Marsha Burnetts’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Drugs

Good Morning Ladies and Gentlemen and thank you for allowing me to address you here today. My name is Marsha and I am a recovering addict living with HIV disease. I am a 43 year old mother of four children , two of whom are still in foster care, in the State of Vermont. I am in process of getting my children back by September. I have been drug free since 1991, [seven years] and I bring my experiences to all the activism I am involved in

These are the things I want to say to you today:
First of all, if we really care about the pain, suffering and isolation of addicted drug users, we must be willing to listen to what they say they need: it is a fact that some of the most useful strategies used to reduce or try and eliminate the death, disease and crime associated with this level of drug use were designed by drugs users themselves.

But user-participation is not possible while we are prosecuted for being users. I decided to come here today to tell you how the “War on Drugs” directly affects my life and the lives of countless others in the hope that we might all be willing to reconsider the repressive drug policy paradigm, which has been the norm for decades all over the world.

First of all, a basic human right is infringed, as we are persecuted for using certain arbitrarily-decreed illegal drugs. As a result of this persecution, criminalisation and isolation, it is very difficult to prioritise our health and other important matters of our lives. Even if this were not the case, policies all over the world have been so focused on getting us off drugs that some greater priorities have been overlooked. The most obvious of these is the primary prevention of Blood Borne Diseases (BBDs): needle exchange research from all over the world has proved the efficacy of the programs to reduce the spread of these infectious diseases, but for example, the U.S federal government has systematically refused for over a decade to support the establishment of these programs on the grounds that they would encourage people to use drugs. However, the result of this has been the rapid spread of HIV, Hepatitis, and other diseases, which have killed thousands of drug injectors and their children, and has placed enormous financial burdens on our public health and social services. For anybody who may be wondering, there is absolutely no evidence that the existence of needle-exchange programs have increased the number of injection drug users in any given community.

In a Harm Reduction model of Public Health, we accept that people use drugs:moreover there has never been a time in history when they didn’t. Therefore, the most compassionate and pragmatic way to deal with this is to focus on minimizing the harms especially for those whose drug use has gotten out of control, and it is very important to remember that the vast majority of people do not become is especially important to remember this when the fear of our loved ones using drugs destructively overwhelms us. In fact, millions of people regularly use drugs and are leading normal, healthy law-abiding lives. We therefore wonder why they are punished by the law…

Another big problem of this €œwar€ is the fact that black market supplies of drugs are very expensive and therefore some drug-dependents have resorted to all manner of opportunistic crime to fund their drug addictions. This is not because we are evil or sociopathic, as many appear to assume. No! It is because the criminalisation that comes to bear on our lives pushes us into the periphery of society where crime is a constant, and where there may be no other alternative. Besides, known drug users are hardly likely to get jobs easily unless they are privileged in some other social or economic way. Ergo, our involvement in petty crime to fund the monster-addiction inside.

The apparent desire for a drug-free world is unrealistic. Our thinking/attitude is not about defeatism or capitulation; it is simply about facing facts. We have never had totally drug-free societies. Moreover, would any of us be happy if alcohol was on a total licit ban?

So as an ex-user myself living with AIDS, I would appeal to you to reconsider your current drug policies. Is Universal needle-exchange really a lot to ask for, given the fact that we would be preventing so much decimating illness amongst us, and also not burdening our societies with enormous public health bills? Is it really so much to ask?

Before I end, I want to say this. We are not asking you to condone drug use. We are simply saying that current policies are not working for the good of ALL humanity and therefore we would ask you to be open to a more thorough debate on the subject matter. Is it really OK in your heart if we sacrifice the lives of millions of people at the alter of economic and military interests?

I would like to thank my colleagues Andria Efthimiou-Mordaunt and Martin Barriuso, a €“ European advocate,€“ for helping with the preparation of this speech

Thank you for listening

Marsha Burnett (RIP)

Marsha Graduates

Report Back from “Breaking Convention VI”

Breaking Convention (BC) had its 6th Big Gathering at Exeter University in April 2023. I went along to see if there was any positive news about the healing of people in chronic pain, long term depressives, People Who Use Drugs daily (PWUDs), aka ‘addicts’ and so on. And to see old friends of course: Hattie Wells, David Luke and Giulio, all of whom had serious work-roles at this event, including presenting as well as administrating the hundreds of us delegates from all over the world. It was a big Deal! I should mention that it took me all day to get there from London in a small Electric Car, so I was shattered on arrival on the evening of the 1st day, and as one living in chronic pain+ it remained that way throughout the weekend, so If you read something here that is inaccurate PLEASE feel free to WRITE TO OUR SITE-BLOG & Correct.

Nikki Wyrd, conference Director, welcomes the 1300+ Delegates /Thanks to Alexander Irvine for the great photograph


There was a couple, as in beloveds, of successful young Indians, one a student physician and the other a computer programmer and designer. I spent hours with them and was really interested to hear how excited they are about healing Psychedelic Substances (PSs) and it made me think about how much the world is changing but still, within the draconian Prohibitionist system.

I met Jonathan Ott again, who spoke at the end of the first day. He was presenting a paper about the different words Albert Hoffman, Huxley and other notable Psychonauts have used to describe PSs. It all went a bit like this… In 1963, there was much discussion about what to call PSs, e.g should it be Psychomimetic, as in LSD experiences sometimes mimic psychosis, or should it be psycho social mimetic, or even Psychedelic, which is what most use these days. And Otts favourite word for these extraordinary substances is Psychoptic, referring to what we see on these drugs that we surely would not normally!

Of course that is both internally as in what can happen often, with the use of Ibogaine for addiction treatment as well as in the external world around us. For Ott, “God-Breathing is what Psychedelic really means: Eons ago, I was told that Psychedelic literally (as in direct Greek Translation) means like an opening of the spirit, yes soul revealing which takes this to the place that Ott refers to often and amiably:something to do with the Divine. And there were many references to this notion at “Breaking Convention” that is the question of whether PSs can connect us to other entities in time and space, and spiritual dimensions (if you will). Much better than Cyberspace, at any rate, in my not-so-humble opinion! But, I just found myself wanting to believe that til Dr Sessa spoke the next day and clarified for me, what I actually think/believe in my heart, which is that everything we experience through our five senses, while on PSs are neuro-transmitter substances firing off in the brain because of the radical chemical changes going on in there after taking psychedelic medicines

Why do I feel like I have just blasphemed?!

