And so at last after a year or so of meetings, the Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) drugs inquiry was finally published last Monday. In the event it was probably worth a murmur of approval, if not half a cheer.
It’s fair to say that some of us weren’t that hopeful it would produce anything much, especially given the fact that it was chaired by Keith Vaz, not an MP known for his radical thinking or willingness to upset any apple carts. It was very noticeable throughout the whole inquiry that the 90-odd percent of the drug using population – those who are non-problematic recreational users – didn’t get so much as a look-in. From what I saw the only drug users who ever got considered were those who had an addiction or some other problem.
In September I attended a meeting of the HASC which was open to people who had submitted written evidence. In his opening remarks Keith Vaz listed all the problems “caused by drugs”, which were actually caused by the prohibition of them.
So we had an inquiry into the future of the drugs laws which failed to take into consideration the vast majority of the users and seemed based on a deliberate misunderstanding of the problem. So I wasn’t expecting it to come up with anything much worthwhile and on the whole I was right, it was a pretty bland report all in all. You can download the whole thing (called “Breaking the Cycle) here
But it wasn’t all bad, most importantly it recommend a Royal Commission to review the whole issue, specifically to look at other regimes and to study the effect of the recent legalistion of cannabis in some states of the USA and of course, this was far too much for the prohibition lobby, represented now by that former supporter of law reform David Cameron who vetoed it instantly, the Home Office trotting out the same old same old.
It really is depressing that a country like ours, so full of creativity and cultural vitality, gets leaders like Cameron but we do seem to make a habit of it. Cameron dismissed the report’s main findings instantly, there is no need for any review of prohibition apparently, everything is fine. Once again the British government’s position on drug law reform can be sumarised by “We’ve got our fingers in our ears and we’re not listening, lalala”.
But even as the HASC was proceeding, the ground was beginning to shift and in November the inflexible wall of prohibition received its first real crack with the states of Washington and Colorado voting for legal cannabis – not just for medical use but for people to enjoy using for pleasure. The thing the prohibition movement must surely have dreaded finally happened and prohibition was actually voted down democratically, and not just anywhere but in the home of the drug war, the USA.
React the prohibitionists certainly have. the UN “International Narcotics Control Board” – INCB was first off the blocks warning the US to enforce prohibition and to strike down these moves to legalise.
Mr. Yans stated that “these developments are in violation of the international drug control treaties, and pose a great threat to public health and the well-being of society far beyond those states”.
The US Drug Tsar Richard Gil Kerlikowske made it clear that there would be no change, (BBC Audio clip) but the state law duly came into being early December as thus far nothing has been heard from the US Federal government
Obama has stated they aren’t going to go after small time recreational users though so it does look like prohibition has taken its first big hit although quite where this will lead is anyone’s guess, but it hasn’t gone unnoticed and cannabis law reform is now very much on the agenda all over South America. To coin a phrase from a different era, the dominoes are starting to fall.
Add to this a new campaign called Breaking the Taboo, launched on the back of a film of that name and it’s clear this whole debate isn’t going to get shut down as the prohibition lobby would like to see.
So what about us here in the UK? The HASC recommended a Royal Commission which will report in 2015, in time for our next general election and before the UN is due to review the drug war globally. So now is a really good time for a Royal Commission to sit in other words and David Cameron’s rejection of it is not only depressingly predictable, it’s actually not helpful in terms of formulating this country’s attitude to the UN review.
We have no idea what Labour thinks of it all, not a word has been uttered on the subject. Previously though Ed Milliband has shown himself to be aligned with Cameron’s lack of thinking so it looks like the British voter isn’t going to be offered a choice come the next election from either of these two parties.
The genie does seem to be out of the bottle though and the reaction in most of the media has been pretty hostile to Cameron’s foolishness. It’s no longer risky to speak out against the prohibition regime and more and more people are doing so. Even Sun readers voted overwhelmingly for a review of drug laws, something that was certainly never supposed to happen.
Into the mess comes Nick Clegg, the leader of the LibDems and deputy Prime Minister in the Con-Dem government. On Friday Nick Clegg actually made history by being the first ever serving minister to admit the war on drugs has failed and to call for a review. In doing this he has put a real distance between himself and David Cameron. It is just a pity that the LibDems are so reviled now, with support for them almost down to single figures they look very close to being wiped out come the next election. But it is possible that issues like this could provide hope for the millions of UK voters who are simply alienated by the mainstream parties and Clegg my yet pull a rabbit from his hat. Time will tell. One thing for certain though, the prohibs are mad as hell about it, as Peter Hitchens demonstrated
But this is a country where senior politicians (I know who they are, but cannot name them) have snorted cocaine in their adult lives, where the political, media and academic establishment is crammed full of former or present dope-smokers, and where the police themselves are broken defeatists in the face of drugs.
Such a Commission would undoubtedly be stuffed with the apostles of dope, as every single body has been that has considered the subject since Baroness Wootton’s original committee in 1968-69.
Away from the closed minds of people like Hitchens it’s interesting to note the argument being used in support of drug law reform is something I’ve always believed would be used by politicians who understand the need to climb out of the hole of prohibition. The case for reform is being used as an argument to crack down on drugs, to prevent use – especially by children – by offering treatment rather than punishment, which is fine except of course, 90 odd percent of users don’t need treatment. Those who support legalisation do so because they want proper control and regulation of the supply side, it”s all a long way from the liberalisation and a move to greater freedom as the “traditional” legalise cannabis campaign tried to argue, although of course it ends in the same place. This is a classic example of how politicians can do a U turn in policy whist saving face and that’s fine by me. It’s also, to be honest, the strong argument against the war on drugs.
What this past week has shown very clearly however is just how scared prohibition supporters are of any examination of the present policy. They have good reason to be scared because in truth it isn’t possible to moderate the war on drugs, prohibition is either all or nothing, especially when it comes to cannabis. How much longer can this madness continue? Time will tell.