Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Drug politics and drug pragmatism - home and abroad.

Interesting times in the drug debate on the national and international front. At home the rather sorry ecstasy reclassification debacle comes to its conclusion with the ACMD recommending a move to B, the Home Secretary saying no, sorry, it’s staying in A, and no debate at all about whether or not the ABC harm ranking/hierarchy of criminal penalties system is a good idea or not. Science has not so much taken a back seat in the debate, it has been forcefully ejected from the car.

It's perhaps not surprising that we rarely find ourselves with serious debating opposition amongst police officers if this is the best they can manage:( Five Live breakfast show the segment you want is 2 hours and 54 minutes in). From the Chief Superintendants' Association, Ian Johnston’s very weak position discounting the ACMD's recommendation to downgrade ecstasy, relies solely on the 'sending out the wrong message' mantra, but he is entirely unable to back it up. It is surprising the pro-drug war authorities still put anyone up for a debate at all. They come across as seriously divorced from reality, looking like ill informed ideologues, or worse, propagandists – then lose. Which is why the Home Office don’t dare debate drug law reform in any live media format, ever – and if they are occasionally caught on the hop, they wheel out a pre-drafted line about debating alternatives being a 'counsel of despair' and telling us, once again that they are 'turning a corner'.

On a more positive front there is a great piece in today's Independent: The Big Question: Do we need a new debate about relaxing drugs policy in Britain?

Labour MP Austin Mitchell has a particularly fine quote that sums recent drug debates and all the classification blather:

"Things have gone from bad to worse, there is no possibility of an honest discussion now. Anyone who sticks their head above the parapet and calls for a rational consideration of the drug laws gets it shot off and kicked around by a horde of lunatics."

On the international front the bigger issues around the war on drugs and its horrendous negative consequences also receive attention in today’s Independent in a comment piece from long time reform advocate Johann Hari: Obama and the lethal war on drugs:

“With the global economy collapsing all around us, the last issue President Barack Obama wants to talk about is the ongoing War on Drugs. But if he doesn't – and fast – he may well have two collapsed and haemorrhaging countries on his hands. The first lies in the distant mountains of Afghanistan. The second is right next door, on the other side of the Rio Grande…”

“Drug addiction is always a tragedy for the addict – but drug prohibition spreads the tragedy across the globe. We still have a chance to take drugs back into the legal regulated economy, before it's too late for Mexico and Afghanistan and graveyards-full of more stabbed kids on the streets of Britain. Obama – and the rest of us – have to choose: controlled regulation or violent prohibition? Healthcare or warfare? “

A slightly different, US-focussed version of this piece appears in the Huffington Post.


Anonymous said...

This is absolute madness, the age we live in where powerful drugs that are legal are not made illegal and on top of that, powerful drugs which are illegal and being made less and less illegal. What is in store next, the re classification of all illegal drugs? The legalisation of marijuana for medicinal purposes? Then the full blown legalisation of marijuana for every stoner to be able to smoke their lives away. Madness. Drugs are drugs. So far I have come across only one charity that even recognises the truth about drugs, Drug Free International. It also has a campaign called Unite Against Drugs that aims to target the population in regards to the truth about drugs, just the facts, the dangers. I consider the slam dunk right source, education. When people are educated properly and truthfully about drugs they dont take them, why? Because drugs destroy the body and mind and lives...thats my two cents.

john-boi said...

To anonymous, surely in a free society as you say the truth about the dangers of drugs should be there for all not scaremongering and the suppression of science becasue it doesn't fit into our political bigotry over drugs.

You also make the common mistake by assuming that everyone who takes drugs damages or destroys their mind this is patently not true. As with alcohol the vast majority of users of illegal drugs do so without any harm to themselves or others. Barack Obama and Micheal Phelps don't fall into your sterotype of stoners smoking their lives away does it but they all have used marijuana. I suppose you would say Mr Phelpe would have probably won more gold medals than the 8 he won if he hadn't used cannabis!
Drugs have been an intimate part of our human culture since the beginning of time the earliest sacred writings known to man the Rig Veda extoll the joy of Soma now known to be a concoction of LSD And no culture has ever been wihtout some sort of intoxicant it is an inate urge for us to change our conciousness even animals do it.
Your final point that people won't take drugs if they are educated about them is only true in that they will make educated decisons about which drugs they take.Which if we wnat to reduce the potential for harm is a worthy aim But to assume they will stop taking all drugs is nieve and an unattainable aim unless we very severly restrict our personal freedom.

Steve Rolles said...

anon - the problem with the current system is that it increases the dangers of drugs, and makes all the related social problems worse, as well as creating a raft of problems associated with illegal markets.

Of course drugs are dangerous and obviously education about those risks is a key part the response. The problem is that we put most of our resources into counterproductive enforcement responses, whilst the public health side of policy is starved of resources and its priorities distorted by political posturing.

Jobber said...

