The Saturday debate: Drugs

Here’s your starter for ten in our Saturday slot where we throw up an idea or thought for debate…

Government policy on drugs: what should it be?

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  • Class A should be restricted, Class B + Cocaine should be rationed and taxed. Class C shouldn’t exist and should be free for all.
    As a recovering addict myself, A lot of my mentality was ‘Fk the system’ and I got pleasure from doing stuff that was illegal etc. However, one of the few things that kept my Class A consumption to a reasonable level was the trouble it takes to get it.
    Having discussed it a lot with friends who are also in recovery, I think we sould legalise the less harmful drugs, tax them, and use the money to help keep kids off heroin and crack.
    Have improved support for addicts – they will find a kick whether it’s in heroin or alcohol or whatever. An addict is an addict – regardless of what they take. Making ‘lighter’ drugs more easy to access and ‘hard’ drugs more obscure will bring such people into ‘the light’ and allow them to seek help without fear of incrimination or other reprisal.
    It’ll also take away ‘dealer culture’ which traps people in again and again- and eventually demand for hard drugs will taper off.

  • Alisdair McGregor 8th Jan '11 - 9:26am

    We should move away from making legal policy based on drug *use* and towards medical policy based on drug *abuse*.

  • Agree with all the above. The only question is timescale. The UK public is probably not ready for immediate legalisation (if you treat adults like children, eventually they behave like children…as they do now with alcohol).

  • Leviticus18_23 8th Jan '11 - 1:00pm

    Drugs were decriminalised in Portugal several years ago. Apparently drug use has declined slightly since.

    We should decriminalise drugs. The Daily Mail & The Conservatives (and their lap dogs) will never permit legalisation and taxation. I’m pretty sure this government will get rid of the drugs advisory body and carry on with the same policy.

    A more sensible approach would be – if you are over 18 you can vote, drink beer, smoke and take drugs. Your choice. You can also seek medical assistance if you require it. People producing drugs can declare their income and pay tax.

    The war on drugs is expensive and has utterly failed. Prohibition doesnt work. It’s time for a new approach.

  • NoOffenceAlan 8th Jan '11 - 1:22pm

    1. Classify drugs according to harm caused, based on evidence, not prejudice.

    2. If you are really, really serious about tackling drug (and other) crime, then stuff ‘civil liberties’ and make any-one taking part in a cash transaction of more than prove that the cash came from a legal, tax-assessed source.

  • NoOffenceAlan 8th Jan '11 - 1:25pm

    sorry, after “more than” I typed “insert limit here” in characters that were confused with html tags.
    So, I’ll try again.
    2. If you are really, really serious about tackling drug (and other) crime, then stuff ‘civil liberties’ and make any-one taking part in a cash transaction of more than e.g. £1000 prove that the cash came from a legal, tax-assessed source.

  • There are so many things it could do.

    1) A broad impact assessment. Does the current system constitute good value for money? Is there evidence that other systems could work better? I don’t think this is too much to ask of the present Government.
    2) The current classification system is a joke. Reclassifying ecstasy and cannabis would be a start, and is LD policy. But a completely evidence-based approach isn’t possible without either prohibiting alcohol & tobacco or legalising some currently controlled drugs.
    3) Decriminalisation. A growing number of countries or states are decriminalising personal possession so the UK is rapidly falling behind. Labour and the Tories are an embarassment on this front. The evidence suggests that there’s just no need to give people criminal records or jail time for choosing to use certain substances. If necessary, those caught with drugs could be instead sent to a panel to decide what kind of treatment, if any, is needed. Drug use should be seen as a medical issue, not a criminal one!
    4) Gradually transfer control of policy from the HO/Justice to the Department of Health.

    5) Harm reduction: the UK is pretty good on this front but could do better. For example, this Government should follow the ACMD’s advice and allow groups to give out foil to nudge heroin users into smoking rather than injecting. The waiting list for methadone is often far too long too.
    6) Heroin prescription should be scaled up and up (with good data collection and randomised trials). Trials in the UK have shown good results, as have schemes around the world. The more users using prescription rather than illicit heroin, the better for their health, the more stable their lives, the less crime, prostitution, money going to gangs and terrorists, the lower everyone’s insurance, and the more users in contact with health and social services.
    7) Supervised injecting centres have also been a success elsewhere, completely avoiding overdose deaths (and attendant ambulance costs), and taking users and needles off the streets.

    8) Put pressure on states that have even worse policies. Russia’s lack of opioid substitution or needle exchanges is making the HIV crisis far worse. Many South-East Asian states have drug detention centres where poor drug users (and their families) are thrown without due process or consent, to be abused or do forced labour. Others use the death penalty; while many Latin American countries have prisons and police cells overflowing with the poorest, most insignificant (often female) drug smugglers. The US’s prison system is of course perhaps even more horrifying.

