The UK and the EU have a chance to stand up for drug policy reform


Nick Clegg made a big announcement on Thursday 1st October that has as yet gone unreported on LDV – he’s going on a jolly around Europe. Well no, not quite. He’s actually going on a tour of the EU to try to convince its leaders to stand together on the subject of international drug policy reform. Nothing like a challenge, eh Nick? But this is a serious issue, and at an absolutely crucial time. In April next year, the UN General Assembly will be holding a Special Session (UNGASS) to debate how to approach global drug policy over the next ten years and beyond, at a point where different parts of the world are diverging ever more rapidly on the issue of how to tackle the problems associated with drug use.

If the EU stands together united at UNGASS in calling for certain reforms to the UN conventions, and I sincerely hope Nick succeeds with his mission and it does, it has a much greater chance of making a positive impact. But what reforms can the EU agree to stand on? At one end countries like France and Sweden do not endorse any kind of change to their (relatively) strict drug laws, whereas countries like the Netherlands and Portugal have lead the way on liberal, evidence-based drug reforms for years. In the middle we have countries moving both ways too, with both Germany and Italy making noises about reforming their cannabis policies, Ireland voicing its support for drug decriminalisation and supervised injecting rooms and the the UK… well the less said about that the better. In fact, it has been noted that the EU can be seen as a near-perfect experiment for comparing the efficacy of a spectrum of subtly varied drug policies on relatively similar populations.

Well herein lies one of the central messages the EU should be pushing at UNGASS: countries should be allowed to agree to disagree on drug policy. That is, countries should be allowed to experiment (and I use that word with caution – experiment based on evidence and experience, not dogma or unfounded moralising) with their drug laws to improve the situation for their own citizens, taking into account the unique position each country finds itself in. Currently, the UN conventions explicitly prevent this degree of experimentation. The drugs it lists as banned are banned internationally and that’s all there is to it. Countries who contravene the conventions, such as Bolivia and Uruguay, are criticised for having done so and put in the ridiculous position of having their UN membership threatened.

Other countries are forced into strange legal positions – cannabis is still illegal in the Netherlands so as not to contravene the UN conventions, yet a system of de facto regulation has been built up around it. Nowhere is this exemplified more clearly than in the US, where those partaking in the regulated cannabis markets of Colorado, Washington and Oregon are breaking federal laws – federal laws that will be kept in place for as long as the UN conventions exist in their present form.

This issue of allowing countries greater freedoms to adopt more radical drug policies is the reason UNGASS is so important. In fact, those countries who suffer most from the war on drugs, Mexico, Columbia, and other Central and South American countries, are so desperate for a change in the status quo that they campaigned under emergency measures for UNGASS to be brought forward three years from its original date in 2019, as they fear their countries simply cannot wait that long for change at an international level to occur. (It is slightly ironic that in bringing this date forward to before the many ballot measures on cannabis regulation that will take place in US states later in 2016, the overwhelming evidence of how broken the current system is will not be so obvious as it otherwise would be.)

The current system is illiberal at the very highest level. It is only through allowing countries greater freedoms with their drug policies that improvement can be made globally, as smarter, evidence-based national drug policies are arrived at incrementally. The EU is uniquely placed to be able to trumpet the value of such a system, as even within the limited scope of the current UN conventions, it has demonstrated how forward thinking, evidenced based drug policies can be borne of such a system.

There are other huge issues the EU can stand united on in terms of drug policy, hopefully without controversy – objection to the use of the death penalty for drug related offences for one, and adoption of a harm reduction and human rights-based model for global drug policy for another. Although the countries of the EU may disagree on what the specifics of harm reduction, evidence-based drug policies look like, they can at least agree that these principles are what the world as a whole should be aiming for.

With the current UK Government, we are in danger of turning up to UNGASS and saying nothing of any use or relevance, despite the pressure being exerted by amazing groups such as IDPC. Nick’s mission gives us hope that the UK’s voice, and the EU’s, can be one of evidence-based, liberal reform, and that this rare opportunity to improve our international drug laws is not wasted.

