Sunday, December 07, 2008

The mystery of the missing Impact Assessment

On Tuesday of last week I got a call from The Times asking me to comment on a story showing that the Home Office anticipate that cannabis reclassification (back to B) would have significant negative consequences including hundreds of extra incarecerations, a disproportional impact on the black population, and tens of millions in extra CJS expenditure - some diverted from heroin and crack provision in the drug strategy. All this and more appears in an impact assessment they undertook; for the detail see Derek Williams's comprehensive post on the UKCIA blog.

What struck me was that, whatever the source of the information, it ought to have been in the public domain, at the very least informing the debate in the House of Lords specifically on cannabis classification the week before.

The story didn't run in The Times, but a few days later I got my email alert reminding me of Parliamentary Questions (PQs) to Alan Campbell MP, Home Office drugs minister. It turned out that Paul Flynn MP had received a reply to his PQ asking "what assessment the Home Secretary has made of the effects of the reclassifying of cannabis on the number of people receiving a custodial sentence for offences relating to the drug each year". He had been given a holding answer on 20 October, the whereabouts of the Impact Assessment not given to him until 26 November, (the day after the Lords Debate).

Yet the Impact Assessment had actually gone online on 13 October, when the draft Order to reclassify cannabis to a Class B drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 was laid. However, no one in the drug policy field nor those at the forefront of the debate in Parliament, knew that it was publicly available - the Home Office had made no attempt to alert interested parties to its existence.

Now, the question is, whether this is SNAFU or deliberate hiding of evidence? Either way, it's a coincidence and a little odd.

I wonder how pleased the Lords will be to find out that this key document existed, (highlighting the anticipated and significant negative consequences of the move), but that they needed PQ's and bloggers to make them aware of it, all some time after the crucial debate on the issues it concerns itself with.


Anonymous said...

Given that there was a link to the Impact Assessment with the Order, and it was accessible then (I downloaded and read it at the time) there's no mystery here. It may not have been widely publicised as you may have liked but the notice on the Home Office website said "A draft Parliament Order and Impact Assessment of the reclassification of cannabis is also now available" and this was linked straight from the Tackling Drugs Changing Lives" section of the website.

Rather than being concerned that there was some attempt to hide it, I'd be concerned that the Lords, and the drugs policy field are so dim that they couldn't find the relevant document, located as it was in the public domain, unless they have it press released and sent directly to their inbox with a ribbon round it. Less conspiracy and an attempt to bury it but a nice attempt to suggest conspiracy as opposed to stupidity on the part of those who are paid to keep track of such things...

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, nothing like a bit of straight talking is there? Ignorance is the key here and the fact is that, apart from your good self, everyone involved appeared to be ignorant of the existence of the Impact Assessment. What a pity you didn't see fit to make it more widely known.
Secondly, you appear to have no interest in the fact that the Home Office took until the day after the debate to inform Paul Flynn MP of its existence.
I can only assume that you prefer pointing out other's dimness to enlightening us all. Shame...
I wonder what you think that you are paid to do.

Sunshine Band said...

Surely the bigger picture is that there appears to be a long-standing agenda in the form of conspiracy of misinformation to persecute dope users, which much of the establishment is now bent on escalating. The closest to the truth in the Lords debate came from Lord Adebowale who said words to the effect that if belief trumps science and human rights, slavery and other forms of discriminatory oppression in this country would still exist as it did in days of old. I don't think he used the D word, but whatever figures turn up in whatever reports or dodgy dossiers - the plain fact is that v/v alcohol and tobacco, drug users suffer irrational, illegal, unfair Discrimination already - and as for an ammendment to keep it at class C - small potatoes indeed, for the law on cannabis even as it stands is a mandate for the police to brutalise families, destroy lives and to facilitate a generally (although not exclusively), nasty criminal market poisoning citizens with crap weed which users are unfairly compelled to use in a climate of fear and mistrust.

Such is the extent of the discriminatory propaganda, that even being able to talk openly about the subject may invite the attention of the police and not an official eyebrow is raised when former commonwealth countries hang people for a handful of harmless weed.

As far as the Impact Assessment goes, frankly anyone who bothers to think about it already knows whatever harm is being done is caused almost exclusively by the criminalisation of drug property (as with all controlled drugs) and yet more harm is as a result of the wrongful place alcohol and tobacco occupy in policy in comparison to cannabis. My point about harm is that drug abuse occurs in an unfairly slanted market - the absence of cannabis and other drugs from the legal markets skews consumption patterns and risk on both sides of the legal divide. Many drinkers would be a lot safer if they replaced a greater part of their booze with cannabis for example, and the safe use recommendations for alcohol are pretty pointless in some regards - there is a basic and quite reasonable desire for people to get wasted, and there is no chance of doing that on a pint and a half - yet a far better result can be got for under a gram of generally harmless herb. protect drinkers - free the weed.

Anonymous said...

Can't the Gov be held to account for the blatant lies in the "Assesment"?

The factual errors/omissions seem to negate the fact that the lords couldn't find it before the vote anyway.

"the bigger picture is that there appears to be a long-standing agenda in the form of conspiracy of misinformation to persecute dope users, which much of the establishment is now bent on escalating."

I don't think they see it as persecution, besides a few of em really believing they're protecting "the children", I think most are protecting the corporate legal drugs, as that provides the lion share of funding related lobbying.

If lobbying was more transparent the dots would be much easier to connect IMO.


Sunshine Band said...

Anon, its valid to consider what vested interests are at play in realising current policy, but we must all be aware that if such bias manifests in drug policy, then not only is that a contravention of the legal framework surrounding the administration of the law, but that such irrationality in terms of having an evidence-based policy in line with appropriate harm-reduction measures is counter-productive and undermines the raison-d'etre of public bodies charged with protection the public.

I sense that you are aware of this, and like many are now realising - the very protection of children that they claim to support is absolutely not being borne out of the policy of criminalising cannabis. There is a demand which the war on drugs seemingly cannot defeat, and yet the policy is causing young persons to buy drugs under dubious circumstances without any protection concerning stregnths and purities - the rise of high potency products is as a direct result of prohibtion and no sensible control over use is possible under these conditions. These points are now widely recognised and the more we spell out the paradox of consequences of drug discrimination, the closer we are to tilting the balance of opinion.

Danny K said...

Your coments about protection reminded me of an article I wrote a few moths ago for the Oxford Forum student magazine, suggesting that the war on drugs is in fact a protection racket in the classic sense:

See also Raj Persaud's piece on cannabis that appeared in the same issue: