02/21/16 Doug McVay

This week on Century Of Lies, we hear part of a roundtable on Drugs, Human Rights, Community, and Development: Creating synergies between Member States and civil society to empower communities, featuring commentary from Daria Mogucheva of the Eurasian Network of People Who Use Drugs, Lithuania; Tripti Tandon of the Lawyers Collective, India; and Vicki Hanson of the St. Catherine Ganja Growers & Producers Association, Jamaica.

Program: 
Century of Lies
Date: 
Sunday, February 21, 2016
Guest: 
Doug McVay
Organization: 
Drug War Facts
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CENTURY OF LIES

FEBRUARY 21, 2016

TRANSCRIPT

DEAN BECKER: The failure of drug war is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors, and millions more now calling for for decriminalization, legalization, the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century Of Lies.

DOUG MCVAY: Hello, and welcome to Century Of Lies. Century Of Lies is a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

Coming up in April, April 18th, 19th, and 20th, is the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem. It is the first real opportunity for heads of state from around the world to get together and discuss the failure of the current model of prohibition, to discuss the need for better, more effective ways of approaching drug control. It will be the first opportunity to begin the process of rethinking and revising the major international drug control conventions. Changes will not happen overnight, we will not see them abandon the Single Convention at the end of this year's UNGASS, but the process will have begun to finally change the rules and to finally put something better, more rational, more sensible, more effective in its place.

Pressure is developing from around the world to see changes. Not all nations are on the side of reform, but frankly, most of them are coming around to that way of thinking. To assist with the process, the President of the General Assembly assembled an informal interactive discussion, a stakeholder consultation, to be held at UN headquarters in New York on the Tenth of February. They had two panels. One on drugs and health, getting perspectives from experts at the grassroots level; and a roundtable on Drugs, Human Rights, Community, and Development: Creating synergies between member states and civil society to empower communities. That second roundtable is what we're going to hear from today. There's a lot of material here so let's get straight to it. The first speaker is George Ochieng Odalo, he is from the Slum Child Foundation of Kenya.

GEORGE OCHIENG ODALO: It's my first time to be in New York, and my first time to be actually in the UN building. Thank you for allowing me to speak. My organization has many years of experience in assessing and assisting some of the world's poorest children. We want everyone to hear our thoughts about drug policy, intervention, and human rights. I too have been a street boy from the slums of Korogocho in Nairobi, Kenya, so I know well the children and families on whose behalf I speak. These are people who have no voice and profoundly inadequate consideration in world affairs. They are often hopeless, they lack food, education, healthcare, jobs, and even the second thought. Which brings me immediately to the issue of drugs. We all know this to be true: Drug use during childhood and adolescence is especially dangerous. Let there not be debate that youths are seriously vulnerable in developing addiction, and that substance abuse during adolescence is strongly associated with many poor outcomes.

Let there also be no debate that adults who profit from drug sales are profit from youths. We all know it. Look no further than here in America, Colorado, we have a good lesson that we can learn from. We've seen evidence of marketing and of advertising aimed at children. Once unleashed, these marketing and advertisement will never be regulated. We all know it. We have ignored and excused devious tactics employed by alcohol and tobacco industries. Too long, our world and especially my small corner where I come from, the slums, cannot afford more of this glorification of mind altering substances. Unfortunately, it needs to be said and repeatedly, at every UN meeting. The world's most poorest community are the most vulnerable to harm of drug use and trade.

Legalization, legalizing drugs in states here in America and other wealthy countries does not help poor countries like mine. It harms it most. Cities like Nairobi where I reside, and where Korogocho is based, simply do not have enough resources provided to provide the services needed to address these problems we already have. We certainly will not be able to combat the heavier burdens that will come from more drug legalization, and relentlessly marketing and media aimed at us by the wealthy countries. I know this because I already can see how the world richest countries fail to find the resources to address their drug problems and care for their children and their poor.

They like to talk about taxes they make from drug sales without acknowledging the naked truth, and without considering populations so poor there are no taxes to collect. Substance abuse and addiction must be combated by countries working together, as said by the panelists who were here earlier on. I do not see this happening with the current drug policies. Unfortunately, I see people who want to use profit and recreational drugs without regard for how it will harm countries like Kenya, where I come from. Just a minute .... I see people demanding legal reform without acknowledging that drug legalization is not required to achieve. I see people pushing for drug policies that are not rooted in responsible science reported by world's most respected scientists and medical association.

The money pushing for more drug use and more drug legalization is flowing, just as it was, it always does when people want to buy their power, fame, politics, and even fortune. It is up to the world's body to put a stop to this corruption and influence. We must remain vigilant and rise above industry tactics. We must remain determined to reach the aspirational goal of promoting and building a world in which children have the right to grow up in a drug free environment. At the very least, we must reject policies that teach them recreational drug use as normal, acceptable, and even desirable. We must certainly not become enablers in the same way people are worn down and manipulated by those with substance addiction.

