Drug Truth Network, Cultural Baggage, December 19, 2007
Broadcasting on the Drug Truth Network, this is Cultural Baggage.
My name is Dean Becker. I don't condone or encourage the use of any drugs, legal or illegal. I report the unvarnished truth about the phamaceutical, banking, prison, and judicial nightmare that feeds on eternal drug war.
Hello my friends, I hope you're in the holiday spirit. Welcome to this edition of Cultural Baggage.
Today we're going to take an in-depth look at Antonio Maria Costa, the director of the United Nations office on Drugs and Crime. He attended a conference in New Orleans earlier this month sponsored by the Drug Policy Alliance, the Marijuana Policy Project, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, the ACLU, the Harm Reduction Coalition and my band of brothers, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. We'll hear from his speech at the plenary session, and then we'll hear some comments from some of our friends who attended that event. Dr. Costa is introduced by Ethan Nadelman, the Director of the Drug Policy Alliance, drugpolicy.org.
Ethan Nadelman: A few weeks ago my telephone rings in New York and it is Dr. Antonio Maria Costa, the head of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime telling me that he's just seen the invitation to come and speak at the Drug Policy Alliance gathering, the national drug policy conference and he'd be delighted to accept. I should say every year, every two years we sent invitations to the head of DEA, to the U.S. Drug Czar, to the UN and key people and normally we get no response or maybe say “oh, sorry, we can't do it.” But I have to tell you: this is, I think, the first time that we have had someone of Dr. Costa's stature to come and speak to this gathering. Dr. Costa, you notice that there should be close to a thousand people here, mostly from the United States but from dozens of other countries as well. Dr. Costa, I am so grateful for your accepting this invitation and the podium is yours.
Antonio Maria Costa: Let me be optimistic about it ladies and gentlemen.
From both sides of the aisle, there have been noises about my presence here. Is it right to invite the so-called drug czar of the United Nations, at the annual Alliance conference? Indeed, in some of the literature I am depicted as a die-hard prohibitionist, a drug control Taliban, a proponent of a drug free world, even as a three-star general in the war against drugs.
I have heard similar complaints from the opposite front: what is the point of inviting this fellow from the United Nations joining those who like to end drug control, mixing with drug legalizers, the radical fringe of the pro-drug lobby, pressing for a world of free drugs that will never come?
I am glad that eventually we all decided that, not only myself, this exchange of views could be constructive, and help public opinion understand better a century-old drama: drug abuse, and the damage that it does. At the outset, let me ask:Is there any common ground between those who insist on a world free of drugs, and those who propose a world of free drugs?
By the time this session is over, I hope we will all be able to answer in the affirmative. And here I give you a few pointers: First, health and security. They both have to be protected when we talk about society, including when we talk about the way society deals with drugs. I hope no disagree.
Second, as a corollary, we all agree on the need to reduce the harm caused by drugs -- by preventing their use, by treating those who use them, and by limiting the damage they cause to the individual and society as they are used.
Third, I hope we also agree on the need to ensure that drug policy is evidence-based, not the result of political considerations or ideological preferences.
Fourth, I submit that the dichotomy prohibition vs legalization is a misnomer. Such a confrontation is too simplistic for scientific deliberations, nor does it help those whom we all want to assist: our brothers and sisters, the drug addicts.
Fifth, and finally, I hope that you agree that it is more accurate to refer to the divergence as a difference about the degree to which addictive substances (drugs, but also alcohol and tobacco) should be regulated.
If these five points are accepted, then the discussion is to be centered on where the control bar is set , and how to define the degrees of regulation. In other words, instead of accentuating our differences, let me propose that we build on the ground we share.
Let me begin with the review of the world drug situation today. In a recent article Ethan Nadelmann wrote: “it is dangerous when rhetoric drives policy.” I agree. Res, not verba, (this is latin), facts, not words, my ancestors the Romans would have said. Let's begin with the hard facts.
A growing body of evidence including our own World Drug Reports, 400 pages of evidence on an annual basis, shows that the drug market has stabilized over time and space. I leave aside (unintelligible) the opium situation in Afghanistan: that is an insurgency issue, 4/5, actually 78%, 4/5 of the cultivation takes place in the areas controlled by the Taliban. Draws the point.
