Monday, January 01, 2007

Marijuana: the facts

The first thing that caught by attention when I heard about Schapelle Corby was the absurdity of a possible death sentence for a soft drug like marijuana. When I started campaigning for her I noted two surprising difficulties in attracting support for Schapelle:

1. Many Australians were unfussed by draconian penalties for anything. I’ll talk more about this in a subsequent post.
2. Many Australians saw no significant difference between marijuana and heroin.

I was astonished at the latter point. I had thought that marijuana was something that most students had tried at some stage in their youth – a rite of passage if you like – and was widely regarded as a safe way for teenagers to demonstrate some mild rebellion. Whereas heroin was regarded as a soul-stealing killer. It seems I was very wrong about people’s perceptions.

As the Schapelle support juggernaut swept along, there was a clear attempt by some political and media leaders to portray marijuana as a highly dangerous drug. We were told that the modern MJ is far more dangerous than the product we might remember from our youth. And that it was highly likely to lead to mental problems. And that it was a first step on the way to heroin addiction. That last one particularly surprised me since I know of many people who have tried MJ but nobody who has tried heroin.

I also read a number of justifications by Indonesian politicians and officials that proclaimed the need for severe sentences because drugs kill. Yet no recognition was made that marijuana doesn’t kill and Indonesia continues to include marijuana as a category one narcotic with a potential death penalty for trafficking.

So I started researching on the Internet. In summary, I found a vast body of literature proclaiming the safety of MJ, but some more recent scientific research that indicated the existence of a causal link between heavy use and mental problems.

However, in summary:

1. It does not cause brain damage.
2. It is not a gateway drug.
3. It is less dangerous than tobacco.
4. It is less addictive than coffee, and massively less addictive than alcohol, heroin or nicotine.
5. It is not substantially more potent today than in the past (early comparisons failed to recognise that older samples had lost potency over time).
6. Heavy cannabis smokers are a mere 1.5 times more likely to suffer symptoms of psychosis that non-users.
7. It does not lead to death through overdoses or AIDs.

So there you have it. MJ is a non-addictive drug that carries a small increase in risk for heavy users. So, I’m right back where I started. The draconian penalties of countries like Indonesia cannot be justified by any adverse affect caused by the drug. And innocent or guilty there is no excuse for Schapelle to still be in that cage.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Values, laws and Sheik al-Hilaly

There has been much debate about values in recent times with both Howard and Beazley weighing in with their versions of the need for immigrants to adopt the values of Australians. I suggest this is nonsense. I don’t believe there is a unique set of Australian values. Rather there are beliefs that are common to most people around the world, which are reasonably approximated by the Americans respect for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

But running in parallel with those essentially secular beliefs are religious beliefs that are not necessarily compatible with common secular beliefs and in some instances are markedly different from the values of the majority. An example is the recently controversial sermon by Sheik al-Hilaly which, for all his subsequent efforts to ‘reinterpret’ his message, essentially blamed the victims of sexual assault rather than the perpetrators if the victims were scantily clad.

But you don’t need to look at Muslims to see such incompatibility of values. There are many Christians in Australia that believe that life is sacred from the moment of conception and that any abortion is murder. There are others that believe that the only Godly response to intentional murder is capital punishment. And there are other religions that would regard eating pork or beef to be mortal sins.

The truth is that for all the shared values of people around the world, and in Australia, there are areas of passionately held differences of opinion.

My view is that we should forget all about values. What matters is that people are prepared to accept the law of the country in which they live. In some ways it is a remarkable thing that the hundreds of thousands of Muslims in Australia have co-existed peacefully with a culture of bikinis, underage sex, over-indulgence in alcohol and lack of punishment for religious offences such as adultery. It is equally remarkable that Fundamentalist Christians have managed to co-exist with abortion clinics, non-observance of the Sabbath and disparagement of their God on television. What has made that peaceful coexistence possible is respect for the laws of our country, NOT shared values!

