Monday, February 15, 2010

Another contemptuous Home Office rejection of a request for better evidence in UK drug policy

In April 2009 Transform published a groundbreaking report, titled 'A Comparison of the Cost-effectiveness of the Prohibition and Regulation of Drugs'

We sent a copy to the Secretary of State in July 2009 with the letter below. Our tardiness was to put to shame however, by the time it took the Home Secretary to respond - we received his response today, 15th Feb 2010 - eight months later. According to the Home Office the delay was partly due to awaiting Gordon Brown's response to our call for an Impact assessment. Clearly this delay wasn't because of the effort that went into the content of the response, which is as ever, contemptuous.

Our letter and the response from the Secretary of State are shown below.

The civil service manual for answering correspondence is:

1 agree with what you can,
2 ignore the rest and
3 restate government policy whilst you're at it.

The response from Alan Johnson shows the manual being followed to the letter.

Here's our blog on the saga of the withholding of the Home Office 2007 (Christine Godfrey) value for money study mentioned in Alan Johnson's response. That report took almost three years to emerge after our initial request...

The letter to the Home Secretary and his response speak for themselves. To enlarge the view just click on the page you want to see.

Those moved to do so might want to contact their MP or prospective parliamentary candidate to suggest that they support our call for an Impact Assessment of the Misuse of Drugs Act.


Sunshine Band said...

Danny - your letter genuinely oozes sincerity, but has got a totally-timewasting response. You should send a punchy reply to the nutt-sacking Johnson (who could doubtless deliver a letter more promptly than he could reply to one).

1. The record is stuck on the first point - ask him what he means by that expression he used 'illegal drugs', and where the concept finds it's definition in law.

2. Where in the MDA does it suggest that controlled drugs ought, by default to be prohibited drugs?

3. Ask him if the Government or the ACMD have ever taken any legal advice about their duties as administrators of the primary legislation.

4. Ask why they have fettered themselves to a policy of claiming that all use of controlled drugs is misuse when, "around four million people use [controlled drugs] each year. Most of these people do not experience harm from their drug use, nor do they cause harm to others as a result of their habit" is a direct quote from the Third Report from the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee Session 2001-2002. HC-318 The Government's Drug Policy; is it working? (Para 20).

Suggest there is a clear conflict between the stated objects and purposes of the legislation and indeed the provision of the Human Rights Act 1998 in maintaining adherence to a policy that manifests disproportionate interference into personal liberty and paradoxical consequences for the health of those 4 million persons.

5. Ask if this policy does not constitute unequal treatment that is not proscribed in law when contrasted with the government's extraordinarily lax treatment of alcohol (which they admit causes more harm than all controlled drugs).

6. Ask if the present policy of ostensibly trying to protect the health of the controlled drug users he mentions (and he has cherry picked two drugs that clearly have a higher percentage of problem users than most controlled drug users experience problems with), why does he not extend the same 'protections' to the hapless alcohol and tobacco misusers who outnumber these persons dramatically (and don't let him stick with these two drugs although regulation of these would be preferable to prohibtion IMO) - ask why cannabis for example should be a class B drug and yet tobacco smokers remain unprotected from their habit by such 'generous' protection from the criminal law.

7. Ask him to demonstrate the correlation between the classification of drugs and the social harmfulness of those drugs (as the stated object of the MDA to so ameliorate such harm) and whether the resultant criminal sanctions can be said to be proportionate. Ask that the evaluation compares the sanctions applied to psilocybin mushrooms as to those with tobacco. Upon what basis can they justify not classifying tobacco as a dangerous drug whilst finding time and resources to classify numerous new drugs which have not been associated with fatalities or social harm.

Sam said...

I just got a response from Alan Campbell through my MP, the Home Office seem to be fond of the cut & paste function. You got an extra helping of patronising sarcasm in yours though, lucky dabbers.

The overall message is "Shut up, you don't know squat and we're not changing"

strayan said...

Who else did you CC the original letter to? Any journalists or members of the opposition?

Tim Scully said...

Very good points Sunshine. Though for 5, 6 and 7 I think the government has already answered that alcohol and tobacco policies are based on historical and cultural reasons. I don’t remember on which newspaper I read it, but I am sure those were the excuses they used to ignore professor Nutt findings a while ago…

What would be interesting is to question why they give more importance to historical reasons over scientific evidence? It seems a kind of discrimination to me but, how can we make the government understand that current drug policies are discriminatory? I always thought that to prohibit the use of a drug due to harm issues was a bit silly, once that mountain climbing, skiing and horse riding, for example, are not criminalized.

About the first three points that you raised… They are far too controversial. I don’t think the government will ever acknowledge those questions. Legal definition of “illegal drugs”…! Lol, they will first murder the sender of the question than recognized the absurdity of their own position. While the second and third questions are paramount to ask them to follow the law, and therefore they will probably resort to violence or any other dirty trick. Would be very nice if Transform would dare to ask such an inconvenience and utterly politically incorrect questions… or maybe it’s ok to tickle the beast enough to get a response, but not so much as to risk ending up on its belly?

I guess the million pounds question here is: how do you persuade a politician to engage in honest and logical debate? If we could just spike their drinks with an effective truth serum...

Anonymous said...

Full marks for trying, but the response is not surprising, and could equally well have come from any of the Home Secretaries we've had over the last 20 years.

The real problem is that the Home Office is not actually interested in addressing the drug issue in a more rational way. The current system serves them far too well.

For example, the prohibition regime provides secure employment for a small army of officials who enjoy wide powers over people's lives that they could not otherwise have dreamed of.

Moreoever, the fear of illegal drugs and the 'ordinary' crime associated with them helps to maintain a state of continual fear among voters, which can always be exploited for political ends.

So by all means make the case for ending prohibition - a case which must be made.