We must set firm limits, we must guard again a statement crafted after meeting such a decision on human rights, human rights and human rights council in Geneva last year, in September. A report was issued that, from the meeting that listed nine items, and starts with the right to harm reduction, which is defined as illicit drug use shall not be discouraged. Let me repeat it here, and put it clear: illicit drug use shall not be discouraged. What signal do all these statements send? They are in line with commentary fourteen from the monitoring body of the 1966 convention on economic, social, and political rights, which makes it clear that states shall prevent and discourage illicit drug use. And can we honestly say that the UNCFC, which makes clear that children's rights shall be a primary consideration for all policymaking, is in respect with that report, when children ranks can't mention and last on that list of consideration.

As I conclude, I think not. We are letting rich countries and corrupt leaders of pawns, we are letting the corrupt leaders of pawns dominate this drug policy debate for the least noble reason. We know that adults struggling with substance addiction overwhelmingly stated, started their drug use when they were children. We know drug use weaken even the richest societies. So again, thank you for allowing me to be on record here for the world's poorest, most vulnerable children. Count me among those who are standing against the selfishness, desire, and financial agendas that are often cloaked by words and phrases like justice, medicine, and harm reduction. Thank you very much.

DOUG MCVAY: That was George Ochieng Odalo, from the Slum Child Foundation of Kenya. He's a civil society representative. He was speaking at an interactive stakeholder consultation at UN headquarters in New York on the Tenth of February. This is part of the process in preparation for the UNGASS, the UN General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem, which will be held in New York City from the 18th through the 20th of April. Actually, the UNGASS itself, the General Assembly session, is the 19th and 20th, the 18th there will be side events organized by member states with the cooperation of civil society. And so there will be an opportunity for civil society representatives to make their voices heard inside the United Nations, speaking directly to heads of state and their representatives. It's truly an unprecedented level of access this UNGASS is providing for civil society.

Next, let's hear from one of the other speakers. This is Ms. Daria Mogucheva. She's from Lithuania, and with the Eurasian Network of People Who Use Drugs.

DARIA MOGUCHEVA: I'd like to start by saying it's a great honor for me to be invited to such an event, and in three minutes I'm going to present not only the community but also the overall views of central and eastern Europe and central Asia towards upcoming UNGASS 2016.

Current drug policies of the region not only fail to prevent illicit drug use, production, and trafficking of illicit drugs, but also contribute to increasing violence towards people who use drugs, health crisis spread over HIV and hepatitis C infection, and abuse of human rights.

Government action in harm reduction in our region has been unsystematic and, due to certain political and economic reasons, is possible only with support of international donors and technical agencies. Criminalization of people who use drugs caused by stigma and discrimination has led to systematic violation of human rights all over the region.

As a result, people who use drugs face violence, including sexual violence and physical and mental torture in prisons and rehab centers. They are forced to go through drug withdrawal in detention, experience breaches in medical confidentiality, can be denied access to anti-retroviral therapy, harm reduction services, or opioid substitution programs.

Substitution therapy programs in the region lack the needed courage and quality. In three countries of our region, namely Russia, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, opioid substitution therapy is prohibited by law. As a result of Russian drug policy on methadone, 800 former Crimean patients of opioid substitution program are currently denied access to methadone, which led to their relapse to illicit drug use, or even suicide.

Speaking about UNGASS 2016, possible articles for our region, it is essential that all member states must commit to incorporating human rights, public health, and harm reduction principles firmly in their drug policies, as well as allocate sufficient funding for harm reduction interventions, including needle and syringe programs, and opioid substitution therapy.

CND and the UNGASS should encourage the adoption of successful practices, namely opioid substitution therapy, and public health approach to drug use in all countries of our region. The right of people who use drugs not to be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment should be officially recognized. All administrative and criminal sanctions for drug use and the possession of drugs for personal use should be removed as well as legal and financial barriers to harm reduction and OST programs to those in need, including women and young people such as myself, and prisoners.

Governments should address the stigma faced by women who use drugs, and ensure the provision of gender sensitive harm reduction programs, and gender sensitive treatment, legal and social services. A lack of access to controlled medicine to alleviate pain, both in drug dependence treatment and palliative care, should be recognized as a form of torture.

