aids, arguing that the schemes encourage users to continue their habit. But critics, including Britain, believe that the fight against Aids in eastern Europe, central Asia and other parts of the world could be jeopardised if the US manages to water down the UN's policy. The board of UNAids, the UN agency which coordinates the fight against the pandemic, is formulating a global prevention strategy in Geneva."

According to the Guardian, "Britain opposed the US position yesterday, when Gareth Thomas, the international development minister, told the meeting in his opening statement that the UK wants to see 'efforts to intensify harm reduction strategies, including needle and syringe exchange programmes'. He said: 'We support effective harm reduction programmes, especially needle and syringe exchange and methadone substitution therapy because they have been proven to reduce HIV infection among infecting drug users and their sexual partners in many countries.' The UK, he said, had 'a different approach' from the US."

The Guardian noted that "The row is critical, because needle sharing by injecting drug users is the main cause of the soaring figures for HIV/Aids infection in many countries, and provides a gateway for the spread of infection into the heterosexual community through the partners of drug users. Drug injecting is responsible for 80% of the cases in eastern Europe and central Asia, and is also driving the epidemic in a wide range of countries in the Middle East, north Africa, south and south-east Asia and Latin America. HIV prevalence within certain populations of drug injectors exceeds 80%. Europe accepts evidence from studies which have shown needle exchanges to curb the spread of infection, but the US, which will not fund such studies domestically, does not."

This issue, of HIV/AIDS and support for needle exchanges, dramatically illustrates the gap between the UN's drug control agency and the public health & medicine sector. As the Guardian noted, "The issue has already become fraught. At a meeting in Vienna earlier this year the UN agency responsible for the policing of narcotics, the United Nations office on drugs and crime, was forced to accept the US line and oppose needle exchanges. USAid, the American development agency, is not permitted to fund or be involved with programmes that include needle exchange. Democrats are lobbying against the government's position."

(For background on the US pressure on UNODC, see UN Office On Drugs And Crime Buckles Under US Pressure.)

In expressing its support for needle exchanges, the UNAIDS report decried the lack of political will and intestinal fortitude on the part of some governments, primarily the US. According to the report, "Increased testing presents new opportunities to link people to prevention and treatment services, to supply commodities such as condoms and clean injection equipment, and to provide appropriate prevention support for people living with HIV/AIDS as part of the continuum of care."

The report continues: "Injecting drug users have specific prevention and treatment needs, including testing and counselling, needle and syringe programmes [emphasis added], drug substitution therapy and ART. While the need to implement and integrate these services for this population is becoming increasingly clear in the era of ART, political commitment is still lacking in many of the countries where these services are needed most. (p. 21)

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime on the other hand avoided reference to needle exchanges. Instead, they chose to focus on the strategies of convincing injectors to quit injecting and on getting other users to quit using. As UNODC wrote:
"Despite insufficiencies of data, particularly on noninjecting drug use, there is no doubt that the use of drugs, whether injected or taken otherwise, increases the risk of becoming infected with HIV. If injected, the use of contaminated injection equipment can lead to the rapid spread of the virus in the injecting community and beyond. Certain drugs that are not injected can also increase HIV transmission due to their impact on sexual risk-taking behaviour. The sexual partners of drug users, whether drugs users themselves or not, can spread the virus to the larger community, particularly if they are commercial sex workers.
"Consequently, many researchers and analysts believe that the role of primary drug abuse prevention is widely underestimated and neglected for HIV/AIDS prevention. Also important are interventions to prevent noninjecting drug users from becoming injectors, and to encourage those who inject to consider non-injecting alternatives such as substitution treatment." (p. 161)

Possession of small amounts of illegal drugs in the Russian Federation was essentially decriminalized in May 2004. The Moscow Times reported on May 14, 2004 ( "No More Jail Terms For Drug Possession") that "Under a new law that came into effect this week, drug users can possess a greatly increased amount of an illegal substance -- for instance, 20 grams of marijuana or 1.5 grams of cocaine -- without the risk of being thrown in jail. The law has been criticized by the Federal Anti-Drug Service, which says it hampers the battle against drugs, but praised by those who work to rehabilitate drug addicts, who predict more addicts will now seek help."

According to the Times, "President Vladimir Putin signed an amendment to the Criminal Code in December stipulating that possession of no more than 10 times the amount of a "single dose" would now be considered an administrative infraction rather than a criminal offense. Punishment would be a fine of no more than 40,000 rubles ( $1,380 ) or community service. It then took five months to hammer out what would be considered the single dose of various drugs."

The Times noted that "Ten times the amount of a single dose, as set in the government resolution that came into effect Wednesday, is 20 grams of marijuana, 5 grams of hashish, mescaline or opium, 1.5 grams of cocaine, 1 gram of heroin or methamphetamine, and 0.003 grams of LSD. Anyone caught in possession of these amounts or less cannot legally be detained, a spokeswoman for the Moscow branch of the Federal Anti-Drug Service said. Instead, a report will be filed and the fine will be determined by a court. This is a major change. Under the old standards, someone caught with 0.1 grams of marijuana, for instance, could be punished by incarceration. Foreigners, even those with deep pockets, should still take the new law seriously, however. Yelena Zhigayeva, a lawyer at the Moscow law firm Haarmann Hemmelrath & Partner, said that by law foreigners who violate Russian drug laws, even if it is only an administrative infraction, can be expelled from the country or denied re-entry."

The International Narcotics Control Board released its annual report on March 3, 2004. It contained no real surprises, criticizin reform and harm reduction efforts generally while ignoring real drug war abuses. The Winnipeg Free Press reported on March 3, 2004 ( "Vancouver's Safe Injection Site Criticized By UN Group"#&041;, that "In a report released today, the International Narcotics Control Board says the establishment of the drug-injection site in Vancouver last year -- the first in North America -- 'is not in line with the international drug-control treaties to which Canada is a party.' The board is part of the UN International Drug Control Program based in Vienna. It notes that governments have agreed to use prevention and treatment to deal with drug abuse. The report says the board has on numerous occasions spoken out against the operation of drug injection rooms 'where persons can inject drugs acquired with impunity on the illicit market.""

(Editor's Note: This position by INCB flies in the face of the evidence. For more information on the topic, see Drug War Facts: Syringe Exchange and Safer Injection Facilities.)

According to the Free Press, "Herbert Schaepe, secretary of the board, says board members have expressed concerns to the Canadian government, as well as several European governments that have approved drug injection sites or are thinking of establishing them. 'When drug abusers can acquire illicit drugs and can take these illicit drugs into premises which are managed by the state or the town, then there is definitely complicity and we cannot accept that under the international drug control convention,' he says. Health Canada announced last June it would provide $1.5 million over four years for the pilot project in Vancouver to determine whether a supervised injection site can reduce harm to addicts and improve their health prospects. Schaepe dismisses arguments put forth by government authorities, notably Switzerland, that rooms where heroin addicts can safely inject themselves under medical supervision have reduced crime, improved the lives of addicts and persuaded many to check into rehabilitation centres."

Regarding Switzerland, the INCB report this year again criticized the European nation for its heroin maintenance policy as well as its cannabis policy. The Swiss news agency Swissinfo/NZZ reported on March 4, 2004 ( "UN Drugs Body Slams Switzerland"), that "The United Nations International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) has sharply criticised aspects of Switzerland’s drugs policy. The INCB said plans to decriminalise cannabis and the provision of injection rooms for heroin addicts were steps in the wrong direction. The criticism was contained in the INCB's annual report, which monitors the ways in which countries around the world are upholding international conventions on drugs control."

The article goes on to note that "Thomas Zeltner, director of Switzerland's Federal Health Office, says the proposals to decriminalise cannabis simply reflect the reality and have the support of the Swiss public. Earlier this week, Zeltner accompanied the Swiss interior minister, Pascal Couchepin, to a hemp shop, where the minister was apparently 'very impressed' by the variety of cannabis products on offer. 'We think it is better to permit the use and sale of these products in a controlled manner,' Zeltner told swissinfo. 'But [they are meant] for adults only and not for foreigners – we don't want to offend neighbouring countries.'"

According to NZZ, "Zeltner says he is somewhat disappointed by the INCB's criticism. 'We do understand that the INCB as a global player has some difficulty bringing all member states under one umbrella,' he said. 'But at the end of the day, each country has to find its own policy, and that will be different in different countries.'"

The INCB itself came under criticism from human rights activists and others for ignoring the bloody crackdown in Thailand being perpetrated under the guise of a war on drugs. The Asia Times reported on March 5, 2004 ( "UN Hit As Soft On Thai Drug War Deaths"), that "The United Nations anti-drug agency is under fire for its lack of concern over the large number of people reportedly murdered during Thailand's 10-month campaign last year to rid the country of narcotics - a campaign so bloody that even the US State Department has expressed dismay. By the end of the anti-drug campaign - during which officials seized nearly 40 million amphetamine tablets and arrested 52,374 suspected drug producers and dealers - human-rights activists here estimated that close to 3,000 people had been killed."

