Thursday, April 03, 2008

ACMD cannabis report update.....

So...on the announcement itself, well it comes as no surprise as regular readers will know. The details leaked to the BBC were scant and Downing street has hurriedly denied that this is the whole story. It probably isn't.

I fully expect the ACMD report to make a series of other policy recommendations along with their inevitably thorough analysis. They will emphasise the risks, focussing on mental health issues. They will certainly repeat their calls for a big public education push - no doubt highlighting the particular dangers raised by the increasing prevalence of stronger cannabis - probably with specifics about how it should be targeted at the most vulnerable groups. This, they will argue, is likely to be a more effective response than increasing penalties. They will re-emphasise that the classification system is about ranking relative harms (and not sending out messages that suit politicians at election time).

They will probably call for research on various areas where the data is a bit thin and understanding either poor or emerging. They may dabble with some ideas like fixed penalties for possession offenses, but I doubt it. I also imagine that ACMD chair, as a last flourish before he retires, will make sure there are some fairly clear statements about how the review and the cannabis debate has been driven by tabloid and party political agendas (Nothing could be clearer than today's utterly ludicrous statement from drug warrior jack-in-the-box David Davis who says that Brown should not even have consulted them) .

What Brown will now do is moot, but he is no idiot and will have been well aware that the committee was likely to come to the conclusion it has, probably when he called the review in the first place (barely two years after the previous one - at which the c decision had been almost unanimous), and certainly before he made his comments earlier in the week at his monthly press conference. He now faces an entirely self made dilemma, as Philip Jhonston at the Telegraph has identified. He either overrules the committee and forfeits any last vestige of scientific 'evidence based' credibility his drug policy may still be clinging to, or he accepts their conclusions and leaves him self open to populist reactionary clowns like David Davis scoring points against him in the right leaning tabloids. I'm not remotely sympathetic as he has created this problem entirely for himself with his blinkered pre-election moral posturing. One thing is clear - this is all about politics now.

I suspect, but with only moderate certainty (and political idiocy never fails to suprise me), that Brown will use the ACMD report as an 'out' (I note the Guardian suggest otherwise). Maintain C, but launch a raft of measures, show he is 'doing something' and emphasize his view that cannabis use is illegal and unacceptable:

  • a big education push (which will be politically driven rather than evidence based and therefore almost certainly pointless and rubbish)
  • some ill thought out knee-jerk enforcement measures, probably focusing on evil 'cannabis factories', maybe some new police powers (to keep them happy).
  • lashings of self righteous rhetoric about protecting the kids, evil, scourges, and so on.
Theres no good way out of this. The whole thing has been an embarrassing waste of time whatever the outcome. Reformers wont celebrate - the legal regulation debate, even the wider debate around the classification system, has been largely lost in the fire fighting. The hang'm and flog'm drug warriors wont have anything to celebrate even if Brown does go nuclear and move back to B; It really wont make any difference - his opponents will still find ways to attack him for prevaricating or ignoring his own experts, whilst the police will largely continue to enforce the law as they see fit, just like they did before.

And people who want to smoke will continue to do so. Cannabis will remain more or less freely available and the young people of this country will be even less interested in what authority figures have to say about it.

background:

The ACMD cannabis decision: stay in class C

Gordon Brown on drugs: enemy of pragmatism friend of the mafia


Brown on Cannabis - it gets worse

Transform briefings

submission to the ACMD review

Article on the classification system in Drugs and Alcohol Today



Transform media coverage

Unsurprisingly perhaps, given all the work we have done on this unendingly tedious classification saga, when the BBC's Danny Shaw got his scoop on the ACMD decision Transform were fairly near the top of the media pundit invites list. So its been quite a busy day and this being the Transform media blog, here's a list of Transform's media appearances:

  • The Today Program, BBC Radio 4 (listen again to the 4 minute section here - real media format) - also featuring in news snippet at 8am
  • BBC breakfast television (live sofa interview after a news item - then used in snippets throughout the day on news 24)
  • BBC News 24 - studio interview
  • BBC1 evening news (6 and 10 o'clock) prerecorded interview
  • BBC Radio Scotland live interview
  • Press Association multimedia interview
  • Independent Radio News interview (syndicated around the country)
  • various other local BBC radio
  • BBC news website quote
  • Guardian website quote
  • Talk Sport radio
Listing this is more than just self aggrandisment - even if this is essentially a non-story (committee decides some thing as last time - shock) the Transform coverage reflects how our high quality work and commitment has paid off in terms of mainstream profile for a reasoned and credible drug policy reform position.

