03/27/16 Doug McVay

Century of Lies

This week we continue our look at preparations for the upcoming UN General Assembly Special Session on drugs and hear representatives from the European Union, Canada, and New Zealand, plus a special message from Mary Lynn Mathre, president and co-founder of Patients Out of Time, about their conference coming up in April.

Audio file


MARCH 27, 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.

This week we're going to continue our coverage of the fifty ninth annual meeting of the UN's Commission on Narcotic Drugs, which was held recently in Vienna, Austria. This year's meeting was important because nations are preparing for the UN General Assembly Special Session on drugs, which is April 19 and 20 at UN Headquarters in New York City. The UNGASS is an important step on the road toward eventual reform of the international drug control treaties. We are not going to see them overturned this year. We are not going to see the world suddenly embrace legalization, nor even really decriminalization. We are going to see a lot of empty rhetoric and posturing.

Unlike the last UNGASS, which was in 1998, we are not going to see the world's nations proclaim “A Drug Free World: We Can Do It.” That unrealistic and absurd slogan was the theme of the 1998 UNGASS. This year, reality will finally make an appearance on the international stage. It may not sound like much but this really is great progress. More and more nations, backed by civil society, have been pushing for drug control policies which promote public health, respect human rights, and promote human dignity. We may not see the conventions overturned or rewritten this year, yet we are seeing the beginnings of that process.

We have only gotten this far because of drug policy reform organizations that have been working on this for the better part of the past decade, and these organizations have only been able to make progress because of people like you, dear listener. We have gotten this far because you care about these issues, you pay attention to what's going on, you take the time to learn about what works and doesn't, and most importantly, you are talking about these issues, like harm reduction, decriminalization, legalization, an end to mass incarceration, and crippling of the prison-industrial complex. Civil society is just a fancy way of saying nonprofits and advocacy groups, yet really, civil society is you, and me, and everyone. We can change the world, we can end prohibition, and we are doing it. We have a lot of work left to do, but we are on the right path. We're working to overcome a hundred years of lies, propaganda, myth, and misinformation. It will take a little time, but it is working.

This week, we're going to hear some of the presentations from the recent Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting, which was held at the UN's International Center in Vienna, Austria. But first, this:

MARY LYNN MATHRE: Hi. My name is Mary Lynn Mathre, and I want to invite health care professionals and the public to the Tenth National Clinical Conference on Cannabis Therapeutics. This event will be held on April 14th through the 16th of this year, and it will be held at the Baltimore Harbor Hotel in Baltimore, Maryland.

The research is fairly clear about the various cannabinoids in cannabis having medicinal value. However, it is known that if we take together the cannabinoids and the terpenes in the cannabis plant, and they work together, they have a greater effect. They work synergisticly. This effect is known as the entourage effect.

With that in mind, the theme for this year's conference is Cannabis: A Botanical Medicine, in celebration of the whole plant as medicine.

This year, our faculty includes two of the leaders in botanical and herbal medicine, Roy Upton and Mark Blumenthal. As usual, we will be bringing leading cannabis cannabinoid researchers from around the world. Our faculty will be representing research from six different countries, including Scotland, Spain, Hungary, Israel, Canada, as well as the United States. Topics to be presented include new research on the use of cannabis for cancer treatment, osteoporosis, pain, infections, and skin problems. We'll take a closer look at the specific value of various cannabinoids and terpinoids to help you understand how and why cannabis is effective for such a wide array of illnesses.

Additional topics include the risks related to brain function, addiction, and use during pregnancy. We'll also discuss the importance of quality control with lab testing to help with safe dosing practices. To help everyone understand the clinical impact of cannabis, we also bring patients in to tell their story of how cannabis has changed their lives.

We begin the whole event on Thursday with several preconference workshops. We've got a six hour legal seminar that will offer CLEs for lawyers. We're going to be offering a veteran's workshop that will provide veterans and their loved ones with pertinent information about their use of cannabis, and the law. In addition, we'll provide a workshop that focuses on dosing, specific dosing, how to individualize that with your patients and how to know what you're giving your patients. And finally, we'll have a two-hour seminar as a basic introduction to cannabis as medicine provided by two physicians. This offers a wonderful opportunity for novice professionals to get a basic overview of cannabis prior to learning more about the current research conducted in the cannabis field. The conference proceedings will be providing continuing medical education credits for health care practitioners, as well as continuing ed credits for nurses who attend this event.

To take a break from this intense learning experience, we offer a Friday evening benefit dinner for Patients Out of Time. This includes a meal, live auction, music, as well as comedy entertainment. We hope you'll consider joining us for this event, and bring a guest.

So please, save the dates, April 14 through 16, 2016, and check out our agenda and the conference details on our websites. You can find this at PatientsOutOfTime.org or MedicalCannabis.com. And please register early, we expect a great turnout with this star faculty.

