07/12/15 Jamie Bridge

Century of Lies

This week: We talk with Jamie Bridge of the International Drug Policy Consortium about the Support Don't Punish Campaign, the June 26th Global Day of Action for Drug Policy Reform, and the new psychoactive substances bill being debated in the UK Parliament.

Audio file


JULY 12, 2015


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

DOUG MCVAY: Hello and welcome to Century of Lies. I'm your host, Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org. Century of Lies is a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network and is supported through the generosity of the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy and of listeners like you. And now, on with the show.

Jamie Bridge, he's the Senior Policy and Operations Manager for the International Drug Policy Consortium. He's been working in harm reduction for several years. In fact, Jamie, am I right that you did actual service delivery before you went into policy work?

JAMIE BRIDGE: Yeah. Yeah, in a small town just north of London, my home town, called Bedford. I was working there in harm reduction services, the needle and syringe program, doing that for quite a number of years before I then got a job working in policy for an organization called Harm Reduction International, in London.

DOUG MCVAY: I've always found there's a kind of a weird divide between the people who are policy only, and the people who are involved in service delivery, the people who -- I mean, doing service delivery, you're the one who's there doing the stuff that we just talk about, and, you know, I think it takes -- I just, yeah. I admire that tremendously, because it's --

JAMIE BRIDGE: I mean, the ideal would be that you get to do a bit of both. I mean, I do really miss the front line stuff. I'm still actively, like, supporting the local drug user group in Bedford. But I do really miss the front line stuff. I'm glad I've got to do both, if that makes sense. You know, they both require different skills, slightly different outlooks, but it's useful to do both at some point because, you know, it does give you that perspective, I guess, in terms of what it is you're advocating for, if you've actually sat there and done it, and you've seen the value of things like, you know, needle and syringe programs, or naloxone to prevent overdose, you've seen these things working first-hand. That helps your advocacy because you can speak from that experience.

DOUG MCVAY: Absolutely. Now, I want to talk with you about the Support Don't Punish campaign and the global day of action for drug policy reform that was held back on June 26th, but before we do that, for the sake of my listeners, could you tell us something about the International Drug Policy Consortium and the work that you're doing?

JAMIE BRIDGE: Of course, yes. So, IDPC, the International Drug Policy Consortium, we are a global network. We've got more than 140 members around the world, so that's 140 organizations. They range from big international organizations like Human Rights Watch, or the International HIV/AIDS Alliance, through to smaller, local organizations and networks of people who use. But the one thing that ties all those organizations together is that we come together, we all focus on drug issues and we come together because we want to see better drug policies in place. We all support harm reduction, we all support the reform of the current system that we have, and that's the thing that unites these organizations together. And IDPC is, we're the umbrella for that.

We've been around since around 2008, 2009, and we've grown in numbers dramatically over the last few years. The secretariat [inaudible], We're a small group, you know three or four staff based here in London, in the UK, though we also have a staff member in Thailand and consultants in New York and Africa and Latin America and in Europe, so we, the work we do, we work on research and policy briefings, we do a lot of communication work trying to connect people together. So, you know, for example, for the big UN meeting, the big UN summit on drugs, a lot of the work we're doing is to try and connect what's happening at this international, UN level, with what's happening on the ground, you know, in the countries, because quite often, you know, those two things can seem to be very disconnected. And so what we try and do is try and link the national work with the international work, and vice versa.

DOUG MCVAY: Very cool. Now, June 26th, the United Nations International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Drug Trafficking. For the past few years it's been the Global Day of Action for Drug Policy Reform. How did all this start?

JAMIE BRIDGE: So, the idea for the campaign, the idea for a campaign, I mean, we had no idea what we were going to call it at this point, but we, the idea came that we were working on a project called the Community Action on Harm Reduction Project, and that was focused on harm reduction projects in Kenya, in India, Indonesia, China, and Malaysia. And, when we were talking with the partners in those countries, the one thing that they were telling us was that they need to be able to speak about drug policy reform, they need to be able to challenge the drug laws, but they don't know how. And it's a very difficult thing for them to do in those countries, you know, for them to speak up against.

