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In May the German Health Minister, Hermann Groehe, announced that Germany is to legalise cannabis for medical purposes early in 2017. Groehe said that the provisions of the draft bill he was introducing in the German parliament would make cannabis available from pharmacies and the medication would be covered by public health insurance. Supplies of medical cannabis will be imported until specially supervised plantations have been established in Germany. Volteface describes the background to this decision, in particular the role of cannabis advocacy and drug law reform organisations, and the importance of the court decision in April upholding the right of a multiple sclerosis patient, Michael Fischer, to grow his own cannabis for medicinal purposes.
The UK Department of Health has published the results of its consultation on whether people found the new UK Chief Medical Officers’ drinking guidelines clear and easy to use. The guidelines, which came into effect in January 2016, aim to inform the public about known health risks from drinking and provide the most up to date scientific information. The report also describes how the wording of the final guidelines has changed as a result of the consultation. In particular, it was agreed that the guidelines should recognise the context in which the low risk guidelines exist and that “while some people do not drink, for many alcohol is a part of their social lives and as with most activities, this carries a degree of risk.”
The Therapeutic Goods Administration, the Australian Department of Health body that regulates therapeutic products, announced in August that both cannabis and tetrahydrocannabinols, including their extracts, are to be moved from Schedule 9 in the national Poisons Standard to Schedule 8. This amendment enables the therapeutic use of cannabis products. The Age reports that medical cannabis campaigner and United in Compassion co-founder Lucy Haslam said campaigners and patients waiting to obtain medicinal cannabis legally were in a "holding pattern" while the proposed regulatory system was being set up, adding her concern that the proposed legal cannabis industry could be "so bound up in red tape" that its products will be too expensive for patients.
The World Health Organization has published an analysis of the experience of nine countries (Botswana, Egypt, Iceland, Panama, the Philippines, Poland, Romania, Thailand and Vietnam) that have introduced laws for earmarking tobacco tax revenues for spending on public health programmes. While the analysis finds that there is no single formula for establishing an earmarked fund, the report identifies a number of common lessons to help policy-makers and tobacco control advocates who are considering establishing sustainable funding for health programmes in general or for tobacco control programmes specifically from earmarked tobacco tax revenues.
VnExpress reports that Vietnam's northern border has become a hub for synthetic drug trafficking. A bilateral meeting on drug control between Vietnam and China in July noted that traffickers were colluding with officials to get drugs through border controls. The article claims that 983 kg of drugs were seized in 2015, a threefold increase on the previous year’s seizures. The "Golden Triangle" of Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia were identified as the source of these drugs at the meeting. In an article in Customs News, the Director of Drug Crime Investigation Department in Vietnam, Mr. Nguyen Anh Tuan, said: “In recent years, Vietnam-China border has always been identified as a key route for complex criminal activities, especially trafficking and transporting of synthetic drugs. In practice, drugs which are mainly heroin are transferred from Laos to Vietnam for consumption or are transported to China through the provinces of Quang Ninh, Lang Son and Lao Cai. Meanwhile, most of synthetic drugs which come from China are transported back to Vietnam.” At the July meeting An Guojun, deputy secretary-general of China's National Narcotics Control Commission, said: “The two nations need to strengthen and improve anti-drug cooperation to detect and stamp out multi-national gangs, gangs especially in the border areas.”
Up until now the University of Mississippi has had an exclusive licence with the US government to grow cannabis for federally sanctioned research. The US Drug and Enforcement Agency (DEA) now wants other cannabis growers to help expand the supply and variety of cannabis available for research. According to Statnews, a DEA spokesperson said that the DEA “would require manufacturers to obtain their seeds from a lawful source, and the DEA would assist the new manufacturers in this regard.” The agency has set no deadline to select growers. To register with the agency, applicants will need to show that they will have security measures in place to protect the cannabis as well as being willing to comply with a large range of other requirements. Statnews found little enthusiasm for the DEA call among potential applicants at US agricultural schools. “I think everybody is just thinking about how to approach this,” said Dr. Igor Grant, director of the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research at the University of California, San Diego, adding “What will it really take to get one of these DEA licenses?”
