End of another perfect year: 2011 Review (Pt2 April – June)

Part 1

April is my favourite time of the year, it’s the end of the dark winter days and it starts to get warmer. This year it did things in style sadly and the ensuing drought played havoc with the crops planted on my allotment, but the sunshine was nice and put me in a positive mood. Not so Peter Hitchins of the Daily Mail who used his diary to propose a police state solution to the drugs issue. His argument was simple; going after the dealers doesn’t work, you have to go after the users.

I do not understand why we treat drug-dealers as wicked, vicious criminals, while treating moronic, self-destructive drug-users as victims. It is users who bring misery to their families by wrecking their mental health. It is users who commit crime to pay for their pleasure. It is users who become a danger to their fellow creatures. If there were no users, there would be no dealers.

He has a point, sort of. As several high profile reports had exposed, fighting the drug war only makes things worse. Mark Easton observed from a report entitled “Effect of drug law enforcement on drug market violence: A systematic review” (link).

The very act of disruption, they suggest, creates a more violent climate: “As dealers exit the illicit drug market, those willing to work in a high-risk environment enter, and that street dealing thereby becomes more volatile.

Peter Hitches had picked up on a developing theme within the prohibition movement; the argument being that the reason the war on drugs has failed so far is we haven’t been fighting it hard enough. As this blog has often argued in the past, the only way for prohibition to go is toward ever more repression, toward the situation where “every home is a prison”.

The government’s advisers, the ACMD published a report into cocaine which highlighted not the issues they covered, but the cod science that underpins much of prohibition. The investigation into the harms of cocaine meant an investigation into the harms of what is sold as cocaine on the street. Of course, contamination is a product not of the drug, but of the regime of prohibition.

Cocaine’s street price is falling as it is being cut with carcinogenic painkiller phenacetin, police say.… Phenacetin is one of the key chemicals now being used because it closely resembles pure cocaine.

It is typical of the government’s attitude that they fail to understand that many of the harms they are seeing are caused by their policy, worse, they actually use these high levels of dangerous contamination as a measure of “success”.

In early May the new CLEAR website was launched and, although there were clearly rough edges and much that needed improvement, it was such a welcome improvement from the mickey mouse joke that the LCA had become. It even managed to address the mental health issue in a serious way, although it clearly needed a bit of a re-write

If this is explaining the CLEAR approach to the mental illness issue it’s very confused and far too defensive.  CLEAR is all about wanting a properly regulated and controlled supply for cannabis, one of the main reasons for wanting this is surely the protection it would provide to vulnerable people, which sort of accepts there are vulnerable people to protect.

I gave it 1 cheer, at least they had tried. I was fairly quickly contacted by Peter Reynolds and asked to do the re-write, something I thought at first would be easy but of course it wasn’t.

But quibbles apart, the new site was encouraging and CLEAR was off the starting block.

The replacement document for CLEAR dominated my spare time for a week and resulted in “Does Cannabis Make You Mad” which was published both on UKCIA and CLEAR. As with anything of this importance it will probably need a re-write before too long but as an intro to the whole mental health debate I belive it forms a good basis for the CLEAR policy in this area. understanding is the key to fighting the Reefer Madness V2 hype in the gutter press and sometimes the truth isn’t quite what you might have wanted it to be, but the issue of mental illness and cannabis is perhaps the strongest argument we have for law reform, we should never have allowed to prohibition lobby to make so much from it.

Following on from the Peter Hitches comments about the need to bear down heavily on users, two well known prohibition campaigners, in late May Kathy Gyngell and Professor Neil McKeganey of Glasgow University (as was) wrote an amazingly bad blog on the Right-wing think tank “CPS” which tried very hard to rubbish the regime in Portugal, where all drugs have been decriminalised. They wrote

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.

They based their argument on a twisted interpretation of a study undertaken by Alex Stevens of Kent University who tore their comments apart.

… 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.

Amazingly all the (mostly hostile) comments to Kathy’s blog have been deleted following a re-working of the site and Alex has reposted his comments, but all the others have gone. The post can now be seen here.

Shortly after this Professor Neil McKeganey’s “Centre for Drug Misuse Research” at Glasgow University was closed down (although probably not because of this blog) and it’s unclear if he still has the right to use the title “Professor”. However, he is doing so in interviews and has started a private company with the same name. But it was becoming clear that the prohibition lobby is getting very.very rattled.

Neil McKeganey was featured again on May 30th when he made a typical hard-line comment against a document issued by Health Scotland called “Fags ‘n’ hash”, about cannabis and tobacco. According to Neil

Prof Neil McKeganey, of Glasgow’s University’s Centre for Drug Misuse, said: “The leaflet conveys a far too positive image of cannabis.

And he was supported by a Tory unknown justice spokesman John Lamont who said:

“A lot of drug addicts who use heroin start off on cannabis.”

In truth the publication was a huge wasted opportunity. Whereas it did correctly warn fo the dangers of smoking cannabis with tobacco, it entirely failed to give any safer use advice, especially failing to advise cannabis users to smoke without tobacco.

And then June happened, perhaps the reason the prohibition lobby have been getting so rattled. The biggest broadside against the war on drugs thus far was fired:

If you’ve been away with the fairies for the past few days, you will have missed the Global commission report when former Presidents of Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and Switzerland, Prime Minister of Greece, Kofi Annan, Richard Branson, George Shultz, Paul Volcker and Other Leaders Called for a “Major Paradigm Shift” in Global Drug Policy. In this country Release launched its new campaign “Drugs – It’s Time for Better Laws“.

This sent the prohibition lobby into fits of apoplectic rage and all the old favourites were wheeled out, including Mary Brett who said in the Daily Mail

‘This is naive in the extreme”.

although even the Mail hedged its bets a bit and ran a factual report which was actually quite good. In case you doubt this is possible, check this out, it really does happen occasionally.

John Rentoul of the Independent on Sunday wasn’t in the mood for any apology for the rubbish he wrote a few years ago in the infamous “Cannabis apology”. He wrote

Information and education is more important than legal prohibition, but decriminalisation would predictably lead to more mental illness and, in the case of other drugs, addiction.

Which just flies in the face of observed fact, there’s nothing “predictable” about it at all.

The government was quite unwilling to listen of course

Government reaction to the idea of A drugs policy review

‘We have no intention of properly controlling drugs. We don’t care what anyone says, we’ve got our fingers in our ears and we’re not listening…lalala…” A spokesman with no name said.

So it was June and the long summer days at last and my involvement with the cannabis law reform movement was about to change.

To be continued.