Pre-testing Party Drugs: concrete steps avoid concrete pills

In the latest British edition of The Economist (July 30th) , there is a report about a useful initiative in the field of (il)legal highs and party drugs like XTC (as we Dutch spell ecstacy). It appears that there is a non-profit organization called The Loop, with a professor Fiona Measham, criminologist at Durham University, amongst its co-directors; she is their spokesperson in the article.

Medical Drugs for Pharmacy Health Shop of MedicineThey’re this year starting to travel around local summer music festivals, offering festival-goers to test their party drugs before they consume them. The result at the “Secret Garden Party” near Cambridge were sobering: stuff sold as “MDMA crystal” was ordinary brown sugar, and hard grey pills were actually made from concrete, the building material. And where XTC really was XTC, some pills were five times as potent as others being tested.

At the end of the Coalition Government, Nick Clegg in a Lib Dem press release justly pointed out that both Labour and Tories won’t take real steps in drugs policy, fearing to appear soft in “battling drugs”. But The Economist notes that then Home Secretary Theresa May, who in 2013 opposed pre-testing drugs in a Manchester club, now apparently tolerates the testing at festivals (on private property) done by The Loop.

In our 2015 election platform, we Lib Dems proposed to legislate to end imprisonment for having drugs for personal use. This summer (July 5th, 2016), D66, the Dutch Lib Dems, in parliament supported a petition by BNN, a youth broadcasting corporation, not to prosecute anybody who has 3 XTC pills or less for personal use. And D66 has for donkey’s years supported testing party drugs at music festivals and such; and supported legalizing cannabis production (to be able to control its composition and physical/mental side-effects; ant to tax it like Colorado State in the USA).

On the BBC tv news the other day there was an item that “legal highs” purporting to be the equal of cannabis, sold on London streets, were dangerous because those effects were quite serious. Those “legal highs” were just made illegal, but still freely available on London streets. And what if at the next local British festival the MDMA being sold turns out to be the “brown sugar” (=heroin) the Rolling Stones sung about? The effects of consuming that the wrong way can be serious!

I think D66 and the LibDems agree on one key point: a drugs policy which concentrates on punishment, and ignores the medical dangers of substances sold, is more dangerous than a drugs policy that limits the medical dangers and treats users more as patients or consumers than criminals. Driving the drugs trade underground never helped; so driving online drugs trade to the “Dark Web” is stupid and contradicted by decades of experience.

To press the point about the health risks of any “No care for criminals”-drugs policy, D66 is pointing to the findings by the main Dutch expertise center for both mental health and drugs & addiction care and monitoring, the Trimbos Institute. From time to time, Trimbos issues health warnings about pills or drugs being sold in a city or region. Allowing wide publicity for such health warnings by British expert organizations (NGO’s or semi-governmental) like The Loop should be a good start towards a more realistic drugs policy.

* Dr. Bernard Aris is a historian, a D66 parliamentary researcher and a LibDem supporting member.

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  • People at these festivals should just not take drugs. Then they can be sure they won’t be consuming sugar, concrete, or anything else dangerous.

    Nobody has to take drugs.

  • (Well, except diabetics, obviously. And people with high blood pressure. And people on chemotherapy. Oh, you know what I mean. Nobody has to take drugs for pleasure.)

  • Jayne Mansfield 2nd Aug '16 - 11:10am

    I find the articles on these pages regarding drugs quite alarming. I fear for my grandchildren.

    There seems to be an acceptance that taking non- prescribed drugs is a norm. I would dread the idea of my grandchildren going to a festival because I now assume that the will be introduced to drugs.The entertainment on offer must be lousy if they need drugs to get through the event.

    I am not being facetious, I am concerned that no-one seems to be challenging the various motivations behind young people taking drugs, and that those of us who got through life without taking them are fighting a losing battle when talking to young people about the dangers, not just in health terms but time wasted. It seems to me that time ‘tuning out’ could be more productively spent, ‘tuning in’.

    In what way does making drug taking seem normative help anyone?

  • Why do the police not just send plain-clothes officers to these things to pose as festival-goers wanting to buy drugs, and then arrest the suppliers?

    (Although… I wonder if part of the reason they are selling sugar pills is that if that does happen and they are arrested, selling sugar pills is not actually illegal…)

  • the police spent 50 years doing that

    Did they? Which fifty years? Music festivals like these ones have only been going for about forty years, and the police haven’t been making drugs busts at them for at least the last thirty, so which fifty-year span do you mean?

    succeeded only in making themselves very unpopular

    Well, the police are supposed to be unpopular amongst criminals, aren’t they?