And finally, meaningful role of civil society in international drug policy should be recognized and the experience of individuals or communities affected by drug use should be taken into account in the upcoming UNGASS debate. Thank you.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Daria Mogucheva, she's from the Eurasian Network of People Who Use Drugs, and she is yet another of the civil society representatives who will be speaking to delegates at the UNGASS. This was part of an interactive stakeholder consultation held earlier in the month of February as part of the process in the run-up to the UNGASS. You're listening to Century Of Lies, a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

JOHANN HARI: And, Doug, I should say as well, you should be really proud of the work that you've done with Drug War Facts. For years and years, it is really one of the most invaluable resources on the internet, and you should be really proud because you've put a huge amount of work into that. I see that being cited all over the world, it's absolutely crucial and invaluable what you've done. You know, I've heard people cite it from, in, off the top of my head I can remember people citing it in Uruguay, in Mexico, in Germany, in, you know, in Vietnam I heard someone quote it. You've had a huge influence in the work you've done, and you should be really proud of that. It's a crucial part of the fight that we've been part of.

DAWN PALEY: Hey, my name's Dawn Paley, I'm the author of Drug War Capitalism, and I just want to give a shout out to the people at Drug Truth Network, who are doing amazing work to get the stories out. You know, Amy Goodman from Democracy Now talks about trickle-up journalism, I'm a firm believer, you know, like, where these stories are being reported first. Who's on the ground covering this conference and doing all these interviews? It's Doug McVay. Drug Truth Network. So listen up, and thanks again for your so important work in terms of just getting the truth out there and getting these stories, which are just so repressed in the mainstream media, out to the broader public.

DEBORAH PETERSON SMALL: And for all of you pot entrepreneurs out there, my question to you is, are you going to be a parasite, or a social engineer? Are you going to use your money to keep sucking the blood out of our community, or are you actually going to be part of the solution of applying reparations? And yes, I said that word, because god damn it, I am done with the idea of people having policies that screw over people for decades, and then one day they say, oh wow, we've come enlightened, my bad, and all of a sudden it's all good. And we're still left with the scars. We're still left with the hurt. We're still left with all of the damage that has been done. You guys owe us, and I'm here to collect. See ya.

DOUG MCVAY: Now, let's hear from one of the other panelists at this interactive stakeholder consultation, which was held in New York at UN headquarters in preparation for the UNGASS. We're about to hear from Ms. Tripti Tandon, she's with the Lawyers Collective in India.

TRIPTI TANDON: Good afternoon. I'll be speaking to the issue of the challenges in implementing a health approach to drugs, drawing upon not just my own experience as a lawyer, but also reports of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health, as well as the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, on drug control and human rights.

In addressing any health problem, we rely on science, medicines, doctors, and treatment. This is common sense. But in our response to drug dependence, not only do we ignore, but we actually outlaw the very resources and commodities that should be our mainstay. Despite overwhelming evidence in many countries, opioid substitution treatment is prohibited, medicines like methadone and buprenorphine are banned, and doctors are arrested for dispensing pharmacological therapy, as has happened back home in India.

Further still, OST, which is the gold standard in treatment of opioid dependence, is not only denied but all kinds of arbitrary and unscientific practices are peddled as treatment and enforced upon people who use drugs in complete violation of their dignity and rights. This cannot under any stretch of imagination be called a health based response to drugs.

Recently, I was privy to a discussion on how, despite clinical guidance and training, doctors in India administer less than optimum doses of OST to people who inject drugs. A doctor admitted quite candidly, said the problem is one of suspicion and mistrust, that in dealing with drug users, health care professionals forget the cardinal principle of providing care and comfort to the patient, and the attitude is one of, how can we give a drug user what he wants? We should certainly not make him comfortable and stable. In my view, this is not merely an attitudinal problem, but one that stems from how the current drug control framework relegates treatment to an alternative and not a matter of right.

And with all due respect to my previous speaker, dismissing the call for medicines, rights, and justice as a mask for profit and selfishness is unfair and unacceptable.

The Special Rapporteur on Health has underlined the distinction between drug use and dependence, noting that it is only the latter that requires medical support. The decision to use drugs, just like the decision to consume alcohol or tobacco, is a personal choice, which so long as it does not harm others, must be respected as an exercise of the right to privacy and autonomy.

Earlier today and in this session as well, a call was made to re-envision a drug free world. In my humble submission, when the conventions themselves recognize that drugs are indispensable to relieve the pain and suffering of humankind, how then can we get rid of them?

And to those who still aspire for a world without drugs, I challenge you to examine the evidence before us, and remember that this is 2016.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Tripti Tandon, she's from the Lawyers Collective in India, speaking at an interactive stakeholders consultation before the United Nations. It was called by the President of the General Assembly as part of the process to prepare for the upcoming UNGASS, the UN General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem, which will be held in mid-April.

Now, let's hear from one more of the speakers. This is Ms. Vicki Hanson. She represents the St. Catherine Ganja Growers and Producers Association in Jamaica. Again, unprecedented levels of access by civil society for this UN General Assembly Special Session on drugs.