* Dr Henry Fisher is a Liberal Democrat and ALDES member living in London. He is the policy editor for VolteFace, a new platform that offers fresh perspectives on drug policy, lifestyle, and culture.

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  • “countries should be allowed to experiment […] with their drug laws to improve the situation for their own citizens, taking into account the unique position each country finds itself in.”

    The possibility of improving citizens’ lives at home is a priority but that should take equal position with removing the devastation in the developing countries where supply originates. The situation in South America (not to mention the complication that Afghanistan faces), gets far too little coverage in the debate. It was the fifth paragraph before the damage done in South America was mentioned.

    We should opt for controlled legalisation (supervised injecting rooms, controlled areas for smoking cannabis etc) where people can be confident of what is the product they are using and treatment options can be offered to move people away from usage.

    The current denial position is simply ridiculous, I don’t understand why the LibDems are so wishy-washy on this area.

  • Henry Fisher 12th Oct '15 - 1:15pm

    Psi it is those South American countries that I was primarily referring to in the sentence you’ve quoted, sorry for not making clearer! The continuing pressure on countries like Peru and Colombia to maintain their stance at the front line of the war on drugs is huge, but can only be maintained whilst these countries don’t have alternative to prohibition within the UN conventions. Bolivia took the step to legalise and regulate limited coca production and has been constantly chastised for it from the US and elsewhere since then. It is indeed these countries that the EU (and the rest of the world, but the responsibility of european countries, as major drug consuming countries, cannot be overstated) owes the biggest duty to to stand up alongside and push for reform, in the face of Russia, China and the Middle East.

    Regarding the current Lib Dem position – the announcement today of the independent panel to establish how a regulated cannabis market might work in the UK is far from wishy-washy. Reform can only come about if we take the bull by the horns and start to figure out the practicalities of how to make such a system work successfully. So far in the US, each time a state has regulated its cannabis market, the system it has instated has improved on and learnt from those of states that have previously instated it. Bar some worrying developments (Washington DC ham-stringed into bringing in a legal, but unregulated market by Congress, the proposals for the Ohio market), we are fast learning how best to regulate the cannabis market. The Labour government’s embarrassing class B-C-B flip-flop on cannabis demonstrated how reform must be enacted correctly, so as not be be used as a weapon against itself.

  • Henry Fisher

    Sorry if I wasn’t clear, I wasn’t suggesting that you were missing the South American countries that are suffering, simply that when ever this is discussed the suffering abroad is the “and also” bit. There are adverse outcomes in the UK from this bad policy but the adverse outcomes in the supply nations should at least get equal billing in the discussion.

    “the announcement today of the independent panel to establish how a regulated cannabis market might work in the UK is far from wishy-washy”
    The problem is that the initial ideas are often good but then it is the follow through that is lacking and makes the position wishy-washy.
    A reform should of course start with a proposal which has considered the details of implementation, also the acceptance of the need to constantly keep under review for new developments that could improve a proposal. The concern as David Wallace outlines above is the need for a proposal to be argued for and supported rather than advocated to supportive audiences but avoided with those expected to be more hostile.

  • Helen Dudden 12th Oct '15 - 2:53pm

    Drugs are illegal, the simple answer. As with any other addictive drug it cause so many problems. From those on the streets a way of escaping reality.

    I would have thought the issues of those immigrants living in terrible conditions would have been a better occupation.

    Food Banks need fresh veg and fruit, maybe meat too for those who wish. Not pigs heads, something a little better.

    I am a vegetarian, so why does your recipes not contain cauliflower cheese, pasta, and Patatas bravas, totally delicious.

    Fresh vegetables are part of a healthy diet.

  • Helen Dudden 12th Oct '15 - 3:20pm

    The odd bit of cannabis is not enough to some, no excuses, habit forming, should be enforced.

  • Helen Dudden

    “Drugs are illegal, the simple answer. As with any other addictive drug it cause so many problems. From those on the streets a way of escaping reality.”

    That is the simple answer of how things are, not how they should be.

    The fact the taking drugs causes health problems for the user, does not give me the right to force the drug user to change their behaviour because I don’t think they should cause themselves harm, or take risks.

