Debating the case for a Royal Commission

Lord Norton

I am extremely grateful to all those who contributed to my earlier post on my Question for Short Debate (QSD) making the case for a Royal Commission on drug use and possession.  The comments were notable for their quality as well as their quantity.  My QSD was held last night, with all speakers bar the minister adding their weight to the case for an inquiry.  The speakers included fellow blogger, Baroness Murphy.  You can read the debate here.  As will be apparent, I was able to draw on various of the contributions to the post and I hope I did justice to them.  The minister did not really engage with the issue – she couched her comments within the framework of the existing law – and I shall be considering ways of taking the issue forward.

27 comments for “Debating the case for a Royal Commission

  1. Gareth Howell
    10/03/2011 at 3:51 pm

    so alternative civil powers, such as trading
    standards or medicines regulation, warrant consideration.

    And health and safety, and hygiene.
    I am sorry to learn that Earl of Onslow has been unwell.
    pure pharmaceutical heroin
    says Lord Rea the whole point of legalisation is expressed in Dr the Lord Rea’s comments
    Portuguese policy, as already mentioned, of decriminalising the possession of up to 10 days’ supply of all drugs,
    presumably why a UK dealer is happy to cruise across the Bay to northern Spain by car for a few days every cople of months.
    Is there also a case for harmonisation?

    On present trends, many people forecast that liver disease will soon be a bigger killer than heart disease.
    Lord Taverne
    Almost certain like Russia, and marketing driven for big profits, to gullible UKconsumers.
    good case for drugs policy being transferred to health and taken away from the Home Office.
    There must be quite a few who are already refered for mental health purposes, but subject to MH criminal sections,
    whichever they are.
    Lord Stevenson/ Lord Cobbold

    to think about the perverse appeal that drugs have for young people.
    to my mind the most important consideration of all, in this debate. BECAUSE it is crime, it is done.

    we have decided that we are not going to decriminalise,
    Says the Minister!

    I add only one thing that may have been overlooked by the legalisation lobby (including myself at this juncture)
    and that is the Tobbacco crime syndrome, already with us with marked/copyrighted cigarettes such as “Marlboro”
    being sodl as counterfeit. Even tobaco counterfeits are said to have strong traces of arsenic in them, and other serious toxins.
    That is in a legal marketplace.

    So if currently illegal drugs were counterfeited in such a way, we would be back to precisely the square one that we are in now, with crimials selling counterfeit heroin or counterfeit marijuane or spliff or whatever the trademarked and legal drug trademark might be. It might cause as many deaths as now!

    • BlazingBuddhist
      10/03/2011 at 8:23 pm

      I have posted this comment on the other thread, but it is probably more suited in here:

      I must first commend the members of the house who engaged in the debate, but I find it disgusting that Baroness Neville-Jones arrived with her preordained answers, ignoring the effort other members had put into said debate, then displaying her intellectual bankruptcy towards the issue when mentioning the HIV statistics for Portugal.

      I must also state a slight frustration at certain members’ failure to distinguish between what constitutes “use” and “misuse”. I am all for any policy which looks to curb the misuse of drugs, however, the categorising of any drug use as misuse is confusing the issue.

      There should be a focus on educating the population on what constitutes “responsible drug use”. In some cases, heroin for instance, responsible use is not to use the drug at all. However, just like having a glass of wine with ones meal would represent responsible alcohol use, a couple of joints in the evening after a day’s work is similarly responsible use of cannabis.

      Also, more studies need to be conducted around the real causes of addiction. I would draw your attention towards the following paper entitled “The Myth of Drug-Induced Addiction”

      A more evidence-based approach towards educating young people needs to be adopted, sooner rather than later. Simply telling teenagers that cannabis may cause them long-term developmental problems isn’t enough, and is likely to be greeted with a chorus of “Yeah, right!” then off they go to disobey.
      There is, however, evidence to show that using cannabis while the brain is still developing, DOES have an effect on their memory. I have seen an experiment carried out on mice where one group was given cannabis at adolescence, another group was given cannabis as an adult, and the third group was not given any cannabis (the control). The mice were placed in a pool of water with reference points around the room and a transparent ramp in the pool on which they could escape. The groups of mice which were either given cannabis as adults or not fed any cannabis could remember where the ramp was each time. However, the mice that were given cannabis as adolescents struggled to find the ramp and either stumbled upon it by chance or required rescuing after several minutes of swimming around in circles. This is the sort of thing children need to see to reinforce the issues we’re trying to explain to them.

      I hope this has provided you with some more information on the issue and I hope it will help you and your colleagues to be a part of the solution, rather than Baroness Neville-Jones’ seeming intent on continuing to be a part of the problem.

      Good luck to you, and please keep up the good work.

      • BlazingBuddhist
        12/03/2011 at 2:40 pm

        This was supposed to be a stand-alone comment and not a reply to Gareth’s post.

    • BlazingBuddhist
      10/03/2011 at 8:28 pm

      You mention the problems with tobacco, but fail to identify the fact that this is linked to the amount of taxation placed on the product. The high level of excise duty makes it economically viable to produce the counterfeits.

      If the high price of authentic products prevent more harm than the counterfeits cause: then it is hard to argue for change. If people are prepared to take these risks to save a few pounds: what can we do to stop them?

      • Gareth Howell
        11/03/2011 at 9:08 pm

        If people are prepared to take these risks to save a few pounds: what can we do to stop them?

        Well if a heroin addict can be registered to get his supply even today, then there is also little we can do to the stop them now, surely; quite apart from the natural inclination of govt to tax smoking heavily, and then make a virtue out of it, saying the price is high because they want you to stop, making huge returns from it..

        I don’t suggest that wpuld happen with heroin but it could easily do so with the C/3 drugs, whichever they are.

        How does Portugal and Netherlands regulate
        drug imports by taxation of them? They must surely do so?

  2. Matthew
    10/03/2011 at 4:22 pm

    I was entertained by the Minister’s comments on how divisive the issue was, when ever single one of the Lords who spoke before them agreed with each other (and disagreed with the Minister).

    • Lord Norton
      Lord Norton
      14/03/2011 at 12:17 pm

      Matthew: A very good point!

  3. butcombeman
    10/03/2011 at 4:50 pm

    Your last paragraph.
    Preciseley right.

    And note the huge numbers of deaths associated with legally (state) supplied methadone.

    Note the huge (denied by successive governments) addiction problems with legally (state) prescribed and supplied benzos.

    There are no easy answers.

  4. Jake
    10/03/2011 at 6:38 pm

    Lord Norton, once again, commendation on the debate last night. I will be following your blog closely to see how this issue progresses, and hope it does progress. How exactly does a Parliamentary Inquiry work? And how would that be able to get past the “bias” he mentioned – as a self-serving debate by MP’s reaffirming their ‘belief’ in the current system for fear of tabloid retribution wouldn’t get the issue anywhere..?

    @Gareth, currently 100% of ‘illicit’ drugs are ‘counterfeit’ in that there are no controls on them whatsoever. Even with a small black-market/counterfeiters the majority would be legitimate.. and the police would have more time to go after counterfeiters… and you could always buy from a reputable store etc. etc. That is a straw-man argument.

    @butcombeman, I would love to know your true view on drug use – are some drugs ok to consume or should we ban recreational use of every psychoactive? Or are some worse than others to you? What drugs would you make available and restrict in your ideal world? I am just trying to understand why you are so opposed to any drug use whatsoever?

    • Lord Norton
      Lord Norton
      14/03/2011 at 12:20 pm

      Jake: Many thanks. On a parliamentary inquiry, there are different types. Lord Stevenson suggested a joint committee of the two Houses, though I suspect the Commons may not be that interested. In that case, the most productive route may be to press for a Lords Committee. The House (as I reported in a previous post) has established an ad hoc Committee on HIV/AIDS and it may be worthwhile pressing for an ad hoc committee once that one has completed its work.

      • Jake
        14/03/2011 at 11:14 pm

        Lord Norton, yes I suspect they would not be ‘interested’ – isn’t that a sorry state of affairs in itself when our leaders are not interested in an issue that effects us all as it would likely produce uncomfortable results.

        May I enquire how long the current ad hoc committee has left and what weight the findings from such a committee into drug use/possession would have? The house of commons – politicians – tends to ignore, bury or discredit findings they don’t like. We already have thousands around the world calling for change (, with enough evidence to at least instigate said review. I just fear that this issue will continue to be passed around without true progress as this really is a “divisive” issue – between those that know what is really happening, those whose prejudices form opinion/policy and those that want to progress their own careers without rocking the boat.

        In addition, may I suggest that the current committee on HIV/AIDS encompass injecting drug use and the consequences of prohibition as a factor in exacerbating the occurrence and severity of this disease.

        Once again, thank you for taking the time to listen and respond to the ‘common man’. It is much appreciated!

  5. Gareth Howell
    10/03/2011 at 7:32 pm

    The question of counterfeiting brings us back to powers of copyright and patent of any sort, which have been much disputed over the last few years of digital marketing.

