The problem is politicians, not drugs.

Ex-Home Office Minister spills the beans about UK drugs policy and is shouted down by all the party leaders, now whoever would have expected that to happen?

Following on from the underhanded way the hugely important changes to the composition of the government’s advisory body the ACMD were tacked onto a bill before Parliament in order to allow the new drugs strategy to be slipped into place without creating too much attention (read about it here), it didn’t really come as much of a surprise that there was a total rejection of the comments from MP Bob Ainsworth this week to the effect that prohibition had failed and that we should look at a different regime. Bob Ainsworth used to be in charge of UK drugs policy under Tony Blair’s government and so is in an ideal position to know the truth about the effectiveness of prohibition both as a domestic and foreign policy.

Politicians can often be found wringing their collective hands wondering why people regard them as lower than second hand car salesmen or even estate agents, you really don’t have to look  much further than Bob Ainsworth to understand the roots of this contempt. It is only now that he is no longer in government he feels able to tell the truth about the utter failure of UK drug prohibition in the way he did last week, all the time he could actually have influenced things he kept his head down, toed the party line and went along with a policy he knew was a disaster.

But at least he has said what he said and it’s far better late than never.

What Mr Ainsworth has said, if you missed it, is that

…prohibition has failed to protect us. Leaving the drugs market in the hands of criminals causes huge and unnecessary harms to individuals, communities and entire countries, with the poor the hardest hit. We spend billions of pounds without preventing the wide availability of drugs. It is time to replace our failed war on drugs with a strict system of legal regulation, to make the world a safer, healthier place, especially for our children. We must take the trade away from organised criminals and hand it to the control of doctors and pharmacists.

A full account of his position can be seen on the Transform blog, but in essence it blew the lid on the deception that is UK drugs policy.

Bob Ainsworth came out with this now because the new drugs “strategy” was released last week which, as this blog commented, is not really any different from previous regimes in that it’s based on prohibition; the idea that you can tell adults what they can’t to do to themselves in private and expect them to obey.

After 40 or so years since the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 was imposed on the country drug use is greater than ever, the age of induction is lower than ever and the drugs are generally cheaper than ever. It is hard indeed to think of any measure which indicates prohibition can be regarded as anything like a success.

The reaction from the establishment was perhaps predictable and immediate. Sadly the new leader of Labour Ed Milliband blew his first big chance of showing himself capable of independent thought and joined in the furious criticism of someone who dared to mention the lack of clothing on the Emperor. What was perhaps not so predictable was the public reaction to his comments, which was, broadly speaking very positive. The well known pro-drugs  Daily Mail run a story headed “Ex Minster condemned as ‘irresponsible’ by party for drugs u-turn (here)

Labour leader Ed Miliband moved swiftly to distance themselves from the MP’s ‘irresponsible’ ideas’. ‘Bob’s views do not reflect Ed’s views, the party’s view or indeed the view of the vast majority of the public,’ added a spokesman.

A party source described the legalisation proposal as ‘extremely irresponsible’, adding: ‘I don’t know what he was thinking.’

Asked whether the Prime Minister thought Mr Ainsworth’s ideas merited consideration, David Cameron’s spokesman said simply: ‘No.’ He added: ‘The Government is not in favour of legalisation of drugs because we don’t think it is the right approach. Drugs cause a lot of harm in society and we don’t think legalising them would be consistent with minimising that harm.’

Release summed it up nicely with a comment headed “Why did Nick Clegg cross the road? Because he pledged not to do so…” Release observed:

It would be insulting to think that politicians do not see the benefits and the basic logic behind an evidenced based framework. What is equally patronising is the view that the public would not also see the benefits of such an approach.

Actually there are signs they already have, the public feedback was far from condemning and a poll run along with the Mail’s item which asked “should drugs be decriminalised” came out as 76% in favour – this is the Daily Mail for heavens sake.The BBC News Have Your Say asked the question “Should heroin and cocaine be legalised?” and the 13 pages of comments were again largely supportive.