The world drug problem involves a lot of things, and it's very complex. But one thing that is true around the world is that there has been a growing movement for reform of these laws. It's not just about making marijuana legal. It's about advancing the cause of social justice and treating people like people, like human beings, even if they happen to use a drug. And that means not just marijuana. That means methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine, all of those things.

We have to start treating drugs like the substances they are, instead of some kind of demonic plague. Drug use needs to be decriminalized around the world. Legalization needs to be considered, certainly marijuana should be legalized, we should probably impose some greater restrictions on tobacco and alcohol, but let's just focus first of all on righting the wrongs of this more than one hundred year old drug war, this Century Of Lies.

Let's get on to some of the speakers you should be hearing from. Again, this is Vicki Hanson, she's from the St. Catherine Ganja Growers and Producers Association of Jamaica, speaking to the United Nations as part of an interactive stakeholder consultation in the run-up to the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem.

VICKI HANSON: I'd like to start my discussion in this consultation on a statement that I heard yesterday from the Deputy Executive Director of the UNODC, that stated that we must not leave the growers and producers of prohibited plants behind in this discussion on drug policy, and it's in that effort to keep these voices a part of the conversation that I bring us to this point of our discussion.

One of our members, who was supposed to be here today, was not given entry into the US because he was criminalized as a grower. His voice is removed from this conversation, and all he did was try to give a perspective and develop his community from a grower's perspective. And therefore I'm representing not just the cannabis growers in Jamaica, but also have been now asked to represent the voices of coca growers and opium growers, traditional growers who, these persons have a place in this discussion. These persons are expressing the view that they need to play an active role in the amendment to drug policy. These are the persons who are criminalized. They call for the recognition of the traditional use of these plants, such as cannabis.

The speaker in the first panel this morning mentioned the issue of pain and pain relief for HIV persons, for persons with cancer, and some of these plants are grown to assist those problems, and we're asking, in Jamaica, we have been advocating the use of traditional medicine, the use of these plants, by the traditional groups. We have groups such as our Rastafari, or Maroons, who have traditionally grown and used these plants, and the current drug policy criminalize these growers. We speak to the situation of changing how we intervene in terms of the control and development of the plants for their community.

Community development is important. A number of these traditional growers have been able to add value to their community through the growing of these crops, and all they're asking is for a different approach. Not to see them as criminals, but to see them as part of the whole process for sustainable development. We are talking about, you mentioned gender. The issue of women who are losing their husbands, who are losing their sons, because they have been turned into criminals and sent to prison for being a part of a process that is trying to develop their community.

There is the issue of alternative development, and we're seeing, in a number of our own countries, we have not seen the value in terms of alternative development. A number of these programs have failed, and therefore this has led to the persons who are in the growing of prohibited plants, going back to that particular activity. So we're asking for a different approach, a different look at the alternative development process and programs, and including the growers of these prohibited plants, cannabis, in how they craft these various programs on alternative development.

And we're asking as well that there must be a recognition of the rights of these growers, a recognition that they are not just drug dealers, I hear a lot of conversation about these growers, they're seen as drug dealers and facilitating drug consumption. But, a part of the education for young people must be an education of the value for these plants traditionally, and the value of how to use these plants, because I think a lot of it is misrepresented here from our conversation.

And we need, as growers, to be a part of it. It's not just about drug trafficking. One of the things that we have noticed as well is that, because of the criminalized nature of the growing of these plants, persons are now forced into illicit activities, so you have persons who have now become involved in the guns for drugs trade. That is something that should be, once you have them included in the legal framework, and the change of the conversation from the drug conventions to include these growers, then you'll see a different approach.

So therefore, we as growers are asking that you look at responsible drug policy, not just to say a way against drugs and a drug free world, but we're asking for a drug responsible world that includes the voices of the growers and a different way to look at drug policy. Thank you.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Vicki Hanson, she's from the St. Catherine Ganja Growers and Producers Association in Jamaica, speaking to a United Nations body as part of an interactive stakeholder consultation called by the UN General Assembly President. It's part of the run-up to the UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs that will be held in mid-April. It's going to be a big event, we'll be bringing you as much audio as we can from there. And from a lot of other events, too, frankly, it's going to be a crowded April. Students for Sensible Drug Policy are holding its conference in mid-April. Patients Out of Time is holding its conference in mid-April.

For now, that's all the time we have. Thank you for joining us. This has been Century Of Lies, a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org. You can follow us on Twitter, I'm @DrugPolicyFacts and of course also @DougMcVay. Drug Truth Network is on Facebook, please give its page a like. Drug War Facts is on Facebook too, give it a like and share it with friends. Remember: knowledge is power. For now, for the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay saying so long. So long!

For the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay asking you to examine our policy of drug prohibition: the century of lies. Drug Truth Network programs archived at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.