  • Looking around I see has figures for drugs seized at festivals, but no figures for prosecutions of dealers caught at these festivals; do you have those figures?

  • In what way does making drug taking seem normative help anyone?

    I have similar concerns Jayne, my concerns arose when my children were very young and there was much publicity and advertising of health supplements for children in the form of vitamin tablets and Omega3 fish oils. which seem to normalise the taking of tablets/capsules for reasons other than strictly medical.

  • Mark Wright is right. The fact is that young people like to experiment, and people of all ages like to do things that make them feel good. So some take drugs. Others smoke, drink, have unsafe sex, do dangerous sports etc. Decades of prohibition have failed, and always will fail. Human nature trumps the subjective attempt to ban something that others enjoy and don’t perceive (rightly or wrongly) to be harmful. The involvement of Government and the law should be limited to educating the public about risks and preventing harm to others (e.g. passive smoking, drunk/drug driving).

  • Jayne Mansfield 2nd Aug '16 - 1:18pm

    @ Dave,
    Placebos have a pretty good record for giving the effect that is desired maybe sugar pills would be more effective and less harmful if one is not a diabetic.

    @ Councillor Mark Wright,
    People may have been taking drugs across times and across contents but that does not mean that the number cannot or should not be reduced. Drugs have enabled people to carry out barbaric acts.

    The more people who take drugs the more people there are who likely to be caused by side effects which cannot be legislated against. That is why I feel that the Liberal Democrats, and I may be being unfair here, have got the balance of their arguments wrong. Mind changing drugs lead to behaviour that can be unpredictable for the individual and also harmful, to others as well as to the person taking the drug.

    I actually find your suggestion that those who question Bernard’s proposal as authoritarians, objectionable. I have worked in areas where people escape intolerable conditions by, for example, chewing paan, or smoking bidi. I genuinely believe that it is better to help the users to develop different strategies rather than stand by and leave them at higher them risk of mouth and oesophageal cancer, or late presentation of TB because disguising they have camouflaged blood stained saliva with red colouring.

    I don’t make a distinction between the drug of alcohol and other mind changing drugs so I am unsure why some keep drawing parallel between them.

    The reason I am concerned about the poster’s proposals are that if more people think drug -taking is now normal, or worse, socially approved behaviour, (and I believe that that may be one of the unintended consequences) , then more people will put themselves and others at risk. Any gains will be balanced out or outweighed by losses.

    Sadly the long term Liberal Democrat who used to post an alternative view point on drugs on here, no longer seems to do so. I hope that is not the case.

  • I fully support Jayne Mansfield and Caractacus on this issue.

    Self indulgence (especially if it may inflict cost or pain on others) is not liberalism.

    When I joined the party the main theme of liberalism was to release and encourage the potential of each individual and to develop them as happy successful rational beings leading a full life and being the best they could be. In other words to develop the rational autonomy of as many people as possible.

  • Bernard Aris 2nd Aug '16 - 2:36pm

    For starters: I don’t think taking drugs is natural; but people do such things. People still smoke tobacco even though its 100% harmfulness is fully proven and universally known. I myself only drink alcohol. Other people jump from planes miles high into nets hoping to survive… What people absolutely won’t do to “get a kick, a rush, a thrill” still has to be invented. People play Pokemon driving cars on highways: we’re certainly not always behaving rational.
    My point is: given that people take drugs, how can we make sure we reduce the risks and secondary, indirect consequences to moderate proportions?
    Forbidding drugs won’t make them go away, disappear; the American Prohibition (1920-’32) shows it can actually worsen things in a society (gangsters taking control over bootleg alcohol; bathtub alcohol poisoning amateur brewers; corruption in police and other institutions). So doing as much as possible above bord helps keeping some control over what happens. both with the drugs use itself and in the enviromnment in general. When tobacco was absent in the Netherlands during the 1940-’45 occcupation, smokers smoked worse stuff because they were addicted to smoking something.

    And about music festivals with drug use only being around for the past 40 years: Woodstock was 47 jears ago; heroin was very popular amongst jazz people in the 1950’s (Billy Hollyday!); absinth was popular in Toulouse Lautrecs Moulin Rouge; morphine and/or opium in the “Topsy Turvy” world of Gilbert & Sullivan operetta’s; and so on; the Bacchus cult is millennia old.

  • For starters: I don’t think taking drugs is natural; but people do such things

    That’s a defeatist attitude, isn’t it?

    Prohibition (1920-’32) shows it can actually worsen things in a society

    It’s rather different, though, banning something which up until then had been freely available, and therefore has all the existing machinery (both physical and cultural) of production, distribution and sale just sitting there. Of course that’s not going to work, practically.

    But if drug laws in the UK were actually enforced — if the police did show up at festivals and actually prosecute dealers, sending them to prison for periods of 5-10 years (the theoretical maximum sentence for supplying MDMA is life) — who is to say what would happen? Would dealers really be willing to risk going down for a decade, just to make some spare cash off a bunch of hippies in a field?

  • Lorenzo Cherin 2nd Aug '16 - 3:31pm

    As ever the truth is to be found more often than not in the middle of things , at the centre of activity ! I am , as much as anyone is fed up o here about anything , fed up with critical comments of something called centrism , as if those of us who are on the moderate centre left at times and mainly in the radical centre , are promoting something anathema to this party .

    All the common sense and intelligence on here is within the very bounds I allude to especially on this issue.

    The fact is there is merit in every post above. Bernard is not some wild eyed libertarian of right or left wing tendency , but a thoughtful colleague who seems to be measured.

    Mark Wright is one of the most constructive people on here .

    David Raw is apparently a radical , who seems very traditional in most views .

    Jayne Mansfield was a terrifically glam… oh , just checking anyone is paying attention, Jayne is a very compassionate person who should get involved in this party.


    Is a socially responsible mainstream party member.

    All have made a valid contribution.

    Drug taking is lousy , hard drug taking is wretched.To encourage it is immoral. The concept of something being immoral is in keeping with a social Liberal view of harm being so great as to be ruinous. Immoral is illiberal.

    We need to recognise what is , what works and in what way .

    And then act .

    We cannot be pro mental health sufferers and pro drugs.

    We can be pro mental health sufferers and pro drugs users trying to get off the drugs.

    We can tolerate that which is a personal choice if it does little harm.

    Let us debate that and Mill.

  • @Caractacus – “that’s why 90% of illegal drug users think they have a drugs problem.”

    Is that true? I don’t have hard data myself, but in my opinion the most popular illegal drug is cannabis, and most cannabis users don’t think they have a drug problem.

  • @Jayne Mansfield – “Mind changing drugs lead to behaviour that can be unpredictable for the individual and also harmful, to others as well as to the person taking the drug.”

    That is certainly true, but it seems very clear that alcohol, which is legal, is the worst in that respect (and certainly worse than cannabis).

    – “I don’t make a distinction between the drug of alcohol and other mind changing drugs so I am unsure why some keep drawing parallel between them.”

    Because you can’t have a rational, evidence-based, debate without justifying why alcohol and tobacco are treated differently to other drugs when they are both legal and their potential harmfull effects are very well known.

  • Bernard Aris 2nd Aug '16 - 5:06pm

    accepting what people do is essential if you want to be a historian.

    And sometimes the infrastructure to distribute one thing (coffee: the 18th century coffeehouses) can be, or become the vehicle to distribute other things (in the coffee house case: tobacco, radical/liberal literature and even insurance policies: Lloyd’s).

    And the present situation in the US shows that if the infrastructure to distribute one thing (in this case: addictive pain killers) malfunctions, if the product gets too high in price to sustain, or things get hemmed in, it can lead to substitutes (in this case: a new wave of heroin addiction) springing up, using the same network as the previous product.

    The whole concept of “legal highs” demonstrates that legal alternatives can turn out worse than the forbidden fruit. And street pushers are selling anything that gives a profit; addictive drugs gives you as seller a “solid” market.
    That is exactly the reason the Dutch in the 1970’s semi-legalized shops where cannabis could be bought, to avoid spill-over in harder drugs like LSD and heroin. And many countries introduced needle exchanges to avoid dirty heroin needles spreading illnesses like AIDS.

  • Because you can’t have a rational, evidence-based, debate without justifying why alcohol and tobacco are treated differently to other drugs

    Isn’t the reason for that obvious? It’s because they have been around so long it would be impractical to ban them.

    If either were previously unknown and only invented now, there’s no way they would be legal.

