Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Former Director of UK Anti-drug Co-ordination Unit calls for legalisation

The former head of the UK Anti-drug Co-ordination Unit (UKADCU - the Home Office department in charge of drug policy), Julian Critchley, posted to BBC Home Affairs correspondent, Mark Easton's blog last week, 'The War on Drugs' , calling for the legalisation of drugs.

Media Update: 14.08.08

In his post he also reports how those he met during his time at the Unit knew that criminalisation was causing more harm than the drugs themselves. (This comes as no surprise to anyone who has read the damning report from the PM's Strategy Unit from 2003.)


"I think what was truly depressing about my time in UKADCU was that the overwhelming majority of professionals I met, including those from the police, the health service, government and voluntary sectors held the same view : the illegality of drugs causes far more problems for society and the individual than it solves. Yet publicly, all those intelligent, knowledgeable people were forced to repeat the nonsensical mantra that the Government would be 'tough on drugs', even though they all knew that the Government's policy was actually causing harm."

Julian Critchley is to be congratulated for speaking out with such candour on the issue. One can only wonder how many other former civil servants are of the same opinion, but haven't gone public.




we live in hope

There is nothing to suggest that things have changed at the highest level in drug policy development in the UK, even if the name of the department has changed a few times (to show 'something is being done') since Critchley's stint in charge. During the recent 'consultation' on the ten-year drug strategy, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs described the Government's consultation document thus:

"it is unfortunate that the consultation paper’s ‘key facts and evidence’ section appears to focus on trying to convince the reader of success and progress; rather than providing an objective review and presentation of the current evidence. The ACMD found the consultation paper self-congratulatory and generally disappointing."
Plus ca change...

Critchley, having retrained as a teacher, concludes with the following:

"I find that when presented with the facts, the students I teach are quite capable of considering issues such as this, and reaching rational conclusions even if they started with a blind Daily Mailesque approach. I find it a shame that no mainstream political party accords the electorate the same respect."
Critchley's posts are copied below in full.

73. At 7:25pm on 30 Jul 2008, JulianCritchley wrote:

Several years ago, I was Director of the UK Anti-Drug Co-ordination Unit in Cabinet Office (which sounds a lot grander than it was). Our job was to co-ordinate Government policy across the Departments, supporting the then Drugs "Tsar", Keith Hellawell. I joined the Unit more or less agnostic on drugs policy, being personally opposed to drug use, but open-minded about the best way to deal with the problem. I was certainly not inclined to decriminalise.

However, during my time in the Unit, as I saw more and more evidence of ?what works?, to quote New Labour's mantra of the time, it became apparent to me that the available evidence pointed very clearly to the fact that enforcement and supply-side interventions were largely pointless. They have no significant, lasting impact on the availability, affordability or use of drugs. In the Spending Review we undertook, we did successfully manage to re-allocate resources towards treatment programmes, but even then I had misgivings about the effectiveness of those programmes. Many hear the word "treatment" and imagine medical intervention or "cures", yet many of these programmes were often supported largely by anecdotal evidence of success, and the more successful interventions were simply too expensive to use widely, given other pressures on health budgets.

It seems apparent to me that wishing drug use away is folly. The only sensible cause of action is to minimise the damage caused to society by individuals' drugs choices. What harms society is the illegality of drugs and all the costs associated with that. There is no doubt at all that the benefits to society of the fall in crime as a result of legalisation would be dramatic. The argument always put forward against this is that there would be a commensurate increase in drug use as a result of legalisation. This, it seems to me, is a bogus point : tobacco is a legal drug, whose use is declining, and precisely because it is legal, its users are far more amenable to Government control, education programmes and taxation than they would be, were it illegal. Studies suggest that the market is already almost saturated, and anyone who wishes to purchase the drug of their choice, anywhere in the UK, can already do so. The idea that many people are holding back solely because of a law which they know is already unenforceable is simply ridiculous.

Ultimately, people will make choices which harm themselves, whether that involve their diet, smoking, drinking, lack of exercise, sexual activity or pursuit of extreme sports, for that matter. The Government in all these instances rightly takes the line that if these activities are to be pursued, society will ensure that those who pursue them : have access to accurate information about the risks; can access assistance to change their harmful habits should they so wish; are protected by legal standards regime; are taxed accordingly; and ? crucially - do not harm other people. Only in the field of drugs does the Government take a different line, and as a direct result, society suffers truly enormous consequences in terms of crime, both petty and organised, and harm to individuals who are criminalised and unprotected in the pursuit of their drug.

