Tag Archives: policy

“Prohibition won’t work” – What’s wrong with this statement?

An Australian ex-minister is backing drug reform. He mentions the prohibition of alcohol and its complete failure as a comparison. This is pretty common, and I agree – but I take issue with one of his statements:

“Why do they think prohibition of illicit drugs will work any better?”

So what’s the problem with that statement? Well, it implies that prohibition is a new thing by putting it in a future tense – ‘will work’? How about being realistic and saying ‘didn’t work’ or ‘hasn’t worked’? I know, semantics. But let’s have a look at some dates* around prohibition of some substances:

Opiates and cocaine – Harrison Narcotics Act 1914 – still prohibited.

LSD 1965 through to 1970 – still prohibited.

Cannabis 1911 (South Africa) through to 1935 (USA) – still prohibited.

Psilocybin 1921 (Belgium) through to 2008 (Finland) – it should be noted that psilocybin mushrooms are not prohibited under international law, but they are listed as Schedule I under the 1971 UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances -still prohibited in most countries.

MDMA 1985 (USA followed by UN) – still prohibited.

Amphetamine 1971 (Controlled Substances Act USA, followed by UN) – still prohibited.

Alcohol – 1919 – repeal of prohibition in 1933 when it was realised that prohibition of alcohol increased criminal activity and public harm.

I think that’s a pretty long and comprehensive history of prohibition of drugs. Some of them have been prohibited since before alcohol was. It only took 14 years for the harms associated with alcohol prohibition to become apparent enough to change the law. Yet with other drugs, it’s been allowed to go on, and on, and on.

Why does anyone think prohibition of other drugs has been any different from prohibition of alcohol? This report details some of the issues around prohibited drugs, and points out that they are the same issues that were encountered with the prohibition of alcohol. For those who don’t want to read the whole report, please at least read this page, which makes policy recommendations for dealing with illegal drugs, the first of which is recognition that prohibition doesn’t work.

Then have a look at the date at the top. Yes, that’s right – this report was made in 1972. Even back then it was recognised that prohibition was a failure – and why not? There’s a long and rich history of crime, death and addiction to draw on for evidence. Yet these recommendations have been resoundingly ignored by governments and the UN for nearly 40 years.

To me, this makes no sense. It makes no sense to go on considering prohibition in any kind of future tense, because in order to be realistic about drugs, it shouldn’t even be considered as an option any more – and there’s ample history to back that statement up. There is no place in the present world for dithering about whether or not prohibition ‘will work’ or ‘is working’ – it didn’t. It hasn’t. Time for a new approach that actually has a future.

* There are no references attached to these dates as the information is in the public domain and simple enough to find for anyone interested.

After the War On Drugs: Blueprint For Regulation

Sometime today, Transform UK (for those who don’t know, these guys are in my opinion one of the most switched-on groups of drug reform lobbyists – check out their website!) are launching a book that proposes specific models of regulation for all types of currently illegal drugs.

One of the problems in drug reform debates is the ‘unknown quantity’ factor – it’s never been tried, and predictions range from “OMG total chaos!” to “Less health problems, more money for government = WIN!” and everything in between. This book offers some answers to the question “What could a post-prohibition regime look like?” – and explores regulation models along with the principles and rationale for them.

I strongly suggest downloading and reading this book, along with their other two major publications, Tools For The Debate and After the War On Drugs: Options For Control.

Transform UK successfully move beyond emotive ideology and reframe the argument in a rational way. Recommended reading.

Won’t anybody think of the children?

Drug testing in schools, a controversial topic at the best of times.

The gist of the article is that more kids have been caught with drugs in schools in New Zealand (particularly cannabis) than ever before, police having brought in sniffer dogs and drug testing.

Logic says that bringing in sniffer dogs and drug testing is likely to catch more people with drugs than just guessing, which is what they were doing before. Yet, for some reason the fact that more people have been caught seems to be evidence of some kind of drug epidemic. I’m not sure I agree with the reasoning here.

I suggest that the number of kids with drugs in school has probably increased along with the number of people using drugs in wider society,* and that catching more people is a sign of nothing other than they’ve got better at catching them.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t condone the use of drugs in children. I think anyone using drugs (including the legal ones such as caffeine and alcohol) before their brain, personality and identity has finished developing is taking a gamble with their future mental health, never mind the obvious difficulties associated with being stoned while trying to learn. All drug taking is risky, but kids aren’t equipped to assess those risks accurately.

However, prohibition is obviously not stopping them. It’s good to see some schools using ‘alternative action contracts’ – which involve some drug testing, some community work, some study into the use and abuse of their drug of choice, and at least some counselling. But most schools seem to be taking a ‘zero-tolerance’ approach, which kicks kids out (read: marginalises them) for using drugs, and places drugs squarely on the ‘crime’ side of the fence.

“Fair enough,” you say, “Drug use is a crime.” And you’re right. But sadly, giving the kid a bad school record so that the only schools that will take them are those that desperately need students, labelling them ‘druggie’ at an early age and then walking away going “Hey, we got rid of the deviant element, we’ve done our job, the kiddies are safe from these criminals” does not actually address any of the reasons these kids are using drugs in the first place.

Drugs are a health issue. They affect mental, physical and social health if abused. Those kids smoking drugs in the playground are not invading anyone else’s human rights, hurting others or stealing – where is the victim of this crime?. The only reason what they are doing is a crime is because legislation has made it so – but the effects on their health and learning are measurable and tangible. The victim of this crime is the same person as the perpetrator – yet the system continues to punish them as criminals instead of offering them help as victims.

To the schools, I suggest that continuing to condone punitive approaches to dealing with drug users is going to continue to achieve the same result – which is to discourage nobody, marginalise those who get caught, and set young people against those who would be educating them at an early age. Even the alternative contracts are seen by youth aid workers as ‘fair punishment’ – not ‘offering help’ or ‘addressing the issue’. It’s all about punishing people for wrongdoing.

Because if people do wrong, they’re bad people, right? And if they’re bad people, we don’t have to care about helping them because they don’t deserve it, right? It’s so much easier that way.

Schools are (in part) the places where people’s attitudes are formed. I wonder how many people caught up in this sniffer-dog, drug-test, expulsion/punishment situation will go on to have a friendly and cooperative, mutually beneficial relationship with society?

* Drug uptake has consistently increased under prohibition.

The Nutt Sack Affair

Much has been written all over the internet about the sacking of David Nutt, the chair of the UK Advisory Committee on the Misuse of Drugs, for his stance that cannabis, ecstasy and LSD are less harmful than alcohol or tobacco. Two of his fellow committee members also quit in protest, and more may follow.

I don’t think I need to say much here at all, but I’d like to point interested people to places where information is available. I’ve been watching the story unfold and have found it interesting to watch the government and popular press go into damage control mode. There have been some blatant attempts to cast doubt* on the science behind the paper that got him sacked.

I think probably the funniest bit was from the Home Office: “The home secretary expressed surprise and disappointment over Professor Nutt’s comments which damage efforts to give the public clear messages about the dangers of drugs.”

So, by presenting the scientific evidence to the public directly, Prof Nutt was damaging the clear message the government gives the public? Which clear message is that then? This one? (FRANK – which is, frankly, laughable). Or do they mean Gordon Brown saying that skunk is lethal? Because that’s such a clear message to all the people who’ve smoked it and not died. Obviously giving people facts is sullying this clear message. Oh and by the way, England – ‘new’ skunk has been around in Unzud since the mid-90s. Just saying.

I think these two articles are worth reading even if you don’t read anything else:

Bad Science on the Nutt Sack Affair.

BBC article on the politics around the sacking.

Anyway, if you think the whole Nutt thing is crazy like a crazy thing, there are a couple of things you can do: Join the Facebook group (25,000 as at today – that’s 20,000 since I joined it). Facebook doesn’t change anything but it does bring together a large group of similar-minded people, create networks and provide information as it comes to hand. And Sign the petition. You can do this if you’re an expatriate so you don’t have to be living in England. There are 5,000 signatures on it currently. Even if it doesn’t get Nutt reinstated, the response to this sacking will make governments worldwide aware that people are not just sitting there letting the wool be pulled over their eyes by politicians who would feed us misinformation about things that affect our health.

Because for once, it’s not just the folks with an interest in drug policy who are taking notice.

* Daily Mail. Nuff said.