Ian Oliver PhD (public administration) on drugs

Dr Ian OliverThe highlight of the week was without doubt the contribution to the law reform debate by Dr Ian Oliver; former Chief Constable of Grampian police,  author and an independent consultant to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Now with credentials like that, Dr Oliver certainly sounds like someone to listened to, so perhaps it’s a good idea to set a  few things straight:

Ian Oliver is a doctor, yes, he does indeed have a PhD. But that PhD is not in anything related to medicine, but in “Public Administration” which he gained from Strathclyde University. His use of the title “Doctor” is of course strictly speaking legitimate, but let’s say “unusual” for people not qualified in medicine.

He is indeed a former Chief Constable of Grampian police, he resigned in 1998 in order to avoid being sacked. As the BBC reported at the time:

The police chief who ignored widespread demands for his resignation has bowed to growing pressure and quit his job.

Dr Ian Oliver had been under pressure to step down as chief constable of Grampian Police since Monday when an independent report condemned his force’s handling of a child murder inquiry.

His role in the police was described as “controversial” by many reporters as he also had an extra marital affair which had previously lead to calls for his resignation.

He is an author and has a book for sale which you can buy from Amazon

There are three reviews for this book, two giving it the lowest rating of one star, the other the highest rating of 5. The glowing review is worth a closer look because it was written by – you’ll never guess – Dr Ian Oliver himself. Yes, he reviewed his own book and gave it 5 stars. If you want to buy the book apparently there’s plenty left and it’s been reduced from £18 to £11.88, what a bargain.

“Doctor” Ian Oliver is  also an adviser to “Talking about cannabis” (a prohibition campaign dressed up as a health awareness campaign). He is also as it happens an evangelical Christian, which makes his extra marital affair perhaps a little hard to understand.

The reason for “digging the dirt” like this is to highlight the fact that, despite the apparently glowing CV of Ian Oliver, the man has little of no real qualification to speak on the issue of drugs, he does not have the reputation he is credited with (actually which he credited himself with) and he can rightfully be accused of blatant self promotion.

If you want Dr Ian Oliver (drugs expert) to come and speak at some meeting or other you can hire him, a snip at between £1000 and £3000 a session.

This is enough, apparently, to not only get (more or less) the same article printed in not one but two quality newspapers last week (Independent and Guardian). He also seems to have the ear of government, who support his line and base the case for prohibition on his flawed logic – or at least, something very similar. He clearly has some good friends in high places.

So far it’s been down to Transform to give a proper critique of Oliver’s article(s), I suspect it wasn’t actually very hard for Transform’s Steve Rolles to do and if you haven’t read it yet, I can’t recommend it more highly.

As Steve of Transform wrote:

You would hope that Dr Oliver, with his undoubtedly distinguished police career would have a pretty sophisticated and nuanced understanding of drugs policy, but if so it is not evident in his Independent comment piece, titled ‘legalising drugs would only make matters worse’ . Instead we are presented with a string of credibility-straining unreferenced ‘facts’ and a case against the legal regulation of drugs seemingly based largely on his own invented reality, bizarre inferences, and what I can only describe as a ‘quirky’ take on economics, maths and logic. A curiously distilled version of the Oliver’s arguments can be seen in the BMJ discussion forums here.

So rather than repeat Transforms rebuttal (do read it), let’s have a look at Dr Oliver’s stated reason for opposing law reform as printed in the BMJ, November 2007, in response to the “should drugs be decriminalised” debate mentioned in Transform’s blog.

Here, point by point, is Dr Oliver’s case entitled ” Drugs Cannot be Legalised” (Cannot note – no room for doubt there):

Legalisation/decriminalisation creates a particular risk among young persons

He doesn’t expand on that statement,  but presumably means that by regulating the dealers, imposing conditions such as age limits for sales and so on, young people will be exposed to a greater danger than they are through an unregulated street market. As Paxman might say, “Yeeees…”

Prohibition is successful

Again, it’s a bit hard to see his logic there given the utter failure we see all around us.

Legalisation would lead to increased use, addiction and associated medical costs

Ah now some meat. Legalisation may well increase use, in the way that legal alcohol has allowed many thousands to enjoy that drug socially. The huge number of social beer drinkers for example aren’t a problem after all. The problem is the relatively small number of problematic users – abusers if you like.  Would anyone seriously propose the way to deal with alcoholics is to prevent social beer drinking?

Legalisation sends the message of acceptability and harmlessness

It could if we did what we did with tobacco in days gone by for sure, but leglaisation of course offers the opportunity for proper regulation, restrictions on marketing and all the rest – things that prohibition denies us.

The economic arguments of savings in the criminal justice system and tax revenues offsetting costs are flawed

He doesn’t say how, just states it as a fact.

Crime, drugs and violence go together and so dealers who are engaged in criminal activity will continue; drug testing of persons arrested for crime indicates a significantly high proportion of positive results

The trade in legal drugs Alcohol and Tobacco don’t lead to violence as the trade in illegal drugs all to often does and their use doesn’t lead to acquisitive crime as we see with some illegal drugs – although both these substances of course are addictive. Few illegal drugs cause the sort of crimes associated with intoxication we see with alcohol.

Those who are dependent upon drugs and who have turned to crime to support themselves and their habit will continue to engage in criminal activity to pay for legalised drugs; the alternative is government subsidy of such people with a consequential increase in taxes

The black market has caused heroin to be worth more than gold weight for weight. As most of the criminal activity is caused by the need to fund this illegal trade, of course leglalisation would clearly reduce such crime. Legalisation can mean a range of options and heroin maintenance on the NHS is certainly one of those options. As to it causing a rise in taxation, of course we would be saving the huge costs of prohibition.

