A new debate on decriminalization in the UK

I don’t pretend to understand the political structure and procedures nearly as well as I do for the U.S., but there has been a new report put out by the Home Affairs Committee of the House of Commons on drug policy study and recommendations as a result of extensive study and taking evidence from a variety of sources on drug policy. This report has already caused quite a stir.

The report was embargoed until today, but the Daily Mail jumped the gun with an hysterical screaming headline on Sunday (with a truly bizarre juxtaposition of a free glass of champagne offer on the top of the page).

Of course, the truth is far more complicated than that.

However, it does appear that there are some very good recommendations included in the report (along with some not-so-good ones).

The big ones are that the report calls for the immediate establishment of a royal commission to consider alternatives to current drug policy, including decriminalization and legalization. They also recommend that the government look closely at Portugal’s system (the committee traveled there).

This good article by Alan Travis in the Guardian is a much more coherent read about the report (than anything you’d get in the Mail): David Cameron urged to take ‘now or never’ step on drugs reform.

Naturally, the hard-liners over there are not responding very well to the report.

Check out this truly ignorant piece by Thomas Pascoe: Drug policy cannot be decided by commissions on the basis of empirical evidence. It’s a moral problem

A grim sense of inevitability surrounds the suggestion by the Commons Home Affairs Committee that a Royal Commission be established to consider the legalisation of certain drugs, particularly cannabis. The suggestion that the legalisation of drugs ought to be subject to a commission of impartial experts is particularly tiresome. […]

Drug-taking is a moral issue. The fact that large numbers of young people feel the need to obliterate reality through drugs says something both about them and us. First, drug use feeds into a culture in which people take refuge in imaginary lives, rather than taking practical steps to remedy their problems. Second, it implies that as a society we can offer nothing else to these people, that release from the crushing boredom of many people’s daily existence cannot be found in charity work or education or self-betterment.

Legalising drug use endorses both of those viewpoints. Whether you want to build the New Jerusalem or simply improve your own lot, one way to ensure you fail is to turn inwards and seek the solitary consolation of a fantasy world. To take such a despairing view of people’s prospects is a moral tragedy.

Then there have also been the tossing out of ridiculous and false scare items about drugs.

(Reported in tweet by @Release_Drugs)

“It’s like going from a pint of beer to a pint of neat vodka” Minister on growing strength of cannabis (2:14) http://t.co/2BG8W09M

Um, no. If anything, it’s like going from a pint of beer to a shot of neat vodka.

Of course, the real issue is that this is merely a report. It would require action by politicians to be implemented.

It’ll probably end up on a shelf.

As demonstrated here (also via @Release_Drugs):

“We are open to new ideas but we will not consider decriminalising drugs” Minister contradicts himself (2hrs 14mins in) http://t.co/NZbZy1GX

Anyway, the truly good news is that here is yet another piece of this inexorable shift in international opinion about the drug war. The hardline governments can only withstand this continuous bombardment of facts and common sense for so long before their defenses crumble under the onslaught.

If you enjoy the read, here is the full report, and after the jump, I have provided the full conclusions section (the most interesting bits are sections 26, 42, and 43). You’ll notice a range of things discussed in this report, and many of them are suggestions of better methods of enforcement, but there’s also a sense throughout the report of looking at overall harm reduction (including reducing the harms of the drug war), which is a very good shift in focus.

Conclusions and recommendations

Recommendations from the last Home Affairs Committee report on drugs policy

1. The Department for Transport has set up a panel of experts to advise on those drugs which should be covered by the new offence driving with concentrations of drugs in excess of specified levels and, for each drug, the appropriate maximum permissible level of concentration in a person’s blood or urine. We believe that this maximum should be set to have the equivalent effect on safety as the legal alcohol limit, currently 0.08 mg/ml. (Paragraph 2)

2. We recommend that the Government continue to monitor the decisions of the Health and Wellbeing Boards as to allocation of treatment places, recording each request, monitoring waiting times to enter treatment and assessing the success rate of those dependent on different drugs. The Government should publish this information in an easily accessible and understandable format and consider developing a league table of Health & Wellbeing Boards’ performance on local drugs provision while taking care in selecting assessment criteria not to introduce perverse incentives into the decision making process. This will allow Boards to benchmark their provision against each other, having due regard to local need. (Paragraph 7)

3. New evidence which has emerged in the decade since our predecessor Committee’s Report on drugs suggests that diamorphine is, for a small number of heroin addicts, more effective than methadone in reducing the use of street heroin. It is disappointing therefore that more progress has not been made in establishing national guidelines for the prescription of diamorphine as a heroin substitute. We recommend that the Government publish, by the end of July 2013, clear guidance on when and how diamorphine should be used in substitution therapy. (Paragraph 10)

The aims of drugs policy

4. Drug use can lead to harm in a variety of ways: to the individual who is consuming the drug; to other people who are close to the user; through acquisitive and organised crime, and wider harm to society at large. The drugs trade is the most lucrative form of crime, affecting most countries, if not every country in the world. The principal aim of Government drugs policy should be first and foremost to minimise the damage caused to the victims of drug-related crime, drug users and others. (Paragraph 14)

