Wednesday, March 07, 2007

No10 drug policy e-petitions: a total waste of time?

The Number 10 Downing Street web site’s experiment in participatory democracy - in the shape of the petition-the-Prime-Minister page - is now positively brimming with petitions on drug policy. As we shall see they range from the eminently sensible to the totally barking, from the eloquent to the really quite odd.

In an attempt to make it as participatory as possible it is incredibly easy to submit a petition. Too easy perhaps. A lot of the drug policy petitions read like entries on a chat site, clunky, ill thought out and full of typos, almost as if they were ranting responses to a newspaper column, which I suspect a lot of them are.

But even if they were all thoughtful and beautifully composed, and we got rid of the ranting and repetition, I still question the merits of the whole exercise. Hardly anyone is signing them – the highest one being for cannabis legalisation with 1400 odd signatures, most barely scraping into double figures. To put this in perspective the petition for Spandau Ballet’s ‘Gold’ to be the new national anthem has 5500 signatures. The road pricing petition got a million+ signatures with the help of an orchestrated tabloid campaign (somewhat distorting its relative value perhaps) and was ignored, although it did provide No.10 with a nice bunch of email addresses. You have to wonder whether, like 'the big conversation' or the current No10 forum with 60 'ordinary people' (er, patronising?) this is just another fruitless PR excercise.

I suppose you could argue there’s no harm in it, as long as no one starts thinking it will make any difference, or that the Government pay it any attention. The Government barely consult on substantive drug policy changes at the best of times (the Drugs Bill 2005 being the obvious recent example), and they generally don’t listen to experts in the drugs field, Select Committees, or even the Govt appointed Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs and No.10 policy advisers - unless it happens to fit within their plans.

And anyway, for every petition stating a progressive drug reform position, there’s another one calling for drug dealers to be executed/ used for medical experiments/ jailed for life. Maybe that’s what democracy is all about, but I just can’t see any of this having the slightest impact. Drug policy reform requires an entirely more nuanced and sophisticated debate (petition anyone?) something we certainly dont have on this crude and polarising web page. There used to be open discussion forum on this site (my posts seemed to dissapear quite often)- thats seems to have now dissapeared altogether. Now we just have the almost completely pointless e-petitions page and a series of lectures from the Prime Minister

Oh well, for the record, here they all are. I have very democratically included links should feel moved to support any of them, and I have also included the full explanatory text along with the petition statements (copy and pasted directly to you). First up there are a set of petitions that are variations on the theme of ending drug prohibition and legally regulating currently illegal drug markets, some better than others (note: the first two have already closed)

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to Legalise all drugs.
Drugs are too dangerous to leave in the hands of criminals. Legalisation removes the need for people to procure their drugs through the criminal fraternity, thus drying up the cash flow to the suppliers and putting them out of business. If all drugs were legal then they could be sold through controlled licenced premisis (rather like alcohol), and the taxes that are gathered could be used for education and healthcare. The health benefits would be huge, as a large portion of the health issues experienced by users is related to deliberatly contaminated supplies. The war on drugs has been lost. Its time to draw up terms of surrender. We urge the prime minister to legalise all drugs immediately, under a scheme similar to alcohol, and to use the tax revenue for education.
(65 signatures)

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to legalise, sanitise, and control all recreational drugs and to make them safer.
notes N.A.
(67 signatures)

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to Initiate an effective counter measure against the illegal drugs trade.
To tackle the drugs problem requires military strategy against the energy of the illegal drugs trade, easy and vast profits. The target is to diminish such profits by drug dealers. Action. Make the selling of prescribed drugs government monopoly, selling to registered drug users at very low prices, decriminalising the use of drugs so obtained. Result. Drugs dealers would have no returns on their investment as the government agencies (hospitals, GPs, pharmacies etc) would take their markets away. Dealers would face fines by HM Customs and Excise, rendering the exercise futile and neutralised. Drug users would turn to government agencies for their supply who provide the drugs against controlled registration, allowing the authorities to know who the users are, where they are. In turn, to take control of the problem and help reducing the drug dependence for users. The need for users to commit criminal action to finance their habits would be reduced. (4 signatures)

