06/12/16 Doug McVay

The European Monitoring Centre on Drugs and Drug Addiction releases its annual European Drug Report; we listen in on the Oregon Liquor Control Commission as it decides on rules for legal adult social use marijuana; and we talk about Booze Culture.

Century of Lies
Sunday, June 12, 2016
Doug McVay
Drug War Facts
Download: Audio icon col061216.mp3



JUNE 12, 2016


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.

Recently, the European Union's drug agency, the European Monitoring Centre on Drugs and Drug Addiction, released its annual European Drug Report. They held a news conference to discuss their findings. Let's listen to some of that audio. The first speaker is Dimitris Avramopoulos, European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship.

DIMITRIS AVRAMOPOULOS: My presence here today proves the Commission's, and my personal commitment to the fight against one of the most long-standing threats for our societies. Today, as you all know, we launch the annual European Drug Report. I was here with you one year ago, and since then, real substantial progress has taken place. The significance, the significant progress achieved by the agency over all these years has resulted in a comprehensive understanding of the EU drug situation.

This report is a key to -- for all of us to assess, to shape policies, and to implement actions to address challenges. This year's report confirms that the drugs problem in the European Union is not diminishing. There are new products, new patterns of use, new markets, and therefore new health risks. As a matter of fact, health risks linked to high potency products have increased. The number of new substances continues to grow, and overdose deaths are unfortunately on the rise.

Just in the year 2015, one hundred, 100 new substances were reported for the first time. Seventy percent of the new psychoactive substances we monitor have been detected in the last five years alone. As these substances increase, so do also the harms, especially the harms affecting young people. As you all understand, this requires a clear, strong, coherent, and immediate answer at European and national levels.

We need to reinforce the early warning system and the risk assessment. I really hope that the agency will play in future a bigger role on that. Once adopted by the European Parliament, and the Council, any new directive will deal with the incrimination of harmful psychoactive substances. These steps will finally allow to make decisive progress and to have swifter decisionmaking on new psychoactive substances at European level.

Allow me now to address another major concern highlighted in the report, and this has to do with the new markets, the new avenues for the drugs trade that criminals find by abusing the internet as a medium. Unfortunately, the internet allows a supply of drugs to be done without any physical interaction. Supply chains, therefore, become shorter, easier, and costs go down. This is where our monitoring should become more systematic and more sophisticated. Our work with the member states, the international community, and the industry about what happens in online drugs markets has to be stepped up. In fact, the internet industry can also help by working with law enforcement. That is why within the framework of the EU Internet Forum, we are organizing an expert meeting just next week on how exactly to track the online drugs trade.

Dear friends, criminal activities such as the drugs trade, smuggling, trafficking, and even terrorism, are mutually reinforced. This could be links between drugs and terrorism, even if they're usually opportunistic in nature and not necessarily systematic. Thus, we need a more integrated policy.

Some of the Brussels terrorist attackers had previous drugs convictions on their CV, and therefore others knew it. Our fight against organized crime can only be effective if it is smart, multifaceted, and comprehensive. We can make a difference by cooperating more closely, enhancing -- exchanging more information, enhancing our cooperation, and by trusting each other even more. I said this after the Paris and Brussels attacks in relation to terrorism. I say this in relation with our fight against smugglers who put migrants lives at risk. Only last week, up to 700 migrants are estimated to have died in the center of the Mediterranean.

Dealing with criminality linked to drugs is a cross-border issue, and requires a more coordinated European approach, trust among all stakeholders, and cooperation with countries outside the European Union. This is the only way to protect the Union, to protect our citizens, and migrants, from those very dangerous criminals. At the same time, as the drugs phenomenon is a global challenge, it requires global and comprehensive engagement.

At the UN General Assembly on the world drugs problem, we were firm and united in promoting balanced and evidence-based approaches to drug policy. We're pleased to see that the outcome of this Assembly reflects many of the objectives promoted by the European Union. We will now call on all partners to ensure that the commitments taken at UNGASS are implemented. We will also work in the same united and robust way on the preparation of the review in 2019 of the UN political declaration on drugs.

Ladies and gentlemen, once again, I would like to welcome the European drugs report for 2016, and congratulate the agency for its efforts, and you personally, Alexis. I'm fully committed to working with you, the member states, and our international partners in order to strengthen our fight against drugs in all its aspects, for our youth, our citizens, our society. Thank you very much for your attention.