I think what was truly depressing about my time in UKADCU was that the overwhelming majority of professionals I met, including those from the police, the health service, government and voluntary sectors held the same view : the illegality of drugs causes far more problems for society and the individual than it solves. Yet publicly, all those intelligent, knowledgeable people were forced to repeat the nonsensical mantra that the Government would be 'tough on drugs', even though they all knew that the Government's policy was actually causing harm. I recall a conversation I had with a No 10 policy advisor about a series of Whitehall-wide announcements in which we were to emphasise the shift of resources to treatment and highlighting successes in prevention and education. She asked me whether we couldn?t arrange for 'a drugs bust in Brighton' at the same time, or 'a boat speeding down the Thames to catch smugglers'. For that advisor, what worked mattered considerably less than what would play well in the Daily Mail. The tragedy of our drugs policy is that it is dictated by tabloid irrationality, and not by reference to evidence.

77. At 9:38pm on 30 Jul 2008, JulianCritchley wrote:

Re : post 75, RandalCousinsI agree with you, as it happens. It's not as simple as some legalisers would have it. It would be a step into the relative unknown, and we should never be glib about that. It might involve having to legally recognise some very nasty people who are currently involved in the trade, but I suspect that the main difference would be that they would be pursued by the taxman rather than the police. There are international obligations, there would be people who would self-harm through drugs and would blame the change of policy. It would take a mature society to accept that some individuals may hurt, or even kill themselves, as a result of a policy change, even if the evidence suggested that fewer people died or were harmed as a result. I'm not sure our media society is ready to deal with that degree of reason. It would take a brave Government to face down the tabloid fury in the face of anecdotes about nice middle class children who bought drugs legally and came to grief, and this is not a brave Government (see the reclassification of cannabis against all evidence and the advice of its own panel of experts).

However, the Government accepts that its job is to confront and challenge ignorance in other fields such as homophobia and racism, and the equality agenda was also once very unpopular with the tabloids (maybe still is in some parts). So I was thoroughly disillusioned to see so many people who had sought power, refusing to exercise the responsibility which went with that power. What is the point in seeking office in order to improve the lot of society, if you refuse to act on something which would dramatically improve the lot of society, especially those with the least ?

I left the Civil Service and retrained as a teacher, in no small part due to my experiences of having to implement policies which I knew, and my political masters knew, were unsupported, or even contradicted, by evidence. I find that when presented with the facts, the students I teach are quite capable of considering issues such as this, and reaching rational conclusions even if they started with a blind Daily Mailesque approach. I find it a shame that no mainstream political party accords the electorate the same respect.




11 comments:

Zofo Franabulax said...

One major barrier to drug law reform is the industry (tax supported) of enforcement. A very large number of people pay their mortgages and put their children through uni by "fighting" this phony "war". While some of the police seem to support reform, I'll bet most of Customs and Exise doesn't!

HR2 said...

Meanwhile, from the Tories' thinktank

http://policystudies.cps.org.uk/daily_blog/$the_daily_blog/2008/08/12/harm_reduction_for_the_rausings__a_good_basis_for_drugs_policy_kathy_gyngell

domlingus said...

I guess everyone has a price.

Steve Rolles said...

better make it clear what you mean there dom.

john-boi said...

Yes Prohibibtion is the greatest job creation scheme this Government has.
At the present time any Government would be mad to suggest we start laying off Lawyers, Construction of new prisons, Police and Justice system workers etc etc.
A case would have to made that the savings from ending Prohibition would be far greater than carrying on with this job creation scheme.

Steve Rolles said...

I only partially buy that idea - if the Government stopped spending billions on drug enforcement they would spend it elsewhere (education, treatment, prevention perhaps - or other areas of law enforcement) so the money would stayn in the system and would indeed create jobs and growth in other areas. The net effect would be marginal re jobs.

The problem seems to be more about a bunker mentality - individual Government fiefdoms jealously protecting their budgets.

Anonymous said...

