2010 drugs strategy – forcing people to live a drug free life (but not alcohol)

This week saw the introduction of the 2010 drugs strategy; anyone hoping for a significant change of direction from the prohibition regime will be disappointed but not surprised. The announcement was preceded by two proposals which fundamentally change the way the prohibition law operates and is justified. These important changes were tacked onto the end of a bill put before parliament and one was done in the most grubby of ways.

First of course there was the revelation covered in the previous blog concerning the underhanded way the government tried (and may yet succeed) to remove the requirement of the advisory body (the ACMD) to have any scientists members. Indeed, if this amendment to the “Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill” is passed, the membership of the supposedly independent drug  advisory body

shall be appointed by the Secretary of State after consultation with such organisations as he considers appropriate.

That will mean that the ACMD, the body created to ensure the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act (MoD) is independent is being trashed, it is clear this government intends the ACMD to be no more than a rubber stamp.

The other proposal is for “temporary” bans on new substances used as recreational drugs. This proposal has come about as a result of the flood of new substances being sold as “legal highs” over recent years and both the proposal and the cause of the problem raise some interesting issues.

Firstly of course there is the question of why have these new substances have not only been introduced, but have found a ready market? A large part of the answer  can be explained by the workings of the present drugs laws; prohibition has ensured that substances in great demand are pushed into the uncontrolled illegal trade. Uncontrolled prohibited drugs are often highly contaminated, of unknown strength and supplied by less than nice people. So-called “legal highs” offered an alternative for recreational drug users which didn’t involve the dangers of the illegal trade, most people don’t want to be criminalised and don’t want to be dealing with gangsters. These “legal highs” would never have found a market had prohibition not created it; there is a strong case to be made that they are a result of prohibition policy, one of the many “unintended consequences” of prohibition.

Man-made chemicals with no proven track record of safety are clearly an unknown danger and it is easy to justify laws which control and restrict the manufacture and trade in such things but of course such laws do exist, so why don’t they get used to control the trade in so-called legal highs? Why is this new proposal deemed necessary and does it have a hidden agenda? The answer has its roots in the media panic over mephedrone last year and the need for politicians to play to the crowd.

The whole point of the ACMD was to evaluate the dangers of drugs which were or appeared to be capable of “misuse” (whatever that means). It should therefore be the role of the ACMD to identify these new substances and to suggest proper ways to control them. The logic of this way of doing things was to avoid the drugs policy being made on the back of media created panics of the type we’ve seen a lot of in recent years. The trouble is as we saw with the mess over cannabis classification what politicians think is right and what the experts tell them can be very different. The obvious solution is to do away with the pesky need for evidence and people who actually know what they’re doing and take the power to impose prohibition in house, removing any need to justify decisions made. As Daryll Bickler of the Drug Equality Alliance states

Seemingly the legacy of the sacking of former council chair professor David Nutt, and the subsequent resignations of most of the former scientists on the council, is now reaping vengeance by sweeping away potential heretics that might seek to use evidence rather than tabloid hysteria to fulfil the need to be seen to be doing something. What is doubly shocking is that these reforms were agreed with the ACMD itself, rather like turkeys voting for Christmas. Once given away, these powers Parliament bestowed upon the ACMD will likely never be restored and subsequent governments will be free to act impulsively driven by political moral panic.

These two amendments  were introduced in the devious way they were (the one relating to the composition of the ACMD with absolutely no publicity at all) because they lie at the root of the fault line between LibDem drugs policy and that of the Tory Right wing, the last thing the coalition government wanted was a full and open debate about the direction of drugs policy and this is the result. Those amendments to the MoD should have been presented as a bill to amend the 1971 act, but that would have been far too controversial.

So what of the new strategy? The whole document is online here as a PDF download and the ACMD is mentioned in this paragraph on page 9 under “reducing demand”:

This Government is committed to an evidence-based approach. High quality scientific advice in this complex field is therefore of the utmost importance. This is why we value the work and independent advice of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), which has experts from fields that include science, medicine, law enforcement and social policy. We are committed to both maintaining this expertise and ensuring the ACMD’s membership has the flexibility to respond to the accelerating pace of challenges. The proper consideration of that advice is at the heart of enabling us to deliver this strategy, including the reforms required to tackle the problem of emerging new psychoactive substances (‘legal highs’).