The articles notes that "Just days after a damning US government report on the same issue, the INCB's 2003 report has also let off Bangkok lightly on the alleged human-rights violations in Thailand's 'war on drugs', which began in February 2003 and lasted until November. 'The board notes that while the government states that the campaign was successful in curbing the drug problem, its unintended side-effects have been widely criticized,' the report stated. 'The board has requested the government to be informed of the results of the campaign, which, it is hoped, would be successful.' When pressed on why the INCB had not been more critical and expressed its own judgment on the consequences of Bangkok's tough anti-drug drive, Fujino [Akira Fujino of the UNODC's East Asia and Pacific Office] affirmed that the INCB had still not received a factual account of the 'war on drugs' from the Thai government. 'Without getting the facts, it is not possible to say what form of law-enforcement activities had been effective or not,' he said. 'We can only act on government sources.' And the government, which enjoyed strong public support for its battle against the growing drug-addiction problem, particularly among young Thais, remains unapologetic for the carnage, insisting that the death toll has been exaggerated in any case. On Wednesday, Rasamee Vistaveth, the deputy secretary general of the Narcotics Control Board, told the press conference that 1,329 people had died in drug-related killings last year. 'There were no human-rights violations during the 'war on drugs',' she said. 'Families can file complaints with the Ministry of Justice if they feel that a relative was wrongfully killed.' The UK-based human-rights lobby Amnesty International is impressed neither by Bangkok's official line nor by the lack of concern shown by the UN. 'The failure by these UN agencies to mention the human-rights violations that occurred during the anti-drug campaign is very disappointing,' said Srirak Plipat, the director of Amnesty International's Thai division."

According to Asia Times, "The annual human-rights report of the US State Department, released last week, was the latest to take Bangkok to task. The department's country report faulted the government of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra for the 'excessive use' of 'lethal force against criminal suspects' and also drew attention to the disturbing pattern of 'extrajudicial, arbitrary and unlawful killings' during the crackdown on drugs. 'According to official figures, there were 1,386 narcotics-related deaths between February 1 and April 30, 2003. No arrests were made in 1,195 of these cases, which led many observers to believe police were responsible for most of these deaths,' the report stated. Thaksin, considered a close ally of US President George W. Bush, bristled at the report, accusing Washington of being a 'useless friend'. But Amnesty International had previously arrived at conclusions similar to those made by the State Department and drew attention to the climate of fear around the drug campaign in a report released in November. 'After the launch of the 'drugs war'," it noted, 'many people were reportedly afraid to leave their homes and others avoided traveling to areas where they were not known, for fear of being suspected of being drug traffickers and shot dead.'"

INCB's annual reports are available online from their website, and the new report can also be downloaded directly by clicking here.

The agency which tracks drug use in the EU, the European Monitoring Centre on Drugs and Drug Addiction, released its two major annual reports on Oct. 22, 2003.

The first, "The State of the Drugs Problem in the European Union and Norway," deals with the current member states of the EU, while the second, as the title indicates, focuses on "The State of the Drugs Problem in the Acceding and Candidate Countries to the European Union."

According to EMCDDA's news release, "Agency chief Georges Estievenart said today: 'Although there are some grounds for cautious optimism when examining the European drugs problem, these are outweighed by concern that we are not having sufficient impact on severe, long-term drug use or on regular drug use by a worrying number of young people in many EU countries. What is more, our indicators suggest that, overall, the drug-use trend remains upwards and new problems are emerging, such as growing cocaine use in some big cities.'
"Chairman of the EMCDDA Management Board Marcel Reimen added: 'On the positive side, we see Europe developing a more coordinated approach to the drugs problem. Overall, there is evidence of a better understanding of what works, and coordination of efforts within and between countries is now recognised as a vital component of effective drugs policy'."

Some selected highlights follow:

"Surveys conducted between 2000 and 2002 estimate that, at least one in five (20%) adult Europeans have used cannabis at least once in their lifetime. Figures for young people between 15 and 34 years are generally even higher, ranging to up to 44% – Spain (35%), France (40%), the UK (42%) and Denmark (44%). Estimates of recent (previous year) use among this age group range in most countries from 5–20%. At the higher end of the scale are Spain (17%), Ireland (17%), the UK (19%) and France (20%), while at the lower end are Sweden (1%), Finland (5%), Portugal (6%) and Norway (8%)."

"The total number of cocaine seizures in the EU has risen steadily since the 1980s with a marked increase noted in 2001. Street prices have stabilised or decreased in all countries in recent years, although they increased in Norway. Cocaine purity remains generally stable in every Member State, although increases were reported in 2001 by Denmark, Germany, Portugal and the UK."

"In most countries, problem drug use is characterised by chronic opiate use, except in Sweden and Finland where amphetamines play a key role. National estimates of problem drug use vary from 2–10 cases per 1 000 adults: some 1–1.5 million Europeans. The highest rates are reported in Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal and the UK (6–10 cases per 1,000 adults). Rates are lowest in Germany, the Netherlands and Austria (3 cases per 1,000 adults)." Further, the EMCDDA notes that though estimates of problem drug use are difficult and must be read with caution, "available data suggest a rise since the mid-1990s in at least half of the 16 reporting countries. Of these, eight report higher estimates of problem drug use: Germany, Spain, Italy, Luxembourg, Finland and Sweden and for injecting drug use Belgium and Norway."

"Countries continue to modify legislation to facilitate the treatment and rehabilitation of drug users and addicts (e.g. Germany, Greece, Luxembourg and Finland)."

"The prevention and reduction of health-related harm associated with drug dependence has become an integral part of the response to drugs across Europe.
"Syringe exchange to prevent the spread of infectious disease through injecting drug use is now well established and widely available in the EU and Norway, although coverage is limited in Greece and Sweden. On the whole, access to sterile equipment has further improved in the past five years. Only in Spain are syringe exchange services implemented systematically in prisons.
"Since the mid-1990s, the evidence-base of medical and educational measures to prevent drug-related deaths has grown considerably and the reduction of the number of deaths is increasingly considered as an achievable goal. A cut in drug-related deaths is identified as a priority in the new national drug strategies of Germany, Greece, Ireland, Luxembourg, Portugal, Finland and the UK. Innovative approaches include the training of risk awareness and first-aid among drug users to prevent fatal overdoses. And there are supervised drug consumption rooms in Germany, Spain and the Netherlands.
"Another important new development Europe-wide is the provision of medical care to drug users through low threshold services, targeting those that are homeless or leading otherwise unstable lives."

The situation in the candidate countries is markedly different. As the EMCDDA noted in a news release on the candidate countries report, "Presenting the report, Agency chief Georges Estievenart said: 'EU enlargement throws up an array of public concerns that cannot be ignored. Among these are increased drug trafficking, escalating drug use in the new Member States and the spread of infectious diseases. But enlargement also offers countries a unique opportunity to benefit from closer collaboration. This report hits a positive note on how progress can be achieved by new and old Member States' working together to respond to this shared problem through sound analysis and better-informed action.'"

Particular highlights follow:

"Today’s report warns that some east European countries are 'threatened by the most rapidly developing HIV epidemic in the world'. In particular it cites recent and sudden increases in HIV infection among injecting drug users (IDUs) in two of the Baltic States – Estonia and Latvia – where infection has spread at an 'alarming rate', with prevalence rates at up to 13% and 12% respectively in national samples of IDUs. Figures from 2001 show a 41% local prevalence rate among IDUs in the Estonian capital Tallinn. And data from the same year point to a 282% rise in newly diagnosed HIV infections among IDUs in Estonia and a 67% rise in Latvia. These rises might be due to the increased availability of heroin in the region in the late 1990s, combined with low risk-awareness among users and high-risk injecting behaviour.
"In most other Central and East European Countries (CEECs) – Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia – the figures are below 1%, lower than in the EU, where prevalence ranges from around 1% in Finland to 34% in Spain. In the third Baltic State, Lithuania, HIV prevalence remains below 5%. There are currently no explosive rises in HIV reported among IDUs in Central Europe.
"Nevertheless, the EMCDDA says that a number of indicators suggest that the potential for serious future problems remains considerable. Increasing HIV prevalence among IDUs poses a potential threat for a spread of the virus to the wider population. This, adds the agency, along with continuing high-risk behaviour, makes strengthening public-health measures a 'must', if HIV epidemics among IDUs and the general population are to be averted."

"Reducing drug-related harm, especially infectious diseases and overdose deaths, is one of the six objectives of the EU action plan on drugs (2000–2004) and a clear priority in most EU countries. Associated public health measures include: providing access to clean injecting equipment; distributing condoms; testing and counselling for infectious diseases; risk-awareness education for drug users; low-threshold drop-in centres; HBV vaccination and HIV/AIDS treatment.
"Although all 10 CEECs have now implemented preventive and harm-reduction measures, provision and coverage are too limited in most of them, in view of the prevalence of problem drug use, risk behaviour and the scale of potential consequences. Some measures – especially syringe and needle-exchange programmes and methadone substitution – remain controversial in many parts of central and eastern Europe. Only the Czech Republic reaches a substantial proportion of IDUs (estimated at over 50%) through a national network of syringe-exchange programmes and low-threshold projects. In Slovenia, a reasonable level of coverage is achieved in some cities. Methadone substitution treatment, which can help reduce health damage, including drug-related deaths and infectious diseases, is available in all countries, but coverage is extremely limited except in Slovenia. However, from 1997–2001 the numbers of clients on methadone increased in some countries.
"The current low levels of HIV infection rates among drug users in most countries should be no cause for complacency. Some studies have shown that high-risk behaviour is widespread. A 2001 study in one region of Estonia reported that 45% of IDUs shared needles. A survey in Budapest the same year reported that 33% shared needles and syringes and 41% other paraphernalia.
"Strong public-health measures to encourage behavioural change among IDUs and to prevent high-risk injecting and sexual behaviour are still scarce in the region. Such measures, if implemented, might save health and social costs for the individual and the community."

"Where legal attitudes to drugs are concerned, some countries have tended to criminalise the possession of drugs for personal use and/or drug use per se since 1990. This contrasts with more recent drug law modifications in some EU countries, which have addressed this question quite differently.
"Nine countries – Bulgaria, Cyprus, Hungary, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Turkey – currently treat possession of a small amount of drugs for personal use as a criminal offence, while three – Czech Republic, Estonia and Latvia – consider this to be an administrative offence. Three countries consider drug use per se to be a criminal offence – Cyprus, Malta and Turkey – although in Malta the offence applies exclusively to the use of prepared opium. Sentences for trafficking are similar to those in the EU."

The European Monitoring Centre on Drugs and Drug Addiction released its 2002 Annual Report on Oct. 3, 2002. The report is available in its entirety from from here, or can be downloaded from here. In addition to the EU report, there are National Reports from member nations and Norway. Also, EMCDDA has issued a report on the drugs situation in Central and Eastern European countries which are candidates for membership in the EU.

Highlights from the reports follow. Generally, EMCDDA reports:
"Cannabis continues to be the most commonly used illegal drug in Europe. Those who have ever taken cannabis range from 10% of adults in Finland to 25-30% in Denmark and the UK. Belgium, Germany, Spain, France, Ireland and the Netherlands all report around 20%. In contrast, latest USA data indicate such 'lifetime experience' at 34% of all those aged 12+."
"Estimates of EU problem drug use vary from 2-10 cases per 1,000 population aged 15-46. Highest, at 6-8 per 1,000, are in Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal and UK; lowest in Austria, Germany and the Netherlands, with about 3 per 1,000."

Regarding drug use in prisons, EMCDDA reports:
"The report says the presence of drugs and drug use has fundamentally changed prison reality over the past two decades. All EU countries experience major problems due to drugs and drug-related infectious diseases in prisons."
"Most drug users tend to stop or cut down after imprisonment because they cannot obtain drugs. But others continue to use them -- to an even greater extent in some cases -- and some might even start once incarcerated. Routine information on drug use in prison is rare but smaller local studies indicate alarming levels. Drug use inside prison has been reported by up to 54% of inmates; regular drug use by as many as 36%. Up to 26% of drug users in prison report their first experience while inside -- and up to 21% of IDUs in prison started injecting there. There is more risky behaviour in prison, such as sharing drugs and injecting material, tattooing and prostitution."
"The report shows that the current affair of addiction care services does not match the potential need of the estimated 50%+ of drug users in the prison population. The challenge to strive for 'equivalence of care' between community and prison has still to be met by most prison systems in Europe."
"Even though written information material on drugs and drug-related infectious diseases seems available in most prisons in the EU and Norway, systematic and repeated opportunities to address prevention issues face-to-face are rare and often depend on the initiative of external agencies or individual prison staff. Detoxification is in general offered through medical prison services or in specialised detoxification wards, but quality guidelines are often lacking."
"Except for Greece, Sweden and two Lander in Germany (Bavaria and Baden-Wurttemberg), substitution treatment can be made available in prisons in all EU countries and Norway. However, even in countries where a large percentage of problem drug users in the community are in substitution treatment, prisons often follow a detoxification policy."

Regarding the candidate Central and Eastern European countries (CEECs), the EMCDDA reports:
"The report observes that patterns of CEEC drug use are changing. Imported heroin is progressively taking the place of locally-produced opiates and other substances. At the same time, use is spreading from major urban centres to all regions. Consequently, heroin -- mainly injected -- is the most prevailing substance of problem drug use. This explains the concurrent increase in demand for opiate dependency treatment."
"The EMCDDA goes on to say that, although injecting drug users in CEECs seem to have been relatively spared the HIV epidemic until mid 1990s -- considered to be at a low level -- there is evidence that risky behaviour related to drug consumption is very prevalent."
"The three Baltic states are among the worst affected. Latvia and, in particular, Estonia recently saw 'an alarmingly rapid increase' in the spread of HIV infection among injecting drug users. And, in 2002, a major outbreak of HIV infection was recorded in a Lithuanian prison."
"The agency comments: 'It is imperative to improve the coverage and range of the services provided and to introduce harm-reduction measures into all settings where drug use takes place, including, for example, the prison system."

Quick Note: The United Kingdom is moving ever closer to reform of their drug laws. For more info, see "UK Moves One Step Closer To Reform: Home Secretary Suggests Policy Changes To Parliament," in the CSDP site's UK Update.

The Swiss government announced a new system for prescription heroin, whereby insurers will now pay 75% of the cost of the heroin for users. Swissinfo, a service of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, reported on June 12, 2002 ( "Health Insurers To Foot Bill For Heroin") that "Under the new system announced by the government, health insurers will be required to fork out 75 per cent of the cost of heroin prescriptions. That works out SFr16.5 million ($10 million) a year, or SFr40 per addict per day. Health insurers already foot a quarter of the bill. Currently 1,169 addicts are given daily doses of the drug as part of the government's Heroin Assisted Treatment (HAT) programme at a cost of SFr55 per addict per day. The addicts themselves are expected to foot the balance - SFr15 a day - but for those without the means to do so the local authorities will pick up the rest of the bill."

Insurance companies are not pleased with the government's plan. Swissinfo reports that "Health insurer, Swica, told swissinfo that, in its view, addicts were a public responsibility and that it was not up to health insurers to see to their needs. 'I was surprised to hear of the government's decision because it doesn't make any sense,' said Swica spokeswoman, Nicole Graf. 'All it does is change who has to pay for heroin medication.' She said ultimately it would be the public who footed the bill, through their health premiums, adding that it would take at least six months to see whether premiums would be raised to cover the additional costs." Swissinfo notes that "Under the HAT programme, addicts receive daily doses of Diaphine (soluable heroin) - under strict supervision - at one of 22 injection centres across the country. Addicts either inject heroin, which is legally produced by a Swiss pharmaceutical firm, or take it orally. Those who have been on the programme for several months - and are viewed as 'stable' - are eventually allowed 'take home' doses of the oral form of heroin or methadone to counter withdrawal symptoms."

The Swiss program has met with a great deal of success. As Swissinfo reports, "In the ten years since the heroin prescription programme was introduced, drug experts say it has saved hundreds of lives. Drug-related deaths, mostly from heroin overdoses, have dropped by half since 1992, while Aids-related deaths among drug users have fallen by a third since 1994. Critics of the scheme have long maintained that the heroin prescription programme fails to wean addicts off drugs. But Dr Daniel Meili, a leading member of the association for the reduction in the risks of drug abuse, insists they are missing the point. 'The final goal is abstinence, but there are a lot of people who never reach that goal,' he told swissinfo in a recent interview. 'If you measure success only by the rate of abstinence you are on the wrong track because that's not the primary goal - first people have to survive.' Meili points out that statistics show that those outside the treatment programme die at a rate of two to three per cent a year. After ten years that means a death rate of 20-30 per cent - 'maybe more', he said. 'For me the programme has been a success because, from a medical point of view, the main aim is to reduce mortality', he added."