ALEXIS GOOSDEEL: Going now to the content and the highlights of this report, and what is happening with drug use in Europe. Basically, I will structure my presentation around three lines: drug use, the harms and the consequences, and I will speak a bit less this time about drug markets, because you probably know we launched a big European drug market report last April. What I would like to highlight today through those few minutes I will spend with you, present you the highlights of this report, is to highlight the dimension, especially as far as public health is concerned, of some of the new or recent changes and the challenges for the EU.

So, the first topic, which is drug use. If we look at what has changed in the last year, at first we see, and it is now confirmed after a few years it appeared there is an increase in MDMA, the name of molecule for ecstasy, in use of MDMA, there is some rise of the amphetamine related problems.

The use of synthetic opioids is increasingly reported from treatment settings, not in all countries. You will see a bit later that there are different situations in the member states. And then there are some recent prevalence data that indicate modest increases in the use of commonly used drugs, including also heroin.

So if we look at illicit drug use in Europe, what, the top five drugs or categories of drugs have not changed. The most commonly used substance is cannabis, cocaine is the most common stimulant, MDMA is now the most common synthetic stimulant being consumed in the EU, and even if heroin and other opioids seems to be in comparison relatively rare, they are concentrating many and most of the harms that are related to drug use. And finally, you will notice that for the new psychoactive substances, that the commissioner was mentioning, we still have little prevalence data. For the moment, the only information we have is from the EuroBarometer Survey that is organized and financed by the Commission. We hope in the future to be able to have more reliable and comparable data also for these substances. Still, it's technically difficult when you have big population surveys to find enough of those people who belong to the smaller group of intensive NPS users.

I told you that the situation is varying from one country to another, so it's not a surprise you will see that some of the biggest countries in the EU, like Spain, UK, and Germany, there is a stabilization of the consumption of cannabis, while in some other countries like Czech Republic, Italy, France, Finland, Bulgaria, to a less extent Sweden, there has been a slight increase in the recent years in cannabis use.

Talking about the stimulants, now, you will see that the map of Europe is even showing more and highlighting more differences, and this is where, as we need to adapt our monitoring to the changing phenomenon, we are including additional datasets and methodologies, including waste water analysis, which helps us to highlight some geographical spread, and this is how you see that it's not, it doesn't come as a surprise, it is complementing information available in other surveys and studies that cocaine is found more in southwestern European countries, MDMA is more concentrated in the center, center north of Europe, especially around Belgium and the Netherlands, and then amphetamines.

So, if we look now at how the stimulant European market is changing, you will see that in the recent years, those changes are a bit irregular. So if we look at cocaine, for instance, we have noticed that there are six countries who come and report higher estimates than before, two are stable, and four present lower estimates. I'm talking about those countries where cocaine was mostly used as a stimulant. If we look at MDMA, and I will come back later on the specific issue of MDMA, so there are nine higher estimates and three lower estimates, and then for amphetamines the situation overall looks more stable, even if there are very important national differences, which is reflected by the fact that we have on one hand seven higher estimates for the consumption of amphetamines, but on the other side, we have four countries that present a lower estimate.

So, we've contrasted the situation in the member states, and this is also why it's important to have this combination of data showing European trends, but being capable to have contextual information about the differences between the member states

As mentioned in the press release of our report, the report presents the issue of problem stimulant use. There is an increase in treatment demand for amphetamines. I would like just to draw your attention to the fact that even if there is an increase, if you look at the numbers, we reach around 12,000 first time entrants reporting amphetamine use, while for cocaine we above 25,000. So, the graphics show the trends, but you cannot just compare them because there is a difference of proportion between the two graphics.

Overall injecting drug use is in decline in Europe, which is very good news, except for amphetamines, there is a small rise in injecting among new amphetamine clients. We see also that as I mentioned, opioids, they are the substance that is not the most commonly used but this is the one that is concentrating most of the risk for the users, in terms of health, mainly. You have, you see the national estimates, what is interesting to note is, you know, previous reports, we were mentioning that there was, through multi-indicator analysis, it seemed there was a reduction of heroin use in Europe. Today, it seems that this decreasing trend has stopped, and that at least this now has stabilized, and we need to see and to continue to monitor the situation. As you will see, talking about the markets, there are some indications that there might be more heroin available, and more pure heroin available, on the markets, so we don't know yet what this means, and what might be the consequences in the future

PAUL GRIFFITHS: We have very -- we have always had in Europe a balanced approach in terms of security and health issues when it comes to the drugs problem, and you will see that reflected in our report. I don't mean there's any changes there, but what we are facing now is a much more globalized and joined-up problem, and the Commissioner's words -- already mentioned the importance of the internet as a drug market in that area.