But don't expect that the Home Office and its hangers on will ever 'see the light'. Because they don't want to.

In the end the prohibition regime will collapse under its own weight, not least because of the huge avoidable costs it imposes on society. But the impetus for change will not come from Johnson or others of his ilk.

Danny K said...

Not sure why you're telling me it was a time-wasting response. That is abundantly clear.
Now back to the issue at hand - 'illegal drugs'.
As I said I have been giving this significant thought, and the response (not reply) from Johnson, makes your point very clearly - the chimera of 'illegal drugs' does indeed lock in the policy discourse in a more dysfunctional way than it need be.
As to your questions, as I made clear in the blog, the civil servant tasked with replying on Mr Johnson's behalf, will follow the manual - agree with what they can, ignore the rest and restate government policy. I will however, contact him/her to consider some of the questions you have raised.
As you must be aware now, shifting away from commonly understood language is difficult for some of us. Even when we understand, grasping its significance can also be a struggle.
There are some important questions that your thesis raises. However, getting comprehensive answers to letters, and indeed, logical judgements from the court, will not flow immediately from getting the language straight.
What is needed here is to step back and figure out where to use the challenge of the reframed discourse, and for me, to consider if and where Transform should alter our language.
Still thinking, Danny

Anonymous said...

If you all think the response is that poor just send in your own requests for clarity. If you find fault, write a letter. Don't just post on here. Get writing your own FoI requests. The more the merrier I say.

Frank said...

Interesting points on language here. I have noticed a recent trend among the prohibitionists (led by Mr DeCosta) whereby the word 'prohibition' is attacked, if not avoided at all costs: the first paragraph of Johnson's response ends "what you describe as domestic drugs prohibition". It is evident to me that this is the sorest point for the prohibitionists - to admit this regime is prohibitive puts the entire debate in context for the general public. Johnson and Costa are quick to try and shut this notion down early in the exchange.

Further exploration of our 'prohibition' inevitably leads us to question alcohol and tobacco regulation which is the keystone of the debate. What i'm suggesting, Danny, is that wrestling with the politicians over the 'P' word is ideologically important - the politicians know this. Once the public begin to understand our drug policies in terms of a 'prohibition', not a 'war on bad drugs' then the end must be in sight.

Keep on keeping on.

Steve Rolles said...

Brown refers to the policy as prohibition in his letter (see link in blog post). the hoem office call it prohibntioin in the drug strategy and the UNODC call it prohibition, as does the dictionary. its not a political word, its just descriptive.

Frank said...

Thanks for the reply Steve. I have just checked back over the Brown letter as suggested. Although 'prohibition' is used descriptively as you say his first paragraph also contains the phrase used by Johnson "what you describe as domestic drugs prohibition". This is directly challenging the status of prohibition, suggesting the situation can be described as something else, something less severe or more 'normal' perhaps. How is this not political and only descriptive? For me 'prohibition denial' ranks with the 'pro-drug' smear Transform has experienced.

My point previously was that 'prohibition' is not a word thrown around by politicians. It may be descriptive (what word isn't?), but what it describes and the related issues aren't necessarily understood by the masses. The prohibitionists like it this way. Don't let them have it!

Sunshine Band said...

Tim - it's worth fleshing that explanation of 'cultural & historic reasons or precedents' out - that strikes me as an admission that they administer the law in a manner NOT based upon the already clearly defined statutory objectives, but on the basis that they will ignore the harmfulness of the drug choice of the majority, whilst clamping down hard on the minority who choose different drugs. Isn't this exempting classes of persons from the operation of the law?

As Casey Hardison noted, claiming cultural and historic preferences for scapegoating minorities are the very same indices of discrimination that characterised racism, sexism and homophobia.

As for your concerns for the personal security of Transform if they rattle the cage too hard - 'they' (if they were so-minded to) cannot 'take out' a few people to silence the critics - this is all in the public domain.

Danny - I would say the language correction and the hope for a legal redress are our best if not only direct weapons against a regime that would publically state that they would never change policy (and that in a context where we aere promised in 1971 a rapidly responsive and adaptive legal instrument). You can only speak to their listenning, and as they have made clear - they will not budge. It's tough for any small group to make enough impact against the mainstream propaganda to create a democratic mandate for change - that is why we must recognise that the 'legal game' is the only one left in town. We are talking about criminal law anyway with drug control - it's obvious that the law we have was brought about with objective, flexible provisions that sought to achieve a sensible objective - this is what we have to beat them with. And there is the Human Rights Act. How can they insist on applying dogma and faith over reason and science (with the dire results that you are well aware of) is within the four corners of this law? We have to make them recognise that they are breaking the law, or convince the courts - I'm looking forwards to hearing how you guys think this campaign can adapt to the present reality and what can be done, and then actually going for it. There is something else I need to say about this campaign as well, but don't want to push too hard just yet. I await your next repsonse with eager anticipation as clearly you have recognised that a transformation in the approach is called for.

Richard Jones said...

Not sure how much good writing to your MP will be. I wrote to my former MP (before I moved house), Anne Main (C. St Albans). I got back a completely dismissive response which shows she failed to understand the first thing on the issue. I must post that reply some time ...

Steve Rolles said...

Hi Richard - yes do post it. I think its good to see these replies. i dont think its a waste of time sending the letters though - getting useless replies can facilitate critique in a number of ways, and also just making MPs aware of issues and concerns is useful even if it doesn't deliver in the short term.

Steve Rolles said...

sunshine - get your teeth into this:

Sunshine Band said...

OK Steve, a quick response:

So, criminality is now to be rooted in an intention to sell something that intoxicates a human being – obviously they are not going to arrest all of the Scottish whisky dealers. It is hardly surprising that pubs and clubs want these chemicals banned as they certainly undermine their monopoly on intoxicating people with harmful drugs.

