Embassy Headlines, Issue 95

The prohibition of drugs, just like the prohibition of alcohol, is what provides the tremendous profits to the criminal organisations that provide the drugs on our streets.

The legalisation of marijuana and other drugs will lead to a reduction in the power of street gangs and cartels that terrorise our cities.

The Embassy Headlines are a selection of recent articles from news services and media sources primarily concerning Cannabis issues, the consequences of prohibition and the challenges for law reform.

Here are the selected headlines for this week.


Marijuana laws don’t stop the pain [The Project]

Thousands of Australians are treating conditions including terminal illnesses, chronic pain, and untreatable epilepsy with illegal medical cannabis. Medicinal marijuana is now legal in many places around the world, including 22 US states. (For an overview, see http://medicalmarijuana.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=000881.) In NSW, a cross-party Parliamentary Enquiry recently endorsed medical marijuana for specific medical situations but the advice was rejected by the Health Minister Jillian Skinner, who refused our repeated requests for an interview, but told The Project through a statement: “There are safe and effective medications currently available for the symptoms and conditions that medical cannabis is purported to be effective in training. “Based on current available information, the quality and safety of these products cannot be guaranteed.” It’s an argument that doesn’t wash with Andrew Katelaris, a doctor of 23 years standing, who gave up his career to produce medical marijuana, from plants which don’t contain enough THC to give the user a high. “Without exaggerating, it’s a matter of life and death for hundreds and probably thousands of children and adults in this country,” says Andrew.  “In matter of comfort and quality of life it would be in the many tens of thousands.”

Petition: Decriminalise the use of medicinal cannabis for people with terminal cancer like my son [Change.org]

Our 24 year old son has a terminal cancer diagnosis. He is receiving great benefit from using medical cannabis to manage his nausea, vomiting and poor appetite.He is also using cannabis oil in a bid to halt the progression of his disease. We can see the changes in him and fully believe that cannabis is absolutely  the right path for him to go down as conventional treatments have failed him. The adoption of the 5 recommendations is essential to Daniel and the thousands of terminally ill and debilitated Australians who would benefit from the use of Medicinal Cannabis. These patients and their carers (just like us) are being forced to break the law to obtain and to use cannabis, mostly without medical supervision because they are fearful to expose themselves. The medical evidence is available and opinions world wide are changing based on this evidence, yet the NSW Government is still sitting on it’s hands and demonstrating a complete lack of compassion with it’s disregard for these recommendations. Adoption of these recommendations will afford the terminally ill and chronic pain suffers the right to choose a treatment which is beneficial to them, whilst being protected from arrest and prosecution under the current NSW legislation. Our son cannot afford to wait for the government to step up. We need help now!

Let them eat hemp [SMH]

Food regulation in Australia can be baffling sometimes. It’s so easy to walk into a supermarket and fill your trolley with foods that can potentially undermine your health like litres of soft drink and cheap doughnuts. Yet if you want to buy hemp seed, a source of vitamins and minerals and a rich source of protein and healthy omega-3 fat, it’s still officially banned for use as a food. Yet hemp seed’s nutrition credentials are excellent, says Dr Trent Watson, an accredited practising dietitian and spokesman for the Dietitans Association of Australia which has been involved in trying to have both hemp seed and hemp seed oil approved for sale as a food in Australia – just as they are in the US, Canada and Europe. “It’s very high in plant protein – just 30g of hemp seed, or about one tablespoon, provides around 11g of protein,” he says. By comparison, an egg has about 6g of protein and 30g of cheese has 8g of protein. “Hemp seed is also an easy way of getting more omega 3 fat into the diet – this fat helps reduce ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol and may help protect against heart disease, “Watson says. But if hemp is so good for us, why isn’t it on the supermarket shelf along with other seeds like chia, pepitas, flax and sunflower seed? The story so far is a tale of guilt by association. Although hemp belongs to the same family as pot – Cannabis sativa – it contains no or very low levels of THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), the active ingredient with psychoactive effects, according to Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ), the government agency that regulates the ingredients in foods. In other words, eating hemp seed won’t get you stoned.  Despite this, when FSANZ approved an application for hemp foods to be used as food in 2002 this decision was rejected by Australian ministers responsible for food regulation. The concern was that making hemp foods available might send a confused message to consumers about the acceptability and safety of illicit cannabis. In 2012 FSANZ again approved hemp seed for use as a food – only to hit another road block when ministers asked for a review of the approval. This review will now go to ministers in late June at which point it might be thumbs up for hemp, but there’s no guarantee.

