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HASC’s helpful hand to the drugs legalising lobby is discreditable. But don’t expect the BBC to point this out

    With the publication of their “Breaking the Cycle” report, the Home Affairs Select Committee has thrown its weight behind the reverse case – the case for increasing demand and, in time, for the legalisation of all drugs in the UK, writes CPS Addiction expert Kathy Gyngell. 

    Far from ‘Breaking the Cycle’ of drugs, were the recommendations of the Home Affairs Select Committee Report on drug policy to be followed, they would extend it. Its analysis of the drugs problem is as confused as the brain of Russell Brand - the celebrity former drug addict the Committee chose to let loose on their proceedings – and as misinformed as his thinking.

    The predictability of the report’s bias and omissions does not make it any the less shocking, nor the BBC’s subsequent uncritical reportage of it any the less shameful.

    From the outset of this enquiry Chairman of the committee, Keith Vaz, presumptively set its terms of reference to follow the recommendations of a drugs legalisation lobby - one lavishly financed by George Soros and Richard Branson - as I reported on this blog at the time.

    Despite Mr Vaz’s protestations and denial in response to my questioning, the influence of this self-appointed Global Commission on Drugs Policy is all too apparent in the report. Firstly the report’s two main recommendations transparently derive from their liberalisation agenda. If that were not bad enough it became clear that its launch was timed to coincide with the Global Commission’s own launch of their global TV and You Tube viral propaganda campaign called ‘Breaking the Taboo.’ A coincidence methinks, too far. Both launches conveniently had ‘Breaking’ in their titles.

    Mark Easton’s, the BBC’s Home Affair’s Editor’s, disingenuous report on the BBC’s TV News (10.12.12) at 6pm and 10pm brought it to light – for me anyway. He seemed entirely unperturbed. Yet the independence of the Parliamentary Select committee was being abused - one way or another. Instead of remarking on this Mr Easton added his helpful editorial hand to the promotion of drug use on the back of a Parliamentary Report. He included a goodly propaganda clip of Branson and the celebrity supporters who star in this viral. The Global Commission must have been delighted. Free BBC advertisements and to the naïve viewer it gave not just a parliamentary, but a BBC, imprimatur too.

    Mr Vaz is not naive. Attaching the HASC drugs policy enquiry to such a powerful lobby brings the independence of parliamentary Select Committee system as a whole into disrepute.

    The BBC’s editorial standards do not emerge well. None of their reporters, from Mark Easton downwards, chose to probe the committee’s recommendation to down classify Cannabis to C status. Yet this decision was taken without reference to any of the scientific evidence presented to the committee, whether relating to psychosis, cancer, motivation or IQ, or to the casting vote of its chairman and his unexplained U turn since his keen support for B status in 2008.

    The devastating catalogue of the scientific evidence of cannabis harms submitted by the charity Cannabis Skunk Sense warranted no mention at all. Nor were the rising numbers of cannabis users seeking treatment mentioned in the report deemed relevant. Nor was the evidence presented about the strength of the cannabis that now dominates the UK market.

    The BBC also uncritically fell for the Report’s Portuguese ‘de penalisation’ red herring too. Yet as drugs consultant (and former coordinator of London’s prison drug treatment) Huseyin Djemil, pointed out to Anne Diamond on Radio Berkshire, ‘we are more like the Portuguese than the Portuguese.’ As he says we don’t convict that much and we divert most addicts into treatment already – albeit into a rotten methadone treatment that maintains addiction. No wonder most addicts are unaffected by the threat of conviction – as the addict on the BBC’s own news website so coolly stated.

    But neither HASC nor the BBC were interested in the sentencing statistics presented to them by Peter Hitchens – official statistics released through parliamentary questions. The truth is that analysis of our drugs problem is more complex than they’d have us believe.

    It is unsurprising then that the irony of otherwise sensible people advocating the decriminalisation of a drug 20 times more cancerous than tobacco at the very time the law is being tightened on cigarette sales (through display bans, public smoking bans and plain packs) does not occur to them.

    Finally, what must have been a last minute addition to the report – an uncritical reference to the recent Washington and Colorado votes on cannabis legalisation - added nothing to its standing. It only confirmed the prime driver of the report – an eagerness to keep the legalisation debate alive.

    This is what their call for a Royal Commission to revisit the 1971 drugs act is code for: a means of keeping these views in the public domain for another two years.

