Tag: People

Richard Branson: North America’s Opioid Crisis Calls for “Pragmatism” Over “Ideology”

Sir Richard Branson, the astute billionaire and founder of the Virgin Group, is pleading for “pragmatism” over “ideology” in combating the scourge of North America – opioid addiction.

Branson, an entrepreneur and an advocate for social issues, is also a commissioner on the Global Commission on Drug Policy. A leader who employs more than 100,000 people and oversees the operation of more than 400 companies, Commissioner Richard is calling for sweeping policy reform in Canada and the United States.

A position paper by the 2017 Global Commission on Drug Policy titled “The Opioid Crisis in North America” encourages the decriminalization of illicit narcotics and the abolishment of all penalties – both civil and criminal –  for individuals who use recreational drugs.

Branson and the commission have also called for “the elimination of illicit drug markets by carefully regulating different drugs according to their potential harms.”

The commission’s position paper noted, “the most effective way to reduce the extensive harms of the global drug prohibition regime and advance the goals of public health and safety is to get drugs under control through responsible legal regulation.”

As such, Branson and the commission have rolled out several policy recommendations:

  • Legally regulate the medical use of marijuana.
  • Stop the criminalization and incarceration of recreational drug users in Canada and the United States.
  • Eliminate and bypass criminal organizations by allowing pilot programs that create a legal regulation of currently illicit drugs.
  • Make proven harm reduction measures and treatment facilities widely available: Naloxone, low threshold opioid substitution therapy, heroin-assisted treatments, needle and syringe programs, and supervised injection facilities.
  • The de facto decriminalization of personal drug use at the municipal, city or state levels.
  • Increased research in critical areas including treatments for addiction to prescribed opioids and the psychological and socioeconomic links to opioid addiction.
  • Research the role played by fentanyl and its derivatives in opioid overdoses.

Defined by the 2017 Global Commission on Drug Policy, the “ad hoc Position Paper” underscores the fact that several studies have identified medical marijuana as an effectual substitute “for some opioid use.” And per the commission’s report, at least one study identified “states with medical marijuana access have 25% lower opioid addiction and overdose rates.”

64,000 Americans overdosed on opioids in 2016

America’s opioid overdose rate skyrockets

A beacon of hope for North America’s ostracized addicts, the report’s scientific notations identified another study that found doctors in medical marijuana states write 1,800 fewer opioid prescriptions annually. The commission’s suggested alternatives to combat North America’s destructive war on drugs would scale-back prejudicial law enforcement in communities of color and dramatically reduce America’s current overdose rate of 64,000 individuals annually.

Photo courtesy of Thierry Ehrmann

 

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“I Do Not Think of It” – Angela Merkel on Cannabis Legalization

This month, the German Federal elections will be held to decide who will be chancellor and form the country’s government moving forward. With six options and a myriad of opinions on the plant’s value, the future of cannabis in Germany can take many shapes.

Both German Chancellor Angela Merkel and lead challenger Social Democrat Martin Schulz have expressed a lack of interest in making significant changes to current policy, but the smaller parties may be critical in pushing cannabis policy forward as part of a coalition.

In a recent interview with the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said there are no plans in place to expand current policies that allow limited applications of medical cannabis in the country.

“I do not think of it,” Merkel said. “We allow a very limited medical application, and I do not intend to make any changes.”

In 2011, the Federal Government launched a “citizens’ dialogue” on YouTube where cannabis quickly became the most popular topic of discussion. The following year, Merkel welcomed the founder of the German Hemp Association (DHV), Georg Wurth, to her Berlin office and listened to four and a half minutes of his concerns.

Shortly thereafter, DHV-founder Georg Wurth won the “The Millionaires Election,” a primetime TV show in which one million Euros is awarded to the best concept for social progress by online vote. Germany’s most famous YouTuber, Le Floyd, was commissioned by the show’s audience to question Chancellor Merkel on the legalization of cannabis.

Although her opinion on cannabis has not changed over the years, the German chancellor can’t avoid the fact that cannabis policy reform is far more popular among voters today than in all former election campaigns.