So that was why we came up with the idea of a global campaign, and a global brand, almost -- which is kind of what Support Don't Punish has become -- that people in countries can use, and can kind of use to their advantage and make it sit behind this global campaign to do their national advocacy. So that was back in 2011, 2012, when we were beginning to develop this idea, and we launched it properly in 2013. And, the idea behind doing something on the 26th of June, I mean, as you mentioned, the 26th of June has been the United Nations Day Against Drugs for a number of years now, and in the past, that's been a day when governments have celebrated the war on drugs, and we've even had stories from China for example where the government have held public executions on the 26th of June to kind of demonstrate their commitment to the war on drugs.

So, for us, when we were talking about our own campaign, when we were talking about doing something on drug policy before, we thought, well, we could just pick a random date and do something on, you know, any date, the 6th of July or any day, but instead we thought it would be more powerful to actually try and reclaim the messaging on the 26th of June.

You know, just, we had to put something out there that kind of balanced out the rhetoric on that day, you know, so if a government's talking about, hey, we've seized this much cannabis or we've seized this much heroin and we've arrested this many people, we need to be there, and our partners need to be there to say yeah, great, but that doesn't have any impact. What you've done is no good. All you've done is increase the harms. And that's why we came up with the slogan "Support, Don't Punish," and that's why we chose the 26th of June as this Global Day of Action. And, this happened a couple of weeks ago, and that was the third year in a row that we've now done this on the 26th of June.

DOUG MCVAY: So, how did it go this year?

JAMIE BRIDGE: So, the first time, I have to say this, when we started in 2013, my target that I was given was that we wanted to get 10 cities. We wanted 10 cities to do something. And, in 2013, we ended up with 41 cities, which was fantastic. Last year, it went up to 100 cities, and on the 26th of June 2015, we managed to get 156 cities around the world doing something on the 26th of June to promote drug policy reform and the campaign message, which was beyond all of our expectations. I mean, it's been a fantastic couple of years for the campaign.

DOUG MCVAY: That is brilliant. Of course, in the United States, I think there were events in New York City, and something in DC, also in San Francisco.

JAMIE BRIDGE: Yeah. Denver as well.

DOUG MCVAY: What were some of the other -- oh, and Denver, of course. What were some of the other places where this took place.

JAMIE BRIDGE: So, I mean, the events varied hugely, but we had events in Australia, Brazil, Denmark, loads of countries across west Africa this year, which was great, you know. We had events in Gambia, Benin, Burundi, Ghana, Mali, and others. And they ranged, you know, so for example here in London, we organized an event at the Houses of Parliaments, so we had an event for politicians to come along to, where we were able to talk about drug policy reform and the UN summit. In other places, they just kind of took to the streets. We had, like, large protests in the USA, large kind of gatherings in the USA as you say, you know, and in France and in other places, while in somewhere like Egypt, we had a smaller group, they go out to the tourist sites in a city called Minya, dressed up as pharaohs with the Support Don't Punish logo on, and engage the tourists in the debate.

So, it was an amazing range of countries taking part this year, across every part of the world, and a real mix of different activities. Which is great, I mean, we've always said, it's up to the local partner to decide what they want to do, and to decide what their message is going to be, because this campaign has to work for them. You know?

DOUG MCVAY: Now, the Support Don't Punish campaign, is it larger than just the day of action?

JAMIE BRIDGE: Yes. So, the campaign, the day of action is the focus, really, and that's where a lot of people put their energy into, because that's the one moment when we can, it's almost like a global show of force for people to say that they're just, they're not happy with the current system that we have. But the campaign goes on throughout the year, and particularly now that we've got a few months left until the UNGASS, to the UN summit, the UNGASS. You know, we'll be looking at doing lots more activities between now and then.