The Drug Policy Modelling Program at Australia’s National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC) has published a briefing paper on decriminalization. The briefing is supported by an annotated bibliography of the main research reports and analyses of drug law reform options. Dr Caitlin Hughes, one of the authors of the briefing, said “Decriminalisation removes criminal penalties for use and possession by law or in practice. It does not provide a legal avenue to obtain drugs,” adding “It is a sound and pragmatic policy, supported by research evidence, that can save public money and offer a more effective and humane response to drug use.”
The Netherlands Ministry of Security and Justice commissioned RAND Europe to assess the size and scope of the internet-facilitated drugs trade, the role of the Netherlands in online markets and how law enforcement agencies might detect and intervene. The RAND study used a mixed methods methodology, with a review of the literature, in-depth interviews with experts and law enforcement representatives, the collection and analysis of cryptomarket data and a review of police case files. Cannabis, stimulants and ecstasy accounted for 70 per cent of all revenues on cryptomarkets. The majority of drugs sold were transactions under $100, which the researchers believed were mostly for personal use. “Wholesale” level transactions (those greater than $1,000), which the researchers thought were for re-distribution through offline markets, accounted for 25 percent of the transactions. Total cryptomarket drug revenues for January 2016 were estimated to be worth between $12.0 million and $21.1 million, which compares with Europe's estimated €2.3 billion monthly offline drug revenues. Revenues from vendors operating from the Netherlands were by far the largest on a per capita basis.
Reuters reports that a bill was introduced in the Italian parliament in July and proposed by an inter-party group of 220 deputies and 80 senators, mainly from the Prime Minister’s Democratic Party (PD) and the 5-Star Movement. The proposed legislation would decriminalize possession of up to 15 grams of cannabis for recreational use at home and possession of up to 5 grams of cannabis for recreational use outside of the home. The cultivation of up to five cannabis plants at home would be allowed. The government would allow the creation of cannabis clubs, which could include up to 50 members allowed to smoke and distribute cannabis up to a specified limit, and license certain companies to produce and sell cannabis.
President Obama signed the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) into law in July. The measure had received consensus in the US Congress, and was passed by 92 votes to 2 in the US Senate. A supporter of the bill, Republican Senator Rob Portman, said: “This is a historic moment, the first time in decades that Congress has passed comprehensive addiction legislation, and the first time Congress has ever supported long-term addiction recovery,” adding “This is also the first time that we’ve treated addiction like the disease that it is, which will help put an end to the stigma that has surrounded addiction for too long.” CARA aims to help communities develop prevention, treatment and overdose programmes. However, the Senate authorized $181 million in new spending to support CARA, while President Obama had asked Congress for more than $1 billion. The Republicans in the Senate said further funding would be addressed in the appropriations process later in the year.
Reuters reports that the World Bank's International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) has ruled in favour of Uruguay in a suit filed by Philip Morris International which sought compensation for the country’s anti-smoking legislation. Uruguay was the first Latin American country to introduce a smoking ban in public spaces, raise taxes on tobacco products and print large warnings and graphic images on cigarette packages. Philip Morris argued that the legislation devalued its cigarette trademarks and investments in the country. The company’s suit demanded that the regulations be withdrawn, or not applied to the company, or that it be paid $22 million in damages instead. According to The Financial Times this was the first time a tobacco company had taken a country to an international court. Philip Morris argued that Uruguay had violated terms of a bilateral investment treaty with Switzerland, where the company has its headquarters. In a decision published in July, the ICSID said it had ruled to dismiss Philip Morris' demands and the ICSID ordered Philip Morris to pay Uruguay $7 million and to cover "all the fees and expenses of the Tribunal and ICSID's administrative fees and expenses.” "The Uruguayan state has emerged victorious and the tobacco company's claims have been roundly rejected," President Tabara Vasquez said in a televised address.