So my concern with the controversial sermon of Sheik al-Hilaly is not that he has different values to mainstream Australia. My concern is that the obvious interpretation that his faithful followers will place on his words is that if a female is scantily clad, then it is OK to break the law and commit a rape. If there isn’t a law against telling your ‘flock’ that it is OK to break the law then there damn well ought to be. Because ultimately it is our laws that make it possible for Australia’s crazy melting pot of humanity and it’s different values to continue in peace and harmony.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Schapelle - EDD and the new regulations

In my previous post, I estimated that with maximum normal remissions, Schapelle Corby could be released on parole near the end of 2013. About the time that I completed that analysis, The Age published this article about new regulations that would require terrorists and Australian drug offenders to spend more years in jail with Indonesia deciding to curtail their sentence remissions.
Indonesia lengthen Jail Terms

The article makes the following points:

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has approved regulations forcing prisoners convicted of serious crimes to serve at least two-thirds of their original sentences.

They will not be eligible for regular remissions issued to other prisoners until they have served at least a third of their jail terms.

Until now, all prisoners have automatically received sentence reductions at least twice a year, which can halve their jail terms.
The new guidelines are likely to apply to convicted marijuana smuggler Schapelle Corby.

1. I think the change is wrong and have written to SBY and our PM to say so. The remission system is fair and sensible, and never more so than for long term prisoners.

2. It is not clear that the new regulations would apply to Schapelle since the article also states that the regulations will not apply to prisoners who have already received remissions (which includes Schapelle). It is also possible that that quote from the Indon Justice Minister means only that those prisoners will not lose the remissions they have already received but will not be eligible for more until one third of the original sentence has been served. Who knows.

3. Although the article indicates that the new regulations will require prisoners to serve at least two thirds of their sentence that statement is not consistent with the paragraph that follows it and in my view is an incorrect assumption by the journalist.

So, I've redone my analysis, using the same methodology as in my previous blog.

So under the new regulations, Schapelle would be released in mid 2015 just 16 months later than I had estimated previously. The reason is that although Schapelle would lose 36 months from 2007 to 2010, she gets back an additional 12 months in the first extra year of sentence. The net increase of 24 months is further reduced by the conditional release formula down to 16 months.

A bad result, no doubt. But could be worse.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Schapelle - estimated date of departure

For some time I’ve been trying to work out when Schapelle might be released from prison if some sort of special deal isn’t done for her.

The reason that the answer isn’t 20 years from the date of her arrest is because of two elements of the Indonesian prison system; twice annual sentence remissions and a form of parole called conditional release.

Unfortunately there is no reliable information on the Internet about the application of these concepts. I’ve even tried translating from Indonesian sources without much luck. But I’ve put together whatever pitiful gleanings I could gather into a summary of what I think the answer would have been. I say would have been because there has been a news story indicating changes in the remissions system that might affect Schapelle – more on that in a future post – but ignoring that, my best guess is that:

Conditional release is available when well-behaved prisoners have completed two thirds of their remission reduced sentence. How that would affect a foreign prisoner such as Schapelle isn’t clear, particularly since foreign prisoners convicted of drug offences are no longer allowed to visit Indonesia. My best guess is that a reasonable lawyer would be able to have her sent home at that point.

The other sentence reducer is the remission system, whereby on each of two annual remission holidays, sentence remissions are granted to well behaved prisoners up to a month's remission for every year or partial year served to a maximum of 6 months each holiday. So:

- In the first year, 2 months max remissions (but Schapelle got 0 because she was appealing her sentence)
- In the second year, 4 months max remissions (Schapelle got 2)
- In the 6th year, and thereafter, 12 months max remissions.

It’s more complicated than that with some special remissions being available for being ‘extra good’; stuff like giving blood, helping the guards and one suspects the paying of bribes.

Anyway, ignoring the special remissions but assuming Schapelle’s behaviour is consistently excellent, this chart shows what might happen. And the spot when the two lines intercept is when I expect Schapelle to be released.

The complicating factors are the reported changes to the remission system which I’ll discuss later and the possibility of some form of clemency or a better outcome from the judicial review process.