    Unable to win their argument straightforwardly, the tactic is to find a backdoor way of keeping it in the headlines along with the repetition - sadly uncritically adopted by Philip Johnston in the Telegraph today - that the law lags behind public opinion. The law might lag behind liberal metropolitan opinion, opinion which gets more than its fair share of broadsheet pages, but not behind public opinion. 52% of people think that no drug should be legalised against 8% who think all drugs should be legalised. 45% of people think that no drug should be decriminalised against 11 per cent who think all drugs should be decriminalised, according to a recent You Gov poll. The majority of people think that either measure would lead to more people using drugs.

    So David Cameron was right to stamp on the suggestion of a Royal Commission. It would have been an unjustifiable waste of time and money in this time of triple dip recession and economic austerity.

    Sadly though, HASC’s key recommendations cast doubt on and damage the credibility of their few sensible suggestions - the greater need for expert abstinence based residential rehabilitation, for drug testing on arrival in and departure from prisons and for keeping drugs out of prisons.

    The premise for such practical reform is the significant overall decline in drug use (by over 30 per cent since the late nineties here and by 75% in the last 25 years in the US). There is no reason why this trend should not continue. But the key to this, to ameliorating the drug problem further, is to work on reducing demand.

    It is not rocket science. Reducing demand for drugs through controls and prevention will do most to help the problem here at home and most to reduce the scale of the international market and problem. That is President Santos of Columbia’s analysis.

    But with the publication of their “Breaking the Cycle” report the Home Affairs Select Committee has thrown its weight behind the reverse case – the case for increasing demand which drugs liberalisation inevitably will lead to and possibly, in time, for the legalisation of all drugs in the UK.

    They have chosen to ignore the evidence and push uncritically for the greatest and riskiest change in drug policy (a minefield for the next generation) and contribution to the international drug problem that the UK has seen in the last fifty years.

    This is not cool.

    Kathy Gyngell has a first class honours degree in social anthropology from Cambridge and an Oxford M.Phil. in sociology. She has worked for the former ITV companies, LWT and TV-am as a producer and senior programme executive. A full time mother after the birth of her second son, she founded the voluntary organization Full Time Mothers.

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    Comments

    Peter Reynolds - About 1958 days ago

    No one is advancing "the case for increasing demand" as you put it. That confrontational opening sets the tone for this piece.

    Russell Brand was called to the committee solely to give it profile and to influence the uninterested younger audience that will have a vague memory that there was a drugs inquiry because I remember Russell Brand.

    The inquiry followed your agenda Ms Gyngell. Its recommendations are the absolute minimum it could get away based on a very partial collection of evidence. Anything less and it would have been a laughing stock.

    Mark Easton's report was at last the BBC telling the truth and ending its boycott of 'Breaking the Taboo', a fil that really might bring your walls tumbling down at last.

    Cannabis Skunk Sense is not a credible source. It is a sham charity, in breach of charity law through political camapiaghning and habitually distorts and misrepresents scientific evidence.

    The "20 times more cancerous" claim is false and led directly to the resignation of the CEO of the British Lung Foundation. It destroyed the charity's good name.

    Ms Gyngell, what is your real agenda? You're not a stupid woman but you write stupid ideas. Why?

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    Paul Smith - About 1958 days ago

    I get prescribed dangerous drugs from my GP. Cannabis helps much better than those prescribed drugs

    why is it people in other countries in the EU can get Medical Cannabis whilst i am not allowed, i grew one plant and was arrested and cautioned - no medical mitigation in the UK - Cathy, i hope one day you get a really bad illness and by then cannabis should be legal IMO and i hope when they give it to you to help you medically you rescind all the crap you talk about on the subject. where is your moral outrage with alcohol? Oh, i forgot - thats a drug you use!

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    Paul smith - About 1958 days ago

    LOL the charity cannabis skunk sense lol your delusional

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    Julian Pursell - About 1957 days ago

    Hi Cathy,

    It looks like the legalise movement is using internet mobbing to swing the polls - you should get some of your supporters to vote in this poll:

    http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/politics/4689790/legalise-cannabis-mp-drug-inquiry.html

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    John Robertson - About 1957 days ago

    So, when lots of people agree with something that Kathy disagrees with it has to be a conspiracy rather than sensible people reaching a sane conclusion.

    Relying on the strawman that what is proposed is a free for all just demonstrates that Gyngell has no proper arguments.

    Present policy allows criminals to continue to make huge profits from selling drugs to children.