Psychologists, Ralph Metzner and Timothy Leary started the Psychedelic Review (PsyR)in 1963, a serious academic journal, which really began to document science and the PS domain. In Ott’s opinion Leary was a good charismatic person but not so much a scientist! The PsyR is now known as the Journal of Psychoactive Medicines

I heard Ben Sessa speak for the third time, and somehow always feel reassured when he mentions his long work history with PWUIDs every day, children and adolescents, at the beginning of all his talks. He is about to leave England for Australia where he has a new post training a workforce to be Psychedelic Therapists, in a country that is the first ‘to approve the use of MDMA (aka Ecstasy) & Psilocybin for the treatment of Mental Illness, legally. Great News for Oz… You may already be familiar with the term Neuroplasticity, which in lay-folks terms critically means that brain activity can be changed, and for Sessa, the word disruptor aptly describes how PDs can positively alter the thinking of depressives say, who have become stuck in unhelpful (to themselves) ways of thinking. Many of them, for decades – literally. During his many years in child and adolescent psychiatry, he often came across children who were neglected or abused, and later suffered with addiction and other MH conditions, so he is super-enthusiastic to find himself in the middle of what David Nutt refers to as the “biggest advance in psychiatric treatment for 50 years.” Established old school psychiatrists are still saying “we shall have to see what the Long Term Results” will be but as Rick Doblin pointed out, with the increase of people living with MH issues, traumatised by ongoing wars around the world and poverty, it is a good idea for people who are suffering to have more options.

On the last morning, I met a Dutch Buddhist Chaplain, Daan Keiman who worked at the Synthesis Institute, which had to close recently. He was well-impressed by the fact that I put the needles down eons ago! And his presentation at BC6 was to remind practitioners that change can sometimes happen at a snails pace, and that we have to be patient:

In the UK, the only downside of all this that I can see so far is that most of the treatment is only available to people who can afford £5k upwards, OR just like all other treatment research protocols, one must get on the waiting list and who knows when they will be seen? Moreover, there seems to be a lack of PD treatment for people living with ‘addiction’ and for us at the Usersvoice, that is distressing. PD treatmenters are making the same demands of active PWUDs, as is made if you wish to go to rehab. You have to come off all opiates, and SSRIs in order to be accepted onto a research protocol People must be off all opiates and /or SSRIs before they can get say Ketamine. And the Ketamine protocol only includes alcoholics at this point (May 2023)

Maybe what we need is a space to go, whether it be mutual AID based or residential, where the detox can happen first. At the moment, that seems to be our best bet. And happy to announce that one of my galfriends is currently detoxing in an NHS hospital bed. So the therapeutic possibilities still exist. At this point in the History of these new psychedelic therapies, I cannot see how it would or could be any other way, unless you can do a Home Detox, with/without the support of a local drug agency or 12step Group.

That said, becoming drug free is hard work as most of us here know. In the Borough I live in 6000 patients will need to be somehow cared for since the Margaret Centre and Response Drug Project are being closed down as we speak. It is worrying for the community and the patients as to whether “Change Grow Live/CGL will be able to embrace all those patients who will lose their treatment slots.

I met other people in MH recovery at the BC Event in Exeter. They knew that, for example, there were light shows and all sorts of wonderful things to reduce stress, that I didn’t know about. If any of us go to BC in the future, I want to strongly suggest that we study the program closely before arriving, as opposed to what I did; straight into an academic lecture and then swatting til the last day!

To end on a positive note, Ibogaine is being researched in healthy participants/recreational PWUDs by company Demerex. More importantly a research protocol was begun for daily-PWUDs , but it has been paused. The vice-chair of Breaking Convention hastened to add, we are hoping to return to it asa possible. It is currently an illegal drug, that is if you intend to supply it to someone else. But a recent nod from the Medicines & Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has been given. In other words, there will be a return to testing it on daily PWUDs …as in people who have a drug problem with addiction.

Notes: “to start enrolment for a Phase 1/IIa trial of Ibogaine HCL (DMX-1002) in the treatment of Opioid Use. See the following link for more details. “

Books Launching at The London School of Health and Tropical Medicine: “Queer Footprints” by Dan Glass, and “Our Stories Told By Us” by Winnie Sseramu, Angela Namiba, Charity Nyirenda, Rebecca Mbewe and Memory Sachikonye..

It was exciting and thankfully, my new friend Skye arrived bang on time. Waiting for Dan Glass’s (DG) book and watching him go through the process of writing it on Social Media gave us a “can’t wait” build up. Nice! So it was also lovely to see that he did what he is famous for by allying in with a HIV+ fellow author and long time consultant and activist – Winnie Sseramu, one of my role models.

The presentations by both authors focused on the importance of solidarity, how we organise into social and political justice Movements resisting oppression. Drew Hawkinson, a Public Health Student at of the London School of Health & Tropical Medicine’s (LSHTM) LGBTQ Society facilitated, asking a handful of poignant questions, a few of which Winnie found a little challenging! It was a beautifully-spirited event, so while the issues of stigma and homophobia and illness arose,

Key Themes were Activism, Sexual Freedom, Education, Communication, Uganda and Solidarity with their Grass roots Organisers

Sseramu’s et als Book comes out May 26th, so we were kinda privileged to be getting this little sneak preview. It is essentially a book of stories of the lives of people affected by HIV, 30% of whom are HIV Activists.. The Book was conceived around the realisation that it was now 40 years since the UK became active around the issues and Sseramu herself has been living with the virus for 35years. A long Term Survivor and these days a Freelance Consultant, Winnie worked for a decade with Christian AID and commented that by the time she left the issue had become almost invisible there. That there seems to be decade-long cycles of mobilisation and then not a lot. No wonder she became Freelance!

“Our Stories Told By Us” is about the good work that has come out of the HIV+ African Community over decades, about those who pioneered the UK’s NGO sector from Zambia, Uganda, Kenya: collectively known as ZUC Africa. “We wanted to change the narrative without hiding from the challenges of the African Continent, “

said Sseramu, adding “We have to embrace HIV because we are living with it.” It was powerful to hear Winnie’s lessons of what she found most important, beginning with kindness to oneself. She cannot recommend 1-2-1 Counselling enough, and do “surround yourselves with a small network who have your back” no matter what. Also gripping for me was to hear: “when the anger is overwhelming, try and Listen better…”

Drew Hawkinson of the LGBTQ Society at the London School of Health & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) said they had serious concerns about the ‘new’ Bill coming from the Ugandan Govt, which will further persecute people who have consensual same -sex conduct. It has even retained the death penalty in cases of ‘aggravated homosexuality,’, which is a broad term used to describe sex between people living with HIV. Still allowing a 20 year sentence for promoting homosexuality, there is the serious danger of losing any advocacy for the rights of the LGBTI families in Uganda. Sseramu interjected how ashamed she felt about this, but Dan Glass was quick to educate us about the fact that Homophobic Legislation from the UK was transported around the world beginning in 1533, with King Henry 8th, therefore we have some reparations to make. He also told us about the first grass roots HIV+ LGBTQI activist group – ICEBREAKERS – in Kampala, that he had visited recently. That gave me hope, especially when he said that £2k was rapidly raised for the group to support Queer people there.

The importance of Mentorship was discussed, and having a weekly evening of time with long-term healthcare activists. Speaking of Healthcare, Sseramu was eager to mention what an expert Angelina Namiba had become in HIV and reproductive rights.

