Drug policy has become ‘a taboo area’; politicians lack the ‘courage’ to contradict ‘crude’ assertions about going ‘soft’ on drugs; “‘kneejerk’ opposition to change is allowed to continue unchallenged”. So Baroness Manningham Buller would have us believe. This is why politicians won’t take up her confused pro drug legalisation and decriminalisation cause. But the language of last weeks public relations offensive was reminiscent of the debate on Global warming; 'emerging consensus' (when there is no such thing), ‘all experts agree’ (when they don’t). ‘Our flawed drugs policy puts the young in danger’, the Evening Standard’s take, 18th November 2011, made adolescent drug taking risk the responsibility of the state (not their own, not their parents). “If thoughts corrupt language, language can also corrupt thought”, George Orwell so aptly pointed out back in 1946.
If public or political debate is still ‘inhibited’ or somehow repressed after the Global Commission’s intense international and media lobbying exercise (directed at the US and the UK as their press coverage excel spread sheet indicates, though the US and Canada together make up only 6% of global heroin consumption and Europe 26%) the widely publicized formation of a new All Party Parliamentary Group on Drug Reform, all culminating in a two day conference at the House of Lords and a full page advertisement in the Times signed by a collection of the great and good (money’s no object to this campaign) then perhaps its time to consider an alternative possibility. Perhaps politicians are sceptical; or simply not interested in high gloss but half baked, confused and contradictory pro drug legalisation/ decriminalisation/ ‘safe’ drug ideas. With the worst youth unemployment figures ever, should it surprise anyone that it is safe jobs, not so called ‘safe’ drugs (hardly an aid to youth employment) that top the political agenda?
So I am afraid I simply don’t buy BBC Home Editor Mark Easton’s argument “that the towering walls of political orthodoxy (have) made it (debate) impossible”, and this is why only the ‘formers’ like Baronesses Manningham Buller and Meacher are prepared to ‘come out’ and back the cause. What a lot of fol-de-rol.
The fact is that the pro drugs argument, despite ongoing financing from the likes of the Esmee Fairburn Foundation, The Beckley Foundation, Sir Richard Branson and George Soros, has not caught on outside the realms of a liberal metropolitan /media elite, its advocates - like Simon Jenkins, Mary Seighart, Tom Chivers and Lucy Cavendish – and Professor Nutt’s colleagues. Most people outside this arena do not find drug use palatable. Even if they have tried drugs in the past or are confronting their children’s present use, few see any virtue in it, legal, illegal or otherwise. Few wish drugs to become freely available like alcohol or tobacco. Fewer believe this would reduce uptake.
The irony too, last week, of the Baronesses busy advocating the sale of 'safe' cannabis to teens (more cancerous than straight smoking with cognitive, dependency and mental health risks attached whatever the THC content) while health advisors took to the airwaves to ban smoking in cars, cannot have been lost on the public. The double irony of the Global Commission campaigning here to treat drug use as a medical not a criminal problem – achieved years ago – might have been, however.
Though the UK shamefully tops the European cocaine drug taking league, just 8.8% of adults used an illicit drug here in the last year (at all). So to find that it’s a minority, according to the last available Observer poll, one that’s getting smaller, of 18% of adults, who believe our drug laws are not liberal enough is not surprising. Nor is the fact that the number who think our drug laws are too liberal has been going up - to over 30%. This is what former addict Steve Speigel and long time CEO of the ground breaking Providence Projects commented on the issue,“I ask myself this question, if there had been legal shooting galleries with free heroin in the UK years ago would I have ever got clean and sober? The answer to that is a categorical no.”
Contrary to the idea that ‘evidence based’ debate around legalisation has somehow been repressed, it is never off the table. Their case is not convincing. And there is real disagreement about their ‘evidence’: how it is selected, what can be inferred from it, how valid or reliable it is, what evidence is absent and whether drugs can ever be safe however pure – which forensic scientists and common sense tell us they cannot. Policy Exchange has recently debated all this. The BMJ has harked on about it and is going to host a debate during which all this will be hammered out again (Steve Rolles and Sir Ian Gilmore for and Professor McKeganey and myself against).
The debate is on Jan 24th. If you are not already sick to death of drugs I believe tickets can be applied for from the BMJ.
In the meantime I do not anticipate anyone coughing up for a full page advert in the Times showing President Calderon of Mexico pointing his finger at us: ‘MY COUNTRY NEEDS YOU to stop taking drugs’, flanked by Mexican decapitees on the one side and City of London money on the other and a strapline underneath: "As long as people in the UK sniff coke - or in New York or Paris - we will suffer here”, as President Santos of Columbia said on the BBC today.
That would be taboo.