Sunday, December 04, 2016


With the growing movement to legalize cannabis in the United States (see November elections), its getting pretty easy to argue against the ridiculousness of making a plant illegal.  But how about so-called 'harder' drugs like heroin and methamphetamine?  Well, to paraphrase Dr. Carl Hart:  "... come out of the closet and say you used marijuana?  That sh*ts easy.  Say that you used other things as well.  And you have to do it in places where people are not friendly."  Alright, lets talk about shabu then!  If you don't already know, shabu is the drug of choice of many in the Philippines and it goes by many names:  methamphetamine, meth, crystal meth, and also Desoxyn, which is meth from Big Pharma.  Here's some quotes from three books I recently read regarding methamphetamine:  

"... most young people who become addicted to crystal meth are self-medicating other conditions:  most commonly attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), but also depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, or the effects of emotional and social dislocation.  ...[S]ome young street people who use crystal meth see it as a way of survival.  If the necessary physical, psychological, and social supports were provided, I believe it would not take long to diminish the appeal of methamphetamine and to wean the vast majority of stimulant addicts away from this harmful chemical." -- Dr. Gabor Mate, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts

"When it comes to marijuana and the party drugs like ecstasy, up to and including cocaine, I think the harms caused by a small increase in use is plainly outweighed by the gains.  That's why I would sell them in regulated stores, like alcohol.  And with drugs like crack and meth?  I am inclined to the middle option -- allow safe regulated spaces where users can buy and take them, supervised by doctors."  -- Johann Hari, Chasing the Scream

"These medications [amphetamine (Adderall), methamphetamine (Desoxyn) and methylphenidate (Ritalin)] are often prescribed for attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), both in adults and in children.  They're also utilized for treating obesity and narcolepsy.  But although there are some cases of abuse, the vast majority of therapeutic users do not become addicted.  Indeed, there's some evidence that children given these drugs to treat attention problems are actually at lower risk of addiction later in life than those whose ADHD is not treated with medication. " -- Dr. Carl Hart, High Price 

Out of those three books, I would have to say that Chasing the Scream is my favorite.  It has so many tragic stories but also some inspiring ones.  After reading those 3 books, I needed a break from reading about drugs, so I'm now trying to finish Charles Dickens' David Copperfield.  Not as interesting.  I do have my eye on a few more books about drugs that look promising:  Maia Szalavitz's Unbroken Brain and Marc Lewis' The Biology of Desire.  So does this mean that I am addicted to books about drugs?

Monday, August 01, 2016

Trying to Understand Supporters of the War on Drugs

I recently made a comment on Boying Pimentel's article The rest of the world knows war on drugs doesn’t work, commending the author for a well-written article.  Little did I know that I would eventually engage in a "spirited" debate with a commenter named brightside.  Here it is:

Me:  Very well said, Mr. Pimentel.   

brightside:  What was well said? Are you just kidding or just like Boying? Out of touch with reality? What a waste of journalistic space.

Me:  Hello Mr. Brightside. Thanks for the comment. The reason why I said the article is well written because he presents his arguments well. He gives reasons why he thinks the war on drugs is a failure. These reasons include: 1) other countries such as Colombia have been fighting this war for 40+ years with little to show for it, 2) the drug war has created a black market for drugs that has only enriched drug lords, 3) mostly poor people are the ones being incarcerated (or killed) for low-level and non-violent drug offenses, 4) there are other more effective alternatives such as treatment, rehabilitation and even decriminalization of drug use and possession. So that's why I think its a well-written article. Of course, that's just my opinion.   

brightside :  Good you know it's just your opinion and Boying's too.

Me: No, I don't claim to be an expert on drug policy. Like Mr. Pimentel, we just see what we see and make our own conclusions, like everybody. For a drug policy expert, I would suggest listening to experts like Dr. Gabor Mate or Dr. Carl hart, a medical professional/professor from Columbia University in the US, who has studied the issue for 20+ years. You can find Dr. Hart's talk on drug policy when he visited the Philippines on the internet.

brightside: Not because it did not work in some parts of the world, more specifically in Columbia, means it will not work somewhere else. No amount of effort will matter in Columbia, because illegal drugs and its accompanying corruption have reached the highest levels of their gov't, the police and the military. Efforts, especially in the past, and up to now are more of lip service, also Columbia and other countries alike have very few other products to export and sustained their economy. Not because someone from a US university studied the matter or said so, will be taken as universally true, a colonial mentality syndrome. . . is it? 

Me: It is not just Prof. Hart who calls for a different approach. There's Pastor Pat Robertson, former Mexican president Vicente Fox and former US president Jimmy Carter, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. And it is not just Colombia where a war on drugs has not worked. It hasn't worked in the US, Mexico or Europe. Drug prohibition just doesn't have a very good track record. In the US, they realized this and are now allowing states to legalize or decriminalize cannabis, for example. That takes away some of the power from the drug cartels. In Switzerland, they have done programs like harm reduction. In Portugal, they have decriminalized all drugs. In 2004, they tried the drug war in Thailand, pretty much what the Philippines is doing now. Initially, it decreased drug use, but then drug use went up again anyway. Drug use has gone down in those countries that have tried a different approach (ie Portugal, Switzerland and US states like Colorado). I agree with you, that yes, its possible, that a more militant approach to the drug problem could work in the Philippines. But history has shown otherwise.