Fergus Ewing identifies a real problem, but one which has arisen through the ‘ban everything (except alcohol and tobacco)’ approach to drug control. His reactionary proposals are very dangerous both in terms of civil liberties and the inevitable paradox of consequences created by such attempts at hastily dreamt up draconian legislation. The premise is confused from the outset – substances are not outlawed presently; specific (to include ALL harmful) drugs are supposedly ‘controlled’ by the law to the extent that the problematic acts involving those drugs are outlawed unless specifically permitted. This regulation should be done with proportionate and minimal interference into liberty, in accordance with the purpose of the law (the amelioration of harm caused by drug misuse which causes a social problem), by differentiating between peaceful use and misuse of such controlled drugs.

The article states that: “Police and ministers are increasingly concerned that criminals are able to stay one step ahead of the law by creating pharmaceutical combinations outside the latest illegal drug classifications.” Reveals two fatal misunderstandings of law; firstly that by stating that acting in a way which stays ahead of the law can be described as being done by 'criminals' is just plain ridiculous. Secondly drugs are not classified as ‘illegal’ as explained before – drugs are objects, this article makes the common mistake of flipping subject and object and forgetting that classification of a drug does not equate to prohibtion.

Anonymous said...

Can you explain how classification does not equate to prohibition?

Sunshine Band said...

Classification under the MDA is a requirement for any drug which may cause (social) harm. Drugs are merely the objects, what are controlled are human activities in respect of classified drugs. The human activities are controlled to achieve the purpose of the law, ie the reduction in harm. In order to carry out the administration, the Government is afforded powers under the Act to make regulations. The purpose of these is to be able to use the punitive powers of the law against actions which are related to drug misuse, and to resist the over-application of such powers where drug use does not cause adverse social effects. It is an accepted principle of delegated and all law making (powers) that intervention into liberty should be proportionate and minimal to achieve the desired effects. The bulk of activity concerning controlled drugs does not have a significant impact upon the health of users or other persons - the Government is duty bound to recognise that drug misuse is distinct from [peaceful] drug use in the same way as they recognise it is for non-controlled drug use.

I think it is important to look at the statutory powers given to the government to do this as well as the background to the MDA and it's objects and purposes.

Here is part of S7 of the MDA:

Authorisation of activities otherwise unlawful under foregoing provisions.
— (1) The Secretary of State may by regulations—
except from section 3(1)(a) or (b), 4(1)(a) or (b) or 5(1) of this Act such controlled drugs as may be specified in the regulations; and
make such other provision as he thinks fit for the purpose of making it lawful for persons to do things which under any of the following provisions of this Act, that is to say sections 4(1), 5(1) and 6(1), it would otherwise be unlawful for them to do.
Here is part of S22 MDA:

Further powers to make regulations.
The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision—
for excluding in such cases as may be prescribed—
(i) the application of any provision of this Act which creates an offence;

And S 31:

General provisions as to regulations.
— (1) Regulations made by the Secretary of State under any provision of this Act—
may make different provision in relation to different controlled drugs, different classes of persons, different provisions of this Act or other different cases or circumstances; and
may make the opinion, consent or approval of a prescribed authority or of any person authorised in a prescribed manner material for purposes of any provision of the regulations;

If the law sought to prohibit all peaceful use and property rights in controlled drugs surely it would say so. Why is the use of drugs not detailed as an offence except for the case of opium? The law contains all the powers needed (without the need for a new Act) to administer it much along the lines of Transform's Blueprint book - this is why Parliament made it this way, as an adaptive instrument that would evolve with evidence / ACMD input. To suggest that it is little more than just a list of banned substances is wrong - if the object of the law is to curb drug misuse, then the curbing of drug misuse can not easily be justified - it would be like saying that all alcohol must be prohibited because of problem drinkers, and the message of responsible drinking it entirely the wrong message as it encourages these problem drinkers to think they can get back on the booze. It's double standards (the Government's wrong messages line). The law is not about sending exaggerated messages to make the use of drugs seem less attractive.

We have a right to know the truth about how controlled drug use compares with drinking and smoking. Just by saying a drug is less harmful than smoking does not mean that it's use has to be encouraged at all - it is just a demand for honest education.

Sunshine Band said...

Correction please to my earlier post - "if the object of the law is to curb drug misuse, then the curbing of drug misuse can not easily be justified" should read....then the curbing of ALL drug use cannot easily be justified"

Danny K said...

This is where I'm up to now:
1 I think that your analysis is very strong.
2 I think that it is going to be useful to avoid using the term 'illegal drugs' in dealings with policy makers. And also to recognise in dealings with policy makers in the UK that the MDA is not just a piece of prohibitionist legislation.
3 'Illegal drugs' can be used as shorthand in other situations - a time and a place... There is no need to rewrite every piece of material to suit this analysis.
That's my thoughts thus far.

Sunshine Band said...

I concede there might be some situations where I wouldn't bite someone's head off. Non-English as a first language speakers can be given a certain amount of tolerance (perhaps a community sentence or a caution) for saying 'illegal drugs'. If some lovely person has done a brilliant work about drug harms or whatever and slips an 'illegal drugs' expression in there - there is no point in making them wrong and attacking them for it - although I do believe that the meme should be spread at every opportunity, the timing to challenge it might on some occasions be best deferred, but it must be done at some point (to help them actually, not to make them look stupid).

In terms of re-writing what has been done - it is not necessary if we make it known that the language used is changing, although purely from a marketting point of view it would be a novel idea to look at product TITLE recall, perhaps with a sticker to put over the offending words. Just an idea.

Thanks for taking this seriously! I want to say some other things about campaigning,but the language points go further still. It is about creating the language of possibility of transformation.