The article notes other indicators showing that the program has been a success, for example a drop in crime. "Dr Jürgen Rehm, director of the Addiction Research Institute in Zurich, told swissinfo that other important factors also need to be taken on board when assessing the merits of the programme. He said that by reducing the prevalence of illicit drug consumption some indicators of social integration - most notably criminality - have also improved. This is supported by statistics from the Federal Office of Public Health which show that at the start of their treatment, 70 per cent of addicts are involved in some kind of criminal activity. This figure drops to just ten per cent after 18 months on the programme. Other studies reveal that the economy also benefits since the cost of treating a patient amounts to SFr55 daily, whereas those not on the programme cost the government SFr96 a day in terms of policing, imprisonment and poor health."

A report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, a charity based in the UK, estimates that "David Blunkett's plan to downgrade cannabis to the same category as tranquillisers such as valium could save police at least UKP38 million a year," and possibly as much as 350 Million pounds. According to the Daily Telegraph on March 13, 2002 ( "Drug Move Could Save Police Millions"), "The independent report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation also says the move could also vastly improve police officers' relations with the public." According to the Daily Telegraph, "Co-author Professor Mike Hough said the Lambeth experiment - in which Metropolitan Police officers have dealt with cannabis users by confiscating the drug and giving an informal warning - should be extended across Britain. 'It would make sense to reclassify cannabis to Class C,' he said. 'There would be significant gains all round.'"

The report, "Times They Are A-Changing: Policing Of Cannabis," "by South Bank University's Criminal Policy Research Unit, represents the first, detailed study of the policing of cannabis in England and Wales. It has taken place against a backdrop of intensive media and political debate on the issue and the prospect of imminent legislative reform." According to the Rowntree Foundation ( "Study Reveals Widespread Inconsistencies In Policing Of Cannabis on The Streets"), "Many police officers have effectively decriminalised possession of cannabis by turning a blind eye to the offence, or issuing informal warnings. But a small minority of patrol officers 'specialise' in cannabis offences, accounting for a disproportionate number of arrests for possession. The picture of widespread inconsistencies in the treatment of cannabis possession offences emerges from a unique street-level study for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, based on hours of observing what happens 'on the beat' as well as interviews with police and those they arrest. It finds that the chances of being arrested depend on the force areas where an offence is discovered and on the experience and attitudes of individual officers."

According to a summary prepared by the Rowntree Foundation of the report:
"One in seven of all known offenders in England and Wales were arrested fo the possession of cannabis."
"There has been a tenfold increase in the number of possession offences since the mid-1970s. There is no evidence that this increase has been an intended consequence of specific policy."
"Possession offences most often come to light as a by-product of other investigations."
"A minority of patrol officers 'specialise' in cannabis offences: 3 per cent of officers who had made any arrests for possession accounted for 20 per cent of all arrests."
"Arrests for possession very rarely lead to the discovery of serious crimes."
"Officers often turn a blind eye to possession offences, or give informal warnings."
"Of the 69,000 offenders who were cautioned or convicted in 1999, just over half (58 per cent) were cautioned."
"The financial costs of policing cannabis amount to at least £50 million a year (including sentencing costs), and absorb the equivalent of 500 full-time police officers."

The researchers conclude that:
"- re-classification of cannabis to a Class C drug will yield some financial savings, allowing patrol officers to respond more effectively to other calls on their time;
"- the main benefits of reclassification would be non-financial, in removing a source of friction between the police and young people;
"- there would be a very small decline in detection of serious offences, but this should readily be offset by the savings in police time."

The report can be ordered directly by clicking here. A summary of the report can be downloaded by clicking here.

The United Kingdom is on the verge of making dramatic changes in its drug policies, giving police time and resources to concentrate on hard drugs by easing up on marijuana. The Independent on Sunday reported on March 10, 2002 ( "Cannabis Is Now Just A Signature Away From Legitimacy (Over To You, Mr. Blunkett)") that "David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, will be told this week by his official panel of drug advisers to downgrade cannabis from a Class B to a Class C drug. The change, which would enable users to smoke a joint in the street without fear of arrest, would be the first relaxation of drug laws in Britain for 30 years." According to The Independent, "Yesterday, in a separate initiative, the Liberal Democrats became the first major political party to vote for the full legalisation of cannabis. They also voted for an end to prison sentences for those caught in possession of other drugs, including cocaine, ecstasy and heroin, and called for ecstasy to be downgraded from a Class A to a Class B drug. The vote came as the Home Office considers recommendations from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs ( ACMD ) that cannabis should be given the same status as prescription tranquillizers such as valium, making its possession a non-arrestable offence."

Pressure on the UK government to reform its policies has mounted in the past few months, as the results of research supporting these changes has become public. The Independent in its story noted that "Next Wednesday, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation will reveal that up to UKP50m a year is spent on policing cannabis and the time this involves is equivalent to the work of 500 police officers a year. The Metropolitan Police and the Police Foundation are also compiling separate reports into a pilot scheme by police in Lambeth, south London. Originally planned to last six months, senior officers have found the scheme in Brixton, where cannabis users are not arrested but given on-the-spot warnings, to be successful enough to warrant extending for the time being."

Already, significant changes in policy around the UK are being enacted. In Scotland, for example, the entire direction of drug prevention policy is shifting. As the Daily Telegraph reported on March 4, 2002 ( "'Just Say No' Drugs Campaign Dropped"), "Scotland's 'Just say no' approach to tackling drug taking is to be abandoned in favour of educating young people about the dangers of substance abuse. Concern over the rising tide of drug-related deaths and the increasing number of drug users has prompted a dramatic shift in policy and the Scottish Executive to reject an authoritarian approach. Ministers will announce a new drugs communication strategy this month designed to help young people make informed decisions about drug taking." According to the Daily Telegraph, "Richard Simpson, the Deputy Justice Minister, said yesterday: 'The only time you will hear me use terms such as 'war on drugs' or 'just say no' is to denigrate them.' He stressed he was keen to avoid the impression that the Executive was going soft on drugs, but said young people must be given the responsibility to make informed decisions. Dr Simpson, a former prison doctor, said that he disagreed with giving jail sentences to drug addicts. He said: 'It neither addresses their offending behaviour nor does it cut crime.'"

The UK's government has also taken a step in support of harm reduction efforts directed toward club-goers. A guidebook for club owners regarding safe use of Ecstasy and other club drugs has been issued by the UK Home Office. According to The Times of London on March 8, 2002 ( "Home Office Softens Line Against Dance Drugs"), "In a new set of Home Office guidelines the Government accepts that drug-taking is a part of youth culture that cannot be eradicated. It wants the public to recognise that drug misuse has to be fought on many fronts. The guide underpins the Government's strategy of focusing on dealers and the impact of hard drugs such as heroin and cocaine while developing ways of minimising the harm caused by dance club drugs. It gives clubs advice on how to prevent dealing and how to make the venues safer for clubbers using drugs, including the provision of 'chill-out' rooms, water and better ventilation."

According to the Home Office news release, spokesperson Bob Ainsworth said "It is important that we begin to change the culture and attitudes to drug taking that have become a lifestyle choice for so many young people enjoying the club scene. But we have to recognise that some clubbers will continue to ignore the risks and carry on taking dangerous drugs. If we cannot stop them from taking drugs then we must be prepared to take steps to reduce the harm that they may cause themselves." A PDF copy of the "Safer Clubbing" guide is available from the Home Office's drugs office.

The US State Department issued the annual list of nations certified as cooperating in anti-narcotics efforts in late February 2002. More precisely, because of a change in how State Department phrases it, the US released its list of countries de-certified for not making an effort. According to Rand Beers, Assistant Secretary for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs at the State Dept., at the briefing on the certification determinations held February 25, 2002, "This year, the President has identified Afghanistan, Burma and Haiti as having failed demonstrably to take substantial efforts during the previous 12 months."

However, the US government is granting waivers for Afghanistan and Haiti based on national security concerns. According to Beers, "The President has further determined that it is in the vital national interest of the United States to provide the full range of assistance to support the new Afghan Interim Authority in the reconstruction of Afghanistan." (For information on the bumper crop of opium poppies expected in Afghanistan this year, see this CSDP webpage on the US drug war in Asia.).

In the case of Haiti, Beers explained that "although tactical cooperation by the Government of Haiti has modestly improved, Haiti's overall counter-drug commitment frankly has remained weak. The Haitian Government has failed to take many significant counter-narcotics actions. While the Haitian Government did enact narcotics in any money laundering legislation in January of 2001, it did not introduce or enact several other key pieces of counter-narcotics legislation; it did not demonstrate effective law enforcement by increased drug seizures, arrests of major traffickers, and successful prosecutions in asset forfeitures." Beers contended however that "US vital national interests require that US assistance to Haiti continue. A cutoff in aid to Haiti includes programs aimed at the roots of Haitian poverty and hopelessness, chief catalyst for Haitian involvement in the drug trade; and illegal immigration to the United States would be aggravated by this already bad situation."

In the case of Myanmar (Burma) however, "Burma's counter-narcotics performance in 2001 was decidedly mixed. The Government of Burma took some useful counter-narcotics measures in the last year, but these measures were far too limited in duration and scope to constitute a substantial effort to meet the standards set forth under US law. Large-scale poppy cultivation and opium production continue, and enormous quantities of methamphetamines, an estimated 800 million tablets per year, are produced in and trafficked from Burma, having serious adverse effects on neighboring countries and throughout the region. Its toleration of money laundering, its failure in 2001 to implement its counter-drug laws, and its failure in 2001 to transfer notorious traffickers -- for example Kung Sa, under indictment in the United States -- are all serious concerns."

The State Department's Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement released its full "International Narcotics Control Strategy Report for 2001 on March 1, 2002. The report evaluates more than 140 countries on their assistance with US drug and money laundering efforts.

The UN's International Narcotics Control Board issued its 2001 Annual Report on February 27, 2002. The report offers few surprises and makes the usual criticisms of legal reform and harm reduction efforts (see for example this item on last year's INCB annual report).

The INCB report criticized western European nations for moving toward decriminalization of soft drugs, particularly marijuana. The INCB also singled out Australia for particular criticism regarding the heroin injection room trial going on in New South Wales. As the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported on February 27, 2002 ( "NSW Gov't Rejects UN Criticism Of Heroin Injecting Room Trial"), "In a worldwide report released today, the board says the safe-injecting room trial shows the Government condones the use and trafficking of illicit drugs. The Special Minister of State, John Della Bosca, says the report makes no mention of the fact the Government has promised to provide the board with the results of the supervised injecting room trial in Kings Cross."

The Australia Associated press on February 27, 2002, reported ( "UN Drugs Body Wants NSW Injecting Rooms Closed") that "The injecting room opened after intense debate on May 6 last year, a product of the state's 1999 Drug Summit. Supporters argue it is saving lives and providing referrals to help addicts get off drugs. The centre was currently used by an average 120 injecting drug users a day, its medical director Ingrid van Beek said. More than 800 clients had been referred to counsellors and other medical services and more than 100 overdoses had been successfully treated. There had been no fatalities at the centre."

The European Union's drug agency, the European Monitoring Center on Drugs and Drug Addiction, in November 2001 issued its Annual Report 2001 on the State of the Drugs Problem in the European Union. The report is available in electronic format free of charge.

Some of the major trends noted in the EU report, as noted in an EMCDDA news release (available as a PDF by clicking here), include:

  • "Cannabis remains the illegal drug most commonly used in all EU countries, both in terms of lifetime experience and recent use (within the last year). Lifetime experience among those aged 15 to 64 ranges from around 10% in Finland to 20-25% in Denmark, Spain, France, Ireland, the Netherlands and the UK. Recent use is reported by up to 9% while such use of other illegal substances rarely tops 1%."
  • "Cannabis use is higher among young adults (15-34). It has been tried by some 15% in Finland and Sweden and between 28-40% in Denmark, Spain, France, Ireland, the Netherlands and the UK."
  • "Lifetime experience of cannabis among 15 to 16-year-olds ranges from 8% in Portugal and Sweden to 35% in France and the UK (1). In Greece and Sweden, lifetime use of inhalants (volatile substances) is higher than, or equals, cannabis within this group."
  • "Heroin use is reported by less than one in 100 adults - but causes most drug-related problems, including crime, infectious diseases and overdoses (see separate news release covering cocaine, infectious diseases and synthetic drugs)."
  • "New data suggest rises in some countries - Greece , Luxembourg, Finland, Sweden and the UK - but a stable picture in others, such as Germany, the Netherlands and Austria. Despite some local increases, heroin use is possibly still declining in Spain and France."
  • "Demand for substitution treatment is still high in many countries, for example by pregnant women. In some Member States, buprenorphine is favoured over methadone - it causes fewer neonatal problems. Heroin continues to be prescribed selectively for addicts in the UK, with trials underway in the Netherlands, and imminent in Germany. The report says there is 'evidence of its effectiveness for very deprived drug users in terms of crime reduction, health improvement and social integration'. Drug-free objectives continue to dominate treatment in Greece, Finland, Norway and Sweden."
  • "On-site pill testing - mainly of synthetic drugs - in clubs or at dance events has been adopted in Spain, the Netherlands and Austria. An EMCDDA study suggests that this can 'efficiently warn against the unexpected and dangerous effects of dance drugs'. Training of nightclub staff, chill-out facilities and interactive websites are other examples of increasingly innovative ways of harm reduction measures being introduced within the EU."
  • "Drug users in prison continue to pose a major problem. In some Member States, more than half the inmates report lifetime use of an illicit drug. Problem and/or intravenous drug users might represent half the population in some prisons. It is estimated that at least 180,000 and perhaps as many as 600,000 drug users pass through EU prisons every year. A recent EMCDDA report highlighted big gaps EU-wide and from prison to prison in prevention, treatment and care of drug users."

The United Kingdom is moving closer to reforming its prohibitionist drug laws. Home Secretary David Blunkett has announced his support for a downgrading of marijuana possession offenses. More importantly, he announced support for medicalization of marijuana, which may mean that patients in the UK now in dire need of cannabis may be able to get their medicine legally. As the BBC reported on Oct. 23, 2001 ("Cannabis Laws Set To Be Eased"), "Home Secretary David Blunkett has announced he wants the UK's laws covering cannabis to be eased so possession will no longer be an arrestable offence. The drug would remain illegal under Mr Blunkett's proposals but be re-classified from a class 'B' to a class 'C' drug. The aim is to free police to concentrate on harder drugs and improve current legislation so it will 'make more sense' to people on the street, he said. In a parallel move, licensing of cannabis derivatives for medical use - such as the relief of multiple sclerosis symptoms - will be given government backing if current trials prove successful. Cannabis possession and supply would remain a criminal offence, attracting maximum sentences of five years for supply and two years for possession. But rather than arresting people caught with cannabis, police will be more likely to issue a warning, a caution or a court summons."

Blunkett's proposal comes just as a bill to legalize cannabis is to be argued in the House of Commons. According to the London Independent on Oct. 18, 2001 ( "'Let Beleagured Farmers Grow Cannabis'"), "Jon Owen Jones said the measure would 'remove criminals from the equation' and could provide a 'hardy cash crop' for British farmers, left on their knees by foot-and-mouth disease, BSE, tumbling dairy prices and concerns over GM crops. The Cardiff Central MP's Legalisation of Cannabis Bill is due to be debated in the House of Commons next week, but is highly unlikely to become law."

According to the Independent:
"The Bill would legalise the personal cultivation of cannabis and its use for therapeutic and recreational purposes. A Government licensing system would als be set up for commercial cultivation of cannabis and for international trade in the drug.
"Mr Jones said: 'All over the world it is becoming clear that cannabis use is a fact of life and trying to deal with it through the criminal justice system is absurd. Legalisation is the most rational way forward.'
"The Bill, drafted in conjunction with the civil rights group Liberty, is backed by MPs from all three main political parties.
"Mark Littlewood, director of campaigns at Liberty, said: 'The public don't want our police force frittering their energies over a victimless 'crime' like cannabis use."

Authorities are putting out mixed messages about the impact of heightened border security on drug trafficking. According to the US Customs Service, drug seizures, and trafficking, are on the rise. As the Palm Springs Desert Sun reported on Oct. 18, 2001 ( "Drug Seizures Rise At Border"), "Stepped-up enforcement along the U.S.-Mexico border including Calexico's port of entry immediately following the terror attacks of Sept. 11 had cut heavily into the drug trade. But more than a month after the attacks, the border drug business is again on the rise as impatient smugglers have begun to move their supply." According to the Desert Sun, "The numbers show that drug seizures from late September through Saturday were nearly double that of the total in the two weeks following the attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. From Sept. 30 to Oct. 13, U.S. Customs agents made 105 drug seizures compared to 63 from Sept. 9 to Sept. 22, said customs officials." The impact of these seizures has been minimal, however. "'We have heard about what's happening at the border but it really has not changed anything around here,' said Palm Springs Narcotics Task Force Agent Greg Jackson. 'I don't think any narcotic agents have seen a drop in the amount or pric of drugs that are on the streets.'