Cornelius, an ACT.UP Friend asked a great question about what big Brit NGOs , say THT, can learn from Community Activism in a not-insignificant number of African countries, which reminded me that People Who Use Drugs (PWUDs) have been organising Harm Reduction posse’s in Kenya and beyond for several years already. We rarely hear about these life-saving innovations in the Media but We should be shouting them from the Rooftops. Peer Support, Community Mobilisation, Buddying,Solidarity and Mentorship are all things that have been born out of dire need when people living with AIDS PLWAIDS and PWUDs for that matter were sick and/or dying, but government generally couldn’t give a damn.

Dan Glass spoke about how sexual, racial and political identities must also be foci of our attention, not to mention liberation for all. Ahem, is foci a word?! (Yep, plural of focus) That ultimately, everything is political, big and small P.. That we begin with the Principle “Nothing About Us Without Us” which I first heard in Vancouver’s Int’l Harm Reduction conference at least 18 years ago, but who knows where it gave birth. The point is, it is a radically important principle for oppressed minorities to rally around. Especially in an age where people are living longer and disabled people are too often ignored: Glass’s book tells of Josh, a wheelchair bound man disabled man, who’s sheer demanding and persistence led to : eye level bells that could be rung to notify his (and others ) arrival so he could finally get into his fave bars in Soho.They also also won struggles to set up more ramps and those indispensable radar keys that give us people living with (PLWDs) independence and access when dying to take a leak!

I was also grateful to hear of Denis Carney, an African-Carribean Queer who helped set up a Housing Association for PLWHIV in the London Borough of Camden. Glass writes, “In the early 1980s, Black gay men were disproportionately by HIV.” So it was there that the first Black Gay Mens Conference was held in October 1987, and by their third gathering, there were already 50 men showing up, “and that was before the internet” Carney says triumphantly

As ever, I was acutely aware of the lack of allusion to PWUDs as if we do not exist, but I am always assured by historical journeys that I have watched throughout the decades of HIV Activism. Most of the drugs we care about are still illegal, and so who wants to risk being discredited, especially when the atmosphere at LSH that night was so embracing of all, and dedicated time was given to promote self-care, especially by Sseramu

And so I want to dedicate this to David Stuart, an heroic Nurse who died 2020. David worked tirelessly in sex and drugs Harm Reduction for many years in Soho’s blessed space, 56 Dean street, as Dan referred to it, “the Hilton of sexual health centres.” Wherever you are, thanks for teaching my HIV brother about taking comfort on another mans breast. Somehow, his life soon took a turn for the better after that one brief encounter

Right About Psychedelics, After All

Ok, she was young at 12 to be experimenting with psychedelic drugs but that’s what was happening. Sure it would have been better if she had waited a further 14 years – experts in the 21st Century are saying that the adult brain isn’t fully formed til 25 – but you know it would also have been better if Jimi and Janis hadn’t died of Heroin overdoses at 27.

All she wanted back then was an interesting fun experience and to show her mates what a cool chick she really was. Being rotund, working-class and not pretty (in her minds eye) made her feel so rubbish, she simply had to find a way to show the world…. show them what exactly was a bit hazy, but she did! (This is beginning to sound a bit “Rebel with out a clue”) but what the hell, what does anyone know at such a tender age?

By the time she was in her late teens, she had passed 7 O levels and a Maths CSE. She had been a Chambermaid, Newspaper Delivery Girl, Volunteered at a Project for Disabled kids, Kids with Learning Disabilities (LDs) and she was beginning to see injustices, inequality and corruption in some of the Institutions we are supposed to be able to Trust

This is not gonna be a drugalog, though it started like one. No, this is about an adolescent, who discovered the therapeutic affect of a rare substance back in the 1970s, looking back thinking”what was all the fuss about?” Why on Earth was/is LSD25 illegal. One poor blighter took flight off a building and kills herself. Is that a reason to criminalise every curious Human Being for time immemorial? Nope but it must’ve traumatised their significant others, reached the media and made a big splash there. And that was the reason given to justify the criminalisation of medicine, and too many thousands of drug-curious fellow citizens for decades there after.

The Therapeutic Affect

When she says “therapeutic” what exactly does she mean? Going from a self-doubting, asthmatic, chub to a generous, happy and entertaining teen, in a few words. On the Eve of her first political Peace Action, she threw a party. The apartment was full of friends and even one or two family members. She had taken a moderate dose of LSD. Vegetarian food and decent drinks lined the kitchen and the music – Hendrix, Dylan and Melanie blared gently. She flitted from friend to friend, making sure everyone had a pal to be with. She liked herself and this was a rare few hours…

The next morning, waiting in line for the Bus to Greenham Common, she said “you know last night when I was LSD- tripping…” Galfriend replied, “tripping?! We thought you were just happy. Doesn’t LSD make people behave really strangely? We were just saying how normal and happy you seemed Andi for a change: the kindest Host ever.”

When they were telling her how ‘happy’ she seemed, it didn’t occur to her to say, well the drug is medicine. Saying LSD was a medicine and healing in the late 1970s was an elite psychologists monologue; think Timothy Leary. But the truth is something was happening to her 19 year old brain that she loved and actually needed badly. Not often but certainly now and then. IF ONLY she had had the Therapist/Guide that people with MH challenges have now.

Looking at what is evolving , and was first funded by the Beckley Foundation, the Science, the Suits, the academic texts showing clearly the healing that people are experiencing here in 2023… Well it makes her want to join a psychedelic research protocol. Sadly, this maybe impossible at present due to her also having a severe lung illness and a lesser form of Bipolar Affective Disorder, that is to say BAD2. When she experiences the emotional mood swings and roundabout of Bipolar, she never assumes she is someone else: she rarely gets psychotic, but her Psychiatrist does prescribe her an anti-psychotic to help her sleep. A little bit confusing but sleep it gives her, even as she hates the hangover in the morning , making her feel dysfunctional til she’s gulped down 2 cups of caffeinated, sweet black coffee!

Just one gals thoughts and feelings about the “psychedelic renaissance” in the first half of the 21st Century

Gary Sutton – Thank you for “never giving up on us.”

Twenty four years ago, I made a new friend. Tragically, he died recently – too young.

Back then, he was working at a GP Surgery on the Docklands. The Doctor there was running a private addiction clinic in the South East End of London. Gary was counselling drug users there, and doing a great job helping them access medicines for HIV , Hep and addiction. A Harm Reduction Clinic extraordinaire.

We were peers in this extraordinary Harm Reduction Movement, a social justice movement initially born to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS among Injection Drug Users (IDUs), which is how we worked together in the Drug Users Rights Forum initially based at RELEASE: 1996-8. We’d both suffered some pain related to Hep and did what we could to support each other with this, even as we got on with our counselling/working lives. One day, he arrived a bit stressed and we were so happy he could make it as there were only a handful of us, and we needed his input. He began to talk about the matters at hand. I looked up to Gary:
a) that was the only way a shorty could view this six footer! But seriously,
b) he was smart and dedicated to his work. As the meeting progressed, I noticed that he was getting kinda dopey, and assumed he was just tired from working all day at the Clinic and then rocking up here. But I wondered about his health:I knew his Liver hurt sometimes. As ‘dopey’ as he became, he did not lose his capacity to think and communicate, (as opposed to myself, who can lose that capacity perfectly alert!) Another time, he invited me to a group he was facilitating, in West London. A few people were obviously high and I was a bit bemused, as most of the groups I’d been part of sometimes excluded active IDUs! Not very inclusive then, but Gary was a purist when it came to reducing harm in the community. Pretty-much everyone was welcome..

He understood so much straight away. Just because he was struggling, did not mean he was unconscious of the impact seeing lots of drugs would have on a person trying to stay off drugs; (particularly the drugs of their addiction.) Such was his pragmatism and sensitivity: he could be a drug worker, sensitive of the needs of the entire spectrum of people who use/d drugs.

This was a time when the UK had the backdrop of a novice-but-pioneering harm reduction movement; so after the realisation that we could not go on denying people clean needles, or drugs for that matter. We, in the movement had managed to convince Prime Minister Thatcher’s government that addiction could be halted, but HIV was invariably fatal (then) so the government must take responsibility to fund needle exchange programs: to stop harming us and the rest of society by letting HIV spread from us – well, that’s how one professor argued the case. The point is , this argumentation worked and Gary Sutton worked day in day out in the trenches, either helping people already ill, or trying to make sure others remained HIV-negative

He was a smart and powerful person in the UK’s harm Reduction Movement, but none of us are invincible. After one of the European Harm Reduction Conferences, and the forced-closure of his workplace/the Clinic , I noticed him looking very thin. His Liver was hurting and so he had begun to eat less.

Weeks later, he came to see me at home, and said he intended to end his life: that it would be a good idea because it might make the powers that be think again about swiping prescriptions away from people who desperately needed drugs daily. There had already been more than enough casualties. And now the State, with its punitive power wanted to sack his boss , a doctor, who was trying to keep people away from the criminal markets with ‘liberal prescribing of psychoactive drugs.’ We were all friends and this cruel episode was very painful, hence his suicidal ideation. I felt desperately sad to hear him speaking like that & leapt into the air, telling him that ending his own life was certainly not an answer and besides he was my friend and I needed him; that many of us loved and cared about him. He survived, and valiantly rose up again, as all Phoenixes do from their ashes.

Mainliners needed an Outreach Worker. Given he already was one, he got that job and continued making sure injectors had access to clean works and essential medicines/prescriptions: reducing harm in an otherwise misunderstood community. By then, was beginning to thrive and he wrote a campaigning article in it, which we still treasure. I was always a bit in awe of his self-determination and capacity to thwart any attempts to question this new style of drug-worker. Sometimes, I wanted to be the same, but mostly we only saw each other when there was a job to do, where we could help each other, so I felt i missed out on learning some of the key prevention ‘tricks of our trade’ – I’d only worked with people already sick and dying from HIV.

As some of you know, he went on to live many more extraordinary years, working as an Expert Witness for RELEASE, the drugs charity: in court, defending people accused of breaking one unhelpful drug law or other. Continuing to work in the field, he also found a wonderful life partner, Monique. Together they made Katie – a great musician and friend to my daughter Milly. After our kids were born, we saw slightly less of each other but I was well-impressed when Gary trained as a psychotherapist and knew that he would help a lot of people in this new role.

I can’t tell you how much people will miss him, but I know it will be A Lot and many.  I am missing this friend & human being – who cared so much. May he rest in peace and power, knowing that his legacy will always make his loved ones proud to have had Gary in their lives.

Andria Efthimiou-Mordaunt, London UK

Book Review: “Drugwars: inside story of Britain’s..” war on drugs users


An observation van is running surveillance on a high-level Bradford gangster. Suddenly the van is surrounded by men in balaclavas and tied shut. Out comes the can of petrol. It is set alight and the two cops inside barely escape with their lives. This incident is never reported. The gangsters clearly have informants inside the police and alerting the public would undermine the force. Everyone shrugs it off – with so much money in the drugs game, corruption is part and parcel of the whole deal

In our community of “drug users, ex-users and substitutees” (as the Germans call their excellent harm reduction users advocacy group- JES,) there is more than one opinion about the epiphanies of people like the compelling authors of “Drugwars.” Neil Woods, for example was an Undercover Cop in the Drugs Squad. These opinions range from rage at the audacity of a person, who can spend years ensuring illegal-drugs users are put behind bars to huge relief that others who are/were in the drugwar-trenches are speaking out against “punishing prohibition.” It is fine to publicly condemn drug laws as they well-document in this book, but it isn’t easy for all of us at the Usersvoice (UV) to observe their continued great careers, while 350 000 of us we are still behind bars, strung out and /or living with a blood borne disease that may well be killing us.

That said, the following quote from Suzanne Sharkey, a spokesperson for LEAP (Law Enforcement Action Partnership), who I first met at Drug Policy Alliance gathering is the US, is expressing the thoughts and feelings of many x/current cops I have spoken with – I first met LEAP Allies in the USA at DPA gatherings eons ago: “When I look back at my time in the police I feel ashamed, I feel a sense of failure. I feel ashamed that I wasn’t arresting career criminals. I was arresting people from poor socially deprived areas with little or no hope whose crime was just non-violent drug possession, a complete failure of the war on drugs. I believe that one of the biggest barriers to seeking help for people with problematic substance use is the current drug policy.” (Yes I must admit, I didn’t seriously-seek help for my addiction til I was utterly broken & Cops were smashing my flat door down.) Their work is increasingly waking different communities up to the implicitly-destructive force we know as the drugwar.

The overall message of “Drugwars: the inside story of Britain’s Drugwar,” is that trying to enforce the UK Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA) has undoubtedly created more harm in our communities than the drugs ever could. From the increasing corruption of Law Enforcement (LE), to the spread of HIV/AIDS, to the deaths related to poisoned impure drugs, to the huge numbers of crimes enacted daily and the £billions wasted trying to stop the crimes, it is increasingly difficult to countenance why successive governments continue implementing the so-called war on (some) drugs… In 2001, mature student and daughter of Blue Collar worker somehow got to study MSc Social Policy at the London School of Economics, LSE. In at least one lecture, professors mentioned that virtually all wannabe-Prime Ministers in their pre-election speeches said “We promise to be tough on crime AND the causes of crime.” I don’t need to spell out what that has meant for the UV Family. In this way, the general public get to feel secure in their homes while the causes of crime continue unabated. My laptop was stolen from my home long after I stopped injecting drugs , and I was getting bored of answering the cops questions when they came round to investigate, so I asked them; “what is the statistical likelihood of it having been stolen by a poor strung-out illegal-heroin user?” Without a seconds thought one replied “60%.”