One example of that is, we have this part of the campaign called Photo Project. It's almost like a photo petition. So people can take their photo holding up the campaign poster or the campaign logo, send it to us, and they get added to this album that we have, and at the moment we've got, you know, more than 5,000 photos of people around the world showing their support for this campaign. The aim is, in time for when we all come to New York for the UN summit in April, you know, we're hoping to have 10,000 photos supporting the campaign, and we'll find a way of displaying those photos somehow at the UN, just to show the strength of the support out there for change.

DOUG MCVAY: So, where can people go to find out more, about your work at IDPC as well as the Support Don't Punish campaign, and how can people get involved in the campaign?

JAMIE BRIDGE: So, for the campaign itself, the first place for anyone to go would be the campaign website, which is SupportDontPunish.org. SupportDontPunish, all one word. Or you can just google Support Don't Punish, and it will come up. And on that website, there's various ways that you can get involved. You can sign up, you can link, you can post something on twitter or facebook to support the campaign. There's lots of different ways. There's a whole link at the top of the website that says Take Action, which is a variety of different ways you can become involved in the campaign and show your support.

So, if anyone's interested, please do visit that website, please do support us on social media, please send us your photo, and please get in touch if you have any ideas. Because if someone's organizing an event, even though it's not on the 26th of June, if someone's organizing an event next week, to focus on a drug policy issue, please let us know, and you know, we can then, we can help out in any way we can.

And for IDPC itself, you know, again, you can visit our website, which is www.IDPC.net. And again on the website there's details of all our publications, all the latest news from the drug policy world, and there will also be options to sign up for updates by email or on social media. So there's lots of different ways to get engaged.

DOUG MCVAY: I know you've got limited time, but, I just, I need to ask, I've been following a little bit some of the debate there in the UK, I know that the new Conservative government -- well, the Conservatives won, it's no longer a coalition, so the bad guys are in charge, and there's a psychoactive substances bill working its way through. Could you tell us something about that, and, where is that at? I listened to part of the debate in the House of Lords, it's good to hear some of the, I mean some of those folks, they must have been looking at my website Drug War Facts. Brilliantly well-informed from Labour, and even from the poor little Lib-Dems, but of course --

JAMIE BRIDGE: Even some of the Conservatives peers, as well. I mean, it was, the House of Lords debate was fantastic in a way because they were really able to kind of pick holes in this bill. The bill is terrible. I mean, it's so badly -- not just terrible from an ideological perspective, because obviously I don't agree with anything that it's proposing, but also just, it's just a terrible piece of legislation, it doesn't, it has a really bad definition of what a new psychoactive substance might be. The fact that it describes, you know, it covers any substance that has a psychoactive effect. You know, that's how, I mean, it's far too broad, I mean, you know, all sorts of different things have psychoactive effects. And yet at the same time, it doesn't include alcohol or tobacco. How are they not psychoactive substances?

It's -- the bill, it's just fundamentally terrible, you know, from bottom to top. I mean, the interesting thing from my side, it's when I think that this happened, as you mentioned before the election in May, we had a coalition government, where we had, the Tories were the major -- the Conservatives were the major party, and the Liberal Democrats were the minor party in the coalition. And a lot of people blamed the Liberal Democrats for, first of all for creating a coalition with the Conservatives, but also for a lot of the bad things that had happened under that government. You know, we had a period of austerity, we're still in a difficult time, and so the Liberal Democrats got absolutely hammered in the last election.

But when a bill like this comes through, now that the Conservatives aren't in coalition anymore, they actually have their own majority government, it really makes you appreciate the kind of, the role that the Liberal Democrats were playing before. I wouldn't be surprised, I don't know this, but I wouldn't be surprised if this bill had been drafted several years ago, but the Liberal Democrats simply hadn't let it come forward because they saw how bad it was. But now that the Conservatives, you know, only have themselves to answer to in government, they brought this straight forward, and they're now saying they're going to rush it through before they go on their summer holidays, which is on the, I think, the 22nd of July.

So they really are committed to this, they're really rushing it through, and it is, it's -- I mean, in a way, from an advocacy perspective, in a way it's actually a gift, because it's just so bad, it's so easy to pick fun at. Then in another sense, it's going through, it's going to become law here, and it's a terrible piece of law.