Current international drugs policy

5. The Committee saw for itself during its visit to Colombia the effect of the drugs trade on producer and transit countries—the lives lost, the destruction of the environment and the significant damage caused to governance structures by corruption and conflicts. We recognise and sympathise with the immense suffering and slaying of innocent people which tragically has taken place over the years in Colombia and other Latin American countries, as a result of the murderous rivalry between drug gangs. (Paragraph 25)

6. We believe it is important that countries remain inside the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961, rather than entirely outside it. We therefore believe that Bolivia should be allowed to re-accede to the Convention, with the reservation they require for traditional practices. We recommend that the UK Government support this position and encourage other countries to do likewise. (Paragraph 27)

The impact of globalisation on the drugs trade

7. We were concerned to discover that the Maritime Analysis and Operations Centre (Narcotics) has seen a sharp fall in its rate of drug interdiction and now faces an uncertain future over its funding, 95% of which is currently provided by the European Commission. Gathering reliable intelligence about the maritime trafficking of illegal drugs is a crucial part of the international fight against the drugs trade. While recognising that this is not a matter for the UK Government alone, we urge the Government to work with both EU countries and other key international partners to ensure more effective drug interdiction in the future. (Paragraph 35)

The balloon effect

8. Targeting supply at an early stage is the most effective way of reducing supply, as larger amounts can be intercepted higher up the supply chain. Even so, we do not believe that it will be possible to reduce the overall volume of the international drugs trade dramatically only by tackling supply — it is too easy for narco-criminals to respond by diversifying their supply routes. (Paragraph 41)

9. The global nature of the drugs trade, and the potential for displacement of drug cultivation and supply routes in response to law enforcement measures, means that the international drug trade can only ever be tackled effectively by co-operative, co-ordinated international efforts. We must recognise that no one nation can do this on its own. (Paragraph 42)

10. The potential for “substance displacement”, where users switch from one drug to another in response to changes in supply, has clear implications for public policy. In particular, the Government must be mindful of the fact that tougher measures against one drug can lead to increased consumption of another. Where the drug that is being targeted is less harmful than its substitutes—and all recreational drugs are harmful to a greater or lesser extent—there is the clear potential for measures which are intended to tackle the supply and consumption of drugs to result in an overall increase in the harm they cause. We recommend that, where decisions about the classification of drugs are concerned, the opinion of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs should be sought on the potential for substance displacement, and the comparative risk associated with the likely substitutes. (Paragraph 44)

Links between drugs, organised crime and terrorism

11. We are concerned that despite significant international efforts to disrupt supply of illegal drugs and bear down on demand, the illegal drugs trade remains a hugely profitable enterprise for organised criminals and narco-terrorists. In part this is due to the highly inflated prices of the drugs in question, inevitable in a high demand underground market, and in part due to very low production costs, arising from cheap labour costs where many workers are exploited and the fact that most illicit drugs are very simple and inexpensive to make. This ultimately causes massive harm and deaths around the world. We urge the Government to continue to factor this unintended consequence into considerations on drugs policy. (Paragraph 55)

Human rights abuses

12. The Government should not turn a blind eye to capital punishment and other human rights abuses affecting those involved in the drugs trade. In particular, we recommend that the Government ensure that no British or European funding is used to support practices that could lead to capital punishment, torture, or other violations. (Paragraph 61)

Drug education in schools

13. The evidence suggests that early intervention should be an integral part of any policy which is to be effective in breaking the cycle of drug dependency. We recommend that the next version of the Drugs Strategy contain a clear commitment to an effective drugs education and prevention programme, including behaviour-based interventions. (Paragraph 75)

14. We recommend that Public Health England commit centralised funding for preventative interventions when pilots are proven to be effective. (Paragraph 76)

The Inter-Ministerial Group on Drugs

15. We believe that the current, inter-departmental approach to drugs policy could be strengthened by identifying a Home Office Minister and a Department of Health Minister, supported by a single, named official, with overall responsibility for co-ordinating drug policy across Government. We recommend that the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Health should be given joint overall responsibility for co-ordinating drug policy. By giving joint lead responsibility to the Home Office and Department for Health, the Government would acknowledge that the misuse of drugs is a public health problem at least as much as a criminal justice issue. (Paragraph 83)

16. We recommend that the agenda, a list of attendees and minutes of each meeting of the inter-ministerial group on drugs be published on a government website. We would also welcome work addressing the harmful effects of drug consumption. (Paragraph 84)

Current treatment options

17. Different treatment regimes will work for different patients. It is clear that, for some people, residential rehabilitation is the most effective treatment, backed by proper aftercare in the community. Although it is expensive when compared to treatment entirely in the community, it is cost-effective when compared to the cost of ongoing drug addiction. While we welcome the Government’s focus on recovery in the Drugs Strategy 2010, we have consistently been told that there is a shortage of provision, and in particular provision for specific groups such as teenagers. We recommend that the Government expand the provision of residential rehabilitation places. In addition, we recommend the Government review the guidance for referrals to residential rehabilitation so that inappropriate referrals are minimised and amend the National Drug Treatment Monitoring System form so that where incidents of inappropriate referral do occur they can be captured and an accurate picture of the effectiveness of residential rehabilitation as a treatment option can still be obtained. (Paragraph 94)

18. Outcomes which range from 60% of patients overcoming their dependence to just 20% suggest that the quality of provision is very variable. We recommend that, in line with the publication of certain outcome statistics for National Health Service providers, publicly-funded residential rehabilitation providers should be required to publish detailed outcome statistics so that patients and clinicians can make better-informed choices of provider. (Paragraph 96)