    The question we should look to answer is: how do we reduce the risks and harm caused by drugs? Prohibition it not by any sensible estimate the best answer to this.

    As to your point about other matters being more important, that is a very short term attitude. Vast amounts of resources are wasted on enforcing the prohibition in developed countries, and make other harm reduction methods less effective. However that is nothing compared to the damage done in the supply nations caused by pursuing prohibition.

    If criminals were removed from the drug activity and resources refocused from enforcing prohibition to more socially useful activities then some of your ‘more important’ matters would have more potential resources available.

  • Helen Dudden 12th Oct '15 - 4:52pm

    Once addicted beyond a return is costing, loss of limbs and respect in society.

    I was walking through Bath one bitterly cold early evening, sleeping in a doorway with a dog, this was woman.

    The ability to move on will never happen to some, they perish in the cold and damp.

    Yes, drugs are illegal, other illegal situations are often built in. Not a soft option.

  • Helen Dudden

    I’m not seeing your point. Addiction is bad, it has terrible consequences, but that does not mean that the response to a substance having potential to be addictive should be prohibition.

    Alcohol can be addictive, those who suffer from that addition can suffer terrible consequences, we have a good example of what prohibition of alcohol looked like, it was not preferable.

    The consequences of addiction are an argument for offering help to those who suffer, not for creating an opportunity for criminals to exploit that affliction.

  • George Kendall 12th Oct '15 - 5:42pm

    @Jayne Mansfield
    I think a Royal Commission, or a body with a similar authority, is a good way to generate a serious debate on issues like this. These sorts of reports are a good way to start a serious discussion, with less of the partisan condemnation that often happens from both sides in debates such as this.

    But I don’t think their recommendations should be binding. These independent commissions are made up of fallible people, and appointed by fallible people. Ultimately, the decision should be made by our elected politicians, however much they’d prefer to delegate this difficult decision to someone else.

  • Lets be honest I doubt whether Nick Clegg could even get an appointment to see the EU Leaders, let alone convince them on International Drug Policy Reform. Even if he does have some success very few people in the UK have any interested in seeing current laws relaxed. As far as winning elections is concerned being seen as soft on drugs doesn’t help anyone.

  • Here is many in the drug reform (well cannabis reform communities view) of the Lib Dems

    Well earned I’d say.

  • I think it’s fairly obvious to any student of history that prohibition has never worked and will never work. The ‘War on Drugs’ has been lost. Clearly international drug law needs reform based on evidence such as this, so its great to see Nick trying to get some sort of European consensus together to bring to the UN.

    However regarding the more general comments on legalising Cannabis I have do have some concerns. IMO it probably sits somewhere between Caffeine and Tobacco in the amount of harm it causes to both an individual and society as a whole. However thats the problem – it’s my opinion. Many scientific papers have suggested that long term use, especially as THC content has risen, cause mental health issues but the studies can be (rightly) criticised for their small sample sizes. However if long term use does cause damage to the brain it would be extremely ironic, after spending years campaigning on mental health issues, we supported doing something that made mental health worse. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely support decimalising for personal use, but as someone who supports the Liberal Democrats because of their evidence based policies, I want to see the results of scientifically sound data before fundamental changes are made to its legal status.

  • @Henry Fisher.

    You know Henry, CISTA are seeking a candidate to stand under their banner for the Mayor of London, perhaps you should consider applying to be their candidate?

    Read this and tell me that the Lib Dems are not just playing dog whistle politics with drugs again and actually want to change the status quo

    You could achieve a lot more within CISTA I reckon.

  • A Social Liberal 12th Oct '15 - 11:46pm

    The last time this topic was raised I asked several pertinent questions about the legalisation of drugs. I live in hope that in this or some future article someone might answer my concerns.

    Here, once again, is my post

    I am a critical supporter of legalising drugs, but unlike some realise that it will come with a price out of proportion to the amount of people it will help. There are also questions that need answering.

    1) What does the state do when an addict has reached a state where their tolerance to their drug of choice makes it dangerous to take the amount necessary to give them what they crave. Do we :-
    – supply the amount regardless?
    – give them only the safe dose with the result that they will top up with street gear?

    2) Do we supply drugs which have the potential to turn the client into maniacs – angel dust, crystal meth and crack cocaine?

    3) What do we do when a client is coming down off his drug of choice but it is not yet safe to issue him with another dose. Do we :-
    – give it them knowing they could OD?
    – Deny them the drug knowing they will head off to the dealer?
    – lock them up so that they cannot obtain any drug until it is safe for them to get their next high?

    Indeed, there are fundamental questions which need answering.
    4) What is the end game in giving clients what they want? Is it :-
    – Simply to give the client what they want?
    – A holding strategy to stop the client taking ever greater amounts of drugs?
    – To force the client to wean themselves off the drug?

    5) Do we supply only addicts with their drug of choice, or give anyone the chance of using drugs?

    6) Will the drugs be supplied by the state, or will private companies be able to make a buck off the suffering of others? If the state, do we charge clients for the drugs they take?

    7) Do we supply clients with a safe place to take their drugs and stay whilst high or do we chuck them out into the cruel and dangerous world?

    8 ) Do we allow clients benefits to keep them whilst they follow their lifestyle?

    9) Do we supply clients with the wherewithal to take a cocktail of drugs in order to maintain their high for longer?

  • A social liberal

    I don’t have time to answer all at once. But

    “7) Do we supply clients with a safe place to take their drugs and stay whilst high or do we chuck them out into the cruel and dangerous world?”

    I would envisage that drugs would be required to be taken in a “safe place” that would be safe for them and could depend on the drug require them to remain there for a set period of time.

    “8 ) Do we allow clients benefits to keep them whilst they follow their lifestyle?”


  • “2) Do we supply drugs which have the potential to turn the client into maniacs – angel dust, crystal meth and crack cocaine?”

    Yes in said secure time limited location.

    “5) Do we supply only addicts with their drug of choice, or give anyone the chance of using drugs?”


  • Henry Fisher 13th Oct '15 - 12:36am

    Thanks for the suggestion David, much appreciated! Although whilst drug policy is obviously my main area of interest, my support is for liberal values and a liberal approach to a much wider range of issues, which only the Liberal Democrats champion. Also I’d just like to note that, while I realise this evening’s events has meant UK drug policy has been the flavour of the moment, my original post was regarding the UK’s (and EU’s) ability to influence international drug policy at UNGASS, particularly with a view to aiding other countries with their attempts to improve their drug policy. As it currently stands, the only hope of having any influence in such an arena would lie with well established parties and experienced politicians . As far as I am aware, CISTA has not offered, nor is in a position to offer, a voice for the UK (Let alone the EU) on this issue, whereas several Lib Dem Peers and MPs have stated the importance of UNGASS and the need for the UK’s input at it, in the media and other public forums.

    On the example of Tom Brake and cannabis seeds I agree with you – shameful, poorly thought out and totally against Lib Dem policy. However if we want to play that game, Paul Flynn and Peter Lilley have both spoken out strongly in favour of drug policy reform for years, yet I don’t see the Tories or Labour as being the party likely to engender wider change anytime soon, and even less so for any minor party.

  • George Kendall 13th Oct '15 - 1:13am

    “Here is many in the drug reform (well cannabis reform communities view) of the Lib Dems:

    I’d have been surprised if there had been any other reaction, especially in online comments. But that’s fine. I very much doubt Conference passed it to win votes.

    Some of them will have remembered, in a by-election in 1995, Labour called the Lib Dem candidate “high on tax and soft on drugs” because he supported higher taxes on the rich and the establishment of a Royal Commission to consider legalising drugs. The Labour by-election campaign team do not use such attacks unless their research shows it’s an effective attack line. I do wonder how many of those who castigated the party on that site ended up voting Labour…

    I’m pretty sure conference knew that the drugs policy that was passed would be a vote loser, but they passed it because they thought it was the best policy.

    For myself, I’m open to persuasion, but I share A Social Liberal’s wariness on the policy.

  • Helen Dudden 13th Oct '15 - 6:55am

    On Daily Mail on line, two young adults had a very sad end. High on drugs, they crashed the vehicle they were in. In their 20’s how terrible for their families.

    I know where I live, we have young people on legal highs, what can be said, that the misuse of any substance is not something to be concerned about.

  • @David Wallace,
    The day before yesterday the leaked report commissioned by the Lib Dems emerged, last night Lamb was on national TV declaring a panel for cannabis legalisation. We now learn Clegg has been trying to persuade international leaders of our position. Your points are bizarre and moot – what have you and CISTA achieved in this field in the last 48 hours?

    It doesn’t matter because you’ve got no media coverage, no power, few members and no hope of achieving your stated goals without these things. You talk a lot, but you don’t seem to do anything apart from denigrate the only mainstream political organisation that’s ever worked towards your goal. How do you “put pressure on the government” if you can’t enter the chamber and have no MPs?

    The only internal government study into the implications of legalisation was commissioned by Nick Clegg, that in turn has caused a parliamentary debate and for the first time ever there’s government sourced evidence that legalisation would be a net positive move. Tom Brake’s silliness was nearly a decade ago, he’s had a lot of time to learn and debate, yet you seem stuck in a moment in 2008.

    >Any organisation like CISTA won’t win a general election, but the can
    >put pressure on the government to do something about it whilst the lib dems won’t

    Lib Dems DID put pressure on the government about it, have you not read the papers recently? What did CISTA do? Sit around getting stoned, waiting for someone to come and help. Had you of stayed a member you would of had practical hope of achieving your stated goal, instead you’re sat on the sidelines throwing fruit at the only political party in the UK that agrees with you. You’ve found the perfect way to achieve nothing at all, whilst sticking it to the only politicians willing to help your cause. Instead of trying to persuade the doubters here, you’ve once again made arguments that reinforces their suspicions. If the Lib Dems are lacking in substance on this issue having achieved all of this, what does it say of your own record on these matters? Nick Clegg has done more in the last week than all of CISTA combined as to the practical realities of getting cannabis legalised; wake up or keep talking loud and saying nothing.

  • Henry Fisher 13th Oct '15 - 12:49pm

    Social Liberal: Some very good questions indeed! I certainly don’t know the answers to all of them, but here are my two cents (briefly, I’ll try to avoid writing an essay).
    1. This depend on what substance we’re considering, but taking heroin as an example, the danger of overdose often comes from uncertainty of the dose – an uncertainty not present if being prescribed pharmaceutical quality heroin. In such a system where someone may be prescribed heavy doses, (or supplement with their own supply) the key to harm minimisation is not just to provide the drug, but to provide supervised injecting sites , where trained staff and naxolone are on hand should someone overdose. The success of these sites at preventing overdose deaths is astounding. It is also worth noting that the value of such a system, when users are brought into contact with medical professionals and treated with respect, is that those that want to reduce their intake or quit (as many do), can be made away and exposed to the tools to help them do such a thing. The idea that prescribing heroin leads users to spiral out of control has not been borne out by experience.
    2. Regarding the three substances you mentioned, let me just separate them out: cases of PCP addiction are vanishingly rare at best, and it is an incredibly dangerous and unpredictable substance. Consequently I can’t see medically useful reason why access would ever be given to such a substance. Part of the aim of a strictly regulated system would be to help differentiate between those substances that, while not good for you, can be safely taken given the right information (e.g. MDMA, cannabis) and those that largely cannot (e.g. PCP, synthetic cannabinoids). Crack and crystal meth are a different kettle of fish, as they’re hugely addictive, and there is no methadone-like substitute that can be given as a replacement. As far as I know there is no consensus on whether prescribing these substances to serious problem users would be the best course of action, but if they were prescribed to help treat people’s addictions (medical grade>street drugs) they would likely be given in an oral form, not as the smokable freebases.