In 1993, a great orator and my Life Partner, John Mordaunt RIP, declared that “There is no war on drugs. There is and always has been a war on drugs users” to the World’s Media at the World AIDS conference in Berlin. One way to understand that declaration is to note that five decades of aerial herbicidal-spraying of coca has not reduced cocaine use in the world. Same for opium and marijuana. That no sooner is one hectare burnt or cut down in one region, when another inevitably pops up elsewhere. Ultimately, as Andy Zapp put it succinctly, the ‘drugwar’ is just another Business. While we have an appetite for smoking , eating and injecting these herbs and medicines, there will always be an economic entrepreneur out there who will make shed-loads of money from it. Mordaunt hadn’t met Omarya, a very small-scale Columbian Cocalera, who’s home was almost burnt to the ground with her and her baby in it… Still , you get his point. Sadly, this war was lost aeons ago, but what is infinitely worse, is the carnage it has left in its wake; what some social scientists call the collateral damage of this war: Crime, death, disease and mass incarceration of mostly black and brown fellow users.

I like the historical perspective of this book; that we are taken from decade to decade highlighting the way that LE has become increasingly corrupted as the drug scenes morph from one sub-culture to another. Let’s go back to 1964 then; there were but “342 registered.. heroin addicts. Drugs were something ….majority of people simply didn’t know about.” So what the hell happened? Perhaps one of my girlfriends summarizes it well. “I was taken off heroin without any consultation, and put on a methadone script, which I didn’t take, want. It was 1969 and the heroin trade was beginning to flourish, so we began buying illegal heroin instead. Various prescribing docs had either died or been busted so we had to score somehow. Simple as that.” Around about this time, luminaries like the Community Theologian, Ken Leech; Bing Spear – Chief Inspector at the Home Office Drugs Branch – may they both RIP – and Dr Hawes began warning about the exodus to the criminalised heroin and cocaine markets that would ensue. Rev Leech echoed a particularly prophetic tone in warning that there would be significant rise in use/abuse among working-class communities, already suffering in other ways.

But were the establishment listening? Not many. Methadone was viewed as the antidote to the medical needs of growing numbers of heroin injectors, as it was largely only prescribed in oral form and has a substantially longer half life. According to Prof Trebach, we also underwent the influence of the USA, who generally treated illegal drug use as a moral failing and imprisoned users more often than not. Soon, “Stop and Search” Laws in the UK became a blunt instrument which to this day, punishes black users disproportionately. Towards the end of the 1970s, Heroin was the drug du jour, as the book shows, partly as a consequence of the growing illicit trade not to mention the numbers of impoverished families, a few of whom sold drugs to support their families as well as their “hungry habits.”

On page 109, our authors point to another seismic event impacting the global heroin trade and thereby access to tons of street opiates: the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Heroin profits bought guns for the enemies of the Soviet Union. The global politics of the heroin trade is not my expertise but suffice it to say that countless paramilitary organisations have bought their guns with drug profits, not just the Mujahideen..

As a chronic pain patient, who has watched countless friends die from AIDS, I should say that some survivors are grateful to the growers of bright Afghan poppies; not just grown in Afghanistan either. Without derivative painkillers, many of us would be living in dire pain – Medical Marijuana does not work for everyone. The spread of HIV/AIDS (due to most countries denying us access to evidence-based /successful /Harm Reduction Treatments) is certainly one of the biggest crime against humanity enabled by this war. I’ve heard some liberals argue that harm reduction programs that ensure access to clean injecting paraphernalia will suffice: that no laws or UN Conventions need to be changed. This maybe true where blood-borne disease-prevention is concerned but tell that to the millions who have been incarcerated on simple possession charges..

I have to say and I know I am not only speaking for this X-injector, I am glad now that people like Neil Woods and the Durham Chief of Police ( are speaking up. Their voices vindicate countless speeches drugs users and our allies have given at conferences all over the world

And so let me return to the Key issue that is highlighted in this book. The drugwar has increased corruption within police forces all over the world. How many cops will say no to a quick £1m? Apparently quite a few, but increasingly this is not the case and is thus testament to why this book is so important and should be read.

This book really should be read by the millions of concerned citizens, who know there is something wrong with putting sick (or not) drugs users behind bars but just can’t figure out what it is.

Would we recommend that heroin and cocaine be sold in our local street corner stores, as Whiskey can be… OF COURSE NOT! But at least let those who’s lives are completely saturated, destroyed by the impure & expensive drugs of criminal markets have a legal option so that slowly slowly they can improve the quality of theirs and their family’s lives. That is a Key Message of Neil and JS’s book and and in 2019, we already have 16years of proof from Portugal that this approach works in reducing crime, AIDS and drug-related death. After discovering that 1% of the Portuguese population were heroin-dependent, they decriminalised all personal possession. Most interestingly, they did NOT see a rise in numbers of people turning to heroin.

At one gathering several years ago, Tom Lloyd (another ‘recovering’ police officer) asked me to address a group of Cambridge clinicians: I recall even then LEAP members were saying that, given much of the petty crime in the UK is being committed to fund drug habits, why don’t we set up supervised heroin programs as is the way in Switzerland? As the book says, much of the answer to that question lies in the so-called “special relationship” between the US and the UK. I remember shortly after our sister Marsha Burnett, 1st Woman & X IDU addressed the failure of the war at the UNGASS (UN General Assembly Session on Drugs), 1998, we in the UK began lobbying our government to set up a safer injection room. The reason that never happened was directly related to that political and economic relationship – (so much for ‘special relationship’)

I read this book reluctantly. Having been through my own ‘war’ with drugs, (which i later discovered was mostly about self-medicating real illnesses) did I really need “Drugwars” reminder of how morally and economically wrong this war actually is? Probably not to be frank, but I am glad I persevered and got through to the end, sobbing for hours after. And why? Right now, the UK is suffering some of the worst cuts to health and social care services, ever seen. Most of you reading this will not this book review to tell you how this has affected drug treatment services, as the significant rise in drug-related deaths tragically-indicates.

It is almost farcical that some of our best friends /allies  resisting this violent corrupt war are Cops and recovering cops, as in X-cops who escaped their own violent front-lines. In the absence of the vibrant politicized Harm Reduction movement we had decades ago, needs must that leadership against the ‘war’ happens somehow. And however pissed-off this makes some users feel, painful reality is that the Police are, rightly, and wrongly (as is terrifyingly described in “Drugwars“) still a socially-respectable work-force in most peoples minds. Ultimately, they are more likely to be taken seriously than many Activists, and researchers who would, as Prof David Nutt discovered, be sacked if they publicly condemned this war on some drugs.

It is way past time nurses and other clinicians, outreach workers, youth workers and counsellors were put back in charge of the decisions governing the treatment of chemically-dependent drugs users, and law enforcers can be freed up to address actual crimes like rape and murder. That if we commit crimes other than possession of illegalised drugs, sure we should not just get away with it BUT whatever else happens, a legal version of our drug of “choice” is always offered to us in order to arrest the need to make ‘easy’ money to support raging drug habits

This could happen. It has been our way in the UK before as in the British System. Lets get back to that more pragmatic and compassionate future before another 1000 significant others have to grieve the loss of their overdosed loved ones…

We can “Do Better.” The UK is famous in International Harm Reduction circles for averting a huge HIV/AIDS epidemic, so we know *** We can do Better than this.We can indeed “Do Better.”***

Thanks to Neil Woods, Suzanne Sharkey and Tom Lloyd, for casting an editorial eye over this.