19. We make no comment on the relative merits of methadone and buprenorphine. It is for the individual prescriber to decide which drug is clinically indicated for each patient. However, we note that recent pharmacological advances in opioid substitution therapy mean that there are other options to patients being “parked” on methadone are notably treatment using buprenorphine which was less widespread when our predecessor committee published its report in 2002 and that it is possible that OST could in the future become a more effective route to abstinence than it has been in the past. Policy makers should understand the potential for more effective OST treatments and, rather than ignoring reports of the negative side effects of current OST drugs because they are available, familiar and cost-effective, should continue to keep sight of a greater emphasis on buprenorphine relative to methadone prescription to lead to better patient and societal outcomes. (Paragraph 100)

Implementation of the Government’s goal of recovery

20. Drug treatment in prisons is a point of critical intervention—if a drug-dependent offender is treated effectively then it greatly improves their chance of rehabilitation on release. Given that drug and alcohol dependence treatment in prisons has been so heavily criticised for the lack of co-ordination with treatment in the community, we are concerned that new structural changes may reverse the gradual improvement we have seen in treatment for drug-dependent offenders. We recommend the Government closely monitor the transition of treatment funding responsibilities to the Health and Wellbeing Boards and the NHS Commissioning Boards respectively. (Paragraph 106)

21. The Government goal of recovery will require the co-ordination of several government departments: the Department of Health to ensure that effective treatment is being funded, the Department for Work and Pensions to support patients to re-enter the workforce and local authorities which must take responsibility for ensuring that they have appropriate accommodation. We believe that giving the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Health joint overall responsibility for coordinating drug policy (see paragraph 83) will help to improve the focus on the goal of recovery. We recommend that the Inter-Ministerial Group works with the Recovery Committee of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs to carry out an assessment of how the situation is working once the changes have been fully implemented, and to publish its findings by July 2013. (Paragraph 109)

22. Payment by results potentially produces a very cost-effective system in which the taxpayer pays only for successful outcomes. However, past experience in other areas such as employment has shown that it is easy for the market to become dominated by a small number of large providers, leading to the marginalisation of smaller, innovative voluntary sector organisations. Another risk is that the most difficult to treat patients may be denied access to services. We recommend that the Government establish ways to create provider diversity to ensure that smaller providers and civil society are not excluded and that a wide range of services are available. This could be achieved by ring-fencing a certain proportion of expenditure for such providers. The model will also need to ensure that providers are rewarded appropriately for taking on the most difficult patients, so that those who are harder to help will not be denied services. (Paragraph 114)

23. Prescription drug dependence and the use of prescription drugs for non-medicinal purposes is widely and erroneously viewed as being less harmful and certainly more acceptable than drugs which are part of the classification system. Prescription drugs are becoming more widely available, through diversion of prescriptions and unregulated sales via the internet. This was not an issue which our predecessor committee looked at in 2002 but we are alarmed by the increase in availability of and addiction to prescription drugs. Having seen first-hand the scale and impact of prescription drug use in Florida, we recommend that the Government publish an action plan of how it intends to deal with this particular issue as part of the next version of the drug strategy to prevent the situation here in the UK deteriorating further. (Paragraph 122)

24. It is unacceptable that no government agency can give us information on the prevalence of dependence on prescription drugs. We welcome the proposed review of prescription medicine diversion by the ACMD. The issue is one which has been highlighted as a growing problem and as the overall trends of drug use change, the Government must ensure that it has access to suitable treatment for dependence on all drugs rather than just focussing on a narrow sub-set. It is ultimately the responsibility of the medical profession to ensure that their prescribing decisions do not lead patients into drug dependency. However, the police and public should be aware of this deeply concerning trend, so they too can be vigilant in seeking to prevent it. (Paragraph 123)

Misuse of Drugs Act 1971

25. Our predecessor Committee’s recommendation for an independent assessment of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 was rejected on the basis that it gives effect to the UK’s international obligations in this area. That is not, in our view, a compelling reason for refusing to review our own domestic legislative framework, particularly given the growing concern about the current international regime in many producer nations. The message from Colombia and other supplier and transit states is clear—what the international community is currently doing is not working. We are not suggesting that the UK should act unilaterally in these matters, but our Government’s position must be informed by a thorough understanding of the global situation and possible alternative policies. (Paragraph 131)

26. This inquiry has heard views from all sides of the argument and we believe that there is now, more than ever, a case for a fundamental review of all UK drugs policy in the international context, to establish a package of measures that will be effective in combating the harm caused by drugs, both at home and abroad. We recommend the establishment of a Royal Commission to consider the best ways of reducing the harm caused by drugs in an increasingly globalised world. In order to avoid an overly long, overly expensive review process, we recommend that such a commission be set up immediately and be required to report in 2015. (Paragraph 132)

27. We endorse the praise from President Santos and others for the work of the Serious and Organised Crime Agency. In the countries we visited, it was clear that they did an excellent job and were well respected. We encourage the Government to find a way to retain the SOCA brand overseas, in the move to the National Crime Agency, perhaps as a Serious Overseas Crime Arm of the NCA. However, despite their best efforts and considerable success, we agree with President Santos and others that it is impossible for them to prevent drug trafficking completely. (Paragraph 138)