  • Henry Fisher 13th Oct '15 - 12:51pm

    3. The answer this is largely the same as Q1, supervised injecting (or whatever else) centres. However also of interest here is the relative success of the recent HOPE programme: I don’t know how far I agree with it myself, it sounds very restricting of civil liberties, but seems to be gaining traction. (n.b. the idea is that rather than the threat of long-term prison sentences for drug possession, which are ineffective, users are threatened with small ‘inconveniences’ such as a night in the cell if they fall off their treatment programmes – programmes that can presumably involve substitution therapy, so not enforced cold-turkey.)
    4. Again this depends hugely on the substance, but the overarching theme should be to ‘reduce harms’. What this means in the context of a given drug varies massively, so I’ll just give two quick egs. LSD – people seek this drug out for an experience, it is non-addictive and not at all dangerous physically, the main dangers come in the form of: someone mentally unstable taking it; someone taking it in a dangerous situation (either obviously dangerous, like, next to a river, or in a situation where they are unprepared for its effects as they are not fully informed on them); taking a different, more dangerous substance by mistake (e.g. one of the NBOMe class off substances). Once can envisage a system where, with the suitable provision of eduction and tightly enforced restrictions on its distribution at the point of sale, all these harms could be miminised – such a system would have to be very careful thought out and instigated with huge amounts of caution. […]

  • Henry Fisher 13th Oct '15 - 12:52pm

    […] Compare this to heroin, where its hugely addictive nature means any form of a regulated market would be totally irresponsible. In this case, prescribing heroin or OST for those that require it and decriminalising the drug to reduce other harms directly or indirectly related to enforcement (criminal record, users not seeking medical attention for fear of arrest) would be the best course of action, along with supervised injecting/administering facilities. In such a system, some curious individual who walked into their GPs asking for a heroin prescription would obviously never be given it, and such a scenario isn’t realistic. The unfortunate fact is that some people will become addicted to heroin, and the state should be providing the best possible support for these people to aid them in living the life despite their addition, and ideally with the a view to helping them stop.
    5. Sort of answered by the above. It very much depends on the drug, and restrictions should be in place on any substance, as it is currently with alcohol and tobacco.
    6. Also depends on the drug, as above. The idea that a government would merrily hand over a legal market for cocaine or heroin to private companies is laughable, but with other substances (as is currently happening with cannabis), the relative harms of the drug itself, of prohibition and so on mean a legal market is feasible. There very many models for such a system though, as the few instances of legally regulated cannabis demonstrate. Neither a fully government run system or purely private market are the only outcomes. The widely different approaches being taken in Jamaica, Uruguay and Spain are all examples of alternative to an american system. The peculiarities of the nature of use of any drug would have a huge impact of how/whether it could possibly be regulated.

  • Henry Fisher 13th Oct '15 - 12:52pm

    7. With drugs with a danger of overdose, e.g. heroin, absolutely yes. For others, it very much depends. Contrasts to where we allow people to smoke and drink in public – different drugs, different issues, no blanket solution.
    8. When you say ‘follow their lifestyle’, think what you are referring to. Imagine the suggestion (as has come up at times recently), that those on benefits would be forbidden from buying cigarettes or a drink. This seems illiberal in the extreme, to essentially punish those poorest in society by explicitly removing their access to small everyday pleasures. Imagine if you said they couldn’t buy chocolate as it’s not an essential and is bad for you – sounds pretty awful. If a regulated market of any other substance existed, the same surely applies. Pricing of tobacco and alcohol products has been shown across the globe to be an effective way of controlling usage rates – indeed that the current government ignores the evidence from health experts on introducing minimum alcohol pricing is a triumph of lobbying over reason. Such considerations would be central to the regulation of any other substance. As for those substances for which a regulated market would be irresponsible – acknowledging that addiction is a health issue and should be treated like so leads to the conclusion that simply because someone is on benefits, access to medical treatment such as OST and other provisions should not be restricted. Indeed, years ago when heroin was available on prescription, it allowed many of those seeking treatment to lead their lives, hold down jobs and raise families.

