In Prime Minister's Questions yesterday Gordon Brown came up with this response to a question calling for a ban on mephedrone:
The Prime Minister: I am very concerned about what my hon. Friend has told me, and I send my sincere condolences to Jordan’s family and to their friends. We are committed to preventing young people from starting to take drugs. The advice is clear that, just because a substance is legal, that does not make it safe.
A valid point - tobacco, alcohol, paracetamol, nutmeg, prozac etc.
We are concerned specifically about the harms of mephedrone, and the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs [ACMD] is considering that and similar compounds as an absolute priority. We will receive its advice on 29 March, and subject to that advice we will take immediate action. We are determined to act to prevent this evil from hurting the young people of our country.
'Evil'? If mephedrone is 'evil' because it can hurt people, then alcohol and tobacco (which kill respectively, 100 and 300 a day in the UK), must truly be the work of Satan. This is hyberbolic twaddle straight out of the pre-election manual: 'How to garner votes in marginal constituencies by appealing to populist fears and nationalistic prejudices'.
As for ACMD, when exactly did the Government start getting so impatient for their expert advice? Certainly not when they called for the downgrading of Ecstasy from Class A to B. Or when they said cannabis should be left as Class C.
Truth be told it is already pretty clear where the ACMD are going on this.
But what would Brown do if they actually did call for enough time just to gather the evidence properly, rather than support a populist knee-jerk reaction?
Or they called for a detailed review, now or even at a later date, of any unintended consequences of absolute prohibition (including those identified by the head of the UNODC) e.g. creating a massive criminal black market, diverting money from health to criminal justice, displacing users to more harmful substances, marginalising and criminalising large numbers of otherwise law abiding users? Or causing an increase in the use of hazardous cutting agents, or the drug becoming of highly variable strength leading to increased overdose risk, or an increase in acquisitive crime if prices rise dramatically? Many of which, at least anecdotally, appear to be happening in the Channel Islands where a ban already exists.
Or, heaven forfend, what if the ACMD even called for the creation of a new holding category? Whether Class D, with tightly regulated legal sales including the provision of detailed health and use advice as suggested by the ACMD's last Chair David Nutt. Or Category X as suggested by the UK Drug Policy Commission, while all the possible options were properly modeled, to make sure we took the best route to minimize harms to individuals and society?
David Nutt's latest from the Evening Standard is well worth a look, and bearing in mind his treatment from the Government, the most likely outcome for ACMD of seeking a genuinely evidence-based review, would be finding themselves all sacked...
Update 26 March: