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The Demons in Drug Law Reform

by Julian Buchanan 1st September 2014


At a time when it is now widely accepted we need to manage drugs differently because the prohibition of particular drugs has caused more damaged than the drugs society purported to be protecting us from, there is a risk we lurch blindly at offers of apparent positive change – without thinking more critically about what is on offer.

We can unite together imagining that drug regulation is the answer, but drug regulation isn’t inherently good. The latest news in the article featured below reminds us of the serious problem of ‘regulated’ painkilling drugs in the USA.

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If big business, and in this example BigPharma, have unbridled control and extensive freedom to promote and distribute their commercial products, major problems can arise from the culture and patterns of use. Here we see a serious problem of fatal overdose from prescription drugs. Drug regulation is not inherently benign and good, it depends upon what regulations, freedoms and frameworks are in place. When New Zealand ‘regulated’ legal highs under the Psychoactive Substances Act 2013 all legal highs became illegal to possess unless approved by the state and bought from an approved commercial seller. Further laws gave police new intrusive powers:

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The article on the widespread use of opiate based painkillers in the USA also acknowledges the need to tackle the stigma of addiction. So after years of trying to combat stigma, discrimination and hostility towards people who use illicit drugs, drug reformers with the backing of the all powerful USA might unite and push to remove stigma from addiction. But the USA approach, as illustrated by recent high profile appointments in the drugs field of many ‘recovering addicts’, will lead the campaign to end the stigma of addiction by pushing for a global adoption of the twelve steps disease model of addiction.

So a united campaign to tackle criminalisation and stigma is a momentous achievement – but regulation in the shape of commercial monopolies and combating stigma with the 12 step disease model of addiction is akin to jumping out of the ‘frying pan into fire’.  

The war between drugs maintained by a drug apartheid needs to totally collapse, like slavery, like the Berlin wall and the South African racial apartheid. The legal drug industry profiteers realise the law enforcement regime has now had its day, so there is a strategic shifting and a reconfiguration taking place, but as drug reformers we need to aim for revolutionary reform at this critical moment in time, and push for a rational, evidenced based approach with human rights and harm reduction at the heart of it.  Tweaking or transforming to maintain the present model is not an option and the potential threats to much needed drug policy change can come from four angles:

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As drug policy change is now possible and likely, we need to make sure the opportunity is not squandered or hijacked.

Julian Buchanan

DRUGO the Dragon and the Elephant in the Room

by Julian Buchanan Wednesday 27th August 2014

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This is a thought provoking animation. It Illustrates well that prohibition, incarceration and fierce law enforcement have failed to deter illegal drugs (depicted by DRUGO the Dragon).  Indeed prohibition has caused more collateral damage than the illicit drugs would ever posed [see]. But while the analogy in this animation is thought provoking and challenges the folly of prohibition, it is also somewhat misleading. While DRUGO, the outlawed and persecuted dragon in the animation was demonised, the many relatives of DRUGO (who we are led to believe are not part of the dragon family), better known as LEGALO (alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, pharmaceutical drugs, food drugs etc) – have been living like royalty in the kingdom, fully accommodated, promoted, integrated and supported by Kings and Queens across the nations, and enjoyed by the masses. But the LEGALO dragons have been airbrushed out of the animation as if they didn’t exist.

The animation suggests a life without DRUGO might be a desirable utopia but concludes it’s better that we learn to live with DRUGO. As if somehow a world without those drugs that have been criminalised (cannabis, opiates, LSD, cocaine etc) might in some way be desirable? Drugs have never been the main problem – its drug policies and cultures that are the problem. So a world without DRUGO is promoted as a utopian but unachievable ideal and learning to live with DRUGO is suggested as a pragmatic second best option, while the animation remains silent about the legal and cultural accommodation of LEGALO dragons and in doing so feeds into the distorted dominant discourses on what we have come to see and understand as ‘drugs’.