DOUG MCVAY: In your election cycle, there's another five years -- well, just about five years until the next election, except for bi-elections. Any chance at all of weakening the Conservative position or are the Tories going to be the bosses for the next, well, I guess until 2020?

JAMIE BRIDGE: Yeah, I mean, we have to prepare for that, unfortunately. I mean, bi-elections are relatively few and far between, and the nature of the majority that the Conservatives have at the moment, it's going to take quite a lot for it to weaken, so unfortunately, we're kind of stuck with this now. And it's almost, it's only domestically, it's almost a case of damage limitation for the next five years, which is really sad, I mean, you know, especially when you see the exciting stuff going on elsewhere in the world, you know, at the moment. It's sad that we're looking at five years here in the UK where it's unlikely we're going to get any real positive moves for reform.

I mean, you could, in a sense you could look at this new psychoactive substances bill, the one positive of it is it doesn't criminalize possession for personal use. But, I mean, you really, you're clutching at straws for a positive, if that makes sense.

DOUG MCVAY: No, it does. I mean, that's one of -- that's -- sort of one of the problems that reformers have is, that we do, you know, we'll take that bread crumb and we'll savor it like it was manna from heaven, you know, and shout to the rooftops about how lucky we are to have gotten that little bit. And I know what you mean about the -- I mean, we've had 8 years of Barack Obama and so we expected everything was going to be wonderful, and we'd have reform everywhere, and it was going to be great, and I think it took a lot of momentum out of the movement here in the US. It's been in the last couple of years that we figured out that, oh, he's not really going to do all that, and actually Congress is held by the other side, so we might -- I mean, I hope to heaven it doesn't happen but there's an outside chance in 2016 we'll end up in the same boat as you, with a very nasty conservative in charge.

JAMIE BRIDGE: Yeah, well, fingers crossed for you that that doesn't happen, because it's -- waking up the day after the election is not a pleasant experience when the election goes that badly. I mean, I wasn't expecting, like, the Liberal Democrats, I wasn't expecting the Labour Party to win, but I also wasn't expecting the Conservatives to have a majority. That was a worst case -- well, not worst case, but that was close to being the worst case scenario. It was, yeah, it was sad.

DOUG MCVAY: For the benefit of listeners, that's not just because you were hoping against hope. I maybe follow UK politics a little more closely than some of my fellow countrymen, and every poll up until the election -- I mean the only poll that showed the Conservatives pulling a major victory was the exit poll. Prior to that, everyone was saying, oh it's going to be close, or there might be a, you might have a Labour, you know -- oh, a Milliband premiership. But you didn't, and as I say, it was --

JAMIE BRIDGE: It was interesting. When the exit poll, when the results from the exit poll were released on May the 7th, it was met with just disbelief, it was almost met with, you know, people almost were mocking it, you know, saying well, that's crazy, of course that's not going to happen.

DOUG MCVAY: I'm just saying, I think if major leaders are saying if that's true I'll eat my hat live on national TV, that's mockery. That counts as mockery.

JAMIE BRIDGE: That's right. That's right. And still to this day, breaking news, I still don't think he has actually eaten his hat, so -- I think Twitter is trying to hold him to it but he's, you know. But no, it, yeah, like I say, it was a result that very few people expected, and has actually made people really rethink the whole polling system, because you know, how can you have a system that's giving you one set of results for months before the election, and then all of a sudden you get something completely different. But, yeah. It was a very interesting result, but now we just have to -- yeah, I guess, just domestically try and push back as much as we can.

I mean, the good thing is that, for as long the UK remains in the European Union, the EU position on drugs, particularly in terms of looking towards the UN summit, the European Union position is a relatively positive one, you know, they're very strong against death penalty, they're very strong on harm reduction, very good on civil society engagement, and, yeah. So that, you know, again, there's some positives, and the EU position is a good one, but domestically, it's going to be a tough, tough couple of years.