    9) Legalisation and regulation; starting with cannabis and then moving on to others. This is going to take some kind of reform or withdrawal from the UN conventions which, through their bureaucracy and immutability, are a massive obstacle to change. They’re also increasingly contrary to the aims of the UN as a whole and other bodies within it (human rights, security, development, health). Drugs should gradually be moved away from the UNODC towards WHO, who should establish a new Framework Convention, based on that for tobacco control, that can be flexibly extended to other drugs and their regulation. If we want to legalise cannabis, we’re going to have to convince states around the world to ‘let us’. But legalisation in some US states (which is ok under the conventions) should be a game-changer.

  • @ MatGB – and others saying same

    “Legalise, tax and regulate the lot….”etc

    That’s grossly irresponsible and selfish. If thalidomide or any other drugs give a ‘high’ are we happy to accept babies being born with severe birth defects and malformations, just so that people can have the right to get high on anything they want?

  • Having a relative seriously damaged by heroin, his health, whole life and family detrimentaly affected how can anyone legalise it to enable even more people to be tempted? Is it just so rich boys and girls can dabble without being arrested?

  • There is no defensible reason for criminalising people who are stupid enough to take substances which may damage their health. If I smoke tobacco, drink alcohol to excess (without driving or causing a nuisance to others) or overdose on prescription drugs, I will not be prosecuted.

    But – we must proceed with great caution. Once the genie is out of the bottle it can’t be put back in. Nothing must imply that drugs are cool, let alone harmless. Children must be protected from feckless parents. We must also consider the possibility of drugs tourism from less liberal countries, the USA obviously but many others as well – even Sweden.

  • @ Ewan Hoyle
    So you believe an addictive and damaging drug should eventually be available to buy from a pharmacist. Why would anyone go to a pharmacist to buy drugs if they did not think it ‘fantastic’? Why do people start smoking and drinking when everyone knows the effects? Must be safe if you can buy it, If people can actively approach a drug dealer do you honestly think a pharmacist would be more frightening? If someone wanted to take heroin would the pharmacist be legally obliged to sell if to anyone if it were eventually legalised? Users will be able to buy it, not just first timers, would that stop them from funding it illegally? It will likely be the middle classes going to the pharmacy and those who would have been too scared to approach a dealer will then be enabled to try something that they were put off before, no fear of arrest. A rich boys law, the dealers will still be there. Lets get more people legally hooked so they can be easily manipulated, this has been done with alcohol and the young.

  • richard heathcote 8th Jan '11 - 8:04pm

    my brother is a smoker of pot, over the past 13 years he has been in and out of mental hospitals with a section under mental health rules. It was right he was sectioned as he was a mess and the trigger for this was marajuana. he was a bright kid top set for maths engish etc and gained 7 A-levels. During my visits to see him in the various wards hes been in over the years it is frightening how many people are in there as a result of the odd harmless joint. I think a proper evaluation should be made and all drugs banned as they are bloody harmful. to stop people taking drugs they need to stop with this pandering to addicts pushers etc and lock em up then when it is seen to be highly risky to be associated with that type of culture maybe you will discourage people from getting involved.

    anyone who advocates the use of class b or class c drugs i would suggest you go to your local psyciatric ward and spend a couple of days there to fully understand the harm drugs causes.

  • I’ve got a few things I’d say to anyone that’s opposed to any change of approach regarding drugs (bearing in mind that I don’t personally use any illegal drugs):

    1) Some may have seen the harms that certain drugs can do (despite being ‘prohibited’). But it’s important to also take a wider look at the harms that prohibition does, from factories in the Amazon to the poor single mothers talked into trafficking, to the thousands killed by cartels, to the corruption, to the terrorists transporting drugs across the Sahara, to the kids on the street who can make far more money dealing than from getting a job, and the addicts committing crime and prostitution and talking others into using. Then there are the direct harms of law enforcement, criminal records etc. which can kill and destroy lives, just like the drugs themselves. So one needs to try to work out – given that prohibition fails to remove drugs or the desire to use drugs from the world – what the best balance is. Particularly as the vast majority of illegal drug users do not have problematic use: if we’re punishing the non-problematic 95% of illegal drug users, we need to have a good reason for it!