What do you think?  Who made a more convincing argument?

Photo credit:  Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Raising Free Range Chickens

I've now been in the Philippines for nearly a year. What have I been up to other than talk about drug policy reform?  Well, I have been raising chickens.  I bought them after watching Dr. Erwin Cruz's video on youtube regarding free range chicken farming.  Its been 6 months since I bought them as 1 day old chicks and they're now all grown up:

We used to raise caged chickens, so we just converted the cages into nestboxes by removing the door and adding some straw:

I also built three wooden nestboxes and sometimes they lay eggs in there, but they mostly lay eggs in the cages that were converted into nestboxes:

Although 90% of the time they lay eggs in the nestboxes, there's still that 10% where they lay eggs anywhere. So that's one of the challenges right now. We have been averaging about 25-30 eggs per day out of 55 hens, so I think that means the hens are doing well.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Discussing Drug Policy with People

Here's an interesting discussion about drug policy in the Philippines that I had with a person I respect highly.  

Me:  ____, are you a believer in the Philippines' current drug policy?

Person X:  Which policy? Sacking of the police, yes. Killings, no.  [Philippine Police Chief] Bato does not subscribe to the killings.

Me:  How about drug legalization or decriminalization?  For or against?

Person X: Against, except marijuana for medical reasons

Me:  There are those, such as myself, who believe that the anti-drug campaign has created the powerful drug lords we see now.  If we legalize or at least decriminalize drugs, then we take away that power from the drug lords.  They will have no reason to exist because there will be legal, safe dispensaries such as those in Colorado.  There's also the argument that arresting people for small amounts of drugs is a waste of police resources when the police could instead be out chasing real criminals like plunderers and murderers and rapists.  What do you think of these arguments?

Person X: We used that argument in campaigning for legal medical marijuana. But I will never agree to make shabu legal.

Me: Ok, at least we agree on marijuana.  hehe.  I am also somewhat hesitant about harder drugs like shabu.  However, the alternative is that the drug users will shoot up drugs no matter what.  They're addicted.  So what they end up doing is sharing needles which leads to high cases of HIV.  Drug policy should be dictated by health experts, not law enforcement.  That's my take.  
Pahabol.  hehe.  With shabu, perhaps what could be done is do what Portugal does -- decriminalize drug use.  The drug offender would be fined instead of jailed and he/she would undergo rehab.  Make it an administrative issue, not a criminal issue.  The jails are already filled to the brim with non-violent drug offenders, waiting years for their case.  That doesn't seem right.

The bright side of this debate is that a medical marijuana bill has been filed in the Philippine Congress, which I think is a step in the right direction.

Shout out to NoBox Transitions Foundation, Inc. for this graphic:  

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Can I Talk About This?

Yes, I can! Although that could change if a certain politician were elected president. More on that below.

One of the advantages of no longer being a Peace Corps volunteer is that I can now talk about controversial topics like politics and drug legalization with the locals. As they say, "Be careful what you wish for." My newsfeed is now inundated with political news for the upcoming Philippine election everyday. It can be a little overwhelming. I long for the days when every third story in my newsfeed would be about Pia Wurtzbach, the reigning Miss Universe from the Philippines. Ah, the good old days. Anyway, here's some of my thoughts on two local issues:

1) The Duterte Phenomenon -- it doesn’t matter that he has a terrible human rights record, that he makes terrible jokes about rape, or that he seems to be hiding millions of pesos he didn’t declare. People still love him. I don’t get it. Even some human rights advocates are turning a blind eye to Duterte’s record, which allowed death squads to kill suspected criminals, some turning out to be minors or people mistaken for suspects or just innocent bystanders. With only a few days left before election, I am wary of his possible election because he’s basically the second coming of Ferdinand Marcos. Wait, some people actually want that, so maybe that explains part of his appeal. My only hope is that if he does become president, he does not use death squads (murder, after all, is against the law), gives suspects due process and also that he respect democracy (ie he does not declare martial law). Hey, call me an optimist.

2) Drug Legalization -- much of Duterte’s popularity stems from his supposed crackdown on drug trafficking in Davao, by, well, allowing the death squad to murder suspected traffickers. I think this is entirely the wrong approach when it comes to drugs. Let’s face it. Everyone knows that the drug war is a big failure. Take the case of marijuana, for example.  In the US, many states have now legalized marijuana for medical or recreational use. Even the ‘nerdy’ guy who hosts Rick Steves’ Europe, conveniently named Rick Steves, believes that legalizing marijuana is the right way to go. As Willie Nelson says, “Tax it. Regulate it. Legalize it.” Props to Cong. Chungalao of Ifugao province for realizing this hard truth 5 years ago when he introduced legislation calling for the legalization of medical marijuana. He was ahead of his time. Its not too late for the Philippines to realize this hard truth as well. This is the bandwagon they should join.