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WHO calls for drug decriminalization, reforms

   (DPA) - 7/26/2014 - In a report published earlier this month, the World Health Organization (WHO) made a clear call for broad drug policy reforms, including decriminalization of drug use, harm reduction practices such as syringe exchange and opioid substitution therapy, and a ban on compulsory treatment for people who use drugs. This report by the United Nations’ leading health agency focuses on best practices to prevent, diagnose and treat HIV among key populations.
   “It’s good to see the WHO come out so strongly for decriminalizing drugs and rejecting compulsory treatment for people who use drugs,’ said Ethan Nadelmann, Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “Its recommendations, grounded as they are in science and public health, drive home the need for fundamental reforms in U.S. drug policies, in particular the growing reliance on drug courts to ‘treat’ people arrested for drug possession.”
   In a section titled “Good practice recommendations concerning decriminalization”, the WHO report makes the following recommendations:
Countries should work toward developing policies and laws that decriminalize injection and other use of drugs and, thereby, reduce incarceration.
Countries should work toward developing policies and laws that decriminalize the use of clean needles and syringes (and that permit NSPs [needle and syringe programs]) and that legalize OST [opioid substitution therapy] for people who are opioid-dependent.
Countries should ban compulsory treatment for people who use and/or inject drugs.
   This follows on the heels of a report released in March by a key working group of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) discouraging criminal sanctions for drug use. The recommendations of the working group – which included Nora Volkow, head of the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) – highlight that “criminal sanctions are not beneficial” in addressing the spectrum of drug use and misuse.
   In 2016, the United Nations General Assembly will hold a special session on drugs (UNGASS) – an initiative proposed in 2012 by the then-president of Mexico, Felipe Calderon – in order to conduct a comprehensive review of the successes and failures of international drug control policy. Whereas the previous UNGASS in 1998 was dominated by rhetorical calls for a “drug-free world” and concluded with unrealistic goals regarding illicit drug production, the forthcoming UNGASS will undoubtedly be shaped by recommendations such as those in the WHO report.
   Last year, Uruguay followed on the heels of Colorado and Washington State and became the first country to legally regulate marijuana for recreational purposes. In June, the West Africa Commission on Drugs, initiated by former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan and chaired by former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasango, called for drug decriminalization and for treating drug use as a health issue. This was followed by an announcement by the Jamaican Minister of Justice that the Jamaican Cabinet had approved a proposal to decriminalize the possession of up to two ounces of marijuana and the decriminalization of marijuana use for religious, scientific and medical purposes. And earlier this month, the Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), agreed to establish a commission to review marijuana policy in the region in order to assess the need for reforms to marijuana laws.
  The WHO recommendations are consistent with the long-standing policy objectives and mission of the Drug Policy Alliance, as well as with a surprisingly broad and rapidly-emerging coalition of stakeholders who are calling for drug decriminalization, including the American Public Health Association, International Red Cross, Organization of American States, NAACP, Human Rights Watch, National Latino Congreso, and the Global Commission on Drug Policy.
   Source: Drug Policy Alliance

Report: Corn ethanol mandate hurting environment

   Washington, D.C. – 7/18/2014 - A proposal now being considered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to cut the amount of corn ethanol required in gasoline would lower greenhouse gas emissions by 3 million metric tons, according to a new report released by the Environmental Working Group.
  If the EPA reduces corn ethanol by 1.39 billion gallons as proposed, it would prevent as much greenhouse gas pollution as taking 580,000 cars off the road annually, EWG found.
  The current mandate, known as the Renewable Fuel Standard, requires oil companies to increase so-called renewable fuels in gasoline every year, from 9 billion gallons in 2008 to 36 billion gallons in 2022. For the first time since this law took effect, the EPA has proposed to reduce the amount of corn-based ethanol used as fuel for the nation’s cars and trucks.
   “The Obama administration has a real opportunity to scale back the corn ethanol mandate and make a significant contribution in the fight against climate change,” said Emily Cassidy, EWG research analyst and co-author of EWG’s new report, Ethanol’s Broken Promise. “As our research shows, corn-based ethanol is actually worse for the climate than regular gasoline.”
  Click here to read the full report.
  Blending corn ethanol into gasoline has significantly increased greenhouse gas emissions because higher demand for ethanol for fuel has encouraged farmers to plow up wetlands and grasslands to grow corn. This increased agricultural activity releases more soil carbon into the atmosphere. Corn requires intensive fertilizer, which breaks down to emit nitrous oxide, another greenhouse gas, according to EWG’s study.
   EWG estimates that 85 million to 236 million metric tons of greenhouse gases were emitted from 2008 to 2011, when more than 23 million acres of grassland and wetlands were converted to grow crops. Researchers found that most studies that claim the corn ethanol mandate reduces emissions do not properly account for the resources needed to improve crop yields and significantly underestimate the emissions from conversion of land to corn production driven by the federal ethanol mandate.
   Since President Obama took office in January of 2009, his administration has made substantial progress to combat climate change. New fuel economy standards and a 10-fold increase in solar energy production have helped reduce U.S. greenhouse gas pollution to the lowest level in almost 20 years.
   “In the absence of any real effort by Congress to address climate change, President Obama has stepped up repeatedly, doing more than any previous President to lower greenhouse gas emissions,” Scott Faber, EWG senior vice president for government affairs, said. “If the administration stands strong against the ethanol lobby and implements EPA’s proposed ethanol rollback, it will be a huge victory for the environment.”
  Source: environmental working group

Law would ban BPA from food containers

   WASHINGTON, D.C. – 7/17/2014 - Several members of Congress are pushing a bill to better protect consumers – particularly the elderly, pregnant women children, and workers – from a known toxic hormone disruptor bisphenol-A, or BPA.
   Introduced  by long-time champion Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), the Ban Poisonous Additives Act of 2014 would ban BPA from food and beverage containers. It would also grant waivers to manufacturers seeking safer replacements for BPA while requiring them to place specific warning labels on any packaging that still contains the toxic substance. The legislation would also mandate the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to review the safety of all materials deemed safe for use in food and beverage containers .
   Reps. Lois Capps (D-Calif.) and Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) introduced a companion bill in the House.
   “Science shows that BPA is present in the vast majority of Americans and is harmful to human health,” said Jason Rano, EWG’s director of government affairs. “It has been linked to cancer, obesity, diabetes, infertility, hormone disruption and early puberty in children. Congress is taking an important step on behalf of our most vulnerable populations to help reduce exposure to BPA.”
   BPA, a synthetic estrogen, is in the epoxy linings that coat the inside of most canned foods and beverages and ultimately leaches into those products. Some companies have voluntarily taken BPA out of the linings of their containers, and in 2012 the FDA banned BPA in baby bottles and children's sippy cups.
   “It was an important step when the FDA banned BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups, but BPA has no place in food packaging and must be replaced with alternatives that don’t pose a serious health threats to humans,” added Rano. “This legislation would help make that a reality while providing manufacturers with the additional time they need to find safer options.”
   EWG recommends that consumers limit their intake of canned food and beverages and look for products labeled “BPA-free” or packed in glass jars or cardboard cartons, not metal cans.
   Source: Environmental Working Group

Photo by Steve Rensberry (c) 2014