This is  pure deception. The ACMD’s independence is not being preserved and they are clearly not interested in an “evidence lead” approach. The word “flexibility” is a widely misused word by politicians and should always be regarded with suspicion whenever it’s used. In this context it means “doing what we decide, when and how we decide”.

The whole basis of the strategy appears to be “drugs are bad and alcohol also causes problems”; alcohol is not a drug of course because politicians use it. Indeed the very first paragraph of the introduction states

This strategy sets out the Government’s approach to tackling drugs and addressing alcohol dependence, both of which are key causes of societal harm, including crime, family breakdown and poverty. Together, they cause misery and pain to individuals, destroy families and undermine communities. Such suffering cannot be allowed to go unchecked.

So right from the very start there is a clear impression given that alcohol is something special and distinct from “drugs”. Page 7 states

It is estimated that 1.6 million people have mild, moderate or severe alcohol dependence. About a third of these will face some challenges that are similar to those dependent on drugs in needing support to help them recover.

Interestingly two thirds of the people showing alcohol dependence don’t have a problem with it, whereas apparently all dependent “drug” users do have a problem? Of the remainder who are problematic alcohol users though of course they have similar problems to people who have problems with “drugs”, in the real world alcohol addiction is in fact a drug addiction. Only in the magical world of politicians is alcohol is something special, whereas the term”drugs”  covers things as diverse as cannabis and crack cocaine. This fault line runs throughout the document. Also on page 7  it states

Alcohol plays an important part in the cultural life of this country, with large numbers employed in production, retail and the hospitality industry. Pubs, bars and clubs contribute to community and family life and also generate valuable revenue to the economy. However, alcohol is a regulated product. Some individuals misuse it, contributing to crime and anti-social behaviour, preventable illness and early death.

Alcohol is a widely used recreational drug and it is clearly a one capable of “misuse” as defined by the MoD act. It should therefore come under the same drugs policy that applies to cannabis et al, yet it is viewed as somehow special, somehow different to other drugs and treated in the polar opposite way for no other reason than a political judgement was made to that effect.

Cannabis is also widely used without problems by the vast majority of its users, it also plays a large part in the cultural life of this country despite not being a regulated product. Any reasons to treat recreational alcohol use differently to any other form of recreational drug use also apply to cannabis in particular, and perhaps to some or many other drugs. The drugs strategy denies this however and has rejected the idea of regulation without even considering it, all drugs use is bad, all drug use leads to dependence and crime apparently – this  is imply untrue. The introduction states

During the consultation process, which informed the development of this strategy, some respondents advocated liberalisation and decriminalisation as a way to deal with the problem of drugs. This Government does not believe that liberalisation and legalisation are the answer. Decriminalisation fails to recognise the complexity of the problem and gives insufficient regard to the harms that drugs pose to the individual. It neither addresses the risk factors which lead individuals to misuse drugs or alcohol, nor the misery, cost and lost opportunities that dependence causes individuals, their families and the wider community.

This is a wilful misrepresentation of the argument for a properly controlled, regulated regime for drugs. Such a regime is not “decriminalisation” or even “liberalisation”, to misrepresent the arguments in such a way can only be deliberate. It’s interesting and quite revealing that the “drugs or alcohol” phrase is used here, because the risk factors that lead people to misuse or become dependent on these drugs is clearly independent of drugs policy. No consideration has been given to the destructive effects of harm maximisation that prohibition creates; would alcohol create less problems if it were treated like cannabis? If not, why do they suppose cannabis will create more problems if it’s properly regulated and controlled like alcohol?

As the document shows cannabis use is vastly more commonplace than any other illegal drug use in the UK. Page 5 claims use levels for the last month as

All class A drug use – 648,000
All prohibited drug use (excluding cannabis) 907,000
Cannabis alone 1,250,000

These figures of course do not reveal the patterns of drug use which is all important but if there is an argument for treating alcohol differently to “drugs” based on its social acceptance it also applies to cannabis which is clearly well established in British society.

Regarding the harm prohibition causes, the strategy again misrepresents the real world situation:

The UK demand for illicit drugs is contributing directly to bloodshed, corruption and instability in source and transit countries, which we have a shared international responsibility to tackle

Without noting that the far higher rates of alcohol, tobacco and caffeine use do not. It is in fact one of the so-called “unintended consequences” of prohibition that the attempt to restrict the supply of drugs caused by the government’s policy have gifted this huge demand to the violent criminal supply side. For a government which bases its philosophy on the workings of the free market the logic makes no sense.