Queensland government employees involved in drug syndicate: police [Brisbane Times]

Queensland government employees were involved in a Gold Coast drug syndicate that couriered millions of dollars worth of drugs through commercial airports, police allege. The syndicate, which was shut down on Tuesday morning, is the second organisation to exploit flaws in airport security and move cannabis from Victoria to Queensland. Detective Acting Superintendent Scott Knowles said at least 1.5 tonnes of cannabis had been transported in the last 12 months, with most of it flown into Brisbane Airport.

Workplace drug testing tipped to increase despite misgivings [SMH]

Workplace drug testing is likely to become increasingly common as employers attempt to cut ”presenteeism” and ensure safety, one of Australia’s leading workplace drug experts says. But unions say the tests, which are backed by little evidence proving they lead to safer workplaces, are an unfair invasion of privacy, particularly when they come in the form of a urine test. The Global Drug Survey, a survey of nearly 5850 Australian drug and alcohol users conducted in partnership with Fairfax Media, has found one in eight people had been asked by their employer to take a drug test. Ken Pidd, the deputy director, research, at the National Centre for Education and Training on Addiction in Adelaide, said the tests were a growing trend. “Obviously the biggest threat from workplace drug use is safety, if people are intoxicated at work, but there is a much larger picture around absenteeism, or even presenteeism, related to use outside the workplace,” he said. He recently conducted a review of the evidence in favour of the tests, and found outside of a few circumstances, such as mandatory alcohol testing for US truck drivers, there was little proof they improved safety. “It is a particular issue for urine testing, which doesn’t actually detect impairment, just prior use,” he said. Dr Pidd said studies had found the overall rate of use of drugs and alcohol in the workplace in Australia was relatively low, although in some industries such as hospitality and finance rates were far higher. “Workplace drug use tends to be in line with drug use in the broader population,” he said. “There are some types of drugs that are increasing, such as prescription drugs, so they are likely to be increasing in the workplace as well.”

The Rail Motor Wreck of the Green’s, Preferences, Policies and Promises [HEMP]

This thirteen year long saga between HEMP and the Greens is typical of a marriage gone wrong – starting out in hope, then unmet expectations, and ending in bitter recriminations. The lessons learned from this sorry history; the Greens have little interest in cannabis law reform; the Greens prefer to have enemies than friends; the Greens prefer to be in opposition against the Tories; the Greens have neglected this most important social justice issue. Section 8 of the Greens’ federal policy document on “drugs, substance abuse and addiction” states: “The Australian Greens do not support the legalisation of currently illegal drugs.”

My Preference for HEMP [Dianah Mieglich, SA Senate Candidate in 2013 Federal Election]

As we head towards 2050 and beyond, our society will be faced with many challenges. Climate change, food security, equality, justice, health and welfare challenges are but a few. Here I share my thoughts and observations about many current and continuing issues. I would be pleased to receive your feedback and I invite you to join me in the conversations.

It’s Been Eight Months Since New Zealand Stopped Banning Designer Drugs [Vice]

Last July, New Zealand ushered in a world-first law aimed at regulating controversial synthetic drugs and herbal highs that get sold over-the-counter with droll names like Kronic, Thai Hi and Giggle. The radical Psychoactive Substances Act sees the country move away from a failing prohibition model, by allowing the sale of certain drugs that pass safety tests, in an attempt to cope with a hydra-esque legal high industry that had swiftly replaced banned drugs with new and uncontested products. When introduced, the new rules immediately slashed the number of legal high outlets from 4000 to 170, as corner stores lost the right to sell. But while a full set of regulations is still being developed for the teething law, stories have emerged from the media blaming synthetic cannabis for mental breakdowns, violent outbursts and even death. However, Ross Bell from the NZ Drug Foundation attended the recent United Nations Drug Summit in Vienna where psychoactive substances were high on the topics of conversation and he believes other countries will soon follow in New Zealand’s footsteps.