28. Like any business, the international drug trade thrives on profit. Identifying and seizing the profits of the drug trade, wherever they are in the world, must be a central part of the global fight against drugs. In that context, the UK’s approach to money-laundering has been far too weak. Whilst we recognise that the financial crisis has occupied the attention of the FSA since 2008, there is little evidence that it treated the issue of money laundering sufficiently seriously prior to that time. We welcome the creation of the Financial Conduct Agency and we recommend that it produce annual reports which show the prevalence of money laundering within the UK financial sector. (Paragraph 151)

29. Being fined by a regulatory body is an inadequate a sanction for complicity—however peripheral, and whether it is wilful or negligent—in an international criminal network which causes many thousands of deaths each year. We recommend that the Government bring forward new legislation to extend the personal, criminal liability of those who hold the most senior posts in the banks involved where they are found to have been involved in money laundering. (Paragraph 152)

The impact of austerity on drug-related policing

30. Drug-related policing is a vital component of reducing supply and the intelligence aspect, whether it be data on supply routes, the trend in available products or the location of markets, assists not just local police forces but other law enforcement agencies. Following the election of Police and Crime Commissioners, the use of police budgets will be decided with increased community input and local accountability. There is a risk that significant variations in the local approach to drugs could lead to geographical displacement of the drugs trade within the UK. Commissioners will therefore need to be fully briefed on the wider impact of decisions which they might take locally. We recommend that the National Crime Agency submit to every Police and Crime Commissioner and Chief Constable an annual, confidential briefing setting out the measures they could take to contribute to disrupting the drugs trade nationally and internationally. (Paragraph 157)

31. Police time is always limited and needs to be carefully prioritised to have the most impact. As budgets get tighter going forward this situation will intensify. It is important that Police Commissioners carefully consider how best to target drugs crime in their local area. In particular, we encourage Police Commissioners to ensure they are fully informed about the relative effectiveness of different forms of drug-related policing, including cannabis warnings and other forms of diversion work, and to carefully consider the issue of how police time is best prioritised between different kinds of drug-related offences, whether simple possession, acquisitive crime, supply or trafficking. (Paragraph 158)

32. Identifying drug-related crime is vital in order to ensure that the right approaches to reduce re-offending are targeted and effective. Drug-dependent offenders are often prolific re-offenders—by identifying their prevalence, the Government and local authorities can make targeted interventions in the community. (Paragraph 163)

New psychoactive substances

33. The market in new psychoactive substances is changing quickly, too quickly for the current system of temporary banning orders to keep up. Forty-nine new substances were found in Europe last year, a rate of development which makes additional measures critical. At the moment, businesses are legally able to sell these products until such time as they are banned with apparently no legal consequences when they lead to death or long-term illness. We recommend that the Government issue guidance to Local Authority trading standards departments, citizens advice bureaux and other interested parties on the action which might be taken under existing trading standards and consumer protection legislation to tackle the sale of these untested substances. A restaurant which gave its diners food poisoning, a garage which left cars in a dangerous state, or a shop which sold dangerously defective goods could all be prosecuted for their negligence. Retailers who sell untested psychoactive substances must be liable for any harm the products they have sold cause. It is unacceptable that retailers should be able to use false descriptions and disclaimers such as “plant food” and “not for human consumption” as a defence where it is clear to all concerned that the substance is being sold for its psychoactive properties and the law should be amended. (Paragraph 170)

The effect of having a drugs conviction

34. We believe that former drug users should be encouraged to play an active part in society, and that making it harder for them to find employment is likely to hinder that process, and make it more likely they will be unemployed and supported by the state. We therefore recommend that the Government review the inclusion of convictions for offences of simple possession of a controlled substance (as opposed to offences relating to supply, or any other drug-related crime such as burglary) in CRB checks after they become spent, or after three years, whichever is shorter. The review should, in particular, take account of those areas of employment to which drugs convictions are directly relevant. We also recommend that cannabis warnings be treated as spent immediately. (Paragraph 178)

Cross-Departmental strategy

35. Tackling drug use touches on issues of criminal justice, social justice, education, health and local authorities, which is why the formation of an Inter-Ministerial Group to coordinate Government policy on the subject makes sense. However, as with any other cross-departmental challenge, driving through reform requires clear, senior leadership. Our recommendation for the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Health to take joint overall responsibility for drugs policy will help to strengthen inter-departmental co-operation, with a focus on prevention and public health. (Paragraph 183)

Availability of drugs in Prisons

36. We accept that prisons cannot be hermetically sealed and that it will never be possible to eradicate completely the availability of drugs within prisons. However, the fact that almost a quarter of prisoners surveyed found it easy to get drugs in prison is deeply disturbing. The methods of reducing supply are only effective if they are implemented as intended. We recommend that the National Offender Management Service ensure that measures such as the installation of netting to stop ‘throw-over’ packages, regular cell searches and regular drug tests based on suspicion are put into operation. (Paragraph 188)

37. We commend the work taking place on the drug recovery wings and the drug free wings in certain prisons. The examples that we saw of both were inspiring. If the evaluation of the pilots shows them to be successful, we recommend that they be rolled out nationwide as a matter of priority. We also recommend that the Government ensure that they remain fully funded. The matter of the lack of funding for voluntary drug testing in HMP Brixton’s drug recovery wing is worrying and we ask that the Justice Secretary reassure us that such a vital strand of the recovery programme remains funded. (Paragraph 201)

