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Peter Reynolds

The life and times of Peter Reynolds

Posts Tagged ‘David Nutt

A Day In Cambridge On Drugs.

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Homerton College, Cambridge.

Homerton College, Cambridge.

George and Dean were where I expected them to be.  In the car park, ‘medicating’ in order to get them through a long afternoon.

The Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) Drugs Conference took place in the delightful surroundings of Homerton College, Cambridge.  I know there were several others there who were only able to make it because they committed criminal offences in order to maintain their health.  I attended with George Hutchings and Dean Price, leading members of the CLEAR Medicinal Cannabis Users Panel.

Almost everybody who is anybody in UK drugs policy was there and while there were no groundbreaking new revelations or ideas, it was an important occasion.  It marked the current position of the debate on drugs policy in Britain at the end of the first coalition government since 1945. As Keith Vaz, chair of the HASC, said, the conference will influence the drugs policy agenda in the next government.

I know I wasn’t the only person who lobbied in advance for medicinal cannabis to be included in the conference programme.  It wasn’t but what was of enormous significance was that it was probably the single issue mentioned most often, time and time again in fact, throughout the day. I trust that the committee will take this on board and ensure that in any future event, it is given proper attention.

Dr Julian Huppert MP; Lynne Featherstone MP, Minister;Keith Vaz MP, Dr Roberto Dondisch, Danny Kushlick

Dr Julian Huppert MP, Lynne Featherstone MP, Keith Vaz MP, Dr Roberto Dondisch, Baroness Molly Meacher, Danny Kushlick

It’s no good saying it’s a health issue because until the Home Office releases its stranglehold on the throats of the thousands who need medicinal cannabis, it’s the HASC that needs to hold the government to account. CLEAR estimates that around one million people already use cannabis for medicinal reasons in the UK.  This equates closely to the proportion of medicinal users in jurisdictions where there is some degree of legal access.

Julian Huppert mentioned medicinal cannabis in his review of the HASC’s work, confirming that the Liberal Democrats have adopted the policy advanced by CLEAR almost word for word.

Baroness Molly Meacher made an impassioned plea for medicinal cannabis access in her address, expressing her anger and outrage that people are denied the medicine they need.

Jonathan Liebling, of United Patients Alliance, and I also raised the issue independently in questions from the floor. I also dealt with Professor Neil McKeganey’s attempt to dismiss the issue.  He claimed that there are perfectly satisfactory procedures for licensing medicines.  I explained how cannabis cannot be regulated like single-molecule pharmaceutical products and gave a brief description of research on the ‘entourage effect’.

The Home Office minister, Lynne Featherstone, gave the keynote speech and I was delighted that she chose to mention her meeting ten days ago with a CLEAR medicinal users delegation.

David Nutt was as wise and authoritative as ever . Then Neil McKeganey launched into an entertaining rant about how the conference programme, the speakers and delegates were massively biased in favour of reform.  He claimed that this was not a proper reflection of the evidence or nationwide opinion.

I like Neil, even though we are on opposite sides of the debate. In fact, at events like this I prefer to engage with the opposition rather than back-slapping and self-affirming chats with those on the side of reform. I also had good informal discusions with David Raynes of the National Drug Prevention Alliance and Sarah Graham, the magnet-wielding addiction therapist.

Tom Lloyd’s speech was inspiring.  He also made a powerful case for medicinal cannabis and as ex-chief constable of Cambridge, it was extraordinary to see him lambast the new drug driving law as “…outrageous…unjust…will criminalise people who are in no way impaired…”

The final speech was given by Mike Trace, chair of the International Drug Policy Consortium, who is deeply involved in preparing for the UN General Assembly Special Session in 2016 on drugs policy.

So, a fascinating and worthwhile day.  All we need to do now is get through the General Election.  In about two months we will know where we are and unless we have the disaster of a Tory or Labour majority government, then drug policy reform should be high on the agenda.

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UK Drug Strategy 2010 – A Plan To Fail

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Mother Knows Best

Gone are the days when central Government tells communities and the public what to do.

Rt. Hon. Theresa May, MP, Home Secretary, December 2010

A slim volume of treacle-like and turgid social worker-speak shot through with a few strands of sharp hypocrisy.  See here.

A disappointment?  Not really, it’s pretty much what I expected – an authoritarian, moralistic smokescreen behind which the government will do what it wants with no regard whatsoever for the views or the welfare of the people.  It stinks.

It claims to be radical in that it turns away from reducing the harms caused by drugs and instead aims to force abstinence. In other words, do as we say or suffer the consequences.  It is, in fact, a medieval solution to a 21st century problem.  It seems that the British government no longer cares about the harm caused by drugs.  All it cares about is that you STOP!  This is the ultimate exposition of Nancy Reagan’s discredited “Just Say No” campaign because it really is “just” say “no” – no other option exists.  This from a government that advocates giving people methadone  to “treat” cannabis use.  Can you believe it?  That isn’t medieval. It’s prehistoric – or perhaps better described as mid 20th century, a sort of Dr Mengele method.

I give Ms May credit for one thing.  She mentions alcohol alongside drugs in the first sentence of her foreword.  That is progress but from then on there is little of any value.  Nothing that you couldn’t have copied from any out of date A level textbook on social work.

The laughable assertion quoted above that the government doesn’t tell us what to do is just absurd.  Never has there been a more hard line approach to the drugs issue.  See Edwin Stratton’s article in The Guardian here which reveals just how draconian, anti-civil liberties and severe this government is.

In the penultimate paragraph of her foreword, Ms May acknowledges that there were calls during consultation on the strategy for “liberalisation and decriminalisation”.  She dismisses these as not “the answer” but fails entirely to consider the enormous harm caused and crime created by existing policies.  I will be making Freedom Of Information requests to determine just how much notice was taken of the consultation.

There is a complete failure to understand or consider the harms of prohibition.  Britain now stands as one of the most backward and restrictive countries in the world when it comes to drug policy.  We now rub shoulders with those countries that execute people for drug possession.  There is no civilised country in the world with a more repressive drugs policy than Britain.

Broken Britain

Emphasis is given to the introduction of elected Police and Crime Commissioners.  I support this move.  Hopefully, these elected officials, being closer to reality and not ensconsed in Whitehall’s ivory towers, will mitigate some of the damage that this strategy could cause.  They will have the impossible job of trying to implement these ideas and will surely give Ms May and her protege James “Broken Britain” Brokenshire some lessons in reality and common sense.

The statistics and figures quoted in the strategy are manifest nonsense.  Apparently the economic and social costs of Class A drug use are £15.4 billion per annum while the equivalent figure for alcohol is £18 – 25 billion.  Supposedly the total illicit drug market in Britain is worth just £4 – 6 billion per annum while the market for alcohol is £30 billion.  There are just 320,000 heroin and/or crack cocaine users but tens of million that use alcohol.  These figures just don’t add up.  Maybe that’s part of the reason this strategy is so badly conceived and directed.

It’s only part of the reason though.  The main problem is that the government’s approach is based on prejudice and an arrogant, moralistic, proselytising stance.  See David Nutt’s article here on what the government would do if a completely safe alternative to ecstasy was developed.  Prohibition is immoral and evil in itself.  When will our politicians wake up to what most of the rest of Europe and the USA already knows?

Powerful Medicine. Gentle Pleasure.

Cannabis, the most widely used illegal drug by a factor of at least 10 barely gets a mention except in passing.  This, in itself, exposes the inane content of this strategy.  The government apparently intends to deal with cannabis in exactly the same way as it deals with heroin and crack.  The medicinal use of cannabis, now a burgeoning industry and source of hope to people all over Europe and America isn’t even mentioned.  The crass stupidity of this strategy is almost beyond belief.

So the battle lines are drawn.  Every other civilised country in the world is coming to terms with the fact that the war on drugs is unwinnable, even lost.  Theresa May, like some mad first world war general, is blowing her whistle and urging on millions more to go over the top into certain death, or at least misery and degradation.  Her slightly fey, sweet boy, Colonel Jimmy is hiding behind her, determined to gain credit for something but definitely not doing anything worthwhile, “Crikey!  Not me. I’m staying safe.”

This could be a deeply depressing day but at least now we know where we stand.  David Cameron and Nick Clegg have completely turned around on the progressive and liberal ideas they have advocated in the past.  Nothing is a better indicator of the integrity and intelligence of a government than its drug policy.  Britain is shamed by this effort which will inevitably cause more harm, cost more money and ruin more lives.