11 comments:

Steve R said...

reposted comment from previous deleted blog (by Chris)

Dr Brian Iddon MP also stated that any decision to reclassify would be politically rather than scientifically based.

In a way, I can sympathise with nulab. From their point of view, why give IDS and the Tory neandertal tendency a propaganda tool, which resonates so strongly with the hysterical Daily Mail-reading masses.

The way to spin "no change for the moment" would be : usage seems to be dropping, lets concentrate resources on hard drugs, education & treatment. Also why not inaugurate research into restricting supply by allowing legal supply to registered adult users. If we can consider doing it for heroin users why not cannabis ?

Steve R said...

todays guardian leader. pretty spot on.



The uncomfortable truth

Gordon Brown presents cannabis as an ethical question. New in No 10 last year, he raised the question of "whether it was right" to increase the penalties. This week he suggested cracking down was "the right thing to do". Fortunately, the drugs law framework means there can be no change until the experts have had their say. Unfortunately, the direction of the prime ministerial moral compass can override that advice. A leak yesterday revealed the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) has judged the current law as adequate, yet Mr Brown seems bent on pressing on regardless.

The ACMD's verdict is no surprise - it has already been delivered three times. It first recommended reducing the harsh penalties in 1978, by shifting cannabis from class B to class C. Ministers paid no attention for a quarter of a century, a hardline stance that proved an unmitigated failure: over the 80s and 90s the proportion of young adults who had used the drug quadrupled, to reach 40% by 2000. In 2001, as home secretary, David Blunkett accepted it was absurd to be threatening so many people with a five-year prison term. He asked the ACMD for advice, and in 2004 he implemented its fresh recommendation for a shift to class C. Faced with Tory jibes about going soft, Tony Blair ordered another review to neutralise the issue in the 2005 election. It concluded class C was appropriate. Last year Mr Brown asked the Council to think yet again, and the conclusion, it seems, is class C once more.

The ACMD may be starting to resemble a stuck record, but that is not because of stubborness. Its members display a consistent concern with reducing the harm cannabis does. They include medics and academics who, unlike most journalists and politicians, actually read the evolving research on the dangers. For a few users these dangers include life-destroying psychosis, a threat that a new government advertisement rightly highlights. But, despite the (real, if overhyped) increase in the prevalence of strong strains, research presented to the council suggests such risks remain relatively small. If stiff penalties reduced smoking that would be an advantage, though not one that could justify imprisoning people who have harmed no one but themselves.

The unfortunate truth for Mr Brown is that reclassification has worked. The police caution more users - as the new rules make the process less cumbersome - and use is tailing off. Mr Brown is in a trap of his own making, forced to choose between disregarding the evidence and backing down on his plans. Sticking with a policy that works would be the ethical thing to do. Trying to look tough by ditching it would represent a triumph of moralising over morality.

Anonymous said...

When are you going to start publishing the truth instead of ideological views?

Facts such as the ACDM were aware of the dangers of cannabis when it recommended downgrading. Facts such as that Rawlings is livid that his opinions have been discredited.

Facts that publicity hungry idiot, Brunstrom has been put down by his own association and their overwhelming opinion that cannabis should be upgraded.

Why is this site, which claims to be objective,is so unbalanced, in more ways than one? Why is it that you want a drug, that you know to be damaging, not just left in its present classification, but legalised? Who's paying you?

The only objectivity about this site is its objective of achieving legalisation for drugs which would produce huge profits from those licensed to sell them.

chris said...

So anon, are you saying your views are objective and non-ideological ?

You seem to favour the present situation where huge untaxed profits are made by criminal gangs.