On the basis of the statistical evidence, I can therefore state that, since a few years, for all types drugs there are signs of world market stability: opiates, cocaine, cannabis, ATS, whatever. What I mean for market stability is that in every component of the drug business (cultivation, production, consumption), aggregate totals have lost the upward momentum they had in the 70s, when I was a flower kid in Berkeley, in the 80s and in the '90s. Of course, world aggregates hide improvements in some countries and for some drugs, offset by deterioration elsewhere. Yet, the global totals are stable and this is what I call containment.
Dean Becker: OK, I want to jump in here for just a second. You are listening to Antonio Maria Costa. He's the director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and he just stated that he thinks there is containment on the world's drug supply. This despite the fact that supporters of the Taliban are making some three billion dollars a year by growing opium flowers on the mountainside.
You are listening to Cultural Baggage on the Drug Truth Network.
Antonio Maria Costa: Next question, a tough one for you, Nathan: how did this market change come about? Is this the result, for example, of the United Nation-driven UNGASS process? Personally, I see correlations over time and space, but evidence of causality is notoriously hard to come by because social sciences are generally poor in proving cause/effect relations. Drug trends respond to a wide range of factors, especially changes in society's preferences. Yet for me, the result is what counts. If you have evidence, by the way, to refute my data, please show it to me, discuss it today, and I'm ready to be convinced, but you have to convince me.
Despite evidence of containment of course the world has an enormous drug problem. There are some 25 million problem drug users, the hardcore. But let's keep this in perspective - this represents less than 0.6% of the world's population. If you take another estimate, namely the number of people who take drugs at least once a year, there are about 200 million of them, of them 160 million, 4 out of 5, smoke pot and nothing else. Therefore, even the annual prevalence which in the most basic statistics is still below 5% of the world population, age 14 to 64.
By comparison 25% of the world population uses alcohol and 30% smoke. Alcohol, we know, kills 2.5 million people a year. More than half of the homicides, road-accidents, domestic violence is alcohol-related. Tobacco kills 5 million people a year, because of cardiovascular diseases and cancer -- two of the greatest killers of our time.
Illicit drugs kill 250,000 people a year.
So, what is my conclusion? There is growing public and medical pressure to tighten controls on the consumption of alcohol and cigarettes. That's right. So why increase the public health damage caused by drugs by making them more freely available: drugs whose damage -- thanks to the controls -- is limited to 1/10th the casualties caused by alcohol, and 1/20 the tobacco related deaths? Why ignore the knowledge that we have gained from our experience with other addictive substances?
It sounds counter-intuitive for me to call for relaxation of drug control and tightening of the controls on tobacco and alcohol. But let us see whether we can agree on this subject matter from a different vantage point.
Therefore, in order to show how I'd like drug policies to evolve let me begin with the slogan so many of you will ridicule and you will start laughing now: a drug free world.
Wait. Wait. No tomatoes yet.
No tomatoes, no eggs. I am not the author of this slogan. While in my life time I certainly would like to see a world without drugs, I have never used this slogan in any of my speeches, statements, writing or anything else. Actually, you will not find it in any of the United Nations official documents, starting from the most relevant documents: the conventions (of 1961, 1971, and 1988). Or you don't find it in the General Assembly resolution that launched the UNGASS process in 1988.
Several years ago, namely BC, before Costa...
...My office put out posters with that slogan screaming across the page and you may have seen them. While I never used this concept, personally I see nothing wrong with it either. Is a drugs free world attainable? Probably not. Is it desirable? Most certainly, yes.
I got the response! I got the response! Let me start with a series of hypothetical situations that I deem useful to set priorities in policy drug policy. I give you three dreams.
First dream, I invite you all to imagine that this year, 2007, all drugs produced around the world are seized: just imagine they were seized, this is the dream of law enforcement agencies. Well, when we wake up having had this dream, we would realize that the same amount of drugs - hundreds of tons of heroin, cocaine and cannabis - would be produced again next year. In other words, this first dream shows that, while law enforcement is necessary for drug control, it is not sufficient. New supply would keep coming on stream, year after year.
So that dream doesn't work.
Let's have a second dream. Let us dream that, by some miracle, we can convince farmers around the world to eradicate the tens of thousands of hectares of drug crops, replaced by the fruits of development assistance and so forth. And I have in mind Afghanistan, Colombia, Morocco, and Myanmar and wherever. A great dream of course, but yet again one that would not on its own solve the drug problem. Why? Because, you wrote this in foreign policy, when we wake up after this second dream we would realize that other sources of supply would inevitably open up somewhere else on the planet, to satisfy the craving of millions of drug users around the world. Demand would still pull the market. Wow, that's really something.