Below, Paul Flynn MP, who sadly died recently. May he forever Rest in Peace and Power. In Parliament, he was a true great of the UK Drug Policy Reform Movement. THANK YOU

Eulogy: For my beautiful friend,Joep Oomen,

In 1997, I came across the European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies spearheaded by Joep Oomen, Antwerp. He was based in a tiny office that made me wonder how he managed to generate so much work, creating an International Coalition of

When Joep asked me to make an address to The European Parliament in 2001, I actually thought he was psychologically-unwell! I could not believe that i, this X-Junky a) had the right or b) would be able to. Expressing my feelings about this to Joep: he stood there in shock saying “but Andria, you have been so dedicated to reform for so long, your experience must be heard by those in power in order for them to understand why criminalising drugs users, is not only destructive to them but also to the society in general…” He gave me a hug, saying if you need any help with it, draft it and I will have a look. Considering English was not his Mother Tongue, and his written English was way superior to mine, I agreed that I would indeed if necessary.

However, the truth is, his faith in me made all the difference. And this was the way that Joep inspired hundreds of people around Europe to become devoted drug policy reformers. we arrived passionate, some knowledgeable some not, but we always went out into the world far more informed AND confident enough to express the key issues to any one and anywhere. These are the qualities of a great leader…By the way, he hated it when we referred to him as leader. He would rapidly remind us that we were all leaders in our own countries, and that if we “have to use that word” at least “use it about yourselves also. Even better don’t use it at all!”

There were days when Cannabis/Marijuana was the key subject matter of discussion and I felt out of my depth – (I was a harm reduction/IDU activist) but Joep would quickly remind me of the hundreds of thousands of people around the world who were being denied access to medical marijuana or languishing in jails for laws that made no sense to millions of people. “We lock up Marijuana users and yet encourage the legal sale of Whiskey, a much harder drug: there is something wrong with this picture!” As an X-IDU (injection drug user)I knew all to well the dangers of Liqueur: Hepatologists had insisted my liver was scarred by two viral strains of Hepatitis and I should not drink at all, preferably.

In the end, the high expectations Joep had of his fellow reformers was one of his main successes. He basically thought, if he could do it , any one could. And in this humble spirit and knowing that our work was on the “side of the Angels” we proceeded, addressing the UNODC , the European Parliament and many others. He was always there as admin back up as well as teacher and mentor. Hundreds of us can say we have been so lucky to have been compatriots of his. He has fought for over a quarter of a century for humane and just drug policies and an end to the war on drugs. Joep was co-founder of numerous NGO’s for drug reform, including Encod, Cannabis Social Club Trekt Uw Plant in Antwerp and the Union for the abolition of cannabis prohibiton (VOC) in the Netherlands.

Personally, I found Joep to be one of the kindest, honest and most transparent fellow activists I have ever had the privilege to work with. Even when we disagreed, there was direct courageous communication; no backstabbing nonsense. I was so happy for Joep when he married Beatriz, a beautiful Bolivian compatriot. He also leaves behind two sons and a grandson  (Thanks to Gonzo Media for photo)

I miss Joep a great deal

May he rest in Peace and Power…ALWAYS

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Response to Saviano interview

Hey Andria

Thanks loads for posting the Saviano interview, his book ZeroZeroZero is a brilliant description of the workings of what he calls cocaine capitalism or narco-capitalism. One of the most important achievements of the book is the demonstration that the narco-state is not something that is “over there”, “far away” but is rather everywhere and that narco-dollars have thoroughly infiltrated every aspect of, and become the keystone of, contemporary capitalism, he describes the City of London as “the narco-trafficking, money laundering capital of the world” and the seat of many of the major banks that play an indispensable role in laundering narco-dollars and inserting them into the matrix of global capital flows.

Following this claim he shows how the commonly accepted distinction between the licit and illicit economies is completely false, artificial and meaningless. In the dominant narrative narco-states are failed governments in low and middle income countries on the major trading routes (West Africa, Caribbean, Latin America primarily), Saviano goes beyond this and shows that the narco-state is everywhere and is in fact the keystone of the contemporary global economy. The traditional narrative, like so much drugspeak is inherently other, specifically racist, and holds that narco states are over there, far away, in ‘developing countries’ and certainly not in the ‘free west’, ‘civilised’ or ‘first’ world.

The cocaine capitalism that Saviano describes but doesn’t theorise is however much better thought through in the brilliant Drug War Capitalism by Dawn Paley – the two complement each other perfectly. Paley’s book makes several important points that I’ve long felt to be true but hadn’t previously been able to think through.

So a few thoughts (sorry it’s a bit long):

1. The War on Drugs has very little, if anything, to do with drugs at all “Rather than actually dealing with controlling illegal substances, the war on drugs i s a concept invented by the US government […] to serve their interests , both domestically, and abroad” (Paley 43); as Paley bluntly puts it, the war on drugs has nothing to do with prohibition or drug policy “but is instead a war “in which terror is used against the population at large in cities and rural areas” while “parallel to this terror and the panic it generates, policy changes are implemented which facilitate foreign direct investment and economic growth.” She goes on to suggest that the war on drugs is in reality motivated by “the expansion of the capitalist system into new or previously inaccessible territories and social spaces.”

2. It certainly has nothing to do with attempts to improve “the health and welfare of mankind” (as the Preamble to the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961 claims);

3. Still less is it part of that “humanitarian endeavour” that securing the “dual suppression of the abuse of opium, morphine, and cocaine” is described as in the same convention;

4. The same convention claims that “addiction to narcotic drugs constitutes a serious evil for the individual and is fraught with social and economic danger to mankind”. Regardless of one’s views on the utility or otherwise of the language of ‘addiction’ (personally I find it vague, obfuscating, unhelpful, largely meaningless, entirely subjective, and inherently stigmatising, but that’s for another post), the use of the language of “evil” to describe the problem that an international convention is combating is extraordinary, dangerously theological, profoundly moralising and unique in international law – as Rick Lines has noted – neither “slavery, apartheid, nor torture” are described as “evil” in the conventions prohibiting them (in the convention relevant to it, the sternest language applied to genocide is “odious scourge”‘ whilst the UDHR musters “barbarous acts” t0 describe the totality of human brutality committed in WWII). The war on drugs is definitively not a component – and certainly by no conceivable measure a well functioning component – of the entirely questionable objective of reducing this apparent “social and economic danger to mankind” . A key consequence of the deployment of the language of “evil” has been that the war on drugs has given rise to what political theorist Carl Schmitt called a “state of exception” which he defines as “not a special kind of law (like the law of war) […] rather insofar as it is a suspension of the juridical order itself, it defines law’s threshold or limit concept”. Faced with what is essentially a threat to the very fabric of society – note that the Single Convention calls upon member states to be “Conscious of their duty to prevent and combat this evil” – extraordinary measures are justified, and governments must be freed up to pursue policies, and take measures, that would, under normal circumstances not be acceptable; it is in this light, that the War on Drugs gives cover for the widespread suspension of, and trampling upon, civil liberties, leads to human rights violations on a gross and systemic scale, and is used to justify incursions into the sovereign territory of other states. A clear illustration of the kinds of policies that such rhetoric can give rise to is the legal definition of drug trafficking as a “threat to the national security of the United States” that was introduced by Reagan in 1986, similarly, combating drug trafficking was given as one of the three official justifications of the 1989 American invasion of Panama.

