Saturday, January 22, 2005

tony blair on drugs

At the height of the late 1990s upsurge of clamour to decriminalise or legalise cannabis, I wrote to the government to ask why it was illegal.

Surely if an activity is so dangerous that nobody can be trusted to do it under any circumstances, it should be easy to explain why it's a bad idea. If someone presumes the right to take away my liberty to undertake an activity, surely they owe me an explanation.

The reply was nonsense. It made reference to several things that were untrue - cannabis causing infertility, etc - and I replied pointing that out.

My case got passed to a higher up civil servant at the Home Office Anti Drug Unit (gotta love that name - I presume none of these people use aspirin, and certainly never have coffee breaks). They too talked nonsense. They saw no discrepancy between the way alcohol is taxed and the money used to help those few users who have a problem, and the outright ban on cannabis and other drugs on the grounds that a few users have a problem.

The current literature the government hands out also uses a variety of arguments unworthy of a mediocre high school debating club. Cannabis contains more tar than tobacco (yes, but cannabis users use far less of their drug of choice than tobacco users so inhale much less tar). Getting busted can have a detrimental affect on your life (that's not a problem with cannabis but with legislation). Using the problems of extreme use to imply moderate use is dangerous - a direct quote now, 'if you always get stoned and eat too much you could end up fat and skint'.

My favourite ever was a late 1990s government leaflet on magic mushrooms. At a loss for what to warn against but still needing some kind of sensible sounding justification for their puritanical position, they warned against picking the wrong type. 'Telling the difference between a species like the poisonous amanita and a liberty cap is not at all easy'.

Firstly some basic biology; amanita is not a species, it's a genus. All species of the amanita genus are noted for fat stalks and large flat caps. The Fly Agaric, the classic white-spotted red toadstool, is an amanita species.

The Liberty Cap, on the other hand, has a steep conical head on a very thin stalk, and is about a tenth of the size of an amanita.

Nobody who has a sense of sight or touch could ever mistake one for the other. But, as with my correspondents at the Home Office, faced with defending the prohibition of a relatively harmless substance they have to say something to save face, even if it's untrue.

I'm careful here to say relatively harmless. Recreational drugs are not harmless. That is precisely why they should be brought under control. Most users of drugs take them without any real damage to anyone, not even themselves. Which is why they should be allowed to have them.

As the cool folks at Transform have pointed out, the wisdom of having consistency in drug policy is made clear if you substitute 'drugs' for 'alcohol' in the Tony Blair's foreword to Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy for England, published by the government in March 2004.

Millions of us enjoy using drugs with few, if any, ill effects. Indeed moderate drug use can bring some health benefits. But, increasingly, drug misuse by a small minority is causing two major, and largely distinct, problems: on the one hand crime and anti-social behaviour in town and city centres, and on the other harm to health as a result of binge- and chronic drug use.

The Strategy Unit's analysis last year showed that drug-related harm is costing around £20bn a year, and that some of the harms associated with drugs are getting worse.

This is why the Government has been looking at how best to tackle the problems of drug misuse. The aim has been to target drug-related harm and its causes without interfering with the pleasure enjoyed by the millions of people who use drugs responsibly.

This report sets out the way forward. Alongside the interim report published last year it describes in detail the current patterns of drug use and the specific harms associated with drugs. And it clearly shows that the best way to minimise the harms is through partnership between government, local authorities, police, industry and the public themselves.

For government, the priority is to work with the police and local authorities so that existing laws to reduce drug-related crime and disorder are properly enforced, including powers to shut down any premises where there is a serious problem of disorder arising from it. Treatment services need to be able to meet demand. And the public needs access to clear information setting out the full and serious effects of heavy drug use.

For the drugs industry, the priority is to end irresponsible promotions and advertising; to better ensure the safety of their staff and customers; and to limit the nuisance caused to local communities.

Ultimately, however, it is vital that individuals can make informed and responsible decisions about their own levels of drug consumption. Everyone needs to be able to balance their right to enjoy drugs with the potential risks to their own and others health and wellbeing. Young people in particular need to better understand the risks involved in harmful patterns of drug use.

I strongly welcome this report and the Government has accepted all its conclusions. These will now be implemented as government policy and will, in time, bring benefits to us all in the form of a healthier and happier relationship with drugs.


scarletharlot69 said...

merry meet again merrick

well, I would be interested to hear what both the cheshire cat and the home office said, but how about I write to them and we can compare notes.

So yes, maybe it is time more than one person asked why is cannabis illegal (and bizarelly enough, just the cultivation of any plant of the gennus cannabis, despite the fact that most banknotes to this day have hemp fibre in them!) wheras as far as I am aware you can cultivate as many opium poppies as you like. Of course, both plants can grow wild. In india I hear that cannabis sativa has been seen growing outside police stations.

Love and solidarity


scarletharlot69 said...

"Tony Blair on Drugs" and for a moment, life seemed more beautiful. :)