The success of Holland's drug policies are clear to see for anyone willing to look at the statistics. Cannabis is freely available to adult users, yet there are fewer of these than in the UK. More importantly, heroin addiction has remained stable whilst in the UK in the same period it has risen 10-fold. Heroin addiction is well known to be a major cause of crime.

By supporting the war on drugs, you're contributing to an ever-worsening overall crime situation.

The usual responses by prohibitionists when confronted by the uncomfortable truth is first to try and ignore, then to insist the war can still be won if we could just get really tough. Talk about living in cloud-cuckoo land.

Steve R said...

anon. I don't think you understand the classification system. It is supposed to rank relative harm and class C does not represent 'no danger', just relatively less danger than B or A. The ACMD have been very clear about cannabis harms in both of their recent reviews and will no doubt be again in their new one. They think it is less than that of drugs in B or A. Perhaps you think we should have a single classification and that all drugs present equal risks - if so, make that case.

Now I don't think that system is much use - either on public health terms ('sending out messages' to use the popular vernacular) or in terms of achieving good criminal justice outcomes - its record over the last 40 years speaks for itself. I've written about this in detail on numerous occasions -
see this recently published article for example:

http://www.tdpf.org.uk/DAATOct2007.pdf

I also gave evidence to the recent Science and technology select committee on this issue - much of which they included in their final report.

I have argued that science has been bypassed to serve the need of prohibitionist ideologies and a range of political prerogatives.

None the less, in the system as it stands, ranking harms based on a review of literature is what the ACMD are tasked to do, and for the most part do very well (I have been critical of them for other reasons - as you will see if you search for ACMD on the blog). A 2-year sentence for possession, criminal record, or a 14 year sentence for dealing does not suggest that the state take cannabis offenses lightly, even if they do exercises discretion in applying these penalties for obvious pragmatic reasons. Further there is nothing to suggest that making cannabis class B is either in line with the evidence regards relative harms, or that it will make any difference to levels of use, or more importantly, misuse.

Once again, if you think we are unbalanced, or distorting the facts please say where and how. Then we can talk about it. We make the case for reform clearly and back it up with evidence and rational analysis - not with name calling or childish rants. Grow up, or don't bother posting your playground taunts here.

Current illegal market drug profits , as the previous poster notes, accrue exclusively to violent gangsters and unregulated dealers. Almost anything would be preferable to that. again if you had ever bothered to read any of Transforms materials you would have read this point made clearly and discussed in detail.

David Raynes said...

Steve
I cannot see why you and the ACMD are so bothered about penalties which almost never get applied for simple possesion because of sentencing guidlines. Re clasifying cannabis back to B where it always was, is because that position refelects its harm potential in the imperfect scheme. Re classification is not about penalties-As probably one of the most active policy warriors against you and legalisation, I should know! I also know the opinions of all the others oppossing you, I go to their briefings and meetings-absolutely no one is in favour of imprisonment for cannabis users. By denying what I have told you you are perverting the truth. I can only assume you do this becaue you do not want to address the real issues and you wish to deceive some of the people who read your blog. By the way Cameron was very strong on SKY on Sunday for reclassification, I have the transcript, if you want it e-mail me.

john-boi said...

SO the Goverment wants to go against the science and put it back to "B" to send a message. That message would be that Cannabis has the same potential for harm as amphetamines if that isn't sending mixed messages then I don't know what is.Or are we going to have a differnat sentancing for drugs within the same band. The one message that is clear is that the whole classification system is not fit for purpose we need a huge overhaul of the whole sytem as recommended and ignored by the government review of last year. Again the Governement didn't listen to the truth because it didn't fit into their ideology and consequently we are in this mess.

My understanding of sending a message is that you actually tell someone something we need a concerted Public health message not the threat of imprisoning users which has no affect whatever.

Why should taxpayers pay out £40,000 a year to imprison non violent drug users and waste untold hours of Police time.

Derek said...

David Raynes said:

>>
I cannot see why you and the ACMD are so bothered about penalties which almost never get applied for simple possesion because of sentencing guidlines.
>>

But increasing sentences for simple possession is the only effect that raising to class B would have. If it doesn't do that, why do it?

