Ken Clarke’s belief in fairyland Vs the emerging synthetic reality

Ken Clarke - Justice ministerKen Clarke, the Justice Secretary, made news the other day by telling the truth, or at least some of the truth. Mr Clarke told the Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) drugs inquiry we were not winning the war against drugs.

For the first time ever a serving senior politician has admitted the policy of the past 40 or so years has failed, which really just highlights an interesting aspect of the drug war; no serving politician before Mr Clarke has ever dared to step out of line like this, despite knowing full well what the truth is. There is something very strange in this, it’s as if some invisible force prevented serving politicians being honest, as if some metaphorical hand had a very firm grip of their floppy parts.

Mr Clarke did support continuing   the prohibition policy in his evidence to the committee, even though he admitted it doesn’t work, saying.

The Government has no intention whatever of changing the criminal law on drugs.

He said “he personally believes” that the fear of arrest deters young people from taking drugs. Interestingly he didn’t  cite any evidence for that “belief” – he couldn’t because there isn’t any, indeed there is much to show that prohibition is rather ineffective at preventing drug use. Ken believes in a fairyland situation that just doesn’t exist, reality is quite different.

Ken Clarke knows quite a bit about drug dealing, having been a drug dealer himself. Actually, he wasn’t so much just a dealer, more like one of the king pins in a major international cartel. Ken Clarke was, between 1998 and 2007 Deputy Chairman and a director of British American Tobacco (BAT) . There is always something repellent about a politician professing a belief on the workings of prohibition, but it’s even worse when that same politician has made himself rich pedaling such an addictive  and destructive drug, but at least he has let the cat out of the bag; our drug laws do not work. It’s official now.

What Ken didn’t touch on in his evidence tot he HASC was the harm the present policy is causing. This blog has covered many aspects of the way the drug laws are causing harm over the years, without wishing to repeat a well worn argument the fact is that prohibition is not drug control and so called “illegal” drugs are not controlled drugs, despite what politicians tell us. Indeed, as someone is bound to point out if I don’t mention it, drugs aren’t illegal; prohibition tries to control people.

Ken, being a business man who has worked at the more senior levels of the drug supply industry will be fully aware of how the commercial pressures of supply and demand work, so he should be fully aware of how and why a whole new drugs supply industry has come about in recent years. He will be fully aware that prohibition has found a new way to fail and this time we could be looking at a very serious problem.

The problem is prohibition makes certain products illegal to have or to trade in and because unless something is made illegal it is fully legal, if a substance isn’t actually banned, then it’s simply not covered by the Misuse of Drugs Act. Of course, when the Act was written, forty odd years ago, no-one had considered the possibility that drugs would become so popular and so much in demand that a whole industry could be developed based on designing and manufacturing chemicals which mimic the prohibited drugs, but which are chemically different enough not to be covered by the ban. But that is what has happened and we now face a flood of new drugs; the so-called “legal highs”.

Head shops have long sold packets of “herbal highs” which usually claimed rather more than they delivered in terms of effectiveness, but the new generation of “legal highs” are nothing to do with these. For a start, there’s nothing “herbal” about these new chemicals, they are very much man-made. We are dealing here with drugs with which we have no experience and which in most cases have not been tested in any way before being sold. Worse, some of the marketing has promoted these chemicals as “safer” alternatives to illegal drugs, simply because they are not illegal.

“Legal highs” come in all sorts of types, from chemicals which mimic Ecstasy to those which mimic cocaine, speed and probably just about everything else that’s popular. A quick look at the government’s anti drugs advertising campaign “Frank” gives an ide of what has happened. Originally only the “traditional” drugs were listed, then sometime last year Frank included a whole wad of new substances

Among this mass of new synthetic chemicals are some that mimic the effect of cannabis and are sold to look like the real thing. These, of course, are of special interest to us.

This from ECMDDA

In the pure state, these substances are either solids or oils. Smoking mixtures are usually sold in metal-foil sachets, typically containing 3 g of dried vegetable matter to which one or more of the cannabinoids* have been added. Presumably, a solution of the cannabinoids has been sprayed onto the herbal mixture. A number of plants are often listed on the packaging, but it appears that many are not present. However, large amounts of tocopherol (Vitamin E) have been detected, possibly to mask analysis of the active cannabinoids. The presence of several cannabinoids in some samples may also be intended to confound forensic-chemical detection.