So, am I hallucinating or something?
What did...what did you put in this water?
OK, so we come to a third dream which is the real challenge of drug policy: to reduce the demand for drugs, to reduce drug abuse. Prevention, treatment reintegration, and harm reduction combined and compressed in health programs, must be our priority. Of course the world's supply of drugs needs to be reduced, but lower demand for drugs is the required condition to make drug policy realistic, pragmatic and sustainable.
I hope you agree on this logic and separate the three elements of the drug chain, and their primary agents: supply, by farmers who actually need assistance; trafficking, by criminals who actually deserve retribution; and demand, by addicts who need health care. At the UN, governments have captured this concept calling it shared responsibility.
Dean Becker: Once again, you are listening to the Cultural Baggage radio program on the Drug Truth Network. The speaker we're hearing is Dr. Antonio Maria Costa, director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. We're listening to just a slice of his presentation. If you'd like to see the video of his full presentation please go to drugpolicy.org. I'm going to share some of his closing comments with you and then we're going to hear from some of the drug reformers who were there to witness his presentation on what they thought about his speech.
Antonio Maria Costa: The punch line is, most importantly, make drug control a society-wide issue.
Drug policies are too important to be left to you and me, drug experts, and all to governments' administration. It is a society-wide responsibility that requires society-wide engagement.
This means working with children, starting from parents and teachers, to ensure that they develop self-esteem. Support family-based programs because prevention begins at home.
Schools should teach not only life-skills but also the dangers of drugs. Help young people engage in healthy activities, like sports and culture, to prevent social isolation that leads to drugs and crime. Invest in better understanding, preventing and treating the illness of addiction.
Corporations, commercial sponsors and the media have an especially important role to play by stigmatizing rather than glamorizing and funding fashion stars, movies and sports celebrities that take drugs.
People can be steered away from drugs. And those that do suffer the misery of addiction can be brought back into society. This is the true meaning of harm reduction which goes beyond the narrow definition that at times I see this alliance to propose. My Office, together with the World Health Organization, is just doing this.
In conclusion, ladies and gentlemen, the strength of the international drug control system is its universality, with all governments unanimously behind the United Nations drug conventions and strongly supportive of my Office. I hope I won your hearts if not your minds.
Dean Becker: In just a couple of minutes, as promised, we're going to bring you some comments from some of those who were attending this presentation by Dr. Antonio Maria Costa, director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
My response is that he does not address the fact that people have always and will always use these psychoactive drugs and as long as this policy of prohibition is in place the terrorists, the cartels and the gangsters will thrive by selling drugs to our children.
Poppygate: Bizarre news about the U.S. policy on controlling heroin featuring Glenn Greenway
Glenn Greenway: On July 15, 1987 Mr. E was busted for narcotics at Caesars Palace, Las Vegas after selling a pound and a half of heroin to an undercover agent for $65,000 cash. Today Mr. E, whose real name is Izzatullah Wasifi, is the government of Afghanistan's anti-corruption chief. Heck of a job, Wasifi. In 2001, the religious extremist Taliban eliminated Afghan poppy cultivation. Six years of Bush liberation later, a full 93% of the world's black market heroin now originates in America's Asian narco-state.
Speaking of anti-corruption, consider the allegations surrounding the Afghan President's brother, Wali Karzai. Last week in congress, Representative Gene Taylor of Kentucky asked the following: "I've even had friends who are working in Afghanistan tell me that its common knowledge that President Karzai's brother is one of the major traffickers in Afghanistan. How do we, as a nation, tolerate that?"
Such allegations have been reported by the New York Times as early as November 2004 and by France's LaMonde as recently as this week. Secret U.S. military documents obtained by ABC News say that President Karzai's brother "receives money from drug lords as bribe to facilitate their work and movement."
Afghanistan's GDP per capita is only half that of Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, and more than half of that comes from narcotics trafficking.
U.S. defense secretary Robert Gates told a congressional hearing this week: "I'm really concerned about counter-narcotics, because I think that we don't really have a strategy."
Narcotics strategy, definitely, but counter-narcotics, not so much. According to the U.N., Afghan cannabis cultivation has increased 133% in the last three years.