The core problem is that via the drug prohibition, several things are accomplished.

1.Politicians look like they’re doing their best to protect children from the evil drug empires.

2.Jobs in law related areas such as; police, lawyers, customs agents, drug committees, entire departments dedicated to drugs and so on.

3.The tabloids have less to badger politicians about.
A possible legalization would lead to the following problems with each of those points;

Drug use would appear to go up for a period of time after the
legalization, because real numbers can actually be found. Some people are less inclined to answer positively to questions regarding drug use in a state which prohibits them.

There would without a doubt be series of stories in the papers about children and teenagers getting loaded and being stupid. This would include; driving under the influence, getting in fights, stealing and getting hurt by improper use. Parents would in turn blame politicians, so would the papers and other media. It’s always easier to blame an outside source than yourself.

There would be a reduced need for police, customs agents and lawyers because of several factors. With drugs being legal, there would be little point in smuggling them, unless the government chooses to tax themselves way above street prices.
There would be little need for police to chase down both smugglers, producers, dealers and users. Which could also lead to an increase in injured police officers, as they would now have to deal with real criminals instead of a 40 year old getting stoned in his house on a Saturday.

The customs agents would once again have to deal with important matters such as people getting on flights while armed and similar situations.

Due to a reduction in both direct drug crimes such as smuggling, possession, use and dealing, other types of crime would go down. This includes robbery and larceny due to addicts being able to get their drug at a controlled sales
location just like alcoholics get their beer. When was the last time you heard about an alcoholic robbing someone for whiskey money?

In addition hospitals and medical clinics would see a declining rate in patients that need treatment for overdoses and drug related injuries, because just like an alcoholic they can now be honest with their doctor. This helps them get off the stuff or at least catch the problem early enough that help is possible.

The tabloids would have to go back to badgering the royal family and random celebrities about who they’re sleeping with. This would greatly reduce the amount of fear mongering they are able to do.

Anonymous said...

This is unreal, there is no valid or logical reason to legalise any of the currently illegal drugs, this is wild! Too many drugs which somehow are not illegal are already destructive enough in society. To now take the illegal ones as well and throw them into the mix is a complete joke! I have to ask what the vested interest is? There is no way on Earth that Man will benefit from an open and legal market of drugs. Drugs already destroy so many good things in society, they degrade an individual and the society, perhaps slowly but they do. The impede awareness and intelligence as well. These people need to look at a site called Unite Against Drugs, it is a campaign run by a charity called Drug Free International and they know better for sure it this is coming from public and official figures! Did you know as well that the UK has the worst drug problem in Europe! Oh I have the asnwer, lets legalise them on top of that too shall we! Joke.

Anonymous said...

the drugs are not the problem.human common sense and moderation is.the people who take drugs in moderation and dont do themselves in.is the same as someone who has a bottle of wine at the weekend and an alcoholic.but the law incriminates just the same.so decent people who enjoy a little of a various banned substance is criminalised.now say cars were banned today due to pollution and you were put in prison for selling a car .i could go on all day but you anti drugs wont listen because you not interest.and it too complicated so you simply ban all substances.and you destroy your own to accomplish your happiness is selfish human nature eh.your controling.

chapman said...

Unbelievable, there is no sensible or logical reason to legalize any of the currently illegal drugs, this is crazy! So many drugs which somehow are not illegal are already damaging enough in society. And now take the illegal ones as well and throw them into the blender is a complete farce! You have to ask what the vested interest is? There is no way that anyone will benefit from an open and legal market of drugs. Drugs already destroy so many good things in society, they degrade an individual and the society , perhaps slowly but they do. The impede awareness and intelligence as well. Did you know as well that the UK has the worst drug problem in Europe! Oh I have the answer, lets legalize them on top of that too shall we! Idiots.

Brighton Pat said...

I believe this to be one of the biggest questions for the modern Western Societies. Keep fighting and losing the fight against the considerable economic powers of the drug producers and traffickers, or think the unthinkable and legalise the whole situation. The latter would be a huge moral sea change and would also carry some not inconsiderable risks. My view is that it is worth the risk of legalising at least some of current drug menu, in a hope that users would be lured by cheaper and more reliable drugs into not buying and using the more dangerous varieties. Just my opinion, but is the other option still valid?