On behalf of Patients Out of Time, I hope to see you in Baltimore this April. Come and learn why scientists, clinicians, and patients are so excited about this extremely safe and remarkably effective botanical medicine we call cannabis.

Founded in 1995, Patients Out of Time is a 501(c)3 educational charity, dedicated to educating health care professionals and the public about the therapeutic use of cannabis. Share this information with your friends, and especially your health care provider.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Mary Lynn Mathre, she's the president and co-founder of Patients Out of Time. Their national conference is April 14, 15, and 16 in Baltimore, Maryland. More information and registration at their website PatientsOutOfTime.org, and full disclosure: I work with Patients Out of Time, running their social media as well as updating their websites. I will be at the conference in Baltimore, working as well as reporting on it. I look forward to seeing you there.

And now, let's hear some audio from that Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting which was held in mid-March in Vienna, Austria. The presentation from the Canadian delegation made quite a stir, so let's start with that. Here's Hilary Geller, assistant deputy minister of health in the Canadian government.

HILARY GELLER: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, heads of state, and government ministers, and distinguished delegates. Canada is very pleased to participate in this special segment as members of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs work together to prepare for UNGASS. Canada views UNGASS 2016 as an opportunity to reflect on our progress, as well as to engage in discussions on the many new and continuing challenges posed by illicit drug related activities and by the social harms that they cause.

Recognizing the vast array of challenges involved in drug control, Canada believes that we should focus our domestic and international efforts on priority areas that provide the greatest opportunities for improvement. First, we believe that a strong emphasis should be placed on a comprehensive public health approach. This includes addressing the problematic use of drugs through the implementation of prevention initiatives, providing treatment and care, supporting recovery, and reducing harms associated with drug use.

In our view, harm reduction is critical. Canada supports the use of evidence based harm reduction measures such as needle exchange programs and supervised injection sites. With one long standing supervised injection site already operating in Canada, we have recently approved a second, and anticipate that there will be others in the future.

In addition, earlier this year, in response to a devastating increase in overdoses related to illicitly produced fentanyl, Canada has begun the process to remove Naloxone from prescription status, thereby enabling wider access to this lifesaving drug, to assist in the immediate treatment of opioid overdoses wherever they occur.

The government has also recently invested in a new prescription drug abuse strategy, based on the work of our Canadian Council on Substance Abuse, and including all those stakeholders in Canada with a role to play in tackling this complex issue. This strategy takes a comprehensive approach designed to lower the extremely high rates of opioid use in Canada.

Finally, a public health approach that includes ensuring access to essential medicines is critical. There is wide acknowledgement in the international community that lack of access is a serious issue in many countries, and that more needs to be done to ensure that patients do not have to endure needless pain and suffering. As a physician who worked for many years in Africa, Canada's new minister of health understands that improving the availability of essential medicines will require both national action to address such barriers as well as international support for those efforts.

A second priority area where Canada believes we should focus our collective efforts is on ensuring appropriate legislation and regulation to establish international and domestic frameworks for the control of new psychoactive substances. Given the rapid rise at which they are appearing on the illicit market, such substances pose a significant risk to public health and safety. Ensuring appropriate controls is challenging. Canada therefore supports proactive measures to address this issue, emphasizing the need for strengthened national controls tailored to each member country's individual circumstances, individual coordination and efficient processes to control the most prevalent, persistent, and harmful of these substances.

Thirdly, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of sound data and information. Canada supports evidence based policy and program design that is informed by reliable data, through analysis, rigorous evaluation, sound science, and the sharing of best practices. Canada also supports the development of improved and broadened metrics to better evaluate our success in ameliorating drug control and address problematic substance use, and which also take into account the harms associated with illicit drug activities, such as their impact on health, peace and security, development, and human rights. We acknowledge that this may require some member states, including ourselves, to rethink how information and data are collected and prioritized.

Lastly, and above all, Canada believes that any drug policy should be rooted in the recognition and respect for human rights, and that sanctions for crime, including drug related crime, should be proportionate to the nature of the offense. In this regard, Canada opposes the use of the death penalty in all cases, everywhere.

Mister Chair, members of the Commission will likely be aware that Canada has committed to legalize, restrict, and regulate access to marijuana. The government of Canada, in its electoral platform, stated that the current national approach is not working. Canadian youth use marijuana at rates among the highest in the world. Thousands of Canadians are dealing with the consequences of having criminal records for nonviolent drug offenses every year, while organized crime is reaping the benefits of billions of dollars in profits from the illegal marijuana trade. And finally, most Canadians no longer believe that marijuana should be subject to harsh criminal sanctions, and support the government's commitment to legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana.