  • Henry Fisher 13th Oct '15 - 12:53pm

    9. Not sure I completely catch your drift on this one. If we’re talking about drugs prescribed to treat addiction, such a OST, the drugs prescribed are done so with the aim of allowing that person to live their life and go about their day in relative safely, (and ideally eventually reduce drug consumption), not with the main aim of getting them high. If there was a treatment involving several drugs that was more successful at achieving these aims than OST or similar, I imagine it would be considered too.
    I hope those answers at least vaguely answer some of your thoughts. Sorry if they don’t fully make sense, I tried to keep them fairly short, so didn’t fill them with evidence and and examples. The issue with many of these problems is we simply don’t know what the ‘right answer’ is, as we don’t have enough evidence. The best we can currently do is agree on a principle of reducing harm, following the evidence where available and try to be consistent with a liberal approach.

  • A social liberal

    A few more:
    “6) Will the drugs be supplied by the state, or will private companies be able to make a buck off the suffering of others? If the state, do we charge clients for the drugs they take?”
    I would suggest that they should not be supplied by the state but by third parties, that may private companies, charitable organisation (who’s purpose is to divert people), or other structures.
    The drugs should be paid for (along with the compulsory service of accommodating the taker while they are taken, so the more dangerous requiring longer accommodation will end up costing more).

    “4) What is the end game in giving clients what they want?”
    To allow people who want to consume drugs the ability to do so with appropriate risk mitigation, both to a certain amount themselves and to society more widely.

    “1) What does the state do when an addict has reached a state where their tolerance to their drug of choice makes it dangerous to take the amount necessary to give them what they crave”
    “3) What do we do when a client is coming down off his drug of choice but it is not yet safe to issue him with another dose”
    “9) Do we supply clients with the wherewithal to take a cocktail of drugs in order to maintain their high for longer?”

    I would suggest the exact arrangements should be left to the individual establishment, but with an overarching principle of trying to prevent people taking a dose that will kill them there and then or require immediate hospitalisation. The exact arrangements will probably differ and evolve over time.

    There are two points that I would hope would take place, firstly the black market infrastructure would be severely harmed by the existence of the heavily restricted legal avenue reducing the option of going to a street dealer (that impact is hard to pin down and the detail will be very important). The ability to access people most at risk is increased by making it contained to certain locations, enabling more diversion of cases during the escalation of the habit.

  • A social liberal

    “2) Do we supply drugs which have the potential to turn the client into maniacs – angel dust, crystal meth and crack cocaine?”

    There is also the extra question of how a policy delivers over a longer term. Certain drugs have grown in popularity due to restrictions on others (I believe crystal meth originally flourished due to a lack of availability of cocaine). We also have to see if by making more drugs available people can be moved from ones which are most problematic to others which still cause harm and carry risk but less. Also it will make it less likely that so many will substitute one drug due to another being unavailable.

    None will be perfect and it sounds like Henry Fisher and I come at this from different angles but the proposed alternative systems would not be so far apart. His more restrictive as to what and who is able to be served but mine being more restrictive when someone is served.

  • Henry Fisher 13th Oct '15 - 1:43pm

    Good to read your POV Psi, sounds like we’re largely on the same page. As ever, the devil is in the detail with these things – and as you point out, usage of a given drug does not exist in a vacuum. The impact of the availability/quality/legality of other drugs impacts hugely on usage rates of a drug in question.

  • An Economic Liberal 13th Oct '15 - 3:23pm

    @ A Social Liberal

    1) Any provide could provide only the safe dose, of course. Supermarkets can’t legally sell you fifty boxes of over the counter painkillers, and why would this be any different?

    Some beneficiaries would ‘top up’, but I assume that the combination of integrating the channel of delivery with social support mechanisms (anti-addiction programmes, substitution of more harmful drugs for less harmful) as well as undercutting the black market for drugs and bolstering the treasury would result in big enough returns in health/social outcomes to make the policy worthwhile.

    2) Ideally we would offer substitutes so that users are steered away from such destructive substances. But no, those drugs which reliably cause severe negative health effects even in small doses should not be made available.

    3) The pragmatic reason: spending lots of money on keeping them away from what they want doesn’t work and comes with a lot of unpleasant side-effects (e.g. financing of organised crime). By giving it to them but exercising some control over the terms of the transaction, we can do more good for users and their communities.