So many guesses and assumptions, it’d drive you nuts, but my guess is end of 2013.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Bali Nine and Their Advisors

I'm shocked at the extra four death sentences for the Bali Nine. But I've been shocked for a long time. Ever since they appealed their original verdicts, in fact. Seven of them hit the jackpot in the original trial and avoided a firing squad. FOR HEROIN TRAFFICKING in INDONESIA! These were lucky, lucky people. Surely the defence lawyers had to be telling them that.

But it's worse than that. A life sentence in Indonesia is routinely reduced to a 15-year sentence after five years of good behaviour. As a result with typical remissions a life sentence probably translates to maybe 15 years in total with the possibility that at any time the President might have a sudden attack of generosity and let them out even earlier. So not only had these lucky people avoided a firing squad but their sentences were nowhere near as bad as they sounded and a successful appeal was unlikely to reduce them in practice by more than two to three years.

So an appeal was so stupid it almost qualifies as suicide.

Which raises the question: were the defence lawyers telling them that? Or did the lawyers recommend the option that would lead to a continuing supply of Australian taxpayer dollars through a succession of further appeals and reviews?

And what were Australian embassy staff telling them? I cannot believe these people would have risked their lives for so little if they had been kept properly informed.

I dunno. Maybe they did get good advice. Maybe they really were that dumb. But I can't quite believe that. But then, I’m not the kind of person to go waltzing around an Indonesian airport with heroin strapped to my legs, either.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Muslims and me

On the 28th August 2006, I posted this to Yahoo 'Top Stories':

I've generally taken some pride about not being prejudiced on the basis of culture or religion. The girl at my local fish and chipper is Arabic and she's a delight. My current dentist from Afghanistan got me out of intense pain when previous dentists had failed. I have no trouble assessing Muslim job applicants on merit.

Yet last night I was sitting in a bus, saw an Arabic lad with a backpack heading in my direction and had the unworthy thought that I hoped he wasn't going to get on my bus. And that is a huge problem. Muslims can tell us that Islam is a religion of peace till the cows come home, but we know of a spate of atrocities by Muslims around the world against civilian targets. Spain, New York, Bali1, Bali2 and many others. And of course the many foiled attempts - USA, Britain, Australia, the Philippines and again many others.

Of course, it isn't fair that a religious group should be judged on the basis of a small number of psychos. But neither is it fair that we should be under constant threat of attack from Islam’s lunatic fringe.

And my perception is that the Muslims of Australia have not tried hard enough to condemn these atrocities and attempted atrocities. Any time a Muslim cleric gets TV time and shows even the faintest glimmer of understanding towards these evil people it drives another nail into the coffin of East-West multiculturalism. If they're serious about living in peace I believe the Muslims are going to have to find many more ways to show it than is expected of non-Muslims. That isn't fair. But I'm dashed if I can see any alternative.

On the 3rd of September 2006, Peter Costello stated that there was
a need for the Islamic leadership of this country to stand up and contend unequivocally that terrorism is never justified.

Then on the 8th of September 2006, Jim Schembri published a column which starts:

Should I move? I'm just sitting here, on my way to work, reading my magazine and stealing furtive glances at the legs of the young lady on other side of the aisle. Then he arrives. He's a pleasant-looking guy, young, with a Middle-Eastern complexion. I make room so he can take the seat opposite. He smiles a "thank you". I smile back. In his lap is a backpack. On his head is a beanie that reads "Australia". In his hand is a mobile.
Probably a uni student on his way to a lecture. Or an office worker. Or off to meet friends for a coffee. Or somebody posing as a normal citizen preparing to make me Australia's first suicide bombing victim.

Hmm ... interesting coincidences. Who knows? And it's no big deal. Only, I'm not even sure that my original post represents how I feel. I was just making conversation.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Schapelle who?

I was going to write an article about this newspaper article and a subsequent survey, but I don't think I can add anything to this excellent blog from Michelle ...

Michelle's blog/opinions-vary.html