There is no justification for the medicinal use of cannabis or heroin

Yes there is. What a daft comment. Well sorry, but honestly diamorphine doesn’t have medical uses? Cannabis doesn’t help with MS?

Insufficient information is available to justify legalisation

It should be remembered that prohibition is the unnatural state which needs to be justified, where is the evidence to justify prohibition’s success?

There is sufficient known to show that drugs are harmful and addictive

Well, yes, some more than others of course. But it’s precisely. because they are dangerous they need to be properly controlled.

The whole purpose of drugs is to alter the mind

Sure, what’s wrong with that? This is something many people chose to do and always have done. Ian Oliver is making a moral statement here, one which is perhaps compatible with his evangelical faith.

It is nonsense to claim that private use does not produce harm to the individual and to society

It may harm the individual yes many things do that, especially things that are fun,  but society? How?

Legalisation would produce a huge administrative bureaucracy

Unlike the huge (and highly ineffective) bureaucracy we have thanks to the war on drugs.

Legalisation would not take the profit out of drugs

Yes it would, of course it would.

Other legal drugs such as tobacco and alcohol are traded in the black economy

Produced from legal sources though, and this only happens because the government tries to tax them at higher rates than other countries where they are freely available. This is all about supply and demand after all.

Legalising drugs will not alter their adverse effects such as irrational and violent behaviour; legal drugs would have the same effects as illegal ones

Actually that isn’t true. Legal drugs would be consistent and of known strengths. Illegal drugs are very unpredictable.

There is no single answer to the drug problem certainly not legalisation

In his opinion, no more than that of course, although he does promote the simple answer of prohibition.

Scientific research is continually identifying serious problems arising from drug misuse

Dangerous activities should be properly controlled and regulated. This is an argument for legialisation, not against it.

The compassionate approach to drugs is to do everything possible to reduce addiction not to make it easier

Totally agree, another argument for legalisation and against prohibition.

There is International agreement that there must be unity against illicit drugs

There are international agreements which need revision for sure, but even so what exists allows a range of options as  is demonstrated by many contries in Europe.

Scientific research is continually identifying the dangers associated with illicit drug misuse

You said that once

The health and wellbeing of the world is dependent upon illicit drug control

Indeed it is, drug control is just what we need and is the very thing prohibition prevents.

“Dr” Ian Oliver no doubt believes he is right, you can tell that from the way he writes – all his claims are certainties,  there is never any doubt in his mind.

With luck Ian Oliver will  keep writing his articles in support of prohibition, because every time he does he exposes the whole regime to ridicule.


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.

9 thoughts on “Ian Oliver PhD (public administration) on drugs

  1. Saddened to see such a personal attack. I have not had chance to read Ian’s original piece, but I am convinced it does not merit such a personal criticism. I personally feel that this article reflects very badly on UKCIA.
    I should also point out that Ian is perfectly entitled to use the term ‘Dr’ as he has a PhD. It is a simple fact that when you get a PhD you are entitled to call yourself ‘Dr’. I often call myself Dr rather than Professor – I have a PhD but no medical degree.

  2. David

    In this case I think it’s entirely justified.

    Ian Oliver has created a reputation for himself that simply doesn’t stand up to analysis. He is not the expert he claims to be.

    The blog does point out that he is entitled to use the title of doctor, but it is indeed very unusual for non-medical doctors to do so because of the confusion it normally causes.

    The qualification he possesses has no relevance to the issue at hand although a medical qualification would carry some weight, to that extent his use of it is a deception.

  3. Yes, it is justified.

    He is simply a charlatan selling snake oil and should be exposed as such.

  4. I thought the article was atrocious too. I felt compelled to comment on the Independent blog – I don’t know if it is a useful indicator but the people supporting his view were pretty extreme and ill-informed. Whilst not a fan of ad hominem attacks I feel the personal details are relevant – who’d’ve thought an evangelical Christian ramming moralistic views down society’s throat, refusing to acknowledge or deal with evidence and failing to live by the standards himself.
    (I accept he has the right to call himself ‘Dr’).

  5. just to let you know that “dr” Oliver is alive and well and dumping his household rubbish in litter bins around Haddington. His wifie follows him round muttering under her breath… Sad isn’t it.

  6. Whats also sad ‘COOPERdene’ is that you were in cahoots with a drugdealer and obviously have a chip on your shoulder regarding the very public humiliation of a HIgh court trial you had to go through…and wasnt it you who set him up during his lovers tryst in the forest when you were kicked off the force..aye..know all about that one..still got some issues about that by the sounds of it..scumbag..

  7. Hello

    I didn’t see anything wrong with the original article but had to post to flag up the rank hypocrisy of David Clark from Wired In. Here he seems to find it unacceptable to question Ian Oliver’s academic qualifications. But in a recent thread on Clark’s Wired In site, Clarkk and Rowdy Yates put the boot in to Pat O’Hare’s academic qualifications when he had the temerity to question the Recovery Agenda promoted by Clark.

    I guess from Clarks point of view, if he disagrees with someone it’s fine to knock their academic status, but it’s not OK to do it with fellow travellers.

    The hypocrisy is all the more ironic, as Clark routinely refers to himself as Professor Clark or ‘the Prof,’ when in reality he shouldn’t as he is now an emeritus professor, for his work in neuropharmacology, not a current professor in addiction work.

    Of course none of this would end up being allowed on Wired In as, in addition to hypocrisy, Mr clark is rather keen on wielding his censors pen, to delete comments which he doesn’t agree with. Luckily he doesn’t have the same control here.


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