Six political parties = numerous options

Four weeks ago, Schulz gave an equally clear rejection of any plans to the further liberalization of cannabis legislation. Surprisingly, Schulz appeared to have changed his mind Tuesday during a live-Interview on YouTube. Rather than the outright opposition of legalization, he now calls for a non-binding vote in Parliament.

During a non-binding vote, members of Parliament vote independently of their fractions and party’s official position. Rather, they vote their conscience.

In Germany, calling for a non-binding vote in Parliament is a political movement known as the “repeal of the fractional force” and used very rarely. Merkel used the repeal to enable Parliament to vote for the legal equality of same-sex marriage after the resistance in her own fraction was too strong.

Each of the three smaller parties playing a role in the formation of the new government — the Free Democrats, Greens, and Lefts — has anchored the regulation of cannabis to their party platforms.

If current election polls are an indicator, Merkel could lead Germany with the legalization proponents of the Free Democratic Party (FDP) or the Greens. If Schulz were to become Germany’s next chancellor, he would be dependent on the Greens and the Lefts, both of which stand for pro-cannabis politics.

Another decisive factor in the coming election will be the performance of the right-wing populist “Alternative for Germany” (AfD). The Party, which advocates a fundamental tightening up of drug laws, will not play any role in the formation of the government, but could win enough votes to break the 5% barrier required to join the Bundestag. With the addition of a sixth party in the Parliament, the majority ratios would swirl vigorously.

Merkel is no hardliner

In recent years, Merkel has proved repeatedly that she can make surprising moves, as long as she benefits politically in the long run; she has previously undercut several traditionally conservative positions:

To the horror of many fellow party members, the nuclear physicist Merkel declared Germany’s withdrawal from nuclear energy on the occasion of the Fukushima disaster in 2011. In 2015, despite the global trend, Merkel welcomed almost 2 million refugees from Syria and Iraq, dividing her party and jeopardizing her position in office. In 2017, the Merkel enabled the Parliament to vote for the legal equality of same-sex marriage.

The German chancellor does not depend on dogmas, provided their abolition is politically useful to her.

The best and most likely champion for a liberalization of cannabis policy, despite Merkel, would be a coalition of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), FDP, and the Greens. The smaller parties may push their coalition partner to take further steps toward a truly comprehensive decriminalization. Realistically, this would mean aligning the tolerated small quantity of 15 or 30 grams* as well as a liberalization of the most stringent DUI regulation in the EU.

The worst possible option for Germany cannabis enthusiasts would be a continuation of the currently governing coalition of the CDU and the SPD, which would probably not change the status quo. Challenger Schulz would likely also form a coalition with the pro-cannabis parties of the Greens and the Lefts, but according to all polls and the loss of Sunday’s televised debate, the former president of the EU Parliament is hopelessly behind Merkel.

Even if it remains incalculable in the recreational sector, any future government will likely promote the cultivation and distribution of medical cannabis from Germany to support the ever-growing number of cannabis patients anticipated in 2019.

*In Germany, each state maintains separate regulations; tolerated quantities of cannabis or hashish range from 2-15 grams.

Photo courtesy of DonkeyHotey

 

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German Drug Czar Attacks US Cannabis Lobby

The Drug Czar of the Federal Republic of Germany, Marlene Mortler (CSU), verbally attacked the U.S. cannabis lobby during a presentation of the government’s 2017 Drug and Addiction Report. During a recent press conference, Mortler explained that “U.S. cannabis companies are doing a great deal of business in Germany.”

The CSU-representative added that the wealthy nation of Germany was a desirable market for hedge funds — especially from the USA. According to Mortler, these investors lurk in wait for Germany to the expand the market opportunities.

She also said that since the legalization of medical cannabis in Germany, U.S. companies have touted high expectations regarding Germany’s business potential. According to Mortler, the cannabis lobby now has more direct access to decision-makers than the alcohol or tobacco lobbies, and can effectively engage younger generations through the social media.

The Drug Czar’s Poor Record

During the presentation of this year’s report, the Drug Czar sought out culprits to blame for her poor performance record, which showed a rise in drug-related deaths in Germany for the fourth year in a row. In her home state of Bavaria, where there are hardly any aid programs to help drug addicts, the numbers are increasing immensely.