I've had a flick through the ACMD publication and i have to say that it is somewhat disappointing. I found no reference for 'caffeine' or 'piperizine' in the text and the term 'adulterant' is mentioned only once as an afterthought (except in the glossary). It is very well known among clubbers and 'ecstasy' users that the 'pills' sold nowadays are literally nothing more than that- they very rarely if ever contain any real MDx and are simply chalky tablets containing, if anything psychoactive at all, a little caffeine, piperizine or perhaps something more sinister like DXM. As such, 'real ecstasy' is actually very rare nowadays.

This phenomenon has been entrenched for a while now - for 2 or 3 years at a famous club that i frequent there have been 4 or 5 teams of the same black guys selling 'pills' to the punters. These pills are well known to be blanks or adulterated, never containing MDMA and sold 4 for £10. These 'teams' of dealers are known and escorted by the bouncers, so i assume they are working for the club in an unofficial capacity.

In light of this the ACMD review seems a waste of time since it ignores this widespread adulteration. Therefore a lot of the data in the surveys and analysis will be based on 'ecstasy pills' and not MDMA (and analogs). Its true that most ecstasy dangers arise from these unknowns, not from MDMA itself. A comprehensive review would surely have started from this basis?

Frank said...

Jesus wept, that Radio 5 Live discussion is depressing. Sums up the level of debate the authorities are prepared to have on this topic.

Steve Rolles said...

Jobber - to be fair to the ACMD they did look at the issue of adulterants and there is a section on that research in the report, and it does mention BZP as one the adulterants identified. I was surprised at their conclusions on that front, which suggested that most pills sold were MDMA, but that only represented the data they found or were presented with, and I actually thought the review of evidence in the report was thorough and useful, even if I differed with the council on other issues.

Jobber said...

Thanks for the response Steve. Its still unfortunate i think that adulteration didnt play a more representative role in the review. Again it feels like the ACMD are holding back somewhat, what with steering clear of a review of the whole ABC system and indeed the UK prohibition. What are the chances of seeing this soon do you think Steve? I see your rhetoric is pushing for it in your releases recently.

And Frank, i just checked out that radio 5 interview and you're utterly right- completely two-dimensional parrot-speech from the superintendant (he must've been heavily prepped by number 10). Nonetheless Danny shat all over him! Firm applause on my part Danny for shoe-horning most of the key facts into such a short space and under so much pressure. If anyone can turn the war of soundbites around it'll be Transform. HOOOOO!!!

Steve Rolles said...

Re the review - Ive written a bit aboyt it in the conclusions of our submission to the ACMD, as well as a paper on the classification system in drugs and alcohol today linked from the press release blog post.

basically everyone supported it, including the ACMD, but it was kyboshed at the last minute by the incoming Home Secretary because of the potential political difficulties in exposing the system to rigorous scrutiny. The Home Office reasoning was that - they believed the system worked. Astonishing really.

Not allowing a review (not even a change - just a review) of a system that almost everyone acknowledges is outdated and malfunctioning is one of the most depressing chapters in recent UK drug policy - but utterly symptomatic of the political dimension of UK drug policy.

Anonymous said...

After the cannabis re-scheduling debaucle, a repetition over MDMA: surely nobody really expected anything else?
What puzzles me is how those on the ACMD feel.....? A more pointless and depressing form of employment is hard to imagine.
The first comment is typical: those who think they "know" what they are talking about, actually know the least...... empty vessels make most noise, perhaps?
Having recently had a lecture from Strathclyde Drugs Information Unit, it would appear that MDMA is in fact a rare commodety these days... and, shock horror, there are other ethnogens available also, which, of course, must now be banned also....... why, for God and indiginous peoples everywhere's sake?
That the UN can have come up with the totally bonkers idea of "a drug free world by 2008" just shows how far this nonsense goes: ritual execution of drug users is a fine tribute to the world wide plague of prohibition.
So, in Vienna this year there is a chance for change: repeal the 1961 and 1988 Conventions, and the World may just be a better place, whilst we slide slowly into a post-industrial collapse, driven by politicians greed, and lies, such as the response to the ACMD's Reort....
For me, the BBC Horizon programme last week regarding cannabis was yet another missed opportunity, and the BBC and the programme makers should be ashamed of themselves: perpetuating lies and nonsense dating back to the 1930's in todays world really shows how little progress has been made since prohibition first reared its ugly, corrupt, racist's head in the 1870's. So much for objective journalism..........
Funny really, but its hardly suprising in a world where evolution is still denied by a significant proportion of the western world - these two bonkers philosophies, drug phohibition/denial of the obvious, will end up as a fitting tribute on the worlds tombstone.

Derek said...

Danny's R5 interview is preserved for posterity

It's a classic I have to say, well done Danny.

Steve Rolles said...

Thanks Derek

Anonymous said...

Oh dear, this is all looking like crap. Here in NZ midyear a Law Commission full first principles review of our 30+ year old Misuse of Drugs Act will begin. An international harm reduction symposium is also happening this week in Wellington and our mutt of a prime minister has just said he doesn't care whether George Soros' organisation helped fund it, because he has no intention of changing the cannabis law. Times like these I wish I was religious and could pray for bolts of lightening.