38. There is some very impressive work happening in some prisons at present with innovative approaches being formulated in regards to treatment and managing the transition of release but this is not the standard and there is considerable scope to spread best practice (Paragraph 202)

39. Treatment in prisons, just like treatment outside prisons, should be tailored to the individual. Some people will be able to enter abstinence programs, and should be encouraged to do so. For others, such as those who are already being maintained on methadone, prescription alternatives may be the best option, and should be made available. (Paragraph 205)

Lack of reliable data

40. Producing an evidence base of effective interventions is one of the most vital building blocks of drugs policy. We recommend that the Ministry of Justice introduce mandatory drug-testing for all prisoners arriving at and leaving prison whether on conviction, transfer or release. Tests should be carried out for both illegal and prescription drugs. This should be in addition to the existing random testing regime, the principal purpose of which is deterrence. The information obtained from such a test would be very valuable in evaluating the effectiveness of the current systems in place and identifying those prisons which have a serious problem. Prisons are a key point in the cycle of drug addiction and if addicted offenders can be got off drugs, the monetary and societal benefits would be huge. (Paragraph 211)

41. Release from prison is a critical intervention point in the cycle of addiction and re-offending. We welcome the Justice Secretary’s recent announcement that prisoners will be “met at the prison gate” by mentors who can help them to settle back into the community. Successful rehabilitation is a challenging outcome to achieve, but it is worth investing the resources necessary to ensure that those leaving prison have the care and support they need in the community, including suitable and stable housing, to provide them with the best possible chance of a long-term recovery. Under the our recommended regime of universal drug testing on release, those who test positive—however long they have served—should be automatically referred to the appropriate community drug rehabilitation service. Given the importance of this point of critical intervention, we intend to return to this issue in the near future to assess whether there has been an improvement following the implementation of the Justice Secretary’s policy. (Paragraph 212)

Decriminalisation and Legalisation

42. We were impressed by what we saw of the Portuguese depenalised system. It had clearly reduced public concern about drug use in that country, and was supported by all political parties and the police. The current political debate in Portugal is about how treatment is funded and its governance structures, not about depenalisation itself. Although it is not certain that the Portuguese experience could be replicated in the UK, given societal differences, we believe this is a model that merits significantly closer consideration. (Paragraph 243)

43. Following the legalisation of marijuana in the states of Washington and Colorado and the proposed state monopoly of cannabis production and sale in Uruguay, we recommend that the Government fund a detailed research project to monitor the effects of each legalisation system to measure the effectiveness of each and the overall costs and benefits of cannabis legalisation. (Paragraph 248)

Implications of discussing drugs policy – politics and the media

44. Drugs policy ought to be evidence-based as much as possible but we acknowledge that there is an absence of reliable data in some areas. We therefore recommend the Government allocated ring fenced funding to drugs policy research going forward. Such a funding stream would most appropriately sit with the Medical Health and Research Council so that the evidence base for prevention and recovery aims of the Drugs Strategy can be strengthened, although cross disciplinary applications in this area will be vital. (Paragraph 257)

45. We recommend that the responsible minister from the Department of Health and the responsible minister from the Home Office together visit Portugal in order to examine its system of depenalisation and emphasis on treatment. (Paragraph 258)

46. As our predecessor Committee supported in their 2002 report, we recommend that the Government initiate a discussion within the Commission on Narcotic Drugs of alternative ways—including the possibility of legalisation and regulation—to tackle the global drugs dilemma. (Paragraph 259)

47. We welcome the Government’s efforts to make clear its commitment to reducing drug misuse and tackling the consequences of drug misuse. We also recommend that the Government instigate a public debate on all of the alternatives to the current drugs policy, as part of the Royal Commission (see paragraph 132). (Paragraph 260)

48. We have made a number of recommendations regarding the need for further evidence gathering. We believe that this would be most effective if it were co-ordinated through one body. The appropriate body to do this would, in our view, be the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, which is already tasked with advising the Home Secretary on classification decisions. It is logical that the body which is responsible for formulating scientific advice to ministers should also have a role to play in coordinating the gathering of scientific evidence on the subject. (Paragraph 261)

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36 Responses to A new debate on decriminalization in the UK

  1. divadab says:

    The Daily Mail, Margaret Thatcher’s most reliable media shill, caters to lower middle class right-wingers. Faux News’ audience. Not surprising it is an authoritarian prohibitionist rag.

    As sensible and cautious as the House Committee report on drugs is, the forces of prohibition represented by the hysterical stupidity of the Daily Mail are very powerful in the UK. It will be an uphill battle to implement the report’s recommendations.

    • Windy says:

      The uSofA’s fed gov has shelved and ignored every commission on drugs report it’s received since the beginning of the drug prohibition era. Why would the gov of the UK be any different?

  2. Duncan20903 says:


    I’m so hung up on the promise of liberty that is the birthright of all Americans that I can’t produce a coherent argument for re-legalization in the Countries which regard their citizens as subjects and/or chattel. Hell, if it’s OK to boss the people around then the powers that be can do just about anything that they want to do short of something that’s going to get them executed after a political revolution. That last restriction is only real because you can’t boss people around if you’re dead.