When it comes to cannabis, Mortler is convinced that the plant’s increasing popularity is the direct result of activism and lobbying efforts. She has continuously declined opportunities to speak with cannabis activists — the “Hemp-Lobby” as she put it — ignoring any possibility of a direct exchange of factual arguments. No interviews, meetings, panels, not even a Skype-dialogue has occurred since she took the role of Drug Czar in 2013. Mortler does not talk to or with her drug policy opponents or cannabis consumers; instead, she talks about them.

In 2016, Mortler complained that Germany’s cannabis users had started a kind of digital war against her. Activists had launched “Mortler off” T-shirts, published a related Facebook page, and promoted a petition for her withdrawal on Change.org. But the CSU leader is hardly diplomatic when it comes to cannabis. She once advised the well-known German rapper Thomas D. on Facebook not to publicize his opposing opinions on cannabis, acerbically asking whether the highly reputed artist “if he had smoked too much.

Even the former financial economist, green politician and founder of the German Hemp Association, Georg Wurth, was called a “gambler and player” by Mortler. He’s never given her a harsh word.

Dubious Numbers to Continue Prohibition

In Mortler’s criticism of the U.S. cannabis lobby and the situation in Colorado, the staunch cannabis opponent skates on thin ice when asserting that the consumption among young people has surged in Colorado since the state regulated cannabis. The source of her ignorance stems from the questionable figures of the “Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area” (RMHIDTA). The report does not address the Colorado Ministry of Health’s official report on the effects of legalization. In contrast to the RMHIDTA’s alleged report of increased cannabis use among adolescents, the state’s Health Department released a study in June, finding that cannabis use among teens has not increased since legalization and remains in line with the national average.

Mason Tvert, the current communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project in Colorado, commented on the windy figures and the work of the RMHIDTA 2016 for Vice magazine:

“It’s kind of laughable, but unfortunately it gets taken seriously by some,” Tvert said of the Rocky Mountain HIDTA report. “This is an agency that, much like the DEA, is living in the 1930s when it comes to marijuana.”

Germany Drug Commissioners also claim that today’s cannabis products are much stronger and therefore more dangerous than they were in the 1970s — this is also demonstrably wrong. In the 1970s, Europeans almost exclusively smoked hashish, which contained a  similar THC content to today’s most potent indoor flowers. The Federal Criminal Police Office confirmed this fact in 2004 when the rumor of highly-potent GMO-cannabis made national headlines for the first time. Additionally, Mortler’s predecessor, Mechthild Dyckmans, confirmed those findings in 2012:

  • The active substance content has fallen overall since 1997 and has not increased ever since,
  • No figures are available that are older than 30 years to compare with the current ones,
  • Only a short-term increase in the late 1990s could be established.

Last but not least, highly potent cannabis is no more dangerous than the less potent varieties, as long as the consumers are aware of its THC content.

Criticism That Ennobles

Mortler, an expert on agricultural policy, lacked drug policy experience at the time of her inauguration. Her perfidious and often difficult-to-believe tactics, just as in the “Pharmacy Review” of January 2015, may be doing more to help pro-cannabis efforts in Germany:

PR: Would a general prohibition on advertising for alcohol and a uniformly high tax rate on alcoholic beverages prevent alcohol abuse among young people better (than the current law)?

Mortler: If you forbid everything, do you think a child says: ‘Yes, mama, you’re right.’? Our country does not want and can not ban anything. Children and young people must be convinced – through education and role models.

PR: Do you believe in the efficiency of bans when it comes to cannabis prohibition?

Mortler: Cannabis is an illegal drug.

Unfortunately, the poor defender of Germany’s drug policy will leave office after the coming elections in October. Since the position of the Drug Officer is not very popular and has never been occupied by the same person for more than one legislative period, Mortler will likely lose the opportunity to provide such a weak case against legalization, as she has for years. In Germany, a pseudo-liberal Drug Czar could do more to slow down the movement’s intake and influence than a drug-related hardliner with moderate stances, representing long-outdated science and facts.

 

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