Beyond that, what we're seeing is drugs moving across national borders far faster and quicker than they did before. We're seeing drugs produced in Europe actually leaving Europe, and some of the synthetic drugs like MDMA, some of the methamphetamine perhaps, drugs we could look at then. We've also seen drug flows coming in through the same routes into Europe, drugs like heroin, for example.

So I think, what -- the other thing we've seen recently is cannabis and synthetic drugs, are moved to produce these drugs closer to their intended markets, and obviously that has advantages for the producers as they don't need to move substances across national borders. So it's reducing some risks of doing business. So I think we have a more complicated and more joined-up problem where the security and the health aspects become increasingly entwined.

DOUG MCVAY: That was from a news conference at the European Monitoring Centre on Drugs and Drug Addiction, or EMCDDA. They were announcing the release of the 2016 European Drug Report. You heard Dimitris Avramopoulos, European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship; EMCDDA Director Alexis Goosdeel; and the scientific director for the EMCDDA, Paul Griffiths.

I quote extensively from EMCDDA reports on my website DrugWarFacts.org. Though we're based in the US, Drug War Facts – which I should mention is also DrugPolicyFacts.org – is international, with several chapters dealing with drug policies and statistics from other nations. A lot of reforms, including harm reduction policies like syringe exchange, safe consumption rooms, and heroin maintenance, as well as legal reforms such as decriminalization of all drug use, began in other nations, so it's important for us to look at those other nations and their experiences as we move forward with reform and harm reduction in this country.

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.

Finally. Last week, during my interview with the journalist, activist, and comedian Ngaio Bealum, I mentioned a recent public hearing before the Oregon Liquor Control Commission. They were meeting to hear comments and to make their temporary rules for adult use sales permanent. At the end of his presentation, my friend Leland Berger, who's a local attorney and a member of Portland NORML, mentioned the “safer” argument. That of course is the fact that marijuana is relatively less dangerous than alcohol in that a marijuana overdose has not, and can not result in death. Rather than explain what happened, here's the audio recording, courtesy of the Oregon Liquor Control Commission:

LELAND BERGER: My name is Leland Berger. I'm chair of the legislative committee for Portland NORML, which is a consumer lobby. And, as a produce consumer, I can tell you that I go out to Sauvie Island, I've been to Kruger's Farm, and I sure would look forward to being able to go there and be able to sample cannabis that they cultivate, and I encourage the Commission to adopt rules to allow cannabis tasting at farms in the same way that we have alcohol tasting.

You know, most of -- I read through the rules last night, and most of the things I wanted to talk to you about were where you included the residency requirement, and I would encourage you to just delete that now. Some of the 2016 stuff is in here, the microcanopies, for example. It just makes sense. I think it would be cleaner.

The other really super hyper technical thing I wanted to mention is that on page four, in the definition section, both primary residence and process are subsection 40. So that needs to be renumbered.

I think the trade samples provision is a great addition. Concerning the dash 2800, the prohibition on discounts, I want to urge the Commission to allow retailers to allow discounts to veterans. Twenty two veterans take their lives each day from PTSD, last week Congress allowed and we expect the President to sign into law the ability of VA physicians to recommend to their veteran patients cannabis in states that allow medical cannabis. Some veterans are not able to afford the protection, the $200 protection fee that OHA charges for a card. I know there's broad support among retailers for that.

Concerning the microcanopies, certainly in -- I'm a lawyer, and I counsel people in the industry, and I certainly have been explaining to people that what with the 2016 changes, where the OLCC licensed adult use producers and processors can sell into the medical system, where the early sales is going to sunset the end of this year, that there's a forced -- not, forced is a little strong, there's a certainly incentivized migration to the adult use side for producers. And particularly among producers for small, of small medical gardens who are kind of being squeezed out of the process, having a microcanopy and being able to provide for patients is a terrific thing.