Canada recognizes that this is both a serious and a complex undertaking. The government remains committed to strong international cooperation to combat the world's drug problem, and wherever possible will seek to align its objectives for a new marijuana regime with the objectives of the international drug control framework and the spirit of the conventions. We will keep these shared objectives front and center, as Canada's ministers of justice, public safety, and health move forward to establish a task force to consult with Canadians, with experts, and with our provinces and territories, leading to the design and implementation of a new regime.

Mister Chair, we recognize that in order to further progress on global drug control issues, there must be an ongoing commitment to international cooperation. This includes stronger collaboration between UN agencies, which deal with different aspects of the world drug problem, including the UNODC, the INCB, the WHO, and UNAIDS, as well as civil society organizations and the scientific community.

In closing, Mr. Chair, Canada will continue to do its part in advancing the international drug policy agenda. We look forward to finalizing the text of the UNGASS outcome document here, in this session of the CND, and we look forward to fruitful and informative discussions at UNGASS. You can be assured of Canada's full support and engagement in this process. Thank you. Merci beaucoup.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Hilary Geller, an assistant deputy minister of health with the Canadian government, speaking at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting in Vienna, Austria, in mid-March.

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.

Now, let's hear the presentation from the European Union. It was delivered by Martin van Rijn, State Secretary for Health, Welfare and Sport for the government of the Netherlands.

MARTIN VAN RIJN: It's an honor for me to stand here today at such an important moment in the lead-up to the UNGASS, and to speak on behalf of the European Union and its member states. The following countries align themselves with this statement: the former Yugoslavic Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Iceland, Serbia, Albania, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Ukraine, the Republic of Moldovia, and San Marino.

The EU and its member states consider UNGASS 2016 as a key opportunity for the international community to take stock of the achievements of the international drug control system to date. UNGASS and the coming days here in Vienna provide us with a unique possibility to elaborate on the immense challenges that remain in the global, national, and local responses to the world drug problem.

UNGASS is also a moment to look ahead and to set the agenda towards 2019, and to undertake concrete actions that are needed to contribute to the achievement of the targets of the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals, and in particular the Sustainable Development Goals Three and Sixteen.

In this regard, the EU and its member states welcome the contribution of all stakeholders to the open discussion so far in the preparatory process, and we appreciate the structured way this is facilitated by the UNGASS board.

An essential principle for the EU and its member states is the respect for fundamental freedoms of human rights, for human dignity, liberty, democracy, equality, solidarity, the rule of law, law and the right to health. The EU is opposed to the use of measures of any kind that are not respectful to the human being. In this regard, we oppose the death penalty in all circumstances and without exception, and we are consistently calling for its universal abolition and will continue to do so in all UN fora. We call upon states that still remain the death penalty to establish a moratorium on executions as a first step towards abolition of the death penalty.

We appreciate the inclusion of several of our proposals in the outcome document. We strongly welcome that a need to improve access to controlled medicines and a recognition of the different needs for men, women, and children when addressing the drug problem in an effective manner. We have found, they have found a way in the drafts.

We recognize that a proliferation of new psychoactive substances poses a significant risk on public health, and we value the work of international and regional organizations such as the UNODC, the WHO, the INCB, and the European Monitoring Center on Drugs and Drug Addiction, in supporting member states in meeting the challenges these substances present, and we encourage all member states to work together in developing a balanced, evidence based response to this emerging threat.

During recent years, global drug policy showed a steady transition towards a more balanced approach that includes aspects of public health based policies, and that acknowledges that there's no one size fits all solution, while member states also continue to pursue their efforts to counter transnational organized crime and drug trafficking, and we welcome this development which allows us to better address current and future challenges in drug policy, and we welcome that the international community recognizes that a public health approach, focusing on the rights and needs of drug users, are as undeniable benefits.

By developing evidence based prevention programs we can act at the earliest opportunity to prevent people from starting to use drugs and from developing substance use disorders. By developing new treatment programs and increasing their coverage, we are better capable of treating addiction. And by providing risk and harm reduction interventions, we are better able to prevent the spread of Hep and AIDS and other bloodborne infectious diseases among drug users, and we also protect the general population.

There is a vast amount of evidence from many countries across the world showing the effectiveness of risk and harm reduction measures in protecting public health and reducing direct and indirect drug related deaths, and we strongly recommend that states ensure their implementation.

The EU and its member states would like to stress the participatory role of the civil society and academia in all aspects of drug policy, in particular in public health issues. Their important contribution of the elaboration and implementation of drug policies in the local, national, and international levels should be recognized, fully acknowledged, and encouraged. In that regard, the experience of drug users, clients of drug related services, and their organizations and families, should be taken into account.

Member states should also ensure that sanctions on the national law for all drug related offenses take into consideration both mitigating and aggravating factors, and are proportionate to the severity of the offense. We should take into account the facts and circumstances of each case, giving full consideration to relevant international standards and norms and crime prevention and criminal justice. For persons who have committed minor nonviolent drug related offenses, alternatives to conviction and imprisonment should be considered.