Similarly, the Drug Enforcement Administration estimates that drug trafficking through the Caribbean increased dramatically in the month following the Sept. 11 events. As the Baltimore Sun reported on Oct. 18, 2001 ( "Caribbean Drug Traffic Up 25%, US Says"), "Illegal drug trafficking in the Caribbean is up 25 percent, probably because traffickers see an opportunity with U.S. law enforcement focused on terrorism, Drug Enforcement Administrator Asa Hutchinson said yesterday. Hutchinson could not say whether the rise would translate into more drugs coming into the United States. But he said that like other law enforcement agencies, DEA has been stretched thin since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. "

Hutchinson made his comments in a pitch for additional funding for the drug war. As the Sun reported, "'We've got to have the funds to replenish any assets that are taken away from the Caribbean,' Hutchinson said. Without more money, he said, it is doubtful the United States will meet its 2002 goal of intercepting 18 percent of illegal narcotics headed for U.S. shores. Last year, federal agents seized approximately 11 percent of drugs. Hutchinson's remarks about funding relate mainly to the Coast Guard, the agency primarily responsible for drug enforcement along the coast. The Coast Guard has estimated that as much as 75 percent of its assets - personnel and boats - have been pulled away from drug interdiction for anti-terrorist patrols."

Not all drug warriors are reading from the same script. The Florida Ledger reported on Oct. 19, 2001 ( "After Attacks, Drug Smuggling Tougher") that "In tightening security to counter terrorism, Florida is putting the squeeze on drug smugglers. The state's drug czar, Jim McDonough, on Thursday assured a gathering of Polk County business, civic and law enforcement leaders that the rising price of drugs like cocaine was evidence of a withering drug trade." The Ledger reports that "Beefed-up security at airports, seaports and border crossings has reduced the flow of hard drugs, such as cocaine, which now costs an average $26,000 per kilo, up from $18,000 to $19,000 before Sept. 11, McDonough said. There's more going on than a show of uniforms and guns, he said. Maritime trade laws that once were lax are now being enforced, and there is closer scrutiny of unidentified aircraft over Florida. 'It's getting tougher and tougher to get the drugs in,' said McDonough, a retired Army colonel and former strategic planner at the Office of National Drug Control Policy in Washington."

Health Canada Report Endorses Harm Reduction To Deal With Injection Drug Use; Critics Express Some Disappointment But Praise Progress

The Canadian federal health ministry, Health Canada, has issued its response to a set of drug policy recommendations made two years ago by the Canadian HIV/ AIDS Legal Network.

As reported by Canada's National Post on September 1, 2001 ( "HIV Spreads While Ottawa Ponders Drug Policy") that "A federally funded research organization has criticized Health Canada for its 'vague' response to a report that recommends radical changes to Canada's drug policies in order to reduce HIV and AIDS. In 1999, the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network released a report commissioned by Health Canada that said HIV and AIDS is a crisis among injection drug users. It said Canada's drug policies make the problem worse by criminalizing drug use and forcing users to hide their addiction, share needles and avoid medical help. The report recommended sweeping changes to Canadian drug policies, such as the establishment of safe injection sites, medical prescriptions for heroin and cocaine, and the decriminalization of small amounts of illegal drugs for personal use. Yesterday, after almost two years, Health Canada released a response to the report."

Regarding the report, the Toronto Globe and Mail on September 1, 2001 ( "Ease Up On Heroin Addicts, Federal Study Says") said of Health Minister Allan Rock that "By publishing the report, Mr. Rock, sometimes mentioned as a possible future prime minister, stepped deeper into a war zone between those who favour strict drug enforcement and those who call the current law outdated. It calls for sentences of up to seven years for possession of heroin and life for possession for purposes of trafficking." The Globe and Mail continued:
"The report drew tentative praise from AIDS activists yesterday and fire from Canadian Alliance MP Randy White, vice-chairman of a parliamentary committee on illegal drugs. He said he believes the Health Minister plans to legalize hard drugs. Mr. White predicted that public outrage will drive the Liberals from office if that happens.
"If Mr. Rock does move toward legalization, police groups may be among the hardest to persuade. By formal policy, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police says it 'stands firm in opposing any type of legalization of any and all current illicit drugs in Canada.'
"According to the Health Canada report, drug addicts should be treated as 'respected members of society who need and deserve support and assistance, not as criminals who should be isolated from each other.'
"It also says that a 'close examination' of Canada's drug laws is required and that there is a 'need to reduce barriers' for people who want to obtain drugs and treatment for addictions. That means providing safe needles, supporting methadone programs and improving co-operation between health and law-enforcement agencies to ensure drug users have better access to health and social services."

In its response to Health Canada's response, the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network called the Health Canada report and another report, the Federal/Provincial/Territorial Committee on Injection Drug Use's "Reducing The Harm Associated With Injection Drug Use In Canada," "an important and significant step in the right direction. The federal and provincial/territorial governments have made important acknowledgements and commitments. It remains to be hoped that action will follow the words."

Jamaican National Ganja Commission Issues Report, Urges Decriminalization/Legalization Of Cannabis

The Jamaican government's National Commission on Ganja issued its report on cannabis policy in August 2001. A copy of the report is available from, and is also available in Word format from

In spite of US pressure, the Commission recommended:
"1. that the relevant laws be amended so that ganja be decriminalised for the private, personal use of small quantities by adults;
"2. that decriminalisation for personal use should exclude smoking by juveniles or by anyone in premises accessible to the public;
"3. that ganja should be decriminalised for use as a sacrament for religious purposes;
"4. that a sustained all-media, all-schools education programme aimed at demand reduction accompany the process of decriminalisation, and that its target should be, in the main, young people;
"5. that the security forces intensify their interdiction of large cultivation of ganja and trafficking of all illegal drugs, in particular crack/cocaine;
"6. that, in order that Jamaica be not left behind, a Cannabis Research Agency be set up, in collaboration with other countries, to coordinate research into all aspects of cannabis, including its epidemiological and psychological effects, and importantly as well its pharmacological and economic potential, such as is being done by many other countries, not least including some of the most vigorous in its suppression; and
"7. that as a matter of great urgency Jamaica embark on diplomatic initiatives with its CARICOM partners and other countries outside the Region, in particular members of the European Union, with a view (a) to elicit support for its internal position, and (b) to influence the international community to re-examine the status of cannabis."

Australian National Law Enforcement Agency Calls For Heroin Prescription Trials#&059; Doctors, Prosecutors Join In Call For Reform

The National Crime Authority, Australia's national law enforcement agency, issued its annual report in August 2001. The report, NCA Commentary 2001, generated controversy on publication over its carefully-worded call for consideration of alternatives to law enforcement regarding drugs. The NCA contends that "Suffice to say that experience should encourage us not to rule out consideration of new options or reconsiderations of options previously deemed unpalatable. We must respond to the ongoing progression of this problem. Among the many measures worthy of consideration is to control the market for addicts by treating the supply of addictive drugs to them as a medical and treatment matter subject to supervision of a treating doctor and supplied from a repository that is government controlled." (p. 23)

Support for such a reform was immediately expressed by many Australians, including prosecutors and the Australian Medical Association, though the Australian Prime Minister has refused to endorse the recommendation. As reported by the Herald Sun on August 10, 2001 ( "Support for Drug Trials Increases"), "The New South Wales and South Australian directors of public prosecutions said trials could work if they helped stop demand.
"NSW director of public prosecutions Nicholas Cowdery said he was disappointed in Mr Howard's refusal to consider legalising heroin or setting up trials.
"'I'm rather dismayed at the petulant and dismissive response of the PM, which shows that he is not prepared to apply his mind in that rational way,' Mr Cowdery said.
"South Australian DPP Paul Rolfe said Australia needed to discover if heroin trials worked.
"'If we can take away their supply domination, perhaps by medically prescribed supply, that may help,' Mr Rolfe said."

The Herald Sun also reported that "The Australian Medical Association said the Government was playing politics with heroin addicts' lives. President Kerryn Phelps said the war on drugs had reached crisis point. Heroin trials would reduce break-and-enters and drug-related violence as well as save lives, Dr. Phelps said."

Australian newspaper The Age editorialized in favor of heroin trials in its August 10, 2001 edition ( "Heroin Trials Are Worth Considering"). For additional news items on Australia and its move toward reform, click here.

There is a trial of an injection room in Sydney, Australia ongoing. To read more about the opening of that center, click here.

Parliament To Examine Decriminalization Of Marijuana

The House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee will soon conduct an inquiry into the question of decriminalization marijuana. According to a report in The Guardian (UK) on July 26, 2001 ( "MPs To Launch First Official Inquiry Into Decriminalisation Of Drugs"), the inquiry will be timed to "coincide with the end of the six-month experiment in Lambeth where police have said they will not arrest people for the possession of cannabis." The committee, under its new chairman, Chris Mullin, is expected to hear from "a succession of senior police officers who believe that cannabis prosecutions should no longer be an operational priority for the police." Witnesses before the committee will "include the home secretary, David Blunkett, who has described the Lambeth operation as 'an interesting experiment' and called for 'an adult, intelligent debate' on the issue, as well as the lord chancellor, Lord Irvine."