    So the answer to the question, ‘Why should this be illegal when alcohol is legal?’ is obviously, ‘Of course alcohol should be illegal, but we missed the boat on that one — let’s not make the same mistake again, and instead ban this one before the genie is out of the, ahem, bottle.’

  • accepting what people do is essential if you want to be a historian

    It’s not great if you want to be a legislator, though, otherwise you’d have to accept that people steal and make theft legal.

    street pushers are selling anything that gives a profit; addictive drugs gives you as seller a “solid” market

    This article isn’t about addictive drugs, though; it’s about ‘party drugs’ which are, by and large, not addictive.

  • Dav – are you seriously suggesting that you would make alcohol illegal if you could?

    For me there is a fundamental question about whether individuals should be allowed to make an informed decision to do things that they enjoy but may be harmful. Provided I don’t harm others (e.g. by drink driving) it should be up to me what I choose to consume.

    Plenty of people enjoy a drink, mostly in moderation. Many others smoke cannabis, without causing anyone else any harm. By all means take legal steps to prevent harm to others, but how can it be liberal to say to millions “it may be your body, but we know best and are going to tell you what you can and can’t put in it”.

  • Eddie Sammon 2nd Aug '16 - 9:03pm

    I’m pro legalising soft drugs but that is it. I’m generally weary of this debate because it’s low down on the public’s list of concerns and it can take up a lot of time.

    People who say it is incoherent to favour the legal status of alcohol but not softer drugs are correct, in my opinion.

    And my own personal bugbear: let’s not forget about the effects of passive smoking and other instances of public harm that can occur from drug and alcohol misuse. Although I can’t talk much about alcohol at the moment, we need to be careful we don’t look like we are celebrating recreational drugs.

  • Rightsaidfredfan 2nd Aug '16 - 9:18pm

    Testing these drugs to make sure they’re safe is inconsistent with banning their use. We would not support any other criminal activity this way by making it as risk free for the criminal as possible.

    Personally, I think these things should be produced to pharmaceutical standards and sold in chemist shops for profit to adults who want to use them for pleasure proving their sale comes with pharmacist advice. That is the liberal solution as the liberal solution is about maximising individual freedom. The social democratic solution however would be to ban them for the good of society and where necessary send people to prison if they refuse treatment and continue to break the law time and time again.

    Often the liberal solutions to problems and the social democratic solutions problems are one and the same. This is one area where they are not the same and why I believe that the lib dems as a party will never be able to unite behind a consistent drugs policy. Because at least half of the party are social democrats, not liberals.

  • Jayne Mansfield 2nd Aug '16 - 9:59pm

    @ Nick Baird,
    Smoking is a very good example of how the promotion of harm-reduction behaviour is sometimes misguided.

    In the 70s and 80’s there was epidemiological evidence that cigarette filters reduced the risk of cancers from smoking. Many switched to filter tips believing that this would reduce any potential harm to their health. Later studies did not replicate those of the earlier ones and it was been found that the risk of cancer for those smoking filter and non filter cigarettes was not significantly different.

    We had the phase of moving to light cigarettes. Did a change to light cigarettes reduced the number of cancers from smoking? No. However, thankfully any harm to others has been reduced by ‘No Smoking policies.

    Abuse of alcohol is a problem for the individual and society, but just because we are not dealing effectively with the problems of one drug, it doesn’t men we should give up on trying to do a better job on another.

    Interestingly since Bernard raises the subject of prohibition, some states in India are introducing or thinking of total or partial prohibition ( e.g. Kerala). Whilst individuals in rural areas have often been able to make themselves some form of alcohol, they have had to make an effort to do so, ( some of them dying in the process as they fall out of palm trees etc.). Now many do not have to face that risk, cheap alcohol is taken to their villages by tradesmen . I suppose that one could argue that ease of availability and some sort of consistency of manufacture is an example of harm reduction. In fact the result has been disastrous for the individuals and the communities.

    In the microcosm of the world that I inhabited, I saw how, over time, drinking alcohol became the norm in communities, as social disapproval and peer pressure reduced allowing a critical mass to be reached. I gather from friends, that the habit has now spread to women, so often as with the children, the the brunt of alcohol- fuelled behaviour.

    Harm reduction is not a set of policies or a programme, it is a goal. I do get the impression from some posts on other threads that I have followed on this subject, that for some, the goal is not harm reduction but the promotion of drug taking as yet another accepted life- style choice. I find this insidious given the harm that drugs can do to individuals and communities.