Tracing the U.S. heroin surge back south of the border as Mexican cannabis output falls [Washington Post]

The surge of cheap heroin spreading in $4 hits across rural America can be traced back to the remote valleys of the northern Sierra Madre. With the wholesale price of marijuana falling — driven in part by decriminalization in sections of the United States — Mexican drug farmers are turning away from cannabis and filling their fields with opium poppies. Mexican heroin is flooding north as U.S. authorities trying to contain an epidemic of prescription painkiller abuse have tightened controls on synthetic opiates such as hydrocodone and OxyContin. As the pills become more costly and difficult to obtain, Mexican trafficking organizations have found new markets for heroin in places such as Winchester, Va., and Brattleboro, Vt., where, until recently, needle use for narcotics was rare or unknown. Farmers in the storied “Golden Triangle” region of Mexico’s Sinaloa state, which has produced the country’s most notorious gangsters and biggest marijuana harvests, say they are no longer planting the crop. Its wholesale price has collapsed in the past five years, from $100 per kilogram to less than $25. “It’s not worth it anymore,” said Rodrigo Silla, 50, a lifelong cannabis farmer who said he couldn’t remember the last time his family and others in their tiny hamlet gave up growing mota. “I wish the Americans would stop with this legalization.”

Cops and Economists: Contrasting yet Complementary Views on Drug Legalization[Economonitor]

Last week Darby Beck of LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition) sent me a statement on drug legalization by Major Neill Franklin (Ret.) Franklin, now LEAP’s executive director, is a 34-year veteran of the Maryland State Police and the Baltimore Police Department. Like other members of his organization, he now advocates ending the war on drugs, after years of fighting on its front lines. While reading Franklin’s statement, it struck me that although law enforcement officials and economists start from contrasting perspectives, they reach many of the same conclusions. For Franklin, the broken relationship between police and the communities they serve is unintended consequence number one of the war on drugs. He also points to a second unintended consequence—the way drug policy enriches criminals. Economists, in their own way, make the same point. They see the wealth and power of the drug gangs in terms of elasticity of demand. If demand for a good is elastic, a small increase in price causes a big drop in sales, and the total revenue of the seller goes down. If demand is inelastic, which is the case for illegal drugs, even a large increase in price makes only a small dent in the quantity sold, so the revenue of the seller goes up. 

Why aren’t we putting US agencies on trial for financing El Chapo’s drug war? [The Guardian]

“This American system of ours,” shouted the famed gangster Al Capone in a 1930 interview. “Call it Capitalism, call it what you like – gives to each and every one of us a great opportunity if we only seize it with both hands and make the most of it.” Since those untouchable days, Chicago officials have awarded “Public Enemy No 1” status to only one other person: cartel billionaire Joaquín Guzmán Loera, better known – now to the world over – as “El Chapo”. Nearly seven weeks ago, of course, El Chapo was captured by US and Mexican authorities after 13 years on the lam. Having achieved a cultural stature akin to that of a Bond villain, his capture naturally got all the limelight – while his US backers went more or less unmentioned. But nearly seven weeks before an overnight capture at a beach resort, the Mexican newspaper El Universal reported how US agencies had armed and financed El Chapo’s Sinaloa criminal empire for at least 12 years. That link has been substantiated by DEA and Justice Department court testimonies, and even US agents confirmed the financing had been approved by high-ranking officials and federal prosecutors. But the American media barely reported how entrenched the American government has become in the Mexican drug trade.

U.S. Should Be Ashamed It Treats Pot Smokers Worse Than Wall St. Criminals[Huffington Post]