And finally, I would like to underline the position of the EU and its member states that the three UN drug control conventions and the universal declaration on human rights are the framework of the global response to the world drug problem. We are convinced that there is sufficient scope and flexibility within the provisions of the UN conventions to accommodate a wide range of approaches to drug policy in accordance with national and regional specificities. At UNGASS, the international community should focus on how best to combine the different evidence based approaches and effective law enforcement policy towards illicit production, manufacturing, trafficking of drugs, and also a sound public health approach towards the prevention of drug abuse, the protection of drug users, and of the general population. Thank you, Chair.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Martin van Rijn, State Secretary for Health, Welfare and Sport for the government of the Netherlands, speaking before the Commission on Narcotic Drugs at its annual meeting in Vienna, Austria, in mid-March.

Last week on this show, we heard my interview with Vanessa Caldwell, a member of the New Zealand delegation. This week, let's hear the presentation from New Zealand to the CND. They were represented on the floor of the CND by Paula Martin, Group Manager, Sector and Services Policy at the New Zealand Ministry of Health.

PAULA MARTIN: New Zealand is pleased to be participating in this 59th session of CND, a session that comes at a very important time in the build-up to the UN General Assembly Special Session in April.

Since the 58th session last year, it has been New Zealand's great pleasure to have launched its new national drug policy, which runs until 2020. You may recall in his address to the 58th session, that our minister responsible for drug policy, the honorable Peter Dunne, emphasized compassion, innovation, and proportion, the three words that should be front of mind when drug policy is being considered and developed.

We believe these sentiments have been reflected in our new policy, and it is our hope that these sentiments will also be more broadly reflected in the discussions and decisions at UNGASS 2016.

Mister Chair, our new policy reflects a language shift in the way we in New Zealand want to view and address drug issues. We don't believe we have the perfect set of interventions and approaches in place, but we do believe our new policy provides a framework for testing and improving our interventions over time.

We state upfront that drug related problems are first and foremost health issues. We have also added the promotion and protection of health and wellbeing to our over-arching goal of minimizing drug related harm. This addition is important because it recognizes that drug issues exist within a social and environmental context, and that a multitude of issues such as mental health and access to housing, education, and employment must also be addressed to build resilience and address the reasons why people use drugs.

A health centered approach also requires a focus on people, with a range of government agencies, civil society, and other stakeholders working together to respond to individual, family, and community needs. This is a key focus for New Zealand over the next five years.

Mister Chair, another primary focus is to ensure our legal balance is appropriate, and that legal responses are proportionate to the offense. This means we have committed to reviewing aspects of our legal framework for controlling and regulating drugs to identify opportunities for health based responses. These reviews will address the role of our expert advisory committee responsible for making drug classification assessments, our framework for personal possession and other low level offenses, and access to controlled drugs for medicinal purposes.

The policy also recognizes that the information New Zealand collects and shares on drug trends can be limited in its ability to measure impacts of drug harm. We've recently developed an illegal drug harm index to provide a more comprehensive picture for illegal drugs. This index considers the social cost of harm from drug use, capturing individual and community harm, and separately considers the cost of interventions to address these issues, including health, education, and law enforcement costs. The methodology also provides scope for data to be refreshed, to provide trends over time.

We welcome the fact that the Sustainable Development Goals provide further impetus for global drug policy measures to reflect wider health and wellbeing outcomes.

Mister Chair, the issues that New Zealand is grappling with in our domestic context are similar to those being discussed in the build up to UNGASS, and we have much to share about our experiences as well to learn from global responses. We also acknowledge that there is no one size fits all approach.

New Zealand for example has developed an innovative approach to addressing the challenges of new psychoactive substances, enacting legislation for a regulated market in which products proven to have a low risk of harm can be sold.

Mister Chair, New Zealand continues to engage constructively in negotiations on the UNGASS Outcome Document in Vienna. We reiterate New Zealand's strong support for a reference to the abolition of the death penalty in that document. We consider this as a notable omission from an otherwise quite forward looking text, and stress New Zealand's opposition to the use of the death penalty anywhere, anytime, for any crime.

We further reiterate the important role of civil society and academia, both in the lead-up to and during UNGASS itself. Their contribution is an essential one, in keeping with their role as stakeholders and working with governments and the international community, and strengthened efforts to address the world drug problem. Thank you.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Dr. Paula Martin, Group Manager, Sector and Services Policy at the Ministry of Health of New Zealand, speaking before the Commission on Narcotic Drugs at its annual meeting in Vienna, Austria, in mid-March.

And well, that's it for today. Thank you for joining us. You've 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, please give it a like and share it with friends. 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.