Anonymous said...

What do you think of the phrase 'illicit drugs'?
Illicit in the sense of being contrary to accepted morality or convention, rather than not sanctioned by law.

Sunshine Band said...

'Illicit drugs' an an expression is only slightly preferable to 'illegal drugs'. I think it does draw a correlation to legal status. Illicitness infers the human element in a way that 'illegal drug' almost avoids, but actually if it does carry a moral overtone then that is probably a negative point. I think we should fail to recognise the moral censure over certain drugs in adopting language as this is aprt of the project, to transform such prejudice into a rational discourse. Frankly (although I know Derek hates the term, 'controlled drug' is appropriate for formal discourse. In conversation it can be used whilst sometimes taking the opportunity to explain the paradox inherrent in the controlled/non-controlled divide. A useful expression is 'drugs with criminalised users' - whilst this is also techncially incorrect in one way, it most other ways it makes a strong point. (Drug use is not generally an offence - but all meaningful use is negated by prohibition policy which controls human actions in respect of drugs).

It all depends on context - whilst I would resist ever saying legal/illegal/legalise - it gores further. We should not talk about drugs and alcohol. We should never say that alcohol and tobacco are not included in the MDA. I am personally in favour of a more thorough language spring clean. But this is the first step. If you want a catch phrase, well it has been elusive, I do like the banner 'Illegal Drugs Do Not Exist' - I think it is a better handle for something like Release's bus campaign than the 'Nice People Take Drugs'. Although I loved it, it did pose some problems in interpretation.

tim scully said...

If you want to be correct, please don't use the term "controlled drugs", as it is as much "doublespeak" as "illegal drugs" is.

Some drugs are currently being controlled, but they are the ones which use is not illegal, like alcohol, prescription medicines, etc.

MDMA, cannabis etc are not "illegal" or "controlled"; they are drugs which use is illegal. Some might thing its use is controlled because it is illegal to use them, but they are not in themselves "illegal" or "controlled" at all.

They ought to be control though, as the Misuse of Drugs Act sensibly specifies, but sadly the government is failing on its duty by simply prohibiting and denying any kind of use or trade of such drugs, without even trying to exert any kind of control on them. Prohibition doesn't mean control, but rather the opposite.

I think this is the essence of the problem, the miss-administration of the Misuse of Drugs Act by wrongly equating prohibition with control. They are not the same thing, but rather effectively opposite, as anyone who knows a bit of history can testify. One of the consequences of prohibition is the lost of control. To prohibit means to lose control.

The government has yet to prove that they can control a drug by prohibiting it, rather than by regulating its trading and use. They will never be able to, as is impossible to control what you don't regulate. The government should control their quality (lack of adulterants or "purity") and they should also control that they are being sold on the proper premises to adults.

So the correct way would be drugs of legal use and drugs which use is illegal or drugs which are illegal to use. Is always the use what is legal or illegal, and only within a legal framework any kind of control is possible.

tim scully said...

I can’t agree with using the term “controlled drugs” regarding the prohibition of some drugs use, production or trade.

That government controls a drug ought to mean that they regulate the way we relate to them (its use, access, purity, labeling, advertising, etc), like they currently do in different degrees with alcohol, tobacco and so call medicines. But, by prohibiting us to relate with a drug, the government forgo any kind of regulation, while at the same time criminalizing users, sellers and producers.

Therefore, prohibiting a drug can’t be to control a drug.

The term “controlled drugs” can’t be applied to so call “illegal drugs” or drugs which use, production or trade is prohibited. By equating control with prohibition, the government deceives you into thinking they are following the Misuses of Drugs Act, when they are clearly not.
The MDA was made to control potentially dangerous drugs (as mostly all psychoactive drugs are). The means to control them, as Tranform Drug Policy Foundation paradigmatically explains on its “Blueprint”, are regulation of its access, purity, proper labeling, marketing, etc.

the prof speaks sh*te said...

Of course if we really want to be rigorous about language, we ought to stop talking about 'drugs'. This is an invented concept which goes hand in hand with regulation through the criminal law.

Before opium and opiates were thought of as 'drugs' (and 'prohibited'), they were viewed as 'poisons' and controlled via administrative means. By talking about 'drugs', we implicitly accept the regulatory status quo.

Sunshine Band said...

Tim - you have a great point that Derek also makes all of the time which ends up being a distraction from the landmark stance we are about to take to purge the expression illegal drugs which is a thousand times worse than 'controlled drugs'. If you use the term controlled drugs, then do explain it like you have done, and this is a useful discussion point (the paradox that you describe).

You are missing some vital points: We use the expression 'controlled drugs' as that is the term defined in law when talking about the law:

2. Controlled drugs and their classification for purposes of this Act.
Controlled drugs and their classification for purposes of this Act.
— (1) In this Act—
the expression “controlled drug” means any substance or product for the time being specified in Part I, II, or III of Schedule 2 to this Act;

They are controlled in the sense that the exercise of property rights in such drugs are subject to law enforcement provision and legal sanction. It doesn't matter whether the policy works or not as to the technical meaning of this word as opposed to the common parlance of the word which you are concerned about.

I'm afraid that you are mistaken about the law, drug use is not as you suggest illegal (except for the use of opium). Of course the meaningful use of controlled drugs (the legal term and not the effect on the ground) is prohibited, but the law did not go as far as to forbid the use of controlled drugs.

Danny K said...


'Controlled drugs' is also very misleading, despite its appropriate technical use. It is of course paradoxical (and confusing), which is not useful in campaigning terms. Added to which you leave yourself in the trap of referring to drugs rather than the behaviours around them which are actually prohibited. How useful is this in challenging the orthodox meme of 'illegal drugs'?

I really think that you need to keep this in perspective.