    2) A few questions to ask yourself:
    – Is there any reason why a broad review shouldn’t be done – looking at the costs and benefits of current and other systems, and trying to base policy on evidence. I hope everyone can at least get behind that.
    – What about decriminalisation? Portugal has shown that this does not lead to increased use (yet increased numbers going into treatment, and decreased adolescent use), while surveys show that illegal status is not one of the reasons why people don’t use drugs (or do use ‘legal highs’). Similarly, there’s no relation between the strictness of drug laws and levels of drug use (e.g. USA has higher cannabis use than the Netherlands). Treating drug use as a medical rather than criminal issue also ends up making it more pitiful than glamorous.
    – If a drug could be created that produced some desired effect but did no harm or addiction, would that be okay? Is alcohol acceptably harmless? Caffeine? Do you know for a fact that all the many drugs that are currently prohibited aren’t this safe? We’re talking about lots of different substances here and we can’t treat them all the same way (e.g. cannabis and heroin).
    – The death rate for mountaineering can reach as high as the “one death for every 10 successful attempts to climb Everest”. Do states have a similar right to prevent people doing this, an activity that others might be incapable of seeing any justification for (fun? exhiliration?). How about skiing? Horse riding? What level of danger should the state allow people to put themselves in before it steps in to protect them from themselves?

    3) To be really controversial, I’d ask whether liberty has any intrinsic value, and to what extent drugs prohibition is a restriction on freedom of thought, on cognitive liberty (I’ve seen it compared to the Church’s list of books which couldn’t be read, or to “Newspeak” from 1984, “a carefully crafted language designed by the government for the purpose of making unapproved “modes of thought impossible””). However, I don’t think the liberty argument is needed to win the argument in favour of decriminalisation or legal regulation of at least some drugs.

    PS As Ewan said above, get in touch with him if you’re interested in supporting – or commenting on – a new drugs policy motion for Spring Conference.

  • I mentioned above that the Everest death rate is around “one death for every 10 successful attempts” and questioned whether this should therefore be prohibited. I should also ask whether such a prohibition would stop those who want to from doing it? What if we spent millions patrolling its perimeter, and banned the sale of oxygen masks and decent climbing equipment (therefore making it more dangerous for anyone that does try)? Would the world be on balance a better place? I’m not being facetious!; I think the questions I raised in my previous post deserve serious thought.

  • The legalisation of most drugs would suck most of the money out of organised crime and put it into the government. How anybody can think that oppressing people’s liberties is worth pumping money into organised crime is beyond me, I can only imagine it’s rooted in religious fear and childish rhetoric.

  • matt, do you honestly feel that the state had the duty to try to prevent you from accessing those drugs that you chose to use?

    Do you honestly feel that a course of harm reduction and a system meaning you’d have been far less able to access more serious drugs would have been far worse?

  • richard heathcote 9th Jan '11 - 3:24am

    the problem you have is if it is leagalised under licence in a pharmacy and people have to jump through hoops to obtain it many will continue to buy from black market dealers for conveniance, i feel people wishing to not have on any official documentation they use drugs would mean they buy from black market dealers rather than official channels.

    i would imagine it will also be restricted by age similar to the sale of alcohol and tobacco leading to under age users being the main source of income for dealers and they will want to push this even more if they lose the people who can obtain it legally from chemsts. i could see our kids being targetted as a means to funding criminal enterprises. the 18 year old limit on alcohol doesnt stop many thousands of underage drinkers every weekend in the uk why would drugs be any different,

  • We’ve got a party policy on drugs haven’t we?

    Has anybody noticed any Lib Dems in government saying a single word about it?

    The Tory Home Office decides that decisions in this area will in future be made on the basis not of rationality and scientific evidence, but rather on the views of the Daily Mail. And the response from the Lib Dems?


    So what’s the point in talking about it here, or drafting motions for conference? What’s the point of paying dues, or campaigning to get them elected, if they do nothing when they get there?

  • @ Ewan Hoyle
    Who will benefit from the sales? Pharmaceuticals and their investors? From one set of gangsters to another. Won’t be long before the ‘market’ wants advertising.

  • prohibition has caused nothing but murder, fear and uncertanty about where we as a world are going with this drug issue. it seems no cabinet minister has the balls to stand up and say enough of cartels making billions let the governments get the tax and use the cash for differant iniatives. For one how many jobs could be created if cannabis laws were the same as in amsterdam. the politicians have there money in the wood trade so dont expect cannabis to be coming soon.

  • also the programme shameless is a perfect example of why prohibition does not work.

  • and just one last issue… the lib dem policy on cannabis is to have cafes like amsterdam so why are they silent in government.This is a perfect way of generating taxes. i thought they were a coalition. To all lib dem politicians get some backbone and stop the murder, crime and fear that is plaging the worlds communities. We need our children to grow up in a safe society. Were not at war with drugs were at war with ourselves. What does the future hold if they were decriminilized.? This has to be a question we have to all ask ourselves because we may make things worse.

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