Indeed, it is hard to find any forum where people are allowed to comment which supports the Labour party’s unnamed “source” claim that the calls for change are not supported by  “the vast majority of the public”.  Fact is we’ve never really been asked in any meaningful way which would involve telling us the truth about the effectiveness or otherwise of the current prohibition policy. The drug war is presumed to be massively popular and something which no government would ever dare consider changing, that is clearly not true any more, if it ever really was.

Of course there have been voices in support of the present madness. Take for example Toby Young in the Telegraph with his item headed “Don’t legalise cannabis”, his logic for keeping the criminal law is that

There’s nothing more enjoyable than sitting down to dinner with a group of close friends. But the moment they bring out their “stash” of cannabis you know it’s time to leave. As soon as the smoke passes their lips they’re incapable of making an intelligent remark. One minute they’re arguing heatedly about whether Avatar was a genuine breakthrough in modern filmmaking, the next they’re re-living their favourite moments from Animal House. Before long they’re bringing out old copies of Whizzer and Chips and wondering what became of The Magic Roundabout.

and such facts as

Booze may have killed-off some of the greatest writers of this century – Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Lowry – but it didn’t prevent them from creating great novels. The only literature inspired by cannabis is Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers. I’ve been in a room of Oxbridge graduates who’ve spent the entire evening communicating in nothing but animal noises. Only cannabis can do this because cannabis destroys the parts that alcohol cannot reach.

Or perhaps – also from the Telegraph – Simon Heffer with his item headed “Get tough on drugs, don’t legalise them”

In other words, if you seek to undermine what Mr Ainsworth correctly calls the “gangsters” by reducing their ability to make money from drugs, they will simply find another commodity to exploit. Nature abhors a vacuum, and criminals used to idling for a living on a huge income are not suddenly going to get jobs stacking shelves in Tesco.

Interesting logic that, there are all these money making scams around which criminals are ignoring because they are too busy dealing drugs, if we took the illegal drug trade away form them, the criminals would move into all these untapped areas of opportunity. It is, of course, utter rubbish to suppose any money making scam isn’t already being exploited to the full by criminals – they are already doing insurance scams, trafficking people and so on. Removing the drug trade from the underworld would deny it a huge source of income which simply could not be replaced.

It’s tempting to conclude that the prohibition lobby is very much on the defensive, which means that anyone who dares to speak out has to be quickly shouted down, a logical fact based debate is something that simply can’t be allowed to happen.

More than that though we would seem to be at something of a T junction. The option of simply carrying on as before isn’t regarded as realistic by anyone, so either we move toward drug control through proper regulation or we dive deeper into ever more hardline prohibition. If the debate we’ve seen on forums around the media this week is in any way representative, they are the only two options available. Thus far the government has shown it favours ever more repression based on prohibition and at a time of severe cuts in essential services the Home Office announced the drug war is being gifted £125 million

As part of the drug interventions programme the £125 million will fund work across England and Wales for drug testing, managing drug misusing offenders and drug testing equipment and infrastructure.

Well, who needs education, public housing, libraries – at least the war on drugs is being funded. The true nature of this government is becoming only too clear, if only there were an effective opposition.

Happy Christmas, 2011 is unlikely to be dull

Happy Christmas

15 thoughts on “The problem is politicians, not drugs.

  1. Excellent writing Derek!

    Please remember that 40 year old Act was beautifully crafted to regulate the authorised commerce and possession in any and all ‘dangerous or otherwise harmful drugs’, see sections 7(1)-(4), 22(a)(i) and 31(1)(a). So why aren’t they being used for those engaged in peaceful activities with controlled drugs?

    Sections 7(1)-(2), 22(a)(i) and 31(1)(a) are not being used because of the Home Secretary’s policy choice of a selective prohibition of all peaceful activities with drugs bar alcohol and tobacco, which are exclude from the Act. In short, the Home Secretary uses only sections 7(3)-(4), which allow activities with controlled drugs for medical and scientific purposes only. And as alcohol and tobacco are not used for these purposes, they are excluded. But they could be, and then we would ask ‘why the distinction between alcohol, tobacco and other less harmful drugs?’