A Wall Street bank accused of laundering money for drug cartels only had to pay a fine. Meanwhile, a man caught with a joint in his pocket had to spend 47 days in jail. For that, journalist Matt Taibbi thinks prosecutors should be “ashamed.” The former Rolling Stone writer — who recently announced he’s leaving the magazine to join an as-yet unnamed publication at First Look Media — railed against the Department of Justice Monday night for its failure to criminally prosecute HSBC after the bankadmitted to laundering billions of dollars. “They [HSBC] admitted it. They did it,” Taibbi said during an appearance on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” “If you have a malefactor who is admitting to laundering $850 million for the Mexican drug cartel and he’s not going to jail, you should be ashamed if you’re a prosecutor.” This isn’t news. HSBC agreed back in December 2012 to pay $1.92 billion to settle accusations that it laundered money for Colombian and Mexican drug cartels. But the HSBC story is one nugget Taibbi uses to illustrate inequality in the nation’s justice system in his new book The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap. “Nobody’s doing time,” Taibbi said. The day the settlement was announced, Taibbi said he went down to a Manhattan courthouse and asked “what’s the dumbest drug case that you had today?” “They found a guy for me who’d been caught walking in the street with a joint in his pocket — he got 47 days in Rikers,” Taibbi recalled Monday night, referring to New York City’s main prison complex, Rikers Island. “That’s worse than anything that happened to anyone at HSBC, and they’re at the top of the illegal drugs pyramid.”

Who’s the Boss? [American Police Beat]

Depending on whom you’re talking to, President Obama is a ruthless tyrant, an empty suit or something in the middle. But here’s a question for the folks that believe that our 44th President is in fact a tyrannical overlord with no respect for the law or the Constitution. What kind of strongman allows his own employees and appointees to ignore his orders and publicly paint their boss as an idiot? Drug Enforcement Administration Chief Michele Leonhart was testifying yesterday in a closed hearing before a House Appropriations subcommittee. In yesterday’s hearing she essentially told lawmakers that the DEA is ignoring orders from her boss, the President of the United States, to have the agency focus on heroin and oxycontin as higher priorities than marijuana. She also told lawmakers that the majority of Americans that support decriminalization or legalization of marijuana (like the voters in Washington and Colorado and 18 other states) are idiots that can’t think for themselves. But there’s something to be said for things like chains of command and general order. Imagine a patrolman being called to testify before a city council and he or she says the boss can stick his orders in a sack and that the chief is a moron that doesn’t know jack-squat about what he’s doing. The cop would be fired before he left the building. But here’s what Leonhart told the congress critters about her boss. When asked if DEA agents were demoralized because the President, the Attorney General and the American people seemed to be at odds with the DEA agenda, Leonhart said no. She says that when she gets crazy orders about focusing on pills not pot from her boss the federal workers at the DEA basically ignore them and stick to their own script. “Actually, it (Obama’s order) makes us fight harder,” Leonhart replied. This is just another shocking example of the inability of the culture at DEA to keep pace with the larger culture within which they work. The best way to tell that this is the case are the lengths to which anti-marijuana crusaders now have to go to in order to promote their agenda.

DEA Chief: Won’t Somebody Think of the Dogs?! [Huffington Post]

Michele Leonhart, the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, has a message for those considering legalizing marijuana: Please, think of Fido. Testifying on the DEA budget during a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing on Wednesday, Leonhart said she expected a number of things to happen after Washington and Colorado were allowed to go forward with the legalization of marijuana last year. What she didn’t anticipate was the impact on man’s best friend. “There was just an article last week, and it was on pets. It was about the unanticipated or unexpected consequences of this, and how veterinarians now are seeing dogs come in, their pets come in, and being treated because they’ve been exposed to marijuana,” Leonhart said. “Again, it goes back to the edibles, it goes back to products that are in the household that are now made from marijuana, and it’s impacting pets,” Leonhart continued. “We made a list of the outcomes we thought that might happen in these two states. We never thought of putting pets down.” Leonhart was referencing a story in USA Today which noted that the effects of marijuana could make it more difficult for a dog to breathe or vomit up a product that could kill them, like butter. The USA Today article noted, however, that on its own “marijuana itself isn’t particularly harmful to dogs,” and that dogs typically won’t eat marijuana by itself.

World’s first cannabis vending machine unveiled in Colorado [Independent UK]

A dispensary in Colorado is making the most of the state’s recent legalisation of cannabis by introducing the world’s first marijuana vending machines. The machine, called ZaZZZ, will work in a similar way to cigarette machines but includes new technology that requires would-be tokers to scan their driving licence (or other, similar documentation) before they can access the goods. Multiple cameras attached to the machine make sure the person swiping the card is definitely its owner and will deny access if there is no obvious match. American Green, the creator of the ZaZZZ, has labelled it “an automated, age-verifying, climate-controlled marijuana dispensing machine.”

