The debate over drugs

Lord Norton

Former Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth (pictured) has caused something of a political storm for calling for the legalisation of drugs so that they can be available, probably on prescription, as a way of tackling the major problems presently caused by the supply and consumption of drugs.  Some of the responses to his call have been predictable.  However, to dismiss out of hand what he says means we stand little chance of having a proper debate and finding ways of moving forward.  A good number of parliamentarians and police officers are aware that the present situation is unsustainable.  As politicians, we cannot adopt a head-in-the-sand approach.  I think this reinforces the case for a Royal Commission, or some body of inquiry, into drug use and possession.  There needs to a transparent and informed investigation. 

I have little time for those who choose to take drugs, but then I have little time for those who engage in binge drinking.  My personal views are secondary to the need to address the issue from the perspective of public policy.

19 comments for “The debate over drugs

  1. Carl.H
    16/12/2010 at 3:18 pm

    I`m not going to get into the argument of for or against again, for the time being. I do believe we need a transparent, full and open investigation and we also need clear legislation as a sovereign Nation. At present hardly any movement is available to us due to EU and Nato treaties and other.

    There is no point in going forward with any such investigation if any evidence and action will be stymied by other Nations with their interests set as primary.

    As regulars will know I am anti-drug but am open to debate and willing to listen to any reasonable argument provided the reverse applies.

    • drugpolicyreformer
      16/12/2010 at 5:39 pm

      EU and NATO treaties? I think you mean the UN.

      • Carl.H
        16/12/2010 at 11:02 pm

        You`re probably right, we did go through a month or so ago with all the relative info to hand. Apologies for not getting info correct.

        • 17/12/2010 at 4:31 pm

          CarlH, we’ve been involved in good discussions in the past, I always find your good self refreshing as you are clear you are not in favour of proposed measures, but you raise better points than most and clearly are open minded.

          I nailed my colours to the mast that I am very much in favour of regulation and reform. I have made a video that has been well received, I’ll be interested for you to take a look and possibly discuss with me further. I’m genuinely interested to hear your particular views:

          There will be more to come once my own health improves given how vast the subject matter is.

          • Carl.H
            17/12/2010 at 8:42 pm

            Hi James, I`ve watched the video and it`s interesting but unlike our previous debate it only seems to deal with cannabis.

            The way the law at present deals with users of cannabis is unfair, some maybe let off, some arrested. It is used as an excuse by police in some circumstances for discrimination, the same can be said for alcohol and indeed for brothels.

            Should it be regulated ? Well there is a good case for it, I don`t believe it`s any more or less harmful than alcohol infact the latter appears to cost the country more at weekends and other times too. It is widely accepted in youth circles and some older too.

            I am concerned that deregulated it would be all too available to very young kids, although it isn`t hard for them to get some at present. Also the fact that there are many cases of 13-15 year old alcoholics so would it be any worse ?

            I don`t know many teenagers or those in there 20`s actually that don`t participate in cannabis or have done. As I have stated before, my girls don`t as far as I know. I know many that are addicted to it, some seemingly to have lost braincells to it but I can say the same with alcohol.

            There is a good case for deregulation and control of cannabis but there are drawbacks. There will remain a black market, illegal suppliers and there will be robberies of places that hold supplies along with theft from manufacturers. As far as use of it goes, if one goes to the smoking area of most clubs one will find it prolific.

            I think I have to go away and deal with my own hypocrisy`s before I can look at it fairly without a kneejerk answer. Certainly what we have at present is a Parliament declaring one thing and Police Force saying nah we`ll make it up as we go along, which of course is wrong.

            The Police are losing the battle in the fight against drugs though and something has to change. Cocaine is now the drug of choice and it`s use concerns me a great deal more. I am certainly at least for a downgrading of cannabis.

            I must curtail this before I invoke the wrath of Senex, probably already too late, over 250 words AGAIN !


        • 04/01/2011 at 7:25 pm

          Carl H, sorry I’ve not replied until now, health and Christmas got in the way.

          Thank you for the reply though, I’ll try and address point by point (and concise as possible). The video does address most points you raised, and like you say, this video does deal with cannabis due to my research patterns, but the ambivalence of the “prohibition vs. regulation” was kept open for interpretation to field the wider debate. Plus, cannabis is worth £5 billion on the street now, so addressing this first off will also have wider public benefits on the long term picture. Cutting cannabis in law enforcement frees resources exponentially, and the revenue collected could fund treatment programmes for harder substances.

          I’ll avoid the substance debate on harm scale, I would gladly get into this also as the evidence firmly is in favour that cannabis is a comparatively safe substance in conjunction with alcohol. Plus, most harms of cannabis are due to prohibition. Under regulation, potency advice and labelling would ensure that less abuse through ignorance; this is largely the problem now under feral control. It IS accepted in youth circles (as you say), and this is the problem; the youth have full and unbridled access to it and this is where we need change through age check systems. As ever, this can also be applied to all substances all the while pushers have full control.