    I am, like that fine philosopher, Noam Chomsky,
    anti-consumerist, but most teenies who are persuaded to start on drugs, do not have the first idea what consumerism or
    anti-consumerism is. They are merely victims of the status quo.

    If they did understand those concepts then they would also understand that so called counterfeiting only strengthens the status of the logo/patent/copyright.

    It was ever thus. Whether of Watt, the steam engine patenteer, or more recently, of Gates the Miami patenteer of the digital economy.

    If we did not accept the right to patent,then the problem of counterfeit would also be non-existent, but then where would the HofL be if they had no letters patent?!!! !

    As for a Royal commission? That is the noble Lord Norton!

    A pinch of salt please with my dinner.

  6. 10/03/2011 at 8:22 pm

    Thank you once more Lord Norton.

    I humbly do my best in reporting that which will not get mentioned in current mainstream media.

    I hope that this session will be followed up and support can be mustered.

    With full gratitude once more, Jason Reed

    • Lord Norton
      Lord Norton
      14/03/2011 at 12:20 pm

      jasonreed: Many thanks.

  7. Carl.H
    10/03/2011 at 11:11 pm

    Off Topic message to Baroness Trumpington re prostitution and Health.

    A newly opened project in Essex for brothels and working girls gives a health visiting, testing and vaccination service and is proving successful:

    “The Maple Project

    The Maple Project is a free confidential service provided by Sexual Health Nurses from Colchester Sexual Health Centre (the GUM clinic) based at Essex County Hospital, Lexden Road, Colchester.

    We would like to visit you at your place of work or home on a regular basis to bring free condoms, lube, gloves etc.

    We can also offer sexual health screening, smear tests, HIV testing, Hep B vaccination, contraceptive advice, emergency contraception and referrals for termination of pregnancy.

    We do understand that you may be suspicious about this project so please feel free to call the Sexual Health Clinic on ******** or ********* if you wish to confirm our identity.

    Just to let you know that we are currently only working on this service on Tuesdays and Thursdays so if you do call and don’t get an answer – please leave us a message and we will get back to you asap!

    This is a new service so please utilise us and let us know how we can help.”

    I fear a lot of what I heard in the House re prostitution and brothels is still incorrect, the ills being vastly exagerated.

  8. MilesJSD
    11/03/2011 at 4:17 am

    Whether in everyday self-healthing, educational-curriculum-ing, or Royal-Commission-ing

    we each & all need to focus primarily and majorly upon

    1. daily health maintenance, of every good habit and ability one & we already have established or are establishing;

    2. long-term fitness-and-wellbeing building, pre-integrally of every individual in every neighbourhood and/or community;

    and for the above we need to agree upon a cool but adequate and effective model, of the wholesome or holistic kind;

    and the one I have had to construct

    (beginning from the UN and Medical profession’s 5-fold model of our human Physiologicals, Emotionals, Mentals, Socials and Spirituals (“domains”))

    1. Physiological;

    2. Emotional;

    3. Mind-Functional;

    4. Environmental;
    a. Bio-
    b. Built-
    c. People (friendly;neutral; hostile);
    d. Distant (e.g. oceans trade-shipping; the 9/11 disaster; the toxification of waters, soils, air, and foods; and the “Starship-Enterprise” Space-Programme);

    5. Spiritual;

    6. Sanctuary;

    7. Workplace, Job, & Career Skills.

    I submit that these above are more vitally important and urgent to have in full implementation than timeline-and-action-lay-bying of the “Drugs Issue” into a Royal Commission.

    In short, I submit that without having the above overarching and underpinning Major Services, Educations, and Laws in force, all other efforts and expenditures will be relatively ineffectual & self-harming
    (this ‘self’ being the British Nation at all levels of People and Lifesjpports).

    In brief:
    First get every Domain of right and normally-thriving healthiness, lifespportiveness, and fitness adequate and delivered to every level and sort of People;

    then divert major funding and ‘marking-time’ such as for Royal Commissions, into tackling crime and other “rots” such as Illegal-Drug-Use (and hereto “Use” de facto should include “carrying” and other co-dependencies possibly including weak-legislation and revenues-fattening-taxation/fining).


  9. 11/03/2011 at 10:44 am

    Lord Norton, is this the first time Lords of the Blog has been mentioned by name in a debate in the House?

  10. Hansard Society
    Beccy Allen
    11/03/2011 at 10:46 am

    Jonathan – I can aswer this having just done some research on this for a media briefing (available soon). The mention this week by Lord Norton was the fifteenth time the blog has been mentioned in Parliament.

  11. Gareth Howell
    11/03/2011 at 9:24 pm

    If people are prepared to take these risks to save a few pounds: what can we do to stop them?

    Well if a heroin addict can be registered to get his supply even today, then there is also little we can do to the stop them now, surely; quite apart from the natural inclination of govt to tax smoking heavily, and then make a virtue out of it, saying the price is high because they want you to stop, making huge returns from it..

    I don’t suggest that wpuld happen with heroin but it could easily do so with the C/3 drugs, whichever they are.

    How does Portugal and Netherlands regulate
    drug imports by taxation of them? They must surely do so?

    Having just googled that question, Trafficking in Portugal is still illegal, although presumably consumer retailing is not. (what is the definition of trafficking here?)

    However the USA is considering legalizing and Taxing imports of drugs from Mexico.

    • butcombeman
      15/03/2011 at 12:34 pm

      You say:
      “Trafficking in Portugal is still illegal, although presumably consumer retailing is not”.

      Are drugs not still illegal in Portugal? Is not dealing (consumer retailing) in illegal drugs, still an offence in Portugal as it is in the Netherlands? If they were not Portugal would be in breach of the UN conventions.

      Decriminalisation of personal use is what Portugal has done provided quantities held are below certain limits. All that means is that CRIMINAL penalties are not normally applied.

      People can still however get picked up and taken to a Police Station and thence to what amounts to a drug court with treatment ordered.

      That can happen in the UK under existing legislation.

      Much of the time in the UK, criminal penalties are not applied to personal use.

      What is needed in all countries is ready access to treatment with help to get free of addiction.

  12. Douglas
    12/03/2011 at 4:29 am

    My support for a Royal Commission is and appreciation of Lord Norton’s discussion is unreserved.

    No longer can we afford to be burdened with legislation based upon ‘historical and cultural precedents’ (Cm 6941, Pg 24)

    One would assume legislation to be evidence based, but better late than never.



    • Lord Norton
      Lord Norton
      14/03/2011 at 12:24 pm

      Douglas: Many thanks. I fear a great deal of legislation is not evidence based and, indeed, it is not unusual for its aims not to be that clearly adumbrated.

      In addition to pressing for legislation to be evidence-based, I have been pressing for some years for systematic post-legislative scrutiny and at least in this regard have had some success. Most Acts of Parliament are now being reviewed three to five years after enactment.

      • andria77
        15/03/2011 at 11:39 am

        Have there been any New Acts of Parliament related to drugs policy in the last few years then Lord Norton please?

      • Tom
        20/03/2011 at 8:53 am

        Lord Norton, I recently replied to a post by David Oliver on the Home Office Drug strategy blog, Mr Oliver stated that “The means by which alcohol is regulated is embedded in historical tradition and the tolerance of responsible consumption”.
        That statement makes it obvious that the Home Office uses nothing more than historical and cultural precedent, evidence has nothing to do with it.

  13. BlazingBuddhist
    12/03/2011 at 2:39 pm

    I keep hearing the government’s intent on making us live “drug-free lives”. I, for one, could not live a drug-free life, or if I did, it certainly wouldn’t be much of a life.

    I’ve been dependent on drugs for most of my life. I was born with a couple of defects, one of which required corrective surgery and has left with me a slight disability. I require several prescription drugs on a daily basis just to help me live a “normal life”. So why does the government wish to lessen my quality of life?

    I find the whole argument against legalising all currently controlled drugs to be feeble at best. The laws governing drug use are based on outdated allegations, most of which have been proven to be false. I know cannabis improves my quality of life, yet I cannot obtain it on prescription. I know ecstasy is far safer and more predictable than alcohol, yet I cannot legally obtain it.

    Why is it that a government, which I helped elect, does not care for a number of its electorate? Why does this government insist on imposing unnecessary suffering on so many people? Also, in this time of economic crisis, why does this government stick with a failed policy which is costing us, the tax-payer, billions of pounds every year?

    Unfortunately, until an evidence-based approach is adopted: we won’t get an honest answer to any of those questions.

    • Lord Norton
      Lord Norton
      14/03/2011 at 12:25 pm

      BlazingBuddhist: As I mentioned in my speech, politicians tend not to want to address the problem and then this approach itself becomes part of the problem.

      • BlazingBuddhist
        14/03/2011 at 1:23 pm

        I appreciate the work you are doing to help raise awareness on this issue and I must commend you for doing so. Having been a victim of this ridiculous legislation for so long, it is very difficult for me not to get frustrated over it.

        It makes no more sense than locking people up for not doing enough exercise, failing to eat a healthy diet or for forgetting to brush ones teeth.

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