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to Solve the prison crisis by legalising recreational drugs.
Two-thirds of the prison population are in jail because of drug related crime. By legalising recreational drugs we will take the drug industry out of the hands of violent criminals and kill off drug crime. Drugs would be safer and the tax collected would be used to treat addicts. We would reduce violent crime, burglary, robbery and prostitution. The streets would be safer, insurance premiums would come down and the economy would grow. Children are attracted to illicit drugs precisely because they are illicit, make them legal and the attraction wanes.
(7 signatures)

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to Treat all use of currently illegal drugs as a medical problem, by supplying them on prescription, with appropriate social, medical, and psychological support

To medicalise the current illegal drugs scene would immediately make drug dealers redundant, and remove a user's need to steal or prostitute themselves to support their habit. The reductions in violent crime would be a massive social benefit, and allow funds to be switched to increase the NHS services required. It would over time drastically reduce the prison population, where a majority of the inmates have an unresolved dependency problem. Let common sense take precedence over the perception of being "tough on crime". Try to be truly "tough on the causes of crime".
(8 signatures)

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to take proper control and exercise intelligent management of all recreational drugs and remove this control from the hands of criminals and the black market
Far more damage to the millions of recreational drug users in this country occurs due to the poor quality, Rubbish used in "cutting" and general product tampering than occurs from the drugs themselves. All because government policy puts there control into the hands of organised crime and criminals.
(25 signatures)

I wont hear a word said against this next one as it was a blog-xperiment undertaken by our very own Transform Blog maestro Alex.

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to To End The Prohibition of Drugs And To Regulate A Safer Marketplace For All Currently Illegal Drugs

To reduce the criminal and social harms associated with the prohibition of drugs, we the undersigned, petition the Prime Minister to end prohibition and to regulate strictly the sale and marketing of potentially dangerous and currently illegal substances perhaps via licensed pharmacists. The costs of prohibition far outweigh any benefits.
(260 signatures)

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to legalise heroin and cocaine and stop violent criminal gangs cornering and profiting from this $500 billion dollar market
we've tried prohibition and after many years it's obviously not worked. In Switzerland were they have legalised heroin, new drug user's fell by 85% and the 'cool' image of drugs has gone - instead drug addiction is seen as a medical illness. Other benefits would include controlling where the drugs come - not from Afganistan's Taliban! or from FARC terriots groups in Columbia
(26 signatures)

There are also a series of cannabis related petitions covering much the same ground:

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to let class C drugs be legal for over 18 year olds.
Sold by licensed retailers. A limited quatity can be purchased.
(42 signatures)

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to initiate a test program whereas cannabis users may purchase upto 5grams in a "coffeeshop".

Sold by licensed retailers. A limited quatity can be purchased.
(468 signatures)

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to remove cannabis and cannabis products from the Misuse of Drugs Act and associated laws.
This is a petition to remove cannabis (marijuana) from prohibition laws and thus enable consumer protection.
(1412 signatures)

And then, inevitably perhaps, there are a series of prohibition oriented petitions calling for exactly the opposite. Whilst the above are by no means going to win literary prizes, the prohibition ones are all a bit, well, wierd. First up, one calling for the illegal drug cannabis to be made more illegal:

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to Reclassify cannabis as a dangerous drug and clearly criminal to use or sell
Upgrade the classification of cannabis to a well defined crime as it is a dangerous drug on the strong evidence of its relationship to mental health breakdown, physical health breakdown,effect on drivers' judgement and addiction to itself and or other drugs. It is now a far stronger drug than before. Especially to protect the young it should be well upgraded.
(22 signatures)

Then a completely crackers one that should probably never have got through the vetting process for fairly obvious reasons:

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to Illegal Drug Users & dealers to be more Harshly Punished.
I believe users & dealers of Illegal drugs should be punished harsher thn ever before. Users should be forced to go "Cold Turkey" then USED for Medical experiments at Goverment Detention camps,with NO Civil Rights. At least then they serve a Public purpose. As for the dealers they should be either used in the same way as the user or sentenced to FULL LIFE TERM (NEVER to be released) in Prison/Detention camps.
(4 signatures)

This next one takes the prize for the most hopelessly argued case for prohibition :

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to Keep cannabis, ecstasy heroin etc illegal.
Why on earth would we want to make illegal drugs such as cannabis, ecstacy, cocaine and heroin legal. Keep these drugs illegal!
(15 signatures)

The token nasty death penalty advocating one (three strikes you're dead) :