* These substances are often called “Synthetic cannabis”, that is wholly misleading, they are not synthetic versions of the compounds found in cannabis, although confusingly they are classed as “cannabinoids” in the article above.  “Cannabinoids” are defined as “The chemical compounds that are the active principles in marijuana”, so these chemicals do not belong in that classification. Actually the ECMDDA article does explain this, before using the term wrongly

Although often referred to simply as synthetic cannabinoids, many of the substances are not structurally related to the so-called ‘classical’ cannabinoids, i.e. compounds, like THC, based on dibenzopyran.

They are correctly described as “synthetic cannabinoid receptor agonists”, because of the effect they have in the human brain in that they act on the same parts of the brain as do cannabinoids. Yes, it’s a bit of a mouthful but it’s important to emphasis these chemical shave nothing to do with cannabis.

Below is shown the THC molecule and below that some examples of these synthetic chemicals. Unless otherwise shown, at the end of each bond line is a carbon atom, each of which has four bonds. Hydrogen atoms occupy bonds not shown.

The THC molecule found in cannabis

This is THC, the main active chemical in cannabis

CP 47,497 – very similar to THC but with some subtle differences


JWH-018, the chemical known as “Spice”

There are more images of the molecules on the ECDDA page linked to above. A point which must be made is that molecular structure is very, very important when it comes to the effect is has on the brain and small differences in molecular shape may have vastly different results. Drugs work by occupying receptor sites in the brain normally occupied by brain chemicals. We know pretty well what cannabis does, we have around 5000 years of recorded history of its use after all, but we have no real knowledge of what impact these synthetic chemicals may have beyond the fact that they make the user sort of stoned.

The industry producing and distributing these substances has come about because of the prohibition of cannabis and the resulting huge demand for the cannabis experience. They are manufactured without any proper controls or regulation, distributed by people interested only in making money and sold and promoted as not being prohibited substances, and therefore safer.

The government of course has done what it always does, and rushed through new laws to ban these substances. But the new products keep coming and what we are seeing is just the latest and potentially most serious result of the head in the sand policy of prohibition. Make no mistake; this whole industry has been created by the present drugs policy, it would simply not have come about without prohibition.

There is only one way to kill off the market for products like “Spice” and that is to make real cannabis available.  Advice from UKCIA is that if you want to get stoned, or more importantly need the medical benefits of cannabis, don’t be conned by these chemical “alternatives” and demand the real thing. The message to government is along the lines of open your eyes to the harm your brain dead policy is causing. That means you, Mr Clarke.

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UKCIA is a cannabis law reform site dedicated to ending the prohibition of cannabis. As an illegal drug, cannabis is not a controlled substance - it varies greatly in strength and purity, it's sold by unaccountable people from unknown venues with no over sight by the authorities. There is no recourse to the law for users and the most vulnerable are therefore placed at the greatest risk. There can be no measures such as age limits on sales and no way to properly monitor or study the trade, let alone introduce proper regulation. Cannabis must be legalised, as an illegal substance it is very dangerous to the users and society at large.

5 comments on “Ken Clarke’s belief in fairyland Vs the emerging synthetic reality

  1. Peter Reynolds

    It remains to be seen whether the HASC drugs inquiry is anything more than tokenism. I will continue to press the committee on all issues. Continual pressure did result in them asking me to make a second submission of evidence which can be seen here:

    The two really big outstanding issues at present are medicinal cannabis and non-problematic drug use, neither of which has had any attention.

    It seems that everyone who submitted written evidence has been invited to the seminar/conference on 10th Sept. It may be tokenism too. As Keith Vaz has already announced that the committee will also be looking at Olympics security issues on that day as well I’m not optimistic.

    Danny Kushlick and Niamh Eastwood did an excellent job. They and David Nutt are the only witnesses that have made valuable contributions as far as I can see. Even the “opposition” haven’t done a good job for prohibition. It sems the ProHos are running out of steam.