Despite President Bush's 2004 assertion that the Taliban "is no longer in existence" there have been at least 6,200 war-related deaths in Afghanistan so far this year, up from 4,000 last year according the Associated Press.
This is Glenn Greenway reporting for the Drug Truth Network.
Dean Becker: All right, now we're going to hear from Norm Stamper. He's the former Police Chief of Seattle, author of the great book, Breaking Rank and here's what he has to say about Mr. Costa's presentation.
Norm Stamper: It was a rather jaw-dropping presentation, not because I didn't and many others in the room didn't know what his message was. We've seen it, we've heard it before. He's a true believer in the War on Drugs. He believes that some wonderful combination of law enforcement and control along with prevention and treatment is the answer to the drug problem, which means he doesn't get it. He just truly does not understand that as long as prohibition is the foundation of U.S. drug policy, and U.S. drug policy being...obviously having tentacles out to the rest of the globe. We are the generals, if you will, of the war on drugs. That we will thirty-years from now be having the same conversation unless we undertake fundamental reform of American drug laws. But what was really jaw-dropping for me, and just breath taking in its scope was his apparent belief that he could convince this audience, an audience of very well informed, very experienced drug policy reformers, that his way was the right way and I was just kind of amazed that he thought he could do that. He was only booed a couple of times; he heard a chorus of 'no's' periodically. Here and there was a 'ssssing' sound, 'ssssss', that sort of thing, but the bottom line is that he was in hostile territory and he made no headway at all. The one hope, and it's a long shot, is that he really means it when he says “convince me I'm wrong and I'll change.” Well, I think he got plenty of evidence on the occasion of his speech to the Drug Policy Alliance conference to the effect that he is wrong, and why and how. So we can only hope that he's a man of his word.
Dean Becker: Here to close out today's program focused on the presentation by Antonio Maria Costa, head of the UN drugs and crime division is Washington state representative Roger Goodman.
Roger Goodman: We actually heard the UN secretary Costa talk at this conference about “it's a stable market, we've reached an equilibrium” as if we just have to accept the fact that drugs are controlled by criminal enterprises world-wide. Its shocking. As an elected official maybe I'm stepping out a little bit, but I have to tell you when I speak about the need to undercut the illegal markets in order to keep our children safer, to clean up public disorder, to save a whole bunch of state money and to make health care easier to obtain. People come up to me and they say “thank you, finally somebody is....there ought to be more people like you in your position talking about this.” So I'm emboldened to talk about Prohibition, prohibition based drug policies and how fundamentally flawed they are. And I'm not going to shut up about it. I haven't been afraid to talk about it in the past but I really find that the popular response has been very positive. They want people to take leadership and not to be afraid to talk about the fact that prohibitions have never worked. Prohibition against coffee, punishable by death in the 15th and 16th century in Europe. Tobacco, prohibited, punished by death in Europe in the same period of time. It didn't work. And so when you prohibit something for which there is an unrelenting demand you're going to have a supply to meet that demand. And the supply we have is now provided by criminal enterprises, the nastiest people on the planet and there's an oversupply, when you prohibit something not only do you render the illegal markets profitable but there's an oversupply created because there's a risk; you can't get all the product through, and because there's an oversupply there's actually a lot of stuff around, a lot of drugs around, and availability means more use. So we actually have oversupply creating an artificial demand. Prohibition has created more demand for illegal drugs because of an increase in the number of market participants and increase in the supply. Its just economics turned on its head. And so I talk about this and people nod their heads and they agree with me. Its very nice and then I go out of the room and then they go back to their lives and they go back to their business and they don't talk about it. People are still afraid; either because they don't understand it or its just too daunting public policy challenge to deal with. This isn't about drugs. This is about public safety, its about fiscal responsibility, its about family policy, protecting our children and our families. Its such a strategic issue that I really think we have to continue to talk about it and to reform the laws, to have the conversation first of all, and then ultimately the cultural change, our expectations will change, we'll realize that drugs are here to stay and we have to manage life with drugs and we can't live this dangerous fantasy of a drug-free world.
Dean Becker: Should have lots of video online soon available at youtube.com/fdbecker. Tons of broadcast media available at drugtruth.net. This program produced at the Pacifica studios of KPFT, Houston, and again in closing I remind you that, because of Drug Prohibition, you don't know what's in that bag. Please be careful.
This is Dean Becker of the Drug Truth Network wishing you and yours a safe and prosperous holiday season.
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