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    Anonymous - About 1957 days ago

    Your article is full of factual errors, speculation and a plain ignorance. Where, for example, did you ever get the ludicrous idea that cannabis is "20 times more cancerous" than tobacco? If anything, cannabis is proving to be ANTI-cancerous. Equally, your assertion that legalisation would increase use... look at Portugal, Switzerland or Holland to see that that is not the case. You are either blinded by your moralistic-paternalistic view of society or just plain stupid.

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    Joel Dalais - About 1957 days ago

    As countries around the world legalise (thankfully), where do you think the drug lords and terrorists will go? They won't disappear, they'll move to the countries that still have prohibition. Eventually the UK will become a gold mine for crime, violence and corruption, and we will continue to fund global crime and terrorism. THANK YOU GOVERNMENT for making the country I love into the future global terror!

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    Anonymous - About 1957 days ago

    sigh! everyone aboard the good ship flawed argument. The scientific/evidence based approach seems to hold no weight in your reality. There is so much 'confirmation bias' I'm not sure where one could start to dismantle you words. Although it would be pointless if i did as you would ignore and carry on your bias path.

    This is without mentioning the untruths.

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    Anonymous - About 1957 days ago

    Kathy is probably one of the most out-of-touch writers I have ever had the displeasure of stumbling across. She has no idea what people want, just as the Government have no idea how to tackle this issue without retracting years of lies surrounding Cannabis.

    I understand that some people may wish to question why we are even contemplating the decriminalisation of drugs, but the true arguement is stifled, twisted and pulled apart by people like Kathy, before being mixed with truly UNBELIEVABLE misinformation and bias nonsense.

    Granted, the HASC report left much to be desired for both sides, but the fact this study (taking many reputable opinions and solid, peer-reviewed scientific proof on board before submission) wasn't even read by the PM, nor remotely considered by those in power, just proves that the government are running out of methods with which they can avoid this issue, apart from blind ignorance of course.

    Kathy, have you and Peter Hitchens met before (I'm sure you have)? I can guarantee without meeting either of you that you'd get on like a house on fire! Why not keep your stupid lies to yourselves and stop tainting people's views on an issue that has not been resolved since the sixties.

    People of Great Britain, if you would like to view the other side of the arguement before being brainwashed into the government's way of thinking (not sure if 'thinking' is the right word to use), avoid the media and the newspapers! Better still, why not have a little puff of a nice joint and see what all the fuss is about for yourselves?! It's not as bad as you think, honest!

    Thanks for ruining my day, again, Kathy Gyngell.

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    Anonymous - About 1957 days ago

    I have read your article. You know nothing about cannabis, nor the research surrounding it. You mean to say that by regulating drugs and controlling who gets them and the quantity will increase demand, despite all research showing otherwise. How you got to be an expert of anything is totally amazing! (Paraphrased from Annie Hall).

    Although I can see your connection between the titles of the HASC report and Breaking the Taboo, it is founded in mere speculation. Breaking the Cycle is also the title of a justice paper from 2011. It is used frequently in the Education sector when referring to low achieving or disengaged students. What I am saying here is that you cannot assume that because a common phrase is used in a similar time frame they are somehow connected. It gives the impression of paranoia. Although I am not a fan of Brand, I think it is unjust to attack his person for giving evidence.

    You say that cannabis should not be reclassified because, "psychosis, cancer, motivation or IQ," are caused by it. To take them one at a time, psychosis is a very rare affect, and at the moment it is thought to be either those genetically predisposed and those who begin pre-18. Of course you can now make the connection between this and a non-regulated system. By not controlling who can purchase the drug, the very people at risk are not discouraged from it. Cancer, I assume that you mean that of oral-lung. We have known for quite some time that cannabis can cause you cancer if you smoke it, because you are inhaling heated plant matter. The accurate studies now show that cannabis only smokers are less likely to get this type of caner than non-smokers (Please see Sidney, S. et al. 1997, and more recently Tashkin 2006). This still needs more research, but either way, those who do not smoke the drug will have no increased risk. Your next example is motivation. People who have issues with motivation will probably have more of an issue if they take cannabis, but they would loose their job for their bad work ethic anyway. A lot of people are in fact more motivated and find that they complete tasks more enthusiastically. It is thought that this is the result of the anti-psychotic component of cannabis called Cannabidiol (CBD), the levels of which are unregulated on the black market. Finally you say a lower IQ. Ignoring that IQ is an arbitrary and inaccurate figure which changes throughout the day, and can fluctuate greatly through an adults life (while giving no significant disadvantages), the researchers have suggested that the largest change would be about 8. If CBD is the component that protects from psychosis, aides motivation and possibly prevents harm to the IQ level, why would we not regulate it to make sure the levels are high?