Much of this strategy is based on deception and clear misrepresentations right from the start; page 3 states

This strategy sets out a fundamentally different approach to tackling drugs and an entirely new ambition to reduce drug use and dependence.

Actually it’s not a “fundamentally different approach” at all, based as it is on a belief against all evidence that prohibition can work, it relies on ever more “prevention” – by which they mean prohibition, repression and stifling of debate. Far from being a fundamentally different approach it’s just more of the same with the added ability to respond to pressure from the Daily Mail by ministerial dictat approved by a toothless poodle advisory committee.

Perhaps there can be some relief that the most extreme proposals put forward by the Tory right haven’t been taken forward. As the Guardian reported on Wednesday

Plans for an “abstinence-based” drug strategy and to cut benefits for problem drug users who refused treatment, which were championed by Iain Duncan Smith and the Tory right, have been shelved.

Although much of the strategy is based around the rhetoric of “recovery” and how to help with problem drug users sort their lives out. Fortunately they seem to have gone more for the carrot than the right wing stick. There are some good ideas here, using recovered addicts to mentor people might have some merit, although as anyone who’s quit tobacco will know being a reformed smoker often doesn’t go down well with 20 a day users.

This strategy does nothing to protect vulnerable people from the dangers of the unregulated and uncontrolled illegal drugs trade beyond trying to convince them not to get involved, given the extent of the problem of children being caught up in the drugs trade – another one of those “unintended consequences” – this is really unacceptable.

The drugs strategy is based on the moralistic assumption that all drug use (apart form alcohol) is bad and inevitably leads to problematic use, it takes no account of the so-called “untended consequences” prohibition causes or the wealth of evidence which indicates it’s a failed approach. Born of faith not evidence what this policy will probably mean is more time and effort directed at something which isn’t causing a problem whilst desperately trying to solve problems caused either by forces outside the scope of the drugs policy or actually caused by it. In an attempt to make it work the risk of being given uncomfortable evidence based advice has been reduced by taking total control over the ACMD.

All things considered, the 2010 drugs strategy is quite pathetic and probably quite dangerous.

12 thoughts on “2010 drugs strategy – forcing people to live a drug free life (but not alcohol)

  1. This ‘policy’ is not much more than an admission that it is directed by faith and ideology over evidence. Looks like things have to get worse before they get better.

    On a side note regarding minimum alcohol pricing (and the absence of its implementation in this new strategy)… the alcohol industry says it could cost £1.2bn if rolled out across the UK (http://www.heraldscotland.com/business/markets-economy/minimum-pricing-policy-could-cost-alcohol-industry-1-2bn-if-rolled-out-across-the-uk-1.1073336).. my first thought was SO WHAT! Drugs are fun and enjoyable if used safely and sensibly, but that by no measure means we should allow them to be sold at dirt-cheap prices encouraging ‘misuse’ and dependence.

    This isn’t about ‘drugs’, its about skewed priorities and incentives… and it is pretty much criminal the suffering our ‘leaders’ cause in the name of personal wealth and job security (read re-election).

  2. ”Decriminalisation … neither addresses the risk factors which lead individuals to misuse drugs or alcohol, nor the misery, cost and lost opportunities that dependence causes individuals, their families and the wider community”.

    Damn! And i thought they were going to decriminalise alcohol use, possession and commerce! http://j.mp/cUcOjp