A report from the UK Institute of Alcohol Studies, Youthful Abandon, examines the main theories that have sought to explain the recent decline in drinking rates among the under 18 year-olds in the UK. The report concludes that the decline is most likely due to improvements in parenting and the reduced affordability of alcohol, with little evidence that better legal enforcement or the increase in the use of new technology has had a significant impact.
A proposal to regulate tobacco advertising further in the country was rejected by the Health Committee of the Swiss senate in April. Currently Switzerland has very weak legislation on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship. The proposed federal law, while phasing out traditional methods of advertising such as cinema ads, also sought to allow tobacco companies to use more contemporary marketing techniques like social media to promote their products. In rejecting the government’s draft law, the Health Committee said it “interferes with the principles of a free market economy” and that “there is no evidence as of today that a general ban of tobacco advertising would reduce tobacco consumption.”
The Economist reports that the approximate value of online drug sales rose from around $15-17 million in 2012 to $150-180 million in 2015. The data for The Economist study was gathered by a researcher with the alias Gwern Branwen, who captured around 360,000 transactions from three different markets on the hidden web, Silk Road 2, Agora, and Alphabay, between December 2013 and July 2015. MDMA (ecstasy) had the greatest market share by value of all drugs sold over these cryptomarkets. Cannabis products were the most popular products sold, with oxycodone and Valium also popular. The study also found that drugs bought over the hidden web tended to be more expensive than those bought in street markets. For example, a gram of heroin bought online was twice as expensive as on the street. The Economist speculates that a major factor appears to be that drugs bought online tend to be of a higher quality with fewer impurities. Online dealers who sell poor quality products are likely to garner poor reviews and lose customers.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has joined the Institute for Research, Education, and Training in Addictions (IRETA) to create a free online course based on NIDA Notes content. The course content describes and presents research evidence supporting digital technologies to treat patients with substance use problems. The course is aimed at those involved in screening, brief interventions and referral to treatment as well as counsellors, social workers, health professionals and education professionals. The electronic tools covered in the course include BSTAD, a rapid electronic screening tool for teens, and CBT4CBT, a web-based cognitive behavioural therapy tool. The course also includes videos, informative graphics, quizzes, and practice scenarios.
Pharmacies were designated as one of the three points for acquiring cannabis under Uruguay’s 2013 law legalizing the recreational use of the drug. Under the law, registering with the Uruguayan Institute for Regulation and Control of Cannabis (IRCCA) enables individuals to grow up to six plants at home and harvest up to 40 grams per month. Uruguayan citizens can also join registered cannabis clubs, which have a minimum of 15 members and a maximum of 45. Cannabis clubs can grow a total of 99 plants at specific registered locations, but can only supply each member with a maximum of 480 grams per year. Finally, cannabis can be sold in pharmacies that have been issued a permit by the Uruguayan government. Pharmacies will obtain their cannabis from private companies that have been approved by the government to grow the plant. The government planned to start selling cannabis through pharmacies in 2016 but according to The Cannabist only 50 out of Uruguay’s 1,200 pharmacies had registered for the scheme by July. Among the reasons given for not registering are security concerns, increased paperwork, cost increases and opposition from pharmacy customers to selling legalized cannabis. Government officials said off the record that having only 50 pharmacies enrolled might work in the government’s favour because it would make the scheme easier to control, adding “We’re not ruling out using other networks or even vending machines in the future.”
The National Post reports there were 474 drug-related overdose deaths in British Columbia (BC) in Canada in 2015, with over a third of them associated with fentanyl, according to BC’s chief health officer. With more than 200 overdose deaths in early 2016, the chief health officer declared a public health emergency in the province in April. The Shambhala Music Festival, held every August in BC, makes on-site drug testing available through the AIDS Network, Outreach and Support Society (ANKORS), providing attendees with an opportunity to confirm the contents of substances through reagent testing. In Vancouver24hrs Stacey Lock, Shambhala’s director of harm reduction for the festival, said: “But there are limitations because it doesn’t specifically test for fentanyl, and that is the biggest concern for festivals this year.” Shambhala launched a crowdfunding campaign in early June to raise some of the cost of laboratory-quality equipment that can detect fentanyl, a campaign that raised nearly $12,000 in the first month. ANKORS aims to have suitable testing equipment for the 2017 festival. “We’re really researching to find something like a mini-mass spectrometer – something that’s small and can be mobile,” said Chloe Sage of ANKORS. “We would like to see it go to festivals, but also then be available year-round in the community and may even be able to move around to different communities.”