  • @Jayne Mansfield

    My question to you then is similar to the one I posed to Dav. Would you, if you could, completely ban alcohol and tobacco, as well as soft and hard drugs? Do you believe that it would be right for you to make that choice on behalf of millions of other people, including me who like to drink in moderation?

    Would you criminalise users of alcohol and tobacco, as we currently criminalise drug users? Because your ban wouldn’t stop alcohol and tobacco consumption. It would reduce it, and put the remaining supply chain in the hands of criminals (or people would make their own and some die in the process as you mention in your post).

    I simply don’t believe in denying ordinary people choice in their lives, including the informed choice to consume substances that may be harmful to themselves. The state should only intervene to ensure that people are educated about the risks, and the law used only to prevent harm to others.

  • It simply isn’t acceptable in the 21st century to argue that some people must be criminalised for their behaviour, whereas other people behaving an equivalent and exactly comparable manner should be left alone “because they have been around so long”.

    The point is that you can’t say, ‘you can’t have a rational, evidence-based, debate without justifying why alcohol and tobacco are treated differently to other drugs’ because the situations of alcohol and tobacco, and other drugs, are not analogous. The reasons why it’s impractical to ban alcohol don’t apply to other, newer drugs.

    You can agitate that anybody has the right to put anything they like in their body, as a few fringe liberals do.

    But you can’t argue, as some do, that someone is a hypocrite if they support banning, eg, cannabis and MDMA, but not banning alcohol (but they might well support, say, tighter regulation of alcohol, having noticed that the relaxation of alcohol laws over the last couple of decades have led to the awful scenes of mindless, chaotic hedonism we see in our city centres on weekend evenings).

  • Jayne Mansfield 3rd Aug '16 - 10:18am

    @ Bernard Aris,
    We do agree that taking chemical drugs is not natural. What is natural, is that our bodies provide their own ‘legal highs’.

    I do wish that ‘The Loop and Chill,’s position was made plain, They clearly state,

    ‘Obviously all drugs are dangerous and The Loop and Chill do not encourage or condone any drug use’.

    I would suggest that there is a world of difference between trying to minimise harm of those who choose to involve themselves in risk taking behaviour, and taking a laissez faire attitude to drug taking as personal choice.

  • Richard Underhill 3rd Aug '16 - 10:32am

    conservatism is not pure. Consider a marriage breaking down for lack of sound finance without breaking marital vows.

  • Cllr Mark Wright “Dav: I’m afraid your last post is pure nonsense – it’s pure conservatism”.

    What a breathtaking (or anything else taking) post.

  • Jayne Mansfield 3rd Aug '16 - 11:32am

    @ Nick Baird,
    I would argue that it is for the community to make the rules regarding the limits of personal freedom. I am but one member of that community, but I have my own strongly held views based on a combination of my understanding of the research and personal experience.

    I want to protect my family and I believe that the best way of avoiding potential drug dependency and ill- health is to avoid taking drugs in the first place. Even without a family history of mental illness, (and some of the children that we have cared for do have one) , there will be some individuals who will develop psychotic illness as a consequence of drug taking. Taking drugs is the equivalent of playing Russian roulette.

    I am sorry but I find it unacceptable that risk taking behaviour is spun as a right to personal choice by those who say, ‘well it never harmed me’.

    To pick up on the point about people dying in an attempt to make their own alcohol. These men were a very small minority whose behaviour made them social outcasts in the tribe. It was the ready availability of alcohol that increased the incidence and prevalence of inebriation and the social breakdown. I therefore believe that ready access to any drug must be a factor in the increase and normalisation of the habit.

    My 16 year old grandson assumed that his grandfather and I must have taken drugs given that we came of age in the 60’s. I had to put him right, that rather than ‘chillin’ we were working bl–dy hard to become productive members of society. What is more, people like us were in the majority.

    My grandson’s parents and the rest of us as a family. would be horrified if anyone introduced him to drugs, and he had not been given the support necessary to withstand any peer pressure and the false claim that drug taking is a normal part of the risk -taking behaviour of growing up.

  • Stephen Howse 3rd Aug '16 - 11:44am

    “Nobody has to take drugs.”

    But some people choose to. Good for them. Let’s try and make sure they’re as safe as possible while they do it. (I’m not one of them, by the way.)