5. The War on Drugs is not about protecting your kiddies from the evil ‘pushers’ who apparently frequent school gates.

6. The War on Drugs, far from being the dogged pursuit of any of the intrinsically highly questionable, yet supposedly noble and laudable aims that it professes to pursue is much more fruitfully understood as a cipher, or a Trojan horse, through which states act out agendas of domestic social control (not least of all through the mass incarceration and disenfranchisement of marginalised, poor, ethnic minority communities).

7. The War on Drugs functions as a vehicle for justifying systemic racism, classism and the protection of the prevailing order of social privilege and as a pretext for the increasing para-militarisation of police forces and their deployment more as hostile occupying armies in the poor, marginalised, and ethnic minority urban areas that they single out as ‘hot spots’. One direct result of this is the still ongoing mass incarceration seen in the US, as John Gibler writes “the use of prohibition for racialised social control is the genesis of the modern drug-prohibition era”. Michelle Alexander has noted that the US “imprisons a larger percentage of its black population than South Africa did at the height of apartheid” – this is now so extreme that three out of four young black men can expect to be incarcerated at some point in their life, and are therefore better represented in prison than in universities.

8. The War on Drugs functions as one of the principal mechanisms sustaining the seemingly unstoppable growth of the the prison-industrial complex. The latter, apart from functioning as an abstract site into which those deemed to be socially undesirable are deposited (Angela Davis, Are Prisons Obsolete?), having been exiled from larger society, is also ever more central to the functioning of capital, as inmates are exploited as a captive source of quasi slave
or bonded labour. These two latter features i.e: a) as a site of exile, or a dumping ground, for the socially undesirable; and b) as a source of slave labour are as true of the Western prison-industrial complex as they are of Asian compulsory drug detention centres.

9. In the name of wiping out local drug markets, the war on drugs (which is better thought of as one on people who use illicit drugs and their communities, especially drug consumers from ethnic minorities, the poor, and otherwise disenfranchised) functions as an advance guard in cleansing urban spaces of their ‘undesirable’ minority, poor, disenfranchised residents and making them available for gentrification. This removal of minority communities from their neighbourhoods has been most apparent in the US where released drug felons are evicted from public housing, this progressive exile or expulsion from civic life is compounded by the denial to felons of most forms of employment, of education grants, and of the majority of other forms of social assistance, and finally the stripping of that most basic sign of citizenship ie the right to vote – felony disenfranchisement is the norm in the US, being enshrined in state law in all but two states (given the massively disproportionate weight of incarceration on drugs charges carried by young men of colour, this means that 13% of African-American men are disenfranchised).

10. The War on Drugs gives cover to the reinforcement of the juridical or punitive role of ever changing sub-disciplines of medicine and allied sciences (currently psychiatry and neuroscience) through the provision of a ‘scientific’ justification for architectures of control driven by the construction of the supposedly objective categories of normal, abnormal, pathological, healthy, unhealthy. As Michel Foucault notes,

“…if you are not like everybody else, then you are abnormal, if you are abnormal , then you are sick. These three categories, not being like everybody else, not being normal and being sick are in fact very different but have been reduced to the same thing”.

Under the cover of the War on Drugs these supposedly scientific categories become particularly potent weapons of social control, used to break up families, remove children from the custody of their parents, and deny access to health care to whole categories of people- most, notably, the exclusion of people who inject drugs from access to treatment for HIV, and hepatitis C; alternatively they are used to justify court ordered or mandatory ‘treatment’, and so further fuse together, or erase the distinctions between, medical and juridical judgement. In this role, ‘addiction medicine’ and psychiatry are very clearly demonstrated to be the “technology of abnormality” that Foucault claimed the latter to be.

11. The cover offered by the War on Drugs has long played a critical role in the execution of foreign policy objectives. The case study explored in most depth by Paley is the complex of ways in which the war on drugs provides cover for American corporate and state interests in Latin America. Here she shows how the agenda of destroying coca crops which brings with it land clearance, and the massive displacement of indigenous peoples and cocaleros is driven by the imperatives of direct corporate investment largely in the name of the extractive industries.

12. The recent HSBC scandal revealed quite how thoroughly interdependent global capital flows and the ‘legitimate’ banking sector on the one hand and the vast sums circulating through the illicit drug trade truly are. The latter is quite literally too large to be allowed to fail.

13. In his book Deterring Democracy, Noam Chomsky illustrates theinterconnectedness between the licit and narco economies by quoting Alberto Galán, brother of murdered Colombian presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galán (whose murder triggered US intervention supposedly in pursuit of the cartels). Galán writes that “the drug dealers’ core military power lies in paramilitary groups organised with the support of large landowners and military officers”. He argues that in addition to strengthening “anti-democratic and repressive forces” the strategy pursued by Washington “avoids the core of the problem […] the economic ties between the legal and illegal worlds” which critically includes the major banks that are central to laundering narco-dollars and facilitating the entry of the latter into the mainstream economy. As Galán goes on to point out, if the war on drugs really was about disrupting the production, distribution, sale, and use of those drugs, trade in which is controlled by the cartels, as is claimed, it would make far more sense to “attack and prosecute the few at the top of the drug business” rather than incarcerating the millions of low level street dealers and users as actually happens. That this ‘sensible’ strategy is not that which has been pursued is as clear an indication as any that the objectives of what we call the war on drugs are not those which are claimed for it. By the same token, drug policy reform agendas that fail to grasp this issue end up presenting (whether deliberately or explicitly or not) prohibition as a faulty mechanism
for reaching what are legitimate ends (the most strikingly problematic of such ends is of course “reducing drug use”) – and consequently
limits itself to tinkering with a mechanism that is not designed to, and is incapable of, producing the results that reformers want.

14.  “It is clear that the drug war is is the means by which states are waging a war against poor people, workers, migrants, and others. The drug war model inside the United States provides a mechanism of social control through criminalisation and mass incarceration, which targets communities of colour. In Mexico, Central and South America, the drug war model relies on the use of terror in order to impose social control”.

15.  Metrics and perverse incentives – as Reprieve (the anti-death penalty campaigners) have pointed out, Iranian and Pakistani police carrying out interdiction projects funded by European states via UNODC are positively encouraged to try to ensure that their efforts lead to as many executions as possible (Reprieve, European Aid for Executions 10) – this is inevitable given that these ‘counter-narcotics’ efforts have, as their indicators of success, numbers of arrests, prosecutions, and types of conviction, and amounts seized. This is what the supply reduction demanded by the war on drugs and sought as one of its objectives looks like in reality, and there is no way around this. It seems to me that there can be no better or more humane metrics for a system that is wedded to the conviction that certain behaviours are “evil”. This condemnation of drug use beyond the control of state sanctioned medical practitioners as evil can onlyhave two outcomes: people who use drugs are framed either as criminals or as sick people in need of restorative treatment (coerced if necessary).