    There has always been a range in THC levels in cannabis, however it is the decrease in CBD which is the problem. If we wish to stop high THC cannabis, why keep it illegal? It cannot be controlled this way, nothing illegal is controlled. Your argument about convictions as a deterrent for addicts has shocked me. You could change the word addict for disabled, or mentally unwell. A health matter should NEVER result in a criminal conviction for itself. It is inhumane. And furthermore, this authoritarian ideology fundamentally works against a free and democratic society. Read the works of Christopher Hitchens to understand how disastrous this can be.

    You say 20 times more cancerous, however this is only significant if we assume that a smoker of cannabis smokes the same quantity as a tobacco smoker would. Of course, this is wrong. In fact, where a heavy tobacco smoker may consume 50-100g of tobacco a week, a heavy cannabis smoker may consume 5-10g a week. This is an example not based in research, other than personal observations and could therefore only be an example of the demographic I have selected. Research into this area could be very interesting. I think that the reason the legalisation part of society is pushing for sensible policy more at the moment is BECAUSE they can see the government finally making the most sensible thoughts concerning tobacco. In fact, the idea around legalising cannabis is to make it follow the same guidelines as tobacco and alcohol. Of course it was a last minute addition, but that does not detract from the importance of its' inclusion. Why should we not monitor how the policy works in these two states? If it does not work, then the prohibitionists have some evidence, and the legalisers can assimilate the information into their ideas. To say that it is negative that the HASC report made this suggestion is to admit that you are scared that you will be proved incorrect. To continue, why would keeping the debate alive be bad? Society can only be improved if we debate and ask questions. If we did not challenge ideology and policy we would not have the development in human rights, we would accept atrocities around the world, we would allow our most vulnerable men, women and children to suffer. How could you even suggest that we should not question policy? The best example of a person questioning policy is the Warnock report of 1978. Without this we would not have an inclusive SEN education system today. And because we continue to question the policies, we have had the 2001 SEN Code of Practise, and continued developments based in research. Your suggestion of closing debate would have resulted in children being called vile names that sicken us now.

    If the statistics you have provided from the government poll can be trusted (it may be 45% - 11%, but that could easily be a triple figure number which is not representative of society.) you only highlight how people need to be educated. I do not suggest that they should all think the same thing, I mean that they should have correct information. You explain that they think this would lead to an uptake in drug use, and as we know this is incorrect (although I am sure that some figures would show an increase because people become more honest about their history of use) ignore the desire to change opinion, these people should be given the facts. We have a responsibility to thwart inaccurate ideas because we have a right to not live by lies.

    You say that drug use in the US has fallen by 75% in the last 25 years, I could not find this information. The studies that I have seen show increases in death, increase in usage and an earlier starting age during this period. You also continue to say that the anti-prohibitionists do not want control. In fact, that is exactly what they are pleading for. Right now we have no controls, criminals do. We prohibitionists think that this is control, but how can it be if it means children can get drugs? It is easier for a young person to buy illegal drugs than to buy tobacco and alcohol. Which of these are controlled? We now have very good smoking and drinking campaigns, which are mostly founded in research and evidence. We need this for illegal drugs, but education alone does not stop this problem. You have misunderstood the anti-prohibitionist stance, you do not realise that you both want the same thing. Your judgement is clouded by your preconceptions, rather than based in evidence and research. You are the type of person who continues an argument after they are proven incorrect.

    My final point is removed from the subject matter. You attack a liberal attitude, as is your right, however you somehow mistake it for accurate information. From your article I must speculate, from analysing what you have said, that you think the public should be lied to and forced to do what you want rather than given the free choice, accurate information/education and support to think freely. You actually suggest in this piece that by debating this subject more people will be aware of the evidence and will change their opinions. This is anti-democratic, and pure folly. There is becoming an anti-free thinking nature in society, and this will ultimately hinder our development in a modern world.

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    Steve Rolles - About 1954 days ago

    Kathy - I posted this comment on Wednesday evening (4 days ago) and its not appeared, I dont know if this is a technical problem or lame moderating but Im reposting in the hope it may eventually appear. (Ive been able to correct a couple of typos and make some edits - so every could etc).