          You raise concerns for “deregulated” product. I must pull you up on semantics, we’re asking for regulation, not deregulation. The common misinterpretation of the drug debate is that less control will be had under new law, the state would have more control than ever before if we changed our regulation model. As it stands, the state has little to no control other than media proclamations of such.

          You once more raise concerns on youth affect and cannabis, this is paramount to my position. Personally speaking, I have invested years of study into this particular substance and have been under the leading Professors in this field. I know the following: Dosages, Strain Potency (there are thousands) Harvesting Traits, Ingestion Method and potency therein. How many kids who buy from dealers can and would proclaim the same degree of knowledge? Or is it dealt with flippancy? Lack of knowledge is key to abuse. Also, if there is one thing all agree upon, the developing mind should not take any substance, including cannabis, and yet why is it they have such ease of access…

          Black Market: I address this and say yes, black markets exist for everything (jeans, trainers, alcohol) you’ll never stop this aspect. BUT, give the police a chance, it’s easier and achievable to fight a black market than a £5 billion industry that is and will thrive underground for ever more. Plus, arguably, get regulation right and the black market will struggle to exist.

          And I fully agree, cocaine is the drug of choice now it would seem, we can speculate as to why, the cache of further illegality? The harder buzz? The further ease of supply of the drug due to international reasons that would take me far too long to get into?! Or simply, it leaves the system quicker so random drug tests would not show this up over cannabis… this is a worrying trend of late. OR, that people do not want docile in this day and age and prefer energetic. Either what way, this debate is not going away and the consequences are to be felt by all.

          Thanks again for the good debate Carl!

  2. Edward Brunsdon
    16/12/2010 at 5:10 pm

    Always worth remembering alcohol and tobacco are a good deal more dangerous than many Class C & B drugs.

    The lancet published the following chart which has helpfully been put up on Wikipedia

  3. Senex
    16/12/2010 at 6:58 pm

    What Mr Ainsworth may not be aware of is the situation with Dutch coffee shops and decriminalised marijuana. Drug tourism is proving a challenge to the Dutch way of life it seems. If Mr Ainsworth had his way one could envisage the UK becoming a tourist hot spot on the same basis with EEA addicts being permanently resident and in possession of an E112 allowing them to receive treatment.

    Ref: Court backs tourist ban for Dutch cannabis coffee shops

    • James Vanderwal
      16/12/2010 at 11:15 pm

      Of course, if available on prescription this wouldn’t be a problem.
      Even if there was drug tourism, would it be so bad? British tourists are notoriously problematic in holland (and elsewhere, sadly), so we wouldn’t have to deal with them any more than we do now, and the economy would benefit, which no-one can deny would be good.

      As more countries followed suite it would diminish anyway.

      • Senex
        17/12/2010 at 8:35 pm

        JV: The matter is really one for the European Parliament to debate. Its one of those ‘collective needs’ that gives purpose to this Parliament.

  4. Tony Woolf
    16/12/2010 at 10:39 pm

    The violent aversion of all governments to a proper assessment of the full effects of both existing and possible drug policies is rather a mystery. Some of it is undoubtedly the effect of years of brainwashing (of MPs as well as the public) on how much worse illegal drugs are than legal ones. But I recently realised that, if done properly, such an investigation might well conclude that there should be much stricter controls on alcohol. This would upset both big business and a lot of voters, perhaps more than would legalisation of other drugs.

  5. 17/12/2010 at 2:46 am

    I fear Lord Norton that we shall not even get rational debate let alone impact assessments and investigations. The doors seem shut on rationality, the media still had more than a tinge of disdain when reporting this debate.

    Interestingly though, just in case you have not seen this Lord Norton, the EU has recently said that it will not halt progressive and regulatory measures to cannabis to any EU state:

    This has always been one of the excuses used for our prohibition. Of course, take away the estimated £4 billion industry off the street, and we have progression for wider issues. I’m sure no one will oppose freeing up the valuable and diminished police time in this tumultuous climate.

  6. Gareth Howell
    17/12/2010 at 10:54 am

    I think this reinforces the case for a Royal Commission

    The deep involvement of the criminal community, or those who promote criminal activity, with the sale of cannabis, which seems to be merely a small envelope of dust of some sort,certainly encourages me to side with a Royal commission in to all uses of consumer drugs, from alcohol to cigarettes,
    to illegal drugs.

    The use of any of them, along with coffee, often amounts to an addiction, but are Diabetics frequently not addicted to sugar, without knowing that sugar is the one thing they should be giving up?