The Global Commission of Drug Policy have made a remarkable and helpful contribution to promoting drug reform. This animation is made with good intentions and will no doubt encourage many positive outcomes on one level – but if genuine and lasting drug policy reform is to occur we need to acknowledge the propaganda, misinformation and lies at the heart of the problem.

There has never been a war on the drugs. We have a war against a particular drug dragon (DRUGO). Not only have the other drug dragons been privileged they are not even acknowledged as drug dragons. The video suggests there is only one threat and one dragon.  So this animation sidesteps the crux of the problem – the fiercely imposed drug apartheid upheld by myths, misinformation and at times barbaric treatment of illicit drugs and indeed illicit drug users. If we are to tackle the drug apartheid we need to acknowledge and address the institutionalised inequalities, the abuse of power and the false assumption that have created this untenable bifurcation of substances.

It’s ironic too because the animation suggests society is hostile to drugs and needs to learn to be more tolerant and accommodating of drugs. When in reality society is probably more pro-drugs and using more substances now than it’s ever done with BigPharma and BigLegalDrugsBusiness sitting very nicely with us wherever we go and whatever we do readily supplying and encouraging (legal) drug use. But then people using LEGALO like those in this video aren’t taking dangerous drugs – are they? 

There is a need for a more honest, mature and informed discussion on what we call ‘drugs’.

A debate that acknowledges the oppressive, discriminatory and hypocritical position of current laws, policies and attitudes towards those substances (and their users) that have been outlawed. A debate that stops ignoring legal substances which are often more dangerous than illicit drugs and wrongly excluded from any drugs discourse.

Let the debate begin soon.

Julian Buchanan

Drunk Driving More Deadly than Drugged Driving by Far

See on Scoop.itDrugs, Society, Human Rights & Justice

A new study finds drunk driving 9 times likelier to kill than drugged driving.

Julian Buchanan‘s insight:

We need an evidence based approach to drug driving and don’t want to repeat the punitive populist ignorance  that has been driving drug policy

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45 common myths, lies and misconceptions that inform drug policy

See on Scoop.itDrugs, Society, Human Rights & Justice

Drug law and policy has its roots in fear, ignorance, racism and vested interest. Sadly, this has changed little over the years. Drug law and policy continues to be shaped more by punitive populism and moral crusades rather than scientific evidence, reason and rationality.

Julian Buchanan‘s insight:

I did this for a lecture and thought it might be useful to share – although punchy and accessible in style, each point is carefully considered and can be academically supported.

See on

Metropolitan Police UK releases ‘alarming’ strip-search figures

See on Scoop.itDrugs, Society, Human Rights & Justice

People from black and minority ethnic backgrounds account for more than half of those strip-searched by the Metropolitan Police in the past three years, according to “extremely alarming” figures collected by the force.

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ARTICLE: Student Drug Testing vs Positive School Climates: Longitudinal Study on Impact of drug behaviour

See on Scoop.itDrugs, Society, Human Rights & Justice

Conclusions: Student drug testing appears to be less associated with substance use than positive school climates. Nevertheless, even favorable school climates may not be able to influence the use of alcohol, which appears to be quite normative in this age group. (J. Stud. Alcohol Drugs, 75, 65–73, 2014)

Julian Buchanan‘s insight:

Drug Testing Students  – a good example of policy led research … that is, there was no evidence to support drug testing of students the policy was not research led -it was policy led (probably to appease a punitive populist political agenda). Now having implemented the drug testing approach (lucrative business btw) research is done to try to support it.


Existing research and practice wisdom would indicate it was not a scheme worth exploring in the first place.

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Dr. Sanjay Gupta Explains The Science Behind A Bad Marijuana Trip

See on Scoop.itDrugs, Society, Human Rights & Justice

The neurosurgeon and CNN chief medical correspondent explored the effects of cannabis on our bodies and the benefits of medical marijuana in a 2013…

See on

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