I mean, I've been saying, Chair Patridge, publicly and privately, that I think what Oregon's been doing in terms of merging the adult use and the medical markets is the best effort so far in any of the legalized states, with the least harm to patients. But I want to encourage the Commission to consider reducing the fees for the microcanopies. I think $1,000 to $2,000 is too high. I think it should be half that, I think $500 and $1,000 would be fairer.

I appreciate your time this morning, and I wore this shirt to, because I recently met with your staff about Portland NORML's efforts to get the lounges to reopen, and I recognize that it's difficult for staff and for the Commission to recognize sometimes that, that it's different regulating cannabis from regulating alcohol. And one thing I hope that you'll keep in mind is that marijuana is safe, safer than alcohol, as you move forward with these regulations. Thank you very much.

ROB PATRIDGE: Okeh, thank you. Commissioner Revoal, did you have a question?

MARVIN D. REVOAL: No, since this is on the record, I'm going to disagree with that last statement, because there's no proof of that. We have -- you've got, you're done. But, I'm going to say, I disagree with that. We have decades of information to what alcohol does to people, good and bad. We don't have that kind of information about marijuana.

LELAND BERGER: My son's mother drank herself to death --

MARVIN D. REVOAL: Thank you very much.

LELAND BERGER: and nobody has ever smoked themselves to death.

MARVIN D. REVOAL: We're not going to debate.

ROB PATRIDGE: Leland, we're not --

LELAND BERGER: You're entitled to your opinion but you're not entitled to your own facts.

MARVIN D. REVOAL: We're not going to debate. You're done. We're not going to debate.

LELAND BERGER: Well, I'm not debating, I'm just saying what the --

MARVIN D. REVOAL: You made a statement on the record.


DOUG MCVAY: “You're done. We're not going to debate.” That was the response of OLCC Commissioner Marvin D. Révoal, after attorney Lee Berger mentioned the fact that marijuana is relatively safer than alcohol. Revoal is from Eugene, Oregon, he is the owner and Senior Principal of Pacific Benefit Planners, an Employee Benefits and Property & Casualty agency, and he is a member of the Oregon Liquor Control Commission. The OLCC is responsible for setting and enforcing the rules on recreational alcohol use as well as adult social use of marijuana.

As I said before, there is a booze culture in this country. It's a culture of denial. They don't use the phrase “recreational alcohol use,” their preferred euphemism is simply “drinking”. Now, think about that for a minute. Even when you go to the doctor, when they ask if you drink and how much, they aren't trying to find out if you ingest liquids like any normal human being, they're asking if you use alcohol. Same with tobacco, when the doctor asks if you smoke, they're really asking if you use tobacco. These euphemisms aren't just a sort of verbal shorthand, they are part of the normalization of tobacco and alcohol use, more than that, the normalization of tobacco and alcohol addiction.

Now, please understand, I'm not saying that alcohol use is a bad thing per se. Overuse of alcohol is certainly bad, I'm the adult child of two alcoholics but you don't need that kind of experience to know that. My father literally drank himself to death when I was 20 years old. That's why so many successful politicians have either indulged in serious alcohol abuse, like Richard Nixon for example, or have learned how to use booze to manipulate people – manipulate drunks, really.

Booze culture is why it's taking so long to legalize marijuana. Booze culture is a culture of anger, of violence, a culture that opposes open honest debate and prefers to simply shut down opposition. Marijuana use on the other hand tends to promote introspection, meditation, and peace, much in the way that alcohol does not. In that sense, weed really is in competition with alcohol, it's an absolute opposite in many ways. And it's not just about mere money and market share. It's about a way of life. By working to legalize marijuana and decriminalize use of all drugs, we are pitting ourselves against a culture of intolerance and violence and oppression.

That's why it's so important, as we fight against this drug war, to keep reminding ourselves that this is bigger than just the freedom to use pot, it's about a whole lot more. This work to end the drug war is a fight for social justice and for a better, fairer, more equitable society. It doesn't end just because we change a couple of laws to let a handful of rich white guys make a greasy buck while having a party that the rest of us can only watch.

And on that note, well, that's it for today. Thank you for joining us. You have been 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. The 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. You can follow me on Twitter, I'm @DougMcVay and of course also @DrugPolicyFacts.

We'll be back next week with thirty minutes of news and information about the drug war and this Century Of Lies. 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.