    If we’re banning drugs then let’s also ban all sports, as people might get hurt and nobody *has* to participate in sports. Let’s ban watching TV as people might strain their eyes or get addicted and nobody *has* to watch it.

    How has this debate rumbled on, on a supposedly liberal blog site, in the manner that it has? How thoroughly depressing. This should be a touchstone issue for liberals.

  • Liberal laws require evidence-based, rational legislating without regard to historic favoured statuses and privileges

    It’s not about historically favoured statuses and privileges, though. It’s about what is practical and possible, in the situation in which we find ourselves, and what is not.

    If you say, ‘A and B are both bad; it would be perfectly possible to stop B, but we better not because it would be impossible to stop B and we must treat A and B the same’ do you not think people would look at you as if you were mad?

    Why let the bad thing you cannot stop, prevent you from doing all you can to stop the bad thing you can?

    Why must you treat A and B the same when they are, in a relevant way (how practical they would be to stop, which is very relevant when considering legislation), completely different?

  • I mean, what would you think if I were to say, ‘handguns and knives are both deadly weapons. But for historical and practical reasons, we can’t ban knives, as thy are useful tools which have been part of kitchens for centuries. Therefore we should not ban handguns either, because to do so would be to treat knives differently to handguns because of their favoured historical status as kitchen tools.’

    No. If two things are ban and you can practically ban both of them, you ban both. But if banning only one of them is practical, you don’t therefore give up on banning the other. You do what limited good you can, rather than doing nothing because you can’t do everything.

    [I suspect that actually the issue is that you don’t think they either drugs, or alcohol, is bad and should be banned; but if that is the case, you should come out and say it, not make silly arguments about how not being able to ban one bad thing means you should let another bad thing run rampant through society]

  • If equality of legislation isn’t important, and if cracking down on some people is better than cracking down on no people, then this is a good idea, right?

    Well, no, because that means treating people differently and of course you shouldn’t do that. That would be racist.

    That is completely different from the question of, say, whether to not ban handguns because we can’t ban knives.

    Where is can be proved that drugs are no more dangerous than other things we consider acceptable in society then I don’t think those drugs should be banned, because I believe in legislative equality

    Well, seeing as you want equality, here’s a question: if alcohol, or tobacco, were invented now, rather than having all the history behind them, do you think they would be considered acceptable in society, or be legal?

    I don’t think they would — I think they would be banned.

    So, for equality, we should apply the same test to other drugs and ban them too, just as we would ban alcohol and tobacco if they were to be invented tomorrow.

  • (The idea that the sort of alcohol-fuelled hedonism seen in city centres on Saturday nights is ‘considered acceptable in society’ is an interesting one too. I suspect actually a majority of society would be ‘consider it acceptable’ and would quite like to see far more restrictive licensing of alcohol-serving premises than at present, even if a complete ban is impractical.)

  • [for “would be ‘consider it acceptable’” read “would not “‘consider it acceptable’”]

  • @Dav – “I suspect that actually the issue is that you don’t think they either drugs, or alcohol, is bad and should be banned; but if that is the case, you should come out and say it, not make silly arguments about how not being able to ban one bad thing means you should let another bad thing run rampant through society”

    Well I’ll come out and say that alcohol and “soft” drugs should not be banned. As to whether they are “bad” or not is a subjective moral judgement that each individual can make for themselves. In my opinion, the 2 million or so regular cannabis users in this country are not making a worse decision than the country’s many drinkers, and we don’t make the situation any better in the slightest by criminalising those 2 million people.

    It can’t be reasonable for one segment of society to say that their drug(s) of choice (alcohol, tobacco, caffeine or whatever) are acceptable, but then impose a ban on another segment’s and criminalise them when they indulge.

    I don’t think the issue of how long something has been in use for, and the practicalities of banning more things, has any relevance to the argument. Opium has been in use for as long as tobacco – so what?

  • In my opinion, the 2 million or so regular cannabis users in this country are not making a worse decision than the country’s many drinkers

    The point, though, is that it’s only a historical accident that alcohol is not banned. If alcohol were discovered tomorrow, it certainly would be.

    So while the cannabis users may not be making a worse decision, that’s still quite a bad enough decision.

    The fact we’re too bad to ban alcohol or tobacco, which we clearly would do if we could, shouldn’t stop us from banning things for which it is not yet too late.

    Imagine how many lives could have been saved if James I/VI had banned tobacco as soon as it arrived on these shores! Let’s not make the same mistake again just because it’s too late to fully correct that one.

