Drug law reform activists have a problem, quite a serious problem. One of the assumptions UKCIA was based on, and more importantly groups such as Transform, is that governments make policy based on fact and evidence. Therefore, the logic went, all we really have to do to end prohibition is to promote a factual examination of the situation, look at the cost-benefits of prohibition compared to other possibilities and the truth would out.

Transform is especially worth mentioning in this respect, they have worked tirelessly over the years, commissioned report after report and gathered a great deal of evidence to support their case. UKCIA has done its bit as well, this site has never subscribed to the assumption that cannabis was harmless and has been willing to take the claimed risks seriously, but it hasn’t been difficult to point out how these dangers have been greatly enhanced by prohibition, if not actually caused directly by it.

What is far, far worse however is that it doesn’t matter which party is in power, the situation is always exactly the same. It’s not just that all governments are sympathetic to and promote the claims of the prohibition lobby – that would be bad enough – but increasingly they are unwilling to listen to anybody who suggests another way. Whatever the evidence presented or who presents it, or no matter what the suggestions for changes may be, the government will carry on doing what it’s doing come hell or high water. What we get instead of informed comments – even from senior ministers – is statements which are either little more than a belief at best, or totally wrong at worst (as with David Cameron’s comments to Aljazeera TV (youtube – skip forward to 10min 50 secs).

This can only be due to one of two things: Either governments are composed of utter idiots, or they are  corrupt and following an agenda for some unstated reason. Can it really be that the government is made up of total idiots? Sadly, that’s unlikely.

The latest example of the government ignoring expert advice came this week with the reaction to the comment from the ACMD (the government appointed experts who advise the government on drugs policy) to the effect that drugs should be decriminalised. This was contained in the ACMD comments to the 2010 drug strategy consultation paper and is actually a year old, having been issued in October 2010, but for some reason was made public only this week. Far from calling for any form of legalisation, the ACMD proposed how better to work drug prohibition so as to deter use and reduce harm. Their proposal was that

The ACMD believe that there is an opportunity to be more creative in dealing with those who have committed an offence by possession of drugs. For people found to be in possession of drugs (any) for personal use (and involved in no other criminal offences), they should not be processed through the criminal justice system but instead be diverted into drug education/awareness courses (as can happen now with speeding motor car offenders) or possibly other, more creative civil punishments (e.g. loss of driving licence or passport).

This is all covered in some detail on the excellent Transform blog.

It was was too off message for the government who responded in a depressingly familiar way, which was visualised neatly by Duncan Scott on twitter:

Home Office responce to the ACMD

Home Office responce to the ACMD

And summed up thus by Tom Chivers in that lefty leaning paper The Telegraph:

The Government: a bunch of chickens. I want to make this absolutely explicit: this Government is chicken. Buk-buk-bukaaaw chicken; yellow-bellied, lily-livered, chicken. Scaredy-cats. But not just this Government; the last one too. Absolute cowards. Fraidy little weaklings.

The reason for the scorn was the regurgitated statement from the Home Office which did nothing other than repeat the position on drug law reform – which is to say “no” to any idea of change.

“We have no intention of liberalising our drugs laws. Drugs are illegal because they are harmful – they destroy lives and cause untold misery to families and communities.

“Those caught in the cycle of dependency must be supported to live drug-free lives, but giving people a green light to possess drugs through decriminalisation is clearly not the answer.

“We are taking action through tough enforcement, both inland and abroad, alongside introducing temporary banning powers and robust treatment programmes that lead people into drug-free recovery.”

As Tom Chivers went on to explain, once his style had settled down a bit

I’ve gone on and on before, at length, about the arguments and evidence for a rethinking of the drug laws: that there is no evidence that prohibition lowers drug use; that there is evidence that prohibition increases drug harm and drug crime. In Portugal, there has even been a small drop in drug use among young people since decriminalisation. I know all this; the ACMD knows all this. The Government is chicken, because presumably it knows this too – knows it could save lives, and even better save money – but it won’t do the right thing, even though it is staring them in the face, because it can’t face the political fight.

Quite how the government can seriously justify this position now is far from clear; they certainly can’t claim the support of the experts they appointed to advise them, so what is their justification?  There has to be more to this than simply “being scared” of the political fight; the government can  cut back on essential services and invade countries without fear, even when two million people take to the streets in opposition to them and do much more besides. No, it’s not fear, it’s something else – either utter stupidity or corruption.

It is looking more and more like the only justification the government has that it can point to is the Daily Mail and one or two highly influential prohibition campaigners. The Daily Mail is well known for less than factual reporting on the cannabis issue, being perhaps the greatest supporter of the reefer madness claims over the past few years. However, this week it excelled itself by reprinting a piece written by Dr Robert Lefever.  This is what the Daily Mail try to pretend is an “opinion piece” – just the opinion of the writer, but in typical Mail style they allow the writer to present opinion as fact, even when the “facts” stated are simply wrong, but then truth is not something the Daily Mail often lets get in the way of a good story.

Dr Robert Lefever

Dr Lefever is the founding director of PROMIS recovery centre – a private drug rehab centre which, as he admits, is founded on radical ideas:

In 1986, I founded The PROMIS Recovery Centre, which pioneered and developed a new approach combining the benefits of several proven therapeutic models. The approach was so radical it was initially met with scepticism by the medical press. However,
word rapidly spread, through patients’ recommendations, that the PROMIS approach was miles ahead of anything else available. PROMIS quickly established itself as the only place to go.

Maybe. However Dr Lefever’s views on cannabis and the medical profession in general – judging from his writings in the Mail – are far from radical, “loopy” might be a better description. In the article entitled Even the Dutch think skunk drives you mad he wrote

Skunk is many times as powerful as the cannabis of twenty years ago. The plants have been genetically modified through selective in-breeding.

There is now twenty times as much tetra hydro cannabiol – the active chemical ingredient (THC) – as there used to be.

The Left tend to be against genetic modification, seeing it as a product of American commercialism. In this special case, however, they tend to see it as a liberal virtue, bringing freedom of expression – regardless of its incoherence – to the masses.

and how about this – talking about Gordon Brown’s decision (against expert advice) to reclassify cannabis back to class B

This liberalising  policy was reversed when doctors – who tend mostly to be Right-wing – pointed out that skunk is very dangerous psychiatrically. Its frequent use leads to an increased incidence of hospitalisation for psychotic breakdown.

Left-inclined politicians tend not to worry themselves over the damage that cannabis causes to mood, memory and motivation. These problems don’t cost the sacred NHS any money. Therefore the damage done to individuals can be ignored.

That this man should be allowed to spread such factually incorrect claims in a national news paper is bad enough, but when the government appears to base its policy on little more than such claims, we should all be very worried indeed.
There must be more to it than we are seeing, something is driving drug policy and it clearly isn’t expert lead rational, factual debate.