  3. Dante says:

    This whole thing stinks. The prohibitionists set up an echo-chamber, and then tell everyone they have a mandate to do whatever they want.

    Just like Iraq after Sadaam was captured. They said “We will set up legitimate courts. We will do everything by the book, and we will have a legitimate trial for Sadaam. And then we will execute him”.

    Still wrong. Dead wrong. Still.

    Is the definition of “Prohibitionist” a description of a misguided, sadistic wanna-be warrior who can’t get anything right?

    • kaptinemo says:

      I think it’s more along the lines of vicious, clueless self-appointed morals proctors who, like the Biblical injunction, have 2×4’s sticking out of their eyes while complaining about dust specks inhabiting their neighbor’s optics.

      We need a caricature.

      Long ago, the forces of reform had a perfect image of the sorts of people who favored alcohol Prohibition, sublimely oblivious of the damage it – and they – caused. It was summarized by this fellow, “Mr. Dry”, who was almost universally despised. That one cartoonist’s image became the shorthand for everything that was wrong with Prohibition.

      What we need is our own version of ‘Mr. Dry’ to poke fun at the modern-day acolytes of a long-discredited religion called prohibition. It shouldn’t be hard; like their predecessors, they have the same amount of insufferably self-righteous confidence in their ability to run (and the moral certainty of being uniquely qualified to ruin) the lives of everyone else.

      • claygooding says:

        For some reason I keep seeing Droopy,the dog.

        • kaptinemo says:

          If he were heavily armored, armed to the teeth, was foaming at the mouth, with a bleeding child’s neck in his jaws, then I could see it.

          Prohibs are like some real-life denizens of Bizarro World, where words have the exact opposite of conventional contexts; they say they want to save kids from drugs but shotgun them in the back in the process. That insane, schizoidal insistence that they are the good guys while ‘burning the village in order to save it’ is what the public really needs to see.

        • claygooding says:

          I was thinking dead with coins on his eyes,,with a SWAT member holding his assault weapon across his chest and his foot on Droopy’s head.

        • allan says:

          See Funkadelic’s America Eats Its Young album cover…

          And it’s a good album too!

  4. kaptinemo says:

    Most Developed World countries engaged in drug prohibition are facing the same kind of generational shift that we are, namely, the supporters of drug prohibition are literally dying off…and leaving the field open to their generally more enlightened and now-adult and politically engaged children. Who have little or no confidence in anything their governments tell them, least of all about illicit drugs, as many have had first-hand experience with them, and know the lies from the truth.

    Just like elections, lies have consequences, too. And when the citizenry vote in favor of re-legalization, they are sending a message that they are tired of those lies…and are tired of the liars who tell them.

    • claygooding says:

      It is also the results of funding reductions from the US as more funds are needed to counteract legalization/decriminalization efforts in the US and abroad.

      That was why funding to South American countries had to be replaced at the Bogota conference,,those countries refused to foot the bill for our war on drugs to keep hemp prohibition in place.

      As the ONDCP tries to dedicate funding for fighting CO and WA legalization laws he has to either ask congress for more funding or rob from Peter to pay Paul and reduce funding abroad,,which is going to cause more conferences like Bogota.

  5. Liam says:

    “First, drug use feeds into a culture in which people take refuge in imaginary lives, rather than taking practical steps to remedy their problems.”
    (Thomas Pascoe: ex insurance salesman)

    “‎Some of my finest hours have been spent on my back veranda, smoking hemp and observing as far as my eye can see.”
    ― Thomas Jefferson

  6. Servetus says:

    “drug use feeds into a culture in which people take refuge in imaginary lives, rather than taking practical steps to remedy their problems…” –Thomas Pascoe

    The quote is one of the dumbest stereotypes the prohibitionists use for justifying the victimization of drug users. It presumes that those who have prescriptions for Valium® or Xanax® are somehow more socially involved, successful, and aggressive than someone who uses marijuana for much the same purpose. The social impression I get regarding pot smokers is that they’re nearly always on the bleeding edge of change, and that particular aspect of their culture always seems to be what’s actually being targeted by the status quo.

    Lewis Lapham has good a piece at Alternet that provides an overview of people’s natural drug habits, and where he quotes Abraham Lincoln on prohibiting consumption of a far more dangerous drug, alcohol:

    Humankind’s thirst for intoxicants is unquenchable, but to criminalize it, as Lincoln reminded the Illinois temperance society, reinforces the clinging to the addiction; to think otherwise would be “to expect a reversal of human nature, which is God’s decree and never can be reversed.” The injuries inflicted by alcohol don’t follow “from the use of a bad thing, but from the abuse of a very good thing.” The victims are “to be pitied and compassionated,” their failings treated “as a misfortune, and not as a crime or even as a disgrace.”

    Lincoln never expected anything good to come from prohibition, and he was right, of course. We see and suffer from the results of criminalization every day because people like the Home Affairs Committee who wrote the “Ninth Report, Drugs, Breaking the Cycle”, despite mountains of evidence to the contrary, still believe that all they need to do is tweak prohibition to make it work. Perhaps they haven’t heard the old expression that you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. In the present case, you can’t expect to extract peace and freedom from tyranny.