    On synthetic cannabinoids, they are vile and dangerous substances and the people involved in distributing them are the lowest of the low because they have no idea at all what they are dealing with. Head shops I can forgive but the importers and distributors are scumbags, just the same as the gangs that traffic Vietnamese kids to work as gardeners. I regret that some are actively involved in subverting the cannabis campaign.

    CLEAR is going out for public consultation on a revision of our plan for cannabis regulation and I hope that all of good faith and integrity will respond. We will be writing to all reform organisations inviting them.

    I do believe we are winning and there may yet be good news from the US elections in November.

  2. Chris247

    Great job guys on spreading this message, and a very good point too Peter. I feel that even though this was a step in the right direction, I too would like to see more arguments for decriminalisation and regulation backed by evidence. And hopefully more paper-thin arguments for prohibition, to hopefully speed up the collapse of this ridiculous and harmful regime.

  3. Britt

    The a prison island,governed by a gathering of old grumpy men and their mean wifes.
    Im moving…thats it.bye bye then.

  4. maxwood

    Where did you get the photo of Mr Clarke puffing on what aopears to be three grams (300 mg) of cigar (“sit-guard”) tobacckgo? A lot may depend on how recent the photo is. Instructive that he spent years profiting from inhalant monoxide overdose $igarette marketing but himself flaunts the somewhat less catastrophic “non-inhalant” cigar technology, where the user swooshes strong-tasting tobacckgo smoke around the oral and nasal cavities to absorb some nicotine directly into the brain through the mucous membranes without having to inhale carbon monoxide and 421 other toxins into the bloodstream.

    Peter’s two submissions are excellently written though I have two remaining worries:

    1. Big 2WackGo (not least Mr Clarke’s army of friends at Batco, some of whom he has doubtless already helped find ways to revolvedoor into the govt. and vice versa) belongs at the top, or at least with the other three (Daily Mail, alcohol, GW Pharm).

    If ever a study could be done of the advertisers which support the Daily Mail I bet you a stunningly high percentage of them (like stores, restaurants etc.) are co-profiters from the $igarette trade. Another example would be movies which are announced in its pages, and the surprising prominence of $igarette smoking depicted therein. The reduction in direct $igarette advertising in media in recent years does not solve the problem of the use of such media to promote $igarette smoking in many indirect ways.

    As for GW and its competitor corps, what glaring percentage of their profits depend on the health-degrading work previously done by $igarettes upon a quitless nicotine slave for 2-3 decades, what percent of the $11-billion/year earned from sales of Pfizer’s LIPITOR depends on the “use” of $igarettes to create Artificial Blood Pressure readings which cry out for the $$ expensive medication?

    2. We have to get out of the rut of referring to cannabis as a “drug”– no more justified than to say the same of alfalfa, basil, camomile, damiana, euclayptus, fo-ti-tieng, ginseng leaf, hibiscus flower etc. Why not NUTRI-SUPPLEMENT? (Well I know the prohibs are looking for any “conventional” excuse to ban your testimony.)

    Our digestive system actively uses cannabinoid hormones to wring/pop increased creative energies from other more routine foods and there is nothing strange about that. Slogan: “It takes two cents worth of oregano to add four pounds to the price of a pizza.” Safe legal abundant cannabis will revolutionize nutrition and eliminate starvation and obesity from hte planet within 22 years.

  5. maxwood

    Apology: I erroneously restated 3 grams (visibly apparent net weight of tobacckgo in Mr Clarke’s cigar) as 300 mg, vastly understating the weight of his habit (actually 3000 mg). Quantity details like this are important to note, because for example Mr Clarke’s supposedly noninhalant heavy dosage preference may make him totally unaware of the sledgehammer overdose impact of a 500 mg hot burning monoxide joint used for inhalant purposes (let alone its use to shoehorn some youngsters, who don’t want to miss their chance to try cannabis, into accepting a hit that contains admixed nicotine), when for both tobacckgo and cannabis users the governmentally ignored Harm Reduction option of a 25-mg serving size “one hitter” also exists.

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