    The moral reason: in the absence of clear and immediate risk to themselves or others from use, the government shouldn’t be persecuting individuals for the recreational chemicals they choose to use.

    5) Anyone. We’re discussing legalisation, not a large scale treatment programme.

    6) Probably both. The government and the private sector currently make plenty of money from the suffering of others, I don’t see why drugs should be a special case.

    7) I would favour state provision of supervised spaces for drugs that carry moderate to high risk to personal health from use. Others it wouldn’t be practical or desirable to supervise (healthcare officer in every pub and club?)

    8 ) People who take drugs should no more lose their benefits than people who drink, gamble or cheat on their spouses.

    9) I don’t see any particular reason the state would be obligated to help people come up with new and exotic ways to get high. Private companies would probably want to, if it helped them boost sales, but I can’t imagine they wouldn’t be subject to heavy limits on how and where they were allowed to advertise.

  • A Social Liberal 14th Oct '15 - 10:18am

    Thank you to the various answers to my questions. I confess that I do not have a point of view on them, They are just concerns I have having experienced a member of my family become a drug addict and seeing him disintegrate as a functioning person over the years.

    Some explanations seem necessary

    1)As Henry Fisher says, some overdoses happen because of the lack of uniformity on the dosage and strength of a drug. However it also happens because an addict has reached the safety limit on his tolerance (the amount of drug he needs to take to achieve the desired effect) and so to achieve that high takes an amount of rug that will trigger an overdose.
    Do we allow this to happen or do we send them away? If we send them what is the point of being able to sell drugs g

  • A Social Liberal 14th Oct '15 - 10:20am

    to finish my point (duff laptop made me post early)
    Do we allow this to happen or do we send them away? If we send them what is the point of being able to sell drugs when those we turn away will simply seek out the dealers whom we wanted to get rid of?

    More points later.

  • @David Wallace

    >The party cannot be allowed to introduce ten minute bills aiming to ban the sale of cannabis seeds and get away with it.

    You’re talking about something that didn’t happen 8 years ago, I’m talking about this week and right now. Tom Brake made a mistake with that legislation, it was authoritarian and ill considered, but it got nowhere and nobody was affected by it. I’m sure he’s got a more nuanced view now, yet you appear to be stuck in a minor moment in last decades politics. Who is saying that Brake’s 10 minute bill was right?

    > I aim to campaign for CISTA in Fife in the Scottish Elections and aim to cost Willie Rennie his seat.

    So, you’re harming the only mainstream political support you’ve got whilst denigrating the people that are actually making a change, why? Let’s face it, you’re not going to cost anyone their seat, it’s going to cost you your deposit and in so doing you’re fighting the only organisation actually achieving anything towards your goal. When it does get legalised it’ll be in spite of your efforts, not because of them. I’ve always been pro-legalisation, but you’ve done more to put me off than anyone else, if this is what cannabis does to your reasoning abilities count me out! Your stated goal is to get rid of a Lib Dem, whilst Clegg is actually out there trying to persuade noteworthy politicians that legalisation of cannabis is the way forward for the whole of Europe.

  • A social liberal

    “Do we allow this to happen or do we send them away? If we send them what is the point of being able to sell drugs when those we turn away will simply seek out the dealers whom we wanted to get rid of?”

    Hopefully we will see cases reduced because there will be easier intervention earlier, also an addicts escalation will be better identifiable so more focus can be put on that, I would expect to see better methods of intervention developed to help. Also the size of the illegal market should be significantly reduced making obtaining the very large doses much more difficult.

    However none of this will totally remove the hard cases where some people will continue to escalate and get to very high tolerances and seek out illegal supply. Sadly we won’t get every case solved but we should have reduced the number of these cases and reduced the harm of drug taking on average. We often seem to over sell policies (see the figures when people claim a measure will raise tax revenue or save money). In this case I hope we never do as people need to have realistic expectations, as there are so many sad stories from the effect we need to be honest about what can and can’t be done.

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