Useful though your analysis is, there is much much more to undoing the prohibition than getting the language straight.

I've recently been viewing the global prohibition through the lens of securitisation (a little known international relations theory). It has a lot to offer us in helping understand some of the forces at play geopolitically. However, it doesn't explain everything and will not bring the whole thing tumbling around our feet as a result of its application to the discourse.

Neither will the replacement of 'illegal drugs' with the term 'controlled drugs'. Like all 'new' analyses, it will be useful in some places and not in others.

In the end it will be a combination of forces that end the war. The likelihood is that the larger of these forces will be beyond our control - the economic crisis for example.

Let's try and keep it in perspective and recognise the value of other ways of looking at things. LEAP have made huge strides with their campaign, based almost totally on calling for legalisation specifically.

It would be a mistake to suggest that their efforts have been in vain, or overwhelmingly counterproductive.

Sunshine Band said...

The Prof Speaks sh*te - but I do accept the government's role in regulating access to drugs. I just demand that they do it properly that's all. I think you are now throwing the baby out with the bathwater by pointing out these social contructs. The word 'drugs' is defined by the UN and we are working with it. OK, so it is used very loosely to include all medicines and other substances taken to modify mental and bodily processes. This is not something I would take immediate exception to, just the arbitrariness of the administration of the law with regard to drug property rights.

My point is a quite specific response to the legal status quo that I seek to transform. Obviously language is a social contructs that seeks to define reality, but we cannot relativise everything as part of a legal discourse. I think you must credit the fact that we are enterring a process to question the status quo, and to engage it, in it's own terms. What government have done by insisting on using the expressions legal and illegal drugs has no basis in law. So, we ask them to apply the standards they represent. This to my mind seems far more amenable to moderate and sensible discussion than if I was to come along and seek to re-write the law, or challenge the legitmacy of it entirely (as some groups such as the so-called 'Freemen' try to do by saying that they do not consent to such laws).

Sunshine Band said...

Danny - this point about the misleading nature is accepted. I am using it because we are working with holding the government to account before the law and it is the legal term. Just because drugs are not controlled in practice doesn't change the fact that they are controlled. Speed limits apply on a road even if people ignore them. I am not using the expression as a campaigning tool - you can think of any expression that suits, except 'illegal drug'. Yes, controlled drugs also depersonalises the issue (although not as much as illegal IMO, but actually what we are saying is the fact that they are controlled ONLY by merit of their being so scheduled under the MDA (in itself seemingly an arbitrary decision at this time).

I'm not saying this is the B all and end all - I'm saying it is the essential groundwork, and reqlly doesn't take any effort.

LEAP obviously has prohibition in it's (title)sights, and that word is fine to fight against. People do accept the word legalisation and I am not going to trash ten thousand coppers for using a word without ever being aware of the fact that it forms part of an (incorrect) language mindset that negates the possibility of transformation. Having said that, people fighting with one hand tied behind their backs due to these language errors still can put up a good fight, but don't be afraid to tell them about the language as you will then empower them to make a greater impact. Don't underestimate the power of getting this base right. There is more as well. I'm not saying your work has been counter-productive at all, or theirs - I'm saying that energy is wasted as the process of taking someone from 'illegal drug' to regulated drug requires more energy and time than taking them from the admittedly unwieldly 'drug related activities being controlled to prevent social harm' to 'regulated drugs'.

Danny K said...

"...the fact that it forms part of an (incorrect) language mindset that negates the possibility of transformation."
What transformation is lost in shifting views from "illegal drugs" to legally regulated drugs? Isn't the endpoint the same?
I'm not saying you're wrong, but where is the evidence for time saving through changing the language to your preferred one, compared to the 'illegal drugs' discourse?

Sunshine Band said...

Danny - I seem to have gone on a bit here – but I am bravely sending you Module Two of the language thesis. I have to break it up into various sections - hopefully they will be posted sequentially. I say bravely, as I am daring ‘to teach my grandmother how to suck eggs’ by talking more about campaigning (very odd expression that unless your grandmother is some sort of mongoose). If you return it unused within 10 days you owe nothing. But seriously, what else are Sundays for?

You might imagine what I am saying is complex, actually it is much more simple than it seems, what it is doing which makes it look hard is that it is challenging entrenched norms. Really, it is basic - it just got missed like so many obvious things were missed before they were articulated. OK, so it this is a new approach, and I do not know the end result; I don’t even know what will happen on Monday when you read this.

Obviously the end-points of anticipated satisfactory outcomes would be the same, it's whether we can get to the end-point with current working practices and use of language, and if so, how quickly compared to using a different approach. Why am I confident of time/energy saving? Well, this is an 'up for it/in yer face' approach that will court controversy and much needed debate about exactly what we want to talk about –regulation. The pedantic-semantic complaint is swept away by simple fact - that the words that we shall not let them use have no basis in law, and the ones that we shall make them use, do. It is the letter of the law – and that is what shackles us – words describing ideas creating reality. We can lead others to these ideas; as soon as ‘legalisation campaigns’ get wind of the fact that they are creating a rod for their own backs, and that cannabis for example, is really NOT illegal - then as soon as someone respected takes the lead, they too will want a piece of the action - this will bring more power to our elbows as a more cohesive support base takes root.

End part 1

Sunshine Band said...

Part 2: It doesn’t have to be confrontational – this is a gift. Of course such a leap is possible, law enforcement personnel onside are an ideal organisation to be ‘pedantic’ about the law - so what if a few leaflets and books now look outdated (in only this one regard)? Celebrate the new possibility we are creating and be prepared to be fresh - it's in the title, the mission statement and the nooks and crannies of the Transform brand.

Re-assurance to take this step cannot be readily found in statistics. How will we know if it will work?