DOUG MCVAY: I'd like to, I'd love to take time to talk to you about the possibility of a referendum on EU membership and whether the Tories can move your country so far to the right that they end up out-UKIPing UKIP and get you out of there, but that's -- as I say, I know you've got some stuff to do and I've taken up a lot of your time and I'm very grateful to you for it. Do you have any closing thoughts, anything you want to throw out to the listeners?

JAMIE BRIDGE: Well, just, again, just to say, you know, if you're interested in the campaign, please do visit the website, please get in touch, I mean, this campaign is something, we want people to kind of use it and to see the benefit of it. And we've got an important couple of months, we've got 8 or 9 months now, up until the UN summit takes place in New York. You now, things aren't going to radically change in April. We're realistic about that. But we've got a really good opportunity now to make our feelings clear, that things have to change. And, you know, that voice is getting heard increasingly, and particularly in the US, you know, we've seen a really big shift in the US's own position in terms of the international debate, a very welcome shift. So yeah, so please do visit our website, please do get involved in the campaign if you can, and get in touch with us if you have any questions or any ideas.

DOUG MCVAY: Indeed. Well, I've been speaking with Jamie Bridge, he's the Senior Policy and Operations Manager for the International Drug Policy Consortium. We've been discussing the IDPC and also the June 26th Global Day of Action for Drug Policy Reform and the Support, Don't Punish campaign. Jamie, thank you so much and good luck with all the work you're doing.

JAMIE BRIDGE: Brilliant. Thank you for having me on, it was great.

DOUG MCVAY: My pleasure.

Seattle Hempfest comes up August 14th, 15th, and 16th this year. I'll be there speaking. Here's a taste.

I remember back in the days when it was, you were lucky to get a Congressional staffer to pop their head in unannounced and not reveal who they were, but at least listen to some of this. And you actually had a sitting member of Congress up there. I mean, talk about the progress you've been making, this --

VIVIAN MCPEAK: Well, Congressman Rohrabacher gave a blistering speech last night at our VIP party, and there was a point where I thought okeh, I'm going to wake up, it's going to be Friday morning, I'm going to say you guys I had this crazy dream, you're not going to believe it, that we had a Tea-Party member, a conservative Republican Congressman up here basically being our brother, and speaking our language when it comes to freedom and personal responsibility and the cannabis issue. And I think that, you know, there's a time when, I mean, if I ever knew when we started this that our, that we would not only have our former police chief but our current police spokesperson, we had our current mayor, and now we've had a current Congressman speaking on our stage about marijuana legalization, I wouldn't have believed it. But it shows that almost anything's possible. And I think we're turning a corner, that, I think that legalization at this point is a steamroller rolling downhill, and even a conservative president, presidential administration, you know, even some catastrophe on the news, you know, I don't think there's anything that's going to hold us back. You know, there's going to be some speed bumps on the road to legalization, but I think that there's not going to be any twists or turns that are going to turn us around at this point.

DOUG MCVAY: Okeh, just one last, because I know you've got to get back to work, you are so busy. But a lot of people -- there are people out there who would say, well, you've got a legalization thing here in Washington. HempFest, I mean, does it really still need to go on? Why keep on doing this event?

VIVIAN MCPEAK: Yeah, sure, I've heard that. And to those people what I would say is, it's legal here in Washington state to have 28 grams but 29 grams is a misdemeanor, 40 grams is a felony. Any amount of plants for a non-patient can get you five years in a jail. And of course federally it's all completely illegal. So, while we're doing this interview, somebody is having their life destroyed, losing their home, their children, their freedom, over a non-violent victimless crime, so as long as -- I can say this, as long as marijuana's a schedule one controlled substance on a federal level, we're going to be fighting tooth and nail to change the laws.

DOUG MCVAY: And that's all the time we really have today. I want to thank you for listening. This is Century of Lies, a production of the Drug Truth Network. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

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We'll be back next week with more news and commentary on the drug war and this Century Of Lies. For now, for the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay saying so long. So long!

DEAN BECKER: For the Drug Truth Network, this is Dean Becker, 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.