Mr. Mullin promises to deal seriously with this question. The Guardian reports "Mr. Mullin appealed for evidence to be submitted to his inquiry by the end of September. 'There is a big debate going on outside parliament among serious people in the criminal justice system, including senior police officers, probation officers and members of the judiciary. Until now, politicians have tended to shy away from it. But we think the time has come for a serious assessment of the way we deal with drugs. We have an entirely open mind so we're not headed for any particular conclusion. But we hope to bring all the arguments into the open,' said Mr. Mullin, who resigned as a minister because he believed he could be more effective as a select committee chairman."

The Guardian also notes that "The inquiry will not only ask whether existing drugs policy works but also look at the effect of decriminalisation on the availability of and demand for drugs, on drug-related deaths, and on crime. The inquiry's terms of reference also ask: 'Is decriminalisation desirable and, if not, what are the practical alternatives?' The MPs say they will look into the possible decriminalisation of all types of drugs and not just cannabis."

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Portugal Decriminalizes Drug Possession

Possession of marijuana, Ecstasy, cocaine, and other illicit drugs is now decriminalized in Portugal. The Guardian (UK) reported on June 19, 2001 ( "Lisbon Takes Drug Use Off The Charge Sheet"):
"Portugal has forced back the frontiers of drug liberalisation in Europe with a law which, at a stroke, decriminalises the use of all previously banned narcotics, from cannabis to crack cocaine.
"The new law, which came into effect on 1 July, takes a socially conservative country with traditional Catholic values far ahead of much of northern Europe, including Britain, in treating drug abuse as a social and health problem rather than a criminal one.
"Vitalino Canas, the drug tsar appointed by the Socialist prime minister, Antonio Guterres, to steer the law into place, said yesterday that it made more sense to change the law than ignore it, as police forces do in Holland, parts of Switzerland, and now experimentally in the Brixton area of London.
"'Why not be clear about this, and change the law to recognise that consuming drugs can be an illness or the route to illness?' he said. 'America has spent billions on enforcement but it has got nowhere. We view drug users as people who need help and care.'
"He admitted that Mr. Guterres was taking a risk, but said Portugal had no real choice. The police had stopped arresting suspects and the courts were throwing out cases against users rather than apply legislation which sent them to prison for up to three years."

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Cannabis Legalization Bill Introduced In UK House Of Commons

Legislation has been introduced in the House of Commons to "'legalise and regulate the sale, supply and use of cannabis for recreational and therapeutic purposes.'" The bill was introduced by Jon Owen Jones, Labour MP for Cardiff Central, according to a report in The Scotsman on July 20, 2001 ( "Cannabis Bill Passes First Hurdle"). The bill was given an unopposed first reading in the Commons, which means "the bill will be debated when parliament returns in the autumn, but it stands almost no chance of becoming law without government backing, which it does not have."

Meanwhile, the Times of London reported on July 20, 2001 ( "Ease Drug Laws Say Labour MPs") that "More than a quarter of Labour backbenchers want cannabis decriminalized immediately while more than 80 per cent would support a major inquiry into the issue, an opinion poll for BBC Radio 4 World at One programme showed yesterday." The Times noted that "The survey of 234 Labour MPs yielded answers from 116, while 118 chose not to comment."

According to the BBC ( "Labour MPs In Cannabis Shift" July 19, 2001), their survey "prompted one Labour member of the influential Commons home affairs select committee to predict cannabis would be decriminalised by the end of this parliament." The BBC reported that "David Winnick -- a member of the home affairs select committee which is rumoured to be considering its own inquiry into the drug -- told World at One: 'I would have thought cannabis at least would be decriminalized by the next election, and would I not be right in saying to a large extent it is? What is required is courage from the government to recognise what is happening and a sensible attitude from the main opposition party, not playing politics with it.'"

The BBC spoke with "Dame Ruth Runciman, whose report for the Police Foundation last year called for cannabis to be downgraded to Class C status, said the survey results reflected 'considerable unease' about the UK's drug laws. 'It looks as though Labour MPs are beginning to be sensitive to the constituency for some degree of change that there seems to be out there,' she said."

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UK Police Shift Local Enforcement Priorities, Ease Up On Marijuana Users; Broader National Shift Also Seen

The United Kingdom is conducting an experiment in South London. As The Economist magazine explained in their story July 7, 2001 ) "Brixton Lights Up"), "A trial which has just begun in South London allows anyone caught with cannabis to be given an informal warning rather than being arrested and cautioned and prosecuted. As each cannabis arrest takes two police officers off the street for up to five hours, and the process of taking a cannabis suspect to court costs up to £10,000, the pilot scheme makes sense. A report which charged the cases of 141 people arrested for cannabis possession in Lambeth last year found that the average fine was only £45 and nearly a quarter were given a conditional discharge."

The Economist noted, "One of the key targets in the ten-year national drug strategy is that heroin and cocaine availability should be reduced by 2008. Yet the average price of cocaine in Britain has fallen by 20% over a decade and that of heroin has fallen by up to 40% while purity has increased. The government's previous hard line has not persuaded Britons to cut down. More people use cannabis in Britain than in the Netherlands, which has the most liberal policies on drug use in Europe. The Netherlands also has a much lower rate of drug-related deaths -- 2.4 per million people, compared with Britain's 31. And whereas in Britain the average age of heroin addicts is 25 and falling, in Amsterdam it has now risen to 36."

In light of the UK's new policy, the news that the UK's customs service will ease up on cannabis in order to concentrate on hard drugs and is not surprising. According to The Observer on June 8, 2001 ( "Police End Cannabis Seizures"), "Britain is to abandon the hunt for cannabis smugglers and dealers in the most dramatic relaxation of policy on the drug so far. Instead the Government has told law enforcement officers, including Customs officials and police, to target resources on 'hard drugs', such as heroin and cocaine. Under the new strategy -- part of the most radical shift in drugs policy for a generation -- large-scale cannabis seizures and prosecutions will now take place only as a by-product of investigations into Class A drugs."

The Observer noted that "The decision to give up hunting cannabis traffickers was taken by the Cabinet Office Committee, Concerted Inter-Agency Drugs Action (Cida). It consists of the heads of MI6, MI5, the Customs and Excise investigation branch, the National Criminal Intelligence Service, the police National Crime Squad, and the Association of Chief Police Officers, plus the permanent under-secretaries of the Home Office, Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence. 'It's not that we plan to stop seizing cannabis when we come across it,' one senior Customs source said last night. 'However, the need to focus on Class A drugs means cannabis seizures will now take place as a by-product, not as an end in themselves.'"

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United Kingdom Moving Toward Reform Of Cannabis? Home Secretary Open To Debate, Poll Shows Public Support For Move

Cannabis legalization is coming closer to reality in the United Kingdom. Several leaders in the opposition Conservative ("Tory") party have already started to express their support for repeal of cannabis prohibition. Now the ruling Labour party has weighed in. England's Home Secretary, David Blunkett, has issued a call for open debate into marijuana policy reform. The Guardian (UK) reported on July 9, 2001 ( "Blunkett Calls For Drug Debate") that "Home secretary David Blunkett yesterday opened the government's mind to the possible decriminalisation of cannabis by calling for an intelligent debate on the issue. His remarks were welcomed by campaigners for legalisation who claimed they represented a marked shift in tone from that of his predecessor, Jack Straw."

Blunkett's statement comes on the heels of a call for legalization by the outgoing chief inspector of prisons for England and Wales. Sir David Ramsbotham told the BBC on July 9, 2001 ( "Prison Boss Calls For Drugs Legalisation") that "'The more I think about it and the more I look at what's happening, the more I can see the logic of legalising drugs, because the misery that is caused by the people who are making criminal profit is so appalling and the sums are so great that are being made illegally.'" According to the BBC, "Sir David, who retires on 1 August, said legalisation would reduce crime motivated by the need to buy drugs."

The BBC report noted that "Two former home secretaries, Liberal Democrat Lord Jenkins of Hillhead and the Tory, Lord Baker of Dorking, told the Sunday Times they favoured decriminalisation. And an opinion poll for the Independent on Sunday found resistance to the legalisation of cannabis wavering." The Independent reported their poll results somewhat differently in their story of July 8, 2001, "Poll Reveals Demand For Legalization": "The survey, by NOP Research, shows that almost half the British people -- 49 per cent -- are in favour of legalising cannabis or have no strong views against it. A narrow majority -- 51 per cent -- still opposes legalisation, but they are mainly among the over 55s, an indication that opinion is likely to move further in favour of lifting the ban in the coming years. A total of 39 percent want legalisation now. The figures are in marked contrast to the last time NOP conducted such a poll, in 1996, when 66 per cent said 'no' and only 26 per cent supported legalisation."

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UK Tory Leadership Contenders Call For Discussion Of Cannabis Legalization

The Observer reported on June 23, 2001 ( "Tory Hopefuls Break Party Line On Cannabis") that "Three of the leading contenders for the Tory leadership last night broke with the party's traditional hardline opposition to drugs by calling for a major debate on the legalisation of cannabis." According to The Observer, "The new twist in the Tory contest not only turns the party's drugs policy upside down but poses a serious challenge to Tony Blair, with Labour now the only party resisting even discussing a change in the law."

