Monday, January 21, 2008

The year is 2022 and drugs are legal.....

With a growing list of high profile public figures, from ex-Ministers to Chief Constables, talking not just about the conspicuous failings of prohibition, but actively advocating (or at least calling for a rational debate on) moves towards the legal regulation of drugs, (see Transform's supporters of reform page for a more comprehensive list) Druglink magazine felt that there was something missing from the coverage of the drug law reform debate. It certainly seemed reasonable to ask: well, what would a post-prohibition Britain look like?

Inevitably perhaps, Transform were approached to provide a description of this vision of the future, and despite some initial trepidation you can read my effort here (in pdf format), reproduced with permission from this month's Druglink magazine.

It proved quite a tricky task, not just to move from the more familiar briefing-writing mode into more descriptive prose, but also trying to envisage not exactly how we might want it to be, but how we thought it is actually likely to be. Hopefully I've managed to convey this by focusing on three models of legally regulated supply for; cannabis: based on the Dutch coffee-shop model; heroin, based on the Swiss heroin clinic model; and cocaine, based on a more speculative licensed pharmacy/druggist model. In the space provided there was a limit on what could be covered and discussed, but an outline of the benefits and limitations of some potential regulatory models have at least been put on the table for discussion. Comments and feedback are obviously welcome. For me that was the whole point of the exercise; to get people thinking and talking about regulation in more than vague abstract terms.

For those interested there is plenty more detailed discussion of regulatory frameworks available on the Transform website here, and this Druglink piece also serves as a curtain raiser for Transform's next major publication: 'After the War on Drugs: Blueprint for a Regulated Market', a detailed consideration of the options for the legal regulation of different drugs in different environments, currently in production and due for publication later in the year......


StevieO said...

nice one roller... could be a film in that... Lets talk... Could we set it in Western Australia??

Steve R said...

You could do a film on this i guess, and I dont think it matters where you set it (although I imagine a developed country urban location).

The problem is that the whole point of legal regulation is to take the drama out of the market. gangsters and guns make good tv, whereas shops, chemists and doctors don't. the BBC tried to make a film like this sa few years ago called 'if drugs were legal', but couldn't get there head around the fact that regulated drug markets are, by there nature and intention, a bit dull. The intention is to de- glaomourise and medicalise the scenario. The fact that you would have heavy restrictions on marketing and advertising further diminishes any potential visual drama. The BBC ended up, despite extensive discussions with us, having starey eyed wierdos using exotic looking syringe based drugs and various evil corporaste interests. and flying cars. it was rubbish.

so [possible - but would have to be done carefully and very well to avoid repeating previous mistakes.

Mr P said...

Good work Steve

I have read the first couple of pages and it gives an interesting perspective, some nice reading on my lunch break :)

chrisbx515 said...

Very inventive and I commend you for your hard work and the limitations that you had to stay within. I understand that you tried to avoid writing how you would like things to be rather than how they might be but one would assume that by winning the argument to end prohibition that education and health promotion would play a role in the ‘DRA’ era. In which case a more rosy view of the future I feel would be appropriate.

Part of the argument to end prohibition is to have positive effects on society and recreational pursuits, with the increased education and advice around people would make better life choices.

Would clubs and pubs and the streets still be full public drunken disorder as they are now? Why is the ‘North Street Clinic’ placed in some kind of depraved or seedy area? A stereotype of heroin use/users seems to have been used here.

‘Greasy fast food shops and massage parlours’. What is that all about? In this advance of forward thinking in society that got real about drugs this would suggest that there was a long way to go in addressing the current issues with obesity and the sex trade that are of concerns to our society in 2007 also!

Why would treatment for problem drug and alcohol use be reduced to the current levels of alcohol services? The fact that alcohol services are underfunded may go some way as to explain the current state of affairs in society and its attitude to alcohol. Treatment services surly would need to play a major role in the education and health promotion of healthy living and harm minimisation?

Is this kind of vision going to win converts to the argument?

Steve R said...

hi chris....

the clinic would be likely to be in the more run down/ low rent areas where the greatest concentrations of problem users are. That was based on the locations of such clinics/needle exchanges/treatment facilities are in the real world now.

the treatment stuff was to point out the Government have shown an interest in increasing funding addiction services when there is a secondary agenda - in the 80s it was HIV, in the 90s crime reduction . when those agendas dissapear or diminish in the post prohibition era theres a real danger that treatment funding will dry up - theres little money going into alcohol and tobacco treatment now.
That was, I grant. quite speculative, perhaps to highlight a risk so that the field can prepare for it.

I had thought about including legal brothels instead of massage parlours (it was in an earlier draft), as there is a certain commonality in the regulation of drugs and regulation of sex workers arguments, but we made a decision to steer clear of being seen to advocate a position that hadn't been worked through and agreed on.

daksya said...

I skimmed the article and a few points come to mind:

1)Powder form is still around?

2)Haven't the fruits of psychopharmacology affected the market? e.g. in 1990, David Nichols at Purdue U. reported on 2 compounds that fully substitute for MDMA in rats (stimulus discrimination) but don't exhibit lower levels of 5-HIAA afterwards, taken as putative marker of 5-HT neurotoxicity. Of course, in prohibition, nothing much came off this research. Also, Shulgin's 2 catalogues have many interesting compounds in them, like, relatively short-acting 2C-B. Will powder cocaine still be the drug of choice on the party circuit?

3)What about LSD? Ketamine?

Steve R said...

Hi daksya

I appreciate that there may well be different drugs or different forms of drugs around in 14 years. Ive been to some discussions on this for example the drug futures exercise the government undertook a couple of years ago. But for the purpose of this piece I thought I would consider existing drugs that people understood the risk/harm profiles for.

I would have liked to talk about hallucinogens too but didn't have the time. The regulation would probably fit into the pharmacy model - perhaps with less strict regulation for lower dose plant based products like magic mushrooms - and heavier restrictions of the more concerntrated, longer acting or risky drugs like K and LSD. The idea being obviously to encourage safer patterns of use.

DDAA said...

If... drugs were legal is available via P2P. The name of the file in Emule


The film addresses the question of new drugs, but cocaine is absent. I don't think pharmaceutical companies will ever enter this market, though.