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US Buries WHO Cocaine Report

In the early 90s, the UN World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations Inter-regional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI) completed the largest study ever undertaken on the use of coca and cocaine. The WHO/UNICRI briefing kit, released in 1995, had this to say: "Health problems from the use of legal substances, particularly alcohol and tobacco, are greater than health problems from cocaine use. Few experts describe cocaine as invariably harmful to health."

Unfortunately (and predictably), under pressure from the United States, it was never published, when it became clear its findings were in direct conflict with the myths, stereotypes and propaganda that prop up the war on drugs. At the 48th World Health Assembly, just two months later, the US representative to WHO had this to say: "The United States Government had been surprised to note that the package seemed to make a case for the positive uses of cocaine, claiming that use of the coca leaf did not lead to noticeable damage to mental or physical health, that the positive health effects of coca leaf chewing might be transferable from traditional settings to other countries and cultures, and that coca production provided financial benefits to peasants..."

He then threatened to withdraw US funding for WHO research projects unless they would dissociate itself from the conclusions of the study.

It's easy to see why the US would be so opposed to the study being published as it not only challenges a number of myths and stereotypes about cocaine use, but it is highly critical of a number of US-backed policies. The report specifically highlights the criticism that supply reduction and enforcement policies are not working and that alternatives needs to be explored.

The studies identified "strict limitations to drug control policies which rely almost exclusively on repressive measures. Current national and local approaches which over-emphasize punitive drug control measures may actually contribute to the development of heath-related problems. An increase in the adoption of more humane, compassionate responses such as education, treatment and rehabilitation programs is seen as a desirable counterbalance to the overreliance on law enforcement measures."

The study also points out that 'anti-drug' campaigns in general are not necessarily effective, especially when they are not rooted in fact.

The report was never officially published and according to the WHO it does not exist, however some of the project advisors are currently pushing for it to be formally published. It has only emerged into the public domain because the relevant documents were leaked and found their way into the hands of the Transnational Institute drugs and democracy program.

The suppression of this detailed, authoritative and independent report is yet more evidence of how certain governments, most conspicuously the US, have willfully refused to develop rational drug policy based on science and evidence -- and worse, when evidence emerges that challenges their political prerogatives they will resort to bullying, threats and censorship to ensure it is suppressed. This is anti-science drug war posturing of the worst kind, and can only lead to poor policy and increased human costs as a result.

Find the WHO Cocaine Project Briefing Kit and associated documents at:

Source: Transform Drug Policy Foundation UK at

Drug Decrim Resounding Success in Portugal

On July 1, 2001, a nationwide law in Portugal took effect that decriminalized all drugs, including cocaine and heroin. Under the new legal framework, all drugs were "decriminalized," not "legalized." Thus, drug possession for personal use and drug usage itself are still legally prohibited, but violations of those prohibitions are deemed to be exclusively administrative violations and are removed completely from the criminal realm. Drug trafficking continues to be prosecuted as a criminal offense.

The political consensus in favor of decriminalization is unsurprising in light of the relevant empirical data. Those data indicate that decriminalization has had no adverse effect on drug usage rates in Portugal, which, in numerous categories, are now among the lowest in the EU, particularly when compared with states with stringent criminalization regimes. Although postdecriminalization usage rates have remained roughly the same or even decreased slightly when compared with other EU states, drug-related pathologies -- such as sexually transmitted diseases and deaths due to drug usage -- have decreased dramatically. Drug policy experts attribute those positive trends to the enhanced ability of the Portuguese government to offer treatment programs to its citizens -- enhancements made possible, for numerous reasons, by decriminalization.

Notably, decriminalization has become increasingly popular in Portugal since 2001. Except for some far-right politicians, very few domestic political factions are agitating for a repeal of the 2001 law. And while there is a widespread perception that bureaucratic changes need to be made to Portugal's decriminalization framework to make it more efficient and effective, there is no real debate about whether drugs should once again be criminalized. More significantly, none of the nightmare scenarios touted by preenactment decriminalization opponents -- from rampant increases in drug usage among the young to the transformation of Lisbon into a haven for "drug tourists" -- has occurred.

The data show that, judged by virtually every metric, the Portuguese decriminalization framework has been a resounding success. Within this success lie self-evident lessons that should guide drug policy debates around the world.

Edited for space from constitutional lawyer Glenn Greewald's April 2, 2009 White Paper, Drug Decriminalization in Portugal: Lessons for Creating Fair and Successful Drug Policies, available in full at

1 in 11 U.S. Prisoners Serving Life Sentences

A new report released by The Sentencing Project in July finds a record 140,610 individuals are now serving life sentences in state and federal prisons, 6,807 of whom were juveniles at the time of the crime. In addition, 29% of persons serving a life sentence (41,095) have no possibility of parole, and 1,755 were juveniles at the time of the crime. No Exit: The Expanding Use of Life Sentences in America represents the first nationwide collection of life sentence data documenting race, ethnicity and gender. The report's findings reveal overwhelming racial and ethnic disparities in the allocation of life sentences: 66% of all persons sentenced to life are non-white, and 77% of juveniles serving life sentences are non-white.

According to the report, the dramatic growth in life sentences is not primarily a result of higher crime rates, but of policy changes that have imposed harsher punishments and restricted parole consideration.

The authors of the report state that persons serving life sentences "include those who present a serious threat to public safety, but also include those for whom the length of sentence is questionable."

The Sentencing Project calls for the elimination of sentences of life without parole, and restoring discretion to parole boards to determine suitability for release. The report also recommends that individuals serving parole-eligible life sentences be properly prepared for reentry back into the community.

The full report is available at

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