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to introduce & apply the death penalty for persons caught in the act of selling narcotic drugs in the United Kingdom. To be implemented after two formal warnings issued by the Police to cease drug selling are found to have been ignored

Introduced in Singapore and reduced drug sales to almost nil. Introduced in China with the same effect. Drug pedlars are peddling death and misery and their activities should attract the harshest of punishment. The job of a government is to protect the people who elected it. This prime responsibility is being ignored by the government of the UK with respect to drug peddling, & our young people & the nation are suffering.
(8 signatures)

A sermon like call for 'zero tolerance':

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to Recognise that Crime and Drug Dependency are now out of control and that to protect our children and culture he will give 3 years notice to adopt a Zero Tolerance Policy to all users of Drugs and abusers of Alcohol backed by free treatment or Custody Till Clean
Successive Governments have failed to create unambiguous policies towards drug and alcohol abuse and the crime and degradation that follows. Our children now regard a "Spliff" as a right of passage and some advocate legalising drugs as the only policy.This simply adds to the confusion. We,the caring majority,know that,given time,resources,and resolve we can ensure that future generations grow up knowing that ALL DRUG AND ALCOHOL ABUSE IS UNACCEPTABLE IN THE UK. The 3 year notice will give addicts/dealers the choice of treatment and support OR custody. Custody will be no soft option and "Cold Turkey" the dish of the day to remind them of the reason to get clean. Yes, we will need more prisons and treatment centres in the short term but in the long term say 10 years society will reap the rewards. Less crime and delinquency,stable and supportive families,the hope of a caring society where its no longer hip to be high! We beg this to be YOUR legacy to OUR history.
(34 signatures)

Another zero tolerance tirade :

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to give criminals years and years to think about their crimes in prison. Big sentances like America.
Burglary 1st offence ~ 10 years. 2nd offence 100 years jail. Violent Murder 1st offence ~ life minimum 100 years Criminal damage 1st offence. Eg smashing car window. 10 years jail. Driving without insurance and license ~ £50,000 fine or 5 years jail. Drug addicts ~ 1 year jail forced to go cold turkey and trained in a profession to get a real job. Go back on the drugs and 100 years jail. No more life sentances for serious crimes with the minimum ammount of time to be served 4 years or anything stupidly small. Zero tolerence.
(3 signatures)

This next one shouldn’t have been passed, on the obvious basis that we don’t give illegal drugs to prisoners, but anyway:

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to Stop giving illegal drugs to prisoners.
It is rediculous that drug users should be able to continue their addiction whilst in prison & expect us to pay for it. Surely it would be better for everyone concerned if steps were taken to break the habit so that they are no longer addicts when they are realeased therefore removing one of the reasons for the original criminal behaviour.
(71 signatures)

If youve found all that a bit upsetting, there’s a certain amount of light relief to be had reading through the rejected petitions – where all the joke /inappropriate / repetious / totally loo-lah petitions are relegated, including my personal favorite legalisation call:"We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to make it legal to push a saveloy in and out of a big bowl of blancmange whilst singing 'rock me amadeus' by falco "

A few of these, however, have managed to slip through the net:

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to ensure that music education in our schools teaches children that drugs do not need to be taken to either play or listen to progressive rock
Progressive rock music encourages a culture of drug taking to both play and listen to it, expressed by the overlong length and repetitive nature of the songs. We're concerned thats its recent revival amongst young people will promote drug use and we'd like school music teachers to try and inform pupils that drugs do not have to be taken to either listen to or play it.
(22 signatures)

Now that one I may just put my name to.


MttJocy said...

Im confused, the best example of a pointless petition which slipped through the net you showed doesn't quite seam to be the one, I found an even better example of a useless pettition.

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to stand on his head and juggle ice-cream. (4,264 Signatures)
If he's not going to resign, the least he can do is provide us with some entertainment.

If that isn't a bigger waste of time I don't know what is, and if that can attract 4264 signatures no wonder we can never get any important debating going on in this country.

chrisbx515 said...

Government ignored the millions of people who took to the streets against the war in Iraq. So not much chance these petions will make n difference. They will carry on with status que, we will carry on calling for change and not much will..... But that dont' mean I will stop trying!!

Steve R said...

I actually read that today the Gurkas got the pensions they have long campaigned for - the petition for which is the picture i used in the blog. Shows how much I know.

Majeed Neky said...

did you see this one?