  7. skootercat says:

    A letter to the Hohner Harmonica Company is alleged to state:
    “Two of my favorite things are sitting on my front porch smoking a pipe of sweet hemp, and playing my Hohner harmonica.”
    -Abraham Lincoln

    • Matthew Meyer says:

      Some presidential pot quotes appear to be apocryphal, as Duncan notes above: http://radicalruss.com/potheads-stop-using-the-debunked-veranda-hohner-and-intemperance-presidential-pot-quotes/

      • Liam says:

        Okay, Thomas might not have said it, but I bet he thought it.

        • Duncan20903 says:


          The problem with that is there’s no documentary evidence of cannabis used for enjoyment in the United States until the 1840s. Cannabis medicine was included in the 1850 edition of the U.S. Pharmacopoeia and The Hasheesh Eater by Fitz Hugh Ludlow was first published in 1857. I don’t know why Mr. Washington was upset by not getting the males out in time but since he ran one of the largest commercial distilleries in 18th Century America it seems very unlikely to me that he would have worried about people knowing that he grew reefer for people to enjoy. We don’t give a second thought to people who keep cannabis use on the down low today but that is a direct result of prohibition. It’s also very, very unlikely that people in the 18th or even the 19th Century would have smoked it.

        • Liam says:

          The following are from Robert Nelson’s, A History of Hemp:http://www.rexresearch.com/hhist/hhist2.htm

          The first is obviously speculative:

          [George Washington may well have cultivated some cannabis for medicinal and occasional recreational purposes. Both he and Thomas Jefferson (who quite disliked tobacco) are known to have exchanged gifts of smoking mixtures. In the 1790’s, Washington also began to cultivate “India Hemp”, the resinous variety developed in India. Cannabis at that time had several names, such as “common hemp” (C. sativa, cultivated for fiber and seeds), and “India hemp” (C. indica, grown for fiber and resin). The latter is not to be confused with “Indian hemp”(Apocynum cannabinum, dogbane), used by native Americans. The modern term “Indian hemp” is applied to jute, which is not related to Cannabis sativa. Jute was not introduced to America until much later.]

          The second is blessed with doctoral authority:

          [Dr. Burke, the President of the American Historical Reference Society, researched the correspondence of the first several presidents, and in 1975 confirmed that seven of them smoked cannabis. George Washington preferred to smoke “the leaves of hemp” rather than to drink alcohol. James Madison was once heard to say that smoking hemp inspired him to found a new nation on democratic principles. James Monroe, the 5th US President, was introduced to hashish when he was serving as Ambassador to France, and he continued to enjoy the smoke until he was 73 years old. When Andrew Jackson, Zachary Taylor and Franklin Pierce served as military commanders, they each smoked hemp with their soldiers. In one letter to his family, Pierce complained that hemp was “about the only good thing” about the Mexican War.]

  8. SparkNotes says:

    “Chris Sapp, 28, a long-haired diesel mechanic and longtime Frankie’s member, said being able to smoke pot at the bar makes him feel like he’s in Amsterdam.

    “If I wasn’t a friend of Frankie’s already I’d be one now because you can come here and smoke and feel free,” he said after taking a pull from a small pipe. “That’s how it should be. We shouldn’t have to hide weed.”

    Across the room, another patron commended Schnarr for welcoming pot use but begged off giving his name. As a volunteer firefighter, he said, he wasn’t supposed to be in contact with marijuana smoke.

    “I cannot be in this room,” he lamented. “It’s not like I’m sitting here smoking a joint or anything. My problem is that I’d love to, but I can’t.”


  9. darkcycle says:

    O/T but BIG. Rumors are circulating (I haven’t had a chance to chase the reports down, maybe someone else…I’m stuck home with a sick four year old) on FB that Colorado’s Governor has certified I-64 early.

    • Curmudgeon says:

      DC-It’s true. Just had my first legal bowl! We may have to admit that WA is first to truly legalize, but CO is still the highest state according to the USGS.

      • Duncan20903 says:


        As long as the enemies of freedom are unable to strike down either State’s it’s a tastes great/less filling argument IMO. California was only the undisputed first State to implement a medicinal cannabis patient protection law because the EoF were able to thwart the will of the voters of Arizona in 1996. California likely would have had the Compassionate Use Act implemented months if not years before Arizona had the EoF not prevailed for 14 years anyway.

    • Byddaf yn egluro: says:


  10. Francis says:

    “Drug-taking is a moral issue.” No, violence is a moral issue. And prohibition is violence.

    • strayan says:

      Half the problem is that these people are scientifically illiterate and think ‘drugs’ are somehow fundamentally different to ‘non drugs’.

  11. Irie says:

    Realizing this has nothing to do with the topic, but just wanted to let you all in on a good laugh on a joke that was e-mailed to me by a friend, here goes:

    DEA officer stops at a ranch in Texas, and talks with an old rancher.. He tells the rancher, “I need to inspect your ranch for ill*gally grown dr*gs.”
    The rancher says, “Okay , but do not go in that field over there,” as he points out the location.
    The DEA officer verbally explodes saying, “Mister, I have the authority of the Federal Government with me.” Reaching into his rear pants pocket, he removes his badge and proudly displays it to the rancher. “See this badge? This badge means I am allowed to go wherever I wish…. On any land.. No questions asked or answers given. Have I made myself clear? Do you understand? ”
    The rancher nods politely, apologizes, and goes about his chores.
    A short time later, the old rancher hears loud screams and sees the DEA officer running for his life chased by the rancher’s big Santa Gertrudis Bull……
    With every step the bull is gaining ground on the officer, and it seems likely that he’ll get gored before he reaches safety. The officer is clearly terrified.
    The rancher throws down his tools, runs to the fence and yells at the top of his lungs…..