I don't have to tell you that although the foundations of existing knowledge (evidence), generally form the intellectual basis of each new discovery - novelty ideas have an intrinsic worth playing off risk against unknown rewards. There is no risk here in correcting this language error other than the odd raised eyebrow, and most of those eyebrows will return to their normative facial expressions when the ideas are explained through the various objections raised here and elsewhere. The rewards depend upon the integrity and determination inherent in the way the idea is projected - it does open the door to the Blueprint book. You have done the hard work - to put the flesh on the bones of the regulation idea, but now we should upset the apple cart of prohibition with whatever we can use. Evaluation of this proposal requires lateral contemplation, not just logic and statistical authority. I think that this idea becomes very simple the more that people adopt it, it would be a tool for awareness raising in it's own right.

To recap, a (notional and indeed fictitious) 'illegal drug' is a very long way conceptually from a 'regulated drug' and implies the need for a whole new law to bring about that transformation from a (presumed) normative prohibition model, to a model which reasonably differentiates between peaceful drug use and drug misuse. These distinctions should encompass various classes of activities for various groups of persons concerned with drugs. The legal term we are given, 'controlled drug' clearly encourages the development of rational regulations to achieve the purpose of the law. We can do the paradox argument as well when using it. We can also raise the point about object and subject flipping to bring in the human activities point, and then we can talk about 'a controlled drug market’ – then, we arrive at a 'regulated drug market' that is virtually a twin concept in language. The transformation path is clearly shorter as there is no new law, no linguistic impossibility barrier formalising fixed viewpoints, and the de-personalisation point (that was worse I think with ‘illegal drug’) can be dealt with to our advantage.

Sunshine Band said...

Part 3

Am I the only one who finds honourable satisfaction in telling people that they are missing something from their repertoire? I know I was a born critic. It would be great to have these ideas pushed be head to head with Gordon – go for it with this letter – quote him saying the government have no intention of ever legalising drugs because they are illegal and then 'hit him' with the errors of law I detailed on the 'tobacco thread' recently - some people would wonder what was going on at first, others would squeal with delight - and when they all 'got it', that’s a job well done. Gordon will be forced to concede 'illegal drugs' is a misnomer, and not a policy described anywhere in law. Nowhere is the policy of prohibition mandated in law.

Transformation on a personal level is a process where someone recognises something that probably dawns on them in a flash and creates a new system of understanding - you can drag people all day and intractability often rules the day - to transform we have to get under the surface. This process I am detailing here is rooted in the basis of recognising that the truth can only uncovered by the words that we CHOOSE to use. I can excuse ignorance and naivety - the wanton misuse of language is something the government seemingly does, and we should not emulate that and we should counter. Gordon even gave the illegality of drugs as the basis of why they should not be regulated. If this is ignorance, then maybe we can teach them something and they will move. I would prefer that they do before the courts start to understand the legal challenge; it is problematic for democrats to instigate the transformation of public policy by legal decree (although this is our purpose - to say present policy is not just a bad idea, but actually an insult to the work of the parliamentarians who created the MDA 40 years ago. That could happen in a flash, you may doubt it, but that is the possibility that we are creating.

We have to be prepared to make what many would term unreasonable demands on people's time and intellect, not patronise people as being incapable of understanding. Misunderstanding is rooted in the pervasive propaganda of prohibition-speak, but the tool to take it apart is the exposure of lies that form it. You are focussing on the intellectual argument and perhaps frustrated at times people won't engage with what seems apparent – that the harm caused by dangerous drugs is greatly worsened by prohibition. It is so simple a point, but politically it is seen as a minefield, and we keep getting brushed away because, in my view this critique lacks a legal perspective. I think that Transform has worked across many approaches, but mainly to lobby for change and for new laws to be enacted. That was a fine plan – it is all still valuable but I think needs to sharpen the attack as the admitted governmental fettering of discretion all but closed the door of policy debate with the policy makers although not the electorate. But their brusque dismissal opened another door – the realisation that perhaps it's not the law that’s the problem - it's the Government’s administration of it, and that is NOT a matter of unfettered ministerial discretion.

Sunshine Band said...

Part 4:

We are talking about drugs here, and although much harm is done by their misuse, it is not a subject that we can be dour about if we seek to enrol people. Drug users constantly beat themselves up about their activities, such is the power of the omnipresent opprobrium – we cannot allow ourselves to be drawn into this for ‘respectability points’. I advise to avoid being drawn into a discussion on curbing drug use, and focussing only on drug misuse (and in particular where such abuse impacts upon others). It is an adventure to break free from of the habitual use of self-harming words, we can confidently say what I have revealed in this and the last thread to anyone, safe in the knowledge that it is true.

I am going to talk very briefly about the human journey – forgive me if it’s obvious to all. It is our identity and destiny to seek the unknown. Every ancient journey across the globe, scientific or cultural discovery and legal precedent was cut against the cloth of existing the knowledge base. I believe that the new experience of integrating the language challenge that comes to you now will create it’s own impetus for the dismantlement of prohibition speak – this will assist with your project.

Could anybody really tell a novice what an acid trip is like? The only way to know would be to drop it. Danny, you mentioned before about [me] respecting fellow travellers; I take it we are not booking a Thomson’s package tour? We don’t even have any reviews as the history of this has not been written - I am going to raise this as another friendly shot across the bows.

If I want to create the language of possibility, I won't use the word impossible. When you say, as you did earlier about how the change will occur, I would ask that although I realise that nobody wants to be seen as naive or foolishly optimistic, campaigning (like selling) does necessitate a positive pitch which can be undone with poorly chosen words or overly distant horizons promising a solution one day, someday. The time is always now, and without creating the space for transformation we can become tedious by despite being the leaders, offering little instant satisfaction in the guise of being realistic. Your ideas are generally very positive, but I will ask that we examine the balance between what seems possible, but is actually not very inspiring for a young person or someone already in prison for a drug property offence. Let's not predict the change to occur many years hence, we should quash the culture of low expectations and cynicism that pervades many battle-weary campaigners (and disengages the public from the debate).

Without wanting to give you a hard time, I do really want to offer something useful (and sometimes that means pointing out something specific that might be done differently), I point to you bringing in forces into the equation that are entirely out of our control. This is not enrolling language, as we become observers not players. I am not saying that this theory of economic factors is wrong or right - but we want to impress upon people that they are stakeholders in policy. It's a bit like the intelligence nature or nurture debate; and the end of the day, it's what you do with the nurture that you have immediate control and influence over. Let's celebrate this.

In Imaginaryland the king made new laws about the plundering of Gold and Silver metals from artefacts - gold was declared an illegal metal without home office license, and silver was a declared to be a controlled metal. Which businesses do people think were allowed to conduct regulated trading, the goldsmiths or the silversmiths?

tim scully said...


I see, only the exercise of property rights (what we call “possession”) is prohibited, not its use. Thanks for letting me know.
Of course, that makes the use of so-called “controlled drugs” (meaningful or not) effectively illegal. The government doesn’t need to specifically prohibit its use because, how can you legally use a drug that you can’t legally posses?

I don’t see as a “paradox” the fact that the government doesn’t follow the MDA by exerting almost not control at all over the substances or products “for the time being specified in Part I, II, or III of Schedule 2” of MDA (the drugs that should be controlled). It is just that the government is not doing the job that is supposed to do. They pretend to do it by propagating the idea that the only way to control some drugs is to prohibit them. Among other reasons they argument that it is impossible not to misuse certain drugs. That’s why they will never accept Professor Nutts findings.

The government has the duty to administer the MDA in a way that minimizes harm, and that means stronger regulation.

Anonymous said...

I'd argue that, if anything, saying "controlled drugs" in preference to "illegal drugs" is more likely to add weight to the prohibitionists' position, since it suggests that prohibition allows control over the substances.

Sunshine Band said...

Anonymous - saying 'controlled drugs' doesn't add anything to anything - from your stance you might just as well argue that we shouldn't call the government the government because this implies that they are governing effectively. No, this is the word we are given - so we can use it and then criticise it's inappropriatness - not wish it away, it is the letter of the law.

You could just say ostensibly controlled drugs or drugs defined as controlled by law - then you can describe the paradox.

Tim - yes, meaningful use is severely restricted. But if one can access a controlled drug (illegally supplied) and take it, even though they are high on the drug and it is in the body (this is distinct from hiding packages of drugs internally), the taker will not normally be charged with an offence (as they are using but not possessing a controlled drug - best in this situation not to give the police any information). One can receive smoke from a joint that one does not possess (and I am not going to go into the mechanics of blow-backs etc)as the point is that we should not make the statement that it is the use of drugs which is illegal. The law controls your property. This is the law of Parliament, not what the government made.

Of course, that makes the use of so-called “controlled drugs” (meaningful or not) effectively illegal. The government doesn’t need to specifically prohibit its use because, how can you legally use a drug that you can’t legally posses?

You say "I don’t see as a “paradox” the fact that the government doesn’t follow the MDA by exerting almost not control at all over the substances...." The paradox I discussed is in the word control - I think we agree on that.

There is no evidence to suggest that tobacco and alcohol are any less more-ish than a great many controlled drugs, sorry supposedly controlled drugs are.

Sunshine Band said...

There is an editing error in my last post: this part was left as a quote from someone else in error - it is not my words:

"Of course, that makes the use of so-called “controlled drugs” (meaningful or not) effectively illegal. The government doesn’t need to specifically prohibit its use because, how can you legally use a drug that you can’t legally posses?"

Adam said...

I have been reading through your progress so far with great interest. Now i do not have the same abilities with words as everyone else that has left comments, but bear with me.

Tim Scully posted on Feb 16th at 12.41 that "...the government has already answered that alcohol and tobacco policies are based on historical and cultural reasons."

Do you know what i find highly amusing here? I just finished watching a BBC horizons documentary on cannabis where it stated that cannabis is around 50 million years old. Also, it was one of the main trading items along the Tian Shan mountain range.

Surely this then gives grounds of historic reasons for decriminalization of possession and of trade?

Just a thought, i would like to hear your comments.

Anonymous said...

Yes Adam - The basis for not controlling a drug can only be that it doesn't trigger the criteria defined in law.In order to qualify for control under the Act, Parliament directed that three criteria be fulfilled:

1. A drug must be 'dangerous or otherwise harmful' [MDA 1971 c38, long title]
2. A drug must be being misused, or appear to the ACMD likely to be misused [MDA 1971 c38, S1(2)]
3. The misuse must have (or appear capable of having) harmful effects sufficient to constitute a social problem [MDA 1971 c38, S1(2)]

The government's admission that they determine the policy on cultural and historic precedent is akin to saying that we will exclude large classes of people from the operation of the law whilst focusing on the activities of minorities - this being based on cultural preferences of the majority and ignorring the long-standing cultural preferences of the minority.

Steve Rolles said...

Ive made a real effort with this, talked about it with a number of people and given it a lot of thought. I really don't want o be close minded about new ideas.

Whilst I understand the theory I'm in no way convinced it is a useful line to take politically or rhetorically - beyond a very narrow and nerdy legal/policy discourse. In most scenarios I think it would be confusing and non-useful. I think the distinctions we have between legal and illegal drugs are clear and understood, and our calls for better regulation and control of all drugs, and the legal and policy remedies we call for to achieve that, similarly very clear.

I think the contradictions between the way we attempt to regulate and control different drugs - and the outcomes of those choices - are at the core of our argument. This seems to be essentially what you are saying, but I don't think the semantic/legal pedantry adds anything - and you haven't convinced me otherwise, at least not beyond some general interest or niche activity. I don't want to be entrenched about anything but I just can't see it as a major plank of the campaign.

I'm full of respect for your intellect, tenacity and commitment - so don't take this personally, but whilst I don't think you are necessarily wrong on the theory (although i have issues with some parts of it), I think your in danger of losing your perspective on the importance of the points you are making.

Anonymous said...

Steve - so after all of that, it's too much to ask that you stop saying 'illegal drugs' when they are in fact 'controlled drugs'? You want to change the world but you won't even change to using the correct term, and this despite there being seemingly good reasons for doing so? I list a few reasons for doing it, just what are the reasons for not?

1. Saying illegal drugs makes the issue seem linguistically to be a depersonalised ban on innanimate objects when it is a war waged against people.

2. That the law does not provide for, recognise or define anywhere an illegal drug.

3. That the law defines drugs as controlled, and that a controlled substance does not equate to a prohibtited one but an illegal one does.

4. That by referring to a drug as illegal, you do the government a great favour by accepting that the legal situation is one in which all interests in the drug are legally curtailed (when this is untrue and is an illegal administration of the law to boot), and that despite you opposing this you are actually using the language of prohibition to create a barrier to what you want, one which doesn't even exist.

Steve Rolles said...

1. Saying illegal drugs makes the issue seem linguistically to be a depersonalised ban on innanimate objects when it is a war waged against people.

I simply don't agree with this. We generally talk about prohibition of production supply and use, or posession for use. Illegality refers to that and I dont think that is confused or ambiguous.

2. That the law does not provide for, recognise or define anywhere an illegal drug.

I accept that on th anrrowist of technical definitions but everyone understands that certain drugs are scheduled/prohibtited and others not. The ones that are are effectively illegal - again that is understoofd and I dont think a technical challenge ofn the strict definition of the term moves ththe debate forward. Highlighting that inconsistency is important. I think we do it already.

3. That the law defines drugs as controlled, and that a controlled substance does not equate to a prohibtited one but an illegal one does.

I don't understand this point. The fact I don't understand it doesn't fill me optimism re explaining it to others, or for it as the bridgehead of a popular campaign.

4. That by referring to a drug as illegal, you do the government a great favour by accepting that the legal situation is one in which all interests in the drug are legally curtailed (when this is untrue and is an illegal administration of the law to boot), and that despite you opposing this you are actually using the language of prohibition to create a barrier to what you want, one which doesn't even exist.

I'm sorry, but i just don't accept this is the case, and you haven't convinced me that why it is. I think our narrative is very clear and this approach potentially confusing. I think it is just stating the obvious and doesn't lead to any obvious remedy in law that isn't already being discussed.

I think you need to apply the same scrutiny to yourself that you ask of us. You certainly have brought useful scrutiny, thought and analysis to this material, but we have been on the front line of this debate in the political, media, and intellectual arenas for over ten years so you should also respect that we may also have perspectives on the wider debate that you lack. You need to listen too. I've made the time and space to work through these ideas. I get them and agree with most of it. I think it is useful in some arenas of the discussion, I just don't ascribe it the power and import that you do.

Anonymous said...

Is this "Another contemptuous Transform rejection of a request for a better articulated critique of UK drug policy"?

I was anticipating a more positive response from Danny who was enthusiastic about this but I understand is away - perhaps you guys will have a round table on this next week and see if you can get a consensus. I will say that although you must understand a lot of this, your responses in content reveal and have revealed throughout that there are aspects of it which have not been communicated succesfully. On the premise that one piece of jigsaw might be important I continue briefly:

Steve, you admit to not understanding one part and that may be the crucial key which I am certain causes you and others to miss the central point of this thesis (which works in tandem with the Drug Equality Alliance 'abuse of power' claim). Start with holding the thought that the law was made by Parliament with a view to giving government ongoing policy making powers. This means that everything you do not like is probably down to administration and not primary law, especially the artificial divide between 'legal and illegal drugs'.

Yes, everyone does understand that various drugs are scheduled / prohibited as you say - what you have not appreciated is that the scheduling of a drug as 'controlled' does not signify that a drug should be prohibited and this is a trick they pull off with help from the myth of 'illegal drugs'.

The crux of one limb of the argument - the government's failure to make reasonable provision for peaceful use of controlled drugs can only be argued when you recognise that absolute prohibtion is not the default position of the law, but represents the most extreme application of it in perhaps the most acute and diabolical situations, not to curb peaceful use of any drug other than opium. So, the government have powers to allow persons to do activities which otherwise they would be unable to do, Sections 7, 22 and 31 of the Act are to do with this, yet why should, and indeed how could they do this if drugs are illegal?

It's not about a technical challenge on definitions - it is about waking everyone up to the fact that drugs are not prohibited by the MDA, but by policy.

Steve Rolles said...

I get that, I just don't think its that important a point to make, or at least not as important as you think it is. Yes, drugs can be treated differently under the MDA which is being mis-administered. I know that.

But our discourse on control, regulation and prohibition is very clear, and you haven't convinced me that this adds anything vital. I think its just saying the same thing through a prism of legalese. I dont deny its useful - I just think the use is limited - and even potentially confusing. You are pushing it too hard IHMO.

I'm not being contemptuous, or patronising (Ive discussed it at tedious length with a number of legal experts). But its also not useful for me to pretend i think theres more utility in this line of argument than there is. Politically its a non starter in the wider public debate, even if it has use in the courtroom.

We will continue to talk about it of course, and welcome your input - but you need to avoid becoming entrenched yourself and losing perspective.