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Jamaican Government Commission Considers Decriminalizing Marijuana; US Pressure May Keep Recommendation Out Of Report

Jamaica's National Commission on Ganja has been examining the island's marijuana policy and possible reforms, according to a report in the Eugene, OR Register-Guard on June 4, 2001 ( "Jamaica Considers Legalizing Marijuana"). According to the Register-Guard, "Led by the dean of social sciences at Kingston's University of the West Indies, the seven-member commission has heard from more than 150 people and institutions ranging from the Medical Association of Jamaica to the Rastafarian Centralization Organization, and it has sounded out more than a dozen communities nationwide. This month, the official body will present its final recommendation on whether marijuana should be decriminalized here."

According to the story, Commission Chairman Barry Chevannes "said the commission seriously is considering the 'external consequences' of its recommendations. Beyond a potential US condemnation, they include a possible snowball effect on other marijuana-producing Caribbean islands that have considered decriminalizing the plant in the past."

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Canadian Medical Journal Urges Marijuana Decriminalization

The Canadian Medical Association Journal in its May 15, 2001 issue editorialized in favor of decriminalizing possession of marijuana for personal, non-medical use. A PDF copy of the editorial, "Marijuana: Federal Smoke Clears, A Little" is available by clicking here. According to the CMAJ, "Health Canada's decision to legitimize the medicinal use of marijuana is a step in the right direction. But a bolder stride is needed. The possession of small quantities for personal use should be decriminalized. The minimal negative health effects of moderate use would be attested to by the estimated 1.5 million Canadians who smoke marijuana for recreational purposes. The real harm is the legal and social fallout." The CMAJ noted further that "The decriminalization of marijuana possession for personal use does not mean making marijuana 'legal' or letting it be sold in every schoolyard. It does mean that possession of small amounts for personal use would become a civil offense, like a traffic violation, not a criminal one. The provisions of Canada's Contraventions Act make this a relatively simple legislative task. Mr. Justice Minister, let's decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use."

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US Thrown Off UN's International Narcotics Control Board

The BBC reported on May 8, 2001 ( "US Thrown Off Second UN Body") that "The US, already suffering the embarrassment of being voted off the United Nations human rights council a week ago, has lost its seat on another world-wide body, the International Narcotics Control Board. US candidate Herbert Okun had been standing for a third consecutive five-year term on the Vienna-based board, but he lost in the first round of voting at the board's supervisory body, the UN Economic and Social Council (Ecosoc). The secret ballot took place last Thursday, on the same day as the human rights vote, although it was not made public until Monday evening. US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher described the result as 'very regrettable.' He refused to speculate as to why Mr. Okun had not been re-elected. But taking into account the loss of the human rights seat as well, Mr. Boucher said: 'There's something happening out there; clearly I think it's fair to speculate there may be issues related to how we handled ourselves.'"

The BBC also noted that "The 54-member Ecosoc voted on seven narcotics boards seats that were up for renewal, including five filled by government nominees. Candidates from Austria and the Netherlands were elected on the first round, while French, Indian and Peruvian candidates were elected in two more rounds of balloting."

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Researchers Say Decriminalization Does Not Increase Cannabis Use; Suggests Netherlands Provides Good Model For US

RAND Corporation researchers Peter Reuter and Robert MacCoun recently published in the British Journal of Psychiatry the results of their examination of the effects of cannabis decriminalization in the Netherlands, Australia, and some US states ("Evaluating Alternative Cannabis Regimes," BJP, 2001, 178, 123-128). The authors found, "The Dutch experience, together, with those of a few other countries with more modest policy changes, provides a moderately good empirical case that removal of criminal prohibitions on cannabis possession (decriminalisation) will not increase the prevalence of marijuana or any other illicit drug; the argument for decriminalisation is thus strong."

The study looked at prevalence of use, trends in use rates, and the so-called "gateway" effect. They found that "Dutch rates are somewhat lower than those of the USA but somewhat higher than those of some, but not all, of its neighbors." They also observe that "The fact that Italy and Spain, which have decriminalised possession for all psychoactive drugs, have marijuana use rates comparable to those of neighbouring countries provides further support. This prohibition inflicts harms directly and is costly."

The authors admit that with decriminalization or legalization there is a risk of an increase in prevalence of use. However, they observe "The increase in marijuana use would have to be weighed against the reduced intrusiveness of the state, reduction of black markets and possible substitution of marijuana for alcohol, which might be net health enhancing."

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UK House Of Lords Committee Urges Legal Medical Marijuana

The UK House of Lords on March 14, 2001, published its "Science and Technology - Second Report" on the Therapeutic Uses Of Cannabis from the Lords' Select Committee On Science and Technology. The Lords, after a comprehensive review of available data and the health and legal policies involved, endorsed legalization of medical marijuana, and gave their support to further research into its applications. The Lords report states, "We consider it undesirable to prosecute genuine therapeutic users of cannabis who possess or grow cannabis for their own use. This unsatisfactory situation underlines the need to legalise cannabis preparations for therapeutic use."

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Swiss Move Closer To Cannabis Legalization

The Swiss government has "endorsed a draft law that would legalise the consumption of marijuana and hashish and allow a limited number of 'dope shops'," according to a Reuters news story March 9th.

The Swiss cabinet agreed in principle to legalize marijuana use in October 2000. Reuters reports that the government in its statement declared "Decriminalising the consumption of cannabis and the acts leading up to this takes account of social reality and unburdens the police and the courts."

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Australia Prepares For Prescription Heroin Trial; Injection Room Opens In Sydney

The Guardian (UK) reported on May 8, 2001 ( "Australia Opens First Heroin Injecting Room") that "Australia's first legal heroin injecting room, the largest 'shooting gallery' in the world, has opened its doors to drug users in Sydney's red light district despite opposition from Aborigines and local business people. The 18-month trial in Kings Cross, an inner city area notorious for prostitution and drug dealing, will aim to cut the country's drug overdose deaths, which have soared from six in 1964 to 958 in 1999. Since it was proposed two years ago, the injecting room has attracted criticism from local people, the Australian prime minister and the Pope, who sent a letter forbidding the Sisters of Charity order to run the centre, where nurses provide supervision and sterile equipment for addicts to inject drugs."

Reuters had reported on March 16, 2001 "Sydney Heroin Injecting Room Ready For Business") that in Sydney, "Australia's first official heroin injecting room is ready for business," but its doors remained closed "as a legal battle over its fate rages, leaving drug addicts to shoot up in a street around the corner."

According to a story in The Age, the Australian state of Victoria "is likely to have a heroin trial if there is a change of leadership in Canberra this year." According to Paul McDonald, founding chief executive of Victoria's Youth Substance Abuse Service, it is "'not a matter of if, but when'". The Age reports that Mr. McDonald has been appointed to develop and implement drug strategies for the Department of Human Services.

Australia's use of harm reduction methods came in for criticism from the International Narcotics Control Board in its 2000 Report . However, medical and scientific studies support harm reduction methods such as prescription heroin, injection rooms, and syringe exchange used in Australia.

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United Kingdom Relaxes Cannabis Laws As House Of Lords Committee Calls For Legal Medical Marijuana

Criminal records will be essentially wiped clean for thousands of people in the UK who had been "cautioned" for minor drug offenses. The Times of London reports that this softening of cannabis laws will be "particularly important to thousands of young people," including William Straw, the son of Home Secretary Jack Straw who had been cautioned in 1998 after admitting selling cannabis to a journalist.

The Independent of London reports that "Viscountess Runciman of Doxford, lead author of the Police Foundation report, said she was pleased the Government had recognised the importance of removing the stigma from cannabis cautions, but was 'disappointed' that ministers had rejected most of its 81 recommendations, including the removal of custodial sentences for cannabis, ecstasy and LSD possession."

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Belgium Decriminalizes Personal Use Marijuana Cultivation, Possession

The Chicago Tribune reports that "The Belgian government has agreed to decriminalize the use of marijuana, following its neighbor, the Netherlands, in granting legal tolerance to use of the drug."

Under the legislation, expected to take effect in mid-2001, possession and cultivation of small amounts of cannabis for personal consumption will be allowed. Sale, even small-scale sales through coffee shops a la the Netherlands, will still be prohibited.

Public use will also be frowned upon. Use in private offices may be allowed, at least according to one Belgian lawmaker who supports the law change (see "Belgian Lawmakers Can Now Smoke Pot In Their Offices," Ottawa Citizen, Jan. 23, 2001 for example)

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Updated: Thursday, July 30, 2009   ~   Accessed: 65016 times
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