>>
Re clasifying cannabis back to B where it always was, is because that position refelects its harm potential in the imperfect scheme.
>>

Well, as someone else has said, cannabis is far less dangerous than speed, so that is hardly a valid reason.

I think to be honest, as you have written on another website which talks about cannabis, the reason you want cannabis put back to B is because you think it would "hole the legalisation movement below the waterline" - ie to undermine law reform campaigners. A squalid reason if ever there were one.

>>
I also know the opinions of all the others oppossing you
>>

There are really that few?

>>
By the way Cameron was very strong on SKY on Sunday for reclassification
>>

David Cameron is a good example of a hypocrite when it comes to drugs. He didn't obey the law when cannabis was class B, yet expects everyone else to.

The fact is David, cannabis users couldn't really care less which class it's in, it's meaningless really. If Brown does go against his advisors though, then as Steve has said it will dispel any remaining claim that cannabis policy is evidence based which will drag the law into even further disrepute, if that's possible.

Meanwhile, prohibition funds organised crime with eye watering profits as it provides a product of uncertain quality and unregulated strength, putting users at even more risk than need be.

Honestly, talk about reefer madness...

Steve R said...

Hi David

you are absolutely right about penalties - hardly anyone ever goes to prison for possession and when they do i doubt its ever more than 2 years. I don't think Ive avoided this fact, in fact I have written about it and argued, as Derek points out - it suggest that any deterrent effect on the prison sentence front form increasing the penalty to five years will be negligent to non existent. the same can be said for penalties for supply which will remain unchanged.


Two points though.

1. If people aren't going to prison for possession and it is generally not seen as an appropriate response, why have a prison sentence for it at all, and again, why increase it?

2. Whilst reclassification to B is unlikely to land lots more young people in prison - which I agree, few people want to see - It is certain to land lots of young people with a crimeinal record as warnings and cautions will graduate to cautions and criminal prosecutions. Inevitably the people who will get caught will tend to be the socially disadvanteged and excluded members of society. More criminalisation of these populations will not have any positive outcomes (unless you are trying to boost your crime stats).

Please don't accuse me of perverting the truth. I hoped you had a bit more respect than that. I very explicitly wrote about the fact that supporters of the move to B, including yourself, did not want to see more criminalisation of young people in my blog on the ACMD hearings in March. I believe you commented on that post. I also commented that I thought it was strange and contradictory position to hold (you dont want more criminalisation but support increasing criminal penalties - doh!)

Re Cameron - he is playing politics with this issue just as much as Brown. At least Brown is consistent in his wrongness. Cameron is a intellectual coward and hypocrite - he was one of the advocates for reclassification in 2001 as a member of the Home Affairs Select Committee. He is playing along with Davis's reactionary nonsense about strengthening our borders etc - because he knows it is winning political points with a key group of daily mail floating voters and Brown's weakness on defending the Govt position leaves him wide open to attack. They are both playing a disgraceful game of populist politics.

Anonymous said...

Cool. With every iteration of Government's stance on cannabis we hear increasingly articulate expressions of sanity. Your article cuts just a little more deeply than those who have said before, time and again, that the law is simply the wrong instrument for managing the 'harm' done by drugs, and that politicians are perhaps the most mentally unstable class we could possibly entrust (with the wisdom) to decide on what is or is not good for society.

You know, in the face of Establishment power games I take Jesus' view: "Fuck 'em", I'm going into my garden for a toke and to restore my own peace of mind. Home Office, listen to my freedom of mind and fuck off into the sunset with your RWA (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Right_Wing_Authoritarianism) love affair.

Anonymous said...

Cool. With every iteration of Government's stance on cannabis we hear increasingly articulate expressions of sanity. Your article cuts just a little more deeply than those who have said before, time and again, that the law is simply the wrong instrument for managing the 'harm' done by drugs, and that politicians are perhaps the most mentally unstable class we could possibly entrust (with the wisdom) to decide on what is or is not good for society.

You know, in the face of Establishment power games I take Jesus' view: "Fuck 'em", I'm going into my garden for a toke and to restore my own peace of mind. Home Office, listen to my freedom of mind and fuck off into the sunset with your RWA (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Right_Wing_Authoritarianism) love affair.