Transform issued a press release last Monday about Sir Ian Gilmore's comments in his final Newsletter as president of the Royal Society of Physicians:
"I feel like finishing my presidency on a controversial note. I personally back the chairman of the UK Bar Council, Nicholas Green QC, when he calls for drug laws to be reconsidered with a view to decriminalising illicit drugs use. This could drastically reduce crime and improve health. Drugs should still be regulated, and the argument for decriminalising them is clearly made by Stephen Rolles in the latest edition of the BMJ."The press release led to a huge amount of media coverage and debate in print and broadcast media over the following days, with Transform at the heart of much of it; having broken the story and with the BMJ piece on Transform's 'Blueprint for Regulation' specifically cited. Amongst the coverage detailed below, especially in the following days, were some very significant developments.
Print coverage on the day included:
- Cocaine should be legal, says top doctor - front page coverage in the Telegraph (mentions BMJ piece and quotes Transform's Danny Kushlick), story also ran on Fox news website
- Legalise heroin and cocaine to cut crime and improve health, top doctor says in the Daily Mail (included quote from Danny and an online poll that asked 'should we legalise drugs in a bid to cut crime and improve health' currently running at 56% in favour, 44% against. Also well worth looking at some of the 284 comments the story attracted - the most up-voted being supportive, the most down-voted against)
- There was also coverage in the Guardian (quoting both Danny and Steve), as well a coverage in the Times, Independent, the Herald Scotland, the Mirror, and many other regional papers.
"When the Misuse of Drugs Act was passed in 1971 our politicians, lawyers and medical experts still dreamed of creating a drug-free society.
If we locked up all dealers and users the market would dry up... wouldn’t it?
Forty years on it is clear that the war on drugs was a naive policy that failed miserably and injured more people than it protected.
The huge profits of the international drugs trade fund terrorism, drive crime, and wreck lives across the globe.
But jailing users does nothing to break the cycle of those who commit crime to fuel their habit.
Now, at last, the Government is looking at the bigger picture and considering radical plans to decriminalise hard drug use. As we reveal today, 12,000 addicts could be moved out of jails and into hospitals to be treated as patients and not criminals.
Top doctors believe it is the only way to cut crime, improve health and save public money. But it will be a hard pill to swallow for the thousands of victims of druggie muggers and burglars who steal to fund their habit.
It’s a bold move. But if Ministers are finally having a “mature debate” on drug strategy they then need to discuss the “L” word. Legalisation. Criminalising some drugs while allowing a free market in others, such as alcohol and nicotine, makes no sense.
Our leaders need to think the unthinkable and consider bringing the entire drug industry, from production to use, out of the shadows and under legitimate controls.
Could we allow adults to buy limited supplies of drugs from licensed and regulated outlets and tax them as highly as possible without creating a black market?
Legalisation may spark an initial increase in the number of adults who use drugs, albeit in safer and healthier circumstances. But should adults be allowed to make that choice – when many already choose to wreck their lives, quite legally, with alcohol?
Tough questions – but the Government must seize the moment and ask them."
OK, so not exactly how Transform might argue it but we have to welcome the fact that this -mostly reasonable- editorial appeared in a national paper new to the reform position and, like the Sun coverage, is reaching much wider audience than the same Guardian and Observer readers, most of whom are already sympathetic to the drug law reform position. The positive tabloid coverage in particular is a sure sign that this debate is moving into the mainstream and moving in a positive direction.
On the Tuesday the story broke, Steve did 17 broadcast interviews and Danny did 10, in addition to the various interviews Gilmore himself gave, and a further 7 picked up by our colleagues over at Release. Highlights of Transform's coverage included appearances on
- BBC Breakfast TV (live interview)
- SKY breakfast news (pre-recorded interview for news segment)
- BBC Radio 4's Today program (quotes and Today audio clip on BBC coverage)
- 5 Live breakfast (pre-record for new segment), and 5 live morning debate (with David Raynes)
- BBC News Channel (debate with Neil McKeggany)
- SKY lunchtime news
- Talk Sport radio
- BBC Radio Wales (debate with Ian Oliver)
- BBC World Service (international broadcast)
- BBC News International TV (international broadcast - debate with David Raynes again)
In addition there was plenty of blog action around the issue, all attracting many comments (mostly positive) - notably including:
- Fergus Walsh's BBC Blog 'Would decriminalising drugs work?'
- Mark Easton's BBC blog, writing about the 'British System'
- Tom Chivers' Telegraph blog Another top doctor has backed a rethink of drug policy. Maybe it's time to listen
- CNNs Connect the World blog 'should we decriminlize drugs?
- Tory peer Lord Norton calling for Royal Commission on the drug laws 'decriminalising drug use' on Lords of the Blog (a very interesting Lordly debate ensuing)
- Antonia Senior (call for legalisation/regulation in the New Statesman and the Times - unfortunately now behind a paywall),
- Libby Purves, also in the Times (supportive of decrim)
- Paul Thomas in the New Zealand Herald 'drug decriminalisation makes sense'
- James Bell in the Guardian 'why not tax my drug addicts'
Critical voices were, of course, also in evidence but curiously muted - the sense being that the media were struggling to find many. If there were pro drug war op-eds in any of the nationals we must have missed them. There were some quotes in the news coverage, however; In a widely quoted comment by Keith Vaz MP he stated that the legalisation of drugs "would simply create the mistaken impression that these substances are not harmful, when in fact this is far from the truth". This rather facile misconception about what a public health approach to drug regulation would entail is exactly the same one that he carried through the mostly awful 2010 Home Affairs Select Committee report on cocaine.
The Home Office response was even more inadequate, and missed the point to a such a staggering degree as to not deserve or warrant any further scrutiny:
'Drugs such as heroin, cocaine and cannabis are extremely harmful and can cause misery to communities across the country. The government does not believe that decriminalisation is the right approach. Our priorities are clear; we want to reduce drug use, crack down on drug related crime and disorder and help addicts come off drugs for good.'In a Mirror news piece (nominally about a separate 'legal highs' story that this blog will return too at a later date) we also learn that:
Leading doctors argue prohibition of heroin and cocaine has failed and they should be decriminalised and allowed for use under licence and tomorrow the Government will launch a major review of Britain's drugs laws. Home Office Minister James Brokenshire will rule out new legalisation but call for a more "mature debate" on how to control drugs.