  3. New Policy?. What?. How is any Off this “New”?.
    Its not. What scares me is this Nanny Unstate of “Treatment”?. I dont Need Treatment!. I Need my medication.I/We Need Respect. Alcohol and tobacco dont help me relax, destress, but sure who cares?. Not those at the top with there G and T’s. Cannabis is my Culture. So ive a “R”ight by there standards?. No. Of course not. Why?. Not one person on this hole good forsaken planet can tell me why my culture is of less importance than theres. Again who cares?. Sadly if a Liberal party cant grow a pair of Balls. Sorry Derek. What hope is there?. I suppose we’ll have to keep chiping away at the lies for many more years to come, it seems. While sick people could helped, we;ll keep throwing people in Jail. Take away there Children and continue to kick in their doors and steal what’s rightfully their’s. New it makes me Sick to my eye balls. this is the same old Propaganda rehashed yet again. Prohibition Doesnt work and never will. Sure thats the Point isnt it. As a Minister for unjustice once said. A sign of a healthy country, is one with a Prison population!. I shit you not. Sorry again Derek. In the words off a great song. One step forward two steps back!. Any so called Liberal voter of the future should seriouly think twice about giving their vote for the turn coats ever again. The Big Business of Politricks is alive and well my Friends. But us users/misusers whatever they call us can look forward to Treatment for our Sin’s before we are cast into the Pit of ever lasting fire. Salem for lunch any one?. Heres comes the U.S Style of Treatment in fact. More millions spent on privatised drug Rehab programmes to show us the error of our ways no dought. The true sign of Madness is to keep doing the same thing and expecting a different result!. So there we have it. Madmen and liers and in control once again. Its Offical Refer Madness is back in town Brothers and Sisters and they want our lives destroyed so they can sit on High Moral Ground. Ive an answer for them. No ive used crude English enough as it is. Ive had enough of this Horses””t for Ten life times, never mind this one!. Since they so beleave in their Heaven and Hell fairy tale, let them rot in Hell for Their Sins. Sativex?. Who can get a Doctor to prescribe it?. Hands Up?. No you have to be Dieing of Aids or Six months to live with Cancer before they;ll consider it. Arnt we so lucky too all live with Such Compassion. I wish Prop19 would have passed so much now, more than ever. California would have had a new farmer to help the Sick. Instead im/we are stuck here at the back of the line again awaiting pardon from the impending knock on the Door of some under paid pissed of Police Man looking for the Dirty Hippy/Student/Sick/Medicator, to blame for the world ill’s. Sure we fund Terrorism dont we. We desever our Paranoia for their dam Lies. Sick my Friends Truly Sick. Around and around this goes. 30 More years of a struggle?. Sure theres always next Year. The private prison popluation bloats in the US. I fear its closer to all our back gardens then we realise. I dislike a life without Hope. I beleave its Inhumain on all off us. Sadly this waste of Good paper that i wouldnt wipe my ass with will go unchangled by the Media. We;ll see them in the coming days gloating in their Friends rags and other form;s telling us all how too live. Do as we say. Not do as we like. Pissed to the heaven’s. Safe in thers beds all the better for knowing that theyve come up with a New Plan…….

  4. It’s the same old crap. There is also the bit (that’s been covered 100 times in the past):

    “Restricting supply – drugs cost the UK £15.4 billion each year. We must make the UK an unattractive destination for drug traffickers by attacking their profits and driving up their risks.”

    Higher risk = higher profit.
    Also, higher risk = lower quality for the end-user.

  5. Must add:
    higher risk = lower quality for end-user AND SAME PROFIT for dealer.

    Just think what we could do with £15.4bn in a economic downturn…

  6. Great, more of the same, at least for the near future. It’s interesting to see that our half liberal government would support a document which suggests that “liberalisation” is a bad thing? So much for that whole waste of space that was the your freedom website. There was a huge call for change there, so much so that it wouldn’t surprise me if thats why it was taken down. With regard to legal highs, I’d love to see them try and ban one of the recent faves, nutmeg! The image of M&S getting raided in a drugs bust is somewhat amusing.

  7. To complete what Adam Cecils and Jake said above,

    higher risk = higher total cannabis price to user– as compared with the main alternative, $igarette tobacckgo. Currently prohibitionist law enforcement achieves an at least ten-to-one price ratio– and that’s what drives some kids to settle for addictive tobacckgo when they “need a smoke” here-and-now in order to impress would-be gang buddies etc.

    (Did you notice, tobacckgo was hardly mentioned above– except along with alcohol, and once when Derek mentioned the experience of those who have tried to quit.)

    Don’t be misled by the debate over separate treatment for “tobacco and alcohol”. Tobacckgo IS the problem. “Alcohol is the runmning dog of Big 2WackGo.” Tobacckgo kills at least 4 times as many, year after year, as alcohol– not including co-enabling many crimes and accidents attributed to alcohol.

    Don’t be misled into pondering comparisons between cannabis and alcohol. The RELEVANT comparisons are between cannabis and tobacckgo.
    By far the biggest motivation behind prohibitionism against cannabis is to protect the tobacckgo $igarette industry (and its stooge friends in govt.), both from cannabis as a non-profitable alternative kind of herb to grow and provide compared to tobacckgo, and from cannabis as a kind of herb which teaches its wise informed users to miniaturize dosage with a non-profitable one-hitter or vapouriser as compared to the ignorant surrenderlike acceptance by poor puffsuckers of the high-profit Compulsory Overdose 700-mg. $igarette format, up to ten hot puffs every time you light up; a pack = almost 200 drug servings in a day.

    Here’s a great clarifying quote from Casey Hardison (Drug Equality Alliance):

    “A government that is permitted to set punishments for drug ‘offences’ in which a person has done nothing more than grow, manufacture, distribute, or use, the psychoactive agents which have been denoted as “controlled substances,” participates in an even more pernicious form of censorship – a censorship of consciousness itself – by choosing to punish people for no other crime than choosing to experience or enable particular states of mind.”

    – Casey to the Judge (Quoting Richard Glen Boire)

    Many in government have traditionally accepted and favoured tobacckgo and alcohol as drugs which mainly foster a sheeplike obedient point of view among the citizenry, as opposed to the ambitious, possibly rebellious libertarianism of some cannabis users which is the kind of state or process of mind pols and bureaucrats most fear to encounter among consituents. (Yes, alcohol can make a man into a savage raging driver or gunplayer tonight, but by the next day he is the usual suckodepressive sucking up to the boss to continue the paychecks.)

    Challenge the govt.– with their vested interested in tobacckgo taxes– to examine the health and behacvior differences between a hot burning overdose paperroll of either tobacckgo or cannabis and a 25-mg. one-hitter serving.

  8. Well, posting the above I got steamed up and forgot to use the older pseudonym, which I’d been losing interest in anyway, because (can’t miss the chance for another nasty little sermon)–

    Until I started browsing the innanet a couple years ago I thought a “toker” was the device, utensil etc. that you toke with. Turns out worldwide slang and categorization of humans won out, and “toker” came to mean someone who uses cannabis instead of tobacckgo (“smoker”). Boring and uninformative distinction, probably paid for by Big 2WaxckGo which ceaselessly feeds money into the media usually in the form of sponsoring events where children get together and breathe ambient-air nicotine etc.

    “Toke” should mean to suck long and slow while heating but not igniting a 25-mg. of pre-sifted herb in the screened crater of a one-hitter ((formerly toker).

    “Smokers” should be told that even they, puffing on $igarettes, are after not “smoke” but vapors (which in their case include nicotine). In $igarette-smoking the vapors are harvested along with the smoke, among the smoke, but they are not OF the smoke. Rather they emerge from the particles of herb which are NEXT to the burning part and heated by it but not yet burning.

    So it goes, down the $igarette or joint; the faster and hotter you burn, the lower the efficiency in yield of herb vitamin (in your case cannabinoids). Whereas a one-hitter maximizes efficiency– more cannabinoid, less heat shock and carbon monoxide.

    Ask H.M. Govt. to consider whether the true reason they avoid considering the massive difference between hot burning overdose $igarettes and a one-hitter is to keep in line with their masters’ (Tobacckgo Comapnies’) choice in sdales format.

  9. I disagree that there is an assumption that all drug use is bad apart from alcohol. It is more subtle – there is an admission that alcohol use can be problem use but there is no appetite to do anything about it in government statements or policy. People accept this since there are many more than the 1.6 million problem alcohol users who are actually addicted but none of these would like their addiction to be seen as anything other than harmless fun.

    One idea might be to make you cannabis into a drink rather than smoke it. If this were the case it would be much harder for people to see cannabis users as distinct from alcohol users (at the moment alcohol is the only drug that is consumed as a drink by most users). It would also make it undetectable without lab tests. Imagine sitting in a pub (I can’t but many can !) and putting a few drops of hash oil into your orange juice and smiling as you get stoned without anyone noticing or realising

  10. Phrato

    >>
    I disagree that there is an assumption that all drug use is bad apart from alcohol.
    >>

    The strategy goes into some detail as to why alcohol is different – how it forms an important part of British social life etc and is described as a “regulated product”.

    This has to be seen against the government’s previously stated refusal to include alcohol as a drug covered by the MoD act and the constant use of the phrase “alcohol AND drugs” or worse, as is often seen, “aclohol OR drugs”.

    But as regards the way canabis is used yes, I think your comments are spot on. When cannabis is eventaully taken out of prohibition I would expect it to become a very different drug in many ways, not least of all in the way it’s used.

  11. yes this is depressing having just watched a MP on the bbc news channel lie about previous drug policy regarding the declassification of cannabis yes a politician lying no surprise but wouldn’t be nice for once to have a bit of honesty this on the back of a labour back bencher Muppet calling for the legalisation of all drugs. Why didn’t he have the backbone to speak out when he was in government? I’m moving to Portugal

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