    The masters of the underworld find easy pickings in the sale of cannabis, and in recent years, one gypsy who visits me, in a fairly rural location, has resorted to accepting danger money rather than trouble me with the drug cannabis, which he has learnt I do not like, and have never tried.

    Thus on his last visit he advised me that I really needed something stronger, forgetting that I had recently had an operation which involved the use of Morphine.

    Sometimes something strong is needed, and a royal commission has not been held recently enough.

    It is rather more the aspect of VICE that worries me. I hope I do not have any vices, but I am all too well aware that some people are totally unable to give up nicotine, holding people permanently in its thrall.

    I wonder whether Mr Ainsworth is concerned with the vice aspect of it?

    Does he want to persuade people to be virtuous too perchance?!!!

  7. Twm O'r Nant
    17/12/2010 at 5:31 pm

    “take away the estimated £4 billion industry”

    A sizeable sum not to be taxing, and to be pushing in to the pockets of the criminal community?

    A man who has an annual cash turnover of £45,000 per year, £12000 of which is earned from DSS sickness payments and the other £26000 from importing cannabis from Spain and northern France is surely due to pay some tax?

  8. Dave H
    17/12/2010 at 6:41 pm

    I’d say legalise and tax it. Add some stiff criminal penalties for committing an offence while under the influence or for being found under the influence in a public place (to encourage people to indulge in private).

    I guess the only question then is how many people will decide to indulge once it is legal, and how many of those who might indulge because it was ‘naughty’ might not bother once it is boring and legal. There ought to be a saving due to the drop in crime when addicts don’t need to steal to get money for their next fix, and a cost in treating overdoses due to adulterated drugs.

    So yes, make it all legal but wrap it in red tape so that it suddenly becomes an unattractive option.

  9. Lord Blagger
    17/12/2010 at 9:07 pm

    Add some stiff criminal penalties for committing an offence while under the influence or for being found under the influence in a public place


    Lets add legislating whilst p***ed as an offence. That clears the Lords

  10. Twm O'r Nant
    18/12/2010 at 10:22 am

    There are those who do what is right because they know it is lawfully right, and there are those who do wrong because they know it is unlawful and wrong.

    The implication then, is that those who do wrong, smoke cannabis because it is deemed to BE wrong and unlawful, not because they have made up their own minds on the matter, but because it is against the law.

  11. 18/12/2010 at 1:12 pm

    From what I’ve read of Mr Ainsworth’s proposals, they seemed rather poorly thought out. It smacks of a has-been politician seeking a bit of publicity, which we see almost every week on some issue or another. The most laughable part is that he says drugs should be legally available to prevent the illegal trade, but then goes on to say only licensed sellers will be permitted to sell drugs, and that illegal sellers will be punished. How is it suddenly easier to stop illegal sales than at present? And does he think all the current dealers are going to clean toilets on minimum wage once drugs are legalised?

    Perhaps a Royal Commission is a good idea. However, it must encompass all drugs, including those that are currently legal. This is certainly what Professor Nutt would recommend. I wonder how many of those who praised him for speaking out on cannabis classification realise that he’s in favour of tough new restrictions on alcohol, for example. His ideas for drugs policy come as a coherent package, so you people pick and choose parts to suit their own habits.

    I often think we should stop thinking of what is the best drugs policy to protect users from harm. If we are going down the liberal route, we have to say that if people choose to damage themselves, that’s up to them as adults to make that decision. What must be protected is the rights of other people not to be affected by drug users. You can ban smoking and substance anywhere in public; throw people in jail for being drunk in public, etc. But then it could be argued that drugs use will always affect others, whether the impact on a family when a cannabis user suffers from psychosis, or the costs to the NHS of treating people.

    19/12/2010 at 11:08 am

    Goodness, a Royal Commission, how helpful.

    As soon as you start to meaningfully talk about something sensible like making drugs legal for people who want to get off their faces, which will change nothing except that people who want to get off their faces will be able to do it more safely (seriously, are we still under the impression that “drugs are illegal” equates in any way to “people do not get high”?), the Daily Mail will jump up and down and get its panties in a wad, and the government of the day will back down. We might possibly get some concession to, I dunno, downgrade somethingorother from one ill-considered class to another, but even that will be repealed after the government realises it really doesn’t have the backbone to stand up to Paul Dacre on anything.

    So what’s the point? Unless we can get the government to commit to calling Paul Dacre and Richard Desmond filthy lying b****ds to their faces and setting the debate in terms dictated by the evidence, not tabloid scaremongering, nothing sensible will be enacted, so why waste time and money flogging this dead horse?

    It’s not like people who do drugs are really that inconvenienced one way or the other, and people who get exploited as a result of the imperial War on Drugs can’t vote in our elections anyway, so why do we care?

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