Indonesia executed by firing squad four people convicted of drug crimes in July despite the international condemnation of two mass executions of foreign drug convicts in 2015. Indonesian Deputy Attorney General Noor Rachmad, said that a decision had not yet been made about when 10 others convicted of drug crimes and sentenced to death, mostly foreigners, would be executed. The Indonesian president Joko Widodo took office in October 2014, declaring that the country was facing a “drugs emergency” and rejected clemency appeals from more than 60 death row inmates. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein, said “I find it deeply disturbing that Indonesia has already executed 19 people since 2013, making it the most prolific executioner in Southeast Asia.”
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) links its latest World Drug Report with the outcome of the Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly held earlier in 2016. In particular, the report follows up the Special Session’s observation that "efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and to effectively address the world drug problem are complementary and mutually reinforcing.” The report uses the data it has collected on the prevalence, supply of and demand for opiates, cocaine, cannabis, amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) and new psychoactive substances (NPS) and their impact on health to explore the interaction between the world drug problem and the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The UK newspaper The Guardian reports that 30 people suspected of involvement with the illicit drug trade have been shot dead by police in the week following the inauguration of the new president of the Phillipines, Rodrugo Duerte. In the evening of his inauguration day, Duerte visited a slum in Manila where he reportedly said to the crowd, “If you know of any addicts, go ahead and kill them yourself as getting their parents to do it would be too painful.” This follows an election campaign in which Duerte threatened to kill tens of thousands of criminals to combat crime in the country and advocated extrajudicial killings.
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2 - 4 October 2016, Venice Italy.
5 - 8 October 2016, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA.
7 - 11 October 2016, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA.
12 - 14 October 2016, Seattle, Washington, USA.
16 - 19 October 2015, Gramado, Brazil.
20 - 22 October 2016, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
29 October - 2 November 2016, Baltimore, Maryland, USA.
29 October - 2 November 2016, Denver, Colorado, USA.
30 October - 2 November 2016, Sydney, Australia.
3 - 5 November 2016, Washington, DC, USA.
9 - 12 November 2016, Vienna, Austria.
10 - 11 November 2016, York, UK.
11 - 15 November 2016, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.
12 November 2016, Bern, Switzerland.
12 - 16 November 2016, San Diego, California, USA.
16 - 18 November 2016, Adelaide, Australia.
16 November 2016, London, UK.
22 - 23 November 2016, Ljubljana, Slovenia.
8 - 11 December 2016, Bonita Springs, Florida, USA.
16 - 20 February 2017, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.
20 - 22 February 2017, Lake Buena Vista, Florida, USA.
7 - 11 March 2017, Florence, Italy.
15 - 18 March 2017, Washington DC, USA.
16 - 19 March 2017, Orlando, Florida, USA.
23 - 26 March 2017, Madrid, Spain.
24 - 26 March 2017, Sydney, Australia.
6 - 9 April 2017, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA.
1 - 3 May 2017, London, UK.
5 - 6 May 2017, location TBD.
7 - 10 May 2017, Liverpool, UK.
15 - 17 May 2017, Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia.
17 - 19 May 2017, Aarhus, Denmark.
5 - 9 June 2017, Sheffield, UK.
16 - 19 June 2017, Montreal, Canada.
17 - 22 June 2017, Montreal, Canada.
22 - 27 June 2017, Montréal, Québec, Canada.
12 - 14 July 2017, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.
23 - 26 July 2017, Paris, France.
2 - 5 September 2017, Paris, France.
4 - 6 October 2017, Melbourne, Australia.
8 - 11 October 2017, Heraklion, Crete.
24 - 26 October 2017, Lisbon, Portugal.
25 - 27 October 2017, Milan, Italy.
13 - 15 November 2017, Cape Town, South Africa.