Legal pot becomes a touchy workplace issue [USA Today]

Legalized marijuana in Colorado and Washington state is sparking new conflicts between employers trying to maintain drug-free workplaces and workers who say they’re being punished for their off-duty indulgences. Nearly half the states now legalize some sort of marijuana use, either for medical purposes or purely for fun. “I imagine there will be a great deal of upheaval in the future,” says Curtis Graves, a staff attorney with the Mountain States Employers Council, which advises companies on workplace issues. He added, “The law is going to be in flux for another 10 years.” Twenty states now permit the use of marijuana for medical reasons, but employers in those states are under no legal obligation to allow any kind of pot use in the workplace. Colorado has a law that says workers cannot be fired for legal activities while off duty, but the state’s courts also have said marijuana use isn’t lawful because the federal government still considers it an illegal drug.

Crime is down in Denver after pot’s legalization, but AP still wants to scare us[Washington Post]

After three months of legal pot, Denver has not turned into an urban wasteland. In fact, as Vox reports, crime in the first quarter of 2014 is down across the board from the first two months of 2013. Yes, it’s still early. But so far, the numbers don’t suggest that Denver is about to succumb to a crime wave fueled by pot-addicted hooligans. (Yes, some law enforcement officials actually warned of this.) All of which makes this Associated Press report all the more bizarre. Here’s the scary lead:

A 25-year-old is shot dead trying to sell marijuana the old-fashioned, illegal way. Two men from Texas set up a warehouse to grow more than they would ever need. And three people buying pot in a grocery store parking lot are robbed at gunpoint.

While no one expected the state’s first-in-the-nation recreational sales would eliminate the need for dangerous underground sales overnight, the violence has raised concerns among police, prosecutors and pot advocates that a black market for marijuana is alive and well in Colorado.

The piece goes on with other scary stories from around Denver and its suburbs. But wait, I thought crime was down in Denver? It is. Which is why the AP has only anecdotes. This paragraph is the closest the article comes to attempting to find actual figures:

It’s difficult to measure whether there has been an increase in pot-related crimes beyond anecdotal reports because no one at either the federal or state levels is keeping track of the numbers of killings, robberies and other crimes linked directly to marijuana.

Veterans push to smoke pot to ease PTSD, other ailments [McClatchy DC]

Parks, who has post-traumatic stress disorder, said he took sleeping pills for years after he retired. Then he found a more satisfying alternative: two or three bong hits at least three times a day. “I don’t have the dreams anymore,” he said. Faced with a skyrocketing suicide rate in their ranks, many of the nation’s veterans hope that marijuana will be their salve. Federal officials and veterans groups estimate that nearly 31 percent of Vietnam veterans and 20 percent of returning service members from Iraq and Afghanistan are grappling with PTSD. Veterans such as Parks increasingly are taking their case to statehouses and to Capitol Hill, where they plan to lobby members of Congress next Monday. They scored a win in March when federal officials ended a three-year fight with a University of Arizona research team, agreeing to provide government-grown pot from Mississippi for a PTSD study. Only days before the study won approval, organizers had planned to mobilize veterans for a protest in Washington.

Billionaire George Soros behind major push for marijuana legalization [RT]

Hungarian-American billionaire and philanthropist George Soros is no stranger when it comes to throwing around money, but the former hedge fund manager is making headlines over some major donations he’s made to help legalize marijuana. Advocacy groups are leading the campaign to crush marijuana prohibition from coast-to-coast, and 83-year-old Soros is helping line the pockets of those making that push. On Wednesday this week, Kelly Riddell at The Washington Times pulled back the curtain to reveal details about some of the roles that Soros has played in the pro-weed debate, and helped explain how the billionaire’s many foundations are fighting the war against pot prohibition.

“Through a network of nonprofit groups, Mr. Soros has spent at least $80 million on the legalization effort since 1994, when he diverted a portion of his foundation’s funds to organizations exploring alternative drug policies, according to tax filings,” Riddell wrote.