    Without tackling every point you make (although its tempting) a couple of observations on your post that really jumped out at me:

    1. The suggestion that we have decriminalised possession of cannabis or any other drug, or that we have a equally or less punitive apporach than Portugal is not correct. As the EMCDDA acnowledge it is often tricky to compare disposals for drug offences between countries with different legal definitions and evaluation frameworks. However, the facts seem fairly clear: In the UK during 2011 almost 40,000 people received a caution or conviction which results in a criminal record for cannabis possession (roughly the same rate as in 2003). There were an *additional* extra 80,000 cannabis warnings and 15,000 PNDs (Penalty Notice for Disorder) - which you could catagorise as non-criminal disposals (although for repeat offences they graduate to prosecutions). In Portugal, numbers recieving a criminal record for cannabis possession during this same period was effectively zero. In the UK around 1000 people were imprisoned for drug possession offences - the number in Portugal was zero. If you wish opur numbers to be higher I think it would be useful to say what sort of level of crimianlisation and punishment you think would deliver the results you seek, how much that would cost (and where that money would come from) and provide some evidence to support your proposals.

    2. The rising strength of cannabis in the UK is a manifestation of a profit driven unregulated cannabis market. In a regulated market, active content could be controlled as it is with nicotine and alcohol, and have upper limits - such as those recently imposed in The Netherlands' quasi-legal coffee shops, (a subject you have blogged about here previously).

    3. On the opinion polling - Im struggling to see how you could make the interpretation you have from the polling data you've linked. To be honest these are not all methodologically well contructed questions (this polling was commissioned by the Sun newspaper) - as they confuse decriminalisation and legalisation/regualtion (the decriminalisation option for exmaple includes possession and sale - whereas in any definition Im aware of it should only refer to possession of small quantities for personal use), and use unscientific terms like 'hard' and 'soft' drugs. Still, from my reading of questions on page 4 and 5, 45% support either decriminalisation (wrongly defined) or legalisation (not clarified regards regulation) of cannabis (confusingly referred to as both 'soft' and 'hard' in the question), with support at 15% for 'hard drugs like heroin and crack cocaine'.

    perhaps more relvant to the HASC report were some of the results in this poll you havent mentioned. the question 'Would you support or oppose limited trials of the Portuguese approach in some British cities?' was supported by 60% (including 59% of Tory voters, with similar support outside London - apparently rather debunking this ratehr silly idea that such reforms are only supported by a liberal 'metropolitian elite'). I believe this statistic is actually quoted in the HASC report (indeed a copy of the Sun with them in was waved around at one of the evidence sessions). For what its worth I think this question is rather biased in favour of a yes answer (by including outcomes from Portugal)- but still.

    Perhaps most signifincatly the question 'Would you support or oppose a government
    review of drug policy options, to include the
    current system of criminalisation, a Portuguese
    style decriminalisation or full legalisation?' - which is almost precisely what the HASC have called for - recieved 58% support (59% for Tories).

    Im also interested where you get the suggestion of a 30% drop in drug use since the late 90s. This graph of home office data for last year use for 16-59 year olds 1996 to current paints a rather more complex picture http://bit.ly/ZgeLzM . 11-15 year old use of illegal drugs has certainly fallen - and that is great news, but neither data set includes all misuse of prescription drugs, or legal highs - both thought to have risen significantly over the past decade, perhaps at least part filling the gap from the fall in use of illegals. The 75% fall in the US is of cocaine, and from a historic high point. It also ignores the explosion in prescription drug misusue and recent emergence of 'legal highs' like bath salts. The picture is similarly more complex than your stats suggest. The inference that this is the result of policy is also something of a leap. The drivers of drug use are primarily social, economic and cultural factors - policy as traditionally constructed, is at best a marginal influence. Health interventions (education, harm reduction, tretment/recovery) can have an impact when done well - but it is more likely to be in reducing harms than overall prevalence. The evidence for a deterrent from enforcement is very weak - and indeed, as you have often written, approaches to use have not become more punitive since the late 1990s in the UK - if anything the trend has moved in the opposite direction.

    Finally I think its important to be clear that whilst President Santos supports prevention and demand reduction (as does everyone on both sides of the legalisation and decriminalisation debates) he has been one of the leading voices pushing for a review of the international drug control framework - with and evidence based review of all options - specifically including legalisation. Which is exactly what the HASC have called for, and the UN have now agreed to.

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