16.  Further, the War on Drugs has been a pretext for the increased militarisation of the police – in the US for instance the Colombian cartels were used as a pretext for the 1981 modification of the Posse Comitatus Act, (this forbade the military from participating in domestic policing) this militarisation of domestic police forces started with allowing the US Navy to accompany the civilian law enforcement agencies and the coast guard this has spread to the full militarisation of patrol cops who instead of patrolling local communities occupy them like invading armies.





LEAP UK LAUNCH When the Cops said we refuse to arrest drug users any more

Under the slogan “Legalise all drugs/Ask us why” Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), an organization of former & current police-officers that was founded originally in the United States in 2002, came together in Committee Room 10 of the House of Commons on February 29th 2016.Their Mission was to tell Parliament criminalising drugs users has been an expensive waste of time in every imaginable way..

Neil Woods, a former undercover drugs detective and chairman of LEAP UK, chaired the meeting. The LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition) Launch UK meeting came immediately after a similar gathering organised by Andria Efthimiou of the John Mordaunt Trust & Frances Sealey of the Globalnet21. Neil Woods mentioned his own drug use, particularly referring to how hard it was to disregard your duty to help as a police officer, because you are carrying out an undercover op. This meant you had to ignore people who were actually in dire need of medical and/or psychological help..

Norman Lamb (LD) MP leant his weight to the Launch and was the only MP who spoke though happily, there were several MPs and a Lord present, including Paul Flynn (L), Keith Vaz (L), Ronnie Cowan (SNP) Dr Paul Monaghan (SNP) & Benjamin Mancroft Conservative Peer, so it was non-partisan as the international drug policy reform movement is around the world. Norman Lamb said “We have managed to criminalise very many of our young people blighting their career prospects for doing something that only affects themselves. We choose to criminalise them whilst at the same time probably 50% of our current government have taken in their time but happened to get away with it, so haven’t had their lives blighted. Yet they maintain the argument that we continue to prosecute people. It is the height of hypocrisy.” This should be addressed as a health issue.

As a foreigner (Colombia) and from the formal meetings and informal interviews organized by Andria Efthimiou-Mordaunt, I got the general impression that drug-policy stagnation and even backwards trends in the UK are still taking reformists by surprise, particularly as the UK spearheaded Harm Reduction philosophy and practices years ago. It also became very obvious that that this backward sliding situation is closely tied to how the whole welfare system is being dismantled and de-constructed. Whatever the case might be, our UK colleagues are in there fighting and making a difference.

Among others, they are doing this by strengthening their alliances with MPs and allies in the House of Lords to bring about legislative reform in all of the areas (poverty, housing …. ) which are clearly connected to drug policy reform, impoverished people are often the ones behind bars for drug selling, and the selling of sex by students who cannot afford to pay tuition fees since the Coalition raised them, are but two examples.

The LEAP Launch meeting brought together drug policy advocates from all walks of life but mainly former and active police officers who, because of their attempts at enforcing Prohibition often have been the failures, not to mention the devastation caused.

Rosemary Humphreys, from Anyone’s Child, also gave a very touching testimony which told of how the death of her two children, one 23 years old and the other 39-year-old, could have been avoided if drugs were controlled and not in the hands of criminals who largely couldn’t care less about users. Their friends delayed calling for help incase they were blamed for the drugs use, so that by the time help arrived it was too late.

Annie Machon, a former MI5 operative, mentioned how, ever since the 1990s, we have observed an overlapping between drug money and terrorist organizations and how drug prohibition is pushing more and more people underground. Annie also pointed to the fact that what we saw in 2009 was how it was actually drug money that bailed out the crashing banking system.

Prohibition failure is due, firstly, to the fact that you can fight criminals and criminal organizations but it is next to impossible to wage war on a thing. A second consideration is that enforcing prohibition currently implies prosecuting the most vulnerable populations and non-violent offences. Third, it seems pointless and cruel to persecute people who end up using drugs because of their mental health.

Patrick Hennessey, former British Officer Grenadier Guards, Barrister, referred to the war in Afghanistan when he served, and the way this war is tied to poppy production and the enormous amount of soldiers convicted for drug use in service…

James Duffy, former UK Police Inspector explained how the issue is that drug dealers do not ask their buyers for ID so, with drugs the way things are, anything goes. So what we have are unknown chemicals being sold by unknown salesmen to unknown buyers.

A retired Chief Constable pointed to why there is increasing violence in the UK. An example he gave was the theft of a crate of Falstaff, which can be solved by going to the police but when a kilo of cocaine is stolen, traffickers have to solve this among themselves, almost always resorting to violence.

According to Paul Whitehouse, a retired Police Constable of Sussex, what the police are proposing in practice is taking a social and holistic approach: looking into the reasons behind the user’s consumption, their living circumstances, family issues and to try to help them solve his pressing issues. Then money, which had previously been used to enforce the MDA, could, for example, be allocated to helping drug users find gainful employment. This is a more positive approach as opposed to prosecuting people who are already hard up financially.

From the director of LEAP Germany, Hubert Wimber we learnt that there is ongoing and comprehensive access to Needle Exchange services, aside from in Bavaria. What is commonplace is that 75% of drug arrests are for possession for personal use, which means that people who are not doing any harm except maybe to themselves, are being detained.

The fact is that an enormous amount of money is invested in drug prohibition approximately 11 billion pounds a year with 33% of this going to prosecuting fraud tied to crack, cocaine and opiate deals. Meanwhile, one of the worst “unintended” consequences of the drugwar prevails, that is the disenfranchisement of mostly poor communities (though not exclusively), due to drug policy. Officers who are routinely and frequently on the front-line, could make a real difference that does not infer punishment unless there behaviour affects others in a serious way.

We’ll give the last word to a woman X Undercover cop, who sounded repentant:

Suzanne Sharkey (pictured above): Former Constable and Undercover Officer at Northumbria Constabulary

“When I look back at my time in the police I feel ashamed, I feel a sense of failure. I feel ashamed that I wasn’t arresting career criminals. I was arresting people from poor socially deprived areas with little or no hope whose crime was non-violent drug possession, a complete failure of the war on drugs. I believe that one of the biggest barriers for people with problematic substance misuse to seeking help and treatment is the current drug policy. It does nothing, it achieves nothing except creating more harm for individuals, families and society as a whole. All of us know the problems and what we need to do but rather than be united by the problems let’s be united by the solutions. Solutions based in health, education and compassion rather than criminalisation.”


Pic by Katherine Rohan of the GlobalNet21

Maria Mercedes Moreno (left) @ the “Need for Drug Law Reform UK” – Mar 25th with Leigh

Eliot Albers, INPUD leader, speaks to the Users Voice

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