  • [for ‘too bad to ban’ read ‘too late to ban’]

  • Stephen Howse 3rd Aug '16 - 4:12pm

    “The point, though, is that it’s only a historical accident that alcohol is not banned. If alcohol were discovered tomorrow, it certainly would be.”

    Under our restrictive and ridiculous drugs laws, it would.

    But under a liberal approach to drugs, it would not.

  • Hang gliding causes life changing injuries which cost the NHS so if you’re going to ban recreational use of cannabis and waste police and prison time and money on the millions of harmless users are you going to ban hang gliding too?

    Whereas legalising and taxing cannabis could pay for loads of new hospitals and schools etc, as is happening in some states of USA and Liberal Canada etc etc

  • Richard Underhill 3rd Aug '16 - 4:41pm

    New Scientist said that aspirin is a naturally occurring substance and had not been tested as newly invented drugs are. Maybe that has since changed. The front cover said “Aspirin can make you pregnant” (if used with IUD) speculating that both affected prostaglandins.

  • Paul Griffiths 3rd Aug '16 - 4:51pm


    Hang gliding is risky, but the risks can be mitigated by training, experience, safety equipment etc. The same is not true, for example, of smoking tobacco. It may seem abstract, but I believe the contrast between mitigable and unmitigable risk (of serious injury or death) is morally (if not legally) significant.

  • Jayne Mansfield 3rd Aug '16 - 8:19pm

    @ Stephen Howse,
    From what I have read on here, the Liberal Democrat concept of Liberty is that of negative liberty, which is fine for some , but not for some of us who also consider ourselves fairly liberal, but are wedded to the concept of positive Liberty.

    As far as I am concerned, the issue is not one of logical consistency in approach to different drugs, it is about ethics and the harm principle. The type of drug is irrelevant, it is the harm that is caused by anyone who uses them that ought to be the important factor.

    I have watched with interest as Dav has been browbeaten for his ‘inferior’ skills of logic. Perhaps he is not a scientist, but as a member of society, I suspect he knows quite a lot about the harm that can be caused by one person to another, and how some drugs cause some people to lose their inhibitions and cause harm to others when they would not do so if they were not under the influence.

    I gave one example, the harm caused by the alcohol abuse as occurs in the villages where I worked, by men who spent their money on alcohol instead of food for their families, beat their wives and children and were generally neglectful. A clear case of the harm principle.

    Dav gave an example of some possible harmful incidents in town centres by some of those who have used alcohol. We all know from newspaper reports that some people under the influence of other drugs may cause harm to others, by behaving in ways that would not have happened if there had not been a drug implicated.

    I accept that there are ‘those who consider themselves ‘True Liberals, who argue that the harm principle only applies to the harm caused and not the potential to cause harm, or that it is ‘illiberal’ to try to prevent potential self -harm. In real life situations, I struggle with the idea of standing by as someone does so. For some of us, it is a human reaction to intervene.

    @ Dav,
    I have found your opinions interesting. I share some of your concerns.

    May I point out that smoking in public places is banned to prevent smokers from harming others and there are laws governing its sale. Also there are some laws relating to alcohol and the sale of alcohol.

  • Mark Robinson 3rd Aug '16 - 10:07pm

    I would urge anyone who is interested in this subject to read Johann Harri’s excellent Chasing the Scream //

    It will change your perception of what addiction is, why we started the war on drugs and why it can never be won.

    For what it’s worth I am very liberal, even libertarian, on this subject, to the extent that the state should be involved it should be in regulating, educating, taxing and minimising harm.

  • Chasing the Scream

    I recommend this debate with the author:

  • Jayne Mansfield 4th Aug '16 - 7:08am

    @ Mark Robinson,
    I haven’t got time to read a book and my eyes aren’t up to it anyway. Can’t you just give us your reasons for being libertarian on the subject?

    I would be particularly interested in what you have to say about legalisation in the context of a need for ‘harm reduction’. If you accept that something causes harm why do you believe in legalising it?

  • @Jayne Mansfield – “If you accept that something causes harm why do you believe in legalising it?”

    Suppose making something illegal causes greater harm?

    The market for the formerly “legal highs” existed purely because the likes of cannabis are illegal. Yet the many of the “legal highs” are more dangerous than the banned substances they replace – that is not “harm reduction”.

