The prohibition supporting drug warriors are getting rattled by the emerging evidence that decriminalisation produces better results than hard line prohibition. Chief among those fighting the prohibition corner is Kathy Gyngell who writes a blog for the right-wing “Centre for policy studies” or CPS.  Quite why the CPS allows her to do this is a bit of a mystery though because the CPS describes its philosophy like this:

The Centre for Policy Studies believes in freedom and responsibility. One of Britain’s best known and most respected think tanks, the Centre develops and promotes policies to limit the role of the state, to encourage enterprise and to enable the institutions of society – such as families and voluntary organizations – to flourish.

The Centre was founded by Sir Keith Joseph and Margaret Thatcher in 1974 to promote the principles of a free society and has since played a global role in the dissemination of free market economics. Its role in developing the policies of privatisation, low-tax government and support for the family, is recognised across the world.

Independent of all political parties and special interest groups, the Centre is a non-profit-making organisation which relies on the donations of individuals and companies to carry out its work.

So the CPS claims to promote the principles of a free society, it believes in small government and the workings of free enterprise; the capitalist system.  Kathy Gyngell seems oddly out of place with this philosophy preaching as she does strict enforcement of prohibitionist laws, which by their definition act against the workings of a free society and certainly against the unfettered workings of a free market. She also clearly aligns herself with the prohibition campaign which is a “special interest” group if ever there was one. Oddly when challenged about this by e-mail, the CPS simply doesn’t respond.

In her last blog Kathy had a rant about the growing acceptance of the decriminalisation of drug use as a way to deal with the mounting problems of prohibition. Actually this blog entry was credited not only to Kathy Gyngell, but also to another old favourite of the prohibition movement, Professor Neil McKeganey. Neil McKeganey has an interesting post at the University Of Glasgow in the amusingly titled “Centre for drug misuse research” (CDMR) which he set up. For a centre of study in one of the nations leading universities, the CDMR has a clear agenda which is made clear by the name; drugs are things that are misused, therefore bad. Worse, the centre is firmly aligned to the prohibition agenda as it describes itself as

In 2008 the Unit for the Study of Serious Organised Crime (USSOC) was established within the Centre with the aim of linking expertise between academia and law enforcement sectors.

Linking law enforcement to a supposedly academic centre of study is highly dubious, especially in such a controversial area of drug policy. But it should be noted that Neil McKegney has been very influential in developing the UK drugs policy over the past few years.

In this most recent CPS blog offering from Kathy Gyngell and Neil McKeganey the claims of a great success for the Portuguese regime (where all drug use was decriminalised in 2001) were rubbished:

That the common good would be served by decriminalising drugs however is far from proven. Portugal, which started such an experiment in 2001, has become the decriminalisation lobby’s proof of concept. The ‘proof’ being that the policy has decreased rather than increased the harms associated with drug use. As with the climate change lobby much effort has gone into the presentation and the communication of the statistics involved. But, as with climate change debate, the statistics that have been assembled in telling the Portuguese story of the benefits of decriminalisation are far from clear cut.

Note the association with the climate change issue, the sort of remark designed to appeal to their core supporters no doubt.

Unfortunately they chose to build their case on the work of Professor Alex Stevens of Kent University and he was not amused by what he read. Professor Stevens comprehensively demolished the argument made by the blog.

… the case for decriminalisation does not rest on it producing more ‘common good’ than criminalisation. Given that criminalisation produces well documented harms (such as high costs to the taxpayer, damage to the prospects of young people who come into adversarial contact with the police and/or get a criminal record, and high racial disparities in enforcement), it is only necessary for advocates of decriminalisation that it produces no more drug-related harm than criminalisation.

Do pop over to the CPS and read this blog and Professor Stevens comments, it is really quite entertaining.

However, one of the features of the Kathy Gyngell blog is that, although comments are allowed, she never addresses any of the comments made which is a pity, which on this occasion include a number of requests for her to apologise to Professor Stevens for misrepresenting his work so badly. What is very noticeable and really quite amusing  though is the usual suspects who leap to her defence – old favourites like the disgraced ex-chief constable of Grampian Police and self-appointed “drugs expert” Dr Ian Oliver (who has a doctorate in Public Administration), Ann Stoker and David Raynes all popped up to state the prohibition case . It’s true to say that some familiar names on the law reform side also joined in as well, it was just too good to miss!

That prohibition supporters are upset by the success of decriminalisation is clear, but they do make one point which has a sort of logic. That decriminalisation is better for the drug users and society than hard line prohibition  is demonstrably true, but it is an illogical regime. If drugs are to be criminalised, how can we not criminalise drug use? After all, they argue, prohibition depends utterly on the deterrent effect of the law and if we turn a blind eye to the use of drugs, then we only encourage the growth of the supply side. There is a pretty clear logic there, prohibition really has to be all or nothing, it demands hard line police/state surveillance of each and every one of us to ensure we do not use drugs to stand any chance of working. Prohibition needs the infrastructure of random drug testing, widespread arresting and long prison sentencing. It is indeed a regime of the big state micro- managing everyone’s lives.

A case for this was made in The Scotsman newspaper recently by Mev Brown in an article headed “Why ‘super-size’ law will combat drug use”. Mev Brown has an interesting take on drugs policy – he accepts it’s failed. However, he uses the strange  logic common amongst prohibition campaigners; the reason the drugs war has failed is because we didn’t fight it hard enough.

Mev’s big idea for what he calls a “supersized” drugs policy is simple: crack down hard on drug users.

For those not ready – or willing – to give up drugs, then secure single-sex supervised communities would be established.

As with many drug warriors Mev has a fundamental belief in enforced abstinence as the key to winning the war against drugs.

This is a battle of ideas which is coming to a head and we are getting close to the point where we face a stark choice of either a very much harder line state imposed enforcement regime or a willingness to control and regulate the trade, which means accepting people will use drugs. The option of a hard line drug war is clearly a fantasy though, at a time when we can’t even afford to run essential services are we really going to throw huge wads of money at a regime for which there is zero evidence of success? Or are we eventually going to do what should have been done years ago and end this prohibition madness totally?

Decriminalisation is only better than full on prohibition, it isn’t the ideal by a long way. Indeed, if it were not for the fact that prohibition is such a brain dead stupid idea which has caused so much misery, death and destruction on a global scale a decriminalised regime which still tried to prevent the supply side would be regarded as insane. That decriminalisation is being taken seriously and is showing such good results is only an indication of how utterly mad prohibition is – everything, after all,  is relative.


Edited to add that, as the comments below point out, there has been a reply to the comments made by Prof Alex Stevens – not in the comments section but in a new blog which can be read here.