    “Your badge… Show him your badge!!”

    • Windy says:

      Seen if before, about a year ago, it still make me laugh out loud. Too bad more people don’t have aggressive bulls in their yards to run off them gubmint agents, but them I suppose we’d be hearing more and more stories of bulls being killed by LEOs the way we have been hearing, for some years now, about all the family dogs being shot and killed by LEOs.

  12. CJ says:

    hello friends

    for the most part, i was really disappointed with the report. I just found it catered far too much to the way things are now, which, we all know, no matter what anybody does, and im being serious, taking into consideration, probably some of, if not most of, the folks involved in the task of collecting this info and crafting this report, they put hard work into it. I understand. I do and I am sorry but listen, it just its not acceptable. None of it. Sorry – thats my opinion. Like, they could try whatever they want, as hard and as much as they want, to do all they do now, the global prohibition, tighten up efforts “more cooperation” theres a point they say “one country cannot do this alone” listen, no countries united could do this either, its not just that they shouldn’t, no government has any business in as that dumbass said in his ridiculous article “moral decisions” whatsmore, its simply that none of this will ever or could ever work.

    I think we ought to just keep it simple and ask ourselves “can there be a planet earth, with nations and governments all over it, populated with billions, that could be a drug free planet earth” and its not a question of “a little bit, yes” or “alot, yes” its a black and white matter to me – I will tell you right now that if you think there is any way whatsoever to have a drug free world you are, im afraid, again, nod to that idiots article, but living in a fantasy world. I have seen it with my own eyes, the simply incredible will of a junkie to get dope, i mean, i wouldnt even know where to start, what example to share with you, of myself, my colleagues, with one arm so ridden with nerve damage from poor shooting with old works and with both HIV and hep C flowing through their blood, the most disheveled of appearances set about each and every single day like Schwarzenegger in the Terminator, going about his business as his body is actively dying, but like the Terminator, battered til he was only a skeleton from the chest up and still crawling after the woman, the junkie is no different. Hurricane Sandy didnt stop junkies from being in the streets panhandling hustling doing what prohibition has given them recourse to do. The fact is, they ought to check the official statistics that claim drug use is the same as its always been.

    Idk guys, I thought the piece was a disappointment but maybe I have too high expectations, eh?

  13. CJ says:

    sorry i just wanted to add a few quick things id just thought too..

    number 1 – i totally agree with Pete, regardless of anything anybody or I say, Pete hit the nail on the head anyhow – this reports gonna wind up on a shelf somewhere, teaching dust about current drug policy

    number 2 – like i realized i complained about it, not really offering any ideas – ok this is seriously what I think. Remember Nixons speech? Right, well, that needs to be revisited. Its only appropriate right now in the era of film remakes all over, to remake that speech, the problem though is that drugs, all drugs, are not public enemy number 1. There is something waging war on our kids, on our neighbors and family. There IS an epidemic going on in the world, its called global drug prohibition and without a doubt it needs to be attacked NOW. and DESTROYED – FOREVER.

    This is the most disappointing thing, this report, or other commnetators, etc. there is NO salvaging this prohibition experiment. We all write about, talk about the horrors of it, but it continues and thats the thing that upset me the most, because these people claim to have seen it first hand in different countries, the attitude isnt “Ah, lets find resources (financially) to improve this area of our prohibition approach, lets talk to this country about setting this operation up,” bla bla bla – you get it? The report, the attitude the comments need to be like this “This HAS TO END NOW. This is a global emergency greater than global warming, greater than the maybe, possibily, I THINK, I SUPPOSE, someone has nukes, is building them, or wants to have them, wants to build them – NO, this is a INTERNATIONAL EMERGENCY that is in URGENT NEED of IMMEDIATE ATTENTION. IMMEDIATE.” I would offer this suggestion: we wont be alive to see the sun die, treat global drug prohibition as you would the implosion of the sun.

    I spoke recently with a good friend in drug reform, hes also a fan of this site and comes here sometimes. Anyhow, it was heart breaking to hear him say that, at his age, which is truly not much more than my age, (I am 27) he does not anticipate seeing any reasonable change in policy where he’s concerned (he and I are a little more concerned with opiate related reform, i dont think ive ever shared this with anybody, so, please, be nice. :P) during his lifetime. He is a very smart person and he said that, he predicted several lifetimes of his would need to pass before anything really significant on the ground level happened, that is sad but maybe it’s true – ill tell you this though, if the attitude was more reflective of “this is an absolutely urgent global emergency on par with the suns cataclysmic eruption” maybe that wouldn’t be so. I truly doubt any of you disagree with the notion that prohibition is without a doubt of the most urgent concerns and needs to end yesterday. That has to be the attitude. It has to, not for me, who knows, I could get a hot shot tonight, its not about me, its about all of us. Its about WE. not WEED, though it’s included, dont get your panties in a bunch, but WE. WE.

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