    Enforcing the ban on illegal drugs requires the use of finite police and justice system resources. Those resources are then not available to investigate and prosecute other crimes. Since the harm caused by, say, cannabis use is minimal, the harm to society as a whole by wasting resource enforcing the ban is greater (in different ways).

    Apparently 1 in 3 of the UK population will try illegal drugs at least once in their life. Most will do so when young then “grow out of it”. But an unfortunate few will be caught and arrested when doing so. That means some will get a criminal record for doing something that they will probably naturally stop doing eventually anyway without ever harming themselves or others, or getting addicted. Yet their life chances may be permanently impacted by having a criminal record. How is that “harm reduction”?

  • Jayne Mansfield 4th Aug '16 - 10:38am

    Apparently 1in 3 of the UK population will try illegal drugs at least once in their life. Yes Nick ( and we don’t tell my grandson this), one of them was my husband who out of curiosity suggested we enter a cafe in Amsterdam called the Outer Limits. This was decades ago. He chose something from the menu , smoked the spliff and we left. Didn’t do a thing for him. If I had been a tobacco smoker, my curiosity might have got the better of me.

    The fact that one third of people who use drugs, and I mean those who don’t get carried away by curiosity means that most of us see some of the results of smoking cannabis.

    To my knowledge, there are two young men whose schizophrenia has been attributed to heavy usage. Some of my younger friends have children who have in their words, ‘messed up, because of drug -taking whilst away at university. They still take them. These aren’t abstractions, these are real peoples, so of course ones views are influenced by the harm that is part of one’s personal experience

    I have to go away for a couple of days, and I wanted to respond to your post rather than seemingly ignore it, but I would like to hear more about the supposition that more harm is caused by making a drug with some known harmful effects illegal than if it was legalised.

    Are you are referring to harm in in areas where the drugs are grown and distributed or other factors?

  • That means some will get a criminal record for doing something that they will probably naturally stop doing eventually anyway without ever harming themselves or others, or getting addicted

    So why don’t they just not do it in the first place? Then there’s no possibility of them getting a criminal record.

    They presumably, after all, know it’s against the law. And no one is holding a gun to their head. And the majority of people don’t try drugs, and are perfectly fine for it.

    So why not just give ‘not trying drugs’ a try?

  • Lorenzo Cherin 4th Aug '16 - 4:27pm

    Colleagues, would someone explain to me in my desire above to find a way of us agreeing on much , are some of you talking about legalising hard drugs ?

    To put your views strongly and compassionately and be ignored is nearly as frustrating as putting your views feebly and meekly and being encouraged ! for those of us attempting the former that is !

    I do believe if anyone is a Liberal the same person , in being a social Liberal , is more or less a social democrat on certain issues , because social democracy is not , in the modern era , socialism !

    I believe that anyone believing in the harm principle of Mill cannot support the full legalisation of hard drugs. Mill, in his time , supported the death penalty for murder.He now would be strong on a range of issues. Libertarianism is not Liberalism or social democracy !

  • It is not compulsory to believe in Utilitarianism to be a Liberal, nor is J.S. Mill the fount of all wisdom. Utilitarianism (and classical liberal economics) can be a hard soul destroying creed paying no regard to sentiment or affection. Dickens’ Mr Gradgrind is a classic study of utilitarianism and what happens given following the laws of the unfettered market.

  • It is not compulsory to believe in Utilitarianism to be a Liberal, nor is J.S. Mill the fount of all wisdom

    Though in this case, actually, it might do people well to remind people of Mill’s disagreement with Bentham, who thought that the only thing that mattered about pleasure was that it was, well, pleasurable, whereas Mill distinguished between higher and lower pleasures: respectively the pleasures of rational humans and the pleasures of animals. Intellectual and aesthetic pleasures versus the merely sensual.

    MIll, then, would have recognised that the pleasure gained through the taking of drugs is a lower pleasure — the kind that rutting animals in the fields enjoy— and therefore should not be given much, if any, moral weight.

    In fact often drugs, by giving easily-available lower pleasures, distract people from the pursuit of higher pleasures: I’m sure we’re familiar of the story of someone who might have enjoyed intellectual and aesthetic pursuits but instead sat around smoking dope all day, ‘because I got high’.

    So in this case, I think it might be a good idea to remind people of Mill, who would have recognised that drugs, by encouraging lower pleasures, should definitely be fought against and certainly not presented as a socially condoned pastime.

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