    For legal solutions, see http://www.drugequality.org

  2. I absolutely loved that linked article in the mail. Mainly for the poll, 75% for decriminalisation! You know it’s good when even three quarters of mail readers want this. We know how much the government love pandering to the whims of that crowd, maybe some common sense is finally on the horizon?

  3. It should surprise us to learn that Bob Ainsworth’s words actually set out the intention of the Misuse of Drugs Act. The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 was the result of the Misuse of Drugs Bill. The Home Secretary of the day, James Callaghan, asserted the intended objective of the new law, on March 25th 1970:

    “There is some evidence, however, that London is for some drugs a staging post […] It is, therefore, important that we should clean up this trade and this traffic, as the Bill will give us power to do […] If we really are to get at crime by the roots and get down to its causes — I believe that an attempt is being made to ensure this through the various powers in the Bill — we must control the import, manufacture and supply of drugs, which is of the essence if we are to avoid the enormous profits which can otherwise be made by criminal interests.”

    It couldn’t be any clearer that the intention of the Act was to take the trade in drugs away from the dealers and gangsters – the government would instead colonise this territory to prevent criminals dominating it. The words in the Misuse of Drugs Act are absolutely consistent with this aim.

    If we compare Mr Callaghan’s words with Mr Ainsworth’s, there’s little distinction:

    “…prohibition has failed to protect us. Leaving the drugs market in the hands of criminals causes huge and unnecessary harms to individuals, communities and entire countries, with the poor the hardest hit […] We must take the trade away from organised criminals and hand it to the control of doctors and pharmacists.”

    One day, the courts and our legislators might read the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and apply it. And on that glorious day we will have a rational drugs regime.

  4. The problem is Ed politicians equate “control” with “prohibit”. To the normal man or woman the word control is easy to understand, politiicans however are not normal.

    Of course I agree, we need to control drugs instead of leaving them to the uncontrolled anarchy created by the law as enacted.

  5. One of the most horrible things is that under the government’s ‘control’, they actively pursue a goal of increasing dangerous contaminants in drugs, as it is one of their metrics of success.

    Dangerous people, but I applaud Mr Ainsworth’s effort, however late it is.

    I’d like to see Brokenshire actually counter some of the points being made, rather than trotting out his pre-prepared statement word perfect every time he is challenged.

  6. We all know he can’t counter as his points are build on sand… if you ever cornered him it would still be ‘we don’t believe’ or ‘the government wants to tackle the problems with.. blah blah’, never providing empirical evidence, unless it was by a Home Office funded project or some obscure reference that supports their policy.

    If we could have an honest, open and public debate you just watch support swing in reforms favour! But what serving politician would put the people’s interest they are supposed to serve before their own and knowingly walk into that trap?

  7. I think there is something to be learned by concentrating on Mafficker’s question,

    “why the distinction between alcohol, tobacco and other less harmful drugs?’

    The old fact everybody knows is that the tobacckgo companies sponsor H.M. Govt. with massive tax revenues, conventionally described as being paid by the customer, in which case you might say the tobacco company, with its huge advertising effort, is a “procurer” of these revenuesw for and to the Govt.

    The new suggestion I hope you will consider is that alcohol is “the running dog of Big 2WackGo” and helps prop up the huge tobacco tax revenues by its role (especially binge drinking) in helping get many kids hooked on nicotine.

    The irony is that the $igarette tax revenue is probably a fifth or tenth as great as the cost to H. M. National Health Service of caring for (predominantly indigent and uneducated) $igarette addicts in their tragic terminal illnesses. The big fear is that cannabis, especially, could upset the tax apple cart, but it could save the Treasury.