The Soros-affiliated Foundation to Promote an Open Society donates roughly $4 million annually to the Drug Policy Alliance, Riddell added, a nonprofit group that describes itself as the nation’s leading organization promoting drug policies that are grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights. Soros is among the group of board members who help steer policy reform efforts undertaken by that organization, which has contributed to the successful attempts in both Colorado and Washington state to legalize recreational marijuana, as well as in Uruguay where last year the South American country became the first in the world to allow for the regulation, distribution and sale of weed to legal adults.

Exclusive first look: The cannabis legalisation advert [Politics UK]

Britain is about to see its first ever ad campaign for the legalisation of cannabis. The advert, which will be featured on the side of a van as it cruises around central London for three days, comes courtesy of the Clear campaign group. “It really is time that politicians started listening to the electorate and following the evidence on cannabis,” leader Peter Reynolds said. “Present policy actually causes harm and denies access to medicinal cannabis for millions in pain, suffering and disability. “It puts billions into the hands of organised crime, abandons children to street dealers and promotes dangerous hidden farms that cause fires, blight communities and involve human trafficking. “In a regulated system we would have age limits, quality control and tens of thousands of new jobs in legitimate businesses.” The 48-sheet poster is emblazoned with the slogan ‘Let’s Get The Dealers Off The Streets!’ and calls on the government to “legalise, regulate and tax the £6 billion cannabis market for a safer, healthier Britain.” 

Cannabis: Highlights from Global Drug Survey 2014 [YouTube]

Dr Adam Winstock presents key findings and global comparisons from the 2014 Global Drug Survey, which had over 78,000 participants from around the world. In this brief presentation, Dr Winstock talks about “the Perfect Stone” – what cannabis users would like, and discusses how less THC and more CBD can result in a drug high with more pleasurable effects, and less negative effects.

Law professors demand cannabis legalization [DW Germany]

Around 3 million Germans regularly smoke marijuana. Some 14 million are estimated to have tried the drug at least once. It’s not punishable by law in Germany to use pot, but it is to sell and grow it. Several legal experts believe that criminal prosecution of cannabis users doesn’t serve the desired purpose. Lorenz Böllinger, emeritus professor of criminal law at Bremen University, founded the ‘Schildow Circle’ two years ago. It now consists of 122 criminal law professors who are campaigning to legalize the sale and ownership of marijuana. In November 2013, the group called on the lower house of parliament to set up a cross-party working group to look into Germany’s narcotics laws and assess the efficacy of current drug policies. Now, two opposition groups in the Bundestag, the Greens and the Left party, have agreed to back the idea. Lorenz Böllinger hopes that some Social Democrats could follow suit. At least 120 parliamentarians are needed for the commission to be set up. The two opposition groups alone have 127 seats in the parliament.

Uruguay to make medical marijuana available to prisoners [Telegraph UK]

Prisoners in the jails of Uruguay will be able to use marijuana if a doctor says it will benefit their health. Uruguay’s drug tsar Julio Calzada told The Associated Press on Tuesday that any inmates with doctors’ orders will be prescribed marijuana to improve their physical or mental health. Meanwhile, social development minister Daniel Olesker told a medical marijuana symposium in Montevideo that medicinal pot will be incorporated into the country’s public health system, alongside acupuncture and homoeopathic remedies. 

Jamaica establishes a ‘cannabis growers’ union’ – despite it still being illegal to do so [Independent UK]

A group of would-be cannabis growers in Jamaica have come together to set up their first ever workers’ union – even though the practice is still very much illegal. The Ganja Future Growers and Producers Association has held its inaugural assembly in Kingston, where around 300 entrepreneurs and politicians pledged to lobby for the creation of a regulated industry around marijuana to rival those of Venezuela and the US states of Colorado and Washington. It is an indicator of the influence and growing momentum in favour of legalisation that the meeting, held on Saturday, was overseen by the mayor of Kingston herself. Angela Brown-Burke is also a senator and vice president of the ruling People’s National Party, and her husband Paul Burke is also an influential figure in both the party and new union. The conference included speeches extolling the positives that could come from loosening anti-cannabis laws – given by representatives from the country’s scientific research council, agricultural society and the Jamaican arm of the University of the West Indies (UWI).

2014 Nimbin MardiGrass

Entitlement to enlightenment. Cannabis law reform rally and gathering 2014 MAY 3+4. Don’t delay! Get your Golden Bud Pass!

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