Pubdate: Sun, 31 Aug 2003
Source: Royal Gazette, The (Bermuda)
Copyright: 2003 The Royal Gazette Ltd.
Author: Matthew Taylor
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)
Bookmark: (Nadelmann, Ethan)


US Drug liberalisation guru Ethan Nadelmann has urged Bermuda to legalise
cannabis and prescribe heroin to addicts in a bid to cut crime and improve
health. He said pharmaceutical heroin helped addicts live long lives and
function while the black market product helped cause abscesses, hepatitis and
HIV and led to lethal overdoses.

"Drugs are much more dangerous when they are illegal," said the Executive
Director of US pressure group Drug Policy Alliance who is in Bermuda on

And he said criminalisation of cannabis was self defeating as it meant students
ended up on the US stop list.

"Criminalising cannabis in Bermuda has deprived people of the chance to study
in the US which could have life-long consequences.

"That does not serve Bermuda's long term interest.

"Bermuda has no interest in a young person being deprived of access to the
United States because they are the unlucky fellow who got caught doing
something which probably a significant proportion of your kids are doing, which
is smoking cannabis."

He said Britain's two main political parties were moving away from advocating a
hard-line on drugs in line with other countries in Europe where a harm
reduction approach for hard drugs was being taken. Switzerland, Germany and
Holland are prescribing pharmaceutical heroin to those addicted to street
heroin, an idea which was gaining ground in England said Mr. Nadelmann.

This worked for those unable to stop altogether or use Methadone which he
likened to nicotine patches for cigarette addicts and which allowed people to
lead normal lives. Such people were no more addicts than diabetics were insulin
addicts argued Mr. Nadelmann.

Heroin maintenance was supported by European police who saw its help in
reducing the black market and crime and he said Governments needed to realise
they would never eradicate drugs.

"When a politician talks about creating a drug-free United States or a
drug-free Bermuda the proper obligation of the informed citizen is to burst out

He said in a conservative society like Bermuda the tension would be between the
moralistic approach and the pragmatic.

"Switzerland is a fairly conservative society, in some respects a bit like
Bermuda, it's a banking society, it's a tourist society but Switzerland is
leading the world now, leapfrogging the Dutch, in following harm reduction

"It will be the first country, shortly, to fully regulate cannabis markets.
They were the first to really expand the heroin maintenance and safe injection

"Switzerland, which is one of the most conservative societies in Europe, jumped
to the vanguard because it was the pragmatic, cost effective, humane thing to

"The question for Bermuda is do you follow the United States or Switzerland?"

He said the drug war was identical to America's doomed period of alcohol
prohibition which had a brief limited impact on reducing consumption followed
by the creation of organised crime and the creation of new criminals and a
disrespect for an unworkable law.

The UN estimated the drug trade formed a $400 billion global underground
economy, said Mr. Nadelmann and there were half a million people locked up on
drug charges in the US.

Mandatory minimum sentences ended up punishing minions in the drug trade while
key players were able to plea bargain themselves out of long jail terms because
they had information to trade, he said.

"Drug dealing is not the moral equivalent of rape or murder but that's how our
laws treat it," said Mr. Nadelmann.

"It's obscene that people who sell drugs to willing buyers are treated under
the criminal law more severely that people who commit huge financial crimes."

He said the drug laws didn't protect people but punished them and were doing
more harm than good by filling up jails.

"Whenever the laws start doing more harm than the act itself you know something
fundamentally has gone wrong.

"The notion of banning people from entering the country on a possession
offence, that's extraordinary."

His organisation advocates treating cannabis like alcohol by taxing it,
regulating and warning kids not to use it.

With harder drugs his group's policy is not to criminalise people for what they
put in their body. "But that doesn't mean you should be laying out it in
supermarkets," said Mr. Nadelmann.

He said Bermuda's alternatives to incarceration policy which gave addicts
convicted of non-violent and non-sexual crimes breaks on sentencing in return
for a promise to get clean was wrong.

"Why take away someone's freedom and put them back in jail simply for putting a
drug into their body?"

He said people who committed a robbery deserved to go to jail and supporting a
habit was no excuse, instead people needed to be held responsible for their

In America it was easier for kids to buy marijuana than alcohol where sanctions
apply for those caught selling drink to those underage, said Mr. Nadelmann.
Cocaine is a bigger problem to control, he said, because it didn't have an easy
maintenance solution although he said some doctors in England were prescribing
an amphetamine to cocaine addicts to reduce cravings.

He urged Bermuda look at this. A modest increase in drug use was tolerable if
drug related crime went down, said Mr. Nadelmann.
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