  8. I personally think its more of the fact that the UK jumped on the bandwagon with the UN conventions – they provided an ideal way to increase monitoring of citizens whilst appearing tough on crime and ‘immorality’. Of course acl/tobac were excluded due to “historic and cultural [factors/precedents]”.. and that too much money was being made by the govt. to get rid of those.. plus, they had seen the failure of American experiment.. I guess at the time they thought that the ‘other drugs’ they could get away with prohibiting without too much fuss.. throw some Christian moralising in there.. and bingo.. 40years later rampant crime and huge prison population, to fix it all you have to do is say ‘We were wrong’.. so now it is clearly not between the distinction of alc/tobac to other drugs as numerous studies have shown relative harms, but getting a leader to stand up and be counted..

    the problem is… there are no leaders in parliament, only followers, whether it be to the tabloids, their own financial/status/legacy interests or right-wing party members. It sickens me.. but the tide is slowly, and unavoidably, turning.

  9. I watched the Ainsworth debate. FIrst,how disappointing that not much more than a handfull of MP’s turned up. Drug use in our society and its ramifications is one of the most important issues for our society.
    There was great contributions from Paul FLynn and Caroline Lucas and annoying Tory called Griffiths banging on about abstinanace then there was Brokenshaw for the Government. It was ironic that his trumpeted report of cocaine seizures and the purity of cocaine falling to 10% wasn’t balanced by him saying that cocaine use is at an all time high and it has never been cheaper, Cocaine now is cut with cancer causing chemicals that are probably more dangerous than the cocaine itself.
    When Ainsworth challenged him on a timetable to kudge the success of the Governments new Drug Policy his response was basically even if itis a failure they will not consider legalising drugs.
    This is what we face and it was aptly demonstrated on LBC that same morning. The host of the show (forget his name) from 10-11am did an unusually brilliant critique of prohibition. He invited supporters to ring in and see if he could change there mind even though he countered every point they refused to change there mind because they “feel” that legalising drugs is wrong. This in a nutshell is what drug reformers face. We can “beat” then in a rational debate but we canot change there feelings engendered over many years that some drug use is wrong.

  10. Another Great article and some great comments.

    I too am unable to find this indignant public opposition often mentioned by politicians. In fact there is probably more opposition to giving homosexual couples equal rights (in the news this week) than there is to legalising and regulating the supply of drugs.

    The other point I wish to make is that legalising something like cannabis will not turn rooms of drunken Oxford graduates into babbling idiots. We are only talking about regulation – not making it compulsory ! In practice all it really means to an adult is that it might be a bit easier to obtain and they would actually know the quality/potency of what they were buying. If it really is as bad as the Telegraph article portrays then I am sure educated people would not want to indulge – a decision that most people already make when it comes to sniffing glue, drinking bleach and hitting themselves with sledgehammers (all legally available with less restrictions than those proposed for cannabis !)

    Another fantastic year of posts on this site (and others) – the sense talked about this subject restores one’s faith in humanity! momentum is building all the time even if the politicians are the last to realise it.

    I’m off into the woods to collect some reindeer piss and celebrate the true meaning of christmas
    (Only a joke!! Amanita Muscaria is very dangerous unless you really know what you are doing – as is the collection of reindeer urine!)

    Happy New Year to you all

  11. Thay Are Pissing in the Winds My Friends

    Happy Chriatmas, Thay shall never Hide so unRightous a Truth. Cannabis is Free To YOu!

    Take Care. D

  12. just finished watching the start of a new series on bbc 3 ( thusrday 9pm ) – documenting the use and visual effects of cannabis on the human body. natuarally they displayed answers that we all have known for a long time. If u havent yet seen it, it ended with saying cannabis is relatively a safe drug in comparison to the more conventional prescription drugs. On a more personal note, i am very close to succeeding in my application for the use of medical marijuhana. ( its a lengthy process, but will be well worth it ) since their is no cure for my condition and that the fact of the matter is that conventional medication only worstens my condition – it wont be too long before the tides turn 😉 p.s one place in england that i know of is already started to produce/supply under strict secrecy to a minority or patients. lets hope in the near future that cannabis will be used wisely and not allowed to be easily exploited…

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